Thursday, 15 March 2018

Blog Update (03/2018)

Just a quick update notice to say I'm currently producing new reviews and content for the folks over at, so this blog is currently on stasis. I will filter content down at some point!

For now, please check out my articles here

Friday, 16 February 2018

Game Review: Zorro (Commodore 64)

Released in 1985 by Datasoft, Zorro is an arcade platform game based on Johnston McCulley's masked vigilante, released in 1985 for the ZX Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad range of 8-bit computers. It's another game that I remember playing as a child, but was never able to actually finish for one reason or another.

All is not well in the pueblo of Los Angeles, where the dastardly Colonel Garcia has kidnapped a fair Senorita, spiriting her away to his fort on the other side of town. Not one to sit idly by when a damsel is in distress, Zorro, expert swordsman and champion of the people, leaps into action, setting out on a rescue mission that will see him solving puzzles, crossing swords with the colonel's guard and plundering subterranean catacombs.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Game Review: Donkey Kong (Nintendo Game Boy)

When it was released in 1981, the original Donkey Kong arcade machine was a game of several firsts. Not only was it the first game to start two of Nintendo's most famous characters, it helped define the genre that we now know as the "platformer". From the original coin-op release, to the plethora of home versions, gamers everywhere were hooked by the addictive gameplay, fancy graphics and iconic sound - the sound of jumping over a barrel will be forever etched into our brains.

Despite the success of the game and development of a couple of sequels, it would be Mario (or Jumpman as he was known at the time) that would  go on to enjoy world-wide critical and commercial success in a series of games that made Nintendo the dominant gaming force for the rest of the decade; aside from an outing on the NES, it would seem that poor old Donkey Kong would be relegated to relative obscurity.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Game Review: Joe Blade 2 (Commodore 64)

Developed by Kevin Parker and published by Players Software in 1988

Released originally for the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC 8-bit computers, the original Joe Blade was a typical flick-screen adventure game where mustachioed military-man, Joe Blade,  had to locate a number of prisoners and achieve other objectives, prior to finding the exit; it was a fairly typical explore 'em up of it's day, albeit one that didn't really exhibit any real standout qualities. Whatever the case, the developer must have felt that there was some mileage in the character, for the game spawned a couple of sequels, the first of which I'll be reviewing today.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Game Review: Double Dragon (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Developed by Technos and published by Tradewest in 1988

Regular readers of my reviews will know that Double Dragon is one of my favourite arcade games of all time, and that the C64 version that I owned as a child was a bitter disappointment. With so many of the ports for home computers of the day, for the want of a better word, sucking, I wondered whether the conversion for the Nintendo Entertainment System would fair any better - I'd played the Master System and was relatively impressed, so would the official Nintendo seal of quality mean anything in this instance?

I'm by no means an expert on games for the NES, but one thing I have noticed is that, with games based on arcade titles, the developers generally opted to craft an experience that built on the core mechanics of the arcade title, but that delivered a decent gaming experience whilst working within the constraints of the console's hardware. I'd seen footage of the NES conversion online, but never actually played it - curious to see how it stacked up, I decided to take up the challenge.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Game Review: Rod Land (Nintendo Game Boy)

Developed by Eurocom and published by The Sales Curve in 1993

In today's review, we'll be taking a look at Rod Land for the Nintendo Game Boy. I'd never really considered playing or reviewing titles for the system (largely because I didn't own one as a child), but it was playing this particular game that opened by eyes (and ears) as to what the system was capable of and inspired me to look at a few more games in it's library.

The game is based on the Rod Land arcade game, developed by Jaleco and released in 1990. My first experience of the title was on the Commodore Amiga (great conversion) and later the original arcade release (via MAME) - if you've ever played Bubble Bobble or Rainbow Islands, you'll be in familiar territory.

The story begins in the Fairy village where life is always peaceful, that is until a demon attacks and kidnaps the mother of Tam and Rit, a pair of young fairy children. With their mum now held captive atop a mysterious tower, it falls upon the pair to mount a rescue mission. Armed with magic rods and a pair of rainbow shoes gifted to them by the Village Elder, Tam and Rit must enter the tower and deal with whatever lurks inside.

For those who have never played the game before, the tower is broken up into individual screens containing a number of platforms, each interconnected by ladders. A variety of cutesy (yet lethal) enemies patrol the platforms, all designed to make a bee-line for your position. Hitting an enemy with your rod will trap them, with repeated taps of the attack button swinging them over your head and bopping them repeatedly on the ground; three whacks and the enemy expires, leaving behind a special weapon that can take out other enemies when collected. Enemies killed by these special weapons will leave behind a fruit token, earning the player extra points when collected.

The key to success, however, is ensuring that you always have an escape route figured out, just in case you get cornered by a pack of marauding starfish. It's at these times that you'll want to make use of your magic powers to summon a ladder that you can use to climb to a higher platform. Enemies will try to climb your ladders in order to give chase - players can use this to make groups of enemies easier to deal with by luring them to certain locations, but it's also possible to get trapped if you're not careful.

Grab those flowers!

Those players looking to secure a high score, not to mention giving them the greatest chance of success at actually beating the game, should turn their attention to the many flowers lining each of the platforms. Collecting flowers earns points, but grabbing all the blooms in a level will activate a bonus round, transforming any remaining baddies into weird, squidgy, jelly things that drop special letters when killed. Pick up each of the letters to form the word "EXTRA" and you'll be presented with an extra life (and more bonus points) by a very nice fairy-lady.

One of the most obvious differences between this and the arcade version is the screen layout. Each of the levels in the original coin-op were static screens, displaying the entire play-field. This simply would not have been possible, given the constraints imposed by both the physical size and resolution of the Game Boy's screen, so the developers have altered the dimensions of all the character sprites and art assets to make best use of what little screen space there is. Even with re-scaled artwork, trying to pack all of it into a single static screen would have resulted in a frustrating experience, so the team also made the play-field scroll both horizontally and vertically, allowing them to build levels to a size that don't box the player or trap them. It's a design decision that really does pay off and the end result is a game that not only manages to look great (which it does), but also capture the essence of the original arcade, delivering a fun experience on a handheld format.

Earning a 1-UP

Whether by design, or simply a by-product of the changes in scale, Rod Land on the Game Boy ends up being decidedly easier than the arcade. The majority of the levels are open enough that, combined with your ability to summon ladders out of thin air, it's possible to outpace and maintain a relatively safe distance from your enemies. This meant that I was able to focus more on collecting flowers for bonus points, as well as activating the bonus round, than having to kill off enemies simply to survive. In fact, the game felt almost a little too easy at times, but then it would teach me a lesson in humility as I'd blunder into an enemy I didn't see, or had mistimed a crucial rod attack, reminding me not to get complacent; it's here that I think the game manages to hit just the right balance between accessibility and fun, yet still providing a challenge.

The first boss stage

The other big surprise here was the game's audio and just how good it is. The music from the arcade version has been recreated faithfully here and the GB sound-chip gives it a distinctive sound and quality that I just wouldn't have expected from a hand-held gaming system. Even more impressive than the music, however, are the sound effects, mainly because they're near-identical to the arcade version - sure, there are some differences, but I really was impressed with the quality of the sound in this particular title.

I love the simplicity of Rod Land's game design and the Game Boy version is a great platform for the title. Eurocom did a great job in reworking the game to work on the Game Boy and is definitely a title I'd recommend if you're a fan of arcade-platform games - highly recommended!

Friday, 26 January 2018

Game Review: Strider (Arcade)

For today's review, I decided to take a look at Strider, an arcade game that, in spite of media hype (not to mention ports for most major computers and consoles), I had never actually gotten around to playing. Not one to shy away from broadening my gaming horizons, I thought I'd take some time to check it out and report back my thoughts.

A little reading beforehand revealed that Strider Hiryu began life as a collaborative endeavour between Capcom and Manga outfit, Moto Kikaku. The arcade game features Strider Hiryu as the main character, as well as borrowing elements from the original Manga storyline (although I'm led to believe there are plenty of discrepancies between the game world and comic fiction). The Striders are a group of shadowy mercenaries for higher, trained to super-human levels of agility and possessing exceptional skills in martial arts and armed combat.