Friday, 28 November 2014

Game, Set, Pad

Virtua Tennis 4 has destroyed two of my control pads. Once was unlucky, but twice is foolish of me. This is not from anger. I did not throw them against the wall in frustration (although trying to unlock the hidden character King pushed me close to doing so). My PS3 pads broke in the same way - the rim that surrounds the left analogue stick collapsed and broke off. Virtua Tennis caused just too much harsh back and forth, the pad could not stand up to the repetitive punishment. My first pad was black, my second was white, for my third pad I bought a gold one. I also decided to move onto Topspin 4, and although it is also a tennis game it shows the difference between the two games that the golden pad is still working fine years down the line.

I'm not saying Virtua Tennis 4 is a bad game, after all it is intended to be more of an arcade version of tennis than a full simulation. Playing it with an arcade stick would work best. I must get one as I do miss some Virtua Tennis.

Speaking of broken pads, I remember a friend of mine who used to get so frustrated and angry with his games he used to bite down hard on his control pad. You'd notice the teeth marks on them when you went round his house. But then the only games he had for his Mega Drive were Dark Castle, Fantasia and World Cup Italia 90 so maybe the bite marks are understandable.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Psygnosis Mega CD Demo Moment

Getting demo discs for the Sega Mega CD was very exciting. For years I was secretly jealous of home computer owners who regularly got magazine-mounted cassettes and floppy discs full of game demos. It was too costly for magazines to do them for cartridge based systems like the Mega Drive and Master System. And to my knowledge no Commodore 16 Plus/4 demo tapes ever existed on magazines - but that is way back in the days before my Master System so I wouldn't count on my memory there!

The demo CDs were on either Sega Pro or Mega Power - both were wretched magazines and  the CDs were the only reason to buy them. The first one was Thunderhawk on Mega Power, me and my friends were wowed by it. It was the first time we'd seen a game that harnessed the power of the Mega CD for something other than FMV.

The demo CD that stands most out in my mind is the Psygnosis Demo CD. Unlike most other discs it had more than one game on it - a real treasure trove! It included demos of Puggsy and Wiz 'n' Liz. Wiz 'n' Liz... I can only imagine the game was conceptualised by Psygnosis developers in a Alan Partridge Monkey Tennis moment.

The games were so-so but there was also footage of Microcosm, a game that really intrigued me as the concept of being a airship shrunk down and injected into someone felt very Inner Space (and Inner Space has zero defects!) The footage - like most FMV games of that era - looks shocking now, so it is hard to describe how excited it made me and my friends for the game. The music accompanying the footage was stupidly bombastic, in a poor-man's Terminator soundtrack way. One time when we watched the music didn't play and the footage took on an eerie minimalist quality.

Finally on the Psygnosis Demo CD was a music video! A really hideously compressed video of Broken English by Sunscreem. It looked so bad the only thing you could really make out was that a guy was wearing neon pink sunglasses. And the song was awful. But there was something quite special still about having a music video on a CD no matter what the quality was.

How easily pleased I was before the internet!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Swinging in the Sand

Captain Games' simple, pure and additive Desert Golfing first caught my eye with its neat little 8-bit golfing avatar in the Kindle store. It reminded me of the hours I used to while away on Great Golf on the Master System.

I loved how stark Desert Golfing was no title screen, no menu - just straight into the action. And that's how it stays, hole after hole after hole after hole. There's no round up after each 18 holes, just a note of how many shots you have taken and what hole number you are on. Level generating exponentially into the far future...

You pull back on the touch screen to gauge your power and aim your shot. The real nice touch is the use of sand as the playing service meaning the ball acts in ways you quickly have to adapt and factor for. The graphics whilst basic are sharp and look great on the Kindle Fire screen. The absence of music just adds to the eerie atmosphere of an empty desert.

Justin Smith has created an addictive little gem here that will keep you going back for just one more hole and it well worth the small price tag.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Little Arcade of the Golden Axe

I was lucky enough as a boy to have a small arcade open up in the basement area of a shopping centre close to my house back in the early 1990s. It was by no means massive and housed about 6-7 arcade cabinets, but to me and my friends it was incredible to have this just on our doorstep. I'm struggling to remember all the machines, there was definitely a Gauntlet II machine. Gauntlet was the cheapest machine at 10p a go, but because you're always losing health it was a deceptive coin guzzler.

The most popular machine was that of Golden Axe, that was the one everyone crowded around to watch. Back in 1990 the big detailed sprites looked incredible, the music and sound effects... but most of all the magic. When you collected potions you could unleash magic, and the more potions you collected before using them the more powerful and visually impressive was the magic. Makoto Uchida designed a great new spin on the scrolling beat-em-up with Golden Axe's hack and slash play.

I remember one of my friends was the best at it and could defeat Death Adder on just a few credits. He loved that game. He was pretty crushed when his parents bought him a Super Nintendo for Christmas and realised he'd never get to play a home conversion of Golden Axe. He even converted my basic Master System version of it.

One weekend things changed, Golden Axe was there no more. And in its place was a new machine with odd octagonal joysticks. It was Midnight Resistance. Kei Akibayashi's novel take on the run and gunner wrong footed a lot of us used to the hack and slash of Golden Axe. But it did not take long before it was the most popular game that everybody crowded round in the little arcade. The rotatable joystick meant you could fire in a different direction than you were running and the power-ups for the weapons were fun.

Eventually there was less and less machines in the arcade and no new ones came in, so everybody became bored and lost interest with the little arcade. And I stopped going.

A couple of years later I rented the home conversion of Midnight Resistance for the Mega Drive, the controls just did not translate well to a 3 button control pad. But I enjoyed it despite its flaws as it reminded me of the little arcade and the good times me and my friends used to have down there. I decided to go down there and see what had become of it. The old place was now a pet food stall, but just a few paces down there was the 4 player The Simpsons Arcade Game. It was a pretty unforgiving beat-em-up but had great graphics. And a coin gobbler.

I guess some things just do not change.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Port of Portal

The technology that allows you to create two portals and jump betwixt them instantly is a great concept. The instant nature makes for a fascinating gameplay mechanic.

If only the load screens could of learned something from this instantaneous nature. It reminded me about how much patience you had to have with older games and all the loading screens you had to endure. Loading still exists in modern games, but it is hidden in ingenious ways. You just don't notice it any more.

I'm generally not a fan of first person perspective in games in general. It's a matter of personal taste. The feeling I am just gliding over the ground really breaks my immersion in a game. Plus jumping always feels like some leap of faith.

Why am I complaining about such a brilliant game? Maybe what I'm trying to say is that these niggles cannot diminish the wonderful experience of Portal.

In my own confused and bumbling way.