Saturday, 7 September 2013

Psycho Fox - Sega Master System: Retro Review

Game: Psycho Fox
Format: Sega Master System
Developer: Vic Tokai, Sega
Year Released: 1989
Also released on: Nothing
Now available on: Nothing

Many people associate the Master System with Alex Kidd. Some associate it with Wonder Boy and some even associate it with Sonic the Hedgehog. Each character featured in multiple games for Sega's 8-bit machine, but there was another platform star whose appearance on the console was well-received at the time and is remembered by those who knew him with fondness today. That character was Psycho Fox who featured in a game which bore his name in 1989.

Psycho Fox throws the bird.
As with most platform games, it's Psycho Fox's job to rid the world of some troublemaker who has some dastardly plan to do bad stuff. I'm sure the troublemaker and his intended bad stuff is described in the instruction manual somewhere, but I really can't be bothered to find out. The text on the back of the box just talks about Psycho Fox being "an adventure game centering around the entertaining and thrilling escapades of a very special fox", who "ventures into many strange worlds to conquer the strange beasts and boss monsters he encounters." It then goes on to say the same thing in other European languages. Well, at least I think it's the same thing. There could actually be six completely different descriptions of the same game on the boxes for European releases. The text on the box for the US release is slightly less generic and asks if you're bored of rescuing princesses, sick of dungeons and "mother brain". What the fudge is "mother brain"??!! It basically suggests that, if so, Psycho Fox is the game for you. It also talks about the world needing saving from Madfox Daimyojin. It also asks if you've heard of Zizo Zizo or Poola. Apparently these are some of the unheard-of enemies that you'll encounter. I suppose they wouldn't be able to be described as unheard-of if you'd actually heard of them. Oh yes, we need more analysis of the descriptions of games from their boxes in the future.

What on earth?

So, the game itself. Psycho Fox must travel through many strange worlds to defeat Madfox. Although the strange worlds don't actually appear that strange - there's your usual desert, ice, cloud, underground levels on offer here - some of the creatures that inhabit the worlds are very bizarre, and there are some unique ideas in the levels to set the game apart from its contemporaries.

Invincibility a go-go.
As his name suggests, Psycho Fox is a bit of a nutter. Like Mario, he can defeat enemies by jumping on them. But, unlike everybody's favourite Brooklyn-based plumber, Mr Fox is not content to just bounce on nasties and move on. He can land on enemies multiple times, pounding on them again and again until they are buried deep underground. If a semi-buried enemy tries to get out, just jump on it another time to make sure it doesn't try to escape again. Alternatively, Psycho Fox can just walk up to an enemy and punch them in their face. Or, if the enemy is too far away, he can throw a bird at them instead. Yes, even for a fox, Psycho Fox seems quite disturbed. The bird that Psycho Fox throws at enemies is called Birdfly. You can find Birdfly in eggs scattered around the levels. Being a fox with clearly psychotic tendencies, Psycho Fox cracks open eggs by thumping them. After being thrown, Birdfly will loyally return to Psycho Fox, ready to be thrown again. Maybe Birdfly is a bit of a hardnut too. Birdfly also acts as a shield. Usually if you collide with an enemy, you lose a life. But if you're carrying Birdfly, he will vanish but allow you to retain your life. Finding Birdfly again is a simple case of smashing open more eggs and hoping he's in one of them.

Spray that insect thing with insect spray and it'll buzz off.

Psycho Fox as Tiger on level three
It's not just Birdfly that you can find in eggs. Other eggs contain special items, extra lives or bags of money. But not all eggs contain Brucie Bonuses. Some eggs are empty, while others contain enemies. The sneaky beggars! The special items that you collect get stored in an inventory which you can access by pausing the game. The items to choose from in this screen are a Psycho Stick (which also goes by the name of the stick of the Shinto Purification - ???!!), a straw effigy and a potion. Using the effigy makes the screen go wibbly-wobbly and destroys all enemies on the screen. The potion makes Psycho Fox invincible for a short period. And the Psycho Stick, or the Shinto Purification thingy, allows you to transform Psycho Fox into another animal: a hippo, monkey or tiger. Each animal has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, the hippo is slow, doesn't jump as high, but has an extra-strong punch, useful for breaking down some otherwise indestructible walls. The monkey jumps high while the tiger runs fast. Psycho Fox in his foxy form is a good all rounder. You will remain as the animal you've changed into for as long as you wish to. Just use another Psycho Stick to change into something else.

Bonus level! Get yer bonus level 'ere!
So, what about the money bags you collect? Well, after each round, you get to gamble it away. In a quick bonus round, Psycho Fox is presented with 5 pathways. At the end of each pathway is a prize. You have to choose which pathway to send Psycho Fox along and will win the prize at the end of the path. As you can collect multiple bags of cash on your way, you can bet on multiple paths. Or you can place multiple bets on one path. So, if you collect five bags of cash, you can bet on each path which guarantees that you win each prize. Be warned though, because one of the prizes is a boobie prize. Not a pair of tits, but a hole which Psycho Fox will fall down if he reaches it. All that happens if he does is that he doesn't win anything for that path, but will still win the prizes at the end of any of the other paths he reaches. The prizes that can be won are the special items found throughout the game plus an extra life, or the chance to play on a number stopper thing (apparently it's a shrine). Whatever number you stop it on will grant you that number of lives. And depending on how many bets you placed on that path, the number of lives you get will be multiplied. The bonus round is a fun little interlude and gives you the opportunity to build up a healthy number of lives. Get lucky and you can get up to 25 extra lives on the bonus round.

Bouncing around on level 5. That thing to above left of Mr Fox is blowing air which will push him to the right.

Levels are split into three rounds with a boss at the end of each third round. For some bosses, you are provided with an item to help you to defeat them. This may be a pesticide spray or an air gun. Some are defeated using more traditional means, and the end battle is a good old 8-bit battle of wits and skill. Unfortunately, each boss - including the final one - only requires three hits to be defeated, so the battles don't tend too last long at all.

Barney the dinosaur has a problem with bees.
Each level in Psycho Fox is full of colour and cartoon-like in appearance, with everything well drawn and animated. The music is of a good standard too, well-suited to the game, although the last few levels seem to use the same tunes for some reason. It is one of the better-looking and sounding Master System games. But it's also good fun to play. At first, Psycho Fox feels a little sluggish to get moving, gradually building up speed as he goes along. And if you play the game cautiously, it will feel quite slow and frustrating to play as you never get the chance to get up to a good pace. It's best just to go for it, running, jumping and thumping your way through the levels and hoping for the best. But even following this strategy can be a pain as it's simply not possible to maintain it. All too often, Psycho Fox will come up against something which will stop him in his tracks and cause him to have to slow down. And when Psycho Fox goes slow, he goes real slow. Heaven knows how I used to play this on my PAL Master System back in the day, but I do remember loving this game! There are also a lot of blind jumps in the game. They don't often lead to deaths, but it would be nice to be able to make informed decisions about where you want to send the crazy fox next. Repeat play does reap rewards though, as the more you get used to the levels, the easier it is to remember what is coming up, and the more fun the game becomes.

There are some nice touches to the game. A way of getting over a large body of water is to build up enough speed and running into it. You'll find that whichever character you're controlling will skim on its ass across the water. Apart from the hippo who just falls in. Well he does whenever I try. There is a wind level with wind blowers which suspend your character in the air, and bendy poles which you can run and jump into which fling you off at speed, height and distance. The key to making the most of these is to hit them as fast and as high as you can. There are also the usual platform game features, such as bridges which fall away as you walk over them and steps that turn into slides, or statues that come alive. There are also hidden bonus stages. These are usually found accidentally by throwing Bird Fly into what appears to be empty space. Bird Fly will hit a point in the emptiness, causing a crack to appear. Throwing him a couple of times will cause the crack to become a hole (should have gone to Autoglass). Go into this hole and you'll find yourself in a secret level. In a blatant copy of Super Mario Bros, Psycho Fox (or Psycho Hippo, Monkey or Tiger) can go down a tube which will bring him out in another level. It's possible to get to the final level in the game through a secret level found in the first level of it. Bit pointless though, but it's possible.
Hmmm.... Not a lot to say here.

The final battle with Madfox. Get him!
Psycho Fox isn't a hard game, nor is it that easy, but the abundance of extra lives and unlimited continues means it is possible to complete it fairly quickly with a bit of persistence. It never gets to the point of being insanely difficult or with any parts where you can get stuck for days without being able to figure out how to get any further. Despite being a bit sluggish at first and having some blind leaps of faith every now again, it doesn't feel too unfair to play. It really is a great title, looking, sounding and playing well, and it's a shame that Psycho Fox didn't go onto have further adventures or achieve greater recognition as he certainly deserved it.

Presentation: 90%
A bright, cartoon intro screen and a high level of presentation throughout. A great ending sequence too.
Graphics: 92%
Some of the Master System's best. Colourful, well-defined and varied.
Sound:  85%
It wasn't easy to make the Master System sound good, but this game doesn't make it sound bad at all.
Playability: 83%
Takes a little bit of getting into due because of its initial sluggishness and frustrating collisions with enemies that you don't see coming, but becomes much more fun the more you stick with it. The game features plenty of variety, surreal enemies and lots of great ideas which are mostly well-implemented.
Overall: 84%
An often over-looked Master System gem.

Being a psycho on other consoles
Kid Kool. Pure turd on a NES cart.
Psycho Fox was a Master System exclusive and the character has never appeared anywhere else. But, the game itself did. Kind of. Games were released on the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Mega Drive by the developers of Psycho Fox which were so similar in design and in gameplay that they are pretty much Psycho Fox in different clothes. And with different level layouts. Kid Kool was the NES version. But it's pretty much unplayable. Kid Kool is able to land on enemies and pound them into the ground, just like Psycho Fox. He is also able to collect a Bird Fly-like creature, although obtaining him seems to be through random luck, and he can throw him around at enemies. But there is no punch ability, and the game has a weird vertical scrolling feature where if you go to the top of the screen, rather than the screen following you and scrolling upwards, it flips upwards. So, if you happen to jump quite high, the screen flips up and then back down. There are too many blind falls and, urgh, the game is just a mess.

The wacky Japanese Mega Drive remake of Psycho Fox.
The Mega Drive was home to two reprogrammed versions of Psycho Fox. Both were actually almost the same game, just with different graphics and characters. In Japan, the game was Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure. In the west, it was Decap Attack. The Japanese version appears to be based in the Middle East and, like Psycho Fox, features colourful, cartoony graphics and similar bonus stages. As it was based on a Japanese anime, the rights of which weren't obtained for a western release, Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure became Decap Attack. This used a horror theme instead. Graphics were less colourful, more in fitting with the game's theme, and the music was changed too. But the gameplay remained pretty much the same. Both games though are highly playable and are worth looking out for. Decap Attack is regularly rereleased on Mega Drive compilations and on download services. You can get it as part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and as individual downloads on Steam and through Sega's own website.

The more horrific Western Mega Drive/Genesis remake of Psycho Fox 

Back to the Master System, where Psycho Fox saw a rerelease under another guise. In Brazil, where the Master System was massive and is still fairly popular, Tec Toy updated the game in the mid-nineties to feature characters from a comic book series. The game was called Sapo XulĂ©: Os Invasores do Brejo and in it Psycho Fox became a frog while the other characters were a pig, turtle and a mouse. Despite the character changes, the game played identically to the original.

Playthrough video
Here's a video of me playing Psycho Fox from start to finish, and amassing a huge number of lives in the process, mostly down to a flukey go on the bonus level.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Right Royal Retro Baby Games

To celebrate the birth of Prince George, the first child of Duke and Duchess Cambridge and the boy who will one day be King, here are some right royal retro games featuring babies. But not royal ones.

Atari ST, Commodore Amiga (Image Works, 1991)
Released for the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, Brat is a baby who needs direction, and probably some love and affection. If not, he'll probably get some sort of attention deficit disorder and in twenty years time will become some sort of vigilante computer hacker. In this game, Brat walks in a straight line on a suspended landscape. It is your job to ensure that he doesn't fall off the floating world that he inhabits or come a cropper by hitting any of the obstacles that get in his way. You do this simply by placing objects on his route, mostly direction arrows which tell Brat which direction to take, but there are some other items to place which can be used to combat some of the obstacles. The game is a bit like an isometric Lemmings, quite a simple idea and well-presented, but unfortunately hard and frustrating to play due to being very unforgiving if you make mistakes. Brat is also one of those annoying kids wearing sunglasses, a leather jacket and a sideways baseball cap, a style that has never ever been cool.

Jack the Nipper
ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, MSX (Gremlin Graphics, 1986)
Taking the role of a trouble-making toddler, you get to explore various comic-book style locations with the aim to cause as much madness and mayhem as possible. If Grand Theft Auto was a 8-bit computer game featuring babies, then this would have been it.

Chuck Rock II: Son of Chuck
Commodore Amiga, Amiga CD32, Sega Master System, Mega Drive/Genesis, Game Gear, Mega-CD (Core Design, 1993)
A side-scrolling platform game featuring Chuck Rock's son. He doesn't quite have his dad's belly yet so defeats enemies using a club. Pretty standard platform fare from a time when pretty standard platformers were abundant. The graphics and sound are great as you'd expect from a Core Design game, but the game itself was lost amongst its competition so is probably not so well-remembered.

Wonder Boy
Arcade (Sega, 1986), Sega SG-1000. Sega Master System,  Sega Game Gear (as Revenge of Drancon in USA), ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Mobile Phone, Wii Virtual Console (rerelease of Master System version)
Also released as Adventure Island on Nintendo Entertainment System, MSX, Gameboy Advance, Gamate, Gamecube, PlayStation 2, Wii Virtual Console (release of NES version)
We're not sure if Wonder Boy is a baby or just a kid who hasn't yet been potty-trained. Whatever he is, he roams dangerous landscapes wearing a nappy while throwing axes at enemies and beheading end-of-level bosses like some sort of crazed loon in a quest to rescue his girlfriend Tanya. On his journey, Wonder Boy picks up fruit and milk for energy and dolls for bonus points. Sega's Wonder Boy was a fantastically playable arcade game which was converted to consoles and computers aplenty. It was renamed Adventure Island and slightly altered for the Nintendo and MSX. Both Wonder Boy and Adventure Island then continued as two separate gaming franchises with numerous sequels. Whereas Wonder Boy follow-ups became more adventure-based, Adventure Island sequels stuck to being arcade-style platformers.

The Sims
PC, Mac, PlayStation, Xbox, GameCube (Maxis, Electronic Arts, 2000, 2003)
EA and Maxiseseseses' life sim gave gamers the ability to direct virtual human beings through their day-to-day lives. From the mundane events like emptying the bin and going for a wee (or just leaving them to piss themselves) to major life events like getting a job or building an extension on your house to turn it into a games room. Another large part of the game was forming relationships, especially romantic relationships. You could get your Sims to fall in love by flirting, chatting, telling jokes, dancing or attempting a sneaky kiss. Once your Sims had taken that first step in the path of romance, it doesn't take them long to decide to have a baby. After making the decision, the conception, pregnancy and birth happens in seconds and a baby in its basket suddenly appears in your front room. The game then becomes all about looking after your virtual sprog, feeding, changing and cleaning them in the hope that the authorities don't come knocking to take it away. So, if you want to imagine what life is like for Will and Kate, create your own make-believe Royal couple and get them to have a baby.

Baby's Day Out
Sega Mega Drive/Genesis (Hi-Tech Entertainment, 1994)
According to movies in the 1990s, parents were shite. They always seemed to forget their kids. The McCallisters managed to lose Kevin twice in two Home Alone films, and in Baby's Day Out, some infant went for a jolly by itself. I guess anyway. I've never actually seen the film in full. A game based on the film Baby's Day Out was programmed for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis but was never released. In fact, the game was never actually finished, but what does exist of it - you can find it online if you know where to look - is a heap of stinking crap that probably couldn't have been salvaged and turned into anything worth playing. It might explain why a completed version was never put onto a cartridge. The idea of the game is to guide Baby to the exit of each level. You do this by controlling what looks like an angel, who opens doors, moves objects, and basically makes the route safe. The controls are horrible, gameplay is completely unintuative, the graphics dull and depressing, and I don't think there's any sound to speak of. Or I'd forgotten to turn on my speakers when I played it.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Neighbours (Commodore 64) - TV Tie-ins: Number Two

Don't come the raw prawn with me, ya flamin' gallah!
Game: Neighbours
Format: Commodore 64
Developer: Impulze
Year Released: 1991
Also released on: ZX Spectrum, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga
Now available on: Nothing

Neighbours, everybody needs good Neighbours. With a little understanding, you can find the perfect blend. And so on. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, everybody watched Neighbours. They might not admit it but, every evening at 5.35pm, after Children's BBC had finished, millions of people tuned their television sets to BBC One to find out what the residents of Ramsey Street had been up to. This was the era of Madge and Harold, Mrs Mangle and Bouncer, Jim, Paul and Lucy Robinson, Helen Daniels, Jane and Mike (played by Guy Pearce) and of course, Scott and Charlene, played by a young Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue. The show was so popular that in one year the entire cast were invited to star in the Royal Variety Performance, and a range of merchandise was produced to cash in on its success. There were annuals, board games, jigsaws and computer games. As this website is dedicated to old video games, we'll focus on the computer game version of Neighbours, specifically the Commodore 64 version. Maybe I should start Classic Annuals UK where I could look at old annuals. Before we continue, let's remember the Neighbours theme tune and opening credits.

Ah! Memories! So, how do you transfer a soap opera into a computer game? Easy! Turn it into a racing game! And to ensure it accurately reflects the fact that it's based on a soap from the land down under, include kangaroos and emus as some of the obstacles. Strewth, there's no stereotyping in this game!

Scott appears to be getting over-friendly with a kangaroo.

G'day! Welcome to my garage.
The game opens with a SID rendition of the show's theme tune and a rather plain intro screen. I guarantee you that you'll sit and listen to the full theme tune while trying to remember the words to it. Or maybe that's just me. Afterwards, you pay a visit to Scott Robinson's garage. This is where you can pick from up to four other Ramsey Street residents to be your competitors and either a slow, medium or fast skateboard. There is also a small car and a kangaroo on the floor of the garage, partially covered by a sheet. As we know, every Australian keeps a kangaroo in their garage. Usually next to their barbecue, a crate of Fosters, a boomerang, and a hat with corks dangling from it. You can choose to cover the car or kangaroo with the sheet if you wish. Concealing them will prevent them from appearing in the game.

The characters you can pick as competitors are Lenny (who?), Henry, Matt (not sure who he is either) and Mike. Apparently Lenny could be Charlene. I don't ever recall her being called that but according to a Neighbours website, it was her nickname. You learn something new everyday, don't you? As the game was released in 1991, I don't think Mike, Henry, Scott or Charlene were still in the programme then. I even think their pop careers had taken a nose-dive too by then.

Rack off you dag. Bouncer appears to be in this screenshot. The filthy mongrel!

Scott meets an emu in Ramsey Street. Crikey!
After you've chosen your opposition, a skateboard and decided what to do about your kangaroo, it's time to hit the road. It seems that in a long-forgotten episode, the Ramsey Street youngsters have been out and turned said street into a race track. They also appear to have rearranged the street, making it appear more like a maze than the cul-de-sac familiar to viewers of the TV show. Yourself as Scott Robinson and your competitors line up and begin racing. Rather bizarrely, each competitor has a different mode of transport. You use the skateboard that you picked earlier, and another of the racers also uses a skateboard, but the other competitors use a go-kart, bicycle and what looks like a lawnmower. Not that it really makes any difference to the race itself. Movement around the course is quite fluid although a bit fiddly at first, especially when taking corners. The idea of the game is simply to come first in the race, but making life more difficult are obstacles and the fact that you have to ride through pairs of markers. If you miss the markers, you need to go back on yourself to go through them. Depending on what you did in Scott's garage with your sheet, the obstacles include Mrs Mangle's dog Bouncer, Mrs Mangle herself, open manholes and manhole covers, and kangaroos. Oh yes, not only does every Australian keep a kangaroo in their garage, they also roam suburban streets. Here's a quick fact. In Neighbours, Bouncer, the dog, was paid more than the human actors! He was actually called Bouncer in real life too. That's two things I've learned today.

The best way to describe the gameplay is that it's a cross between Micro Machines, Paperboy and Horace Goes Skiing (or any skiing sim for that matter). Colliding too often results in you losing energy, with your energy bar represented by the Neighbours logo which loses colour as it depletes. If you win the race, you go onto another race where you face more obstacles and hazards, a redesigned street, and pairs of markers that are harder to get through.

I believe this was Lassiter's and Daphne's coffee shop. And that's Australia either side of it in case you need reminded where Neighbours was set.

The race itself is quite fun, but also frustrating. Collisions happen regularly, forcing you back a bit, and break up the flow of the game. If I was any good at the game, this probably wouldn't be a problem. The main problem though is that the street race feels more like a mini game than a full game. Although the game uses Ramsey Street as its setting, and includes the soap's characters, it feels that the game's link to Neighbours is tenuous to the extreme. Translating a soap opera to a computer game is never going to be easy, which is why there are very few other (if any) soap tie-ins, but more could have been made of the licence than just making a racing game with it. I'm not sure how, but a series of mini-games may have worked better. Maybe some sort of pool game in Madge's swimming pool, or trying to smash the windows of the houses by playing cricket in the street as featured in the opening titles (should I really admit that I remember that part from the show's opening?). Or trying to find out how many times you can play truant from Erinsborough High before Fisher expels you? Mr Fisher was Home & Away, wasn't he? Oh well. Anyway, yes, the game just feels like it's missing something and doesn't really capture the feel of the TV show that well. No matter how many kangaroos they insert into it.

The graphics do their job but aren't really that attractive and appear quite blocky even for a Commodore 64 game. Apart from a rendition of the theme tune, there's no other sound to speak of. Maybe the SID chip was exhausted after producing such a musical masterpiece. All in all, Neighbours isn't a terrible game but it's by no means a great game. It plays alright for a short period of time, but doesn't really maintain your interest and can feel a bit of a chore to play. It's quite simply a lazy tie-in, which doesn't represent the show it's based on at all well.

Presentation: 60%
A rather plain title screen, and not really anything going on in between action.
Graphics: 65%
Dull and blocky and don't really represent Ramsey Street that well.
Sound:  55%
The rendition of the Neighbours theme tune isn't too bad, but there isn't any other sound to speak of.
Playability: 65%
Quite fun at first and gets a bit better when you've got used to the controls, but it doesn't maintain your interest and doesn't draw you in for repeat plays.
Overall: 65%
A lazy attempt to cash in on the popularity of the television show.

Neighbours in other neighbourhoods

Aussies on the Speccy! Strewth!
As you'd expect, Neighbours wasn't a Commodore 64 exclusive. Instead, the residents of Ramsey Street found their way onto other computers too. Namely, the ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga and Atari ST. The Spectrum version was absolutely awful. With even more fiddly controls than the Commodore 64 version, a horrible version of the theme tune and barely recognisable sprites, you'd be throwing the overpriced cassette onto the barbie within minutes. On the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, things were a little better. The graphics are much improved, which probably goes without saying due to them being on technically superior machines, and there is a greater variety of enemies and obstacles which make better use of their source material, but the controls are still too fiddly and it just isn't easy, or that fun, to play at all. 
The opening screen on the Amiga version. Looks just like the TV show.
Traffic cones, cars in the middle of the road, some kid playing with his remote control car. Give me Summer Bay any day.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Games for the Summer

It's now summer and unbelievably the Sun is shining and the temperature is high! However, you can be certain that the current good weather won't last long and we'll be forced back indoors soon enough. But here are a few games that might help to extend the season a little longer.

California Games
Enjoy some totally rad West Coast activities in this collection of cool Californian sports. On offer is surfing, BMXing, roller skating, Frisbee throwing, skateboarding and, um, bag kicking. Released for just about every available computer and console in the late 80s and early 90s, the game was an instant hit. Played today, it reflects its era and the trends of the time very well. Gnarly dude.

NES: Just about to pull off an awesome turn on the half pike. Failed miserably though.

The British seaside wouldn't be the same without Punch & Judy, and the violent politically incorrect puppet show is the basis of Punchy, a computer game released for the Spectrum, Amstrad and a few Commodore computers by Mr Micro. In it, wifebeater Mr Punch has kidnapped Judy's baby and it is down to you, as Bobby the policeman, to rescue it. The game is basically a clone of Hunchback (it was nearly called Hunchy) and wasn't a bad version at all, although time hasn't been good to it.

Spectrum: That's the way to do it! This game even features speech. Or something claiming to be speech.

Cool Spot
A platform game featuring 7-Up's mascot Cool Spot, who was based on the red dot in the logo of the fizzy drink. Well, its American mascot. We had shitty Fido Dido over here. And a game that made no reference to 7-Up at all. Although not technically a summer game, it had a summery feel to it, starting and ending on a beach, and Cool Spot wore sunglasses throughout his adventure. Cool Spot was released on the Super Nintendo, Sega Master System, Nintendo Gameboy, Commodore Amiga and Sega Mega Drive. A review of the SNES version is available here.

SNES: It's those lobsters in pants again.

Theme Park
If queuing for hours for a ride at Alton Towers just doesn't appeal to you but you wouldn't mind having the chance to run the place, then Theme Park might just be the game for you. Released in the mid-90s for a heap of computers and consoles, this management sim saw you setting up and managing your very own fairgrounds. The game was great fun and even had a few sequels which are also worth a look at too.

PC: Roll up! Roll up! Get yourself a Mr Whippy here, and then throw up all over my park!

Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude
Released for the Sega Mega Drive and Game Gear only, Greendog was a platform game featuring a cool surfer dude on a treasure hunt to release a curse. It was an average platformer, released at a time when Sonic the Hedgehog was dominating the scene, but featured a groovy little Calypso soundtrack. Something to fill a bit of time on a Sunday afternoon perhaps.

Mega Drive: Greendog doesn't even have a steak bake to waft around, but the birds are after him anyway.

Dead or Alive XTreme Beach Volleyball
A volleyball game for the original Xbox featuring ladies in skimpy bikinis with breasts which appear to bounce of their own accord. Probably not a great game to put on when you've got the in-laws over, but a surprisingly good volleyball sim. Its sequel for the Xbox 360 features a bundle of mini games. It's basically California Games for pervs.

Xbox: Fun in the Sun with some beach babes.

Out Run
Nothing beats driving along the coast with the roof down, and in Out Run you get the chance to do just that. Out Run is the ultimate sun-soaked racer, featuring colourful visuals and a timeless summer soundtrack. The arcade version from 1986 was ported to the Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, Atari ST, Amiga, PC Engine, Xbox, PS2 and Gameboy Advance. It is also one of the few games to have been released on the Sega Master System, Mega Drive, Game Gear, Saturn and Dreamcast!

Arcade: Mr Flagman is about to wave you off.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Retro Review: CarVup - Commodore Amiga

CarVup's title screen
Game: CarVup
Format reviewed: Commodore Amiga
Developed by: Core Design
Year of original release: 1990
Also available on: Atari ST
Available now on: Nothing

Core Design are perhaps most well known for creating the Tomb Raider games. By combining 3D action adventuring with puzzle solving and introducing a young lady with a massive pair of bazookas as its main character, Tomb Raider was an instant hit. Undoubtedly, the presence of Miss Croft alone probably helped shift a few copies. The success of the Tomb Raider games means it's all too easy to forget what Core Design did before Lara Croft blasted her way into the bedrooms of teenage boys across the world. So, this seems like as good an opportunity as ever to refresh our memories.

Before Tomb Raider's appearance and Core Design's resultant 32-Bit world domination, the Derby-based outfit were perfecting their art on the home computers of the 16-Bit era. They produced games aplenty for the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST, and even dabbled a bit in games for consoles too. Products included Chuck Rock, Rick Dangerous, Thunderhawk, Jaguar XJ220, Corporation and Asterix amongst others. Today's game of choice is CarVup, a title released in Europe only (apparently) for the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST in 1990.

He flies like a bird in the sky. That's a song, isn't it?

Instructions! Instructions! Get yer instructions here!
CarVup is a side-scrolling game featuring a car called Arnie. The idea of the game appears to be to free animals from traps. Not sure who's set the traps or why, but it's probably some weirdo without whom the world would be a better place. Animals are freed simply by completing each stage. Stages are split into six levels and to complete a level, Arnie must travel across each platform in them. Once he has driven over each section of the platform, it changes appearance in some way to indicate that Arnie has already been there. Once all the ground on the platforms has been covered, it's onto the next level. Each level wraps around, meaning that if Arnie continues to move in the same direction, he'll arrive back where he began. Controlling Arnie is simple. You can move him left or right, and press fire to make him jump. Hold up to do a high jump, down to perform a small jump, or left or right to perform a long jump in the respective direction. All manoeuvres are simple to pull off but essential to master to get to each part of the level to clear them. Arnie can't fall off platforms, and just turns and travels in the opposite direction when he reaches the end of one unless you direct him otherwise.

Towards the bottom of this screen is Turbo. Turbo is evil.
Getting in Arnie's way are a number of enemies which he must either avoid or defeat with collectable weapons. These enemies vary depending on the theme of the stage although they all do pretty much the same thing. The first level, set in a building site, features things like wheelbarrows, barrels, and diggers. Level two has a horror theme and features zombies, bats, mummies and ghosts. Other level themes are garden, country and western, musical, toys and prehistoric with characters that mostly suit each level, although there are some slightly surreal exceptions. Space Invaders in the prehistoric stage for example.

Defeating the enemies can be done by collecting weapons which drop from the sky on each level. There is quite a variety of weapons which mostly appear to resemble car parts. Most of the weapons are deployed automatically when an enemy comes into position. For example, if you have the gun and are driving towards an enemy, the gun will fire. Another weapon will destroy an enemy above you, so if you drive under it, it will release and fire at them. Weapons can also be deployed by pressing space.

Those ghosts look awfully familiar.
It's not just weapons that drop from the sky. There are also fruits, letters and other power ups. Fruits simply give you points, letters spell out words - either BONUS which gives you extra points or EXTRA which gives you an extra life - and power ups do things like freeze all the enemies in the level, turn them into Pac Man-like ghosts, or transform them all into carrots. Also on most levels is what appears to be a monkey man pulling a face at you, who doesn't do any harm but bounces around the level when hit. And then there is Turbo. Turbo is a demon-like thing who appears if you take too long clearing a level. He is indestructible and fatal to the touch but serves as a way of speeding you up.

There are no end of stage bosses. The sixth level in each stage is just an opportunity to collect points. The only boss is on the final level and takes the form of a head bouncing around it, and can be defeated using weapons that appear during the battle.

Somebody isn't happy.

Brrrr,,,, the Ice Age was a cold time. I'm sure some of the
graphics in this level also appear in Chuck Rock.
CarVup looks and sounds fantastic. Each level captures its theme very well and features a large variety of well-drawn and animated sprites, including Arnie himself. Levels are very colourful and the changing types of themes and their associated backgrounds and platforms means that a game which is actually quite samey throughout, doesn't really feel it. A special mention must go to the music which is amazing. Jolly upbeat tunes maintain the frantic nature of the game. If you don't want music, you can listen to sound effects instead which complement the game well and feature clear samples, including voice samples.

CarVup is a great computer game. It is incredibly easy to pick up and there is something satisfying about having to cover all ground to clear each level. It's a completionist's dream, although the never-ending appearance of fruits might send you crazy if you have particularly obsessive completionist tendencies! As each level is quite short, it really is just a case of covering all the ground as quickly as possible, taking out enemies en route and so on. As it is basically the same thing throughout, the game risks become dull, but the short levels and changing themes prevent this from happening. It starts off easy but gets quite challenging with you having to keep your eyes peeled to make sure you don't accidentally jump into an enemy when finding parts of the levels to clear. It really is a game which represents its era very well. So, if you're looking for a Core Design game that doesn't feature a lady with a pair of excessively large boobs as its main selling point, then it might be worth taking CarVup for a spin.

Hilarious joke ahoy!

Presentation: 85%
A static title screen, a list of instructions and controls and a high score table are all the game has intro-wise, with short animated intermissions between levels. They're all neat and polished and do the job well.
Graphics: 90%
Colourful, crisp and bright. Varied sprites and attractive levels make the game look great.
Sound:  90%
Three fantastic in game tracks and some intro music, or great sound effects with sampled speech are all a treat to the ears.
Playability: 85%
Fun to play, simple to get into to with good responsive controls.
Overall: 87%
Pure 90s style fun

View CarVup in action here: