Friday, 29 April 2011

New to Me: Number 3 - Excitebike (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Not a very "exciting" title screen. Fnar-Fnar!!
Now available on: Wii Virtual Console (500 Wii Points)
Also available on: N64 as unlockable in Excitebike 64, GameCube as unlockable in Animal Crossing and Gameboy Advance

Being a bit of a Sega fanboy when I was young, the Nintendo Entertainment System and its huge range of games passed me by. At the time, this didn't really bother me. I don't think I knew anybody who owned a Nintendo and screenshots of NES games in magazines always looked quite ugly. The colours were drab and gaudy, nothing like the bright vibrant colours of the Master System, and there were none of my arcade favourites available for it, like Wonder Boy, Dynamite Dux (?) or Out Run. My first experience of a NES Mario game was when I played all of them via Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES towards the end of 1993. I didn't get to use an actual NES until 1998 when a university colleague invited me over to her place for tea one evening. After tea, she took me to her bedroom, and we had some Duck Hunt fun. Oo-er! Unfortunately, seeing as I wasn't very good at reading signals in my youth, my attempt at lame innuendo to suggest that something more exciting happened  was pointless as we really did play Duck Hunt on her NES. Knowing how useless I was with the ladies back then, she was most probably lying on her bed in her bra and knickers, and I caught a glimpse of her NES in the corner of my eye and said, "Oh my gosh! I can't believe my luck! I've got to have a go of that!" So I slapped a cart into her slot and had my first duck hunt. Oh well. Anywhoooow, this isn't a blog for me to write about the missed opportunities of my youth. Nope, it's a place for me to write about old video games. Hmmm... how else was I meant to interpret, "Let's go upstairs for some fun and games?"!?.
Duck Hunt how I hate thee

So, er, where was I? Oh yes, so other than Mario All-Stars on the SNES and my studenty misadventures, my exposure to the NES has been minimal. This means that its huge library of games is still waiting to be discovered by my good self, and is a fantastic resource for entries for my "New to Me" section. And so, the first NES game I have chosen to review for my blog is one of the console's earliest games. It's Excitebike. But, before I continue, I need to find out for myself how the game's name is pronounced. Although it's probably a word I've never spoken, I always read it as being pronounced "Excite-a-bike" but looking at its spelling, it's more likely to be "Excite Bike." I will be back to continue with this once I've found out.

Alrighty then, I'm back, and the game's name looks like it's pronounced "Excite Bike," so I've been wrong all my life, or however long the dilemma has haunted me for. On my quest for enlightenment, I found this rather hilarious page which begins with somebody asking the same question and then descends into an amusing argument between people on how to pronounce GIF. Apparently, ignorant people pronounce it with a solid "G" sound, but the more educated correctly pronounce it "Jif". I fall in the ignorant category. It just amused me how grown men (I'm presuming they're grown men) get all uppity and uptight about something so trivial and ultimately completely unimportant. I'm actually feeling quite depressed now. I haven't even started reviewing the game yet, but I've already reminded myself of the time I threw away a potential opportunity for a night of passion with a rather attractive young lady, found out I've been pronouncing Excitebike incorrectly (in my head) for 20+ years, and that I'm apparently ignorant because I say GIF wrong.

Weeeee!!! Or should that be Wiiiiiiiii!!!!??
Putting all of that to one side now (I'll drown my sorrows a little later - think there's some Shandy Bass in the fridge), here's my review of Excitebike. As I've already said somewhere, Excitebike was one of the first games for Nintendo's box of delight (if it wasn't for their stupid gaming system, I could have experienced another box of delight. Alright, I'll stop it now. It was 13 years ago. I'm over it). Released as a launch game in pretty much all territories, the game is typical of an early release - no frills (but plenty of thrills - hoho! I'm on fire tonight!). Upon starting it up, you go straight into the title screen and your options of game modes. There are two modes of play, Selection A and Selection B. They are pretty much the same except that Selection B features computer opponents, whereas Selection A allows you to take on the levels all by your lonesome. There is also a level design mode.

Oh, crumbs! I mistimed that jump something rotten.
On choosing either option, you can then choose to play any of the five levels. Levels take the form of side-scrolling tracks containing hazards and jumps of various shapes and sizes. Your task is simply to make it to the end of the track as quickly as possible, either by avoiding the hazards or smoothly taking each jump. Each track is made up of four lanes and you have the freedom to flip and switch from one lane to the other simply by hitting up or down on your D-pad. Of course, this is necessary to avoid some of the obstacles on the way. Pressing left performs a wheelie, or gives you some lift as you approach jumps. Pressing right does the opposite, pushing the front wheel down, allowing you to make pixel perfect landings on the track to avoid losing time. You have two other buttons to use on your control pad - one to accelerate and the other to use a turbo, handy when approaching jumps. Hold on to the turbo for too long though and the bike overheats, meaning you have to stop for a few seconds for it to cool down.
The screen displays two times to beat. One is in the scrolling background giving you the fastest time for the track, the other - to the bottom left of the screen - is the time for third position. This is the time you need to beat to qualify to go onto the next round.
Woohoo! First!!!!

'Snot the most pleasing colour scheme.
Presentation, as you'd expect for a game nearly thirty years old, is basic but does the job. You can be up and running into a game within seconds of starting it. The tracks change colour for each level, which, although a bit extreme in places (one level is lime green!), adds some variety to things. Sound is also perfectly adequate, with nice little tunes sprinkled throughout the game, engine noises and a warning noise to let you know you're about to overheat.
However, it's in the game's playability that it shines. The bike is easy to handle and it feels like you really are able to influence the its performance by how you control it. Unfortunately, after two weeks of playing, I'm still unable to master the game, but enjoy attempting it no end. Although Selection A and Selection B are basically the same only with competitors on the latter, they feel different. Selection A feels like a time trial, Selection B feels like a race, and it's good seeing that the other racers can be just as incompetent and accident-prone as yourself, and give as good as they get (they can knock you off your back, you can knock them off their's). Artificial intelligence is something that developers still have problems getting right, but, even in 1984, Nintendo did a great job of implementing it well in this game.

Some multi-rider shenaginans going on here

The final feature which, to be honest, didn't really excite me for very long, is the Design mode. This allows you to place your own jumps and obstacles on a track and then race it. Although fun for a few minutes, I just couldn't create any tracks that I really enjoyed playing. Apparently, on its original release, although the game featured options to save your creations, you weren't able to do this as your masterpieces were deleted when the console was switched off (the option to save was left in the game in case something came along in the future to accommodate this though - it was finally implemented for the Wii's Virtual Console rerelease in 2007. Nintendo really were thinking to the future when they made this game!).
I'm going to make this level a tough nut. And then not play it because it's too hard. Oh yes.
So, in conclusion, Excitebike is definitely a fun little game, easy to pick up and play, but hard to master. If you've got a few Wii points left over, this game is definitely worth a look at. It's a fine example of one of the games that begun Nintendo's route to video gaming domination.


Saturday, 16 April 2011

A week with.... The Terminator (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis)

A week with.... The Terminator (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis)

The title screen featuring The Govinator
Today, I began playing The Terminator on the Sega Mega Drive after reading a review of the game in an old copy of Mean Machines (issue 21, June 1992). The review slammed the game for being short and too easy, but praised it for its visuals and presentation. Years ago, a video tape was given away free with one of the other Sega magazines (Sega Pro I think), and it had previews of a selection of games produced by Virgin on it. One of those was The Terminator, which in the preview looked quite funky. But, as a youngster and not being able to think for myself, I went with the opinion of Mean Machines, as it generally gave pretty accurate reviews of games, and decided to give Arnie a miss. However, through the wonders of, ahem, emulation, it's now possible to play the game without throwing £40 of pocket money down the drain. And, on this, a sunny Sunday afternoon in April, I decided to move indoors and to give The Terminator a go, to find out whether I was right to follow the advice of Mean Machines nineteen years ago, or whether I should have bought the game based on some footage on a videotape. Also, I had to get inside as I could feel my forehead and nose burning. Technically this could be the newest review for my New to Me section, but I thought I'd do this one a bit differently. Instead of playing the game for however long I usually play them for before deciding to review them, I'll do a day by day review of the game based on my experiences of playing it for a week, or however long it takes until I get bored of it. However, I'm still not going to publish this on a day-to-day basis, simply because it'll fill my blog with what looks like five reviews of the same game and the entries will appear in backwards order. Instead, I'll just add to this entry until it's complete. Groovy.

A graphic cut-scene graphic.

So, with today being day one, here are my first impressions. Presentation-wise, the game is great. Nowadays, when starting up games, you have to go through screen after screen after screen of the logos of companies that were somehow involved in the production of the game. Fortunately this wasn't the case in the nineties, with only the Virgin Games logo holding up the start of the game (and the usual Sega logo), followed by a bit of text explaining how the machines are going to fight the battle to wipe out mankind, not in the future, but tonight (oh no!) and then some credits with the film's logo scrolling by in the background. It's all quite filmatic, but something I'll probably never watch again. After the little semi-dramatic introduction, or if you've got bored and pressed start, the title screen appears with a digitzed image of the Governor of California gracing your screen. You have the choice of starting the game or faffing with the game's options. Options allow you to set the game's difficulty (choices are easy, normal, hard or very hard), change the controls or listen to a few tunes on the sound test. Pretty standard stuff, but I don't suppose it needs any more. I chose to leave the game on normal difficulty.

The first enemy you'll meet. Looks a bit like a futuristic Dyson
Upon starting the game, there is another digitized shot of something, and some more text telling the story (all in capital letters which makes it hard to read). Fortunately, the story is kept brief and to the point, and then it's on with the game. Woohoo! At first, the game seems unfairly hard, with instant death happening as soon as walking into the first enemy robot. When you die, a screen appears pointing out that you (Kyle Reese) has been terminated. Slightly frustrating is the fact that it takes a few seconds for this announcement to appear - the text informing you of your termination appears like the vidiprinter on Grandstand used to when the football scores were coming through. And then the game resets, going through the malarkey of having to display the Sega logo, then the Virgin Games logo, and then the title screen and the start of the story again. Even by repeatedly pressing start to skip through things quicker, there's probably about a twenty second gap between dying and being able to start again. Twenty seconds may not sound like much, but it's a frustrating delay in an action game. And, once you've seen the intro and story screens, you really won't be interested in watching them again. Why isn't there a simple option to restart upon dying?

Kyle sits to ponder his next move. Or he's having a shit.
After killing the first robot and entering a futuristic complex, you come across more unfairness. You are armed with unlimited grenades and can collect bombs that detonate after a few seconds. However, these items are pretty useless against the seemingly never-ending army of bare-chested soldiers in snot-green leggings (members of the Team Jacob fanclub?) shooting at you. You have no choice but to take hits and attempt to wipe them out by throwing grenades at them. The only way of successfully getting through is by hoping that some of them drop energy canisters to replenish your health. Again, walking into one of them will result in your death, and having to go through the whole process of waiting for the game to be ready to start again. The whole battle against Team Jacob is both frustrating and tedious, and the several restarts are just simply annoying, but I got through it eventually. After getting through the first wave and having the opportunity to explore the level, which is filled by more bare-chested soldiers in snot-green leggings, I eventually found a machine gun. This can be obtained by going to the bottom-left of the level, killing a robot, and collecting it. And then the game suddenly goes from being unfairly hard to ridiculously easy. One shot from your machine gun, and Team Jacob's soldiers are no more. It's quite fun at first being able to blast them away so easily after the battle you had with them earlier, but it offers no challenge. Completing the level is a case of setting a bomb at some sort of core thingy (I'm not really up on what's actually going on), and leaving the level within 45 seconds before the whole building explodes. Easy-peasy - despite a difficult start.
Defeat this thing to the left.....

.... and then pick up the machine gun. Suddenly the game becomes much easier.
Kyle lets one off before entering the club.
On my first day, I managed to get into a nightclub on level two, but was killed by some bloke in black clothing. This was after temporarily stunning some police with a shotgun (not the machine gun from level one) which you start the level with. Getting to the night club was a case of walking the streets of present day LA (well, 1984 LA), or climbing over the roofs of building. All quite easy. Level two has a very different feel to level one, and kind of feels like a different game. After being killed a couple of times by the man in black in the nightclub, I gave up, but will return to the game for day two. What I must say that, although I found it initially frustrating, the game is actually quite fun and playable, and I am looking forward to getting back to it.

Kyle somehow lost his clothes after going back in time. Either that or he forgot to put some on before he left the future.

For my second day on The Terminator, I found getting through level one no problem. For some reason, there weren't many bare-chested soldiers to take on, so getting the machine gun and to the end of the level was easy. Again with level two, I managed to get to the nightclub quickly, and found that it was possible to get past the black-clothed man by knocking him down three times. The problem I had yesterday was that it was easy to shoot him until he fell, but jumping over him always resulted in me coming into contact with him somehow and dying. The trick is to knock him down three times. When he is down for the third time, he flickers, which makes him passable. After walking on for a bit more, I bumped into a woman at a table. And this ends the level. I'm amazed at how easy the level is, and can't believe that the game's developers went to the trouble to create a visually attractive nightclub, only to populate it with one, easy-to-pass-when-you-know-how enemy. Perhaps they were wanting to keep to the film's plot, but it just seemed a bit of a waste of potential.

Ooh ooh! Drama! Intrigue!
The woman at the table is Sarah Connor, whose unborn son, John Connor, will lead a resistance against the machines of Skynet in the future in 2029, (which is only 18 years away. More time has passed since the release of this game - 19 years - than the length of time it is from now until the events it depicts. Or something). To prevent John from being able to do this, Skynet sent Arnie, The Terminator, to the present day, to kill Sarah, therefore meaning John won't be born. According to the film, Sarah and Kyle (me!), get arrested, and level three takes place in the police station/prison.
Lots of action going on here.
Level three features more of the same enemies from level two. It seems sparcely populated, so there seems to be more running than shooting. And although it seems quite complex and maze-like, it's impossible to get lost as the level takes you the correct route through it. Once again, the man in black is somewhere in the level. Turns out that he's The Terminator (didn't notice it yesterday!). The same attack as in level two stuns him, but I got killed shortly afterwards when walking into a policeman. Grrrr!!! Going to go back to the game now.

Humph! Got to level three another couple of times and died in the same place. Can't be bothered to play anymore so will be back to it for day three.

Arnie makes an appearance. Kyle has another shit and a policeman prays.


Day Three, and I'm back for more movie-based shenanigans with The Terminator. Unfortunately, these shenanigans didn't last too long as I've only gone and completed it. I got to the same point as yesterday, died the first time, and had to replay the game from the start in order to reach the same point and try again. This is actually one of the problems I found with the game. Sometimes you die all too easily, and quite unfairly, when running into certain more powerful enemies, or when you get ganged-up on, or sometimes if you get trapped when taking the wrong turn. This is especially a problem on the last level. As you only have one life and no continues, you have to start again. Part of the reason for this may be due to the game's major flaw - to be revealed in a few short moments - but it is extremely annoying.

On my second attempt today, I reached Arnie in the third stage in the prison, and rather flukily, he wasn't flanked by annoying policemen and prisoners, so once I'd stunned him, it was fairly easy to get past him and to the end of the level, to pick up Sarah Connor again.

The final level begins after a cut scene describing how Reese has managed to destory the "cyborg assailant" in a massive fire. So rather than letting you play out this battle, it simply gets described. You then go on to battle against the "hyper-alloy combat chassis", (metal Terminator) which basically involves you wandering around a level until you get to the end of it. While it's in its full-standing state, you can shoot at it to blast it out of the way. When it's in its non-standing state, crawling around the level, your only chance of survival is to avoid it. Eventually, providing you've gone the right way, you'll reach the end of the level. What's left of The Terminator follows you and gets then crushed by some machine. And then, the game is over. Another cut-screen concludes the game and the end credits roll. And, that's it.
The Terminator in the form above creeps me out a little
Here he is again about to follow Kyle up the stairs.
And that's the problem. The game is way too short. Only four relatively short levels are included, and getting from start to finish can take about 10 to 15 minutes, and doing so isn't particularly difficult. Although I'm a huge fan of games and have been playing them pretty much all my life, I'm not a particularly good gamer, so for me to complete this game in three days means that it must be easy. The only things preventing it from being done sooner are the frustrating hazards described above. The game only becomes difficult due to you being placed in unfair situations, such as battling against soldiers with inadequate weapons, dying all too easily and having to replay from the start - and not from the levels and the enemies actually being a challenge to beat - if that makes sense. It's a bit like somebody asking you to paint a room. Making it a challenge would be the fact that there are some difficult corners, and the colour of the paint for the walls has to be different from the ceiling paint, so you have to be careful not to get paint from one on the other, but that would at least be a fair challenge. Making it too easy would be the room being exactly square shaped, with the ceiling requiring the same colour paint. Making it unfair would be only being given a toothbrush to paint the whole room, and being told that each time you accidentally get some paint somewhere you shouldn't, you have to start the room again with a different colour. I'm not sure if that's a good analogy, but I was painting a room today and it crossed my mind.

It's a huge shame that the game is so easy and short, because, despite its frustrations, it is mostly a fun game to play. Presentation is spot-on, even if you probably won't pay any attention to the cut-scenes when you've seen them once. Graphics are great, the music is pretty good and suited to the game, and the sound effects are meaty and satisfying. The game's levels remain close to the film's plot (which is possibly part of the problem). Controls are ok. Although using the grenades at the start of level one is a pain, using the machine gun when it's found later is fun. The shotgun on levels two, three and four is a bit of a nuisance, as Reece has to take it out of his white coat to fire it and the game's programmers have to show off with a bit of animation to demonstrate this. Realistic it may be but it's not exactly fun to have to wait while somebody is firing at you. Shooting while crouching seems to eliminate this problem. Reece isn't the greatest of jumpers, although this is probably another attempt at reflecting realism rather than making him some sort of super-athelete.

So, after just three days, my week with The Terminator is over. I might do a day four if I decide to come back to it tomorrow, which may prove if the game has replay value, but I doubt that even if this is the case, it's a game that will warrant regular replays as there isn't much substance to it to bring me back over and over again.
The End. I'll be back. At some point. Don't know when.


Well, I didn't decide to come back to The Terminator on the Mega Drive for a fourth day. I may do in the future, but my attention was diverted to the Mega-CD version of the game. I discovered that the CD version was completely different to its non-CD counterpart. It's still a run and gun game, but has totally different levels and appears to be quite challenging, but not in a frustrating way. It also must have one of the most stunning soundtracks I've heard in a video game. I only played it for a few minutes (long enough to get into the game's third track, but not off the first level as I died) and I'm mightily impressed by it, so will most definitely be coming back to that, instead of returning to the Mega Drive's attempt.


Despite some frustrating elements, The Terminator on the Mega Drive is a fun little game while it lasts. Unfortunately, it is too little and the fun doesn't last anywhere near as long as it should. I feel that the elements that make it unfair were possibly added simply to prevent the game from being too easy as well as too short (it's still easy, but it's also easy to make mistakes which will send you right back to the beginning). The game is fantastically presented; the graphics, cut-scenes and music capture the feel of the film really well, but there should be more of it. The reviewers of Mean Machines did get the score right, and I know that if I'd have bought this almost 20 years ago, I would have been quite disappointed if I completed it so quickly. What amazes me is that some other magazines at the time rated it 90%+. Now, either they didn't play the game properly before reviewing it, or, as certain magazines were assisting in promoting the game through free videos as a way of increasing their circulation, their scoring was perhaps a little bit influenced by other factors. It's a problem that modern websites/magazines possibly suffer from, fearing that games publishers will boycott them if they dare to rate a game as poor or average. But, it looks like it may be nothing new.


The review published in Mean Machines of The Terminator can be viewed on the rather fantastic Mean Machines Archive site.

Here are some additional screenshots. I thought I'd taken some of the inside of the nightclub but obviously messed up.

Kyle's about to get a bullet in his nuts.

By setting a bomb to detonate here....

..... the level goes red and you have 45 seconds to find your way out. You could hang around though because these look like ideal conditions for developing photographs.

The end of level one. If you don't detonate the orange core thingy in the screenshot above, this object fires a continuous stream of lethal bullets at you, killing you instantly. Looks a bit like a passport photo kiosk. Not sure what my obsession with developing photos is.

Some shameless self-promotion going on here.

The Los Angeles coppers take phone booth theft very seriously
Running along the roof of a building. Obviously.

I don't know why, but this screenshot reminds me of Skool Daze & Bak to Skool. It probably represents where Eric ended up next in those games.

That's a mighty fine chopper.

The Terminator looks like he's visiting the dentist.
Squish. Well, that's what's going to happen.

Friday, 8 April 2011

New to me: Number 2 - Magic Pockets (Commodore Amiga)

One of the best things about being into classic gaming is that there are so many games that I've never played before which are relatively easy to obtain. "New to me" is the name of the section of my blog in which I review old games that I've never, until now, had the opportunity to play. Some games may be classics that have simply passed me by, others may be hidden gems that I didn't even know existed. And others may be complete turkeys that are better left in the past. My review of the Master System's Captain Silver was the first of my "New to me" reviews. And this is my second.

The game's funky intro screen.
In their day, The Bitmap Brothers were renowned producers of highly polished and technically accomplished games. Although their games were released for a range of computers and consoles, it was through their games for the Commodore Amiga that they made their name. Amongst the classic games that could be attributed to them were Xenon, Xenon II: Megablast, Gods, The Chaos Engine, and perhaps their biggest hit, Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, which has recently been revived for iPhone, iPad, PSN, etc..... Another game which seemed to be huge at the time, but has largely been shoved to the sidelines of video gaming history, is Magic Pockets. Looking at some of the reviews from the time, it is initially hard to see why this is now the case as it was rated very highly. Amiga Action gave it 93% (October 1991), The One (Amiga) gave it 94% (September 1991) and Zero gave it 90% (October 1991). It also featured in kids TV shows Motormouth and Going Live! as a phone in game. But today, it is largely forgotten about. And after playing the game for a bit, it doesn't take long to figure out why. Basically, it isn't very good. Amiga Power were the only magazine who dared to give this game a more realistic score, giving it 75% in October 1991 and 2 out of 5 in March 1992.
That's one ugly mofo.
I'd get that seen to if I were you.
Things actually start off ok. The Bitmap Brothers were known for showcasing the capabilities of the Amiga and, while the game is loading, you are treated to an impressive digital rendition of Betty Boo's Doin' The Do, together with samples from the songstress herself. We are then freakishly introduced to what can only be described as an ugly baby dressed in teenager's clothing (wearing sunglasses and the obligatory sideways baseball cap - has that ever been cool?) whose pocket bulges when his hand is in it. I know Betty Boo was quite tasty, but something just seems wrong with that. Flashy stars and the game's name end the introductory presentation and everything seems quite promising. And then, the game begins.....
Phwoar! It's Betty Boo! I think. A Google Image search for her name came up with the picture above, and the picture below...

Magic Pockets is a platform game in which you take on the role of the ugly baby character known only as Kid (urgh). Bitmap Kid was apparently his full name, backed up by the fact his jacket says BK on it (either that, or it’s his Burger King uniform). Kid's task is to wander through platform levels, killing baddies with whatever weapon he happens to have in his pocket. His ultimate aim is to get his best toys back from the "Bad People" and teach them a lesson. Along the way, he picks up sweets, milk bottles, toys, and so on. It all sounds quite immature and aimed at a young audience, but this is all quite incongruous to the game itself.

Kid throws a bunch a blueberries at a shocked-looking snail.
Level One is "The Cave". After the introduction's audiovisual spectacular, everything quickly goes downhill. The graphics are well-drawn and defined, but they are just so ugly. They certainly don't appear that they would appeal to the game's target audience. They are dark, moody and metallic. As are the game's sounds. The Bitmap Brothers must have blown the game's audio budget on sampling Betty Boo for the intro, as it seems like they sampled somebody banging on various tin objects to get the majority of the in-game sound effects. In addition to the boings and doinks, Burger King kid makes a quiet tapping noise as he walks along the depressing landscapes. The only music in the game is when you die, or when you complete a level, when you a treated to a short burst of the title music. Of course, graphics and sound don't always make it game. It's how it plays that matters.
Holding down on the TV set lets you see a larger view of the level. Shame it doesn't switch your TV over to a channel with something better on.
Unfortunately, Magic Pocket plays like a dog. Kid, or whatever stupid name he has, slowly trundles his way across the terrain. Press up and he'll eventually jump. Pressing fire will fire Kid's weapon of choice. On level one, he fires what are apparently whirlwinds - although they look more like a bunch of blueberries. His weaponary changes throughout the game. Holding down on fire will power up the weapon although the unleashed arsenal doesn't really appear to do any more damage than the unpowered-up version. Having to stop to power up every now and again also disrupts the flow of the game. It is kind of possible to define the direction of the object being fired, although this isn't implemented well at all. For example, if you're standing near the end of a platform, and there's an enemy below you, you can fire a whirlwind downwards so it falls downwards off the platform, rather than shooting across to whatever is facing you. To do this, you simply push down and fire. As enemies appear to require a seemingly random number of hits, you'd think firing another object to kill it would be a simple case of pressing fire again while you're still holding down. But, you'd be wrong. To repeat the process, you have to let go of down, press it again and then fire. Again this disrupts the game's fluidity. As the direction of the object being fired is determined by which direction key you’re pressing when you press fire, and as this is a platform game which means you’ll be pressing in all directions as you attempt to direct Kid (grrrr) around the levels, it just feels like you don’t really have any control of where you are aiming and the objects just seem to fly in all directions. The attempt to give you more control over your aim actually results in you having less control. Another example of badly-implemented controls is the whirlwind spin jump on level one. To get to some higher platforms, or to kill baddies by spinning up into them, you can hold down, hold fire to power up a whirlwind, release it, step on it and push down. This will then result in you springing upwards in a spinning ball, killing anything in your path. It’s illogical and a pain in the ass to perform. Of course, there was a good intention behind adding this move to the game, to add more controls than just jump and fire, but it just adds to the clunky nature of the game. Another problem with the controls is that they aren't actually that responsive. It looks like the programmers tried to show off by including extra frames of animation (such as when you jump) rather than allow the controls to flow nicely.

A bit of Hubba-Bubba from a bubblegum machine allows Ugly Kid to reach new heights
In addition to the horrible controls are the enemies. Now, all platform games need enemies. And in most platform games, enemies are killed by throwing something at them, jumping on them or spinning into them. As we know, Kid (argh!) can either throw weapons (standard or powered-up) or spin into them, either through the method described above, or by falling/jumping off fairly high platforms, which results in him spinning of his own accord. But, in this game, there is no real way of knowing how many times to fire at them with all enemies requiring ‘several’ hits. None of the initial hits tend to do anything (well, they surround the enemy with stun stars, but the enemy isn’t actually stunned) and as they are quite often approaching you, usually you have to walk away from them, fire at them again from a distance until they die. What you tend to find you do is clear a screen of enemies from a safe distance before walking through that area. And once again, this disrupts the flow of the game. Alternatively, you’ll walk through them, hoping to dodge them or taking a hit from one to gain some temporary invincibility, to get to the next bit. There isn’t much skill required to it all, no requirement for pixel perfect jumps and skilled attacks. Just get rid of everything on the screen and move on. And why does it take 5 or 6 hits to kill every character? What fun is there in that? Standing there firing over and over at them until they die is just tedious and frustrating.

Towards the end of level one, Kid is able to cycle over any nasties in his way.
And then there's the horrific level design. Levels are maze-like, but unlike other superior platform games where they are created in this way to encourage exploration to allow you to find secrets, shortcuts, etc., they are their just to allow you to get lost. Of course, there are secrets and power-ups scattered around the levels, but the game is so lacking in fun that you really can't be bothered to find them, instead you just want to get to the end of the level.

To be honest, I didn't really get too far into this game after a week of battling against it. There appear to be a lot of intricacies to the game's controls, weapons and power-ups, but rather than contributing to the fun of the game, they somehow manage to take the fun out of it. What is quite annoying is that earlier in 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog was released on the Mega Drive. The key to that game's success was its simple and logical controls and fluid gameplay, which didn't require you to be a joystick gymnast to get anywhere on it. Sonic the Hedgehog rewarded skill and was genuinely a fun game to play. Magic Pockets in comparison feels like a chore, and an ugly one too. Maybe I'll come back to it in the future and grow to like it, but for now, it's one that I think I'll keep away from. Well, after I've replayed it a bit to get some screenshots. That should be fun.