Monday, 22 April 2019

Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle (PS1 review)

Developer: Activision
Publisher: Activision
Released: 1998

Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle is a platformer that was also released on the Nintendo Game Boy Color in 1998.

There's 14 stages and your job as Pitfall Harry Jr. is to stop the evil temptress Scourge from destroying Earth. You can attack with your Rock Pick, but power-ups can be collected that include a Boomerang and a Flash Bomb that kills everything in the vicinity. Traversing the environments is generally enjoyable due to the huge levels that offer you multiple routes; sure, all paths end up leading you to the ultimate goal of opening up the exit, but the slight non-linear approach is welcome. There's even save points throughout each stage and the checkpoints are very fair. The swinging mechanic is great fun (especially as you can now shift in mid-air to sway towards or away from the camera in order to reach new platforms or collect items) and the game does a good job of encapsulating the Pitfall universe and expanding on it in fresh ways; however, personally I would like to have seen more jungle stages which the series is known for. There's also lots of trial and error (with disappearing platforms everywhere) and memorising the correct route is the only way to succeed. One of the biggest issues is perspective, as it's incredibly hard at time to recognise whether an object or enemy is in the foreground or background. The controls are sensitive too and you can find yourself falling off the side of a platform with regularity. The combat is where things really take a turn for the worst as the controls are horribly delayed and you'll likely settle for mindless button mashing as a last resort. Also, the bosses feature boring, repetitive patterns, and the controls seem even more slippery than usual in these battles.

Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle has some decent level design and a cool swing mechanic, but overall it's a decidedly average game. In particular, the combat is entirely broken and the annoying perspective issues lead to an abundance of trial-and-error that will test the patience of most players.

Random trivia: The in-game voice of Pitfall Harry Jr. was done by Bruce Campbell, who also narrated Spider-Man 2 (2004, PC).

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Jurassic Park (SNES review)

Developer: Ocean Software
Publisher: Ocean Software
Released: 1993

Jurassic Park is an action game that's based on the 1993 hit movie.

A computer malfunction at Jurassic Park has resulted in hundreds of prehistoric predators escaping from their pens; as Dr. Alan Grant you'll need to complete tasks such as activating motion sensors and destroying the raptors' nest before exiting the island. Weapons include a Shotgun and Missile Launcher, and all can be obtained in either the top-down outdoor areas, or the indoor first-person sections. With the former, the game world is sprawling and it's easy to lose your bearings due to the lack of a map; it's not always clear what your next objective is either as the game does a terrible of guiding you. There's little scenic variety and ammo is severely limited which makes combat rather redundant, as you'll be so overpowered by the speedy dinosaurs that you might as well try and avoid them. Hints and tips are often displayed, but they take up half the screen and prove problematic when incoming dinosaurs are partially obscured! The indoor first-person sections are impressive from a graphical standpoint with lots of texture detail. However, once again, without a map it's a tedious process to make headway, and the slow, choppy frame-rate doesn't help matters. The dinosaur A.I. is completely dumb and as long you're at a slight distance they won't bother to attack despite looking directly at you! Saying that, if you shoot whilst a door is opening the SFX of bullets will play, yet no projectiles fire, leaving you open to damage for a split-second! The game's Achilles heel is not having a save or password feature, as despite it being a lengthy, non-linear adventure you're expected to beat it in one sitting!

Jurassic Park deserves credit for its lofty ambition and for trying something new, but in reality the execution leaves a lot to be desired. It's almost impossible to beat without a walk-through, and the lack of in-game maps, saves or passwords makes for some laborious play sessions where you spend most of your time wandering aimlessly.

Random trivia: Jurassic Park was also released on the Sega Mega Drive in 1993 but it was an entirely different game and took on the form of a side-scroller.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Zombies Ate My Neighbors (Sega Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: Konami
Released: 1993

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is an action game that was simply released as Zombies in Europe.

It supports 1-2 players (co-op) and your mission is to stop evil creatures from capturing civilians. There's 48 levels (with 7 bonus levels) and the objective in each is to rescue a certain number of victims before heading to the exit. Weapons include a squirt gun and tomatoes, and items can be picked up that grant you special powers (such as first aid kits or clown decoys). The game gets off to a terrific start and isn't afraid to throw in a few curve balls, such as when a giant, evil baby runs havoc, or when multiple enemies appear that are dressed exactly like you! It also switches up locations from level to level to keep things interesting, and whereas one minute you'll be battling in a mall, the next you're in a suburban neighbourhood. They're cleverly designed too, and although some of them feature intricate layouts it's never aggravating due to the handy map on the right-hand-side. The difficulty starts off gently and you're eased into the action with just a few slow zombies in tow. However, Level 4 ups-the-ante ten-fold due to the aggressive Chainsaw Maniacs that stalk you around the playfield! It's a real spike in challenge, but the upside is that it forces you to learn about item management and how each one can help you. After doing this the action becomes more strategic and manageable for the first half of the game. However, unless you're willing to beat all 48 levels in one go you'll likely be forced into using a password; doing so resets all of your weapons, ammo and items which often leads you ill-equipped to enter battle in later levels. Also, the game loses steam halfway through and recycles the same ideas.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is definitely worthy of a play-through thanks to its frantic and varied gameplay, unique premise and stellar presentation. Unfortunately, it does run out of inspiration later in the game and using the much-needed password system can leave you without the adequate tools for the job.

Random trivia: The developers originally planned to include a battery backup to save your progress, but unfortunately it ended up being too expensive.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Excitebike 64 (N64 review)

Developer: Left Field Productions
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 2000

 Excitebike 64 is a motocross racer and the sequel to the NES classic Excitebike (1984).

It consists of Season (five rounds with five races in each), Exhibition (single race), Time Trials (beat your best time), Special Tracks (bonus courses) and Custom Tracks (make your own courses). The racing adopts more of a simulation approach and in that sense it doesn't really feel anything like the NES original. The controls are very sensitive and complex, and it takes a while to become comfortable with the amount of cornering, stunts and boosts you can do, all while remembering to attack your opponents and stay on the track. In that sense it's similar to 1080° Snowboarding (1998, N64) in that there's a steep learning curve but tons of depth that rewards patient players. Once you get into a rhythm the racing is exhilarating and there's nothing quite like boosting off a ramp, catching big air and then angling your bike diagonally to land on the perfect racing line! The tracks don't have a lot of personality, but there is a nice mixture of wide-open outdoor environments (where you can focus more on the racing) and indoor circuits (where the narrow lanes force you to learn the wheel clip technique to knock down fellow riders). What I really don't like though is the hit-and-miss collision detection mixed with the irritating amount of objects that litter the edges of the tracks, as you'll often bail when your bike lightly scrapes an inconspicuous part of the scenery. The unlockable Special Tracks are a great incentive to keep playing (especially the cool Desert variation where your objective is to touch ten campfires before your opponents), and the Custom Tracks option is intuitive with a wide range of available pieces.

Excitebike 64 is a decent racer and once you get used to its elaborate control scheme there's plenty of high-speed thrills to be had. However, if you're hoping for the same kind of Arcade action from the NES title you'll likely be disappointed, as the simulation approach takes away much of the original's personality and accessibility.

Random trivia: A pre-release version of the game with a few minor differences is available online.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Space Megaforce (SNES review)

Developer: Compile
Publisher: Toho
Released: 1992

Space Megaforce is a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up that was released as Super Aleste in Europe and Japan.

Mechanical spheres have fallen from space and it's your job to stop them attacking cities around the world. Eight weapons are available (such as Lasers and Missiles) and each can be powered up by collecting chips; your health is dependent on the latter, as while taking damage at the maximum Level 6 will only decrease your power, getting hit at Level 0 results in a lost life. The game is a visual beast and some of the effects are astonishing, such as Stage 2's Mode-7 graphics where enemy bases scale and rotate into view from the distance; equally remarkable is Stage 5 with its distorted backgrounds and large amount of destructible scenery. Throughout, there's zero discernible slowdown which is mighty impressive given the ridiculous amount of sprites, bullets and environmental debris littering the screen at all times. Perhaps the main highlight are the huge bosses that can sometimes take up almost the whole screen and each is complimented with clever attack and vulnerability patterns. The range of weapons on offer is vast and I love how you can collect chips to power-up further, as it creates an interesting risk-reward element where you sometimes have to put yourself in harms way. However, when you reach the latter stages it's easy to start having a love/hate relationship with the weapons, as it's not uncommon to accidentally obtain a less powerful one due to icons appearing on screen for lengthy periods of time in crowded spaces. Also, while the stages are usually quite lengthy, a handful are over in a heartbeat and they almost finish in an anti-climactic manner without any sign of a boss battle.

Space Megaforce is a technical marvel and its intense gameplay, interesting level design and unique power-up system make for one of the most satisfying shoot-em-ups on the console. It does have a few shortcomings (the main irritation being the cluttered weapon icons), but overall they don't detract from an otherwise top-notch experience.

Random trivia: The Japanese version of Super Aleste has a number of differences including a more fleshed out plot and ending.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Tetris (Game Boy review)

Developer: Bullet-Proof Software
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1989

Tetris is a puzzle game that was a pack-in for the handheld in Europe and North America.

Seven different shaped blocks fall individually from above and your job is to complete horizontal lines in order to remove them from the playfield; if the blocks reach the top it's game over. They can be moved left and right, dropped faster using Down on the d-pad, or rotated using the A and B buttons. A-Type mode is a high score endurance where the speed steadily increases. The gameplay is the ultimate blend of reflexes meets problem solving, and it's incredibly addictive trying to beat your previous best. Its simplistic mechanics make it intuitive for newcomers, but there's nuance for experts too. For example, removing single lines might be an efficient process, but the real high scores are gained by clearing four lines at once by stacking up blocks around the missing piece; the risk-reward here creates lots of tension due to you gambling on receiving the straight block you need, and it's oh-so-satisfying when you do! The pacing is superb, as it gives you ample time on Level 0 to learn the mechanics, while building to a rapid fire assault around Level 10. The controls are spot-on and it's great how both buttons rotate the pieces in opposing directions depending on which way you need them. B-Type mode tasks you with clearing 25 lines which is ideal quick-play for a handheld. I like how (given the shorter play time of each attempt) different strategies can be employed to focus on surviving rather than organising a perfect playfield! Another brilliant idea is how your score isn't displayed until the end as it keeps you guessing. However, the drawback in both modes is the lack of a battery to save your scores.

Tetris is a defining title on Nintendo's Game Boy handheld that's infinitely playable thanks to its charming simplicity, addictive gameplay and entertaining mode variations. It's a timeless classic that gets everything right and it's easy to recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in video games.

Random trivia: The in-game Type A music is different depending on whether you have a 1.0 or 1.1 ROM on your cartridge.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Duke Nukem 3D (Tiger review)

Developer: Tiger Electronics
Publisher: GT Interactive
Released: 1997

Duke Nukem 3D is a first-person shooter that was originally released on MS-DOS in 1996.

There's three episodes (with four levels each) and your job is to destroy the aliens and foil their plans to destroy Earth. Weapons consist of a Mighty Boot, Pistol, Shotgun and RPG, and your health can be replenished by collecting Medkits and Armor. Instead of 360° movement, Duke moves on a grid where you can walk one block at a time; no turning is involved (apart from when you're approaching the end of a corridor) and instead you can only manoeuvre up, down and strafe left/right. The graphics impress with huge sprites, detailed textures and interesting locations such as a Movie Set. However, the trade-off is performance as the controls are unresponsive and the game engine struggles to keep up with the action, freezing for brief moments often. Another major issue is the repetitive gameplay; the arena sections are littered with the same four alien types and you simply have to keep strafing from left-to-right while inching forward through dark rooms to find the next door. Once you've endured that you'll enter narrow corridors where you shoot enemies and then repeatedly turn 90° to find another alien waiting for you immediately, killing any suspense; irritatingly, unless you have an RPG here (for one-shot kills) you can take unavoidable cheap hits due to your inability to strafe in these corridors. Despite all of the above, the most annoying part of the entire game is the music with its repetitive and primitive bleeps and bloops that cut out whenever you walk or shoot.

While Duke Nukem 3D is a brave and interesting curiosity, the novelty wears off quickly and it's difficult to find many good things to say about its glitchy, laggy and uninspired gameplay. In reality, it's just too ambitious for the under-powered and the end result is a forgettable title that fails to excite.

Random trivia: Various cheats are available by entering certain button combinations during the pause screen.

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