Tuesday 18 March 2014

Cyber-Lip - SNK Neo Geo AES - 1990

Cyber-Lip is an early title for the Neo Geo AES.  It was released in 1990 - the same year as the console itself.

The plot involves a malfunctioning supercomputer that causes all the military androids under its control to run amok.  As always, only you can save the planet.

The game is a run and gunner set across seven stages.  The player takes control of Rick (or Brook in two player mode).

The main sprites are rather, er, spritely.  The protagonists move around quickly and can jump, duck, hang off rails, and are able to shoot in four directions.  The default weapon is a fairly rapid laser gun which is handy as the enemy androids can come in thick and fast.

Certain opponents drop lettered icons which add additional weaponry to your arsenal.  These include a bazooka, grenades, flame thrower, wide shot and a faster firing version of the standard laser.  All these extra weapons can be cycled through and each have a finite supply of ammo. There is an ammo store midway through each stage where they can be topped up.  In addition a Core Bot can be collected.  This is a drone that orbits the player and can absorb a number of bullets before it disappears.  You are also up against a strict time limit and will lose a life should this count down to zero.

Each stage ends in boss that must be defeated to progress.  I was particularly impressed the first time I met the monstrosity at the end of the first level.

The game runs at a good pace and there are no complaints about the controls which are very responsive.  The graphics are colourful and fast, and there is very smooth parallax scrolling.  The music playing throughout the game is fairly quiet and not particularly memorable.  For the most part it is drowned out by the louder sound effects which is just as well.  I have no complaints about the difficulty level either – the learning curve is set just right.

In terms of pacing and game play, if not graphics, Cyber-Lip is a little reminiscent of Metal Slug. According to Wikipedia some of the team that developed this release went on to create the latter game so they do share the same DNA.  Cyber-Lip is bog standard run and gun fare but, as an arcade quality title, that extra polish makes it good enough to get onto the blog.
A hint of what is to come.

 Example gameplay.....

Thursday 13 March 2014

Champions of Krynn - PC (MS-DOS) & Commodore Amiga (1990)

Champions of Krynn marks the start of a new trilogy of Gold Box AD&D games from SSI.  Where Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds were set in the Forgotten Realms universe, this is set in the Dragonlance universe and differs in many ways starting with character creation.  I will be playing the Commodore Amiga version for this blog entry.

As this is the first game in a series you have to create a party of up to six characters from scratch.  There are seven races to choose from – Human, Qualinesti Elf, Silvanesti Elf, Mountain Dwarf, Hill Dwarf, Half Elf and Kendar.  Kendar are new to the series and have their own unique weapon, the hoopak (spelt houpak in-game), for which they gain combat bonuses.  The hoopak can be utilised as both a ranged and melee weapon.  The Kendar can also taunt the enemy by using the Yell command in combat.  Affected opponents become enraged and take penalties to their THAC0 and Armour Class.

In addition to the regular fighter, ranger, magic user, cleric and thief character classes, you can also choose to become a Solamnic Knight.  Knights can only be human and must be lawful good (my least favourite alignment to role play).  They start the game wearing plate mail and carrying a long sword but must pay a tithe when entering outposts due to a vow of poverty.  The tithe is a percentage of any coins the knight is carrying and changes depending on which ‘Order’ the Knight is following.  The manual says that at least one knight is needed to complete all the quests in the game.  In addition to winning in combat and finding treasure, the Solamnic Knights also gain experience by doing 'knightly' deeds (whatever they may be).

Other differences concern clerics and magic users.  Clerics can choose a god to follow, each deity providing a bonus spell or ability.  The selection of gods depends on the alignment of the cleric.  Dwarven clerics can only worship Reorx who gives bonus of +1 to THAC0.  Mages come in two guises - Red Robe or White Robe, again dependant on alignment.  The main difference is the type of spells they have available but as both can cast magic missiles, stinking clouds and fireballs I wasn't overly concerned.  Each type of mage is also affected by the phases of the moons which govern bonus spells, saving throws and their effective level.

One major change Champions of Krynn has over the Forgotten Realms universe is the racial limits.  In the Forgotten Realms games, any non-humans had limits on what levels they could reach.  There are still limits in the Dragonlance universe but only for certain classes.  For example, elves can reach maximum levels as clerics, rangers and magic users.

Rolling good characters does not take long as the values given are on the generous side.  This came up after only a handful of re-rolls….

I am slightly concerned my party may be lacking in melee characters – I would preferably have had one more.  The manual shows a lot of undead creatures in the bestiary which is why I have four characters who can cast cleric spells and ‘turn’.  This is the party I have chosen….

Crockett – a male Solamnic Knight
Lumley – a female Solamnic Knight
Grout – a male Hill Dwarf fighter / Reorx cleric
Varley – a female Kendar thief / Paladine cleric
Carraway – a male Qualinesti Elven White mage / Majere cleric
Hazel – a female Qualinesti Elven Red mage / Shinare cleric

The game starts at an outpost in the northwest corner of the world map.  You are joined by another Solamnic Knight, Sir Karl, and have options to visit the Commandant's office, training hall, temple, vault, bar, inn or the armoury.  The Commandant tasks you with investigating the nearby town of Throtl and to report back if you see anything suspiciousOn the way you come across a caravan being attacked by draconians.  After escorting the survivors back to the outpost you hear sounds of a fight coming from the Commandants office.  You find Sir Karl standing over the body of a Sivak draconian that was impersonating the Commandant.  Sir Karl says the outpost is severely lacking soldiers and you must return to Throtl and find a patrol led by a knight called Caramon that had not yet returned…..

I will note my thoughts and experiences below….
  • I found the early game very tough going for my level 1 and 2 party with evil Warriors, Mages and Clerics being encountered early on.  Not yet able to cast fireballs, my most frequently used spells were sleep, magic missiles and hold person.   Draconians also seem partially immune to magic. 

The fourth or fifth location.  In Pool of Radiance I would still be fighting Kobolds at this point.
  • The manual puts an emphasis on draconians in the bestiary.  Draconians are created by corrupting metallic (good) dragon eggs and most have rather unpleasant consequences for the party in their death throes.  Baaz draconians turn to stone which can trap weapons until combat is over (the manual suggests doubling up on melee weapons).  Kapak draconians have a chance of paralysing when they hit and dissolve into pools of acid when they die.  Sivak draconians are powerful fighters who get three attacks per round.  Bozak draconians can cast spells and explode when they die.  Auraks can also cast spells and are immune to ranged attacks.  They seem to have a couple of lives and burst into a blast of magical energy when they eventually perish.  

  • Steel coins seem to be the main currency.  I found some copper and platinum pieces but no gold.

  • Graphics and sound have been improved no end over the previous games.  Static graphics are still in 16 colours but their quality is much better.  Spells now look and sound more like you imagine they would.  There are also more spot effects in combat.  

  • Unfortunately, the 3D view is still the same.

  • Collecting coins and looting dead opponents is not as initially important as it was in Pool of Radiance.  There is only a small selection of weaponry and armour to buy in the outpost armoury and levelling up at the training hall is free, as opposed to 1000gp in the previous games.

  • The world map has been reduced in importance over the previous games.  Half the map is unused and wandering off the beaten track results in monotonous encounters.

  • Although the game uses the same combat mechanics as the previous Gold Box games, I didn't find them as enjoyable.  There seem to be fewer types of enemy with most battles fought against draconian or human opponents.

  • As usual, notes and letters found in the game are written out in full in the Adventurer's Journal.  A lot of them referred to the Solamnic Knights as the 'good army' which sounded plain odd.  Did they refer to themselves as the 'evil army'?

  • I found Champions of Krynn to be very linear.  It was basically go to Sir Karl and later the commandant, receive a quest and return once complete.  Even then the game managed to get its knickers in a twist.  The last quest I received from Sir Karl was to collect a silver rose. I returned to find he had been taken prisoner and had perished whilst escaping.

Wha..?  I hadn't given the rose to him yet!

  • Each quest involved exploring one or more 16x16 maps.  Each area was only used once – there was no point returning to previously visited locations.

  • Mapping the game also took a long time as there seemed to be a combat every few steps. Some of the enemies came in combinations that didn't make sense - giant centipedes teamed up with giant rats and snakes.  Wouldn't the rats have made an easier meal for the snakes than armour clad warriors?

  • The overarching story involved an antagonist called Myrtani who is secretly in the process of creating draconians from good dragon eggs.  I was under the impression Mrytani would be an evil wizard but it turns out he himself was a draconian, but that’s by the by.  Anyway, with this draconian army and an army of undead (controlled by a Death Knight) he intended to take over the world.  It was up to me to put a stop to his actions.  There were mentions of a ‘good’ army but they only put in an appearance after the game was effectively over.

  • I didn't like the last 20% of Champions of Krynn as it was unsatisfying and felt quite rushed.  One moment I was investigating the city of Sanction, and the next I was whisked off by gold dragons to some flying citadels and then onto the end game.  All my characters were weighed down with unidentified treasure from fixed encounters and were badly in need of levelling.

  • Combat seems to rely as much on luck as it does on skill.  In the final encounter against three red dragons my party was massacred before I had a chance to react.  I remember I had used a scroll of protection against dragon breath earlier so reverted to a previous save.  On working my way back to the final fight I forgot to use the scroll yet only one of my characters took any damage.  A lot of battles followed this pattern.

The End...

That'll be right.  Turn up late, take my good gear and bugger off.  Bastards.

At least someone appreciates me.

Despite my criticisms I did enjoy Champions of Krynn, just not as much as the earlier Gold Box titles.  As Zenic Reverie prophesied in his comment at the end of Curse of the Azure Bonds“Enjoy these first two, as the rest of the series gets kind of stale from what I recall”.  I think he may be right.