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LONG BLOG

OkändOnsdag 10/2017: Mixed bag 2

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This time, I wanted to list games I've played at least a bit. That's the only connecting thread between them... which makes writing this introduction rather bothersome.

I don't have nearly as many screenshots of Youtube videos this time. The reason for that is that I noticed the type of license NintendoComplete, whose Buck Rogers longplay I linked to, had chosen for their reviews on their site. With that in mind, I chose to err on the safe side and dropped most of the images.

On with the games, then. 

Maze of Galious (Konami, 1987) - MSX

 For a longplay on YouTube, see this one by MSX2PLUS.

Amongst MSX users, Konami's Knightmare series is quite well-regarded. There were three games in total: Knightmare, which was a vertical-scrolling shooter; Shalom (Knightmare 3), an RPG (that I've never played) and Knightmare 2: Maze of Galious, a side-scrolling metroidvania before that term existed. There's a connected 'overworld' and ten 'worlds'. All of the game is viewed from the side.

Interestingly, this is a later release than Vampire Killer (Konami, 1986), which was for MSX2 as opposed to MSX1.

My own experience with Maze of Galious wasn't long - I had only borrowed it from a friend a few times and I doubt ever even reached the first boss.

However, one of the games inspired by the title is a big reason why I included it here.

I'm not referring to Unepic, which also referenced Maze of Galious. A bit over ten years ago, two freeware indie Metroidvania titles were making big waves. One was Cave Story (Pixel, 2004). The other was La Mulana (GR3 Project, 2005). While the former has seen releases on new platforms even this year, La Mulana is the point of interest here.

You're more likely aware of the remake that is not freeware and is available on platforms like Steam. To quote Destructoid's 8/10 review by Tony Ponce:

This is beyond a doubt the hardest game I've ever played.

I'm not saying it. I'm not! If you want a stiff challenge both in terms of action and puzzles, you might like it. But from what I hear, the original freeware game might be even harder.

And in the chain of games inspired by other games, Derek Yu described Spelunky (Derek Yu/Mossmouth, 2008) as a combination of La Mulana and Nethack. Actually, in Sup Holmes Ep. 29 we can hear that Yu hadn't played La Mulana much before creating Spelunky, but the inspiration was more what he imagined La Mulana would be like.

As for the availability of Maze of Galious today on digital storefronts... it looks pretty poor. The first Knightmare game is available on Japanese Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles, but that's a very different game.

Jungle Strike (Electronic Arts, 1993) - Megadrive, Amiga, SNES, ...

For gameplay, see this video by /Y\ad/Y\atty / World of Longplays.

The Strike series was in the early 1990s a top-selling franchise. Desert Strike (1992), Jungle Strike (1993), Urban Strike (1994), Soviet Strike (1996) and Nuclear Strike (1997). Of these, I've played the first three, even if the first one only briefly.

My favourite is the second in the series, which was also the first one I played. Maybe that's why it felt so challenging, but it also wasn't just set over the desert like Desert Strike or have the bothersome on-foot missions like Urban Strike did... and it wasn't a cakewalk like Urban Strike was.

Never heard of the Strike series? In the 90s, Desert Strike was a very much loved game. Obviously, it took place in the deserts near the Persian Gulf. These games are 360-degree scrolling mixtures of action and tactics. Each level is a wide map, viewed in an isometric projection. The levels are flat, but there are buildings and such that the player's combat helicopter can't fly through. The chopper can also fly only at one altitude. So it's a 2D game, just not viewed from straight up.

The player is given a sequence of objectives to clear in a map. The maps are quite long and unlike Desert Strike, Jungle Strike has more variance in what the levels have. For instance, the first and the last missions take place in Washington D.C.. Looking at what happens in the first map alone, the player has to:

  • Destroy enemies attempting to destroy various monuments (some have white-and-blue VW Kleinbuses like in Back to the Future)
  • Find and destroy a terrorist HQ
  • Neutralize car bombs before they blow up in front of embassies
  • Rescue an informant
  • Protect the president's motorcade
  • Capture an enemy sniper

And the last mission ends with you landing on the pad in front of the White House where the president, who looks suspiciously like Bill Clinton, will congratulate you.

Of particular note for the time are also the stylish cutscenes. Digitized actors, but repeating only a few frames each. I finally also paid attention to how some characters aren't clipped to the frame containing the background image. It's a simple stylistic tool you see in comics, and it works also here.

As for the plot... well, the first game's antagonist, a Middle-Eastern dictator, had a son who is now working with a drug lord. Cue nukes going off near South America and possibly in the D.C. as well.

Okay, so the plot is all sorts of fantastic but delivered in style. The sequel would go even nuttier in having the drug cartel boss survive, undergo plastic surgery and run for presidency as a media mogul... and somehow massive laser weapons come to fore as well.

I never played Nuclear or Soviet Strike, but whenever I hear of a new game vaguely resembling the Strike series, my hopes go up. And crash down in flames soon thereafter. I wonder if Twin Strike: Operation Thunder (Na.p.s. Team s.n.c./Zoo Games, 2008) was named that in hopes of cashing in on the Strike series... in any case, that game didn't do well.

By today's standards, the game's maps are probably too empty -- just look how small and far apart the buildings are -- the gameplay too slow and the viewing distance too short. The inability to save mid-level wouldn't fly either, given how long they are.

The animated cutscenes looked great at the time, but today, at least the way some elements aren't clipped to the background remind me of comic books. That has probably helped these parts age more gracefully, but maybe not that much.

Maybe this game is better kept in the past.

A bit of a reference to events of this October: Wikipedia says there were plans to follow Nuclear Strike with "Future Strike" -- which eventually became Future Cop: LAPD (EA, 1998), a game by EA Redwood Shores, later known as the now-defunct Visceral Games. Where one story ends, another starts. 

Liquid Kids (Taito, 1990) - Arcade, PC-Engine, Saturn (, Amiga)

 For gameplay video, see this longplay by SCHLAUCHI/World of Longplays.

Back to Taito, then, and their cutesy platformers. Liquid Kids is a pretty late title, and quite forgotten. I took it upon myself to play it and see why.

Let's start with the good. The game is colourful, beautiful and the sprites are large.

Let's offset that with some of the bad. The sprites are large, you move slowly and you die of one hit.

The weapon you're given is also a problem. Your only way of protecting yourself is a big bouncing ball of water that is difficult enough to aim. The bubbles in Bubble Bobble (Taito, 1986) were easy to use - just blow them at the enemies. The rainbows in Rainbow Islands (Taito, 1987) were a bit more complex: you could walk on them, stomp or otherwise break them, lock enemies under them... I never played Parasol Stars (Taito, 1991), but I imagine it wasn't an easy "pick up and play" type of game.

Liquid Kids isn't one either. It may look colourful, but it's got that fiendish arcade difficulty that makes the player feed it coins to keep playing. To really use the weapon to its full potential, the player needs to know how the bubbles with bounce, how the water will flow down when the bubble bursts, when to charge up the bubble, and for high scores also when to kick a doused enemy to clear away a line of other enemies behind it.

The levels are more straightforward to navigate than in The NewZealand Story (Taito, 1987), but like in NZS, they scroll in all directions, unlike the single-screen levels in Bubble Bobble or vertical levels in Rainbow Islands. However, the water is also used to interact with the environment, for example to put out fires and spin water wheels.

In case you can't tell, I'm not a fan of this game. Maybe if I played it more I'd learn to like it, as I did with Rolling Thunder (Namco, 1986), but for cutesy platformers Bubble Bobble has already built a massive dragon's lair in my heart. As such, I find it hard to get excited over this.

There weren't many home ports of the game, just PC-Engine, Saturn... and Amiga. That version was leaked online in 2003, long after the game had been cancelled despite being completed. In a way, it might be a bit like Star Fox 2 (Nintendo, 2017) or Earthbound Beginnings? (Nintendo, 1989)?

As for the fate of that Amiga port, this game featured on Larry Bundy Jr's "4 Games Cancelled for Stupid Reasons" video. To summarize, Ocean finished the port but forgot to get the license for the game before that. And instead of making a deal with Taito, they shelved the game.

Bop! (Colin Jones/Bug-Byte, 1986) - MSX

 Image taken from an emulator. For actual gameplay, see here.

The strange creatures with their swinging trunks throw a ball to each other and the one who fails to return it back, loses. So yes, this is like Pong, but ever so slightly changed.

The main difference is that the ball moves only up and down. That simplification, though, is complicated by filling the space between the players with portals -- if the ball falls in a red portal, it'll come out from the other red portal, continuing in the same direction. Chain enough of these portals and the game gets more interesting.

As a whole, though, this game isn't that great. Yes, the music really is that repetitive. And there isn't that much to the game. 

But why did I include this here? Because it's one of the few games on C-tape that I managed to load in the 1980s, and I think it actually looks pretty decent.

I don't know how much of the game is just one big joke, but then again, it also made me think how weird and occasionally political game premises could be at the time. Monty Mole started his game series by going to mine in the coal mines during the coal miners' strike to heat his home. The premise of Jet Set Willy (Matthew Smith/Software Projects, 1984), a sequel to Manic Miner (Matthew Smith/Bugbyte, 1983), is quite clearly depicted by the game's box art: Willy is throwing up in a toilet after a party. He got rich in Manic Miner, bought a big mansion, and now that the party is over, he has to collect the trash in every room in the house before the housekeeper will let him get to bed.

Sid Meier's SimGolf (Firaxis/EA, 2002) - PC

For gameplay, see this let's play by psymonkey on Youtube.

Wow, we're getting recent games here! This game is here in part because of the release of Golf Story (Sidebar Games, 2017). I've never played golf myself, but I've played golf games for a long time now.

SimGolf was for me a lightweight management sim. I'd plan golf courses, buy more area to expand to, hire people to keep the course clean and so on. Then again, I never managed to make a full 18-hole course, so maybe I didn't take it seriously enough.

With SimGolf coming after The Sims (Maxis/EA, 2000) had already broken through, there were Sims of some description involved. People joining and leaving your golf club were not mere statistics but they had names, friends they'd invite to the club and even create stories... which may sound more impressive than it was.

You could go even go golfing on your own courses, too.

After watching a part of the let's-play, I saw that I had overexaggerated the positive features in my head. The nostalgia goggles had been on.

The first obvious issue is the granularity of the game map. The tiles the courses are made of are far too large to design courses that would qualify as interesting today, and for that same reason, the actual golf mechanics are overly simplified as well.

Dear Santa,

I've been good this year and written many good cblogs. Please do not listen to those who say otherwise, they are fibbing, naughty and should get only coals.

I wish for a golf club management game. Like, I could build courses, play on them and have others come over the Internet to play the course.

Pretty please?

- Lil' Flegma

Today, though, it's not easy to get this game to work on PCs, since the DRM doesn't work under Windows 10. What a pity.

Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday (SSI/EA) - MS-DOS, Megadrive, Amiga, C64

For a longplay series, you can start with this video by NintendoComplete.

SSI, or Strategic Simulations Inc., was doing very well with their cRPGs. They had the AD&D gold box series, but with the engine they had, why not use it for other IPs as well? Enter Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday.

Buck Rogers is... well, lucky you if you remember him. I could compare the premise with Cleopatra 2525, but I don't think you know that show any better. A bloke ends up being frozen in time, will return to awareness a long time into the future. A bit like Frank Poole. Or that one pizza guy. After looking at Wikipedia entries on the IP, though, I'm surprised that the original comic is from the 1920s -- far earlier than the TV series I thought was where the character was established. Buck Rogers is even older than Flash Gordon.

Anyway, in this variation he's frozen from 1987 to 2491. And all the player sees of him in this game is a cameo. The player guides a group of NEO (New Earth Organization) people to eventually save Earth from a doomsday laser, fighting the RAM (Russo-American Mercantile) forces all the way.

One thing worth noting of the Megadrive port is that it had music better than what the PC beeper could do. Another PC RPG port by EA to Megadrive was Might & Magic II: Gates to Another World (originally New World Computing, 1988), and that, too, had better music than the PC version. In addition being constrained to the 3+1 button Megadrive controller meant a GUI redesign, which could only have been for the better. However, at least Buck Rogers was cut down in other features: less character classes and traversing the world wasn't done in the first-person view dungeon crawler style but an axonometric projection over the area.

Other than the "dungeon-crawling", there's 'top-down' space flight (of course) between planets and such, but also turn-based combat between spaceships. It's just too bad this combat isn't much, and even if you defeat a big enemy ship and board it, defeat the crew and take over it, you'll still be stuck with your regular ship and only get a monetary reward for the captured one. And maybe nice gear as loot.

There are also missions on planet surface, again showed from top-down perspective, but this is only for exploring small maps.

I've seen comments how the game doesn't necessitate grinding, but I do remember doing my best to get the best gear for my characters before they went for the final 'dungeon'. At least the Megadrive version didn't have all that many different items, just in a bit different flavours determined typically by the origin: Venusian, Mercurian, Martian and so on.

Alas, this is a game quite unlikely to see a release on digital download services like GOG - that's what less-known licenses tend to do. But at least GOG has SSI's AD&D gold box games.

November's theme?

For November, either I'll keep up with this random mix "theme" or pick names used by both games and game studios. We'll see, I still have seven days to decide that.

(EDIT: Added some/most of the platforms the games appeared on. I knew I forgot something...)

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About Flegmaone of us since 11:34 PM on 01.17.2015

Very much unprofessional writer, don't take anything I write without a truckload of salt.