Monday, 9 May 2022

Ganryu 2 Review (Switch)

The Switch continues to be a sort of Ark for retro games and systems with the online pass and the the Neo Geo Pocket having a high-profile presence on the system. Arcade and Neo Geo games are also prevalent and there’s even been Saturn and Amiga titles beginning to come through. Alongside this several ‘new’ retro games have started to appear. Ganryu 2 falls somewhere between the two categories as a technically new game, but one that is a direct sequel to a slightly obscure Neo Geo title.

It all starts well enough with big bold graphics that invoke the arcade sprites of old. The characters and environments are beautiful as well and invoke the spirit of ancient Japan well. The problem comes with regards to how the game plays. The first issue is with the control layout. There is a lot you can do with your character but the controls just never feel comfortable. The attack button is clearly in the wrong place and the jump and dash dynamic seems very awkward. There are no button configuration options either which is a real shame.  

Once you have wrestled the buttons under control your next obstacle is the flow of the game. It seems to skip frames at times which means your character is never quite where you think they are and the same goes for enemies. Again, this can be overcome but when you have a game this quick and so reliant on twitch reflexes it is a noticeable issue. Add in memory test enemies and obstacles you have no way of avoiding without prior knowledge and the cracks really start to show. ** (A patch has now been issued to address the frame rate - see paragraph at the end of the review). 

All of this would be forgivable if the game didn’t abide by a crazy approach to progress. You do have a healthy number of lives but when you must reach for a continue it takes you all the way back to the first part of the chapter. We fought through to the end of stage 1-2 only to die at the boss. Naturally we expected the continue to start us back at the beginning of stage 1-2 but no. Right back to the start of 1-1 we went. In a lot of ways, it would be better just to not have continues for all the use they are. There are no other ways to continue progress either.

Overall, the shine on Ganryu 2 rubs off very quickly. It’s a real shame as with a changed continue system the game would actually be a lot of fun - even with the control and frame rate issues. As it is though it’s just too much to deal with and not enjoyable enough to be worth the perseverance. In the end there’s just too many flaws to be able to recommend this to all but the most hardcore of Neo Geo fans.

** Since this review was written a patch has been released for the game. This has changed the frame rate issue dramatically and the game now plays incredibly smoothly. While other issues remain the flow of the game has been dramatically improved and as a result it is much more fun. A future patch is also in the pipeline which adds buttons config options and changes the prevalence of healing items. The overall score has been changed to reflect the current patch.

Overall 6/10

Monday, 2 May 2022

Big Bang Pro Wrestling Review (Switch)

The Neo Geo Pocket Colour is really finding a second life through the Nintendo Switch and long may it continue. Scouring lists of essential games though will rarely bring up this lesser-known wrestling game and initially it did seem a rather odd choice to us. First impressions weren’t particularly good either but then it all sort of fell into place and now it’s clear this is one of those hidden gems you hear about so often.

What many may overlook is actually how the game works (handily a scan of the original manual is included). There are two main types of wrestling games when it comes to lock ups. Ones where you hammer buttons and ones such as Firepro which are more focused on timing of button presses and building of moves. This is most certainly in the second camp and once players get used to it there’s a fun game here even though you only have two buttons to pull off moves.

Those two buttons are used to their fullest though with each wrestler having four grapple moves along with a host of strikes and rope based attacks. Each wrestler also has a special move which they can pull of at any time once their name is glowing by pressing both buttons together. The lack of moves is also shielded by the fact that matches are often fairly short so repetition never has a chance to set in.

There’s no shortage of match types either with a career mode that features coffin matches and things hanging on a pole matches (which we’ve still not fully worked out), along with the more standard fair. You can also find weapons around the outside of the ring and even bump the ref. it’s very impressive from the little Neo Geo Pocket and this must be one of the most ambitious games on the system.

The most telling thing about the game is simply how many hours we have put into it without realising. It certainly has the same power as all the best wrestling games where you simply lose track of time and find yourself staying for one more match.

Overall, Big Bang Pro Wrestling has proved to be a really nice surprise. We had never even heard of it but it’s now up there with SNK vs Capcom: Card Fighters Clash as our most played NGP game. It plays well, it’s inventive, the graphics and sound are satisfying, and it uses the control scheme the best you can possibly expect for the system. Well done to whomever picked it out to be given a second chance on Switch- it’s a resounding success.

Overall 7/10

Monday, 25 April 2022

Taito Milestones Review (Switch)

Retro collections and arcade releases are become more and more common on the Switch and each new one seems to try and push the bar higher in terms of what’s included. We’ve had Sega, various Konami collections, Capcom and SNK just to name a few giving us wide ranging collections of their back catalogues with a vary degree of options and museum elements. Now Taito are entering the market with a group of ten arcade games and it’s not really what we had hoped.

Taito has been releasing its games on the Switch for some time in the form of Arcade Archives branded stuff which generally come with regional variations and a few other options. By comparison what we get here is about as bare bones as possible. The title screen simply has the games displayed for players to pick and that’s it. No museum extras, no regional variants, nothing really which shows these games off or explains why they are so seminal to company. When you put that against efforts from the like of SNK it simply it’s up to the same standard. There are online leader boards at least.

While the ten games do cover a wide range of genres, they aren’t exactly the iconic titles you might be hoping for. Alpine Ski, Wild Western, Front Line and Space Seeker are really very early arcade representations of the teams work and just don’t have the hook that a lot of gamers will be hoping for as they handle very stiffly.  Halley’s Comet is an ok vertically scrolling shooter and the Ninja Warriors is a quite poor side scrolling brawler which is a million miles away from the quality of the SNES/Switch sequel already available on the system.

It's not all bad though as Elevator Action and The Fairyland Story remain as fun and addictive as ever (even if you can buy them separately already). Qix may well get a second lease of life because of this collection as well and remains an underrated puzzler where you must try and fill in blocks of colour before the baddie floating around in the middle of the screen catches you. Chack ‘N’ Pop is the last game on the collection and again proves to be a fun single screen platform/maze distraction.

Unfortunately, this is a collection burdened by what isn’t here. If you want Space Invaders, you’ll need to go and buy that collection separately. Darius? The same and there’s no sign of iconic games such as Phoenix, The New Zealand Story or Bubble Bobble. Even games already on the Switch from the correct time period are missing such as The Legend of Kage. Considering most of these games made it onto a bumper collection on the PS2 (https://www.retro101.co.uk/2012/10/taito-legends-review-ps2.html), it really is baffling.

Overall, this is a highly disappointing effort. When so much care and attention is put into the individual releases of the games this just seems completely misjudged. So many other companies have now set the standard for what to expect for this kind of price that ten bare bones games just aren’t enough anymore. Yes, there are some high points here, but the fact Taito has so many other collections and retro releases available just makes this seem like a cynical attempt to push some titles together they didn’t really have a lot of faith in.

Overall 5/10

Monday, 18 April 2022

Kombinera Review (Steam)

 

Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

This hardcore shape-concerned puzzler fits neatly into the return of Atari as a publisher. They’ve been pulling from classic IPs to make some remasters of late, and Kombinera is a clever modern descendant that brings enjoyment and enragement. Dependant on taste.

My first impression was the most serious looking epilepsy warning splash screen I’ve ever seen in a computer game. I sent a strongly worded letter of concern to my editor about my retinas. CDPR could have taken some tips on due diligence from Graphite Labs/Joystick on this aspect before triggering fits with Cyberpunk 2077. Kombinera’s visual aesthetic is striking, fun, neon, and flashing. A minimalist, abstract world of balls traversing puzzle-traps, where the player is trying to merge them all together. Each coloured ball has a differing interaction with the components of the levels, be it red spikes that the red ball is immune to or green balls that block green lasers, for instance. The hook is that all the balls move as one. You move the balls left and right and have a strong jump and a weak jump. These 300 levels of headscratchers will test your lateral thinking, with a mild part of platform-y deftness.

Created from a game jam, and through its popularity with various prototypes and the developers iterating it further, this has ended up a fully-fledged game. Game jams manage to generate incredible purity in gameplay loops, as the time constraints require design to be focussed to succeed. The collective movement of the balls is one such hook. Everything in Kombinera is built on this premise, and, as a proof of a good primary loop, it has extensive flexibility and staying power. The story and much of the art and music is in service to the singular purpose you have. These elements are effective in different amounts; the story of a world torn asunder, where the player is trying to reunite all the balls is (I feel) knowingly functionary. The music is more of an attempt to relax the player with its bleep-y electronic chill. The art and colours, stark backgrounds, aid the clarity of the puzzle. Notably the grid in the play area that while not out of place aesthetically, is a way to judge jumping.

While Kombinera shares some DNA with Thomas Was Alone, ibb and obb, or English Country Tune, it manages to be distinct like them rather than an imitator. It seems appropriate that this has been picked up or had some stickiness beyond the morass of puzzle-platformers. It has that thing, and speaking personally, I usually bounce right off stuff like this. The activity of joinin’ yer balls together is supported by a well-managed and creative level design. The building of puzzle complexity is considered carefully, as within each movement puzzle, further actions are slotted in, one at a time, to increase the internal steps to success. Each level develops you to see the solution that is just outside of instant comprehension. There is a fine balance between testing an idea and outright understanding of what the level wants. This element of the puzzle is crucial, because if this is out of balance the player may become frustrated. Get it straight away and you’re going to get bored. Thrashing about trying red herrings, you’re resenting the game. Kombinera is savvy and keenly designed, raising it above an arbitrarily “punishing” experience. This is especially pertinent as the traps are one-hit-killers.

For fans of any shape based, jumping, pixel judging, just-one-more-try, neon-soaked puzzling, epilepsy responsible games this is a winner.


Overall 9/10

Monday, 11 April 2022

Nintendo Switch Roundup 8: Run and Gun

The Switch is absolutely full to the brim with platformers and Metrodivania games but the humble pleasure of the run and gun genre is also very much present and correct. It’s not as in fashion as it once was but there are still some excellent games out there for players looking to get their blasting fix. Here, we highlight some of our favourites.

Blazing Chrome

Blazing Chrome is basically an unofficial Contra game. It tough and intense and has a number of different weapons to try out as you blast your way around levels that pay homage to a whole host of retro games. The levels are constant call backs to other games in the genre including Contra itself and Super Star Wars. There’s even a reference to Mortal Kombat 3 in there. Luckily, Blazing Chrome backs up its constant references by being one of the best action games available on the Switch and Contra fans in particular should check it out.

Bro Force

Available on pretty much everything, the homage to 80’s action movies is still a riotous good time on the Switch. Most things in a level can be destroyed (including the ground), which allows for some creative destruction and drip releasing of new characters means there’s always something new to unlock and play with. The key gimmick comes where you don’t actually have a choice as to which of the Bro’s you are playing so you have to adapt on the fly.

All the best 80’s and 90’s action heroes are here including characters based on numerous Arnold  Schwarzenegger films, Rambo, Blade, Men in Black and even Macgyver. Each character plays differently and the crazy over the top action is perfect for short sessions of unequalled chaotic blasting.

Gunlord

Would you like to play a Neo Geo version of Turrican? Well here it is. Gunlord is very much from the ‘Amiga’ style of action platform games. It is basically Turrican in all but name and that’s no bad thing. The pixel art is exceptional and the action is excellent. It’s also a game that is incredibly difficult to get hold of on the original hardware so we are very happy that the time has been taken to bring it to the Switch. If you are looking for old-school style and challenge then Gunlord is the perfect game for you. It’s tough, but also great fun and a great pickup for those looking for a real retro throwback.

Not a Hero

A psychopathic rabbit names Bunnylord is running for election and he has hired a motley crew to assist him. Que a shot-gunning Scot who doesn't own a kilt, screeching Swansea lass, and Mike who is definitely not drunk, charging around levels blasting away in the most vicious way possible. If you like your games with dark humour and serious amounts of violence this could be the perfect game for you. The game moves at a crazy pace and you’ll also need to get used to the cover system in order to succeed.

Caution is the name of the game as one death and you are back to the start of the level to do the whole thing again. This can be frustrating but for the most part you’ll be having such a good time that it won’t bother you. Not a Hero is certainly one of the most unique takes on the genre and still holds up despite having been around for a fair while now.

Contra Anniversary Collection

The undoubted king of the run and gun genre can’t be overlooked on the Switch. The collection is excellent and is a compressive selection of the 8 and 16-bit games in the series. We are slightly disappointed that the games don’t all feature the ‘Probotector’ versions of the games (the second NES game in particular plays quite differently), but it’s a minor issues. You’ve got the original arcade versions of the first two games, the stunning SNES and Genesis games and the solid outings on the NES and Gameboy. It’s a must have for fans of the series or the genre as a whole.

Huntdown

This loud, brash and adrenaline fuelled thrill ride through the gang infested streets of a mega city is the best action game you’ve probably not heard of. Mixing pop culture references with the best platform shooter action since contra this game is a fun filled joy of a game. It’s one of the craziest games we’ve ever played and it’s truly magnificent and crazy and probably better than whatever you are currently playing. Buy it, don’t wait for a sale, buy it now.

We have a detailed look at Huntdown here – https://www.retro101.co.uk/2021/03/huntdown-review-switch.html

Turrican

Of course, if retro run and gun games are your thing you could always pick up one of the Turrican collections. The widely available version has the first two Amiga games and both Super and Mega Turrican on it. It’s a fairly bare bones package but the games remain solid and fans of the originals will love them. There’s also the two more limited versions of Turrican available from Strictly Limited Games which contains Directors Cut and Score Attack versions of the games, as well as Turrican 3 and Super Turrican 2. Great for hard core fans but the version with less games on should suffice for those just looking for a selection of old school classics.

Monday, 4 April 2022

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut Review (Switch)

Originality may be somewhat dead in the games industry but every now and then you get something that manages to stitch things together in a unique enough way for it to seem like there is at least still some hope left. Disco Elysium is unlike anything else on Switch and, unless you are a fan of a handful of specific early CRPG Dungeons and Dragons games, probably unlike anything else you have ever played.

If there is a comparison to be made, its closest mirror would probably be Planetscape: Torment. But instead of being set in a fantastical ethereal realm this is a much gritter affair which walks the dark alleys of nihilistic Noir and dystopian societies. It also walks the line between CRPG and point and click adventure and you’ll need to be ready to read a serious amount of text to truly engage with the madness.

Viewed from an isometric perspective, you wake up in a wrecked hotel room (after a long trawl through your subconscious), with no memory about who you are or what you are doing. Gradually, you need to piece together who you are and what is going on. It’s soon revealed you are a police officer investigating a murder and it’s then up to the player to decide how they proceed through the game with numerous morally ambiguous options available.

There isn’t any real time combat in the game with most of the challenge coming from either hitting skill checks or working out how to get around the issue if you haven’t got the required stats. Skill checks are carried out with a traditional dice roll which is affected by a whole host of different areas which range from the obvious such as reflexes and charisma to the more obscure such as being able to tap into the ‘vibe’ of the surroundings.

When you come up to a skill check you will be given a percentage change to see if it will be completable for you. Green checks can be attempted multiple times as you level up and gain more skill, but red checks are one attempt only so will need careful consideration. Your other actions in the game can also add modifiers to the checks. Backing down from a character may result in a minus modifier with them if you must pass an authority check point for instance, while further investigation of crime scenes can give you plus modifiers when talking to people who try and avoid your questions. It does take a while to get used to, but the system works once you get it.

There’s much more going on here than a simple police investigation as well. As well as NPC’s you will often talk to different aspects of your characters own personality. Again, based on your skillset, at certain points elements of your mind or body will engage with you. This takes the form of various reactions to things people say or you find while investigating. It gives the game a weird psychedelic and surreal element so prepare yourself for some pretty high concept experiences as you chat with your central nervous system about the events of the day.

Don’t think you’ll be able to get away with skipping through the text either. You have two health bars, one physical and one which deals with your morale. Picking the wrong choice or failing certain checks can see either of these damaged so you’ll really need to be aware of what’s happening. Letting either bar drop to zero will result in your death so it’s also a good idea to have a supply of healing items on hand as things can sometimes come out of nowhere.

For a game that really seems like it should be on the PC it’s remarkable how well it has transitioned to the Switch. Even on the handheld, the text is readable, and the colours used within the text didn’t give us any colour blind related issues. You have direct control over your characters movement, so the lack of a mouse isn’t an issue and you can press a button to highlight interactable objects. That said, some these objects are quite small so you may need to keep an eye out when playing on the handheld screen. There’s also a checklist of tasks to keep you on track of what to do, which is handy as the game can get a bit obscure about how to progress your objectives at times. It all works remarkably well and once you get the hang of how the levelling system works it’s incredibly engaging.

Overall, Disco Elysium won’t be for everyone, but for those who want to engage with a dark and meticulously structed mystery this is unlike anything else out there. There is a lot of text and a lot of puzzle solving and critical thinking will be asked of the player but immerse yourself here and you may well find this turns out to be one of your favourite games of all time.

Overall 9/10

Friday, 1 April 2022

Royal Frontier Review (Steam)

 

Thomas G.J. Sharpe

 Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet? Neeeeeearly there? Yet? Royal Frontier is a close-to-casual roguelite RPG battler, that however fun and charming it is, manages to be a bit… too… laboured for me. Obviously, Darkest Dungeon isn’t for everyone. The bleak punishment blended with pitch-perfect aesthetic is not exactly accessible to all tastes. Royal Frontier, which works on a lot of the same lines, but is going for fun, light-hearted, and much more gentle adventure. And this is good. I can really see this working on the Switch as something to dip into for a bit of a relaxed challenge.

Frontier shares its DNA largely with Paper Mario; RPG-lite. Without the draw of the Mario world, there are stock characters, enemies, items, and settings. As an overview, a caravan is attempting to traverse the land, and you pick a route filled with encounters with enemies, loot, mysteries, and shops. You pick three characters from a roster that you expand through runs and equip blessings (the carry-over element to fuel the “next-run” loop). Classes have different abilities, but the blessings mutate the run.

As your caravan trundles into enemies, turn-based combat begins which see you juggling special abilities (that use power points), items to affect the battle, and little pop-up cues to enhance attacks or spells more effectively. The characters bob about in colourful, evocative, yet simple, animations and designs, with bold palettes and a nostalgic glow. After enemies or events have been overcome, your characters gain XP, you can juggle inventories, and choose from rewards.

So far, so good. The trigger mechanic is a nice way to keep the player engaged and paying attention, and there is just about enough happening on screen to give some nice visual feedback on hits, statuses, and atmosphere. The music is apt and not intrusive. The pace, however, I found to be too slow for me. As this is on the simpler side, there are fewer choices to make, and so even as you stack up runs, the enemies always felt like HP reservoirs. Myself, I would have preferred a little more of a lean into the twitch reaction mechanic to make crits more essential, as an idea.

After your heroes have all perished, and you start a new run, you earn new blessings and characters, yet it still felt sluggish to me, even as I became more powerful. The UI ticks over a little too lugubriously with its ornate boxes showing me rewards, battles went stale quicker without more dynamism. I began to resent going back to the start, rather than that crucial just-one-more feeling.

I am sure, however, that this will solidly scratch an itch for those looking for something more cheerful, more light-hearted to sink a few runs in. The price (on Steam £5.99, at time of writing) is also an absolute win. There is enough in the blender in this to be compelling, but for me, a dash of something to spice up the pace would’ve put me up a point on the score.

Overall 7/10

Monday, 28 March 2022

Quest for Infamy Review (Switch)

For those of a certain age, you will no doubt remember Sierra’s much loved Quest for Glory series. At it’s core it was a point and click adventure series but also had elements of hybrid gameplay such as real time combat. The series lasted for five games and the mix of humour and mythology worked very well.

Quest for Infamy, is of course based heavily on this model and series of games. Indeed, in terms of how the games look the team have got the style down perfectly and it looks identical to classic Sierra games of years gone by. The tone and writing are also of a good standard and keep the humour level high throughout. Impressively, the game is fully voice acted which is some achievement.

The twist here of course is that instead of being a hero you are playing the role of a minor hoodlum. You aren’t a bad guy per say but you are certainly not going to do anything that you don’t end up profiting from. In their quest players can take on three different classes which will see them travel through the games via different routes. For the physical minded you can take on the role of a brawler, cast spells as a sorcerer or take the sneakier route of the rogue.

The game itself plays pretty well. The main criticism you can lay at it is that goals are often a little vague. This wasn’t such an issue in games of this type in the past as most would restrict your wandering around to a small number of screens until you got your bearings. In Quest for Infamy, we can see some players wandering off in the wrong direction and getting lost in the environment as these barriers and restrictions are far fewer. We also found it difficult to find some objects at times – even with the highlight option. Again, this is nothing new for the genre but these games didn’t used to be played on screens the size of the Nintendo Switch.

On the whole though the puzzles do have a crazy kind of logic to them, and the world is well realised and rich with detail. It’s clear a lot of thought has gone into this and on the whole the game holds up for the length of the quest. It also looks amazing.

As a further throw back to its retro routes the game also comes with a pretty extensive digital manual and even a guide to get players through the opening prologue of the game. Again, for those of a certain age it’s the sort of thing we all remember for those big box Sierra games of old.

Overall, Quest for Infamy is a worthy addition to the many point and click adventures that have found themselves on the Switch. It’s certainly among the most retro of those titles but it’s a great throwback to classic Sierra games of old and we can only hope more appear in the future.

Overall 7/10

Friday, 25 March 2022

Tempest 4000 Review (Switch)

Jeff Minter has been creating unique games for years now, but his most loved creation was for the commercial failure that was the Atari Jaguar. Tempest 2000 proved so popular that even now people hunt out the Jaguar just to play it. It’s easily one of the best games ever made and Minter revisited the formula later via Space Giraffe in 2007 and then again with TxK in2015. Now we have another version of the game for the Switch and it’s been more than worth the wait (it’s basically TxK for console under a new name due to all sorts of weird legal issues which we won’t get into).

As ever, the game is presented in a smooth vector style with your ship moving around the top of a shape and monsters landing and approaching from the bottom. The aim is to stop them reaching the top by blasting them away. When they reach the top of the shape, they begin to move along it and try and grab you. Quick players can duck underneath the enemies as they rotate or blast them off quickly.

As the game progresses the number of enemy types increase far more than in other Tempest games. You may start with the monsters that simply head up and roll across the top of the screen but there are soon enemies that shoot back at you or electrify parts of the vector shape. Things start getting even more crazy as soon as level 10 with giant exploding balls setting off fireworks effects that both look spectacular and dazzle the player in equal measure.  

To help you along the way are a host of power ups which can dramatically change your style of play. Along with more powerful lasers the most useful are the jump and Ai Drone. The jump allows you to leap away from the rim of the level and over creatures moving along the top. The Ai Drone acts as an assistant and will roll along the rim blasting away at enemies. It can even save you if one of the monsters reaches you and begins to drag you away. Our favourite powerup though is one which effectively turns you into a battering ram for a short period time. This allows you to skim across the top and knock off all the monsters that have made that far.

As well as the increased creature types the levels also do some new things. Some continually rotate around while others bend and split meaning that different routes around the shapes open or close as the level progresses. These levels take the simple Tempest formula and create something more intense. This is where the game really shines, and they act to raise an already excellent game to whole new levels.

There are three different modes available in the game but they more or less boil down to the same thing. The Pure mode has you start from level one and go as far as you can before dying. The Classic mode lets you start from any level you have reached with your score and lives intact. This means if you lose two or three lives on a certain stage you can return to them and try and get through with more lives or a higher score. The final mode is Survival. This is like classic, but no extra lives are given throughout the game. All the modes have online scoreboards, but it can be difficult to see where you rank against your friends due to some strange decisions with how information is displayed.

Tempest 4000 represents a game perfect for the Switch. All the neon and music work in tandem with the fast gameplay to create a game perfect for the Switch screen on the go or when docked. This is a game that gets its hooks into you early and just won’t let you go. It’s a full-on adrenaline ride filled with clever touches and the odd moment of quirky humour and exactly the sort of thing we want for the Switch.

Overall 8/10

Monday, 21 March 2022

Codemasters Collection 1 Review (Evercade)

The Oliver Twins collection was one of our favourite Evercade releases as It encapsulated the feel of the multi-game collections that were so prevalent during the days of microcomputers. The Codemasters collection is another release which again captures the fun, variety and nostalgia of the budget release and is packed with a solid seventeen games spread across the NES and Megadrive.

A lot of the games here were originally on a selection of multi-game budget carts that were released on the NES and they work well without overstaying their welcome. Boomerang Kid and CJ’s Elephant Antics aren’t really anything amazing but in this context, they are breezy distractions that are fun enough platformers to keep you playing for their short duration.

Boomerang Kid is sort of like a semi-bad take on Manic Miner while CJ is a bright but average platform game. Linus Spacehead would be pretty bad on its own but if treated like a short mini game style distraction it is much more palatable with each of its short stages requiring a different sort of platforming. It’s quite varied with one stage having you jump across bubbles, while the next has you avoiding boulders. It’s incredibly frustrating though so thank heavens for the save states.

Two more NES games round out the 8-bit platform section of the cart with both of the Big Nose the Caveman games included. These are much more polished and substantial titles. Again, they aren’t anything revolutionary but both games are enjoyable and fun and well worth spending a chunk of time with. For a bit of variety puzzle/driving game stunt buggies is another of the short and sweet games here with players needing to drive around a maze avoiding obstacles while picking up bombs. It's a good spin on the Pac Man format that is great for quick sessions of play.

Three shooters are also included and each of them has its merits. Bee 52 is a side scrolling blaster with the twist that you are playing as a Bee trying to bring nectar back to it’s hive. It can be frustrating but it’s an original and inventive game that works well. It has perhaps a few too many levels which means things start to get a bit repetitive but it’s well worth a look.

F-16- Renegade and MiG 29: Soviet Fighter are similar games, but both are decent. They are vertically scrolling shooters that also have levels which turn into Afterburner style 3D sections. There are a decent amount of power ups available, and the action is responsive and solid. The level variety helps to keep them fresh, and both proved to be real surprises to us.

By far the best of the NES titles is The Ultimate Stuntman which is quite difficult to get hold of on original hardware now. This uses the classic trope of the day by having each level broken into a different type of game. You start out racing against the clock in a top-down driving section, only to move onto a side scrolling action platformer, a flying level, a wall climbing section and so on. It’s tough but fun and certainly one of the highlights of cart. This really does qualify as one of the ‘hidden gems’ that the Evercade is so keen to unearth.

If the majority of the NES contingent could be seen as the ‘budget’ games, the same cannot be levelled at the Megadrive selection. Ok, so Super Skidmarks is a shambles when compared to the Amiga version but there are genuine all-time classics included here as well.

Perhaps the highest profile of these is Cannon Fodder. This mix of action and strategy has long been fondly remembered across a number of formats. The Megadrive version is a perfectly good port of the game, and it remains as chaotic and fun as it always has as your little squad goes blasting it’s way through a variety of environments.

Another stone cold classic included is Sensible Soccer. The Evercade is lacking is decent football games so this not only helps the collection gain even greater variety but also bolsters the machines line-up considerably. The game remains as fun and playable as always, with the simple controls and high-speed gameplay proving the perfect match for the system both on the VS and via the handheld. There’s a ton of different cups and competitions to play as well so if the bug bites you, you’ll be playing this for hours.

Mega-Lo-Mania is a great fun take on the God sim game. It seems easy at first, but you’ll soon find that assigning your dudes to research and attack takes an awful lot more thought and planning than it seems. It’s likely to eat away many hours of your life as you conquer your way to galactic dominance.

Of course, an Evercade collection wouldn’t be complete without another hidden gem and the 16-bit one on this cart is Cosmic Spacehead. Not to be confused with its NES budget cousin this game is a mix of point and click adventuring, platforming and puzzles. It’s a quirky fun adventure that manages its hybrid format very well. The story follows Cosmic who has crashed his spaceship. He needs to traverse the alien landscape to find the parts to fix it then blast off back home.

Codemasters has also included a previously unreleased game which will enhance its appeal to completionists. Tennis All Stars is difficult to get to grips with but when you do master the tricky controls it does play a solid game. Psycho Pinball rounds out the collection for high score chasers which proves to be a steady, if not amazing, take on the digital pinball format.

Overall, this is one of the best value and most fun carts that you can currently get on the Evercade. There’s a host of different genres and styles to play around with and while many of the games are of the solid to average standard, when put together on one collection is all sort of works. There’s also a good selection of genuinely excellent and iconic games here which makes this an utterly essential purchase and borderline system seller.

 

Overall –

NES Games

Bee 52                                             3/5

Big Nose Freaks Out                      3/5

Big Nose the Caveman                 3/5

Boomerang Kid                              2/5

Cj’S Elephant Antics                      3/5

F-16 Renegade                               3/5

Linus Spacehead                            2/5

MiG 29: Soviet Fighter                  4/5

Stunt Buggies                                 3/5

The Ultimate Stuntman                4/5

Megadrive Games

Cosmic Spacehead                        4/5

Mega-Lo-Mania                             4/5

Cannon Fodder                              5/5

Psycho Pinball                                3/5

Sensible Soccer                              5/5

Super Skidmarks                            2/5

Tennis All Stars                              3/5

Monday, 14 March 2022

Never Alone Arctic Collection Review (Switch)

In Never Alone you play as a small Inupiaq girl named Nuna as she sets out from her village one day and finds herself lost in a terrible blizzard. She stumbles upon a small arctic fox and together the two set out to return home. Along the way they become swept along in various stories from the folklore of the Inupiaq people in what is a puzzle/platform game that has a heavy dose of storytelling and a magical atmosphere not like anything else we’ve played before. The relationship between the two builds throughout as they simply can’t survive the environment without one another. This version of the game also contains the Foxtales DLC which will look at in more depth a little later. 

The game is a 2D platformer much in the mould of something like Limbo. Imagine Limbo with a more natural looking design and the black replaced with white and you wouldn’t be far off. As the pair of Nuna and the fox you must work together to make your way across the harsh landscape of Alaska. Nuna can run and jump and eventually gets access to an ice smashing bolas. The fox can scramble up walls and also talk to the many natural spirits that inhabit the world.

Many of the puzzles involve getting the fox into areas where he can then draw spirits back to help Nuna. Spirits generally take the form of birds that can be used as platforms or creatures that can be used to climb walls. The fox can also control trees and fish. It’s a nice mechanic and one that normally works well. You switch between the two characters with the press of a button or a second player can be brought in to help out. Together you need to overcome everything from polar bears and strong winds to breaking ice and even the odd menacing and magical creature.

Occasionally the computer AI will let you down and your partner will do something stupid and die but on the whole it didn’t stop our progress and there isn’t anything here that should cause you too much frustration in that respect.  The fact checkpoints are fairly generous also helped to keep the frustration low.

It’s hard to talk about the game without giving away much of its magic and surprises but we will say that you are constantly faced with something new to play with or overcome. Each chapter is distinctly different from the last and almost all of them introduce a new mechanic or toy to play with. This means that the game always remains fresh and is all the better for it. It has a fairly brief run time at about three and a half hours but it’s an experience that is far richer than the run time would suggest.

The whole thing is underpinned with some beautiful graphics and a haunting score and these combined with the howling winds make a perfect setting for the story and fill the whole game with a unique and wonderful atmosphere. The narrator of the story also does an incredible job of drawing you in and making you feel real empathy for a little girl and fox lost in the snow. The narration is done in the indigenous language which is a very clever choice as we don’t feel narrating in English would have had anywhere near the same impact. You can just imagine everyone huddled around a fire in the snow listening to him tell the tale.

Overall, Never Alone is a wonderful piece of storytelling tied to a very good platform/puzzle game. It’s an original take on a well-trodden genre that draws inspiration from a rich culture that many of us will know very little about. As such, it creates something unique and new for audiences to enjoy. It creates a world filled with magic and wonder and isn’t that something we all want in our lives a little more?

Overall 8/10

Monday, 7 March 2022

Moto Roader MC Review (Switch)

 

Of all the retro games we thought might make it to Switch, Moto Roader would not have been one we would have guessed at. But here we are some thirty years later experiencing the crazy car madness once again and to be honest, the more PC Engine games that make a comeback the better.

Moto Roader is a simple game. It’s not unlike a five-player version of Micro Machines set on one screen. There is a wide range of different themed tracks which are categorised by different types of environments such as city or jungle. There are also some more fantasy designed tracks and the final ‘dungeon’ track is a completely different type of crazy.

Playing the game is simple. You have your accelerate button and can also fire missiles and drop explosive barrels. There are two types of control method to decide how your car drives as well but apart from that it’s simply about getting around the course faster than your opponents. Very few updates have been made to the core game so you are basically getting the same title as was released on the PC Engine 30 years ago.

It’s fair to say that the single player mode will not last you much time at all. There is a decent selection of cups to try out but races generally last less than a minute so getting through a five track sequence breezes by. The opponent AI is also difficult to deal with at times as with races that last such a short time there is very little room to catch up if you make a mistake. There is no online mode included which is a shame but with this kind of game it is all about local multiplayer and that is where the game is likely to find its long-term appeal.

Overall, Moto Roader MC will perhaps be too simple for some. However, it comes at a very cheap price and there is certainly some chaotic fun to be had if you are using the Switch for regular bouts of local multiplayer action. If you are into retro racing games there is a retro charm here and it is certainly worth a look but don’t be expecting serious depth or single player longevity.

Overall 6/10

Monday, 28 February 2022

Not a Hero: Super Snazzy Edition Review (Nintendo Switch)

Written by Thomas GJ Sharpe

The trailer for Not A Hero set high expectations with ridiculous violence, surreal comedy and well-pitched pixel aesthetic. I can assure you that this game is 90% what it said on the tin and thank heavens for that. Hero has a solid, bold and confident voice in all of its facets.

At first it appeared to be an ultra-violent Bonanza Bros., one of my favourite games of all time. But the cut-section'd buildings and cover system are just the tip of the iceberg. Throw in the viciousness of Hotline Miami, but with a more humourous edge, and a dash of the fantastic (if buggy) Gunpoint, and you have a very potent game. What makes it spark right off the bat, and throughout the campaign, is the incredible writing and voice-acting.

The story is of a psychopathic rabbit called Bunnylord who is running in the British election. Hiring in a selection of killers, Bunnylord hopes to prove he can overcome evil by repeatedly shooting it in the face. The mission briefings are a master-class in nonsensical, hyperactive comedy that may grate on some, but had me rapt. At times, I wanted slightly less pre-mission talking, but on the whole I've watched them with glee.

In-game, you take control of an assassin of your choice, each with their own distinct character, voice and perks. This allows fantastic replay value as you try and chase the three optional goals of each mission. The quips of each murderer are some of the best I've ever heard, both writing and acting, with a distinct UK thread running throughout. My particular favourites are the shot-gunning Scot who doesn't own a kilt, screeching Swansea lass, and Mike who is definitely not drunk. You grab different and suitably silly temporary ammo upgrades and secondary weapons such as mines and Molotovs as you rip through drug-dens, warehouses and apartment blocks.

The gameplay moves at a decent speed, keeping action exciting and giving the appearance of fluid, talented execution, any slower and it could feel a bit thin on the ground. The rich, efficient animation, weapon effects, crackin' music and exemplary voice-acting, build on a very simple premise that never outstays its welcome. All you have to do, however, is consider it all for a moment when you are not playing the game and realise that there is very little there, but really, you don't care as it is an incredible laugh both in cut-scene and in-game.

The campaign is, admittedly, rather short, and even with nine varied characters and three unique goals in each mission, this is a brief game. I expect a medium to low replay value as well, sadly, as the levels are simply not varied in approach or structure enough. I would expect I'd need a bit of time between plays to watch the cut-scenes again and enjoy them, however great they are first time round. I personally don't think that a tenner is exorbitant for this game, perhaps a couple quid too much, but there is enough here to justify it. I've had many a dull experience with games that stretch the same content over a much wider space for triple the price, and this is kudos to the developers for making such a rich game.

From the hilarious graffiti, to the aggressive swearing, to the constantly thrusting killer called Jesus, Not A Hero makes more sense, and more happiness, than most others dare to.

Overall 8/10

Monday, 21 February 2022

SNK VS. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash Review (Switch)

Of all the Neo Geo Pocket games to be ported to the Switch, Card Fighters Clash is arguably the most high profile and the most sought after. While many of the Pocket games are designed to be enjoyed in short bursts befitting of a handheld, Card Fighter Clash will likely see you lose hours of your life.

It’s a simple concept, you pick either the Capcom or SNK version of the game to start your game and you are off in a Pok√©mon style collecting cards and then using them in battle against other players. Handily, both of the versions of the game are included in the switch port and you can trade between them in order to create a complete collection of cards. Sadly, the ability to play against other human players is incredibly limited as there is no online mode which may limit the games appeal for some.

The single player campaign is enjoyable enough and the setup is simple. Players are initially charged with winning six coins from six locations around a small map. In each location you need to defeat three or four players before challenging the area boss. Each player you defeat gives you more cards to play with. Won cards are randomised so you can try and farm them if you wish, though the rarer cards can only be gained from the best players or by completing specific criteria. Once you have the six coins a few more areas open up with ever increasingly complex decks of cards to play against.

The card battles themselves are deceptively complex. Battles play on out on a table where players can lay a maximum of three cards down. When played, cards add whatever special points they have to the players total and also present a battle point value to attack and defend with. The special points then allow for things like dual attacking and launching special abilities. Once cards are down players can either attack with them or hold them back to defend. Once an action has been taken the card in question is then frozen. This is important as you have to weigh up how likely you are to be able to defend against incoming attacks and if an all-out strike by your team is worth leaving yourself defenceless for.

The key here is that you aren’t trying to eliminate all your opponent’s cards but instead knock down their health bar. If they are unable to block an incoming attack with a card the battle points value of the card will be removed from their total. Once it reaches zero, they lose. The same goes for you of course so the balance between attack and defence is key. The only frustrating thing here is of course that there is always a certain random element to how cards come out so some games can be lost very early on with little the player can do about it. Of course, when you get hold of a few better cards to add into your deck this also works the other way as you can destroy your opponent very quickly if they start with a bad hand.

Overall, SNK Vs. Capcom: Card Fighter Clash is a welcome addition to the Switch library. It’s perhaps the Neo Pocket Game that has aged the least and remains the most relevant. It does take a few hours to really get into but once you do, you’ll be losing hours of your life without realising it.

 Overall 8/10

Monday, 14 February 2022

Chaos Brigade Review (Steam)



Written By Thomas G.J. Sharpe

Finally, a game which demonstrates green in a such a xenomorphic hue as 1994’s defining gaming moment Pickle Wars. Chaos Brigade is a nifty, but clunky, little game that has quite an effective take on the reiterative rogue-lite formula. Dolled up in homey, chunky pixel-art, you control one character at a time from a motley squad of space-mercs aiming to cleanse wayward spaceships of alien infestations. Kill the aliens, don’t damage the ship, and that’s all there is to it. There are five characters, each acting as a “life”, who once dead are dead. They have vaguely different performing stats, but to be honest, they all felt about the same in play.

The levels seem to be procedurally generated, with door lock system “rooms” and heal kit modules, and the like, and interestingly, destructible terrain. Destroy a block, it takes from your money (cringingly called “bitcoin”) and forms a little fire obstacle. This pushes you to not spray your weapon all over the shop. Aliens reproduce or evolve as time goes on, becoming more deadly, so there is a degree of mutability and development that the levels go through. This is reminiscent of the explosive (if repetitive) Broforce, except for the fact that you can way more easily make a level impassable in Chaos Brigade.

I started to think of Chaos Brigade a little like Broforce married with the unbelievably underrated Duskers. I then wished that the solo developer (props, indeed) had taken more of a slant to the latter. In Duskers, a beautifully satisfying strategy to rid the xenomorph presence on a vessel would be to flush the wee buggers into space by opening an exterior hull door. I wondered if the destructible element was the real opportunity in Chaos Brigade, wherein I would like to make holes and then escape the impending vacuum of a corridor, while the aliens are sucked out. Something like that, anyway. I feel this is a response to me feeling that the runnin’ n’ gunnin’ wasn’t that fun… nin’. The weapons lack a heft at this stage, and the character movement is a little slippy on the flat, and a bit hard to judge on the jumps.

In short, the environmental elements and fun enemies in Chaos Brigade (not to mention the pretty cool music), is where it is currently working. The character differentiation (outside of special skill) and general movement feel undercooked. Given some more time in the oven, and some tweaking here and there, you have a nice, characterful action-platform romp. Just not quite yet.

Overall 6/10

Monday, 7 February 2022

Worms Collection 1 Review (Evercade)

 

It was a bit of a surprise when the Evercade team announced that Worms was coming to the system. A handheld doesn’t necessarily seem like the best place for the games to be played (we have nightmares about the Gameboy version to this day). But then the VS came along, and everything made more sense.

There are only three games here, which may well raise eyebrows from some. It’s likely down to the space available as the PS1 version of Worms Armageddon is the main part of the package. The Megadrive version of the original game and GBA version of Worms Blast round out the cartridge.

The first issue we found was that Worms on the Megadrive is almost impossible to play if you are colour blind. You simply can’t see the menu’s when they highlight. This is less of an issue with the filters on the VS but still. Also, if you are going to play the original game this really is not the version to go for. If you do get a game set up and running it does run well though so if you have nostalgic memories of it, they should remain untainted - just don’t expect all the sound and videos that some of the other versions have.

Worms Blast is a take on the Puzzle Bobble format where your worm sits in a boat at the bottom of the screen and uses different weapons to blast coloured blocks. It is surprisingly addictive and well realised even in this downgraded version of the game. Colourblind issues are at the fore again, though they are less fatal here. This is really the game that most handheld Evercade players will probably play the most on the cart and while good it’s not amazing and knowing better versions exist is a shame.

The real highlight is of course Worms Armageddon, which is a stalwart of nostalgic multiplayer mayhem. The game runs well on the handheld and removes most of the visual issues that the other games have. There is also a decent single player campaign which acts as a sort of lengthy tutorial for all the weapons with players taking on different challenges. The multiplayer element will potentially last you for years with all the new weapons and additions turning an already crazy game into something even more chaotic. It is potentially the best multiplayer game on the Evercade so if you are looking for something to while away the hours with friends then this could be the game for you.

Overall, this is a difficult cart to pin down. Space may well have been an issue, but the included content does seem light. If Worms Pinball, World Party and the PS1 version of the original game had been included it would have created a much better (and criticism proof), all-round package. The Evercade doesn’t support the PS2 generation of consoles but again, having the stripped down GBA version of Blast here is also a compromise. What it really boils down to is - are you are willing to pay the money for Armageddon?  For some that will be enough. If the game had been bundled with the VS it would feel much more relevant but on its own it may well struggle to get the audience, it deserves.

 

Overall –

Worms                                 3/5

Worms: Blast                     3/5

Worms: Armageddon    5/5

Monday, 31 January 2022

Lacuna Review (Switch)

 

The Darkside detective has cut itself out a nice little niche in the market with the whole pixel art point and click adventure thing. But others are now stepping into the spotlight to provide lovers of pixelated investigation more options for sleuthing. One of these games is the cyberpunk styled Lacuna.

It may seem Bladerunner inspired to begin with but really, the cyberpunk look of the game is the only thing it maintains throughout with the future city providing amble creative ways to set up crime scenes to investigate.

Much of the game follows the pattern of the player being called on their phone and then jumping on a train which heads to the scene of the crime. Players are then briefed at the entrance to the scene about what has gone down and what they need to look for. Investigations play out by the detective then moving around the scene and speaking to people. As well as this you must look for clues which can be highlighted in a circle for further detail.

Clues and information are fairly easy to find, the challenging part comes when you have to wrap up the various parts of each case. You are given police sheets which contain questions with multiple answers. The clues you find point you towards the correct answer to each bit. For instance – one sheet asks you what colour the hair of a perpetrator is. Some of the sheets really require players to sift information for the finer details and the game only auto saves so once you have decided you are locked into it for the duration of the game.

Choices do affect the story as well. While the game continues regardless of how well or how badly you do. How successfully the investigation progresses is tied into how much you get correct and who you direct the police to in certain situations. While we completely understand the autosave decision as well it would have been nice to at least get the chance to start investigations again from the beginning of the day, rather than having to play the whole game though and start again.

At least twice we missed out on large parts of chapters by leaving the scene without realising it. A few simple notifications such as ‘you will not be able to return to this scene’ would have really helped, as sometimes you can move around the city and other times you can’t without it ending the scene and there is no real way to tell.

The investigations themselves and characters are strong and will keep you interested for the duration of the game. Dialogue is well written and the ‘turning over cards’ nature of the genre is represented well. Locations are also varied and unique which helps mask the fact you are effectively going through the same process with each new case. There is also an overarching plot which runs through each investigation which adds more layers for players to try and unpick and ponder as they progress.

Overall, Lacuna is an enjoyable dive into the realm of Noir tied to a modern point and click interface. The puzzle solving being reduced to submission of report sheets might be a step too far for point and click enthusiasts, but it does keep the narrative moving along nicely. The autosave feature will also be divisive but the game is good enough that players will likely want a second run through once they have become wise to Lacuna’s idiosyncrasies.

 Overall 7/10

Monday, 24 January 2022

Intellivision Collection 1 Review (Evercade)

The Evercade has provided a great window into games of years gone by so far and featured a host of different systems ranging from early Atari consoles to the Super Nintendo and Lynx. This cart adds another system to the collection in the Intellivision. It’s a system that many a European gamer may not be familiar with so it’s great to see the Evercade team try and give it and it’s strange, numbered controller, a worthy piece of the spotlight.

The first collection has twelve games which cover a range of genres and contains a surprising amount of fun multiplayer titles as well.  Astro Smash provides a speedy and slick version of the popular arcade title that plays well. OK, the graphics may not be at the pinnacle of video game conversions but this particular twist on the Space Invaders template it is undoubtedly fun to play. Buzz Bombers also follows a similar pattern with you blasting bees to turn them into honeycomb then having to collect it in order to score big points. Again, this is remarkably fast paced and fun despite the visual drawbacks.

There are two maze games included as well which try and innovate on the Pac-Man template. First up is Night Stalker which is a single screen game where you must collect a gun then shoot various monsters such as bats and spiders that appear for points. We found it quite tricky to get used to and didn’t really get into the high score loop with it. Thunder Castle on the other hand we really liked. Here you must make your way through a Forest, Castle and Dungeon by slaying the monster in each. This is done by picking up a magical power from a moving creature (such as a bat), which acts as a sort of power pill that then lets you kill the beastie(s) on the level.  It’s rock hard but also really good fun.

Thin Ice is another good addition to the collection. Here you play as a penguin who draws lines around other penguins to make them fall through the ice. While doing this you need to avoid a polar bear and seal who will track your lines and eat you. It’s another tough but great fun game and we found it soon became strangely addictive. Speaking of strangely addictive, you also have the wonderful Shark Shark on here. This has players controlling a very little fish who must eat his way up the food chain. Each fish you eat makes you grow a bit meaning you can then eat larger fish and so on. It’s a pure high score challenge that works well. For high score chasers there is also a pinball game included but it is a pretty basic affair and not something you are likely to spend much time with.

A host of multiplayer games help to keep things varied and fill out the collection. Slap Shot Super Pro Hockey is a surprisingly engaging, if basic, four on four version of the ice-based sport. Snafu is basically a copy of games like Tron where four ‘snakes’ move around a screen and try to box each other in, and Word Rockets has players becoming far too competitive about firing letters up the screen at moving words in a race to be the first to form fifty of them.

Perhaps the strangest of the multiplayer offerings is Frog Bog. This game is a single screen affair where two frogs sit on lily pads and leap from one to the other trying to catch insects for points. Each game lasts about three minutes and sees the frogs starting in the morning before the sun slowly sets into the evening. The player with the most points by the end of the day wins.

Amidst the genuine classics of old there is also a homebrew title included on the collection and it’s very good. A sort of Intellivision version of Ghouls and Ghosts, Princess Quest is a great platformer set across several varied and colourful levels complete with impressive boss fights. It’s a good pick by the curation team and something that adds a level of uniqueness to the collection.

Overall, it’s great to see another system added to the Evercade library. This collection of games has been carefully curated to try and highlight the strengths the of the Intellivision while at the same time overcoming the not unremarkable problem of the unique controller the system is known for. All the games on here are decent fun and as a collection it works well. We weren’t sure about this cart when it was announced but we are glad to say it is yet another worthy purchase for Evercade fans.

Overall -

Astrosmash                                                  4/5

Buzz Bombers                                              3/5

Frog Bog                                                        3/5

Night Stalker                                                 3/5

Pinball                                                            2/5

Princess Quest                                              4/5

Shark Shark                                                   3/5

Slap Shot Super Pro Hockey                       3/5

Snafu                                                              3/5

Thin Ice                                                          4/5

Thunder Castle                                             4/5

Word Rockets                                               3/5

Monday, 17 January 2022

Speed Limit Review (Steam)

 

Written by Thomas G J Sharpe

At the time of writing, I am hooked back into the moping bleakness of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Anomaly, and I didn’t expect to find Speed Limit the more frustrating game. Unlike S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Speed Limit tests my patience in a way that I can’t quite express without mashing my keyboard. I don’t appreciate this as I just got it and am looking forward to shedding my finger-skin into its wee crevices. If the comparison between a brutal and harsh FPS survival game and a little Canabalt-like game seem a reviewer’s overreach, you’d be correct. There is something here though about the subjectivity of frustration, and stylish difficulty.

Speed Limit is a pixel-art’d arcade game of getting this little guy through various challenging jumpy, shooty, crouchy, and steering challenges. Starting on a side-scrolling train, you have a gun slapped in your hands by a rough-up lookin’ fella and hordes of SWAT, cops and trenchcoated goons start in pursuit. The action adventure across different modes of transport rollicks on at a whiplash inducing pace, but there are regular checkpoints if you get shot, battered by a barrier, crash your helicopter, take a missile to the face, or fall between two trains. That’s really the measure of the game; timing, rehearsal, memory, and execution until you get it right. Your reward is the feeling of speed and the thrill of a chase. Although this didn’t quite measure up to the legendarily well designed respawns in Hotline Miami, you get back into it fast enough with a little VCR filter flourish. Does this break the sense of chase and flow? A bit. Will you stay engaged after death twenty on one section? I didn’t.

In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., as I sat down to enjoy some Neminoff around the campfire with my NPC apoca-gopniks, I thought of McPixel. You remember McPixel? It had a similar chunky pixel-art design, and an absurdist and humourous approach that Speed Limit is in the same park as. The repetition of McPixel was baked-in and part of exploration. In Speed Limit, it is an inherent punishment to me. So, expect to go back over the few short levels a lot. In bits. Like lots of little rushed quick-time events without the prompts, but really there’s little creativity allowed. Think closer to No Time To Explain. Quick reactions and good situational recall are the loops.

I feel the price (£7.99 on Steam for PC) is about a quid too high, but maybe that’s petty. Players who want a more gawdy and varied Canabalt will find a lot of fun in this exercise in escalation. To return to the frustration, however, I absolutely bounced off of this after the fifth (I think… ) level and watched a video showcasing the final segments. The fifth level is like playing any of the Strike games on rails, which was a step too far for me. I’d had enough. I will guarantee you, however, (without spoiler) that the ending is rather great. But I’ll never see it as a result of my own efforts.

And this all sounds rather negative, but really if you enjoy precision movement, nailing that series of moves, and you like something with a sense of humour, you may well lap this up. After seeing the Door Kickers: Action Squad style art, maybe I wanted more, but it’s just… this. And that’s ok. It’s not for me, but there will be some sadists out there who enjoy this.

And now, excuse me, as I need to go back to an irradiated wasteland where I can be insta-gibbed by ball-lightning, with no hint nor preview, in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. Because that’s not frustrating at all.

Overall 6/10

Monday, 10 January 2022

Evercade Arcade Cartridges Roundup

The end of 2021 brought the release of the first Evercade arcade cartridges to the system. Here we look at the initial four releases and see if they can kick start the nostalgia of gathering around a coin op machine with a bunch of sweaty teens.

Technos Arcade 1

Technos is best known for its side scrolling beat’em ups and that is what makes up the most high-profile offerings on this cart. In total eight games are included with Double Dragon 2 and 3 and Combatribes being the signature fighting games. Of these, Combatribes is the most fun and allows for three players to bash skulls together. Unfortunately, the two Double Dragon games don’t stack up as well. DD2 is ok but the third game is a jerky mess. Wrestling game Mania Challenge is also included but is currently broken and unplayable. Once it’s fixed it should be a fun distraction.

Aside from punching people there is a decent Tetris like in Blockout, an average single screen platformer in Minki Monkey and a hard as nails scrolling shooter called Battle Lane Vol 5. None are particularly remarkable unfortunately. Mysterious Stones is an interesting adventure game but often proves too frustrating to be any real fun.

Unfortunately, though the Technos cart looks good on paper the reality is it’s one of the weaker ones available on the system and while the original Double Dragon has performance issues it would still have been nice to see it here.  Combatribes is still great fun in multi-player though so it shouldn’t be completely disregarded.

Atari Arcade 1

The Atari cart takes us back to the early days of arcade gaming with a host of simply yet fun titles. There are thirteen games in total, and many will be familiar to those of a certain age. Arcade icons Centipede, Millipede, Super Breakout and Missile Command are here and are still fun, high score chasing, distractions to engage with. Missile Command is also very much playable without the spinner ball which is good to see. Asteroids is also here - though it’s the original version of the game rather than ‘Asteroids Deluxe’ which is the game it says is included. This is an unfortunate oversight, but it will likely be down to your personal preference how much this bothers you.

Lunar Lander and Liberator seem to have lost some of their original magic now, but they are both still well worth checking out. We can’t see many people spending much time with Night Driver though. Crystal Castles is another solid addition and is by far the best version of the 3D gem collector which is often completely wrecked when it’s been converted to home systems.

There are also a host of great fun multi player games included. The original Pong proves strangely addictive, while Skydiver and Canyon Bomber will see players getting far more competitive than they probably should as they blast blocks and land little parachuting sprites. The standout though is the four player Warlords. Essentially a multiplayer version of breakout players must knock away the shield of their opponents bases while protecting their own. It runs at a breakneck speed and is a lot of fun.

Data East Arcade 1

You get ten games on the Data East cart and all of them are worth playing. Two of the companies most famous games are included in Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja and Sly Spy and both are as fun now as you remember them being. The big chunky graphics and nonstop action mean you’ll likely play them through multiple times. Classic Data East is also on show with Burger Time and Lock ‘n’ Chase providing old school platform and maze action respectively. Both are games that still hold up today and it’s great to see the contrast in Data East’s back catalogue represented.

Both Dark Seal games (Gate of Doom and Wizard Fire) are included as well. Wizard Fire is the better of the two games, but both are solid isometric style beat’em ups with some impressive magic spell effects and monsters to slay.

Shoot’em ups are also represented with Breakthru and Darwin 4078. Breakthru is a fun but brief side scrolling car-based shooter which is strangely addictive. Darwin 4078 is of the vertically scrolling variety and is perhaps the weakest of the games on the cart. That said, it is still solid and well worth spending some time with.

Chain Reaction is a great puzzle game and is basically Magical Drop without the license attached. It works in the same way with shapes needing to be thrown up the screen to make chains that then disappear. We’ve had Magical Drop before on the Evercade but there’s always room for more when the quality is this high.

The highlight of an already excellent package though is Tumblepop. It’s a classic single screen arcade platform game in the truest sense. It’s from the same school as games like Bubble Bobble and Snow Bros and has players sucking up enemies with a vacuum before blasting them back out. The more enemies you can suck up at once then the bigger the projectile you can then shoot back out. You must be careful though as you can only keep the baddies in the sack for a very limited period before they break out and kill you. There’s a wealth of levels here to enjoy and some impressive boss battles as well.

Gaelco Arcade 1

The Gaelco cart only has six games, but this is a real find for the Evercade team. The developer is obscure, and these games haven’t been converted to home systems so many players will be experiencing them for the first time. Glass and Thunder Hoop are the weakest of the games but remain fun. Thunder Hoop is a platform shooter which works well, and Glass is a strange sort of single screen shooter where you must eliminate enemies and blocks. Thunder Hoop does currently have a bug where if you die on level 4 or above it crashes the games unfortunately, but it can be circumvented via save states.

Bio Mechanical Toy is a great Amiga style platform shooter with big graphics and fast paced action. It would fit well on home systems of the time, so this is a real hidden gem. Alligator Hunt is another great fun blasting game in the style of Wild Guns. The Crossshairs shooter is an intense experience and zips along nicely.

Snowboard Championship and World Rally are both examples of great beat the clock racing games. Movement and sense of speed is great, and you’ll be frantically looking for the perfect lines to shave vital seconds off your times. They are both quite tough but also fun and addictive enough to mean you’ll keep coming back to them.

Overall, the first set of arcade carts is a strong showing. The Technos cart is weak but the other three cover a range of arcade experiences and each really highlight fun games that players will want to return to both in single and multiplayer. The biggest issue is that three of the four carts have bugs or curation errors. Some of these are more serious than others and hopefully all will be resolved quickly with updates. Overall though this is a positive start of the Evercade arcade experience.