Thursday, 20 September 2012

Castlevania (NES) - New to Me: Number 9

Castlevania - it all started here....
Game: Castlevania
Format: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Konami
Year Released: 1986 (Japan), 1987 (USA), 1988 (Europe)
Also released on: Famicom Disk System, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, DOS, Microsoft Windows, Gameboy Advance 
Now available on: Virtual Console (500 Wii points)

Once upon a time, vampires were the hardmen of horror. They would go around and commit all kinds of socially unacceptable atrocities to satisfy their bloodthirsty desires. If there was any character in fiction that would typify evil, that character would be Count Dracula, the most infamous of vampires. Although Dracula and his cronies seemed to have an unhealthy obsession for young virgins, anything containing blood was fair game to them. Vampires were feared, and quite rightly too. Nowadays though, the reputation of vampires as being Transylvanian terrorists has been tainted somewhat by the popularity of teenage trash such as Twilight and The Vampire Diaries (lots of 't's in that sentence, wasn't actually intentional). In these, the vampires have morals and an awareness of good and bad. They hold upstanding roles in society and prefer to sip from the blood of animals rather than humans. They do well at school, appear to be rather cultured and knowledgable. The Cullen clan in Twilight seem to be a bunch of do-gooding vampire foster kids, all partnering off with each other, in a wimpy vampire version of Home & Away. If only Shannon from Home & Away was in it, it might be more interesting. Or Sophie. Or Angel. Or, er, ahem, where was I? Oh yes, vampires are now pansies. Fortunately, saving us from this current soft image that vampires now appear to possess is Castlevania, a video game featuring vampires in their more traditional guise - as the evil undead.
Entering Castlevania for the first time. The first time of many. Mwahahahahahah!

A cat (or is it a dog) waits to pounce.
Castlevania is a franchise of vampire-themed video games in which the protagonist, usually a descendent of the Belmont family, has to battle with Count Dracula and his assorted pals. Like many long-running game series, the storyline today is as convoluted as can be, with a multitude of story arcs, canons, tangents and diversions that only interest the most die-hard fans. For everyone else, Castlevania is an opportunity to defeat Count Dracula. Or at least, harm him enough so that he doesn't come back for quite a length of time, but hopefully by the time a follow-up is ready. The series began back in the mid-1980s on Nintendo's Famicom Disk System and the MSX 2 as Akumaj┼Ź Dracula. Although the game on the two systems had the same title and shared a number of similarities, they were also slightly different to each other. The Famicom disk version was slapped onto a cartridge for us westerners and renamed Castlevania, and it is that version that is examined today.

Throwing an axe at a bat.


The 50 Shades of Grey book features a "Red Room of
Pain" (apparently). It was based on this.
Castlevania was a simple platform game - although kind of unique in style - in which you took on the role of Simon Belmont. Simon's quest is simple. Count Dracula has awaken and he needs to be put back to sleep. To get to Dracula, Simon must defeat a number of other enemies, including characters that wouldn't be out of place in Hammer Horror films, such as Frankenstein's monster and The Mummy. The Grim Reaper also makes an appearance. Simon possesses a whip and the ability to carry a second weapon. Initially, the whip is fairly weak and short, but can quickly be upgraded by collecting whip-upgrading power-ups. These power-ups are found by whipping animated ornaments, most often candles. As it doesn't take much effort to actually get the whip upgraded, regardless of where you are in the game, it does seem a little pointless that it needs upgrading in the first place. Although as you progress through the game, losing a life and therefore losing your power-ups, can make battling some of the tougher bosses much more difficult.

An annoying monkey thing is about to bounce around you. Whip the little shit as soon as you can.

Secondary weapons can be collected throughout the game which can be unleashed by pushing up and fire. These include boomarangs, swords, clocks that stop time and axes. You can also collect upgrades that allow you these secondary weapons quicker. Using the weapons is a case of pushing up and fire, so it is sometimes easy for Simon to shoot one off accidentally. That's what she said. Throughout the game you also collect hearts. The number of heart pieces you have collected represents the number of times you can fire the secondary weapons, so it's best saving them up for end of level baddies.

Simon meets his mummy, and his other mummy. He has lesbian parents.
At the top of the screen are two energy bars. One represents your energy, the other represents the energy of the end of level boss, so it doesn't do anything for most of the level. You can replenish your energy by collecting food, which is usually hidden in a platform block or some of the scenery somewhere in a level. In this game, hearts don't increase your health, which is something that takes a small amount of getting used to. Enemy collisions deduct your health.

Medusa's head is on its way. Get the bitch!
There are really only two types of enemies: walking ones and flying and jumpy ones. The walking ones are fairly easy to defeat, although take multiple hits as you get further through the game. The flying and jumpy ones are a pain in the ass though. Medusa's head oscillates its way through the screen, and there are jumpy monkeys and some other weird things that just hop around you and move unpredictably. The controls are ok, but they aren't amazing, feeling a bit stiff and make it a little awkward to time your movements well to avoid collision. A major issue with the game is how colliding with enemies affects you. Simply coming into contact with an enemy is enough to cause Simon Belmont to leap backwards. This becomes frustrating on some levels where if you fall off a platform, you fall to your death. As jumping over some of the enemies isn't always easy, you will find yourself losing lives, somewhat unfairly, all too often.

Duck! Duck now. Oh no, it's a bat.
As the game progresses, it gets extremely tough. This is down to the fact that enemy collisions deduct more and more points from your health. Early levels only see your health deducted by one bar, later levels by four. Added to the additional harm that enemies inflict on you, there are also a lot more enemies to defeat. It's challenging, but also frustrating and doesn't always feel entirely fair. Simalarly, end of level bosses begin by being quite easy to defeat, before getting rediculously tough towards the end.

A big white bird craps out a bald monkey.
The game's appearance is ok. Levels are mostly dark and dingy, although most NES games looked dark and dingy to me. They capture the horror theme quite well, although one level in the middle of the game seems to take place in daylight, which just seems a little out of place. Enemies are fairly well drawn, and Simon's animation is not too bad. The graphics are nothing amazing but do their job and are well suited to the game. Overall presentation is quite good too. The title screen is a fairly standard NES style one, displaying the game's title and little else. The game then shows Simon entering Castlevania before the action begins, and there are little map screens in between each level detaling his progress.

Looks happy, but scary at the same time. Bit like Ronald
McDonald.
As for the sound, the music is quite upbeat, featuring jolly, catchy tunes. Some of these are now classics in the world of video game music, and have gone on to feature in several of Castlevania's sequels and on albums. The music gives the game an arcadey feel, and somehow prevents the game from being seen as overly moody and sombre. Subsequent games retain this kind of soundtrack.

As a franchise that still exists today, it is good to see how many of the ideas the exist in current games began in the very first one. As a platformer in its own right, Castlevania is fun and challenging, if a little frustrating. A lot of 1980s platformers just haven't stood the test of time and are just a chore to play today, but Castlevania is still an enjoyable test of your gaming skills, looking and sounding good too.

It's Skeletor!


RATINGS
Presentation: 75%
Functional presentation which allows you to get into the game easily and suits its purpose well.
Graphics: 72%
Mostly dark and moody and suit the games theme.
Sound: 80%
The birth of some famous video game tunes was in this game. They are typical NES tunes, but not as forgettable as most. 
Playability: 83%
The main character controls well, but is hampered by his reaction when coming into collision with enemies which results in some frustrating and unfair deaths. Gets a bit tough later on, but it's not impossible to complete due to unlimited continues.
Overall: 80%
A high-quality, enjoyable platform game which captures its theme well.

This is a level from the demo seeing as I never got this far into the game when getting these shots.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

My Raspberry Pi and I - Part Two

A few weeks back, I wrote a quick introduction to the Raspberry Pi, a mini computer that has been created to be a cheap and easy way of getting into programming. Its target audience is schoolkids in an attempt to replicate the days of things like the BBC Micro and its contemporaries. But for now it appears to be available for purchase so that enthusiasts and the like can faff with it and see what it can do before kids get their grubby little hands on them later this year.

I first heard of the Raspberry Pi sometime last year when reading the news during lunch at work. At first, I thought it was one of those cheap laptops that were being produced and provided to third world countries as part of the $100 laptop or One Laptop per Child scheme. It was only through the coverage of the Raspberry Pi as it was getting ready for release that I realised that it was something entirely different. A fully working computer for only £25! I'm not really sure what made me want one. In one way, I thought I could use it as a dedicated retro gaming machine, and in another way, I thought I could use it to get into programming, or back into it seeing as I did a spot of very basic programming when I was younger on my Acorn Electron. Maybe it's because I'm into gizmos and gadgets and this gizmo gadget seemed quite interesting and unique.

The Raspberry Pi went on sale sometime towards the end of February. However, it didn't stay on sale for very long. The number of people pre-ordering devices crashed the websites of the two companies supplying them, and the ability to do so was stopped. Instead, you had to register an interest in the devices and wait to be invited to place your order. I registered an interest with both companies supplying the Raspberry Pi: Element 14 (or Premier Farnell, I'm not really sure what the company is actually called as its two names appear interchangeable), and RS Components. Shortly after registering my interest, I received an email from Element 14 with a link to place a pre-order. So I placed my order through them without actually knowing when I'd receive my gadget, although the forums at the time suggested it was likely to be August. Incidentally, I only received my invitation to order through RS Components about two weeks ago. More recent updates suggested that any orders placed before mid-April would be delivered before the end of June, including mine!

Before receiving my Raspberry Pi, I did a bit of reading up on how it works and what it does, but it all seemed a little confusing and bewildering so I thought I'd wait until I received mine to figure out what I needed to do to get it going. After months of waiting, it finally turned up. Although the Raspberry Pi itself comes in a little box, the actual packaging was a little bigger due to me receiving a free T-shirt with my purchase too. After putting my T-shirt on, I unpacked my Pi and, er, stared at it for a while trying to figure out what to do next with it. As I was off out to the pub that night, I didn't have much time to do anything with it, but decided to set myself a mission to locate a USB keyboard (turns out that the one plugged into my PC is PS2!), and a micro USB lead. Despite having a collection of old mobile phone chargers, none of these are micro USB. I ended up discovering that the cable for my Samsung digital camera was micro USB, and my charger for my (broken) Kindle would provide the 5 volts of power needed.  I already had a USB mouse, thought I had a SD memory card, and I could borrow the HDMI cable from my Virgin TV box or PlayStation 3.

The following day, I thought I was ready to go. But on locating my SD card, I discovered it only had 1 GB capacity. The Pi needs at least 2 GB, so I had to nip out to Tesco to buy a new card, plumping for a 4 GB card to provide me with more than enough space. Back at home, hopefully now with everything needed to get going, it was time to set it up. But I now needed to get an operating system onto the card. The Raspberry Pi currently runs Linux operating systems. I visited Element 14's Raspberry Pi section (http://www.element14.com/community/groups/raspberry-pi#downloadcenter), which provides links to three operating systems. The first two are Arch Linux ARM and Debian for ARM, with the third being Raspberry Pi Development VM v0.8. The latter had a warning about it being 8 GB in size, and sounded a bit techy, so I went for the first one. I downloaded the file, unzipped it, and then discovered that getting it onto the card would require another program - it's not just a simple case of moving it onto the card. Finding instructions on how to do so wasn't easy on Element 14's website, so a ventured over to Raspberry Pi's official site. The Quick Start guide there provided a list of all the physical equipment I needed (keyboard, mouse, power, SD card and so on), followed by a paragraph about downloading on OS, and then it started talking about "sudo" and DHCP leases and superusers, kernel sources, cross-compiling toolchains and suchlike. Quick Start my arse! Still, I followed the link to the OS downloads from the second paragraph, discovering that I should have downloaded the Debian one, the second one listed on Element 14's download page (why not first?). But, as I'd downloaded Arch Linux ARM, I thought I'd stick to it. I found that the program I needed that would allow me to transfer my OS to my SD card, now plugged into my PC, is something called Win32DiskImager. So, I visited the link for this, and found myself on a highly complicated looking page - https://launchpad.net/win32-image-writer The download link is somewhere to the right, one is a source.zip file and one is a binary.zip file. Which one to download??? Thinking logically, I tried the first link. Once downloaded and unzipped, I searched for an .exe file to run the program, but there wasn't one there. Nope, it was in the binary.zip download. Ah! I should know by now that the first link is usually the wrong one. Assisting me with all of this detective work to find files and folders and links and downloads and instructions and everything was the Raspberry Pi wiki at http://elinux.org/RaspberryPiBoard.

So, I now had the unzipped OS on my PC, and a program to move it to my SD card, and the SD card plugged into my PC. Getting the OS onto the card was actually quite easy using Win32DiskImager, and when it was completed, I excitedly plugged the card into my Raspberry Pi, unplugged the HDMI cable from the back of the Virgin TV box and into the Pi, and then connected the USB keyboard, mouse and finally the power. And then I switched it on. Lights began flashing on the Pi, but I got a message on the TV that it wasn't detecting an HDMI signal. I tried my PlayStation 3 HDMI cable instead, but nothing. After unplugging and plugging the cables back in over and over again, I still couldn't get my TV to pick up the Pi. Grrrrr! So, I decided to try it out on a portable TV upstairs (usually used for my Mega Drive and Master System) using a component cable. This still didn't do anything (I'll explain why later!) so I decided to try a different OS as, a little bit of forum searching mentioned something about something in a config.txt containing information about HDMI hotplug forcing, whatever any of that means. Feeling that if I can't even get my Pi to output a display using Arch Linux ARM without having to faff about in config.txt files, I've got no chance of knowing what I'm doing with it when I've finally got a display. Maybe Debian would be easier. So, I downloaded the Debian "Squeeze" OS, the one recommended for beginners, and thickos like me, and transferred it to my SD card. Again, I plugged the card into my Pi, the Pi into the portable TV, and the power into the Pi. Lights flashed in the correct sequence, but still nothing on the TV. I tried manual tuning and all kind of troubleshooting, but nothing. As I'd now been at it for about 3 hours, I'd resigned myself to giving up, but thought I would give it one last try on the main TV using the HDMI cable. So, I picked up my Pi and all its wires and cables, went back downstairs, plugged everything in again and, all of a sudden, the screen went blank, and then started filling with text and a little Raspberry logo. Finally! It works! I'd already read up on how to get into some kind of graphical interface, so typed in the preset username "pi" and password "raspberry" and then the command "startx" and, lo and behold, I was treated to a desktop. It was a desktop that continued to flicker though, but removing the Virgin HDMI cable and trying out the PS3 one fixed this. And that was it. My Raspberry Pi in action. The first thing I did was reset it, and start it up again, as there is something quite satisying about 'logging in' to a computer using a username and password and text commands. Something very 80s-esque.

However, as it was now very late, and I really couldn't face having to figure out what to do next for fear that I wouldn't be able to get my Pi to do what I wanted and I would end up spending even more time winding myself up, I logged off one last time and went to bed. I will follow up with more of my adventures with my Raspberry Pi some other time.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

My Raspberry Pi and I - Part One

I received a new toy earlier this week! As the title of this blog kind of gives away, my new toy is a Raspberry Pi, something I ordered back at the end of March and which finally found its way through my letterbox on Tuesday. I've read quite a bit about the Raspberry Pi over the last few months, admittedly without really understanding what it was at first, but it was a segment that I saw on BBC News one night which convinced me that I needed one. My initial thought was that I could use it as a way of 'creating' my own little retro gaming device, maybe even something I could programme in an 80s-era stylee.

Before I continue, and for those who have never heard of the Raspberry Pi or who have, but don't really get it, here's a quick introduction. A Raspberry Pi is basically a "computer on a chip". It's a credit card-sized chip which contains everything you need - memory, a processor and relevant ports and slots - to plug into your TV and get computing. Well, almost everything. It's also very cheap. The main reason it exists is to encourage kids to get into computer programming, and ties in nicely with the government's plan for schools to replace Computer Studies, or Information Technology, or whatever it's called nowadays (I knew it as Information Systems at my school for a while) with Computer Science. Basically. instead of kids learning what they can do with a computer (e.g. conjure up a Word document, knock up a Excel Spreadsheet, browse the web and verbally abuse their mates on Facebook), they will instead learn how a computer works and how they can develop their own apps and programs on it. It's a bit like the difference between learning how to drive a car and learning how to fix one.

The people behind this Great British invention is the Raspberry Foundation, a charitable organisation which aims to get kids programming again, just like us kids of the 80s did with our BBC Micros and Speccies and suchlike. It's no coincidence that some of the names behind this scheme are names that were big in the 1980s, at least in the world of home computing. One of those names is David Braben, who co-wrote the classic computer game, Elite, and that 3D flying demo thing on the Acorn Archimedes. Lander, or Zarch, or both. I remember playing it at a Open Day for my high school back in 1990 and being mightily impressed. It's also no coincidence that the two current models of the Raspberry Pi are called Model A and Model B, referencing the BBC models of bygone days. Yep, the Raspberry Foundation want to get those days back, and get people programming again, or coding, or whatever you like to call it.

I suppose the desire to create the Raspberry Pi, and the government's aim to push Computer Science, has come about because nowadays, when you switch on a computer, you can do pretty much anything you want to do just by double-clicking an icon. Kids are probably more capable of using a computer than their teachers. Microsoft, Apple and so on have all designed their operating systems so well that you don't need to understand how your computer works to get it to do stuff. It just does. But, what if you do want to find out how they work? Or, you don't have that desire, but if you had the opportunity to find out, it might just interest you? The nice clickable icons don't make digging deeper into the actual workings of a computer easy, or make you really want to do any deep digging to find out. However, if you were a child of the 1980s, switching on a computer back then was a completely different experience. They weren't quite as friendly and inviting, but they made getting into programming and finding out how your computer works much much easier. Instead of the fancy graphics and colourful icons you get now, back then you were basically provided with a mostly blank screen and a flashing cursor, with your computer waiting patiently for you to tell it what to do next. You generally had two choices: either type out a program or type in whatever command you needed to enter to get it to start loading whatever was stored on the cassette in your tape player. Sometimes the "load" commands themselves were mini programs. I'm sure the command to load Commando or Football Manager on my Acorn Electron was a few lines long. I never did just try Chain"" to see what happened for fear of breaking something.

Having access to the computer's programming environment immediately on boot up was enough to encourage you to find out what you could do with it. I had an Acorn Electron, and its user manual began with a few pages on how to plug it in, switch it on, play tapes, etc. but then went on to talk about how to write your own programs. In a way, it was as if you were expected to use your machine for this purpose. It wasn't an option, just part of the learning curve of getting to know it. And program it I did. I copied listings from Electron User, The Micro User, and even Let's Compute! for its short lifespan - I've still got all issues of that magazine! - and I even got capable enough to write my own programs, despite them being mostly crap. I experimented a bit on my sister's Spectrum, but by the time she had that, I had a Sega Master System and was drawn into console gaming instead. On the Amiga, I couldn't figure out how to program it, basically because the ability to do so wasn't shoved right into my face, and I suppose since then, I've always assumed that to create programs, you have to have certain software and a degree in computing, due to the way that computers were getting more and more complex and able.  About a year or so ago, I decided to have a look at ways of programming on a Windows PC, but gave up after discovering that there are nowadays dozens of programming languages, and it all seemed quite complex and messy. What I needed was a simply little device, a bit like the Acorn Electrons of the 1980s, that made it easy and accessible to program. Enter the Raspberry Pi, rather conveniently. Small, basic and, importantly, cheap. A Model A board is $25, and a Model B board is $35, which translates roughly to £16 and £25 in the UK (despite being a British invention, they insist on pricing it in dollars - apparently something to do with exchange rates). At this price point, it should be fairly easy to get loads of these into schools all over the country.

So, the above is pretty much the reason and my interpretation of why a device like the Raspberry Pi exists. But, what exactly is it? Well, it's a bare-bones computer chip with all of its innards on display. It's small, about the size of a credit card. Speaking technically, which isn't really one of my strengths, the Pi has a chip on board which contains its 256 MB of RAM and an ARM processor. Oh yes, even its processor has its origins from the Acorn computers of old. Apparently. It also has ports and connectors for you to plug into it the things that you need to get it to work. This adds some additional cost to the device, but the stuff you need are likely to be things you can find scattered around. Firstly, on the Model B, which is the one I ended up with (I don't think the Model A is actually available to purchase yet), there are a couple of USB ports. These are handy for a USB keyboard and mouse. Alternatively. you can plug a USB hub thingy into one of the slots to add other USB stuff you may need. There are two ports for display - a HDMI port to display stuff in glorious High Definition, and a composite port to plug into most other TV sets. It's worth noting that there is no VGA port so it's not easy to get your Pi to work with slightly older computer monitors. There is a 3.5mm audio port too, which can be used for headphones, speakers and the like. If you want to get surfing, there is an Ethernet port for all of your online needs. And finally, there is a slot for an SD card. Well, I say finally. There are actually all kinds of other connections and things on the chip, but you don't need these for now to get your Pi working, and I'm not actually sure what they're for anyway, so I'll ignore them for now. Anyway, the SD card slot is important because it's where you need to slot an SD card containing an image of your operating system of choice. Oh yes, this all baffled me at the beginning, but I'm pleased to say I managed to get things working after hours of faffing. Oh, there's also a Micro USB port for power.

That's the device introduced. As it's late, I'll not go into my experiences of setting the Raspberry Pi up and getting it working - kind of. Instead, I'll leave that for another day.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Edd the Duck! - TV Tie-ins: Number One

Game: Edd the Duck!
Format: Commodore Amiga
Developer: Impulze
Year Released: 1990
Also released on: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 
Now available on: Nothing



Andy Crane, Edd the Duck and Wilson the Butler
in the Children's BBC Broom Cupboard
If you were a child of the mid-to-late 1980s or early 1990s and you grew up watching Children's BBC, you may remember The Broom Cupboard. In broadcasting-speak, The Broom Cupboard was an in-vision continuity studio situated somewhere in BBC Television Centre. It was basically a little room where presenters provided information about other BBC shows for kids, interviewed celebrities, announced competitions and provided introductions and links into other shows. Arguably, The Broom Cupboard became more famous than the programmes themselves, and gave several presenters their first big breaks into broadcasting. The Silver Fox himself, Phillip Schofield, found fame from the Broom Cupboard, as did Andy Crane and Andi Peters. Amongst the clutter of the Broom Cupboard (pictures, props, toys, monitors, illuminated signs), Phil, Andy and Andi shared their little studio with puppets, who became personalities in their own right. A young Phillip Schofield was accompanied by Gordon the Gopher, perhaps the most well-remembered of the Broom Cupboard puppets. Even today, he still makes appearances on TV, and recently appeared as Phillip's co-presenter on Dancing on Ice, a vast improvement on Christine Bleakley.

It's Edd the Duck!!!
Gordon and Phillip went on to present Going Live on Saturday mornings, leaving a couple of empty places in The Broom Cupboard. Andy Crane filled the presenter's seat, with the puppet's chair first occupied by a banana, called Ben (or Bobby), and later a duck with punk green hair. That duck was Edd the Duck. A huge fan of Kylie Minogue, Edd the Duck spent several years in The Broom Cupboard, assisting Andi Peters with presenting duties after Andy Crane departed. For the BBC, he was fantastic, as his image could be licensed to appear on all kinds of merchandise to fill their coffers even more. Inevitably, and rather handily for this blog, one of the licensed products was a computer game. Edd the Duck's game, called Edd the Duck! appeared on several home computer formats. And today, we shall look at the Amiga version.

The fish in this picture reminds me of Ben from EastEnders.
In Edd the Duck! you control Edd through various TV-studio related levels. Levels are based on the weather department, although there is no Michael Fish in it to deny any forthcoming hurricanes, special effects department and children's TV department (quick fact: The Broom Cupboard was used as an emergency news studio during the "great storm" of 1987, as it was the only studio at TV Centre with power!). On each level are a number of stars. Edd must collect all of these stars to complete each level. Quite conveniently, a counter at the bottom of the screen tells you how many stars are left on each level. Levels on Edd the Duck! scroll vertically, with Edd starting at the bottom of each level, working his way upwards a la Rainbow Islands. Oh yes, the influence for this game is quite obvious, with the only thing missing from this being the rainbows themselves.
This is where Microsoft got the idea for the design of the Windows logo. It's true.

Bees and the EastEnders Ben fish give Edd a headache.
Each level features a number of enemies. These cannot be killed, but they can be frozen, literally, by throwing snowballs at them. This stops them from moving and makes them harmless, although this is only temporary. When the snow melts, they begin moving again and become fatal to the touch. Put simply, the idea of the game is to collect stars and avoid enemies.

Edd the Duck! is presented really well, with some nice pre-game screens, intermissions, a good game over sequence and leader board. Graphically, it's all very nice and colourful, with well-defined cartoon-style sprites, detailed platforms, and a general feel of overall quality. Sound-wise, the music is terrific. There's only one tune that plays throughout the game, although this is actually quite a good, catchy tune, sounding very Children's BBC in style, and there is nice intro music, game over and leader board music too. There are no sound effects to speak of, but all in all, the game's presentation is all quite nice and jolly and captures the TV studio context well.
The sun is rather happy in this colourful picture

An image from the "Special Effects Department"
level. This is where the BBC made Doctor Who.
Onto the gameplay, and again, it's not too bad. Edd moves at a good pace around the levels, and responds quickly to your instructions. One of the problems comes when jumping as it isn't possible to make Edd move when in mid-jump. The makes precision-landing quite difficult and causes the game to become frustrating in parts. This results in you taking your time and freezing all enemies in your path when it comes to attempting to reach stars in their vicinity, rather than relying on well-honed arcade skills to leap and jump wherever you want. This flaw is what gives the game its main challenge, as I suppose it would actually be quite an easy game if the controls were better. This is because, other than enemies scattered around the level, there is nothing else to cause you any problems. Edd can survive any fall, there's no rising water level to put pressure on you to hurry up, there are no dangerous inanimate objects, such as spikes, and there are no end-of-level bosses. Yep, the iffy jumping method adds challenge to the game, but takes some of the fun out of it. With better controls, the developers could have added various other features to the game to make it more of a test of gaming ability.

Moons, stars, mouldy green platforms and a smiley space
shuttle populate this screenshot.
Another problem is that the game is quite short. There are only the three levels (weather, special effects, kids TV), each split into three stages. And the first level and the third level look fairly similar to each other. It is possible to get through the game quite easily, just by taking it one bit at a time, freezing enemies, collecting a star, and then moving to the next bit. But, doing it that way isn't much fun and you'll end up trying to whizz through the levels, but failing to get very far because the jump control isn't that great and it's all too east to accidentally jump into an enemy. Given that the game is obviously aimed at kids, I can't imagine that kids would get much pleasure out of it as they aren't exactly known for possessing much patience!

Edd the Duck! feels like a game that could have been so much more. A little extra work on the controls, and a few extra features, and it could have been a minor classic, maybe even giving Rainbows Islands, the game on which is it obviously attempting to cash-in, a run for its money. Instead, it remains a nicely-presented, moderately fun little game which will keep you amused for a short while.
It's the end of Edd's TV career after colliding with too many enemies. Oh dear.

RATINGS

Presentation
: 90%
Nice loading screen and intro screen, with polished intermissions and leaderboard.
Graphics: 83%
Clear and colourful, with attractive cartoon visuals, good animation and, on level two, a nice background.
Sound: 85%
The Amiga's sound chip provides some great tunes, although it would have been nice to have different music for each level.
Playability: 76%
Easy to pick up and play, but suffers just because Edd can't change direction when jumping, and can get frustrating.
Overall: 78%
An enjoyable platform game, but missing a few elements that could have made it amazing.

Edd on the Speccy! A game that can't be completed!
Edd the Duck! elsewhere
Being the worldwide superstar that he was, Edd the Duck made appearances on a few other computers at the time. In addition to the Amiga version above, he also graced the Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 with his presence. I gave the Spectrum version a go, and found that Edd is actually able to move while in mid-air in it, which makes controlling him a little easier. However, apparently this version of the game isn't possible to complete due there not being enough stars in one of the levels (the counter wants you to get 20, but there are only 19 on the level). A poke fixes this, but it does make you wonder what kind of playtesting went on before releasing games back then!

Here's a video of the game in action...



Saturday, 21 April 2012

New To Me: Number 8 - Kickle Cubicle (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Game: Kickle Cubicle
Format: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Irem
Year Released: 1990
Also released on: Arcade (1988)
Now available on: Nothing

A very pink title screen, with rainbow letters.
Not the most manly of games, this.
For this "New to Me", I decided to pick a game at random. Hopefully a game I've never played before or else it wouldn't be a very new to me "New to Me." As I was never the owner of a Nintendo Entertainment System, and the only time I ever used one was when I should have been doing something completely different (see my Excitebike review for info), I've decided that picking a random NES game is quite likely to result in me finding something completely new.

Using my amazing state-of-the-art random game picker, the game I randomly picked was........ Genghis Khan. Never heard of it before, but thought I'd give it a go. I somehow procured the game, powered it up, became overcome by emotion due to its opening theme tune, and then began my quest for world domination. After twenty minutes of not having a clue what I was doing, I gave up, returned to my random game picker, and picked another game at random. And this time it randomly picked Kickle Cubicle, another game I'd never heard of. So, using my skills of procurement again, I managed to acquire this game, and booted it up.
This review was meant to be of Genghis Khan.
But I couldn't understand it, so Kickle Cubicle took his place.

Kickle Cubicle is a block sliding puzzle game. As its childish name suggests, it's one of those cutesy games with cutesy characters, a premise which involves you rescuing princesses from castles and palaces, and a bizarre amount of references to fruit and veg.

Garden Land. Where you can get cheap gnomes,
pots, seeds and bulbs.
The game is quite simple to play. Each level takes place on a floating grid of ice tiles. Kickle, who looks a bit like a cross between Dizzy and a dog wearing headphones, basically has to collect bags of gold (could be bags of anything though, but I'm assuming it's gold) from each level. Making things slightly more challenging is the fact that the bags of gold aren't always easily accessible. Kickle can't jump over to them, so he has to make ice tiles to allow him to walk over to them. He does this by freezing enemies, and then pushing them so that they slide to the edge of the platform and turn into an ice tile when they get there. As enemies continuously regenerate, he can repeat the process until he has created a route to get to his bags. Enemies come in different forms - not all of them can be turned into ice blocks and then into ice tiles. You can also build little "walls" to stop the ice block from sliding all the way to the end of the grid, if you want to end up somewhere else. So, each level is a little puzzle to solve. Some are easy (sometimes the solutions are too obvious and in a way seem to be red herrings, even though they're not). And that's it. One puzzle after another puzzle after another. And it's all quite fun. Despite the simplicity of this game, it's not really very easy to explain clearly what you have to do (at least not for me - I've spent the last hour trying to write this paragraph in a way which makes sense and it still doesn't! Oh well, I'm sure I'll have a video on here soon to demonstrate).
Kickle wanders around the level, listening to some tunes through his earphones, and kicks ice cubes.

One of the good things about the game is that each level relies on your puzzle-solving skills and your game-playing skills too. It's not just a case of getting the pieces of ice in the right places - it's about avoiding enemies, shooting at them and keeping your wits about you. At the end of each stage, you come to an end of level boss who can usually be destroyed by sliding ice at him.

Hmmmm.....
A storyline attempts to give the game some kind of plot and purpose, but isn't really that interesting or necessary to understand for you to proceed with the game.

Graphically everything is nice and tidy with a good use of colour and quality animation. The sprites are clear and lend themselves well to the game's arcade style. The music and effects are good, but the tune gets quite annoying after a while as it's the same one for each level. The game is all very well presented though.

This looks like a fun-filled level, don't it?
The game is easy to pick up, and the first few levels allow you to learn and develop strategies without throwing too much of a challenge at you. Some later puzzles will drive you crazy, and the action can become quite frantic. As each level can usually be completed fairly quickly, it does have the go-on-just-one-more-level-before-bed-I've-got-work-in-the-morning element, which current games like Angry Birds also have. The problem is, once you've figured out the solution to a puzzle, when you replay the level, it kind of feels like you're going through the motions to complete it. It also isn't one of those games that you feel that you must put on just for a gaming fix as, fun though it is, it isn't the most exciting of games.
That's one freaky looking family of pumpkins there. Keep away Kickle!!

I'm surprised that Kickle Cubicle isn't a game that is more well known and that it seems to have vanished to nothing. It's not a bad game at all. Its childish name probably didn't help it to attract a wider audience, but it could be a game that should be brought back to life on a service like the Virtual Console, unlikely as it is to happen.
The first end of level boss, a chicken with one eye.

So, yes, I quite liked Kickle Cubicle. It kept me quiet for a few evenings over the past few weeks, sometimes frustrated the hell out of me, but represented simple good old-fashioned arcade-style gaming.
Princess Pumpa expresses her gratitude. Later princesses appear to dress more provocatively. If you're into
perving on semi-dressed digital princesses, this is the game for you!

RATINGS
Presentation
: 7
Everything is very well presented, with the game's "plot" interspersed well with the gameplay, nice level maps before each level and easy to use menu systems.
Graphics: 7
There's not a lot you can do when most of the levels are made out of ice, but the graphics in this game still manage to be colourful and clear
Sound:6
Slightly annoying tune but it's jolly enough and fits well with the game. Sound effects are ok too.
Playability: 7
It's not the first game you'd pick if you want to fill a few spare minutes, but it's not too bad to play when you're into it.
Overall: 7
A nice little game which eventually provides a good strategic and arcade-style challenge.

GAMEPLAY VIDEOAs per usual, here is a video of Kickle Cubicle in action

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Fantasia (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis)

A Week With... Fantasia
The most exciting title screen in the history of video games
Ever.
Year Released: 1991
Developer: Infogrames/Sega
System Featured: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis
Also available on: Nothing
Now available on: Nothing

Last year, I spent a week playing The Terminator on the Sega Mega Drive, and each day of that week, I wrote down my thoughts and opinions about the game. I've decided to revisit this idea, this time plumping for a game that many wouldn't even consider playing for ten minutes, let alone a week. That game is Fantasia, a game released back in 1991 for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. In an era of amazing Disney-licensed games (Castle of Illusion, Quackshot, World of Illusion, Aladdin), Fantasia is the one that seemed to get released without any product-testing beforehand. Rumour has it that it was actually withdrawn from sale a few months after its release, although, apart from reading this in an issue of Mean Machines once upon a time, I've never read anything else to confirm this. Fantasia is widely regarded as being a massive failure, the dark sheep in the Mega Drive's flock of fantastic Disney tie-ins. But, it's a game that I actually remember with a certain level of fondness, and so I've decided to see if I can rekindle some of this love for it.

But before I get on with my first day's report, here's a bit of a back story. Back in the late 1980s, I received a Sega Master System for Christmas. Although it never worked properly due to having a faulty power button, I still loved it. In 1990, I upgraded to a Sega Mega Drive and it wasn't long until I discovered the wonders of Castle of Illusion, a game which remains one of my favourites even today. I read in a magazine that Mickey Mouse would be returning in a follow-up. That follow-up would be Fantasia, and preview screenshots looked fantastic. More than likely, as I was only 12 at the time, I drooled at the images in my magazine. It wasn't until the following year that Gladiators started and I discovered the joys of gazing at delights such as Jet, and realised that there was something more beautiful in life than video games. Anyway, I believe that Fantasia came out in the summer of 1991, shortly after Sonic the Hedgehog. To raise funds to purchase both Sonic and Fantasia, I traded in my faulty Master System and its games. As I recall, Sonic was released first, and it kept me entertained for many days of my summer holiday that year. Fantasia was released probably around August time, and I think I picked it up on its release day, even before I'd seen reviews of it in magazines. I didn't believe that there was any way the game could be bad.

 
This part of the game's last stages is about as far as I managed
to get back in the early 1990s
I got Fantasia home, popped it into my Mega Drive, and readied myself for some platforming perfection. It didn't take me long to realise that something had gone incredibly wrong and that Fantasia just wasn't the game I expected it to be. Still, back then, when you'd spent £40 on a game, you had to make sure you got your money's worth, and I persevered with the game. I got used to the game's controls, its dodgy collision detection, and began to figure out where I could find the notes required to complete the game's gigantic levels. And, I actually grew to tolerate it, even enjoy it, and have some fond memories of it. Not because it was a good game, but because it was a game that I dedicated so much time to. I wasn't going to let it beat me, and I was so used to the game's quirks that they didn't bother me anymore. I never did complete it, although I believe I came within inches of doing so, and from what I gather, the ending wasn't worth it anyway.

So, here we are in 2012, 21 years after I first played the game, probably 20 years after I last played it (I ended up swapping it for ToeJam and Earl a year or two after getting it), and it's time to see if I can grow to enjoy Fantasia again. And here's my experience from Day One.

Day One: Sunday 1st April 2012
Mickey Mouse, AKA The Sorcerer's Apprentice, is on a mission to locate musical notes that have been stolen by an evil wind while he slept. No musical notes, no music. His adventure will take him through many of the scenes of Walt Disney's animated spectacle, Fantasia. And its many characters. And it all takes place as a dream. And that's the plot.

The aim of the entire game is written in these four lines
This is pretty much the plot I've put together from the text on the back of the game's box and the text in the intro to the game. An intro that lasts all of 10 seconds. The intro features a harsh-sounding rendition of Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which begins the game's theme of using classical music for its soundtrack. After the short introduction, a rather uninspiring title screen pops up, and then a demo begins if you wait long enough. Like Castle of Illusion, before you start the game, you are taken to the game's options screen. You have the option of setting the game to Very Hard (listed on the options screen as "Easy"), Ridiculously Hard (Normal) and Impossibly Hard (Hard). You can also change the number of lives that Mickey has, which are known as dreams in this game. It is set at 3, although you can only decrease them, if you feel man enough. You can also decrease the number of continues, again set as default at the maximum of 3. You can also change what button does what. As the default, A is the button for a little spell, B is for a big spell, and C makes Mickey jump.... eventually.

Options! Options! Get yer options 'ere!!!

Mickey is pondering whether to walk slowly, turn slowly
or jump slowly.
And then it's onto the game. Level One begins in the Sorcerer's workshop, and sees Mickey quickly coming against an onslaught of foes which take the form of dancing toadstools, buckets and brooms, and cauldrons. And in the background is a horrible rendition of The Sorcerer's Apprentice tune which sounds like the Mega Drive's audio chip is thumping to get out of the console so that it doesn't get abused any more. Still, the graphics on this stage are actually quite good, with some nice foreground parallax scrolling, which sometimes obscures the action, but that's more than likely the reason it's there.

Enemies! Enemies! Get yer enemies 'ere!
It doesn't take long to realise why this game is so widely derided. The controls are awful. You'd expect that a character in a platform game will respond immediately to your commands. But, in Fantasia, Mickey Mouse has a certain sluggishness about him. There isn't a delay in reacting to your commands, but there is definitely a short "build-up" to Mickey fully complying with whatever action you're wanting him to do. This is most noticeable when jumping or changing direction. When jumping, it's as if Mickey has some chewing gum stuck to his feet, and when changing direction, rather than just instantly switching to face the opposite way, the game features a quick animation of Mickey turning. Impressive as it may be, it just doesn't suit the type of game. In a game like Flashback, it works, but in Fantasia, it's not good. The problem with Fantasia is that each level is ramjammed with enemies. Take a look at the pictures to the left for example. Or the picture below.

Reminds me of a dream I had once. Unicorns, blue cupids and windy heads.

Now, if you're a platforming fanatic, you'll probably get moist in your pants on seeing the challenge that these screenshots present, the opportunity to wipe out all of the nasties scattered around them. And it could be quite fun if Mickey controlled well. But, as he doesn't, it isn't that much fun at all. Exacerbating things even more is Mickey's method of attack. He defeats enemies by landing on their heads. However, this isn't a Mario-style head-landing, where you need to do little more than just land on top of the enemy. It isn't even a Castle of Illusion bottom bounce, where you simply press the jump button a second time to ensure that Mickey's ass comes into contact with your enemy's head. Nope, in Fantasia, you have to push down. This doesn't sound too bad, but carrying it out in the game just doesn't feel right. Another problem is that you need to land at least twice on each enemy to get rid of them (unless you play on easy, but that's cheating). This means that to defeat them, you have to hang around to complete the second attack. As there are so many enemies around, and they seem to just come at you endlessly, there is little point in attempting to clear the screen of as many as you can. So instead, you just kind of use the enemies as platforms, and bounce on them throughout the game. Mickey can also destroy enemies by casting spells. You pick up "spell points" by collecting gigantic spell books that fly through the levels. A small spell costs 1 point, and appears completely useless when casting them at an enemy. I can appreciate that 1 spell point might not destroy an enemy, so a second is required, but the first spell could at least stop the enemy in its tracks or force it back a little (thus readying you to leap on its head), or even just show that it's taken a hit. Instead. once you've cast a spell at them, they just carry on coming at you. with no visible sign that you've caused any damage to them. So, you end up using big spells, which cost 3 points. These do usually have the desired effect, but as picking up spell points is quite rare, you tend only to use them as a last resort, instead keeping to the strategy of bouncing through the levels. Argh! So frustrating!!

Camoflauged somewhere here is a frog. Fortunately, Mickey has just collected a note and is invicible, for about 2 seconds.

Underwater shenanigans ahoy!
Anyway, that paragraph was a little longer than I expected it to be, but I thought I'd explain in depth exactly what I think is wrong with how the game controls. Getting back to the game, and after a bit of practice, I eventually got to the doorway at the end of the Sorcerer's workshop. After which, it's time to pop outside, and hop across lily pads, crocodile heads, seagulls and erratic platforms. Like the first, this level has nice graphics with a soundtrack that doesn't sound quite as horrible as the first, but is still not pleasing to the ears. It's basically a softer version of the theme from the first level. There are a couple of portals in the level which take you underwater. To be fair, Mickey doesn't control too badly underwater, apart from if you try to turn, in which case he suddenly loses his buoyancy, and if you get hit by an enemy, there's little chance you'll recover and you'll end up bumping into every other enemy you come across. Underwater, Mickey can collect pearls. What for? The idea of the game is to collect notes. But, I can only find one note in the entire first level, yet when I get to the end of it, I've apparently found four. Maybe the pearls double as notes. I'll come onto the note-collecting a little later. But first, let's get erratic.

As mentioned above, Fantasia's levels are full of enemies. Something else it has its fair share of is moving platforms. Although the enemies and platforms have their own individual patterns, they are never the same as any enemy or platform of the same 'breed'. And their patterns of movement appear to be quite erratic. Some enemies will move slowly, and then suddenly speed up. Or they'll jump a little bit, and then jump a bit higher. Or they'll hover over your head, and then suddenly fly at you, for no reason at all. Or they'll just move in one direction, and then decide to change direction. And the platforms; rather than just gliding smoothly in the gravity-defying way that platforms in video games tend to do, they also move slowly, and then speed up, and then move slowly again. Or they'll stop moving as soon as you step on it. Or motionless ones will start moving. Or they'll just drop to the ground. Or you'll step on one and something else unrelated will take place on the screen. There's no logic to which platform does what. You just have to memorise their movements for when you replay the level. The only way of getting through the levels without doing this is just to keep jumping through them. Again, it's like having to bounce your way through the level on the heads of your enemies. It's more a case of getting through the levels rather than playing the levels. And of course, the game's bad controls makes doing this even more difficult.

Scattered sparcely through the levels are stars which allow you to replenish some of your energy. However, keeping with the theme of everything being put into the game just to annoy you, the stars have a habit of moving just as you're about to collect them. And then suddenly changing direction. You probably lose more energy trying to collect a star than you would have if you'd have just left it. And, what how much energy do the stars give you? Some give you 1 energy point, some 2 and some 3. Which does what? There's no way of telling. Bizarre!

The treasure chest of doom! Or endless repeating of the
same level! Avoid!
So, when you've reached the end of the lily pad level, you're back in the Sorcerer's workshop for more of the same. There's a bonus level to be found in a doorway on this level, which gives you an opportunity to collect some magic and stars. And have a breather. When you've collected them all, or come into contact with an enemy, you return to the normal game, and eventually come to the door to the end of the level. But no, this isn't the door to the end of the level. It looks like one, just like the door at the end of the first version of the same level. But, going into it takes you back to the lily pad level. Grrrr!! No, you didn't want that door - you wanted an identical door a bit further along the level. You should have known that. Dumbass! So, back in the lily pad level, seeing as that's where we are now, there's another opportunity to collect the note from it. There's also a point in this level where you think you've discovered a secret location (by jumping into an open box of treasure) only to find that it's actually taken you to a point a bit further back on the same level. Yep, you'll discover this "secret" once, and then remember to tell yourself never ever go into it again. Logical? No. Frustrating and pointless? Yes.

Eventually I got to the end of the second Sorcerer's workshop, and went through the correct door to meet the conductor waiting for his musical notes. And I handed him four notes, that I'd somehow found, although I only recall finding one, or maybe two if we count the one from repeating the lily pad level. But, this isn't enough. The conductor wants more! So, he sends me right back to the beginning again, to find more notes for him! And this is when I realise why you may need to keep jumping into that treasure box - to repeat the same section of the game and keep getting the same one note. After doing this a few times, and sometimes - accidentally - going for a swim in the underwater stage, I returned to the conductor, to find I now have loads of notes to give him. Quite where I found all of these notes, I have no idea. I also have no idea how many notes the conductor actually needs to let me through to the next stage. But it seems that he has enough, and I'm on my way to the next stage.

My! What a big foot you have!
The following stage is a prehistoric-themed level, with dinosaurs flying over your head, or just randomly swooshing down to take it off (this is what happens when Mickey waves his Gregg's steak bake around). There are giant dinosaur feet to walk under, or jump over, or just to walk through and deduct some of your energy. And there appear to be a number of bonus levels, or sub levels, or whatever. One of them has fireballs flying around, with you having no hope of ever avoiding them. It also appears to have platforms that are invisible and only appear when you successfully land on them. I didn't last long on this level. The other sub level isn't quite as dangerous, but is still a nightmare. But it seems to contain quite a few notes, so it's worth playing through, just to build up your collection. This is pretty much as far as I got on Day 1. Part way through Dinosaur Kingdom, or Dino World, or Jurassic Park, or wherever it is. I would say something about the music on this level, but I think I'll save it until tomorrow.

DAY 2: Monday 2nd April 2012
So, day two of my week of hell. Okay, it's not quite up there with the one John Bishop did recently for Sport Relief, but it's not going to be easy to get through. Yep, it's time for more fun and frustration with Fantasia. Despite the game obviously winding me up yesterday, there's something about it that has drawn me back to it. Instead of a feeling of dread at having to tackle the game again for a second day, I've actually been looking fotward to it.

I'm not really sure why this is. Maybe I'm a crazy sadist. Or maybe it's because, now I've finally got the hang of the game's horrible controls, and am starting to make sense of all of the illogical stuff that's been put into the game with no other purpose but to annoy the crap out of me, I feel that it's a game I want to master. I think, deep down, there is a good game hidden there. Deep deep down, that is. However, although frustrating and unfair games usually piss me off and I give up with them, I feel that I want to take Fantasia on. I'm not sure if I'm trying to prove a point to the game's developers that no matter how hard you try to make a game as absurd and unplayable as you possibly can, it's not going to beat me. Or maybe I'm trying to prove to myself that, seeing as I was able to get quite far into the game when I was young, I should still be able to do it now. And I'm not going to rest until I better my younger self. Yes, my week with Fantasia is a challenge, not a game.

Despite being the main attraction, Mickey still has to do
battle with crocodiles and seagulls before he can gain
entrance to DisneyWorld.
So, how did day two go? I managed to get slightly further than yesterday. I whizzed through the first level, even without accidentally sending myself to previous parts of the same level. Somehow, even though I'm sure I didn't locate any extra notes to the previous day, I managed to collect the required number to let me through to the second level. Just to clarify level one's level structure, it goes a little like this:

1) Sorcerer's Workshop stage
2) Lily pad stage, containing two underwater sub-levels, plus one secret passage to a previous part of this stage
3) Sorcerer's Workshop part two, which contains two bonus levels, one located in a clearly-marked doorway, the other as a random part of the background graphics. This stage also contains a doorway taking you back to the lily pad level.

There be bonuses in that there door, there be.
Level two takes place in Prehistoric times. It is just one level, with prehistoric birds attacking you at random, and features three sub levels. Like level one, this is another bitch of a level, and some of the sub levels are just plain evil. The first appears to take place in a cave and is where you can find a number of musical notes. There are some drops where you have to take a hit on your energy. This is one of the several frustrating elements of the game. Whereas in other games, you only lose energy when you make a mistake, in Fantasia, it's actually necessary for you to lose energy just to progress. This seems to take something away from the game's, I don't know, integrity. That might be the word. Basically, it feels like it is cheating you out of energy. Whether you're a good gamer or not, there's no way to complete the game without deliberately having to take an energy hit just to get over a certain point. The good thing about this level is that, as there are a number of musical notes, and a couple of stars, you can also replenish your energy quite easily and gain some lives (a musical note awards 3 energy points & 1 life - you can have a maximum of 9 of both). And also, when you leave the level, you can re-enter it, to collect even more notes. This may be a good way of completing level two, as the other two sub levels are nasty. As you can only enter sub-levels by touching fairies (ahem!), you can avoid entering them by avoiding the fairies, instead just repeat the easiest one over and over again until you think you have enough notes to satisfy the conductor at the end of the level. If you do decide to tackle the sub levels, the second takes place in a room where balls of fire woosh around your head. Logically, you can bounce your way through this level, and hope you have enough energy to take the collisions that you will most definitely have in it. The reward for this level? Two stars! Two pissing stars! All they give you is one energy point each. I used up 8 to get through the level. The final sub level in level two appears to take place in a desert, with background music that sounds nothing like it came out of Fantasia - the movie. There are cactus legs walking across the ground, prehistoric birds randomly crapping stuff on you, or swooping down at your steak bake, and some highly annoying insects. No matter how calmly I approached this level, with the intention to take my time and time my attacks, I always ended up almost throwing my control pad at the cat in frustration. I don't think I came too far to the end of the level, but I didn't complete it. Argh! So, that's how far I got today. Still on level two, but a little further than yesterday.

The first of level two's sub levels. Balls!

Another of level two's sub levels. Fireballs!

The third of of level's two's sub levels. And a cactus leg is about to creep up on Mickey.

Something I will add before I sign off is that the music on level two is once again horrible. It's a rendition of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. However, listening to it with earphones reveals that, very faintly, there is some attempt at putting together something melodic and making it a bit special, a very quiet symphony in the background. However, the part of the tune that dominates throughout the level sounds like it's being farted out of the backside of one of the prehistoric lizards that feature in this level.

DAY 3: Tuesday 3rd April 2012
Today, I made quite a lot of progress in the game. In fact, I very nearly completed it, and think I even got further than I ever managed to get when I played the game all of those years ago. And, reluctantly, I have to admit that I kind of enjoyed it.

Once again, I got through level one, collecting 6 notes, somehow. I suppose I kind of cheated my way through the prehisteria of level two. Or it feels a bit like I cheated. I repeated the first sub level a couple of times to build up my note collection, and skipped entering the other two sub-levels (yep, it is possible to skip these just by not walking into the fairy that causes you to enter them). I actually did this purely to find out how large level two actually is, but found that the end comes quite soon after the third sub level. I left the level, and found the I'd actually got enough notes to complete it, so I went onto level three.

The end of level two. Not sure where I managed to find all of those notes, but I'm not complaining.


A spot of island hopping here. And another bonus level.
After the violence of jurassic earth, level three is much lighter in theme and style. Apparently each of the game's four levels are based on the elements. Level one is based on water, hence the mop and bucket people walking around, as well as the lily pad level and its underwater sub levels. Level two is based on earth, and uses prehistoric Earth as its theme. Level three is based on air, and feels suitably airy-fairy, with dancing flamingoes and hippos and trees and all of that kind of stuff. The background music on this stage and its sub levels is a selection of familiar classics, although, once again, aren't the most pleasant of renditions. What makes this level stand out from the rest is the fact that it scrolls vertically (upwards or downwards). For this, you'll be required to bounce upwards on the heads of enemies, although there are some clouds - with typical erratic movements - to assist. As enemies still insist on moving seemingly randomly, there are occasions when you accidentally jump into them, just because their movement pattern isn't easy to predict. That said, it isn't really that difficult to progress through this stage, and you might think that you've contributed some well-honed gaming skills to doing so, whereas in fact it's actually more fluke and luck that gets you to the end.
It's that dream again. Only this time with weird dancing beans and toadstools.

The Biggest Loser runners-up visit Rome
In one of the sub levels (one featuring dancing hippos), the graphics don't appear good at all. It's as if they aren't finished and were just put in as a work-in-progress, something to come back to and polish up later. If Fantasia has one definite positive, it is how it looks, but this is one stage which appears quite out of place graphically.

One of the bigger annoyancies with this stage is the fact that the dancing hippos are huge, so are quite difficult to avoid, and also seem to take a lot of energy from you. Another annoyance is that one way of getting up the screen is through bubbles. However, to get out of the bubble, you have to unleash a big spell. I never found out, but I'm not sure what you would do if you had no spells left and were stuck in a bubble.

I don't really have an explanation for what's happening here.

Argh! Ghastly! Way too much make-up on the fire face!
So, level 3 wasn't too much of an issue, and I found myself completing it without needing to go into my first lot of continues. It was then onto level 4, a level based on the element of fire, and looking and sounding quite hellish. It's a complete contrast to the previous level. In fact, the atmosphere in this final level is actually quite dark and foreboding, and has been implemented in the game quite well. The game now feels as far removed from a typical cute Disney game as possible, with some quite fearsome enemies. As with previous levels, there are a lot of them, and it now becomes more important than ever to bounce over them. The level appears to be split into four stages, all of them quite short, but packing a challenge. By now, I'd forgotten that the game had a terrible control system, but found myself dying far too many times unfairly. Throughout the game, enemies, platforms, bonuses, etc. seem to appear when you complete an action somewhere else on the screen, such as killing a particular enemy, or collecting a certain item, or jumping in a certain spot. As with most things in this game, there isn't any logic to this happening - it just happens. On this final level, there are so many places where random things happen on the screen due you doing something completely different, that it all gets quite bizarre. After replaying the same level over an over, due to dying over and over, I began to get used to what I needed to do to trigger the appearance of an item or a platform.

A sinister looking level, this is.


I got to the third stage of level four, or third level of stage four (not sure which way round I'm calling things now, so I'll go for both), but found myself unable to get past a certain bit, a part where a witch showing way too much leg appears. Eventually, all my lives and all my continues were taken, and it was game over. Oh well, will try again tomorrow.

Wooooo!!! Mickey!!! I am the ghost of Walt Disney! I forbid you to ever grow a beard!!!

Mickey is about to find himself involved in a weird witchy orgy.


Put your hands up for Detroit!
DAY 4: Wednesday 4th April 2012
I did it! I finally completed Fantasia. 21 years after first playing it, I've finally done it. And, I was now able to claim my reward - my first viewing of the game's ending. And what an ending it was. Even though I traded the game in about a year or two after having it, I've always intended to return to the game to attempt to crack it, believing that it wasn't impossible. Because of this, I've always deliberately avoided any opportunity to see its ending, e.g. if it was published in magazines, on the internet. I wanted to savour the moment for myself. And savour it I did. I'm not going to reveal the ending with a screenshot here - I'm hoping to put together a gameplay video to demonstrate the game's gameplay, including its ending - but let's just say that it brought closure to the situation for me, if nothing more. Up until today, Fantasia was my unfinished symphony.

I've done this screenshot already, haven't I? Oh well,
here it is again.
Getting to the end of the game wasn't easy. Of course, the game itself wasn't easy, due to the several reasons above. However, the final level was quite an interesting challenge. I still believe that this level does a great job of capturing the feel of A Night on Bald Mountain, on which it is based, despite the rendition of its music still not being fantastic. As already explained, once you're used to the controls, you tend to forget that they're broken, and I can now understand why I kept coming back to this game all of those years ago.

Part of the final battle. It's tense, n'est pas?
Despite quite a good build up, the final battle isn't that amazing. Basically, just before you can exit the level, you have to destroy a few more of the level's enemies that get thrown at you. It's not the toughest of battles, but the final level is the only level in the game that presents an end-of-level battle, despite the fact it doesn't really feature a boss as such.

Tomorrow, I will give my final opinion of the game, and hopefully get a video recorded of me playing through it. Should be fun!

Let me out of here! Cried Mickey, and everybody else....
DAY 5: Thursday 5th April 2012
After completing Fantasia yesterday, I returned to play the game through again today, the main purpose to be to turn my gameplay into a video. And, as the video below shows, I completed the game again. Okay, I may have had to use one or two save states, but this was more to split the recording of the video into sections, rather than to cheat. There's nothing worse than recording video of a game, only to find the recording screwed up about a quarter of the way in. However, I did use save states to return to certain points and replay them, but this was also so that the video wasn't full of Mickey losing lives over and over again, although fortunately I didn't have to do this too often. This is because of one thing I will say in my final opinion of the game as my week week Fantasia draws to its end.

Just to summarise my choice of game and overall opinion of it, I decided to plump for Fantasia on the Mega Drive as it was a game that I owned back in the early 1990s. Despite feeling let down by the game at first back then, it was something I struggled and stuck with, and grew to sort of enjoy, although I ended up trading it in about a year or so after first having it. It was a game I never completed, although I knew that I came fairly close to doing so, and it's one that I've always told myself that I will one day return to and finish off. Not too sure why, as I usually don't have any desire to finish off games that remain uncompleted from my youth. I think it was something to do with the fact that, as I had managed to overcome its dodgy controls, I would one day go all the way and complete it.

This is what librarians do to you when you don't return
their books.
My return to Fantasia was just as I remembered it. The graphics are still quite good, the music is annoying, and the controls are still horrific. But, the game still managed to draw me in. What I do like is that the game does actually capture quite well the feel of the movie on which it is based. Fantasia the movie is very different to any other animated feature, being more of a demonstration of visual and audio techniques than an actual film with a plot. It is much more of a serious, surreal, darker animation than other Disney films, and the video game captures this idea quite well. As explained, the graphics do a really good job, and the choice of music, although poorly renditioned, suit the concept of the game. The game takes you through the four themes of the film: water, earth, air and fire, and actually implements most of the major scenes from it. However, the game's major downfall, and the reason it goes down in history as being something of a disaster, is its controls. Mickey is sluggish, the attack mechanism isn't very good (a lot of people playing the game don't even know that you can bounce on enemies to defeat them, such is its poor implementation). Added to the poor control is the over-abundance of enemies, coupled with erratic movements of them and platforms and bad collision detection. Plus, there is the illogical way items and enemies suddenly appear when doing something completely unrelated. A lack of consistency with how items behave. Some magic books increase your magic points by one, others by three. The stars do this too. And the fairies usually take you into sub levels, but there's at least one that does nothing, other than allows you to collect it. And how are the notes counted? Watch the video below, and there's no way at all I collected the number of notes that the game seems to think that I have at the end of the levels. There wasn't any technical save stating jiggery-pokery to achieve this. I'm not sure if the pearls (marbles, blue balls, whatever they are) also count as notes, but it's quite confusing.

Eye-eye!
Another thing, and perhaps the reason why I managed to get through the game quite easily on my attempt today, is that it is pretty much a memory test. Although enemies move erratically and appear to have random patterns, what they do and what platforms do what, can and has to be memorised. It's the only way of making progress. Unlike other games, where enemies and platforms also appear in the same places and are technically also memory tests, you find that you play the game by reacting to the situations, rather than planning your strategy by remembering what you have done before. Again, watching the video will demonstrate that I know when to duck, dodge, dive and dodge, purely because I've experienced the game already. There appears no logic to why I'm jumping into certain areas, or suddenly ducking, as it's certainly not reactionary to an event on screen. It's just because I remember that doing it another way is likely to end in losing energy or a life.

So, now I've returned to the game, and given it a thorough play-through and completed it, I can't say that it frustrated me as much as I thought it would. It wasn't even that unpleasant. I think what disappoints me is that, behind the poor controls, poor music, unfair and illogical situations, there is a good game there. It does look like a lot of work and effort was put into the game, and I'm sure Sega had a lot riding on it after the success of Castle of Illusion. What it feels like though is that the game was released incomplete. Most of the graphics are great, but there are a couple of levels where they seem quite rushed, or even just temporary. Presentation on the whole is okay, but the game is missing a good introduction, title screen - and the ending is something else completely. I just think that the game may have needed another few weeks or months to be polished, and could have been another Mega Drive classic. Instead, we're left with a frustrating platformer with some good ideas, and one which, in most cases, people would play for five minutes before switching it off and never returning to.

Here are some ratings:
Presentation: 67%
Only one introduction screen and an ugly title screen, although the level intermissions accurately portray the orchestra scenes from the film. Just needs a little more.

Graphics: 84%
On the most part, graphics are great, but seem a bit lacking in some levels. Kind of unfinished.

Sound: 71%
The choice of music is good, but the renditions are poor. Sound effects seem a bit irrelevant, and the noise you hear when losing energy is annoying.

Playability: 63%
Instantly off-putting due to poor controls. Mickey is too sluggish and it feels like a struggle to get him to do anything. Erratic enemy and platform movements and illogical in-game events make things worse.

Overall: 65%
I enjoyed playing the game through after getting used to the game's control system, but it's certainly not one I'll be returning to in a hurry. The game contains some good ideas, but needed more work before getting released.

And that's it. That's my week of Fantasia done. All that's left now is to watch my video, and like it on Youtube!!!