Friday, 28 July 2017

Golf (NES review)

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1985

Golf is a sports game that was released as part of the NES Black Box series.

A total of 18 holes are available that can be played in either a 1-2 player Stroke mode (lowest score overall wins), or a 2 player Match mode (points are awarded for each hole). To hit the ball, you press A to start a metre, again to stop it at your desired power, and then once more as it moves in the opposite direction towards a white line, signifying the sweet spot; missing this sweet spot will cause the ball to curve to the left or right, but Super Shots can be activated if you achieve top power and perfect accuracy when using a 1 Wood. The swing metre is very innovative (given it's still being used in modern golf games!) and I like how each club has it's own sweet spot that expands as you move from the Woods into the Irons. The metre moves surprisingly quickly, but the main problem is trying to line up a shot, as the directional arrow only moves in increments rather than in a fluid motion. In fairness, this does force you to learn how to hook and slice shots, but it's still annoying! The biggest issue though is the lack of in-game stats regarding club power and remaining distance to the pin; this means you have to either guess, or constantly refer to the manual which detracts from the immersion. Putting fares no better, as despite visible arrows to signify breaks, there's nothing to show the severity. The course design is average, with all the standard features you'd expect, but no surprises or imagination; it's purely functional rather than focussing on fun. The only mildly interesting course is Hole 6 due to its multitude of islands. While the double camera view is neat during gameplay, the action is lifeless due to the complete lack of audio and SFX from the time you turn on the game to taking your first shot!
Golf isn't as pick-up-and-play as other games in the genre due to its quirky controls and lack of in-game statistics. It also has none of the usual Nintendo charm or encouragement while you play, and overall it's just a really dull, soulless golf game that takes far too much time to adjust to.
Random trivia: Nine holes in the Wii Sports (2006, Nintendo Wii) golf mini-game were 3D recreations from this NES title.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Wrecking Crew (NES review)

Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1985

Wrecking Crew is an action game that was released as part of the NES Black Box series.

It contains 100 stages and the objective in each is to demolish the flashing walls, doors and ladders using Mario or Luigi's hammer. The foreman Spike tries to impede your progress, and if an enemy or fireball touches you you'll lose a life. While you can't directly attack opponents, you can knock down pillars to capture them in drums, or send them to the bottom of the level by blowing up dynamite. What might initially seem like a pure action title is just as much of a puzzler, which adds to its depth and stops it from being a mindless destruction game. The clever and intricate stages start off basic, but eventually morph into larger areas; I particularly like those that require you to use dynamite to drop platforms and then destroy a previously unbreakable wall. Other enjoyable stages play like a game of dominos, as you hit one beam and watch as carnage happens around you! Some levels can feel impossibly difficult to start with, but with persistence there's usually a snigger-inducing way to blow up a row of enemies and make your life a whole lot easier. Similarly, it's always fun to smash a supporting beam and watch a drum land directly onto a bad guy! Enemies attack non-stop, and the fact that they're always hot on your heels (with no direct way to attack them) gives the game an intense, claustrophobic feel that's perfect for an Arcade style title. The game can be incredibly tough at times, but the ability to select any level from the title screen lessens some of the frustration. The Design mode also allows you to create up to four stages; it's a fantastic addition but unfortunately the Save/Load feature doesn't work.
Wrecking Crew is a unique game that manages to successfully blend action and puzzle elements into a fun, cohesive whole. It does get a bit repetitive after a while, but there's a ton of content here and the ability to choose any level, at any time, makes it a great game to return to.
Random trivia: The Save/Load feature works on the Famicom version if used alongside the Data Recorder.

Monday, 24 July 2017

WWF Wrestlemania (NES review)

Developer: Rare
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment
Released: 1989

WWF Wrestlemania is a sports title and the first fully-licensed WWF videogame.

It consists of a 1-2 player Standard mode (single matches), as well as a 1-6 player Tournament mode (15 match competition). The available wrestlers are Ted DiBiase, Bam Bam Bigelow, Honky Tonk Man, Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, and Hulk Hogan, and each has a specific move set that includes Bodyslams, Dropkicks and Headbutts. Upon starting a match, it immediately feels strange to be competing in an empty arena (represented by a pure black background) and the lack of atmosphere extends to the crowd SFX which are entirely absent. The wrestling is just as anaemic as you can't grapple, and close quarters combat is complete luck as to who takes damage. It's so poor and unpredictable that matches usually consist of both wrestlers running between the ropes while trying to flying kick their opponent! Attempted pins register infrequently and some wrestlers even have a different pin button which is confusing! Continuing the theme, the turnbuckle moves are ridiculous and simply climbing the ropes is unintuitive; you'd expect to reach a corner and then press a button, but not here. Instead, you must sprint towards the ropes and then press the B button the split-second you reach the turnbuckles! It's completely unnecessary and is yet another reason why you'll be flailing around the ring like an idiot. There's also a paltry number of moves and wrestlers to choose from, and some (e.g. Ted DiBiase) aren't worth picking as they're so slow and underpowered. Others are far too dominant, especially Andre the Giant, who can zip around the ring despite being over 7 feet tall! The only positive is the music which features good renditions of each wrestlers' theme tune.
WWF Wrestlemania is a shambles due to its perplexing button layouts, ill-conceived combat mechanics and unbalanced characters. Winning the championship belt takes more luck than it does skill, but the real challenge comes from trying to stay awake long enough to endure the highly repetitive and bland gameplay.
Random trivia: Rare also developed the follow-up game called WWF Wrestlemania Challenge (1990, NES).

Monday, 17 July 2017

GoldenEye 007 (N64 review)

Developer: Rare
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1997

GoldenEye 007 is a first-person shooter that's exclusive to the N64.

Your mission is to recover a combat helicopter and investigate a disturbance resulting from the GoldenEye weapon satellite. A huge range of weapons are available (e.g. RC P90 and Rocket Launcher), as well as a substantial set of gadgets (e.g. Watch Laser and Bomb Defuser). There's 20 levels and each requires you to complete all the objectives and locate the exit. The controls are great, with generous auto-aim, and I like that there's always plenty of ammo. The gameplay is chock full of memorable moments, none more so than in Facility where you aim down from the ceiling ventilation and discretely dispatch an enemy who's lurking in a bathroom stall! The ability to drive a tank in the Streets mission is awesome too, especially when you use it to mow down enemies and take out mines littering the road. Likewise, the Train mission adds some really nice variety by shedding the wide open spaces in favour of claustrophobic corridors littered with enemies. The Jungle level is equally intense, mainly due to the developers dropping the game's awesome music in favour of ambient sounds. Where the game falters is in its stealth missions, as enemies spot you immediately, even if you're carefully peaking around a corner. There's also lots of trial and error and a fluctuating frame-rate, and the short draw distance can result in cheap shots. However, each mission is enjoyable and I love how there's a greater set of objectives depending on the difficulty level chosen. The addictive Multiplayer mode has tons of options and it's impressive how well everything runs in split-screen mode, with hardly any slowdown.
GoldenEye 007 is starting to show its age in some technical aspects, but that still doesn't affect its stature as both an excellent single player and multiplayer game. Its sheer size and scope is impressive, as is its top-tier level design, weapon range and controls, making for one of the best first-person shooters of its time.
Random trivia: Despite selling over eight million copies, the game has never been re-released due to licensing issues.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Tennis (NES review)

Developer: Nintendo R&D1, Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1985

Tennis is a sports game that was one of 18 launch titles in Europe and North America.

It features five skill levels and allows you to play either singles or doubles matches in a best of three sets. The shot selection includes a smash, volley and lob, as well as forehand and backhand shots. Unfortunately, the game is barebones in terms of content, as you have no control over set length or surface. Likewise, you can't play against another human opponent; singles is purely against the CPU, while doubles only allows you to play alongside another human. Things don't improve on the court either; for example, when a ball is approaching, your player constantly switches between the forehand and backhand position, which makes it difficult to line up correctly prior to a swing. This affects the action as you'll often miss or end up with the ball hitting your player! Placing shots is tough too, as the timing of your swing dictates where the ball will travel; it's awkward to become accustomed to, especially if you're used to holding a direction on the controller. Due to how little control you have over shot location it does feel more like a glorified version of Pong (1972, Arcades) rather than a Tennis simulation. In the higher difficulties it's impossible to win a point using the long game; this forces you to switch to the short volley game, but this area is lacking too, as most of the time your player will either swing at thin air, or take a ball in the face! Serving is the only part that's well implemented, and I like how there's a secret fast serve which rewards skilful play by achieving perfect timing. My favourite part of the game is the strangely aggressive CPU player who frequently charges the net with his racket cocked!
Tennis is an extremely basic sports game that hasn't aged well, and the exclusion of a multiplayer VS mode is unforgiveable. Even if you focus on what's here the lack of options makes for some mundane matches, and you're much better off sticking to Jimmy Connors Tennis (1993, NES) instead.

Random trivia: This game was a playable extra in Animal Crossing (2002, GameCube).

Monday, 10 July 2017

Hudson's Adventure Island (NES review)

Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Released: 1988

Hudson's Adventure Island is a platform game that was also released on MSX computers in 1986.

Playing as Master Higgins, your mission is to travel through eight worlds (with four levels each), defeat the Evil Witch Doctor and rescue Princess Leilani. Your weapons are a Stone Axe and Fireballs, but a Skateboard can also be collected to afford you a second hit before losing a life. As you play, an energy metre constantly depletes and to stay alive you'll need to collect fruit scattered around the area. While the game has a cute exterior, the action is hard-as-nails! Enemies are always in tough spots and beating most levels relies on pattern recognition and pixel-perfect jumps. The collision detection and controls are excellent though, leading to extreme satisfaction when you do manage to beat a tough level. It's a real thrill when you get on a roll, and pummelling through enemies with the Invincibility power-up is just as satisfying as Super Mario Bros (1985, NES). The action is simple, yet charming, and strikes a great balance of risk-reward whereby you instinctively want to rush through the level to avoid running out of fruit, yet, speeding along too fast will likely see you reaching an early grave! The levels are just the right length to give you a tough, yet realistic challenge too, and don't outstay their welcome. The main gameplay concept is admittedly repetitive, but the interesting and varied level design (including caves, forests and air-based sections) help to keep things feeling fresh. The biggest disappointment are the bosses, as they're almost identical to each other and have an easy-to-spot pattern. There's also some flicker and a ton of slowdown later in the game that can affect your timing and precision.
Hudson's Adventure Island definitely isn't for the faint-of-heart and if you're easily frustrated you should perhaps look elsewhere. However, if you like a real challenge there's a great little platformer here, and as long as you head into the game with the right mind-set there's plenty of fun to be had.
Random trivia: An in-game cheat allows you to continue at the same level with a full stock of lives.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Toy Golf (Gizmondo review)

Developer: Ninai Games
Publisher: Fathammer
Released: 2005

Toy Golf is a sports game that was later released on the PC in 2006.

It contains nine holes spread between three different tournaments; Bronze is available immediately, but to unlock the Silver and Gold tournaments you'll need to finish with at least even-par. The gameplay is simple and the only control you have is to line-up your shot by moving a cursor and then selecting the necessary strength on the power bar. While the mechanics are intuitive and the metre moves at a playable speed, it's tricky to consistently execute shots as a very specific amount of power is required. For example, many times you'll attempt to tap the ball forward a tiny amount, only to end up hitting it too far or too little! Even the difference between two digits on the power bar is huge, and it becomes a gigantic issue when you discover that shortcuts rely on you stopping the metre at an exact number! What follows is some deeply frustrating gameplay right from the outset, starting with the punishing first hole. There's nothing that helps to ease you into the action and the only way to pass the Bronze tournament is to repeatedly play the same three holes over and over again until you develop a strategy, or (more likely) get lucky! To make the situation worse, there's no restart button if you make a mistake, which forces you to quit to the main menu every time you want to retry. Some of these frustrations could have been eased if the course design was up to scratch, but the measly nine holes are lacklustre with no interaction from the promising locations which include a Bathroom and a Kitchen. The only stage with any amount of imagination is the par 3 Toy Room hole where the ball pretty much rolls itself down a lengthy obstacle course.
If you enjoy banging your head against a brick wall, Toy Golf will be right up your alley with its extreme trial-and-error gameplay and inaccurate control mechanics. It resembles a badly made shareware demo, and its low margin for error is really just a way to disguise how barebones the entire package is.
Random trivia: A sequel called Toy Golf Extreme was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2008.

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