Dizzy Returns – Kickstarter project

After seeing the iOS reboot of Dizzy – Prince of the Yolkfolk, I was even more excited (yes, I resisted an egg related pun there..) to learn of a whole new Dizzy game being proposed by the original developers The Oliver Twins.

Dizzy Returns is a new Kickstarter project which seems to be full of promise for the Dizzy fans out there, but also for the new generations who never experienced the somersaulting egg during their youth.  Recently i’ve been of the opinion that the whole “Kickstarter” idea has become over saturated, but I can’t help but give something towards this project.  If anything, the Dizzy series on the Commodore 64 had a huge impact on my childhood – swapping tips with friends in the playground and trying to get past that Dragon with the sleeping potion…

If you too grew up playing the various adventures, then this might be one you’d like to see as well.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/theolivertwins/dizzy-returns

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Unleashing the Fez

It’s been a while since I did a proper retro themed blog post, but there has been no better way of making a bit of a come back by highlighting a particular game which has blown me away this weekend and one that i’d like to share with you.

Screenshot of Fez

The game is called ‘Fez’ and has been released recently on the Xbox 360 via its Live service after around 5 years in development. I had originally wanted to buy some points this weekend to finally get round to purchasing Pacman DX and also possibly the long anticipated Trials Evolution. However, whilst trying out Trials – I came across the adverts for Fez and its NES styled graphics, and was drawn in to give it a go. I’m not going to try and give a full review, as i’m only a small way through so far – but hopefully there is enough here to pique your interest..

To give a bit of dialogue – you control a small cute white character called Gomez, who starts off by living within a 2D world, where everything is square and flat. After being summoned to the top of your home town by one of your relatives who has something to share with you. A 3rd dimension is revealed for the first time via the arrival of a strange golden cube which in turn gives you the power to rotate your world in 90 degree turns, revealing hidden platforms and parts which you would not normally see.

There is some really nice visual trickery going on in the game, giving a clever game play mechanic (like the rewind feature in Braid). Basically, everything is kept at the same distance, even when rotated – so platforms previously at a long distance (too far to jump between) can be made closer by rotating the viewpoint, which allows you to jump between them. It’s slightly hard and odd to explain, though the video below gives a good overview of what i’m getting at.

Your main aim is to collect all the golden cubes across various areas to save your world from total destruction. This you get to see as you progress through the game with the appearance of black holes in the game map. Blocking your path are a number of well created puzzles as well, most of which are solved using your rotational feature – but also via props such as bombs and weights. The game plays like a typical NES platformer – but of course with the added 3D rotational aspect and various effects which would have been almost impossible back in the day and on the 8-bit hardware.

It has some similarities with Braid, but also with Paper Mario and also strangely with Nebulus due to the rotational 3D. The exploration aspect of the game has been a lot of fun so far, and some of the puzzles are very very clever. Just as I really start making progress in the game – things are starting to get pretty tough and there seems to be plenty of hidden messages and codes to crack throughout as well (including some references to Tetris which I need to go back to).

In recent times I have kind of felt a bit hollow inside when playing particular new releases, but with Fez I had that same warm fuzzy feeling like I did when I first played Braid back in 2007/8 and knew I was playing something special.
I was even surprised that Trials Evolution did not grab me anywhere near as much, and as a result I parted with 800 points on Fez instead.

Everything from the NES-like pixilated visuals with its added 3D visuals, the ingenious and fun puzzles, to the superb chip-tune’esq music throughout (which at times seems like a set of modern day Martin Galway tunes) makes this a superb purchase for as little as 800 points. Many hours are going to be worthily “wasted” on this game and for me so far is my game of the year!

Metro-cross (C64) – Retrobyte

Sometimes when i’m not entirely sure what game to play next, I dig out a bundle of Zzap/Commodore Format mags and flip through to get “inspired”.  Again this helped me to produce a small list of titles to dig out.

Metrocross was one of those titles, and yet another game which gives me some fond memories – picking up the budget version of the game second hand many moons ago.  I remember that the game didn’t look that much on the front cover or the back, but it was a new title in the second hand shop and worth a try for a quid.

The c64 version

The game itself is a conversion of a Namco title which doesn’t get as much attention as maybe it should.  The idea of the game is simple – control your futuristic man and get him racing from left to right across a checkered floor to the finish line within the time limit.  However, the checkered floor comes covered in hazards such as holes, obstacles and squares which slow you down.  There are objects to aid your progress, such as skateboards to scroll across even slow tiles at speed, springboards to propell you further along in the game and over holes and collectables that stop the timer, help you speed up and give bonus points.

The game automatically scrolls, with your character always running.  All you have to do is move your character around the race area and across 32 courses in total.  It’s pretty different to most games you may have played back then, and still holds up today – though its a shame there is no simultaneous 2 player mode – which could have increased the fun scale.

As a conversion, I never really knew how accurate it was at the time – mainly because I had never seen the arcade itself.  It wasn’t until thanks to MAME and one of the Namco classic collection packs that I managed to see just how close it was.  Zzap’s 53% grading is very harsh indeed, and something that should be ignored.  Although the graphics are a bit blocky, with sprites being expanded – the game plays brilliantly and is an extremely accurate conversion (Though music could have maybe been beefed up a bit).

I’m off to play it again now, so if get the chance – check it out for yourself (It should be available on various retro compilations, but also may even be on one of the virtual consoles of the big 3).

Additional trivia – The general format of the game was never really cloned to the heights of Pacman.  Actually it pretty much wasn’t cloned at all, apart from one C64 game which never fully materialised.  Inspector Gadget was a licenced game of the cartoon series by Melbourne House – although an arcade adventure game did surface, there was an earlier version of the game which was a blatant clone of Metrocross and can be checked out here on GTW64.

It’s actually quite fun, although buggy – and would have been more welcome than the terrible game that eventually got a release.

Other games being checked out today

Pretty much a day of C64 (Though a bit of PS2 after to test out a donated console from my nephew that he was getting rid of).

The Muncher (C64)

http://www.gamebase64.com/game.php?id=5083&d=18&h=0

A Rampage sort of clone with a very large main godzilla character breaking up cities – including a level named “Nintendo village”.  Great little yelps when you pick up people and eat them, or crunch sounds when you jump and land on them (Considering the 8-bit pixalage, not as gory as it sounds 🙂 )

Bedlam (c64)

http://www.gamebase64.com/game.php?id=715&d=18&h=0

Never played it before, though always seen the adverts – thought i’d give this Xevious clone a whirl to see if it as average as the magazines made it out to be.

Forgotten Worlds (C64)

http://www.gamebase64.com/game.php?id=2874&d=18&h=0

Stunning conversion by Arc Developments.  Graphically superb and very accurate conversion.  Really good use of hi-res and multicolour backgrounds.

The Wicked Father (Atari VCS)

The Wicked Father is a rather oddly named (and slightly sinister sounding), but excellent new game for the Atari 2600 console.

Yup, people are still making games for the 1977 console, even still continuing to see homebrew titles released on real cartridge based media.  This one will be available in a physical format, but can be downloaded to be played on an emulator (Luckily I have a Harmony cartridge which allows me to copy the game to a SD card and play on the real hardware).

The same limitations apply as they did back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, with the game’s author, Junosix, cramming the game into a measly 4k.  What is pretty impressive is that this seems to be Junosix’s first attempt at coding for the machine.

Right, so what about the game? ..well, the game’s story simply goes as follows:

“Playing the unconsionable character of the title who has taken out insurance on both his house and family, you enter his world the moment after he has just trapped them in the basement and flooded the property. PROFIT!!!”

A rather odd storyline I agree, but the game itself is one of the most inventive titles i’ve seen on the VCS.  Game consists of you controlling your character in a room of platforms, having to reach a door at the other end or different part of the screen to escape that room.  As you do this, the water is continuing to rise and will keep at the same level as you move from room to room (as you need to pass 3-4 rooms before you can move up a floor and to better safety).

It’s not really a game that you can wait around, and the quicker you get through a room, the better your chances are on the next screen.  If you fall into the water, control becomes more difficult and stay under for too long and your oxygen will depleat.

Overall, a very simple concept – but well executed and great fun to play.  It’s certainly a challenge as well, and i’ve only just managed to get to the 3rd floor after several attempts.  Although I have died loads of times, I kept replaying to get past a particular screen.

There is also some cool synthy sounds on the title screen, making use of the VCS’ very raw sounds.   If you are a fan of the old VCS, or are curious about what people are doing with the machine these days, then check this one out:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Wicked-Father/166528353398833?sk=info

Checking out Vorpal (Xbox 360)

A bit of a surprise, but I thought i’d cover a more modern title for a change to highlight.  Of course it has a very retro feel to it, which is why I ended up playing the game in the first place!

Click for full size version

Vorpal is a Indie developed Xbox 360 game which was highlighted by my friend Jason Kelk from Old School Gaming when meeting up for a chat the other week.  The game is best described as a “Bullet hell” based title where you essentially have mesmerizing patterns of bullets hurled towards you which you must avoid whilst destroying enemies.

As Jason indicated to me, “Bullet hell” doesn’t just mean randomly chucking as many bullets at you as possible, although the screen is full of bullets – they are generally in pattern formations which can be avoided with skill.  In comparison to standard shooters, movement is through a minimal space due to the influx of bullets.  A more common example you might be familiar with is Ikaruga on the Dreamcast/PS2 (or Xbox 360 Live more recently).

Click image for full version

Although not as flash or complex as Ikaruga, with game play pretty much being based on a single screen, the game is very playable and consists of you doing battle against various bosses and a series of complex bullet waves from each.  You cannot really rest for a moment,  however as you build up a “stress level” bar, you can unleash this power through a large stream of bullets to help to get quickly past a particular wave.

I’ve still got plenty to practice to get in – not being particularly great in this genre, but for a measly 80 points (Roughly £1), this has been very worthwhile grabbing.  If you like your bullet hell shooters, then you can do little wrong in checking this one out!

More details here:

http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-GB/Product/Vorpal/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258550758

Retrobyte: I-Ball 2 and Bug Bomber

Last few weeks have been pretty hectic, preparing for a job interview and working through small lists of projects (including digitising some retro videos for the GTW YouTube channel.). In between i’ve been flicking through some old gaming magazines and noted these two gems which I haven’t played in a while:

I-Ball 2 (C64, Spectrum, Amstrad – 1988 Firebird)

Firebird were one of the early companies to have a budget label with their 1.99 silver range.  I-Ball was one of their flagship titles where you had to rescue your family through around 16 vertically push scrolled levels.  Very frantic and surreal based shooter which won many fans, especially the C64 version due to its brilliant music by Rob Hubbard.

The sequel was a quieter affair, and doesn’t really get as much attention as the first game – which is a shame as although it doesn’t quite feature the rush and excitement of the first game,  it plays very well.  You see, the sequel is more of a platform blaster type affair, where you have to navigate through 50 still screens of action, opening up pathways to get a key to exit to the next level.  Hoards of re-spawning enemies makes this task a little difficult.

Although not quite as loud as the first game, this is worth checking out – especially for the very cool speech throughout.

Bug Bomber (C64, Amiga – 1992 Kingsoft)

The next title I have particularly fond memories of on the C64.  My first experience of it was with a 10 level demo that was given away with Commodore Format magazine back in 1992.  I played it to death, by myself and also with the 4 player mode that came with it.

At the time Bomberman was pretty big, and the desire to play such a title on the C64 was huge.  Although a Dynablaster licence was due, it sadly never surfaced.  Luckily Kingsoft decided to produce their own clone of the series with a title which was set on a computer keyboard, and had the same general idea of trying to clear each level of all the creatures inside it.

The major difference with Bug Bomber, is that creatures are laid onto the grid as eggs, which if you don’t get to and blow up in time, will hatch into a variety of different creatures which can shoot at you or run around at different speeds.

Also with your character, as well as setting bombs – you can lay mines, bullets which will fire once an enemy crosses its horizontal/vertical path, and also your own eggs!  These eggs can hatch into energy to build up your supplies, creatures to turn enemy eggs into your own and creatures that you can send into battle.  All of these different features are accessed by holding down fire and pressing in a particular direction – no need to use keyboard to access particular features.

Overall there are 100 fun levels to play, and during the later part – things get very challenging.  Once you’ve passed all 100 levels, you then have chance to play a 2-4 player match (With two people on keyboard).  Finished off with a superb Chris Huelsbeck tune on the title (Which was his last on the C64), its a superb game from towards the end of the C64’s life that you may have missed.

Unfortunately as a result of its late-coming, its hard to find an original – but its out there in a downloadable format for emulation if you want to check it out.

Many thanks to Lemon64 for the shots!

Roughing it up with Speedball 2 (C64)

Continuing a semi-regular highlight of gaming titles, today I spotted mention on a retro forum about the love of Sensible Soccer and Speedball 2 – which in turn prompted me to dig out Speedball 2 on the Commodore 64.

Title screen - thanks to Lemon64.

 

Generally when sports games are highlighted on the C64 and which are the best, generally for football you get the likes of Microprose Soccer and Emlyn Hughes International Soccer listed. For Golf, World Class Leaderboard and for multi game events, pretty much all the Epyx titles.

Sadly Speedball 2 has never really received the full attention it deserved, which might be due to the fact that it was released so late into the C64’s commercial life when many had upgraded to the likes of the Amiga or 16-bit consoles in 1991. It was also one of the last Imageworks titles before Mirrorsoft went under.

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