Saturday, 31 March 2018

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - Sega Mega Drive - 1992

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the inevitable sequel to the first Sonic the Hedgehog game.  Once again it was well received by critics and went on to become 2nd best selling Mega Drive game of all time, beaten only by its predecessor.

The plot is pretty much the same as before.  Dr Ivo Robotnik is again trying his luck at taking over the world by creating an army of robots powered by innocent creatures.  He is using these robots to build a doomsday machine called the Death Egg.  All Robotnik needs to complete his plan are 7 Chaos Emeralds.  It is up to the blue hedgehog to find them first and foil his plans.

The core mechanics of the game are also pretty much unchanged from Sonic 1.  There are ten themed Zones to get through each divided into 'Acts'.

In Sonic 2 you can be accompanied by an anthropomorphic fox named Miles Prower aka 'Tails'.  By default Tails follows Sonic through each zone and is useful for mopping up missed rings.  He also flies by spinning his tail.  Another player can take control of Tails, in which case he just has the same moves as Sonic and cannot fly.  There is also the option to play as either Sonic or Tails alone.  Additionally, the game also features a 2-player split screen competitive mode.  I don't know what it is like on a real Mega Drive, but on the emulator the display looks rather squashed.

You start each game with three lives.  As you go through the levels you need to destroy enemy robots and pick up rings.  You destroy an enemy by spinning into them, which releases the trapped animal within.  If you are hit by an enemy you drop all the rings you are carrying.  If you are hit by an enemy and have no rings you lose a life.  Lives are lost instantly if you are crushed, fall off the screen, drown or exceed the generous time limit.  Extra lives can be picked up during the game or by collecting 100 rings.   Other items that can be picked up include Power Sneakers, Super Rings, temporary invincibility and a one-hit shield.

If you pass one of the Star Post check points while carrying at least 50 rings, you have the option of entering a special stage.  Here the view changes to an 'into the screen' mode where the goal is to collect a certain number of rings whilst avoiding bombs.  Collect the  the required number of rings (this increases with Tails in tow) and you are awarded a Chaos Emerald.

There are seven Chaos Emeralds to collect.  Once you have these you have the ability turn into Super Sonic by gathering a further 50 rings.  This mode turns Sonic yellow and he is invincible with greater acceleration, top speed and jumping abilities.  While in this mode you lose a ring per second and the mode ends once all rings are gone. 

At the end of each zone, Dr Robotnik turns up in a different machine, which you must spin into a number of times to destroy (he always manages to get away).

The music is by the same composer as the original game and is of much same quality.  Graphics, however have been greatly improved - they are of better quality and much faster.  To this end, more of the stages have been designed to take advantage of the extra speed.  A welcome addition is the Super Dash Attack which allows Sonic can reach full speed from a standing start.  I found Sonic the Hedgehog 2 to be harder that the original.  Maybe I need more practice but inertia made it difficult to land on small moving platforms.  It was all too easy for me to fall off the rafts in the Chemical Plant Zone.
****ing moving platforms.  These wouldn't be such a problem Mario game.

It was also too fast for it's own good in places, as you can find yourself bouncing around barely in control.  The Casino Night Zone is appropriate - it's set up like a pinball machine which is sometimes how Sonic 2 feels.  Overall, though, it's a great game and hasn't really dated much at all.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Pinball Fantasies - Commodore Amiga - 1992

You wait ages for a good pinball game to come along then two turn up at once.  Pinball Fantasies is the follow up to Pinball Dreams and was released later in the same year.

The game contains four new tables each based around a different theme.  The tables are the same width as the previous game but are a longer and slightly more complex.

Partyland has the theme of a fun fair.
Speed Devils is based on motor sport.
Billion Dollar Gameshow speaks for itself.
Stones 'n Bones is set in a haunted house,

Apart from the new tables and a redesigned scoreboard there is not a lot of difference between the two games.  Everything I've said about Pinball Dreams applies here. 

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Pinball Dreams - Commodore Amiga - 1992

Pinball games have been few and far between on my shortlist.  There have been a few 8-bit games which were fairly primitive in both looks and physics.  More recently I've played four games in the 'crush' series.  While good they were designed from the outset as video pinball games and could never be physically recreated.

So, Pinball Dreams is the first such game to be included on my blog.  It was developed by Digital Illusions and originally released in early 1992 for the Commodore Amiga.  It has been ported quite a few times up to and including an HD version for OS X in 2011.

On loading the game the credits appear and it is reassuring to see an entry for 'Realtime Ball Calculations'.

There are four themed tables included in the game - 

  • Ignition is the easiest table and is based around a rocket launch and space exploration.
  • Steel Wheel is based around the railroad and the wild west.
  • Beat Box is themed around the music industry.
  • Nightmare is apparently the hardest table and is based around a haunted graveyard.

Each table is a tad over two screens high and scroll vertically.  They also have their own theme tune playing throughout.  Although decent I found the music overpowered the sound effects, but thankfully they can be switched off.

The controls are responsive with several keys to choose from for the flippers (I chose left and right shift).  The plunger can be controlled by the down arrow or pulling back on the mouse.  The space bar acts as the 'tilt' key although I have never understood why this is always included in video pinball games.

Apart from loading times, the only real criticism I can lay against Pinball Dreams is that the tables look slightly bland and flat.  This is especially so compared against the fantasy 'crush' series, and even against the Space Cadet table that came free with Windows XP.  I suppose the 32 colours the Amiga can display at once doesn't help there.  It is, however, the physics that can make or break a pinball game and in Pinball Dreams they are spot on. 

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Parodius Da! - NEC PC Engine - 1992

As I've stated a few times before, the Gradius series contains some of my favourite shoot 'em ups.  These games in turn produced a couple of spin-off series - one being Salamander/Life Force, and the second being the rather strange Parodius.  As can be deduced from the title, Parodius is a parody of Gradius.

Parodius first appeared in 1988 on the MSX as Parodius: The Octopus Saves the Earth.  Like the MSX version of Gradius, it wasn't great.  In 1990 Parodius! From Myth to Laughter was released in the arcades.  It is this version on which Parodius Da! is based.

I'd heard of Parodius before but had never seen it in the arcades nor played any of the conversions.  The first time was when it appeared on my shortlist for 1991 for the Sharp X68000.  Comparing it to the original ROM on MAME, it was a pretty accurate rendition.  Even then the mighty X68000 struggled on the second level with quite a bit of slowdown when the screen got busy.  The second level was as far as I got as what really put me off was the insane difficulty level.

Come 1992, and Parodius Da! was released for the PC Engine in Japan (there was no US release on the TurboGrafx-16).  First impressions were not good after playing the X68K version.  The graphics were a lower resolution and not as detailed, and the transitions between backgrounds was not very smooth.  The music and sound effects, although good, paled against the computer.  Compared to the Sharp machine it generally looked a bit rough around the edges.  I soon got used to this, however, and found the PC Engine game more enjoyable (and needless to say, easier).  Just after completing this entry I found a there was a version of the game for the SNES.  It was not on my short-list but I decided to try it anyway. Like the other two conversions it was not released in the US but came out in Europe as Parodius: Non-Sense FantasyOf the three, it had the best sound and most options, and the graphics are almost on a par with the Sharp.  Maybe it's because I played it more extensively I still preferred the gameplay on the PC Engine.
Parodius: Non-Sense Fantasy on the SNES and Parodius Da! on the Sharp X68000
I'd always thought of Parodius as Gradius but reskinned with weird graphics.  To a certain extent I was right - it plays identically to Gradius and the graphics are a bit bizarre - but to label it as such would be unfairParodius builds on Gradius by adding a few extra elements to the game.  The strangeness starts on the ship selection screen.  Your choices include the Vic Viper from Gradius and TwinBee from another Konami franchise, which is fair enough.  Your other choices are an octopus and a penguin. I'm not going to attempt to discover if there is any sort of plot.
TwinBee is possibly the weakest character.

After the selection screen you have the choice of whether powerups are applied automatically or manually.  You also have choice of three difficulty levels.  Even the hardest level makes for an easier ride than you'll get on the X68000.

Basic gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has ever played Gradius.  You proceed through each level shooting enemies.  Certain individual enemies (usually coloured red) and waves of enemies drop capsules when destroyed.  Blue capsules act as a smart bomb and destroy all enemies on the screen when picked up.  Picking up orange capsules incrementally highlights items on your power meter which upgrade your ship (or character) when selected.  Besides 'Speedup' and the unfamiliar '!?', all upgrades are unique for each ship.  At the end of each level you are met by a 'pre boss' (such as the volcanoes in Gradius) followed by the end of level boss himself.
Defeating the second level boss.

Collecting certain capsules turns your power meter red which starts a game of 'roulette' on it.  Pressing the power up button stops it on a random power up.  I try to avoid these because if it lands on 'Speedup' it can make your ship too fast, or it can reduce the power of your main weapon (say from a laser to double shot in the case of the Vic Viper).  If it lands on '!?' then all your powerups are removed and your ship is reduced to the slowest speed.  This also happens if you are killed and can quickly lead to 'Game Over' as Parodius is pretty much a one life game.

In addition to the capsules, certain enemies drop one-time-use bell power ups.  These vary in colour which denotes their effect and you can change their colour by shooting them (though ‘choosing’ a colour is easier said than done).  The most common bell is yellow and provides bonus points.  The points value increases with each consecutive yellow bell.  The green bell increases the size of your character and any options for a short time.  In this state you are invincible but cannot use your weapons.  The white bell equips your character with a megaphone which ‘fires’ phrases in Japanese to damage enemies.  The blue bell equips your ship with a ‘smart bomb’ that clears the screen of enemies.

The green bell and white bell in action.

The sound effects and music are good with speech when power ups are selected.  The main score is based on the music from Gradius interspersed with classical jingles and music from other Konami games. 

Overall Parodius Da! is an enjoyable game.  The graphics can be strange and it’s weird playing as the different characters, but underneath it is pure Gradius so I can’t help but like it.

Example gameplay....

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - Nintendo SNES - 1992

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the third game in the Zelda series and the second to feature on my blog.  I wasn't keen on Zelda II: The Adventure of Link with its side-scrolling levels.  A Link to the Past reverts back to the strange overhead view from the original Legend of Zelda from 1987, albeit with much improved sound and graphics.

I can forgive this viewpoint in something like Atic Atac, but shouldn't we be seeing the hero's back here?

The manual sets the scene for the game describing the history of the world to the present day.  The world of Hyrule was created by three gods.  They left behind them a powerful artefact called the Triforce which they placed in the hidden "Golden Land" hoping it would be found by someone worthy enough to wield its power.  Unfortunately the Gates to the Golden Land and the Triforce itself were discovered by the evil king of thieves, Ganondorf Dragmire.

A dark power began to emanate from the Golden Land and evil beings were drawn to join forces with Ganondorf.  After disasters started to befall Hyrule, the ruler ordered the Seven Wise Men and the Knights of Hyrule to seal the gates to the Golden Land.  The people of Hyrule also forged the Master Sword to counter the power of the Triforce, but it could only be wielded by a person of pure heart.  While the Wise Men were searching for this hero, the Knights were lost in a battle with the dark forces, but in the end the Golden Land was sealed off with Ganondorf trapped inside.

After centuries of peace, Hyrule was hit by disease and drought.  A Wizard appeared by the name of Agahnim who restored the land using a powerful magic.  The king installed him as chief advisor and heir to the Wise Men.  Lately, rumours have begun spreading that Agahnim is ruling the country with his magic and is carrying out strange experiments in Hyrule Castle...

You begin the game by naming your character with no more than 6 letters, which unfortunately 'Wingnut' exceeds.  In his sleep he sees a vision of Princess Zelda asking for help, saying she has been locked in the dungeon of Hyrule castle.  She also says Agahnim has kidnapped six other maidens, all descendants of the Seven Wise Men, and is using them to break open the seal to the Golden Land.  Zelda says she is the only one left.  On waking you find your uncle getting ready for battle.  He heads out telling you to remain in the house.

Of course it would be a pretty short game if you did as instructed so you head out into the rain.  The voice of Zelda says there is a secret entrance to the castle.  This is the only place you can head anyway as the main entrance to the castle and roads leading elsewhere are blocked by guards.  At this stage the only power you have is to uproot shrubs.  Occasionally you may find rupees (the local currency) under them.  The shrubs can be used as missile weapons.  Likewise, pots can be picked up and thrown in the same manner.  Later on other items may be revealed such as bombs, arrows, magic potions and hearts.

The secret entrance to Hyrule castle can be found under a bush.  You soon find your mortally wounded uncle who hands over his sword and shield and says you must rescue Zelda.  The shield can block some missiles while the sword can be used to attack enemies in front.  Holding down the B button charges a whirling attack that damages all enemies within range. Extra weapons such as a boomerang and bow can be found further into the game.

Getting hit by an enemy runs down your life meter.  The life meter is initially made of three heart containers.  Getting injured reduces the life meter and once it's empty you have the option of restarting the game at a previous point.  The heart containers can be partially recharged by picking up small hearts.  These can be found by searching in jars or under bushes and are sometimes dropped by dead opponents.  The meter can be fully recharged at certain points by finding faeries.  More heart containers can be found during the game.

After rescuing Zelda she takes you through a secret passage to Sanctuary.  You are advised to speak to the Village Elder who says you need the Master Sword to defeat Agahnim.  Before you can retrieve the sword you must find three pendants.  All quest objectives are marked on an overworld map that can be bought up outside of dungeons.
The map is shown in two scales.

The overworld is not too big and can be traversed quite quickly if you avoid combats.  All the items you are looking for, however, are normally hidden in dungeons and are guarded by a boss.  Some of the dungeons can be quite complex, making the world more expansive than it seems.

Once I had obtained the Master Sword, I was informed that Princess Zelda had once again been captured by Agahnim and was again being held in Hyrule Castle.  I got there just as Agahnim had used her to break the seal of the Seven Wise Men.  Of course, I had to kick his arse.

I was then banished to the Golden Land.  It had been corrupted by the evil Ganondorf and had now become the Dark World.  I had been here before to get past an obstacle in the Light World, but lacking the Moon Pool at the time I was turned into a rabbit.  I also now had a mirror that could be used as a portal between the two worlds.  The Dark World has a similar map to the Light World.

The first task here was to go about rescuing the seven maidens.  I did put some more time into the game but didn't complete it as I would never get this blog entry done.  I may well continue from this save in the future.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past  has often been lauded as one of the best games on the SNES.  It reminds me a lot of the best Ultimate Play the Game Spectrum titles where brains as well as manual dexterity are required to win.  It has some good puzzles and the two interconnected worlds work well.  The graphics are good and don't look dated.  The only issue I have is where the perspective of the rooms and the 2D sprite are sometimes out of kilter which I found a bit jarring.  Sound is good and some of the music is recognisable from the first Zelda game.  All in all an excellent title and much, much better than its immediate predecessor.