Saturday 22 June 2024

Starblade (3DO review)

Developer: HighTech Lab. Japan
Publisher: Panasonic
Released: 1994

Starblade is a rail shooter that was originally released in the Arcade (1991) and later ported to the Sega CD (1994).

+ Scenically, the battle territories are breathtaking and the trench runs / meteor showers are clearly inspired by Star Wars.

+ Better quality FMV than the Sega CD and you respawn at the same point here instead of being taken back to a checkpoint.

+ Mixes wide-open spaces with claustrophobic areas, and the boss battles take the form of huge, intimidating structures.

+ Distance indicator on the right-hand-side is a great motivator to keep you playing until you finally reach the destination.

- At times, taking damage seems unavoidable due to the sheer amount of incoming projectiles being thrown towards you.

- Game is extremely short (with no replay value) and unlike the Sega CD version there's no difficulty options.

- Includes a mode that adds texture mapped polygons, but the result is a lower frame-rate and jerkier cursor movements.


Friday 21 June 2024

AutoBahn Tokio (3DO review)

Developer: Sanai Enterprise, Sanyei Shobou
Publisher: Panasonic
Released: 1995

AutoBahn Tokio is a racing game that was released exclusively in Japan.

+ Interesting and scenically diverse course design, and your fastest times are automatically saved.

- Anaemic content, and the Championship mode only counts single races rather than performance across all three courses.

- Frame-rate is shockingly low and borders on unplayable, while the poor draw distance results in lots of pop-in.

- Almost impossible to drive with precision due to severe under/over-steer caused by the single-digit frame-rate.

- Drift mechanic is unreliable, so you'll find yourself bumping into walls and brute forcing your way to the finish line.

- Some cars are pointlessly slow, and opponents drive too fast (and flawlessly) for you to even stand a chance of winning.

- Despite featuring five music tracks, only one will play on repeat until you change it in the Options screen of the main menu.


Somer Assault (TurboGrafx-16 / PC Engine review)

Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Released: 1992

Somer Assault is an action game where you control a Slinky spring toy.

+ Your Slinky is nimble, and while the controls are unusual it offers 8-way fire by strategically positioning yourself on platforms.

+ Includes a ton of power-ups that give you a multitude of ways to attack the levels, and unlimited continues are on offer.

+ Learning how to shave off precious seconds by traversing the stages using the jump button to stick to platforms is great fun.

- Power-ups released from destroyed enemies pass by far too quickly, leaving you with little chance of actually collecting them.

- Reverse controls icon serves no purpose but to annoy players, especially as the stage timer is already rather stingy.

- Countdown timer displays a 60-second warning that momentarily freezes the action and takes you out of your flow. 

- Finale boss rush artificially lengthens gameplay, and the music / SFX can resemble the harsh tones of the Atari 7800.


Saturday 15 June 2024

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (NES review)

Developer: Radical Entertainment
Publisher: THQ
Released: 1992

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is an action game that's based on the animated TV series.

+ You can select between either Rocky or Bullwinkle on the fly and each has their own abilities.

- Bullwinkle's attacks are useless, as special moves cost life and your bombs have a ridiculously small blast range.

- Abysmal controls often have a mind of their own, and trying to make micro-adjustments in mid-air is treacherous.

- Screen doesn't scroll far enough ahead to avoid enemies that weirdly enter the screen an inch from the edge.

- Awful collision detection sees you falling through platforms, and the single screen ending isn't worth the effort.

- Ugly graphics with poor texture work and colour clashing, and despite the basic sprites there's still some slowdown.

- Short, looping music is enough to drive you crazy, and the off-key, ear piercing sounds are reminiscent of the Atari 2600.


Batman (PC Engine review)

Developer: Sunsoft
Publisher: Sunsoft
Released: 1990

Batman is a maze game that was only released in Japan.

+ Fans of the Bomberman series of games will find lots to enjoy due to similarities in maze layouts and power-up items.

+ New paths open up as you explore Gotham City's maps, and foes can be shot through walls for a strategic advantage.

+ Music is top-tier with bass-heavy tracks that set a gritty mood, and there's some excellent cinematic cut-scenes.

- Level objectives aren't engaging and the game's repetitive nature is its Achilles heel in terms of longevity.

- Using arrows to transport you around levels is a tedious chore and the game never makes you feel like a superhero.

- Batman is momentarily inoperable once a batarang is launched, which often leaves you in harms way from rear enemies.

- Bosses are entirely absent until the finale, and even the battle against Joker is lacklustre in its simplicity and scope.


Tuesday 11 June 2024

Championship Bowling (NES review)

Developer: Athena
Publisher: Romstar
Released: 1989

Championship Bowling is a sports game that was later released on the Nintendo Famicom in 1991.

+ Supports four players (turn-based) and there's a ton of options to explore including different avatars, lanes and ball weights.

+ Action moves along at a brisk pace (allowing you to play a full game in minutes) and the bowling mechanics are intuitive.

+ Secondary lane view is handy for making micro-adjustments, particularly when attempting a 7-10 split-pin shot.

- Longevity when playing solo is debatable, as without a Tournament mode you're stuck with bowling single games only.

- Little difference between the five available lanes and the associated alley backdrops are almost identical.

- Spin control only takes effect once the ball reaches the pins, which severely limits where you can line up your bowler.

- While the music is good, there's no option to turn it off and the energetic tunes eventually start to irritate.


Sunday 9 June 2024

Toxic Crusaders (NES review)

Developer: TOSE
Publisher: Bandai
Released: 1992

Toxic Crusaders is a side-scrolling beat-em-up that's based on the 1991 cartoon of the same name.

+ Avoiding damage allows you to upgrade your mop so it unleashes projectiles, which is a nice reward for skilled play.

+ Includes a password system to continue your game, and there's some neat graphical touches, cut-scene artwork and music.

- Gameplay is mind-numbing, as you'll face the same handful of enemy sprites while having barely any moves to defeat them.

- Swarming and relentless enemy A.I. is brutal, and it doesn't help that the collision detection is utterly atrocious.

- For some bizarre reason, your strongest attack uses the Select button, which is uncomfortable and unwieldy.

- Level 4's skateboarding section is ill-advised, as it removes your projectile weapon if you're fully powered-up.

- Boss battles are unimaginative and their basic, repetitive patterns make for some truly boring fights.


Saturday 8 June 2024

Treasure Master (NES review)

Developer: Software Creations
Publisher: American Softworks
Released: 1991

Treasure Master is an action-platformer that was only released in North America.

+ Level design makes excellent use of verticality and allows you to explore on land, in the sky, or in the sea.

+ Each world offers new ideas, and despite some necessary backtracking the levels never feel too large or overwhelming.

+ Seamlessly mixes in both action and puzzle elements, and figuring out how to use your inventory is enjoyable.

+ Music is phenomenal with lots of soaring memories and even some tracks that have an energetic, almost techno edge.

- Gameplay is tough due to the amount of trial-and-error that's required, and the collision detection is questionable.

- Enemies respawn constantly, and most screens don't scroll vertically when you jump, instead momentarily pausing to load.

- Locks the final world behind a password that must be inputted before you start, otherwise you can't finish the game.


Tuesday 28 May 2024

Neo Geo Cup '98 Plus Color (Neo Geo Pocket Color review)

Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK
Released: 1999

Neo Geo Cup '98 Plus Color is a football game that's part of the Super Sidekicks series.

+ Does a good job of explaining the strengths and weaknesses of each team, and allows you to customise match tactics.

+ Story mode continually rewards you with points that you can spend to upgrade your team, which adds longevity.

- Camera is too zoomed-in for strategic play, as your teammates aren't usually visible which negates the passing game.

- Auto-player selection feature doesn't work properly and it often refuses to choose the teammate closest to the ball.

- Opponent's goal is only seen by dribbling halfway into the 18-yard box, so you can't aim shots based on the keeper's location.

- CPU is frustratingly aggressive, and not only are they always in the vicinity of the ball, they can also outrun it when it's kicked!

- No real difference between each team, as Brazil players seem to have the same stats as Japan, despite what the game says.



Sunday 26 May 2024

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master (Sega Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Megasoft
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1993

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master is an action game and the sequel to The Revenge of Shinobi (1989, Sega Genesis).

+ Challenge is more balanced than the previous game and the slow-paced difficulty curve allows you to learn the ropes.

+ Comprehensive move-set makes you feel incredibly agile, and using the environment to traverse through levels is fun.

+ New moves such as wall jumping are welcome additions that open up the gameplay to give you more options.

+ Skilled play is rewarded, as avoiding damage enables you to keep your Power Pack item that quickly dispatches enemies.

+ Auto-scrolling sections vary up the gameplay, and the imaginative bosses feature some awesome multi-part battles.

+ Graphics are beautiful with some lush parallax scrolling from the outset, and the music is both tense and energising.

- Double-jump can be finicky, and Level 6 might frustrate some players due to its doors that throw you back to previous areas.


Saturday 25 May 2024

Risky Woods (Sega Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Electronic Arts
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: 1992

Risky Woods is an action-platformer that was first released on the Commodore Amiga in 1992.

+ Has similarities to Ghosts 'n' Goblins (1985, Arcade), but with more depth to its gameplay mechanics and objectives.

+ Nice upgrade possibilities for your weapons and armour that can make the harsh difficulty more manageable.

- Level design is incredibly poor and lacking in imagination, as many sections repeat in what looks like copy/paste jobs.

- Despite enemies attacking from all sides you can only throw projectiles horizontally, so you can’t adequately defend yourself.

- Relentless enemy respawning can annoy, particularly when you’ve started what appears to be an unchallenged gap jump.

- Instead of walking over items to collect them you need to crouch, leaving you open to damage while the animation finishes.

- Some items / statues will either help or punish you, but there's no way to know before interacting with them.


Wednesday 22 May 2024

Battletoads & Double Dragon – The Ultimate Team (Sega Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Rare
Publisher: Tradewest
Released: 1993

Battletoads & Double Dragon – The Ultimate Team is a beat-em-up that was first released on the Nintendo NES in 1993.

+ Level design / gameplay feel cohesive despite tying in two franchises, and the five playable characters add replayability.

+ Reuses some ideas from Battletoads (1991, NES), but new mechanics (e.g. hanging off ledges) expand the formula.

+ Carrying weapons offers you new attacks and combos that are extremely satisfying (and hilarious!) to execute.

+ Well animated cut-scenes hold the story together and are more comprehensive here than the 1993 SNES port.

- Combat can often feel like pot-luck as to who makes contact when you're attempting to strike an opponent.

- Little grace period of invincibility once you've taken damage, which typically means having your health wiped out.

- 16-bit graphical upgrade is decent, but there's nothing here that pushes the console like the 8-bit NES version did.


Battletoads & Double Dragon – The Ultimate Team (NES review)

Developer: Rare
Publisher: Tradewest
Released: 1993

Battletoads & Double Dragon – The Ultimate Team is a beat-em-up that was re-released by Retro-bit Publishing in 2022.

+ Level design / gameplay feel cohesive despite tying in two franchises, and the five playable characters add replayability.

+ Reuses some ideas from Battletoads (1991, NES), but new mechanics (e.g. hanging off ledges) expand the formula.

+ Carrying weapons offers you new attacks and combos that are extremely satisfying (and hilarious!) to execute.

+ Graphics push the NES with awesome faux-3D effects, and the beautifully animated cut-scenes link the story together.

- Combat can often feel like pot-luck as to who makes contact when you're attempting to strike an opponent.

- Little grace period of invincibility once you've taken damage, which typically means having your health wiped out.

- Bosses can be spammed with the dash attack, and the Asteroids (1979, Arcade) inspired stage relies on button mashing.


Tuesday 21 May 2024

Battletoads (Sega Game Gear review)

Developer: Arc System Works, Rare
Publisher: Tradewest
Released: 1993

Battletoads is an action game that was released on multiple platforms including the Nintendo NES (1991) and Sega Mega Drive (1993).

+ Packs in an enormous amount of gameplay variety, which acts as an incentive to keep grinding to the next stage.

+ Notoriously difficult Turbo Tunnel now affords you multiple hits, which takes away some of the frustration.

- However, this stage has a fluctuating frame-rate and the incoming barriers no longer flash before launching toward you.

- Relies too heavily on trial-and-error and mercilessly drops in new mechanics with no prior learning to guide players.

- Missing numerous stages, so it feels like an incomplete port when compared to the similar 8-bit NES version.

- Collision detection is inconsistent and the camera doesn't always scroll far enough to let you see what's ahead.

- Grace period of invincibility after taking damage is ridiculously brief, and the controls are often unresponsive.


Sunday 19 May 2024

Battletoads (Sega Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Arc System Works, Rare
Publisher: Tradewest
Released: 1993

Battletoads is an action game that was first released on the Nintendo NES in 1991.

+ Packs in an enormous amount of gameplay variety, which acts as an incentive to keep grinding to the next stage.

+ Fans of Super Meat Boy (2010, Xbox 360) will find lots to love thanks to the pixel-perfect precision that's often required.

+ Gameplay is tough, but has been toned down from the NES version to give you a fighting chance to succeed.

- Still relies too heavily on trial-and-error and mercilessly drops in new mechanics with no prior learning.

- Enemies have an annoying tendency to throw projectiles from off-screen, leading to a multitude of cheap hits.

- Camera doesn't scroll far enough ahead, and despite being a two-year-old game there's no additional content.

- Collision detection is dodgy and the atrocious, shrill music makes terrible use of the SMPS Z80 sound driver.


Atari Masterpieces Vol. 2 (Nokia N-Gage review)

Developer: Digital Eclipse
Publisher: Atari Interactive
Released: 2006

Atari Masterpieces Vol. 2 is a compilation of Arcade games and the follow-up to Atari Masterpieces Vol. I (2005, Nokia N-Gage).

+ Plenty of options to customise the controls and game settings, and features a video interview with Nolan Bushnell for historical context. 

+ Centipede plays surprisingly well and the fast-paced gameplay is entertaining with little in the way of compromise for the smaller screen.

+ Includes an excellent port of Tempest with awesome rapid-fire abilities and various playfield shapes to spice things up.

- Crystal Castles features an incredibly zoomed-out camera that makes it tough to accurately collect gems and turn corners with finesse.

- Liberator is barely functional, as it's almost impossible to see the minuscule enemies against the coloured backdrop.

- Pong and Warlords don't benefit from the transition to d-pad movement, as without a paddle, precision manoeuvres just aren't possible.

- Likewise, Asteroids Deluxe and Space Duel struggle with micro-control adjustments, and you'll often miss enemies right in front of you.


Saturday 18 May 2024

Battletoads (NES review)

Developer: Rare
Publisher: Tradewest
Released: 1991

Battletoads is an action game that was later released on the Sega Game Gear and Sega Mega Drive in 1993.

+ Graphics are fantastic with some beautiful pixel art and cut-scenes that feature huge sprite work.

+ Packs in an enormous amount of gameplay variety, which acts as an incentive to keep grinding to the next stage.

+ Fans of Super Meat Boy (2010, Xbox 360) will find lots to love thanks to the brutal challenge that demands perfection.

- However, it relies too heavily on trial-and-error and mercilessly drops in new mechanics with no prior learning.

- Entire game basically revolves around having to react to hazards up ahead that you have no visibility of until the last second.

- Collision detection is suspect and the clunky controls don't offer the level of precision required to counteract the difficulty.

- Many levels outstay their welcome by dragging on for far too long, which negates any real fun they may hold.


Friday 17 May 2024

Snakes (Nokia N-Gage review)

Developer: IOMO
Publisher: Nokia
Released: 2005

Snakes is an action game and an updated version of Snake (1998) that came preloaded on Nokia mobile phones.

+ Bite-sized levels are perfect for handheld play and your progress is automatically saved so you can continue at a later date.

+ Does a terrific job of gradually introducing new mechanics and items to spice things up and stop repetition from creeping in.

+ Hexagon grids add a new wrinkle, as they require you to retrain your brain and make sure to account for extra d-pad presses to turn.

+ Strikes a perfect balance of being hypnotically relaxing (especially with its ambient music), while also pushing you to beat the clock.

+ Multiple camera angles to choose from (including a cool overhead view) and the Bluetooth multiplayer mode ensures longevity.

- Slight, but noticeable delay between pressing a direction and your snake performing that action, which can cause unwanted collisions.

- Frame-rate occasionally stutters, and the levels can feel very rigid in the way you're expected to beat them.


Monday 13 May 2024

Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Hidden Treasure (Sega Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Released: 1993

Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Hidden Treasure is a platformer that's exclusive to Sega's 16-bit console.

+ Interesting stage layouts and each typically features areas below ground, as well as in the sky for more perilous platforming.

+ Unconventional level design ideas, such as being able to immediately see the exit, yet needing to work out the correct route.

+ Map / secret exits resemble Super Mario World (1991, SNES) and the wall jump mechanic is great for avoiding hazards.

+ Excellent controls allow you to carefully manoeuvre in mid-air, as well as being able to adjust your vertical jumping distance.

+ Packs a decent challenge, but special attacks even the odds and can be stockpiled throughout each level for strategic use.

- Map screen could be a little clearer and more immediately intuitive in showing you which levels you've beaten / not unlocked.

- Boss battles are rather unimaginative and task you with repeating the same basic attack pattern several times to advance.


Saturday 11 May 2024

Val D'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding (Atari Jaguar review)

Developer: Virtual Studio
Publisher: Atari Corporation
Released: 1994

Val D'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding is a winter sports game and a conversion of Val d'Isère Championship (1994, SNES).

+ Includes three race types, but the checkpoint-based (and fairly extensive) Free Run mode is the star of the show.

+ Action has a good sense of speed and once courses are memorised there's a certain rhythmic quality to the gameplay.

- Infuriatingly tough to stay on track due to minimal arrow signage / barriers and the rolling hills that obscure your vision.

- Camera is positioned too low to the ground, and you can't always see upcoming flags as you're reaching a hill peak.

- No option to battle simultaneously against CPU opponents, so the entirety of the action is a rather isolating experience.

- Game has no personality, and even your fellow opponents are represented by text names instead of avatars.

- Looks and sounds like a 16-bit SNES title, and there's little that takes advantage of the Jaguar's 64-bit power.


Friday 10 May 2024

Bubsy in: Fractured Furry Tales (Atari Jaguar review)

Developer: Imagitec Design
Publisher: Atari Corporation
Released: 1994

Bubsy in: Fractured Furry Tales is a platformer that's exclusive to the Atari Jaguar.

+ Levels are huge with many twists and turns, and there's a password option to continue your progress at a later date.

- However, there's no map or clear direction from the stage design, resulting in aimless wandering and backtracking.

- Controls are atrociously unresponsive, and Bubsy constantly feels like he has a weight pulling him backwards.

- Dreadful collision detection (e.g. you'll often fall through platforms) and enemy placement is rage inducing.

- Gameplay seems like it wants to mimic the speed of Sonic (1991, Sega Genesis), but there's too many instant death traps.

- Camera never shows you the best view of the action and you often need to be at the edge of the screen for it to scroll.

- World 1 music sounds out-of-place and evokes a far too serious and downbeat tone for a whimsical platformer.


Tuesday 7 May 2024

Sega Rally Championship (Nokia N-Gage review)

Developer: Hitmaker
Publisher: Sega
Released: 2004

Sega Rally Championship is a racing game that was only released in Australia.

+ More scenic variety and courses compared to the original game (1995, Arcade), as well as an increase in the number of cars.

+ Shows you the road surface conditions prior to each race and provides you with an option to fine-tune your vehicle accordingly.

- Frame-rate is low and trying to make precise movements with your car is nigh-on impossible as it's overly-sensitive and jittery.

- Cars don't feel like they're connected to the road and slide around corners in an unrealistic fashion, while missing lots of animation frames.

- No real penalty for crashing into side barriers, and although your speedometer decreases, rival cars up ahead will rarely pull away.

- Gameplay is severely lacking in speed and when you're in the middle of a race you'll notice little variance between 60 mph and 110 mph.

- While most stages look semi-decent, the Sandstorm course resembles a developer test area, as it's incredibly barren and unpolished.


Sega Rally Championship (Sega Saturn review)

Developer: Sega AM3, Sega CS3
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1995

Sega Rally Championship is a racing game that was first released in the Arcade in 1995.

+ Cool scenic views and well-designed courses that steadily increase in challenge as you move through the Championship.

+ For an early 32-bit game, it's seriously impressive how cars handle differently based on the type of surface being driven on.

+ Screeching around corners is endlessly entertaining thanks to the impeccable car handling and blistering speed.

+ Co-driver does a good job giving plenty of notice as to what lies ahead, and the overall draw distance is respectable.

+ Includes a multiplayer mode and you can fine-tune cars to your liking (e.g. handling, tires and suspension).

- Only four short courses in the entire game, so unless you're interested in two-player mode longevity is questionable.

- Completing the game in first place requires an almost perfect run, which might put off some casual players.


Monday 6 May 2024

Strahl (3DO review)

Developer: Media Entertainment
Publisher: Panasonic
Released: 1994

Strahl is a Full Motion Video (FMV) game that was first released on the Pioneer LaserActive in 1993.

+ Allows you to select the order in which you tackle the stages, which is excellent for learning the ropes.

+ Gorgeous anime visuals and animation with some terrific fight sequences, and there's a whopping 48 different endings.

- Gameplay is very easy (with no difficulty options) and you'll likely be watching the end credits within 30 minutes.

- There's no penalty for hitting the wrong input, which defeats the object of a quick-time, reaction-based game.

- On-screen button prompts don't usually match up with the FMV, and as a result you don't always feel part of the action.

- Video footage is overexposed, which washes out some detail and makes the button commands harder to see.

- Art design is inconsistent with its varying styles, and the static cut-scenes aren't an engaging method of storytelling.


Sunday 5 May 2024

Burning Soldier (3DO review)

Developer: Genki Co., Ltd.
Publisher: Panasonic
Released: 1994

Burning Soldier is a Full Motion Video (FMV) rail shooter that was also released on Windows (1998).

+ Locales are varied and see you battling closer to ground, in the sky, and even inside claustrophobic enemy quarters.

+ Similar to Panzer Dragoon (1995, Sega Saturn), your secondary attack can lock onto several enemies at once.

+ Includes a two-player co-op mode, along with a reasonable difficulty curve that provides you with infinite continues.

+ Presentation is outstanding and there's a large amount of cut-scenes, as well as up-tempo music to raise the intensity.

- D-pad isn't quite accurate enough to reward skilled play and cheap hits can occur due to jittery reticle movement. 

- Refraining from shooting to revive your shield adds risk-reward, but the charge rate is too slow to be effective.

- In-game voiceovers are very low in the mix, which makes it hard to follow orders and become invested in the overall plot.


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