Thursday, 5 April 2018

Sticky Balls (Gizmondo review)

Developer: Gizmondo Studios Manchester
Publisher: Gizmondo Games
Released: 2005

Sticky Balls is a puzzle game that's exclusive to the Gizmondo.


The premise is basically pool meets Magical Drop (1995, Arcades), and the objective is to create clusters of similarly coloured balls in order to remove them from the playfield; once they make contact, they're permanently stuck together and care must be taken to avoid directly hitting the wrong coloured ball first, as your bonus value will reset to zero. There's 19 themed tables, as well as 12 bonus tables that can be unlocked. The gameplay is a hypnotically relaxing experience, and it's helped by the fact that there's no time limit. What I enjoy most is that there's numerous ways to beat each level depending on how adventurous (or brave!) you're feeling; sure, you can methodically work your way around the table sticking two balls together at a time, but the big points come from forming large groups and chaining clusters. This it where the game really shines, and managing to pull off a tricky shot by bouncing around the sides of the table is immensely satisfying. Everything feels spot-on, especially the incredibly accurate controls, and regardless of whether you want to lightly tap a ball forwards or navigate tight corridors with power, the outstanding physics never let you down. While the premise could seem repetitive, I like that the developers introduced new mechanics in later levels to keep things fresh (e.g. Stump balls that can't be hit directly, and Struts that hold two different coloured balls together), as they help to challenge your mental agility in creative and engaging ways. The graphics are bright and colourful, and although there is a tiny bit of slowdown when too many balls are on screen, it doesn't affect the gameplay to any meaningful degree.

Sticky Balls is a top-class puzzler due to its addictive premise, superb execution, interesting gameplay mechanics and tight controls. It's easily one of the standout titles on the Gizmondo (as well as being ideally suited to a handheld), and is the kind of game where hours can pass in what seems like minutes!



Random trivia: An upgraded version for the Sony PSP was in development, but was ultimately cancelled.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Classic Compendium (Gizmondo review)

Developer: AI Factory
Publisher: Gizmondo Games
Released: 2005

Classic Compendium is a collection of five popular Western board games.


The games on offer are Chess, Backgammon, Checkers, Reversi and Four in a Line, and each has a range of options including board colours, backdrops and the style of the pieces. The menus are basic but intuitive, and each game plays well with responsive controls. I like that you're shown all available moves when you select a piece, and likewise, you can even choose to accept a hint if you're struggling. A neat feature is the ability to climb the rankings for each game and your progress can be saved along the way; this gives you added motivation to keep coming back until you head-up the leaderboard. What's also nice is that Checkers allows you to play under either U.K. or U.S. rules which dictate whether you're forced to implement a particular move when a piece is available to be taken. While this compilation features a rule book, it would have been beneficial to include a playable tutorial for each board in order to ease the pain for newcomers; as it stands the learning curve is fun, yet steep and it's not helped by the A.I. which is brutally advanced, even at Level 1! Presentation wise, the game certainly isn't a looker and it's unfortunate that no 3D boards or animations were included to take advantage of the hardware; in fact, it's almost as if each one was originally developed for touch-screen devices and then hastily ported over to the Gizmondo. At least the ambient music does a terrific job of creating a soothing atmosphere without distracting you too much.

Classic Compendium features good value for money and the large selection of games and options will keep you playing for a while. It's a shame that the difficulty isn't more balanced though, as those without at least an intermediate understanding of each board game will be repeatedly destroyed by the aggressive CPU!



Random trivia: A sequel called Classic Compendium 2 was also released in 2005.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Gizmondo Motocross 2005 (Gizmondo review)

Developer: Housemarque
Publisher: Fathammer
Released: 2005

Gizmondo Motocross 2005 is a freestyle racing game that adopts an isometric viewpoint.


There's nine bikes available and the modes on offer are Cup (eight track tournament), Quick Race (complete objectives to unlock bikes), Ghost Race (compete against your best time) and Multiplayer (challenge a friend via Bluetooth). While racing, points and boosts can be earned by performing mid-air tricks, such as Nac-Nacs and Heel Kickers. Once the action begins, it takes a while to get used to the sensitive controls and blistering speed; for the first few races you'll likely be veering off course with regularity, but once you take a more cautious approach and use your brakes everything becomes more manageable. The racing reminds me of Excitebike 64 (2000, N64) in that you're always walking the fine line between riding like a pro and being totally out of control! It's chaotic, but in a fun way and the quick, bite-sized nature of each race is perfect for a mobile device. The tracks aren't particularly memorable from an aesthetic point-of-view, but they are expertly designed and challenge you in different ways; for example, while Badlands has plenty of well-placed hills and hairpin turns, Arena is extremely narrow and requires carefully precision to avoid riding out-of-bounds. My main complaint is that there's only nine bikes and eight tracks, and the game doesn't give you many reasons to stick around. The Quick Race mode is actually quite innovative, and rather than just being singular races it tasks you with completing challenges; these include winning without boosting, and finishing first after each lap. This is a great idea (basically acting as a mission mode) that adds variety considering it's the only way to unlock better bikes for the Cup mode.

Gizmondo Motocross 2005 is undeniably light in the content department, but if you can take it at face value there's a lot of fun to be had in the 2-3 hours it takes to unlock everything. The intense racing goes hand-in-hand with the excellent level design, and there's a nice contrast between each of the available modes.



Random trivia: Housemarque also developed the similar looking Flo Boarding on the Nokia N-Gage in 2003.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Hockey Rage (Gizmondo review)

Developer: Chairman & Board
Publisher: Fathammer
Released: 2005

Hockey Rage is a sports game that was only released in the UK and Europe.


It features 16 national teams and the modes on offer are Single Game, World Cup (beat five teams to win) and Multiplayer (play against a friend via Bluetooth). On Offense, you can pass and shoot, while Defense allows you to body-check; both sides of the puck allow you to speed boost when necessary. The game gets off to a fantastic start by providing you with an option to clean the entire ice while driving a Zamboni; it's strangely relaxing and the ability to beat your record time while listening to classical music is genius! The actual gameplay is not so good, as the Wide angle is too zoomed out and it's tough to spot who has the puck in crowded areas; it also doesn't scroll far enough ahead and your player will often outrun the camera. The Close angle is better, although it suffers from the same scrolling issues and it's not easy to see who's available to pass to up the ice. The A.I. is pretty dumb and many times your teammate will casually wander into an offside position as you're skating the puck towards the blue line; they're also useless at checking opposing players and the goalies are regularly caught napping. If you can try and work your way around some of the above, there's an average hockey game here, and scoring on a breakaway or a one-timer following a face-off is just as fun as ever. It's certainly basic (e.g. no advanced options such as line changes and team management), but the responsive controls allow for precision passing, shooting and defending, and the ice physics are spot-on. The polygon graphics, lighting / reflection effects and animation are all excellent too, and the hilarious player voice clips give the game a fun personality.

Hockey Rage is very simplistic, but if you're looking for a fast-paced 'arcadey' take on the sport you could do a lot worse than this. To be honest though, it doesn't really do anything particularly well and the various A.I. and camera issues become even more magnified the deeper you delve into the game.



Random trivia: A version was also released for the Symbian mobile operating system in 2005.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Pocket Ping Pong 2005 (Gizmondo review)

Developer: Netdol Ltd
Publisher: Fathammer
Released: 2005

Pocket Ping Pong 2005 is a sports game that was only released in the UK and Europe.


Arcade mode tasks you with beating six players to win the league. Each character has offensive, defensive and special shots, and the action takes place in a first-person perspective. The immediate problem is that your racket isn't displayed which leaves you guessing as to where you are in relation to the ball. Even if you do make contact, there's not much consistency as to where it will land, and hitting the same button in the same table position will produce different results; this makes winning a match seem more about luck rather than skill. It does become slightly easier the more you play (and there's some enjoyment to be had when you get an opponent off balance with defensive shots and then smash it to their opposite side), but you'll never feel totally in control. The frame-rate doesn't help, as it varies from playable to choppy. Perhaps it wouldn't be as bad if you could judge your opponent's shot type from the SFX, but even those don't play until the ball has crossed over the net! By this point, they've probably already smashed it and you'll be out of position with no time to react. In Target Practice, you launch static balls to hit blocks on the other side of the table within a time limit. It's decent, mainly because you don't have to rally and contend with the wonky controls! Return Fire tasks you with hitting a certain number of balls as they're fired from a cannon at increasing speeds; again, the lack of an on-screen racket and the choppy frame-rate make this frustrating. Nonstop Rally tasks you with keeping the ball in play for as long as possible; unfortunately, many rallies end whenever the game decides to send a ball out of play instead of over the net.

Pocket Ping Pong 2005 has the stench of a game that's either complete shovelware, or that was rushed to market before all the kinks had been ironed out. While it becomes marginally entertaining with repeated attempts, it can teeter dangerous close to being unplayable due to its lousy controls and unstable frame-rate.

Random trivia: This was the only game developed by the South Korean company Netdol Ltd.

Slam City with Scottie Pippen (Mega CD / Sega CD review)

Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Digital Pictures
Released: 1994

Slam City with Scottie Pippen is a Full Motion Video (FMV) basketball game that was also released on the Sega 32X-CD in 1994.


There's five opponents and you can choose to play to a time limit (3-9 mins), or until a specific score is reached (7-21 points). One billion respect points are needed before you can face Scottie, which can be earned by scoring, dunking, or blocking shots (it also decreases if your rival manages to do these). On Offense, the A button shoots and B attempts to break past an opponent. What makes the gameplay so tough is that you have no control over spatial distance; the game wants you to create space, but even when an opening appears the footage will cut away to a completely different scene (e.g. it doesn't match up), and your opponent will easily block your shot. As a result, you either need to guess or get lucky to even score a point, especially as there's no consistency as to how much power is required when shooting. Defensively, A raises your hands, B blocks and C attempts a steal. Again, the action is confusing, as you can have perfect positioning, yet the video will cut-away to your adversary breezing past and dunking. Similarly, you can be face guarding and their shot will swish through the hoop while the video makes it seem as if you were playing two metres away! The FMV often transitions far too quickly (giving you no chance to react) and even if you do steal the ball or block a shot it's usually a fluke rather than actual skill. The video quality isn't the worst I've seen on the Mega CD, but it is very washed out with occasional large blocks of pixelation. Also, the decision to frequently cut-away mid-contest to focus on fan interactions and chat-up scenes is weird, as it interrupts the flow!

Slam City with Scottie Pippen highlights the limitations of the FMV genre, as it reduces the exciting world of basketball to a laughing stock due to its poor controls and almost non-existent gameplay. In reality, it has little depth and favours a bunch of cheesy video clips over giving the player any meaningful control over the action.



Random trivia: The game's video director was Ron Stein, who also worked on Prize Fighter (1994, Mega CD).

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Slam City with Scottie Pippen (Sega 32X-CD review)

Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Digital Pictures
Released: 1994

Slam City with Scottie Pippen is a Full Motion Video (FMV) basketball game that was also released on the Mega CD in 1994.


There's five opponents and you can choose to play to a time limit (3-9 mins), or until a specific score is reached (7-21 points). 1 billion respect points are needed before you can face Scottie, which can be earned by scoring, dunking, or blocking shots (it also decreases if your rival manages to do these). On Offense, the A button shoots and the B button attempts to break past an opponent. What makes the gameplay so tough is that you have no control over spatial distance; the game wants you to create space, but even when an opening appears the footage will cut away to a completely different scene (e.g. it doesn't match up), and your opponent will easily block your shot. As a result, you either need to guess or get extremely lucky to even score a point, especially as there's no consistency as to how much power is required when shooting. Defensively, A raises your hands, B attempts a block and C attempts a steal. Again, the action is confusing, as you can have perfect positioning, yet the video will cut-away to your adversary breezing past and dunking over you. Similarly, you can be face guarding the opposition and their shot will swish through the hoop while the video makes it seem as if you were playing two metres away! The FMV often transitions far too quickly (giving you no chance to react) and even if you do successfully steal the ball or block a shot it's usually a fluke rather than actual skill. The FMV video lacks detail and I have no idea why the game frequently cuts-away mid-contest to focus on fan interactions and chat-up scenes; this interrupts the flow in favour of cringeworthy acting!

Slam City with Scottie Pippen is an ill-advised FMV sports title that takes the exciting world of basketball and reduces it to a laughing stock. The list of problems is never-ending (especially the shoddy core gameplay and unresponsive controls) and you're much better off playing NBA Jam: Tournament Edition (1995, Sega 32X) instead.

Random trivia: The game wasn't released in Brazil until mid-1996.

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