Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (NES review)

Developer: Sunsoft
Publisher: Sunsoft
Released: 1990

Gremlins 2: The New Batch is an action-platformer that's based on the 1990 movie of the same name.

Playing as Gizmo, your objective is to stop the evil creatures from taking control of the Clamp Centre. Your method of attack is a projectile, and downed opponents drop Crystal Balls that you can collect; these allow you to power up your weapon in the shop, or to buy other items such as health / lives. Right off the bat, the game shines in its presentation which includes the customary bass-heavy music from Sunsoft and some impressive movie-inspired cut-scenes that are superbly animated. Gameplay wise, everything moves at a brisk pace, but learning to use the environment in order to flank enemies and get a better angle results in a fun game of cat and mouse. The difficulty does ramp up fairly significantly as early as Stage 2-2 (a long level with tough platforming), but thankfully unlimited continues are available. Alongside this, the ability to buy items during each stage is a great touch and upgrading your weapon or obtaining an extra life can often get you out of an otherwise tricky situation. Unfortunately, the action does begin to tire after a few stages, mainly due to the lack of any meaningful gameplay additions, set-pieces or surprises. In many ways, it's reminiscent of Sunsoft's Fester's Quest (1989, NES) in that the entire adventure is basically rinse-and-repeat, with nothing to keep the player invested. Even the stage design is lackluster with bland, oft-repeated hazards and a notable absence of memorable moments. While the controls are decent (and I like that you can correct your path in mid-air), the collision detection is spotty, leading to maddening issues with spatial distancing.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch features above-average gameplay and some remarkable cut-scenes and music, but the rest of its offerings are rather insipid. The forgettable stage design is perhaps the worst offender and when coupled with the poor collision detection you're left with a game that's quite a chore to slog through.

Random trivia: A prototype ROM is available online that features various stage design and musical differences.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Jet Set Radio (Sega Dreamcast review)

Developer: Smilebit
Publisher: Sega
Released: 2000

Jet Set Radio is an extreme sports game that was released in North America as Jet Grind Radio.

You're part of the GGs who compete for turf against three rival gangs in the streets of Tokyo-to. Completing missions usually involves collecting spray cans, locating spots to graffiti and then inputting specific movements using the analog stick, all the while being chased by the police or enemies. While the world isn't technically free roaming (each mission takes place in bite-sized areas), everything is beautifully designed and impeccably stylised; the locales are varied and interesting, and there are many cleverly arranged sections where you can link grinds and tricks together for some impressive combos. The main issue with the gameplay though is the repetitive nature of the missions, as simply running around tagging graffiti spots and attacking enemies isn't engaging enough; while the ability to unlock playable characters by repeating their combos is a neat idea, there's nothing else to break up the monotonous action. Also, the controls are sloppy and the erratic sensitivity of the inputs results in lots of unnecessary anxiety; the automatic grinding is a huge issue and you'll often try to leap towards the ground, only to latch on to a rail and end up facing the wrong way. Another problem is the camera, as without a second analog stick you need to press the L trigger to reset the current angle; in the heat of trying to avoid incoming enemies and finding a missing graffiti spot it can prove to be a very imprecise method of viewing the surrounding area. On a plus note, the cell-shaded graphics feature sharp lines and eye-popping colours, and the catchy music perfectly encapsulates the underground nature of the gameplay.

Jet Set Radio has its moments and can be mildly fun in short bursts, but it takes a very patient gamer to endure its temperamental controls and relentlessly dull mission objectives. While there's no doubting the top-tier level design and gorgeous art style, the rest of the game is unable to maintain similar high standards.

Random trivia: The game has many unused assets including alternate music and different voiceover takes from Professor K.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Power Drive Rally (Atari Jaguar review)

Developer: Rage Software
Publisher: Time Warner Interactive
Released: 1995

Power Drive Rally is a racing game that's exclusive to the Atari Jaguar.

It includes a Season mode which houses various events including solo races (checkpoint based), rally cross (vs. a CPU opponent) and skills tests (obstacle courses against the clock). Each allows you to earn money in order to upgrade your vehicle, or to repair its state to improve performance (e.g. engine, tires, brakes). Season mode is lengthy and it's enjoyable working your way through, surviving to advance to another round and strategising on when to repair your car. The clarity of the voice samples from your navigator is fantastic and actually enhances your driving skills due to you not having to focus purely on on-screen arrows; they also allow you to judge and plan for upcoming turns much better and come in very handy when trying to shave off a few seconds from your closest rival. The action is lacking in personality though (e.g. there's no crowd noise or cut-scenes showing the racers) and it doesn't do anything to excite the player from a presentation standpoint. The courses do an adequate job of featuring multiple layouts per location, and although there's nothing here you haven't seen a million times before, I do like how items such as boosts are scattered throughout to add a risk-reward element. Also, the skills tests add some excellent gameplay variety and once you're familiar with what's required in each one (some trial-and-error is always involved due to the strict time limit) there's a lot of fun to be had in manoeuvring your vehicle in a more delicate manner to the main races. Another plus is that there are three save slots for multiple players to continue their progress at a later date.

Power Drive Rally is an unremarkable, yet solid racing game that plays well and has some nice vehicle upgrade options. It certainly doesn't reach the excitement and intensity of something like Neo Drift Out: New Technology (1996, Neo Geo CD), but it has plenty of content to satisfy if you're looking for a single-player only experience.

Random trivia: The first game in the series was Power Drive, which was released on various systems including the Commodore Amiga (1994) and Super Nintendo (1994).

The Legend of Zelda (NES review)

Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1987

The Legend of Zelda is an action-adventure game that was originally released in 1986 on the Family Computer Disk System.

As Link, your mission is to save Princess Zelda by recovering all eight pieces of the Triforce and destroying the evil Ganon. Your main weapon is a sword, but alternatives such as boomerangs, bow and arrows and bombs can be obtained. For a mid-1980s title, the open world gameplay gives you an unprecedented amount of freedom in how you approach each play session; in fact, the best part is how hours can be spent avoiding dungeons entirely and instead simply taking in the beauty and mystique of the intriguing environments. This autonomy is a theme that runs through the entire game, as the multitude of upgradeable weaponry gives you a ton of ways to tackle each screen. Learning how to use each item to inflict maximum damage to the wide range of enemy types is fun, and I like how you're rewarded for skillful play by possessing a Sword Beam projectile if you have a full life metre. The dungeons are expertly designed too and include many twists and turns so you're not always following a linear path straight to the boss. However, that's not to say that the gameplay is perfect. For instance, enemies have an annoying habit of spawning on top of your sprite (giving you barely any time to avoid taking damage), and it can be annoying to work your way through a dungeon, only to later find out that you need a specific item from the overworld to complete it. Also, while the inclusion of secret pathways and heart containers (to increase your life metre) are much appreciated, their locations are often very obscure unless you spend time burning and bombing everything in sight.

For such an early title in the NES library, there's just so much to do and see in The Legend of Zelda that you can't help but be impressed by what Nintendo managed to achieve. Sure, it can be rather ambiguous at times (and most players will require a guide), but its huge scale and deep gameplay is a compelling combination.

Random trivia: In the Family Computer Disk System version, the Pols Voice enemies can be defeated by speaking into the console's built-in microphone on controller 2.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Road Fighter (MSX review)

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Released: 1985

Road Fighter is a racing game that was also released in the Arcades (1984) and NES (1992).

It consists of six stages and the goal in each is to reach the checkpoint before your car runs out of fuel. Gas can be topped up by collecting icons scattered across the road, but care must be taken to dodge fellow drivers and hazards (such as oil slicks), as crashing causes your vehicle to explode and precious fuel is wasted until you're placed back on the track. While the scrolling is choppy when you begin accelerating, things improve promptly thanks to the incredible gameplay speed; it's fast and furious, and a great test of your reaction times as vehicles scream towards you. These vehicles have different characteristics depending on their colour to keep you on your toes, with standouts being the huge tankers that take up a ton of space, and the pink cars that zig-zag across the road; it's especially fun trying to duke the latter out by faking in one direction and then quickly swerving back the other way! The difficulty progression is perfect too, with hazards being slowly introduced to mix things up, as well as the roads gradually narrowing with heavier traffic. The collision detection is spot-on and every time you crash it's completely down to poor play. The graphical assets do repeat quite often in each stage, but I do like how the game's six locations offer completely different environments to make you feel like you're on an epic journey. Another neat feature is the map screen that shows your progress at the end of each stage; here you can see what's waiting up ahead, acting as further incentive to keep playing. To top things off, this version includes all six stages, unlike the paltry four in the NES port.

Road Fighter is undoubtedly a simplistic racing game, but everything about it is so well executed that it remains infinity playable. The action is fast-paced and the controls are responsive, while the varied locales offer plenty of visual stimulation to round up an excellent port that's convincingly faithful to the Arcade original.

Random trivia: While the NES port wasn't available until 1992, the Nintendo Famicom version was released seven years earlier in 1985!

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 (Sega Dreamcast review)

Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision
Released: 2000

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 is a sports game that was released in the same year as the original on the Sega Dreamcast.

This time the levels have been increased from six to ten and include locations such as New York City, Venice Beach and a Bullring in Mexico. What makes the skating so appealing is that you're encouraged to explore each one in depth as there are many hidden sections to be found; also, the objectives have been raised to ten per level with much more variety and trick-specific goals. The main control innovation is the introduction of manuals; these are performed by quickly pressing Up then Down on the d-pad and they allow you to link tricks together for much bigger scores. This seemingly minor addition opens up gameplay possibilities as it connects the levels and trick objects together in a way that felt much more isolated in the first game. Instead of automatically levelling up you gain cash for each completed objective which you can spend in the shop to increase your stats; this adds replayability, as you can challenge yourself to beat the game in both vert and street styles. The competitions return where you have one minute to get the highest possible score; these are a great place to work on tricks and it's fun scouting around in an attempt to find the best area to suit your skating approach. There's also a Park Editor which allows you to create your own arenas. Once again, the music shines and the variety of hip hop, rock and punk tracks really compliment the action. Compared to other versions, this Dreamcast port has a much better draw distance and higher resolution textures. Also, the entire set of unlockable skater and bail compilation videos are featured, unlike the N64 version (2001).

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 is an absolute gem that never gets old thanks to its supreme level design, top-notch presentation, enjoyable missions and awesome gameplay innovations. Everything comes together to create a cohesive whole that's a magical experience and one that you'll want to return to again and again.

Random trivia: At the time of writing, this Sega Dreamcast version is one of the highest rated games of all time on Metacritic, with an average review score of 97.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Puzzle Link (Neo Geo Pocket Color review)

Developer: Yumekobo
Publisher: SNK
Released: 1999

Puzzle Link is a puzzle game that was originally released in 1998 on the B&W Neo Geo Pocket handheld console.

The object is to fire connectors to link matching targets together in order to remove them from the playfield. Three modes are available which are Normal (survive long enough and then link both 'C' icons to complete the round), Clear All (remove all on-screen targets) and Battle (compete against a friend). The fast-paced action is top-notch and learning to link combos together is key; this is especially true in Stage 4-5 which only provides you with two different block types for some serious chain explosions as they continually race towards you. These explosions are extremely satisfying, particularly when you're close to death, only to be saved by a massive chain that destroys almost the entire playfield! In Normal mode, simply managing to clear the screen would be nerve-wracking enough, but the need to last until both 'C' icons appear creates an intense atmosphere that's both stressful and fun! Once both icons are visible there's always a mad dash to link them together which adds a nice layer of variety and strategy to the end of each round. The gameplay is addictive on its own, but it also breeds a 'just one more go' mentality for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there's the fact that each stage is split up into five bite-sized rounds that need to be fully completed in order to unlock the next stage. Secondly, Pokemon style character cards can be earned by beating the round timer, giving you added incentive to keep playing to collect all 91 of them. It's all very cleverly implemented and rewarding, and even when you've unlocked everything there's still the exceptional Battle mode for increased replayability.

Puzzle Link is an addictive take on the genre and its fresh, innovative approach results in some enjoyable gameplay that can last for hours at a time. There's plenty of content to sink your teeth into and the character card rewards for beating rounds is a continual nudge to keep playing.

Random trivia: A sequel called Puzzle Link 2 was released on the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 2000.

Find a Review