Thursday, 19 October 2017

Retro News - New MegaDrive Brawler!

Paprium by Watermelon Games (2017) - MegaDrive

Everyone knows Streets of Rage 2 is the greatest scrolling fighting game of all time so it's somewhat surprising that there have been so few clones, tributes, or sequels to Sega's undisputed masterpiece over the intervening years, official or otherwise. Yes, there was a direct MegaDrive sequel, generally considered to be a step back, and there have obviously been many further examples of the genre, but none that attempted to duplicate SOR2's distinctive style (or if they did it wasn't particularly successful!). We did get the crazy Beats of Rage but not much else has emerged from the retro scene that I'm aware of. Now, however, that has changed and then some, for arriving very soon is this oddly-named example from Watermelon Games, the same team responsible for Pier Solar, surely one of the most best known of all homebrew releases.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Film Round-Up #22

There's something very 80's about treasure hunt films in my mind. I'm not quite sure if that's because there were a lot of them or if it's just because there were a few notable examples that stuck in my mind (most likely the latter), but for some reason I had far less interest in the genre by the time Jon Turteltaub conjured up the first National Treasure film some years later. Many apparently were interested though, as it was successful enough to spawn a sequel, and both were recently recommended by a friend, so I set aside my apathy and watched them. My main question prior to this, however, was: could they be as much fun as their 80's forebears?

National Treasure (2004)

Leading the impressive cast is the usually-dependable Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Gates, a historian and cryptologist who has long believed in a story from his childhood about a great treasure hidden by the Founding Fathers and Freemasons; a treasure he may have found the first clue to the location of. As you might expect, the clue just leads to another clue, and then another, all of which are followed confidently and enthusiastically by Gates who is joined by his sceptical father (Jon Voight), friend Riley (Justin Bartha), and Dr Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) of the National Archives who is roped into helping. As skillful as they may be at deciphering the cryptic clues and secret codes and following the trail they lay out, however, they'll have to hurry as not only have they attracted the attention of the FBI (led by Harvey Keitel) but there is also an 'evil' group chasing the booty at the same time, led by Ian Howe (Sean Bean) who has less noble plans.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Computer Shmups #5

Silkworm (1988)
By: Tecmo / Virgin Genre: Shooting Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Atari ST  First Day Score: 74,500 (with a wonky control pad)
Also Available For: Arcade, NES, Amiga, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

Okay, so technically this one isn't really a computer shmup as it was actually an arcade game originally, and also appeared on console owing to an apparently-not-well-known NES conversion. However, in my experience it's far more well known, in the UK at least, for its home computer conversions, both 8-bit and 16-bit versions alike. I enjoyed a decent (if rather slow) version on my trusty Speccy but even then I couldn't help but cast the odd envious glance or two in the direction of the colourful Atari ST and Amiga versions fuelled by their 16-bit power. I guess I got distracted by other splendid games though, as when I finally had the chance to own/play one of them, I never got around to it, and to this day I've still not played it on either machine. Time for Red Parsley to rectify another oversight!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

First Look TV Show #2

Star Trek: Discovery (2017)

It sure is a good time to be a sci-fi fan at the moment - no sooner do we get an all-new Star Trek-style show to investigate in the shape of The Orville, but mere weeks later we get a brand new actual Star Trek show as well! Discovery had seen much controversy prior to its premiere this past Sunday though, mainly due to distributor CBS's decision to broadcast it exclusively on their subscription streaming channel in the show's native U.S. while the rest of us get it on Netflix (tee hee!), but many fans had also determined from press releases or trailers that they didn't like some aspect of the show, dismissed it as 'shit', and vowed never to watch it. I can't remember any show getting so much sheer, irrational hate (and unlike most people these days I don't use that word lightly either) before even reaching our screens but happily for me I'm not stupid (well, not that stupid) and have therefore been eagerly awaiting it!

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Memorable Adverts / Flyers #3

Cybernoid by Raffaele Cecco / Hewson Consultants (1987) - Various Formats

If you were the owner of an 8-bit home computer here in the UK during the mid-80's, particularly a Spectrum, it can't have been long before you played one of Raffaele Cecco's games. He didn't develop many but the ones he did bestow upon us were warmly received, at least partially on account of the splendid colourful graphics he squeezed out of the humble Speccy. One of the most celebrated of his games was Cybernoid, a flick-screen shooter which featured swarms of irritating aliens as well as plenty of obstacles to test your timing as well as your trigger finger.

Why is it memorable?
Like most of the best adverts of the day it was hand-drawn. Sadly I don't know the name of the talented artist in question but it was certainly an eye-catching piece of work, arguably even more so the game itself or the many glowing reviews it received in magazines of the day (a whopping 96% in Crash!). As with many other adverts around that time (such as Driller which I looked at previously), it's drawn in a wonderful 70's sci-fi style and shows a cool-looking red spacecraft zooming over an alien installation of some kind towards the 'camera', an explosion behind it obscuring the starry background. Even the 'futuristic' font was cool. It made you want to get stuck in straight away which is exactly what it any good advert should do.

Friday, 22 September 2017

First Look TV Show #1

The Orville (2017)

I don't normally do these posts for TV shows but the arrival of a new sci-fi show is always something to herald as far as I'm concerned and I've had my eye on this one for a while. Like most sci-fi fans, I had some minor reservations but it was looking good from its trailers so I was cautiously optimistic. For those who don't already know, it's the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy amongst many other notable achievements. He's renowned as a bit of a sci-fi geek so the passion will undoubtedly be there, but he has also cast himself in the lead role of Ed Mercer, the new captain of the Planetary Union's mid-level exploratory vessel, the U.S.S. Orville. There has been a question mark over his live-action acting ability for a while, never mind his leading man potential, so I was curious to see how he did, and how appealing the show is generally as well.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Speccy Homebrew Games #2

Circuitry (2017)
By: John Blythe / Rucksack Games Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 368k

Splendid loading screens always make a game better...
When I first started this feature a few months back I thought I was pretty lucky to find a single-screen platformer to start it off - they are one of my favourite types of game after all - so imagine how happy I was to find another such example just recently! This one was made by John Blythe, a.k.a. Rucksack Games, using Jonathan Cauldwell's Arcade Game Designer and casts you as Nan'O'Bot, a tiny robotic AI which you must use to infiltrate the mainframe of Revanox, the R&D branch of military contractor SecuriCorp, and save as much of their data as possible from a rogue AI activated by a heinous hacker before Revanox cut their losses and pull the plug. This is done by hopping around twenty appropriately-themed single screen stages, each of which features two 'data packets' which come in the form of floppy discs (both 3.25" and 5.25" varieties) or cassettes. Hopefully these are just symbolic though - I'd hate to think of an R&D dept using such outdated storage media nowadays!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Film Review #101

Colossal (2016)
Director: Nacho Vigalondo Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 110 Minutes

Tagline: "All she could do was save the world"

While amazingly popular in Japan since the fifties, giant monster films have never really seemed to catch on around the rest of the world for some reason. Indeed, the genre is even known by its Japanese name - kaiju - but that doesn't mean us Westerners don't get the odd example here and there. The latest one is Colossal, an original effort from acclaimed Spanish director/writer Nacho Vigalondo and stars Anna Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis as Gloria and Oscar respectively, childhood best friends who are suddenly reunited when the former moves back to her home town after being booted out by her latest boyfriend Tim (Stevens) for being an alcoholic waster. Oscar now runs his dad's old bar and invites Gloria to work for him, and after closing time the two stay up drinking with his buddies until morning, with Gloria usually engaging in some sort of drunken tomfoolery that she later regrets, if she even remembers it at all.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

First Look Xbox #1

Mojo! by FarSight Studios / Crave Entertainment (2003) - Xbox

Since I've been collecting for the original Xbox, a lot of the games I've encountered have been ones already familiar to me - I'm sure you all know the big hitters as well as I do - but it's finding the more obscure titles like Mojo! that I've enjoyed the most. It cost me a mere £1.50 so it was undoubtedly a bargain and I was really looking forward to giving it a try. It's a platform/action/puzzle game which places you in command of a ball of some sort, much like the splendid Kula World. The objective here, however, is a bit more destructive than it was in the PS1 classic, but also somewhat simpler - just destroy all the colourful cube blocks on each stage by rolling into them. You have to change the colour of your ball to match the blocks you want to destroy using special 'infuser' transformation things but there isn't a great deal more to it really. Sounds like it could be a lot of fun!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Awesome Nature #20

Type: Marsupial Lives In: South-West Australia Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Most of Australia's creatures have become famous over the years due to how unusual they are, but the Quokka is apparently different. Hardly anyone has even heard of it for some reason, even though it's just as worthy of attention as any of the rest. They kind of look like a cross between a wallaby and a wombat, with large hind legs/feet to hop around on and also a short, broad head, but being around the size of a domestic cat, they are more agile than both creatures and can even climb trees. Perhaps their obscurity is more down to how few of them there are. Destruction of their habitat as well as introduced species such as foxes and dogs has seen their population drop to around the 15,000 mark, all of which are found only in the extreme south-west of the Australian mainland as well as on a few small islands. Their plight doesn't seem to bother them too much though - just look how happy they seem!

Why It Is Awesome: It's always happy!

Friday, 25 August 2017

Arcade Racing Games #6

Big Run (1989)
By: Jaleco Genre: Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 580,300
Also Available For: SNES, Amiga, Atari ST

Not the most inspiring of title screens...
During the years driving games first became popular in arcades (i.e. following OutRun's release), it seems like developers felt they needed little more than a gimmick to make their mark in the genre. Jaleco's effort was the somewhat ambiguously-named Big Run but the gimmick they opted for was to base it on the Dakar-Paris Rally. It may well have been the first such game to be based on the gruelling event in fact (although a similar claim has been made of Victory Run for the PC Engine which came out a couple of years earlier), but was it enough to earn it a spot at the head table, so to speak? Well, I think I recall being reasonably impressed with it back then on the only occasion I briefly encountered it, but how does it fare after a proper play-through thirty years later? It doesn't make the best of first impressions with possibly the drabbest title screen of all time, but things could only get better from there, surely? I was certainly pretty hopeful at least.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Game Music #3

The time of the 16-bit console wars was a glorious time to be a gamer. The die-hard Sega and Nintendo fans spent more time arguing the virtues of their chosen system with their each other than they did actually using their chosen system, or so it often seemed, and the subject of these arguments included just about every single aspect of ownership. Everything from tech specs and graphical prowess to individual games were discussed, but one subject I often found myself focusing on was the respective audio abilities of each company's powerhouse.

It was a topic worthy of discussion too, in my opinion - both systems had distinctive yet quite different sounds. Sega's MegaDrive made use of the Yamaha YM2612, an FM sound synthesiser chip which could produce some cracking synth choons, while the Super Famicom was armed with Nintendo's S-SMP, a sampler that could pump out some impressive orchestrations with a highly recognisable style. One of the most common arguments I heard from Ninty fan-boys, in fact, was regarding the supposed superiority of the SFC's and how the mere MegaDrive would be hopelessly lost trying to replicate them, and I often felt compelled to concede this particular point.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Indie Games News/Previews #10

Racing Apex by Lucky Mountain Games (2017) - PC

Those of us who are old enough to remember the birth of 3D gaming will no doubt have a fondness for the earliest examples with their chunky polygons, crude textures, and scenery pop-up galore. Even in their rather limited forms they were still jaw-droppers in their day, and it seems the talented folk of Lucky Mountain Games recall them as fondly as anyone, for they have been hard at work making the forthcoming Racing Apex, a super-arcadey racing game based on some of those very pioneers. The example that appears to have most keenly influenced them, at least visually, is Sega's seminal Virtua Racing, but there is much more here than we had in the Model 1 stonker back in 1992.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

TV Shows #15

Terra Nova (2011)
Created By: Kelly Marcel, Craig Silverstein Starring: Jason O'Mara, Stephen Lang, Shelley Conn, Christine Adams, Allison Miller, Landon Liboiron, Naomi Scott, Ashley Zukerman, Rod Hallett, Alana Mansour

Certificate: 12 Running Time: 44 Minutes (per episode), 13 Episodes

Tagline: "There is no paradise without sacrifice."

I think there's one thing that all modern, future-set movies and TV shows can agree on, and that's the inevitable demise of our environment owing to our own stupidity and shortsightedness. This is also the case with the version of earth found in Terra Nova. The brief time we spend in the show's vision of 2149 reveals a world much like the one we're headed towards. Human greed and recklessness have continued unchecked and our world is now an overpopulated one ravaged by pollution and environmental issues. As a result, people need to wear breathing units while outdoors, and there is also a strictly-enforced two-child-per-family rule. Things are not looking good for our near future, never mind longer term. As if in answer to these problems, a temporal rift is discovered that leads back to earth's Cretaceous Period where the air is clean and the landscape unspoiled.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Single Screen Platform Games #16

Manic Miner (1983)
By: Bug-Byte Software Ltd Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 11,800
Also Available For: Amstrad CPC, C64, C16, BBC Micro, Dragon 32, MSX, Oric 1, Memotech MTX, PMD 85, Sam Coupe, Amiga, Game Boy Advance

Okay, time for another Red Parsley embarrassing confession. I am of course highly familiar with Manic Miner, the towering masterpiece of Matthew Smith, and have played it before, but I've never really played it properly on its home turf. I think I even completed one of the other versions but the Speccy original has been sadly neglected by me. Thinking about it now I genuinely have no idea how I missed it in its day, what with the game's already legendary status and all that. Its release came before I joined the ranks of the home computerers but you would still think a game this popular would find its way to me anyway, even a few years later, but no. I don't recall seeing it on sale and I'm pretty sure I never saw magazines going on about it excitedly either. It really is quite strange looking back but the end result was that I, a self-professed Speccy fan, wasn't even aware of one of its most recognised, landmark titles until many years later.