Thursday, 25 January 2018

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Activision
Publisher: Activision
Released: 1994

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is an action-platformer that was released on various systems including the Sega 32X (1995).


As Harry Jr. your quest is to rescue your father from Zakelua: Lord of Evil, and discover the lost treasure of Uaxactun. Your main weapon is a sling that can be used as a whip or a stone thrower, and it can also be charged for a Super Shot by holding down the A button. Boomerangs and Exploding Stones (that clear everything on screen) can also be collected throughout your adventure. The gameplay usually consists of fighting enemies, climbing ropes, swinging on vines to cross gaps and riding ziplines; while this sounds like the pedigree for a great action-platformer, the game has many flaws. For starters, the level design is atrocious and generally consists of unintuitive labyrinths that make exploration a chore. There's also too many instances where enemies are placed directly in front of you after climbing a rope or disengaging from a zipline, leaving you no time before taking damage. Thankfully, the frame-rate is 50/60 frames-per-second (PAL/NTSC) compared to the 25/30 found in the 32X port; this makes for a much smoother experience, particularly when lining up jumps or bouncing between a series of platform springs. Unfortunately, the controls (although not as bad as on the 32X) suffer similar issues with button delay that will often lead you into harms way. Another peeve is the life metre, as instead of a simple health bar the developers included a graphic of a crocodile next to Harry Jr.; the closer it is, the closer you are to death, but it's not easily distinguishable at a glance. On a plus note, the graphics and animation are outstanding and rival those found in Disney's Aladdin (1993, Mega Drive).

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is a real missed opportunity, as despite the promising setting and impressive graphics it's a flawed game due to the sub-par level design and delayed controls. It's great that it runs at a rock-solid frame-rate, but even that can't save it from being a mediocre and ultimately forgettable platformer.



Random trivia: The original Pitfall (1982, Atari 2600) is an unlockable extra by finding a hidden warp in the Lost City of Copan level.

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (32X review)

Developer: Big Bang Software, Zombie Virtual Reality Entertainment
Publisher: Activision
Released: 1995

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is an action-platformer that was released on various systems including the Sega Genesis (1994).


As Harry Jr. your quest is to rescue your father from Zakelua: Lord of Evil, and discover the lost treasure of Uaxactun. Your main weapon is a sling that can be used as a whip or a stone thrower, and it can also be charged for a Super Shot by holding down the A button. Boomerangs and Exploding Stones (that clear everything on screen) can also be collected throughout your adventure. The gameplay usually consists of fighting enemies, climbing ropes, swinging on vines to cross gaps and riding ziplines; while this sounds like the pedigree for a great action-platformer, the game has many flaws. For starters, the level design is atrocious and generally consists of unintuitive labyrinths that make exploration a chore. There's also too many instances where enemies are placed directly in front of you after climbing a rope or disengaging from a zipwire, leaving you no time before taking damage. On a related note, I often found myself being hit due to a very slight, but noticeable delay when pressing the attack button. Another peeve is the life metre, as instead of a simple health bar the developers tried to be cute by including a graphic of a crocodile next to Harry Jr.; the closer it is, the closer you are to death, but it's not easily distinguishable at a glance. The graphics have had a nice upgrade from the 16-bit versions, but the downside is this port only runs at 30 frames-per-second instead of 60; this results in choppy gameplay and instances where you'll mistime jumps. To give the game credit, the animation is superb and the way Harry Jr. swings from side-to-side when climbing ropes is impressive.

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is graphically impressive, but that doesn't make up for the poor level design, delayed controls and godawful frame-rate. Even though the core gameplay is mediocre on the Sega Genesis, you're much better off playing that version, as at least it runs at 60 frames-per-second to ease some frustration!



Random trivia: The original Pitfall (1982, Atari 2600) is an unlockable extra by finding a hidden warp in the Lost City of Copan level.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

NFL Quarterback Club (32X review)

Developer: Iguana Entertainment
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment
Released: 1995

NFL Quarterback Club is a sports game that was originally released on the Nintendo Game Boy (1993).


It features 28 NFL teams, the license of 19 top quarterbacks of the time and 430+ plays. There's also seven modes including Season, Playoffs (8 team tournament), and Simulation (placing you in various game situations). On Offense, it's not immediately apparent which plays are Pass or Run, so it's perhaps not as accommodating to newcomers as John Madden Football (1990, Mega Drive). However, the gameplay is smooth with responsive controls, and there's plenty of neat features such as the ability to see replays and switch between four camera angles. You can also preset your audibles, flip plays, and shift to a no-huddle offense, giving you full control over the action. There's tons of hilarious player celebrations too, and the voice-clips of the officials (e.g. when signaling a First Down) have good clarity. On Defense, providing you have a basic understanding of the different formations, choosing a play is a breeze. Executing your role in each play is simple too thanks to the fantastic controls and ability to switch between players in an instant. One annoyance though is that the game never remembers which player position you chose last; this is especially frustrating if you always want to be a Linebacker and constantly have to cycle through team-mates prior to each snap! The computer A.I. can be dumb too, such as calling unnecessary timeouts when they're ahead and about to punt the ball on 4th Down with less than a minute to go. Graphically, there's some cool scaling effects as you drive towards the endzone, but nothing that takes full advantage of the 32X.

NFL Quarterback Club is clearly a Madden clone, but it does a commendable job of providing a solid game of American Football. There's not much innovation and newbies will likely have a slight learning curve on Offense, but it has a wealth of plays, content and modes to keep you playing for a long time.



Random trivia: The game was also released on the Sega Game Gear, Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo in 1994.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Sonic Blast (Master System review)

Developer: Aspect
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1997

Sonic Blast is a platform game that was originally released on the Sega Game Gear in 1996.


Once again, the objective is to foil Dr. Robotnik's plans for world domination. There's five Zones and you can choose to play as either Sonic (has a mid-air Boost Blast), or Knuckles (has a Sliding Attack and can climb walls). While Sonic didn't exactly whizz through his previous 8-bit outings, here he moves along like a pensioner who's just had a hip replacement; attempting to Spin Dash through loop-de-loops is painful, and it's almost sad watching Sonic struggle to complete this usually trivial task. On occasions, the game doesn't even let you finish the loop and will instead drop you downwards or stop your momentum mid-spin. The collision detection is also inconsistent, resulting in difficulty collecting rings! Bizarrely, the developer's even removed the time counter from the top of the screen, something that's vital for speed runners. The Zones are mostly terrible, but at least the maze-like Yellow Desert Zone switches things up by placing the goal on the bottom-left of Act 2. Blue Marine Zone is a complete shambles, due to its slow, underwater gameplay and confusing series of pipes that you need to navigate to reach the exit. The final Silver Castle Zone is just as bad and sees you trying to find the correct transporter out of the many scattered around. However, the final boss is surprisingly fun, as you need to move a platform from left to right to deflect Dr Robotnik's lasers he shoots from above. Overall, playing as Knuckles is more satisfying than Sonic, mainly because he can climb walls to skip through many tedious sections. The pre-rendered graphics are interesting, but they lack in detail, resulting in everything having a blurry look. What's most unforgivable is that the Special Stages are still in the tiny Game Gear screen resolution!

Sonic Blast is a neat curiosity for Sega fans, but it's a complete mess of a game that fails at almost every turn. It's slow and buggy (some would say unfinished), with sub-par level design, and personally I find it puzzling how Aspect were allowed to keep making 8-bit Sonic platformers after several previous failures!



Random trivia: This Sega Master System version was only released in Brazil.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Silpheed (Mega CD / Sega CD review)

Developer: Game Arts
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1993

Silpheed is a shoot-em-up that was originally released on the Japanese PC-8801 home computer in 1986.


Piloting the SA-77 Silpheed space craft, your mission across 11 stages is to save the Grayzon System by wiping out the terrorist group called Zakalite. Four main weapons are available (e.g. Forward Beam, Auto-Aim) which can be customised prior to each stage, as well as four Optional Weapons (e.g. Bombs, Torpedoes) that are randomly assigned. The SA-77 Silpheed can withstand six bursts of damage, but repairs can be obtained by collecting various items in battle. Creatively, the game is very ambitious and the cinematic, polygon-heavy cut-scenes in the introduction are mind-blowing for a 1993 game! I also like the ability to unlock new weapons and customise which ones to use prior to each stage, as it adds strategy and replayability. Stage 2 is intense as it involves dodging incoming meteors while shooting down enemies. Likewise, Stage 3 has impressive 3D visuals as you swoop around a huge enemy ship before diving in for a Trench Run battle. The game does a good job of keeping the action fresh, as other stages even include morphing scenery. Silpheed's main problem is that it's simply too hard! Right from the start, enemy ships and bullets litter the screen and evading them is tough due to their ridiculous speed of travel and the fact that they require multiple hits to defeat (making you constantly feel under-powered). The backgrounds don't help either as sometimes bullets blur into the scenery. What makes this game ultra frustrating for shoot-em-up novices is that each time you die you're taken back to the start of the level; this is too punishing in my opinion and discourages you from progressing. Your ship doesn't even recharge energy after completing a mission so death quickly becomes an inevitability!

Silpheed is a terrific shooter with engaging level design and awesome visuals, and from a creative point-of-view it really does achieve everything it sets out to do. However, it never quite reaches its true potential due to its brutally challenging gameplay and severely feeble weapon set.



Random trivia: A sequel called Silpheed: The Lost Planet was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2000.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Hydro Thunder (N64 review)

Developer: Eurocom
Publisher: Midway Games
Released: 2000

Hydro Thunder is a boat racing game that was first released in the Arcades in 1999.


It consists of a 1 player Tournament mode, as well as Multiplayer (1-4 players). The former consists of Easy, Medium and Hard competitions that contain three courses each. The objective is to finish courses within a certain position (in order to unlock bonus courses and extra boats), and collecting Boost icons is crucial to succeeding. Gameplay wise, it's reminiscent of Excite Truck (2006, Nintendo Wii) due to its exotic course design, boost jumps and the fact that you always feel close to being out of control! Each boat is responsive, and I like how many vehicles are included to cater towards different play styles. While there isn't really a focus on enemy combat, it's endlessly satisfying to send an opponent flying by crashing into them while boosting! The water physics are great and although they're not as realistic as Wave Race 64 (1996, N64), they still provide some brilliant push and pull against your vehicle. The Easy mode is a breeze, but Medium forces you to replay each course to find all the shortcuts and eventually qualify; it can be annoying to continually restart the same track but it does encourage you to perfect every trick in the book to shave off previous seconds; when you do successfully pull off a boost start, use all of the shortcuts, boost jump to grab extra turbo and finish ahead of the necessary opponents it's an absolute rush and a very rewarding experience. The course design is top-notch too with varied scenery (e.g. the Nile Adventure track features breakaway sections that create chaos!), but I do wish there were more tracks on offer. The multiplayer mode offers a worthwhile distraction, but you can't race alongside A.I. opponents and the tracks can only be raced one at a time (e.g. no tournaments).

Hydro Thunder doesn't have enough content to satisfy you for more than a couple of days, but it's still a fantastic game that's definitely worth a look if you enjoy tough Arcade racers. The stunning track design is the main highlight here and the fact that it's complimented by excellent controls makes this a must-play.



Random trivia: The game was also a launch title for the Sega Dreamcast in 1999.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES review)

Developer: Nintendo R&D4
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1990

Super Mario Bros. 3 is a platformer that was later ported to the Game Boy Advance in 2003.


Your mission is to recover the magic wands from Bowser's seven children, and restore order to the Mushroom World. This adventure sees a return to the gameplay style of the original Super Mario Bros. (1985, NES) rather than the series' sequel, but brings lots of new abilities, such as being able to turn into a Frog (makes swimming easier) and a Raccoon (gives you flight). These provide tons of diversity and it's great how the power-ups you earn from Bonus Levels (e.g. Mushrooms) can be stored and used strategically prior to tricky levels. Whereas the original felt barren in its landscape, SMB3 feels like a living, breathing world with a huge range of enemies, locations, and gameplay challenges. What makes it so enjoyable is the sense of wonderment it creates within its level design; from throwing a turtle shell to reveal a hidden block that warps you to a coin-filled sky area, to flying above the ceiling to find warp whistles, you'll constantly want to explore, and the multiple paths and secrets help to keep you engaged. There's so much variety in each World, including the maze-like Pipe World and the imaginative Giant World where impressively scaled enemies await you. This carries through to the levels of each World, as one minute you'll be jumping on beetles in auto-scrolling pit stages, dodging environmental hazards in a Fortress, booting enemies as you slide down an icy slope, and running away from a raging sun! There's even diagonally scrolling levels which is impressive for the NES! It isn't linear either, as the awesome overworld hub allows some freedom in tackling levels. The controls respond to your every movement with ultra precision, and the catchy music perfectly encapsulates the level design.

Super Mario Bros. 3 is full of elaborate Worlds that really push the series (and the humble NES console) forward in new and exciting ways. Simply put, it's a masterpiece from start to finish and it's no coincidence that it set the standard for all future 2D Mario platformers.



Random trivia: Bowser's seven children are all based on famous musicians (e.g. Ludwig van Koopa is named after Ludwig van Beethoven).

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