Monday, 30 August 2010

Exploring the Commodore 64 - Part 1

As retro gamers, we, by our very definition, have been playing games a long time. During this time, only the most privileged of us had the luxury of access to most or all of the systems available. Most of us had to make do with just one at a time, and often not even the system of our choice either. I didn't really know much about home computers when my parents bought me a ZX Spectrum for Christmas but luckily it turned out they had made a good choice.

I soon discovered that some of my friends also owned Spectrums, including one of my best friends, Stu. A couple of my other friends owned Amstrad CPC's, including my other best mate, Luke. I did not, however, know anyone who owned a Commodore 64 which, looking back, is pretty strange! Not long after becoming a Speccy owner I also somewhat predictably became a Speccy fanboy and began looking upon the C64 as an inferior rival machine, something which the lack of any C64-owning friends made worse. As a result of this, I have to this day not played any C64 games! As you might imagine, as a self-professed retro gamer, this is an entirely unacceptable state of affairs! To this end, I have decided that I must immerse myself in the world of all the computers and consoles I missed the first time around due to having a rival machine, or for some other reason, and I will start with the much-loved Commodore 64.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Music #2 - Dressy Bessy

Aside from the false start prompted by the accidental discovery of a song I liked, welcome to my music section proper! Here I will pay tribute to bands/singers that I like, and in the instances where they are not particularly well know, hopefully increase their exposure a little too! The first recipient of this honour is one I discovered under somewhat dubious circumstances...

It was a good few years ago now that I accidentally discovered the amusing comedy film, But I'm A Cheerleader. It's an unusual but funny film which I may cover in more detail here at a later date. However, among its more notable points is the fantastic soundtrack it features. I liked a lot of its songs, but two in particular stuck with me. After a bit of investigation I discovered the band responsible.

Original lineup, from L-R: Rob, Darren, Tammy, John
Hailing from Denver, Colorado, the curiously-named Dressy Bessy are an indie-pop/rock four-piece originally formed in 1996 by lead vocalist and guitarist, Tammy Ealom, bassist, Rob Greene, and drummer, Darren Albert, and before long they were joined by second guitarist and childhood friend of Rob's, John Hill. Around a year later and they had already released their first single, 'Ultra Vivid Color', produced by John prior to joining the band. The next couple of years, along with no doubt lots of touring, saw two more singles - 'You Stand Here' and 'Sunny'. Soon after that came their first full length album. It was called 'Pink Hearts Yellow Moons' and it was from this catchy CD that the songs 'Just Like Henry' and 'If You Should Try To Kiss Her' were taken for the aforementioned But I'm A Cheerleader soundtrack.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Scrolling Fighting Games #2

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)
By: Konami Genre: Fighting Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade
Also Available For: NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, C64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Xbox 360 Live Arcade

I was in my early teens around the time the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon hit the world and it confused me. Ninjas are cool, sure, everyone knows that. But ninja turtles? I thought they were stupid. Turtles can't even hold any weapons, they have flippers! I couldn't stand how popular they were. Even my best mate, Luke, liked them! Oh well, they were engrained into popular culture, there was nothing I could do about it. Of course, various games based on their exploits followed. Some were good, others weren't. As I remember it, the most popular one was the arcade offering from Konami, but it wasn't until a recent Luke visit that I actually played this game for the first time ever. Did it suck as much as the stupid characters it was based on, or was it actually half decent?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Film Review #10

Vantage Point (2008)
Director:Pete Travis Starring: Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, Bruce McGill, Sigourney Weaver, Edgar Ramiez, Said Taghmaoui, Richard T. Jones, Zoe Saldana, William Hurt

Certificate: 12 Running Time:90 Minutes

Tagline: "8 Strangers. 8 Points of View. 1 Truth"

He gets a lot of stick but it's a tough job being the US President. Everyone wants to shoot the guy for one thing, if good old Hollywood is to be believed at least! This particular President, Henry Ashton (Hurt) is in Salamanca, Spain, about to address a large crowd regarding the anti-terrorism treaty he's about to sign. Soon after he begins, someone, from somewhere, shoots him. In the midst of the ensuing panic, there are two explosions. Before and during these events, we are casually introduced to several people in and around the crowd who may have an interesting perspective on the unfolding chaotic situation. Some may have something to hide, some others may be able to help catch those responsible. It's up to Secret Service Agent, Thomas Barnes (Quaid), to work out which.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Thunder Force Series - Part 4

Thunder Force 2 (1988)
By: Techno Soft  Genre: Shooting   Players: Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sharp X68000   First Day Score: 30,710
Also Available For: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis

My quest to uncover the origins of the much-loved Thunder Force series has led me to some interesting systems. The next? The Sharp X68000. After having finally used one of these fabled machines, albeit under emulation, I'm unable to decide if Sharp were geniuses or idiots. For the X68000 is apparently a system of formidable power and impressive abilities. So how did they manage to keep it from everyone outside Japan? During the course of its life it was famous for the standard of its arcade conversions, but there were a few original games released on it too, and among them was Thunder Force 2. Contrary to popular belief, this was also the first system to see it too.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Single Screen Platform Games #1

Super Glob a.k.a. The Glob, a.k.a. Beastie Feastie (1983)
By: Epos Corporation  Genre: Platform  Players: Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 23,350
Also Available For: Nothing

Who remembers the Psygnosis classic, Globdule, on the Amiga? It was a cavern-based collect 'em up which saw you controlling a floppy purple blob who could stick to almost anything! I'm a big fan of that game, and when I saw the abbreviated filename of this game I thought someone had finally made a sequel! Alas, it proved not to be the case, for, whilst also a platform game, this one is a little know oddity from the early 80's. Despite what the title screen says, Super Glob is a one player game (the two-player mode just sees the players take turns). It's your job to guide a blue blob called Toby around the single-screen stages to collect food, which includes standard game food such as strawberries, grapes, and even hunks of meat! The food has of course been sprinkled liberally all around the platforms on each screen. As you might expect, being a 'glob', Toby lacks the limbs to use ladders, so he can't reach other platforms that way. He instead has to rely on the handily-located elevators which he can summon to his current platform by pressing one of the buttons nearby.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Top Five Star Trek Ships

Spaceships are pretty sweet. I want one. Not just some little shuttle craft or cargo ship though - I want one of those ones that looks like a racing car version of spaceship with big guns on it. There have have been some great examples of mean-looking ships, as well as crap or even funny-looking ones in the many sci-fi shows over the years. Star Trek is without question NOT the sci-fi show with the best looking ships, but it is a fantastic show (or 'franshise' of shows) that at least has spaceships. There have been lots that were seen in odd episodes here and there and never seen again, but of the major players in the Star Trek universe, here are what I think are the best:

5 - Borg Cube
Yes, it's looks pretty unremarkable in itself, but not many ships instantly strike fear into the heart like a Borg Cube! And when you've see one in battle, seen how huge and powerful it is, how it rips apart vessels left, right, and centre, you can't help but be in awe of it. Until Species 8472 came along and effortlessly destroyed 15 of them, of course!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Scrolling Fighting Games #1

Double Dragon (1988)
By: Technos Japan Corp  Genre: Fighting  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System
Also Available For: Arcade, NES, GameBoy, MegaDrive/Genesis, PC, Amiga, C64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

Almost all games have their fans and detractors, and now and then, particularly passionate residents either side of the fence engage in fierce fights and arguments regarding the game in question. Among the biggest I remember back in the 80's were the epic Double Dragon Wars. The arcade game was immensely popular and to say conversions of it were eagerly awaited is putting it mildly. When they arrived, they were met with... indifference from many. But the die-hard fans vigorously defended them, and of course but there was also a lot of criticism. Obviously some versions were better than others, but the only one I've played is the Master System version. But how did it fare? Did it prove as controversial as many of the other versions, or did fans finally have the definitive version they were looking for to finally end their arguements?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Puzzle Games #2

Pipe Dream a.k.a. Pipe Mania (1990)
By: Bullet Proof Software / Lucasarts  Genre: Puzzle  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo NES  First Day Score: 17,250
Also Available For: PC, GameBoy, Amiga, Atari ST, Archimedes, Apple II, Apple Mac, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Acorn Electron, BBC Micro, Sam Coupe
Download For: Xbox 360 Live Arcade

After the overwhelming worldwide success of Tetris, puzzle games were suddenly big business. The first major release I can remember after the Russian juggernaut had conquered all was Pipe Dream, or Pipe Mania as we know it here in the UK. Like most of the best puzzle games, it's such a simple concept it makes you wonder how someone didn't think of it earlier! Each level takes place on a grid spread over a single screen. From a starting point in the form of an open pipe somewhere round the grid, you must lay additional sections of pipe to create a pipeline. After a short amount of time, a liquid called 'flooze' starts to slowly pour into the pipeline. If the liquid reaches the open end before you have built the pipeline to a required minumum length, the game will be over.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Film Review #9

Whip It (2010)
Director: Drew Barrymore Starring: Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Drew Barrymore, Juliet Lewis, Kristen Wiig, Marcia Gay Harden, Jimmy Fallon, Eve, Zoe Bell, Landon Pig, Carlo Alban, Ari Graynor, Andrew Wilson, Daniel Stern

Certificate: 12A  Running Time: 102 Minutes

Tagline: "Be Your Own Hero"

She's been entertaining us in one way or another for most of her life, whether by her acting or her 'extra curricular activities', so I suppose it was inevitable that the delightful Drew Barrymore would eventually turn her talented hand to directing. But what sort of film would she choose? A romantic comedy like The Wedding Singer? Brainless action like the horrific Charlie's Angels? Or something similar to one of the many serious drama's she's starred in? Actually, no. It turns out to be something quite different. Something akin to the small-town American indies on which I'm so keen, but most other people haven't heard of.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Arcade Shmups #1

Aero Fighters a.k.a. Sonic Wings (1992)
By: Video System / Tecmo  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 191,600 (one credit)
Also Available For: SNES, PlayStation 2

As any self-respecting shmup fan knows, now and then comes a game that, despite not being hugely remarkable in itself, goes on to prove very important in the genre at large. Aero Fighters is among these. Obviously it wasn't the work of just one person, but having a significant role in its creation while working at Video System was a certain Shin Nakamura. Shortly after its completion, he and a few colleagues left to form the now legendary Psikyo who went on to create some of the finest vertical scrollers seen during the remainder of that decade and beyond, including such classics as Strikers 1945, Gunbird, Sengoku Blade, and Zero Gunner. Not all of Psikyo's great shmups drew inspiration from Aero Fighters (perhaps more commonly known by its Japanese name of Sonic Wings), but all of them owe it a debt.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Top Five Spectrum Compilations

Anyone who grew up in the 80's and had a classic 8-bit micro would have worshipped the game compilations that appeared regularly throughout the latter half of that decade, and with good reason - a single new game would cost us upwards of £8, so who could say no to a collection of five, sometimes even more, games for a pound or two more? Whoever thought them up was a hero to all of us Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and Commodore 64 owners! I was a proud Spectrum owner and of all the years I enjoyed gaming on it, a large percentage of this time was spent with compilations and the treasures contained therein. Here are my favourites:

5 - The In Crowd (1989)

I remember for many years my favourite Spectrum mags were going on and on about this one but it was one of the few 'big name' compilations I didn't own. It wasn't until the 8-bit era was coming to an end that I finally managed to get hold of a copy. Was it worth the wait? Well, it has some decent games that's for sure: Karnov, Gryzor, Barbarian, Crazy Cars, Predator, Combat School, Platoon, and Target Renegade. While it's true there's not many classics on here, this compilation still proved amazing value for money by sheer weight of numbers!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Star Control - Part 1

Star Control (1990)
By: Toys For Bob / Accolade Genre: Strategy Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis
Also Available For: PC, Amiga, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

The Star Control series is not the most well known series of games but they have amassed a fiercely loyal group of fans over the years. This is largely thanks to the frankly stunning second game in the series which, as some of the handful of regular Red Parsley readers may know already, is my favourite game of all-time. However, much of the groundwork for that game was done here, years earlier, with this under-appreciated original release, including the creation of many of the series' races and their associated mythologies. It was certainly an original and perhaps even unusual concept featuring a combination of two genres. Some loved it, some hated it. It's also pretty complicated to explain, so here goes.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

3DO Games #1

Captain Quazar (1996)
By: Cyclone Studios / 3DO  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: 3DO
Also Available For: PC

Despite its innovations, I think it's safe to say the 3DO didn't exactly set the world alight, sales-wise. There are various reasons for this, but when I think about how scarce some of its games were back then, it hardly seems surprising. I can't remember how I had heard about Captain Quazar now but I knew I wanted it. But even when it was originally released, I never saw it in any shops - I had to buy it on mail order, so scarce was it. It's therefore hardly surprising that most gamers haven't even heard of it, let alone own it. So, is it one of those 'flashy-but-no-depth' games that were so common in the early days of 32-bit gaming, or is it actually any good? Read on!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Crush Series - Part 4

Dragon's Revenge (1993)
By: Tengen Genre: Pinball Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis First Day Score: 1,312,400
Also Available For: Nothing

The emergence of the Crush series was a pleasant surprise for some but it wasn't until the MegaDrive (and Genesis) conversion of the second game, Devil's Crush (known here in the UK as Dragon's Fury), that the series became known to most Western gamers. Splendidly converted by TechnoSoft and published by Tengen, the latter apparently took the success of the game as an opportunity to create and publish their own sequel - Dragon's Revenge. Whilst not strictly speaking an official sequel, Dragon's Revenge duly takes the monstrous themes and ideas created in Alien Crush and perfected by Devil's Crush, and tries expanding on them in its own way. Was it successful?

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Top Five Moons

Astonomy is another of my many hobbies, it's something I find confusing (not having a degree in astrophysics and all) but fascinating nonetheless. So, following on from the recently-touched-upon-theme, I thought I'd try another nonsensical, but hopefully informative Top Five! Hardly what any of you come here for, I know, but I hope some of you might find something of interest here. Let me know if you like it and maybe I'll occasionally do a few more posts like this... :)

5 - Luna
I guess I should include this one purely as it's our own barren, insignificant little rock. It's the second brightest object in our sky (and can help when walking through dark, spooky places at night) despite actually being very dark, and in a curious quirk of fate it always has the same side facing us, but aside from a few little tit-bits it's pretty unremarkable. But hey, without it we would have a very different planet and no eclipses!

Friday, 6 August 2010

PC Engine Shmups #1

Gunhed a.k.a. Blazing Lazers (1989)
By: Hudson Soft / Compile  Genre: Shooting   Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16  First Day Score: 1,699,100
Also Available For: Nothing
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

The late 80's was an exciting time to be a gamer. When the PC Engine was released, the early titles for it were like Holy Grails to most Westerners. Games that we could only gaze at longingly in C&VG and the like. One of the most tantalizing of these was Gunhed. Month after month we would read Julian Rignall and chums rave reviews and general hysterics regarding the new power-house console and for many it was torture. This was the time gamers realised that Japan was now getting the a lot of the best stuff first. For those gamers who couldn't afford to pick up one of the imported consoles and games that some companies were now offering (at inflated prices, of course), it would be a long time before any of these new games could be enjoyed. I finally got my PC Engine in the mid-90's and Gunhed was one of the first games I sought out for it. I'd waited a long time to sample the amazing game I'd been reading about. Was it worth the wait?