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.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Point of Destruction (Gizmondo review)

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

Point of Destruction is a single-screen shooter, and an updated version of the C64 classic Proof of Destruction (1987).

Your objective is to endure waves of alien attacks by surviving until the clock runs out. There's 100 waves in total, as well as 20 different enemy types (including seven brand new ones). Collecting purple icons gives you a shield, while green icons give you smart bombs, and your standard pea-shooter can be upgraded multiple times by obtaining red icons. The gameplay can favourably be compared to Tempest (1994, Atari Jaguar) due to its grid-like level design, zoomed stage transitions, stunning particle effects and awesome techno soundtrack. It's just as frantic too, and what's most impressive is that there isn't even a hint of slowdown. While taking damage results in you losing your power-ups, the collision detection is pixel-perfect and it's strangely satisfying to survive long enough to build up your weapons again. Just when the game has presumably reached its apex, the developers throw in a massive curve ball in Stage 51; suddenly enemies start appearing from the bottom of the screen, and unless you have the side-shot power-ups you have to dodge them first and then fire! It's a brilliantly simple gameplay twist, but one that adds some much needed variety at a crucial point. It becomes a real fight for survival and the claustrophobic, cluttered battlegrounds and fast-paced music do a fantastic job of evoking an intense atmosphere. The Bonus Stages task you with surviving for as long as possible against an onslaught of enemies and unbreakable barriers. They're brutal due to the ridiculously fast rate of obstacle descent, but it's enjoyable trying to beat your best score by strategically using smart bombs to earn extra lives.
With its smooth controls and non-stop action, Point of Destruction is the kind of game where you start playing and before you know it an entire hour has flown by! It's highly addictive trying to complete a previously unbeatable wave and overall it's the perfect mobile game to dip in-and-out of.
Random trivia: This game was developed by the same team that made Trailblazer (2005, Gizmondo).

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Wacky Races (NES review)

Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Released: 1992

Wacky Races is a platformer that's based on the animated TV series of the same name.

Playing as Muttley, your mission is to rescue Dick Dastardly and navigate through three worlds (each with 3-4 stages) in an attempt to win the Wacky Races competition. Your main attack involves biting enemies, but bones can be collected that shift along a power-up item window in the bottom-left, similar to Gradius (1985, Arcades); at any point, you can activate one of these power-ups which consist of Bombs, a projectile Sonic Bark, Wings that allow you to float, or Hearts that refill your life metre. One nice feature is that you can select the order to tackle the three worlds right from the start. While the level design isn't particularly inventive, I do like that it doesn't stick with the same scenery in each stage; for example World C-2 starts off in a suburban neighbourhood before quickly transitioning to a rooftop scene. Some moments clearly take inspiration from a famous Italian plumber, such as the Piranha Plants that spit fireballs in A-1, and the pipe area filled with jumping flames in A-2 that's reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990, NES). There's also an obligatory ice stage with overly slippery controls, as well as a tiresome underwater stage where you have to continually hold Down on the d-pad to stop Muttley from rising to the surface. Everything is nicely presented, but unfortunately there are no surprises or memorable moments. The game is extremely easy too, mainly due to your extensive life-bar and the multiple opportunities you have to refill it during each stage. The bosses are a breeze due to their simple patterns, but it is initially jarring how fast they move compared to the slow pace of preceding areas!
Wacky Races lacks any degree of challenge, but if you're looking for a simple and mildly entertaining platformer give this one a go. It's the kind of game you don't have to think too much about (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), but the pedestrian level design shows that the developers didn't exactly aim to set the world on fire.
Random trivia: The game was only released in Japan and North America.

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