Friday, 1 November 2019

Gun Boat (Atari 8-bit review)

Developer: General Masters Corporation
Publisher: ALA Software
Released: 1983

Gun Boat is an action game that shares similarities with River Rescue (1983, Atari 8-bit).


The objective is to collect treasure in the river and bring it to the dock to score 200 points. If you hit the scenery or a police boat you lose 100 points, and the game ends when you've lost all five lives. Left and right on the joystick controls your speed, while up and down allows you to dodge the incoming shells that are fired by the police. The worst part of the gameplay is that you will have seen everything it has to offer within the first 20 seconds; there's literally no variation to the scenery (which seems to loop endlessly) and there aren't any additional enemy types or hazards to spice things up. It does nothing to engage the player, and once boredom sets in you'll be wishing for the ability to potentially run out of fuel as in River Raid (1982, Atari 2600) to make things marginally interesting. A major flaw is that the police boats aren't animated correctly, and instead they somehow have the ability to clip through the scenery and reappear after shifting themselves horizontally! This leads to many cheap deaths and the only way to somewhat compensate for this bug is to wait for them to teleport when a bend is approaching. Another weird programming quirk is that enemy shells never fire directly ahead, and instead their shots always bend to the left or right after launching. This might sound like an innocuous comment, but it does mean that the already limited real estate is even more cramped, considering you're having to avoid the scenery, coast guard and their shots that have a 15° spread angle! Even the controls are terrible and inputs will often be interrupted for a split-second while you're continuously holding up or down on the joystick; in a twitch-based game this is completely unforgivable.

Gun Boat is an utterly forgettable title that skimps on gameplay features to provide you with seconds worth of content before it blows its load and repeats the same segment ad nauseum. It's full of programming issues too and more closely resembles an early prototype than a completed and feature-rich game.



Random trivia: ALA Software published 37 Atari 8-bit titles in 1983, including Alien Attack, and Wizards and Dragons.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Bubble Trouble (Atari 8-bit review)

Developer: Keith Harvey
Publisher: Players
Released: 1986

Bubble Trouble is an Arcade-style game that was also released on Commodore 16 and Plus/4 computers (1986).


You control a small bubble (with five lives) and the objective is to collect nine other bubbles to float out of the bathtub, while avoiding small dots that deduct from your total. There's 60 seconds to complete each level and danger comes in the form of nail brushes, shampoo and other bathroom accessories that either move around the water, or fall into the tub at high speed. The first thing of note is the cramped playfield and how cluttered the screen is with enemies, bubbles and dots. Likewise, the controls can take a few moments to adjust to, as the water pressure constantly forces your bubble to rise unless you pull it downwards. These features do make for some challenging gameplay from the get-to, but once you adjust and focus on delicate movements the action becomes highly enjoyable, and you always need to strategise and react quickly. The confined nature of the gameplay adds to the intensity, as does the timer which forces you to play aggressively instead of camping out in one area. The action could easily have become stale, but additional hazards are introduced such as rubber ducks that stalk the top of the water, and spiders that cast webs that halve the playfield; the latter is a clever idea, as while it can force you into even tighter quarters with deadly foes, you can also use it to your advantage by trapping them on one side of the bathtub! There are some neat high score mechanics too, including moving into perilous territory at the top of the water to catch soap for extra points (compared to if you collect it at the bottom). My only minor complaints are that the bottle item looks too similar to the soap (leading to a few cheap deaths), and the repetitive SFX can be overly harsh on the ears.

Bubble Trouble is a terrific game that nails its Arcade style approach perfectly thanks to its fast-paced action, compelling scoring mechanics and intense risk-reward gameplay. It does just enough to mix things up too, ensuring that you remained thoroughly entertained and suitably challenged from level to level.



Random trivia: Keith Harvey also developed Excelsor (1986) and Stratosphere (1987) for Atari 8-bit computers.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

WWF WrestleMania: Steel Cage Challenge (Sega Game Gear review)

Developer: Teeny Weeny Games
Publisher: Flying Edge
Released: 1993

WWF WrestleMania: Steel Cage Challenge is a sports game that was originally released on the Nintendo NES in 1992.


The line-up consists of Hulk Hogan, Irwin R. Schyster, Bret Hart, Macho Man, Ted DiBiase, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Papa Shango, Tatanka and Ric Flair (the last four being exclusive to Sega platforms). Each has an impressive rendition of their entrance music, along with a competent mugshot, and they're even introduced by Howard Finkel beforehand! You can play one-on-one against the computer in either singles or Tag Team matches. A strength indicator shows how much life each wrestler has left; when your opponents bar has been decreased enough you'll want to press Down and B when they're on the ground to attempt a pin. If you're playing in a Steel Cage match you can also win by climbing up the cage before your opponent reaches his feet. Attacks include slams, head butts and flying elbows, and pressing A and B together allows you to run or bounce off the ropes to perform flying clotheslines and shoulder butts. The action plays more like a brawler than a wrestling game, as the moves list is small and no character specific stats or special moves are available. As a result, each wrestler plays exactly the same and with little strategy involved every match ends up with mindless and continuous button mashing. For example, you can literally win matches by standing stationary and repeatedly pressing the kick button! Whereas the Sega Master System version had slowdown in the Tag Team mode, this port crawls along throughout and it's quite shocking how lethargic everything feels. The ability to play against a friend has been stripped out too (e.g. there's no link cable support).

This handheld port of WWF WrestleMania: Steel Cage Challenge suffers from the same issues as the Sega Master System version, namely a lack of deviation in each wrestler's repertoire and a bare-bones move-set. However, it's further crippled by rampant slowdown in all modes, making this by far the worst version to play.



Random trivia: The wrestlers that were exclusive to the NES version were The Mountie, Roddy Piper, Sid Justice and Jake Roberts.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

WWF WrestleMania: Steel Cage Challenge (Sega Master System review)

Developer: Teeny Weeny Games
Publisher: Flying Edge
Released: 1993

WWF WrestleMania: Steel Cage Challenge is a sports game that was originally released on the Nintendo NES in 1992.


The line-up consists of Hulk Hogan, Irwin R. Schyster, Bret Hart, Macho Man, Ted DiBiase, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Papa Shango, Tatanka and Ric Flair (the last four being exclusive to Sega platforms). Each has an impressive rendition of their entrance music, along with a competent mugshot, and they're even introduced by Howard Finkel beforehand! You can play one-on-one against the computer or battle it out with two players competitively. There's also a two-player Tag Team mode where you work together to wrestle the computer. A strength indicator at the top of the screen shows how much life each wrestler has left; when your opponents bar has been decreased enough you'll want to press Down and B when they're on the ground to attempt a pin. If you're playing in a Steel Cage match you can also win by climbing up the cage before your opponent reaches his feet. Attacks include slams, head butts and flying elbows, and pressing A and B together allows you to run or bounce off the ropes to perform flying clotheslines and shoulder butts. The action plays more like a brawler than a wrestling game, as the moves list is small and no character specific stats or special moves are available. As a result, each wrestler plays exactly the same and with little strategy involved every match ends up with mindless and continuous button mashing. For example, you can literally win matches by standing stationary and repeatedly pressing the kick button! To make matters worse, the Tag Team mode features heavy slowdown, as the game engine can't handle four characters on screen at the same time.

WWF WrestleMania: Steel Cage Challenge is a very basic game and one that does its absolute best to implement everything as halfheartedly as possible. Its main gimmick is steel cage matches, but even these can't mask the shoddy gameplay, bare-bones moves list and lack of any deviation between each included wrestler.



Random trivia: The wrestlers that were exclusive to the NES version were The Mountie, Roddy Piper, Sid Justice and Jake Roberts.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Batman Returns (Sega Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Malibu Interactive
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1992

Batman Returns is an action-platformer that's based on the 1992 movie of the same name.


As the Caped Crusader, your mission is to regain control of Gotham City by eliminating The Penguin and his Red Triangle Circus Gang. Unlike the Mega CD version (1993), there are no driving stages and instead the gameplay relies exclusively on side-scrolling platforming. Batman has a range of weapons including Batarangs and Smoke Bombs, as well as a Grappling Hook to reach higher ledges. Unfortunately, the combat is terrible, as you can't fire while jumping, your reach is short and enemies are usually placed in the middle of narrow platforms; if you're out of projectiles you will take damage leaping over to battle them. This results in enemies often having the upper-hand, leaving you feeling more like a punching bag than a superhero. They'll frequently shoot you from off-screen too, or suddenly appear from nowhere, giving you no time to react before taking damage. Worse yet are the repetitive enemy patterns and uninspired stage design that often repeats the exact same layout in quick succession. The bosses are largely forgettable and what's most disappointing is how easy it is to defeat them by simply spamming the punch / kick button rather than employing any strategy. On a plus note, the ability to change weapons on the fly is a great idea, and one that gives the game some replay value as you can test out different attacks on previously challenging sections. Also, the SFX are much punchier than the Mega CD port, and while the music isn't as cinematic this version has the advantage of having some additional tracks which are just as intense in their own right.

Batman Returns is a game that's often frustrating and rarely enjoyable, mainly due to its clunky combat mechanics and pedestrian level design that repeats sections while expecting you not to notice! Overall, it feels unpolished and unbalanced, and even its few good ideas can't pull this one up from sheer mediocrity.



Random trivia: Batman Returns was also released on the Sega Game Gear and Sega Master System, although they're entirely different games to this 16-bit version.

Batman Returns (Mega CD / Sega CD review)

Developer: Malibu Interactive
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1993

Batman Returns is an action game that was originally released on the Sega Mega Drive in 1992 without the driving stages.


As the Caped Crusader, your mission is to regain control of Gotham City by eliminating The Penguin and his Red Triangle Circus Gang. There's two gameplay styles, with the first being timed driving stages where you must shoot enemy vehicles with your gun or missiles. The controls are tight, the action moves at a brisk pace and there's barely any slowdown. It's also graphically impressive, with neat scaling effects, detailed scenery and terrific animation. Some of the bosses are inventive and fun to play too, especially Stage 3's battle which requires you to dodge three lanes of projectiles before ramming into a specific target. Unfortunately, enemies are bullet sponges and your missiles (your only effective weapon) have limited ammo. The stages are also too difficult from the get-go due to the overly strict time limit. The tunnel-based Batskiboat driving stages do away with the combat, but drag on forever with little in the way of variety. The second gameplay style is side-scrolling platforming where Batman has a range of weapons including Batarangs and Smoke Bombs. The combat is terrible, as you can't fire while jumping, your reach is short and enemies are usually placed in the middle of narrow platforms... if you're out of ammo you will take damage leaping over to battle them. This results in enemies having the upper-hand, leaving you feeling more like a punching bag than a superhero. They'll shoot from off-screen too, but worse yet is the repetitive stage design that often repeats the same layout in quick succession. The awesome hard rock music does at least intensify the action though.

With a few tweaks to the difficulty and combat, Batman Returns could have been one of the greatest superhero games of all time thanks to its variety, top-notch graphics and faithful locales. However, it's a clumsy experience that's mega frustrating unless you're willing to grind through tough platforming and rock-hard driving stages.



Random trivia: Interestingly, the options menu allows you to select just the driving or platforming stages to play through.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Ucchannanchan no Hono no Challenger: Denryu Iraira Bo (N64 review)

Developer: Yuke's
Publisher: Hudson
Released: 1997

Ucchannanchan no Hono no Challenger: Denryu Iraira Bo is a six course puzzle game that was only released in Japan.


Battling against the clock, your job is to guide a stick through the maze without touching the sides or hitting obstacles in your path. The analog stick controls movement, while the A or Z buttons increase your speed, and prior to each course you can select different sticks with varying attributes (e.g. the red stick affords you three mistakes instead of the usual one). The courses are well designed with a number of memorable sections to test your hand-eye coordination, and although they're tough, the short length of each lessens much of the frustration; in turn, this provides you with the motivation to continue and the fact that all six courses are unlocked from the get-go is great for more casual players. The red stick works wonders here, as while it disregards your final score it allows you to learn the tricky areas before progressing onto the one-hit sticks. The addition of gigantic bosses is also a neat touch to make you feel part of a bigger world rather than simply moving from A-to-B! The N64's analog stick does a good job of affording you extra precise movement for tight corridors and I like the ability to hold A or Z for extra speed, as it adds a risk-reward element where you put yourself in harms way to attempt a best time. The collision detection is spotty though and you can slightly clip through walls with differing results in terms of failure or continuing. However, the game's main issue is that there's not enough content to keep you occupied for more than a couple of hours; ideally, there should be triple the amount of courses, and even the split-screen VS. mode can't save them from wearing out their welcome.

Ucchannanchan no Hono no Challenger: Denryu Iraira Bo is an entertaining title with a great sense of humour and unique challenge, but it's severely let-down by a lack of content. While the stage design, concept and controls are all top-notch, you're ultimately left wanting more without feeling satisfied with what the game actually has to offer.



Random trivia: The original PlayStation was home to another game in the series called Irritating Stick (1999).

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