Friday, 27 May 2022

A/X-101 (Mega CD / Sega CD review)

Developer: Genki, Micronet
Publisher: Absolute Entertainment
Released: 1994

A/X-101 is a Full Motion Video (FMV) rail shooter that's exclusive to Sega's CD platform.

+ While your arsenal is limited, being able to charge shots for max damage or use the weaker burst mode enhances strategy.

+ Your shield regenerates health when avoiding damage which is a great gameplay mechanic that rewards skilled players.

+ Boss fights have an epic feel and the battle arenas are foreboding and visually appealing.

+ Presentation is fantastic and it's clear that tons of work went into making the 3D cut-scenes as detailed as possible.

- However, the cut-scenes take priority over gameplay and the action is frequently interrupted by them in rapid succession.

- It's incredibly hard to see incoming projectiles due to the grainy FMV and the result is many cheap hits.

- The constant droning sound of your vehicle is irritating and the music is too loud compared to the voiceovers.

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Tama: Adventurous Ball in Giddy Labyrinth (Sega Saturn review)

Developer: Time Warner Interactive
Publisher: Time Warner Interactive
Released: 1994

Tama: Adventurous Ball in Giddy Labyrinth is a ball rolling game that was only released in Japan.

+ The overhead map that's displayed prior to each level commencing is a good idea to help plan your route.

+ Some of the later levels feature nice puzzle elements that feature environmental interaction.

+ The music is charming and each track does a great job of encapsulating the mood of the themed worlds.

- The physics are incredibly floaty (making precision a challenge) and the camera angles never give you an ideal view. 

- The action is slow and it often feels like your ball is moving through treacle, even at its fastest speed.

- Only includes 30 levels, so unless you're interested in improving your stage times there's nothing else to do.

- The 3D polygons feature rudimentary textures and are sometimes missing them entirely.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

The Great American Cross-Country Road Race (Atari 8-bit review)

Developer: Alex DeMeo
Publisher: Activision
Released: 1985

The Great American Cross-Country Road Race is a driving game that takes place from Los Angeles to New York.

+ Three different routes are available towards your final destination, so there's plenty of reasons to return.

+ Changing scenery, weather conditions and traffic levels depending on the time of day are great touches to immerse players.

+ Sense of speed is terrific, particularly when you're in top gear and desperately trying to reach the checkpoint.

+ Manually switching gears is surprisingly fun, as the timing mechanism is reminiscent of Dragster (1980, Atari 2600).

+ Gameplay forces you to multi-task and strategise on when to refuel while slowing for the occasional radar siren.

+ Top ten leaderboard provides motivation to drive faster on your next attempt by listing your completion time.

- The shift in perspective when the road bends is a little jarring and can temporarily affect your spatial distancing.

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

House of the Dead (Sega Saturn review)

Developer: Tantalus Interactive
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1998

House of the Dead is a light-gun game that was originally released in the Arcades in 1996.

+ Successfully rescuing people opens up new paths which is great for replayability.

+ Using the light-gun works great, and even the standard controller does an admirable job while being better for rapid fire. 

+ Level design is claustrophobic to set a creepy mood and there's plenty of excellent set pieces.

- Only five short levels with the final one shoehorning in a boss battle mode to artificially lengthen the gameplay.

- The frame-rate is choppy which sometimes affects accuracy, and the graphics / textures are heavily pixelated.

- Game often stops to load mid-mission (often resuming with instant enemy attacks) and the action contains many cheap hits.

- Exclusive Saturn mode with more playable characters (and unique stats) is neat, but does little to enhance the experience.

Friday, 15 April 2022

Bug! (Sega Saturn review)

Developer: Realtime Associates
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1995

Bug! is a 3D platformer that was followed by a sequel titled Bug Too! (1996, Sega Saturn).

+ Levels are huge and there's plenty of alternate paths / secrets to locate on your way to the goal.

+ Enemies are varied and slowly introduced throughout each world to keep things feeling fresh.

- Your jump attack is very inconsistent and it's often hit-or-miss as to whether you take damage or defeat an opponent.

- The difficulty curve is dreadful, as the game starts off very challenging and doesn't ease you into the action.

- The camera tends to snap around wildly and the need to be near the edge of the screen for it to scroll obscures your vision.

- Too many blind leaps of faith that zap away your limited number of lives in unfair fashion.

- Despite being a lengthy game, there are very few checkpoints and no option to save your progress.

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Heavy Barrel (NES review)

Developer: Data East
Publisher: Data East
Released: 1990

Heavy Barrel is a run 'n' gun title that was first released in the Arcades in 1987.

+ The ample storage lockers encourage you to experiment with different weapon combinations by using your keys wisely.

+ Comprehensive enemy types with unique attack patterns will test your awareness and reaction speeds.

+ Levels keep you on your toes by constantly scrolling horizontally, vertically and diagonally, often within the same area.

+ It's impressive how the stages seamlessly flow into one another (with no breaks) to simulate an epic journey.

- However, the later stages lean too heavily on reused design assets and end up repeating the same layouts.

- Hitting diagonal shots can be problematic and with no evade manoeuvre some situations result in unavoidable death.

- The end credits are a real let-down due to them displaying a text-only screen in a very anti-climactic manner.

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Burning Rangers (Sega Saturn review)

Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1998

Burning Rangers is an action game that was produced by Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka.

+ The graphics are terrific with great lighting effects and texture detail that shows the console can do impressive 3D.

+ The lack of in-game music immerses you into the world and focuses on audio cues to determine navigation / danger.

+ Completed mission summary keeps you motivated to try again, as it shows how many people you failed to locate and rescue.

+ The unlockable random generator mode that mixes up the order of the corridors is great for repeated play-throughs.

- The gameplay is extremely repetitive and nothing substantially new is added once you've completed the first mission.

- The camera is awful (frequently swinging itself around in wild fashion) and the navigation system is often useless.

- Bosses are clumsy and disorientating due to there being no camera lock-on for these rare times you are engaging in combat.

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

Astal (Sega Saturn review)

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1995

Astal is an action-platformer that's exclusive to Sega's 32-bit console.

+ The art style is simply gorgeous and the beautiful water colours / pastels bring the otherworldly environments to life.

+ A wide range of attacks are at your disposal and your bird friend opens up even more options for strategic play.

+ The bosses feature some multi-part battles with the finale offering a compelling challenge.

- Gameplay is incredibly frustrating at times as some sections rely too heavily on trial-and-error in order to proceed. 

- The levels are short and just as you're getting into a flow the action comes to a temporary halt until the next scene begins.

- The stage design has zero standout moments and there's not enough magic to compliment the breathtaking visuals.

- The voiceovers are terribly acted and make Astal's cliched journey from heartless-to-compassionate rather laughable.

Courier Crisis (Sony PS1 review)

Developer: New Level Software
Publisher: GT Interactive
Released: 1997

Courier Crisis is an action game that was also released on the Sega Saturn in 1997.

+ Heavily inspired by Crazy Taxi (2000, Sega Dreamcast), but focuses on a mission structure for bite-sized gameplay.

+ The traffic light system showing how you performed for each delivery acts as a motive for perfect runs and earning money.

+ Hitting the restart option during an unproductive mission attempt gets you back into the action instantly with no loading.

- The controls are sub-standard and often feel far too heavy for a lightweight bike during cornering / avoiding traffic.

- Frame-rate is extremely low which causes choppy gameplay, and the draw-distance is poor.

- The music is a mixed bag, as while the rock tracks bring energy, the blues songs are dreadfully out-of-place.

- No tutorial on how vital the trick system is for adding extra seconds to the clock, causing a jarring moment in Level 5.

Monday, 4 April 2022

Clockwork Knight (Sega Saturn review)

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1995

Clockwork Knight is an action-platformer that was quickly followed by a 1995 sequel on the Sega Saturn.

+ Gets better with every play-through thanks to the multitude of secret areas waiting for you to locate.

+ Some entertaining set pieces, particularly the train ride in World 2 that has you multitasking in quick succession.

+ Bosses are inventive and their patterns and your ability to attack them presents some interesting challenges.

+ Whimsical jazz music really suits the playful scenery and the whole presentation resembles the Toy Story movies.

- With only four worlds the game can be beaten in less than an hour, and there's nothing to do afterwards.

- Controls can be very slippery and your momentum carries you forward way too much when sprinting.

- Sharp difficulty spike in the fourth world that the game doesn't prepare you for, and some unfair trial-and-error moments.

Felony 11-79 (Sony PS1 review)

Developer: Climax Entertainment
Publisher: ASCII Entertainment
Released: 1997

Felony 11-79 is a racing game that was released in Japan as Runabout (1997, Sony PS1).

+ Surf rock music perfectly suits the atmosphere and keeps the energy high.

+ The need to monitor your damage metre while causing mayhem and attempting to rack up a high score is a cool mechanic.

+ Course design is stunning and racing around the huge maps with scenic views is an absolute blast.

+ Multiple routes are available in each course which gives you an incentive to keep playing once you've seen the credits roll.

+ Tons of vehicles to unlock that play very differently to each other and it's fun trying to beat the clock in new ways.

- However, unless you care about unlockable vehicles there's little to keep you interested with only three courses on offer.

- Many environmental hazards have no collision detection which can be jarring when you drive through them unscathed.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

The Super Spy (Neo Geo AES / MVS review)

Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK
Released: 1990

The Super Spy is a first-person action game that was later released on the Neo Geo CD (1996).

+ The huge enemy sprites and cool scaling effects are impressive, and the destructible environments are a great touch.

+ Takes several hours to beat, so there's plenty of value for money, and your progress can be saved for a later date.

+ The NPCs help to advance the story and invest you into the narrative / mission at hand.

+ The buildings are an absolute blast to traverse and they create a foreboding atmosphere that feels dangerous.

- It's a shame that your weapons are severely limited, as the game is at its best when you have pistol and machine gun ammo.

- You're typically very under-powered and as a result combat becomes repetitive and quickly starts to grow tiresome.

- Respawning enemies in previously cleared sections is highly annoying and they make the gameplay drag.

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Blue's Journey (Neo Geo AES / MVS review)

Developer: Alpha Denshi
Publisher: Alpha Denshi
Released: 1991

Blue's Journey is an action-platformer that was ported to the Neo Geo CD in 1994.

+ Multiple routes are available in your quest to reach the final boss which incentivises you to replay the adventure.

+ Offers tactical gameplay by including shops where you can buy items to help you along your journey.

+ The graphics are bright and colourful, and there's some nice examples of parallax scrolling to add scenic depth.

- The ability to shrink down in size is underdeveloped and has little bearing on making your way through each level.

- The controls are extremely slippery which results in overshooting your intended target with alarming frequency.

- Level design is mundane and many of the sections feel like objects are randomly placed rather than cleverly implemented.

- Enemy placement is annoying and foes are always ready to pounce just off-screen to ruin your day.

Monday, 28 March 2022

NAM-1975 (Neo Geo AES / MVS review)

Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK
Released: 1990

NAM-1975 is a third-person gallery style shooter that was later released on the Neo Geo CD (1994).

+ Wide range of enemies with unique attack patterns and figuring out who poses the biggest current threat is part of the fun.

+ The ability to rescue hostages and then have them join you in battle is a terrific idea that rewards you for good play.

+ Dropped items from downed opponents results in a neat risk-reward element, as trying to collect them can put you in danger.

+ Cut-scenes add a dramatic element that leans heavily on isolation and the feeling of being overwhelmed.

+ Despite lacking a second analog stick for aiming, the controls are decent and both evasive moves work exceptionally well.

- However, the default cursor speed is a little too slow and a few options for changing it would have been appreciated.

- Only six brief stages are included, and the poorly acted voice-over recordings suffer from popping and clipping.

Sunday, 27 March 2022

Aero Fighters 3 (Neo Geo AES / MVS review)

Developer: Video System
Publisher: SNK
Released: 1995

Aero Fighters 3 is a vertically-scrolling shooter and the follow-up to the 1994 Neo Geo sequel.

+ There are now ten playable characters (up from eight) with their own abilities and cut-scenes to aide replayability.

+ Special weapons offer interactivity, as for some characters you can control when and/or where their projectiles attack.

+ Hardly any slowdown which results in far smoother gameplay compared to the sequel.

- Offers nothing substantial to advance the series in terms of presentation, graphics, gameplay or combat.

- Stages are incredibly short and the lack of any notable moments makes them seem like filler until the bosses arrive.

- The boss fights are all very similar and there's none of the inventiveness found in the previous game.

- Backdrops are flat and lifeless, and as a result they don't fully immerse you into the action.

Saturday, 26 March 2022

Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad (Neo Geo AES / MVS review)

Developer: Saurus
Publisher: SNK
Released: 1998

Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad is a run 'n' gun title and the follow-up to the 1997 Neo Geo MVS original.

+ Gritty, atmospheric world design, and the epic bosses play like a bullet-hell shooter.

+ The new ability to commandeer vehicles is a neat touch that opens up combat possibilities.

+ Pre-rendered graphics and rotation effects are otherworldly, and character animation is more fluid than the original.

- However, the animation causes a slower pace and you can't dodge as quickly due to having to wait for the frames to cycle.

- Character movement feels very stiff and the amount of slowdown from the get-go is absurd.

- No memorable set-pieces and the action repeats ad nauseum without introducing anything new to engage players.

- The number of playable characters has been halved and the Team Battle mode is no longer an option.

Friday, 25 March 2022

Aero Fighters 2 (Neo Geo AES / MVS review)

Developer: Video System
Publisher: SNK
Released: 1994

Aero Fighters 2 is a vertically-scrolling shooter and the follow-up to the 1992 Arcade original.

+ While the game is short, the eight playable characters have unique abilities to add some longevity.

+ The difficulty curve is fair and being able to destroy some enemy projectiles helps to even the playing field.

+ If you lose a life there's always an opportunity to quickly power back up and give yourself a fighting chance.

+ The boss battles are all expertly designed with some of the multi-part fights being particular highlights.

+ The stage backdrops are a sight to behold and the amount of detail (especially in the nighttime Paris level) is stunning.

- No rapid fire option, so you'll have to continually tap the A button throughout all ten stages which is tiresome.

- Slowdown is rampant and you'll often die when the game abruptly speeds up while you're trying to avoid bullets.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Operation Wolf (Sega Master System review)

Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito
Released: 1990

Operation Wolf is a light gun game that was only released in PAL territories.

+ Having to conserve ammo for certain situations and using the grenades at opportune moments adds tension.

+ Some gameplay variety is included to spice things up, such as needing to protect civilians as they cross the screen.

+ Multiple endings are available depending on how you perform which is an incentive to replay.

+ Light Phaser allows you to zoom across the screen in a similar fashion to a mouse for increased speed and accuracy.

- However, your arm will quickly ache from repeatedly pressing the trigger and the accessory can't handle rapid fire.

- The Control Pad is either too slow or erratic to use for moving the on-screen cursor and it's not reliable enough.

- Only six brief stages are on offer, which does limit the amount of time you'll likely spend with the game.

Bomberman (Nokia N-Gage review)

Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Released: 2004

Bomberman is an action game and the only Nokia N-Gage title to be published by Hudson Soft.

+ Bite-sized levels are perfect for handheld play and you can restore your progress at any time.

- Stage layouts change each time you die, so you can't learn from your mistakes by outsmarting enemies.

- The sketchy collision detection and sluggish controls make it frustratingly difficult to evade enemies, resulting in many cheap deaths.

- The animation is also incredibly stiff which doesn't help with bomb accuracy when trying to execute split-second tactics.

- Can't throw or kick bombs after placing them, so much of the gameplay depth from previous entries is lost.

- Takes an age to power back up after losing a life and there's no way to quickly reclaim them as in Neo Bomberman (1997, Neo Geo MVS).

- Design assets are inconsistent, as the opening stage's colourful scenery is then replaced with muted forest pastels that look odd.

Iron Tank: The Invasion of Normandy (NES review)

Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK
Released: 1988

Iron Tank: The Invasion of Normandy is a top-down, run 'n' gun game that's exclusive to the NES.

+ Being able to select your route through to the end is ahead of its time and encourages repeat play-throughs.

+ The ability to select which weapons to use at any time gives you lots of freedom in how you tackle each section.

+ The game makes a decent attempt at adding depth to its gameplay through rescuing hostages and frequent storytelling.

- The controls are incredibly clunky and trying to aim your turret is infuriating due to the lack of a rotary stick / second d-pad.

- It would have been better if your explosives fired in the same direction as your movements, as seen in Jackal (1988, NES).

- Many hits seem unavoidable and enemies usually far outnumber you, have quicker movements and faster bullets.

- Constant beeping sound from incoming calls is distracting and takes you out of the flow.

RoboCop 3 (Commodore Amiga review)

Developer: Digital Image Design
Publisher: Ocean
Released: 1992

RoboCop 3 is a first-person action game that's based on the 1993 movie of the same name.

As RoboCop, your mission is to seek out the criminals responsible for murdering Detroit police officer Murphy. The opening driving sequence offers a smooth frame-rate and convincing 3D visuals. While the stage doesn't do a great job of signposting you towards your destination, there is at least a map to stop you wandering around in circles. However, the toughest and most infuriating part of the game is the controls. While they're twitchy and overly sensitive in the driving sections it is possible to adjust by taking things slowly. In contrast, the first-person shooting levels are an absolute nightmare as it's impossible to strafe meaning you'll have to slowly turn 90° to see if any bad guys are around the corner, all the while being shot and losing precious life. It's puzzling why it wasn't included, and if it wasn't doable then perhaps this whole gameplay element would have benefited from being an on-rails shooter. What also induces rage is that enemies are seemingly capable of shooting through walls and despite their location being completely out of your field-of-view you'll still take damage until you rush forward with reckless abandon and no regard for stealth tactics. It's a real shame, as these levels look absolutely stunning with their 3D polygons and gritty art style. The frame-rate is solid too and the music provides ample tension that fits the series to a tee. Similarly, the SFX are top notch and the sound of your machine gun blasting away is extremely satisfying! Tying everything together are lots of cut-scenes and news reports, but they outstay their welcome and tend to drag on for too long.

RoboCop 3 screams of wasted potential, as it does so many things right from its astounding graphics, captivating world and gameplay variety, yet it shoots itself in the foot by including some seriously wonky controls. A basic strafe ability would have done wonders, but without it you're bound to an experience filled with cheap hits.

Random trivia: The game included an anti-piracy dongle that was quickly cracked by hackers.

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Neo Turf Masters (Neo Geo Pocket Color review)

Developer: Saurus
Publisher: SNK
Released: 1999

Neo Turf Masters is a golf game that was first released on the Neo Geo MVS in 1996.

+ Impressive how much it mirrors its console big brother in terms of presentation, music, cut-scenes and gameplay.

+ Course design is sublime and throws in some shrewd curve-balls via hazards / obstacles to test your ability.

+ The shot interface is intuitive and even first-timers can learn to master the advanced draw/fade mechanic within minutes.

+ Putting is straightforward too and affords you a decent margin of error if you're not perfectly lined up on the power metre.

+ Your completed tournament progress can be saved and the game keeps a comprehensive record of your achievements.

- Would have benefited from some shorter gameplay modes, as completing 18-holes on a handheld isn't always ideal.

- Crowd sound effects are inconsistent and don't always play despite (for example) a great iron shot that lands close to the pin.

Monday, 21 March 2022

BreakThru (NES review)

Developer: Data East
Publisher: Data East
Released: 1987

BreakThru is a side-scrolling shooter that was first released in the Arcades in 1986.

+ Stage design is basic, but gets the job done and the need to continually jump between broken roads in Level 2 is neat.

+ Checkpoints are very fair and they even carry over when you hit Continue after losing all of your lives.

- Unfortunately, the gameplay blows its load by showing you every enemy type within the first couple of stages.

- Action is extremely repetitive and frustrates players by relying too heavily on trial-and-error.

- You always feel weak as there's only one power-up which remains active for only a brief moment.

- Collision detection is questionable (likely caused by the slightly angled viewpoint) meaning spatial distancing is affected.

- The unpolished graphics look like a Colecovision game and the enemy stick-men sprites are laughably bad.

Puzzle Link 2 (Neo Geo Pocket Color review)

Developer: Yumekobo
Publisher: SNK
Released: 2000

Puzzle Link 2 is a tile-matching puzzle game and the sequel to the 1999 Neo Geo Pocket Color original.

+ Collecting cards is very addictive and the timer to obtain them in each stage encourages you to improve your skills.

+ The Card Game mode consists of 60 stages compared to just 46 in the original.

+ The All Clear mode cleverly switches things up by forcing you to eliminate all tiles within a set number of moves.

+ Presentation is terrific with a huge range of character art and card stats that bring personality to the action.

+ Bite-sized puzzles are perfect for a handheld title and your progress (and high scores) are saved automatically.

- Difficulty settings have been removed, so it's perhaps not as welcoming to newcomers.

- New additions are marginal at best and if you've played the original there's not much here that's worth the upgrade.

Gunstar Heroes (Sega Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1993

Gunstar Heroes is a run 'n' gun title that was also released on the Sega Game Gear in 1995.

+ The option to choose your starting weapon is terrific and combining two together leads to experimentation.

+ Being able to tackle the first four stages in any order allows less skilled gamers to see more of what's available. 

+ Gameplay and scenic wise, each stage is unique and a massive amount of cool ideas are realised in quick succession.

+ Even manages to throw in a surprisingly competent horizontally scrolling shoot-em-up level.

+ The amount of carnage, explosions and enemies on display is a delight for the senses and there's barely any slowdown.

+ The graphics are a sight to behold, as are the huge bosses, and it feels like the console is being pushed to its limit.

- Stage 4's dice game slows things down and rolling an unlucky number can see you thrown back to the start of the level.

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