Sunday, 13 August 2017

Action Fighter - Sega Master System review

That car doesn't really look very suited to fighting action
Game: Action Fighter
Format: Sega Master System
Developer: Sega 
Publisher: Sega
Year Released: 1986
Also Released on: Arcade, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga
Now Available on: Nothing

Is it a bike? Is it a car? Is it a plane? No, it's Supermer, Action Fighter. That's Action Fighter, not Superm Action Fighter. Action Fighter is one of the Sega Master System's earliest games, a conversion of an arcade game with the same name. It also appeared on a few home computers too, something I didn't know until I took a look at the Internet a few seconds ago. Then again, I didn't even know it was originally an arcade game until Wikipedia informed me. Now I'm curious to see what it looked like on other systems. Might find out after I've written this. I really don't know what's going on with the formatting on this page. Blogger seems to have a mind of its own today.  

What happens if I push 3? The game explodes?? I'll try that then
Action Fighter is an overhead vertically scrolling drive 'em, fly 'em, shoot 'em up. A Drflshmup to give it its made-up modern name. The idea of the game is to drive, fly and shoot things. I'm sure there is a purpose for all of this reckless behaviour, and I'm sure that purpose is explained in the instruction manual or on the back of the box. So, seeing as my fancy has been well and truly tickled, I shall find out. Exactly why must I drive, fly and shoot things?

Hang On! Is that the bike from, er, what was it?
Hmmm, so according to the text on the European box, you "Take the motorcycle from "Hang On," equip it with hi-tech weaponry and give it the ability to transform itself into an aircraft or car - and you've got ACTION FIGHTER!" Well I never, it's the Hang On bike! I still don't know why it needs equipping with hi-tech weaponry and or why it has the ability to transform itself into other vehicles.  Maybe the American box has more info. Here is its text in full, and I'll put it in italics to make it stand out:

Get ready to play a starring role in the incredible world of international espionage. You receive five different assignments. All action-packed. And all extremely dangerous. Your secret weapon? A vehicle that transforms into a dozen different deadly devices.  Your high-speed motoscycle can turn into a customised car and then into a sound-barrier breaking 
jet plane. All in a matter of seconds. The real test? To know when to use which weapon. Because the wrong machine, at the wrong time, can prove fatal.  

That reminds me, I need to watch the People vs, OJ Simpson.
Everyone tells me how good it is
Oooh, so it's espionage then? Spy games and the like. A bit like being a spy hunter of sorts? Original. No mention of the bike from Hang On though. Maybe being a vehicle used for spying, it doesn't want its true identity revealing. Instead, it's just described as a motorcycle that can transform into a dozen different deadly devices (nice use of alliteration there, Sega!). Unfortunately, the box only mentions two of the transformations, the car and plane, and they are the only two in the game too. I feel short-changed now. What are the other ten, and why aren't they in the game? Why mention a dozen if you're not going to let us see them? And what's all this bullcrap about knowing when to use which weapon? Yes, you can switch from bike to car and back to the bike if you want, but why would you? Once you've gained the ability to change to the car, you'll never ever go back to using the bike as it's horrible to control. And you change automatically from car to plane and back again depending on where about you are in the level. Yes, I think that whoever wrote the box text hasn't actually played the game.  

Red Two. Get back in formation. That is an order. Red Two!! Just you wait until we get back to base.

Your president certainly gets straight to the point. Either
that or he can't put together full sentences yet.
But I have. In Action Fighter, after picking your name, a message from the President of wherever you are tells you to unleash fire and fury on whichever place has pissed him off. You then set off on your little bike, whizzing along a road at stupidly fast speeds, avoiding other road users - or just shooting them - and collecting letters. For some reason, many of the vehicles you can destroy are ambulances. I did initially think that doing so would result in some sort of penalty, but apparently not. The sick and injured are clearly not worthy of your consideration, so need dealing with accordingly. There are quite a few parallels between this game and the modern-day policies of a certain orange President. You speed up by pushing up on the d-pad, slow down by pushing down, and fire with button 2. Every now and again, you'll spot a Sega van. Driving into the back of it causes your vehicle to become enhanced with faster and more powerful weaponry. After you've collected the letters A, B, C, and D, which apparently correspond to the four corner sections of your vehicle, your bike transforms into a car. The car is easier to control than the bike, but operates in pretty much the same way. You can switch from bike to car and car to bike by pressing button1 and 2 at the same time. Go on to collect the letters E and F and your car will eventually stop at a checkpoint, gain wings and take off. 

We'll fight them on the beaches, we'll fight them on their
freshly mown lawns.
When in flight mode, the game becomes a standard vertical shooter. Just shoot everything or dodge them. Button 2 remains your fire button,  but button 1 becomes your bomb-dropping button. Use it to drop bombs on objects situated on the ground or in the sea. This includes some of the end of level bosses, which are the ones that your President requested you to destroy. 

The game continues in the same way throughout the remaining levels, only sometimes you begin the level as the plane which will thelater become the car with the boss battles taking place on ground rather than in the air. Eventually, once you've switched your vehicles around enough times, and used them to take out whichever nasties are stupid enough to get in your way, you'll complete the game. 

The magical transforming Hang On bike doesn't really look the most aerodynamic vehicle, even when it has wings

Old Hang On finds the 14th hole, but has put the ball in the
water hazard. 
Action Fighter is very samey. Although changing from one vehicle to another should offer some variety in gameplay, both gaming styles are fairly similar to each other, and just repeat one after the other. As well as being repetitive, Action Fighter is also extremely tough. On the ground at top speed, it's impossible to react to the presence of other road users and to make turns when you need to. And constantly having to press fire tires out your fingers very quickly. Your vehicle does have auto-fire which works by holding down the fire button, but it fires so slowly that it's pointless. Of course, you can slow down, but you'll either slow down too much and need to speed up again, and then back down again, or you'll just decide to drive like a snail, which only results in you getting rear-ended. Finding that happy medium (Russell Grant?) isn't very achievable. The constant shooting, dodging, slowing down and speeding up, combined with regular deaths, just makes the game a pain in the ass to play. And when in the air, although you no longer have to deal with controlling your speed, you get bombarded with enemy aircraft and their bullets, some of which are hidden from view in the clouds. And those that aren't are hidden from view because of the Master System's flicker. You really have to shoot and hope. Kind of like having unprotected sex. Or perhaps not. Perhaps to rebalance the odds in the player's favour a little, a bit of variety to your firepower would have been nice. I don't mind hard games, but I don't like games that are only hard because they are unfair. The only saving grace in this game is that you have unlimited lives as you play against a timer. It starts at 999 and counts down. If it reaches zero before the end of the level, it's game over. The game really is a typical example of what early Master System releases were like, being just the same game on a loop. I can't even imagine it being much fun even if you do persevere with it and get good at it. Unless you have a weird ambition to become an Action Fighter master, it's probably not going to keep you entertained for very long.

Their are some enemies in those there clouds. Somewhere.

Have you seen my chopper? Hehe
As far as graphics go, everything is nice and colourful and ok to look at, although the aforementioned clouds and flicker only add to the overall frustrations that the game seems only to happy to serve up. To offend your ears, two or three nasty-sounding tinkly "tunes" play in the background, They're not even good for Master System standards, and don't even sound in tune. And the sound effects are just awful. Like everything else in this game, the graphics style and music don't change as you play through it. There really is nothing that signifies to you that you are progressing through it. Even some colour changes would have helped a bit. And any change to the music would have been good. Maybe different notes. Or no notes. Yes, no notes at all would be best. 

You can bog off if you think I'm carrying on
with this shite Mr President
So, um, yes, I can't think of anything else to add. That's Action Fighter. Pure garbage.

Presentation – 70%
A car whizzes into the foreground, flashes its lights and the title is displayed. A few intermissions give you your objectives for each level, but there's very little else.
Graphics – 65%
Graphics are ok. The roads are grey, fields are green, water is blue and the clouds are white. And they fudging hide enemy aircraft in them. I hate those clouds. 
Sound – 45%
Turn it off. Turn it off now. Horrible.
Playability – 38%
At first, the game feels like it might be fun. But it quickly turns out that it isn't. It's not fun at all. It's hard, repetitive, frustrating and is about as enjoyable as visiting the dentist. Actually, my dentist is quite tasty so I don't mind doing that. 
Overall – 40%
Not the Master System's finest hour, or even 15 minutes. Quite horrendous. It might improve with practice, but there really are more worthwhile things to practice getting better at. 

Possibly the best part of the game, entering your name

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Tennis Games on the ZX Spectrum - Wimbledon Special: Part Three

As I type this, the mens' final of Wimbledon 2017 is underway. Also underway is our continuation (from last year!) of our trawl through the archives to locate and play tennis games. Previously we have taken a look at tennis games for the Super Nintendo and the Atari VCS/2600, 5600 and Lynx. Waiting at the tee today is the ZX Spectrum. And in an attempt to have some order to things, we're going to go in alphabetical order today. Just five games are listed here. There are more for the Speccy, but these will do for now. The rest can wait until next year.....

Adidas Championship Tie Break - Ocean (1990)
An overhead scrolling tennis game? A novel way to present the sport, but it doesn't really work here. The game gives you plenty of options for which kind of game to play, and a range of colourful courts to play on. You can even choose the weight of your racket, although I couldn't be bothered to play long enough to find out what effect this would have. The problem with this game is that you only get to see a small area of the court while playing. The screen follows the ball as it moves from one end of the court to the other. Fortunately your player always manages to find himself in the right position for you to return the shot, so it's just a case of correctly timing your racket swing. It's probably possible to do all manner of shots, but it never really feels like you're in complete control of what's happening. The sound is crap too. 

Konami's Tennis - Imagine (1986)
This is quite a fun little game of tennis. There's no real faffing with options, with just a few menus to get through and then you're off. Your player is able to move freely around the court and there is a feeling of control when you have your shots, although it sometimes seems that pushing upwards when hitting the ball gives it a bit too much power and it ends up flying past your opponent and ending up out. The players don't change positions so you're always positioned at the bottom of the screen. Sound isn't amazing, just a weird boingy noise when the ball is hit or bounces. Graphics are good, although it might have been better if the players were drawn in black and not white. But, all in all, not a bad game.

Match Point - Sinclair Research (1984)
An oldie but a goodie. Match Point is simple, basic fun. You can configure your game all from one simple screen, even give yourself and your opponent a name. Players are little stick figures, which move smoothly and fluidly around the court. Ball physics seem realistic and everything mostly works well in this game. Extremely polished and technically impressive, even compared with later games. If you want to play tennis on the Speccy, this is the game to go for!

International 3D Tennis - Palace (1990)
Oh, darn it! I've got my alphabet wrong! I comes before M. Oh well. So, International 3D Tennis is our next tennis game. Calling the game 3D is pushing it a bit. You can view the game from a variety of viewpoints which all kind of give a sort of three dimensional appearance, and your players are a bunch of triangles assembled to look like a human being. Their animation is fluid and again gives an impression of entering the third dimension. Gameplay is a bit slow-paced, although this is another one of those games where you are assisted by the computer, although not to a great extent, and higher difficulty settings reduce the extent of assistance. The viewpoints are interesting but more than likely you'll choose the standard one. There's quite a bit of depth on offer as you can play tournaments around the world, but the game feels like it's a bit of a novelty.

International Tennis - Zeppelin (1992)
One of the Spectrum's later tennis sims which shows in the overall presentation and quality. Fun and fast-paced and a good alternative to Match Point. Plenty of options give you a lot of ways to play the game. Sound is minimal but does the job. Graphics are also quite detailed, even if the background image makes it look like you're playing in a cave.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Olympic Gold - Sega Mega Drive/Genesis review

A game about athletics sponsored by a sugary unhealthy drink
Game: Olympic Gold
Format: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis
Developer: Tiertex
Publisher: US Gold
Year Released: 1992
Also Released on: Sega Master System, Sega Game Gear
Now Available on: Nothing

Well, the Olympic Games are over now for another four years. Didn't we do well? Sadly, I wasn't chosen to participate in them this year but I'm sure this will change in time for the Tokyo games in 2020. Between now and then, I'll pick a sport that we aren't that great at, practice it, and then go to Japan to represent Team GB. Maybe I'll pick ping pong. We don't really do that well in ping pong, do we? There's a gap in our country's skill set there. I shall plug it.

In the meantime though, I've been having my own Olympic Games in the comfort of my living room. Oh yes, the sofa Olympics, featuring Olympic Gold on the Sega Mega Drive. Olympic Gold was released to coincide with the Barcelona games of 1992. It was also released on the Sega Master System and Game Gear. Olympic Gold was the first game to be officially endorsed by the International Olympic Committee, with a new one released for every summer and winter Olympics since then, although this year's Olympics only appear to have been attended by Mario and Sonic and their friends. Back in 1992, this would have been unthinkable. Mario and Sonic in a game together. Never!

Olympic Gold opens with a map of the world and the names of each previous host city flying out of their location in the world, plus the year in which they hosted. If anything, it provides you with a quick geography and history lesson. You then get to choose the language that you would like to play in and then it's on with the games.

However, before you get to have a go at showing off your sporting prowess, a recreation of the Olympic stadium’s electronic scoreboard is displayed on your screen. It has the ability of producing amazing state-of-the-art (for the early 1990s anyway) graphics and animations plus in-game menus and options too. It also displays the scores, which is handy what with it being a scoreboard and everything.  

The game's menu, on the stadium scoreboard. Clever, eh?
From this magical multipurpose scoreboard, you can choose your in-game options. You can choose whether to practice a specific event, partake in a Mini Olympics, or go all out in the full blown Olympics. Mini Olympics simply lets you pick the events that you want to compete in, whereas Full Olympics requires you to compete in all of them. And by all of them, I mean seven events. Yep, just seven. Those Barcelona Olympics must have been over within an hour of them starting if the game is an accurate reflection of the real thing. Nothing like the two week affair we had over in Brazil this summer.  You then get to pick your skill level – either crap, not-so-crap or superhuman – displayed in this game as Club, National or Olympic. Then you get to choose who you would like to play as. Each competitor represents a country, and you can’t switch your competitor’s nationality. Too much red tape, apparently. 

Not really too sure what the difference between National and Olympic actually would be?

The opening ceremony is over. The flame has been lit.
The flamelighter makes his way down the stairs with
his hand on fire.
Regardless of what mode of play you have chosen, you are then swiftly thrown into the first event itself. Well, not so swiftly if you’ve chosen to take part in the full Olympics. You have to get through the Opening Ceremony itself first. Barcelona ’92 must have been on a tight budget, as it appears that all their Opening Ceremony consisted of was somebody lighting the flame and some doves being released. And not even a sign of that Freddy Mercury Barcelona song. Of course, you can always skip the ceremony by bashing one of your control pad buttons, something you’ll be getting used to as you play the game. 

So, what are the events and how are they portrayed in Olympic Gold? I’m glad you asked as I have the answers right here: 

Run Forrest Run!
100 Metres: Pretty straightforward stuff, this. Run in a straight line for 100 metres as fast as you can. Usain Bolt is quite good at this. I’m not. Olympic Gold employs the good old technique of getting you to press buttons as quickly as possible, a la Track and Field. You need to alternate between button A and button B. The faster you do it, the faster your runner runs. If you feel that it makes a difference, you can press C at the end of the race to push your head forward a little bit with the intention that it crosses the line before the head of one your opponents. Unfortunately, there is no option to dive over the finish line.  

The bloke in lane three appears to be hopping his way
through the hurdles
110 Metre Hurdles: Similar to the above but ten metres longer and with the added inconvenience that some imbecile has placed miniature bridges in your way. You can run through them, which slows you down and probably hurts, or you can jump over them, which is what the professionals do. I remember getting picked to represent my house group in hurdles in my school sports day back in 1995. I decided to go for a mixture of the two methods and came last. I don’t think I’d ever hurdled beforehand; I got picked simply because I was quite tall. In Olympic Gold, alternating buttons A and B gets your speed up, whereas smashing down on C causes your athlete to launch himself off the ground in the hope that he’ll gracefully glide over the hurdle in his way. What I found from playing this game is that I still seem to use the same tactics that I used in my 1995 Sports Day, with the same results. Maybe I need to change tactics. 

Catch this!
Hammer throw: For this event, you spin round and around and around a number of times until you’re spinning so fast that letting go of the hammer that you are holding onto causes it to fling a great distance. The greater the distance, the better. Pressing C gets your spin cycle started, bashing A and B makes you go fast and faster, and pressing C again releases the hammer from your grasp. And then you can watch as it plummets to the ground just in front of you. A bit of practice will result in the hammer going further, much to the crowd’s delight. 

D. Stead stares with intensity at Bully's prizeboard
Archery: Now, I play darts every now and again but don’t understand why it isn’t an Olympic event. Watching darts on TV at the start of every January is my New Year treat – a bit like an extension to the festive season. I’m sure it’d go down well in the Olympics. The closest they get to it is Archery, which I suppose is basically the same only with bigger darts. And no Bully’s Special Prize for the bullseye. They should do that in the Olympics archery. Somebody gets a bullseye and Jim Bowen shouts from the background, “It’s a Bullseye! You’ll love eating your food with this. You’ve won a luxury cutlery set and case!” Do people still have special cutlery sets? My mum and dad had one in a massive case with a velvety cover that spent most of its time at the back of a kitchen cupboard. It only ever came out for Christmas dinner. Anyway, archery in this game just requires you to press C to pull back your arrow, the D-Pad to attempt to aim your shot, and C again to fire. What makes things slightly more challenging is that as you attempt to line up your shot, you appear to be a bit wobbly. The first few attempts aren't too bad, but you begin quivering like a jelly after go after go after go. I’m not sure whether this is down to the strain on pulling back the arrow, or the wind, but it gives the event a whole new layer of complexity and excitement. 

Stead appears to be aiming for the area between the targets. Doesn't bode well

Not going to make it, not going to make it
High Jump: Run a bit with a pole, and then use it to launch yourself into the air, hoping to get over a horizontal pole placed at a height and landing successfully on a cushion. This isn’t easy to pull off due to the weird combination of button presses that you have to master. It goes from being a button bashing challenge to a coordination challenge. In fact, it’s probably easier to do it in real life. 

Stead dives elegantly into the blue waters below him
Metre Springboard diving: Probably the best event of the game, although that isn’t really saying much. You need to complete a series of dives of different techniques. In practice mode, you can view a demo of how the dive is done beforehand so you know what buttons to press and when. There are a number of dives to master, so it really is a case of remembering each combination for each dive. Easy to do if you’ve just watched it, not so easy if you’ve just done a load of other events and have a memory like mine. Still, it’s quite funny watching your athlete hit the water on his belly. In main competition, all required dives are chosen for you, apart from your final one, so make it a good one. I suppose this event is the only one that actually rewards skill, even though it primarily requires you to remember button combinations. 

Well, he crapped that one up, didn't he?

Just like my local leisure centre, only without a pensioner
doing widths instead of lengths
200 Metre freestyle Swimming: Similar to the running, only you don’t need to bash your buttons quite as rapidly, but you do need to get your timing right to flip yourself over to turn the other way when you approach the end of the pool. 

So, they are all of the events. Once you’ve completed an event in practice mode, you are taken back to the main menu where you can choose the event again if you want another go or pick something else. That’s a little something that niggled me. Why the game couldn’t just ask you if you wanted another go before taking you to the menu screen? In either of the Olympic Modes, there are usually multiple rounds of the same event. For example, in the 100 Metre sprint, If you finish in the top three in the first race, you qualify for the final. You have the option of watching or skipping the second race which decides your other three opponents. And then all six finalists run in the medal race. In other events, your score is totalled up after you’ve completed three rounds of it to decide the final scores and the medal winners. I'm not really sure how the high jump works. It just seems to go on forever until you mess up three times.

Not sure whether this is game based on Barcelona '92 or Berlin '36. Could be the latter. Hitler himself is
on the starting gun, and there is a distinct lack of diversity in the athletes.

If you win an event, you are presented with the gold medal and a snippet of your national anthem is played. When I say you are presented with the medal, all you get is a screen with a picture of it in an open box. There are no podium posing and medal-biting shenanigans here.

GBR appear to have done suspiciously well in this games, with
Pam Kidman topping the table. Zebedee Smirnov competed for
EUN. Who's EUN? Ooooh, former Soviet countries apparently.
No sign of China though.
After you've completed all of the events, the final medal count is tallied up and the Olympic champion is decided. Woohoo! It really isn't that exciting, but there is a small bit of tension if you are doing well and want to maintain your position at the top of the leaderboard. Just a small amount. Nothing like the real thing. At least I don't think it's like the real thing. I'll find out in 2020 when I'm in the ping pong.

The problem with this game is the events aren’t really that much fun. I’ve never been a big fan of games that just require you to press buttons as fast as you can or memorise combinations, so this game just isn’t going to do anything for me. And I don’t think I’m the only one. Saying that, I do remember playing this game back in 1992 with a friend and quite enjoying it. But only for a short while. It wasn’t a game where we played through the whole Olympics and then said, “Let’s do it again!” 

Dave Stead is late off the starting blocks. Will he make up time? Probably not.

Presentation-wise, the idea of using the scoreboard to drive navigation through the menus was quite good, and was probably quite novel in its day too. In Europe, the game was sponsored by Coca Cola, so in between each event, the Coca Cola blimp sometimes goes past. That isn’t too bad, but what is annoying is that the “Always Coca Cola” jingle plays each time. I don’t really have anything against in-game sponsorship providing it doesn’t take over the game, but the tune just grates. When the game was originally released though, I thought it was amazing. I couldn't get over the fact that a video game had a familiar brand logo and jingle in it. I wet my knickers when I played James Pond: Robocod and there were Penguin chocolate bars on one level. Strangely enough, the American version of Olympic Gold didn't feature sponsorship. 
Wanna take a ride on my pole? Fnar fnar

Graphics are functional and purposeful, but aren't really very nice to look at, appearing quite basic and somewhat 8-bit in style. In the events, each competitor is identical to each other. The only way of recognising your character is that you wear a different coloured outfit, a bit like when you forgot your PE kit at school and had to wear something from lost property. Sounds are average too. I've already mentioned the annoying Coca Cola tune, plus the rest of the in-event music is nothing to write home about, not that I've ever written about music that I've heard when I've written home. I don't think I've ever written home actually. Maybe I sent my mum and dad a postcard from Gran Canaria when I went on my first non-family holiday, although I doubt I wrote about the music there. If I did, I would probably have mentioned that DJ Otzi's Hey Baby (Ooh, Aah) song seemed to be on repeat play. One whole week of listening to that non-stop every afternoon around the pool. It drove me crazy it did. It was no wonder I had to keep wandering over to the all-inclusive bar for a drink. So, yes, the music in Olympic Gold wasn't up to much, playing away in the background as you hammer the life out of your control pad. Nor were the sound effects which were limited to short bursts of white noise to simulate crowd noise and a few other sounds. That said, they don't really intrude in the game's goings-on, and I don't really think they would have made the game any better even if they were amazing.

Baby I'm a firework! One of those cheap ones from Asda
that they begin selling two months before 5th November
Olympic Gold wasn't an awful game, and there is a certain amount of fun that can be had with it, especially with multiple players. The controls are responsive, but as the game sort of dictates that buttons need to be pressed as quickly as possible or in a certain order, it means that it isn't really that enjoyable to control. The seven events chosen for the game aren't the best or most varied, but when playing them through, you kind of want to get the event you're on over and move onto the next. In a way, you're wishing the game away. There really isn't any incentive to master the events so there isn't much replay value in it. Olympic Gold doesn't have any long-lasting appeal, and it's short term appeal is also limited too. Fortunately it doesn't take long to get through the whole thing, and then it's back in its box, or wherever it came from. Nowadays it's something to look back at more out of curiosity than as a game. Still, it was better than the next game based on the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.    

Presentation – 78%
A digital scoreboard is pretty much all you see through most of the non-gameplay sections. But it's effective and works quite well.
Graphics – 77%
Fairly bog-standard graphics which don't really stand out in any way. Would have been nice to see a more diverse mix of competitors. 
Sound – 72%
Although the game features plenty of music and sound effects, the tunes that play in the background of each event are forgettable and the sound effects are rather lacking in quality. In European versions a horrible rendition of the Coca Cola jingle plays between each event which is nothing but an annoyance.
Playability – 73%
The game feels like it's going to be quite good at first, but the button-bashing nature of some events and memory tests of others soon reduce the fun factor. It's not too bad with multiple players though.
Overall – 72%
Not a terrible first entry to the official Olympic Games series of video games, but not great either. The variety of events is limited, and the game just isn't something you'd have much desire to master. There isn't really anything to it to make it appeal.