Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Insert Coin.

It feels like such a long time ago when I watched my cousin play Saint Dragon on his Amiga. Little did I know of the path that was opening up in front of me. My first steps into the world of gaming consisted of classics like Cannon Fodder, Secret of Monkey Island and Alien Breed. Retro games have shaped me both as a gamer and a reviewer, so when I saw the chance to attend an arcade convention in Britain, I leapt on it like a fat man trapped in the desert for weeks, who just found his favourite packet of crisps laying in the sand.

For those of us living in the United Kingdom (and especially in Scotland), it’s not always so easy to feel the full on arcade experience firsthand, at least not without a lot of travelling.

Insert Coin was a fantastic event for me, as it gave me a chance to get back to some gaming roots that are easily forgotten when you’re 12 years old. There’s nothing quite like sitting down at a machine and playing aliens for an hour, with someone you’ve never met before. This is the sort of bonding experience you’ll never find across the cold, faceless world of Xbox Live and it’s something every serious gamer should participate in, at least once in their lives, just to get some serious perspective on the humble origins of this beautiful hobby we call gaming.

Of the handful of games I got any serious play time on, my top two favourites would have to be Aliens and R-Type Leo.

Aliens is one of those rock hard side scrolling shooters that really pushes you to the limit. The game starts off easily enough with nothing too hardcore to really phase any old-school gamer familiar with the genre, but slowly begins to kick your ass as you struggle to fend off a variety of vicious multi-coloured Xenomorphs as well as some seriously bad ass bosses all looking to murder your ass, in which case it’s quite literally game over, man.

R-Type Leo is beautiful… pure and simple. I don’t massively get into shoot-em-ups aside from playing a few very decent ones like Saint Dragon and G-Darius as a young lad, and anyone who saw me trying to play the original R-type last weekend will tell you my retro skills are seriously lacking, but for some reason I just synched really well with Leo. Pace feels perfect, power ups are awesome and the visuals are still fantastic to look at, even now. Most importantly though, Leo was only available in arcades, so you’ll either have to get some emulation action going on, or drop some money on a decent MAME cabinet if you want to try this one.

Notable mentions go to Splatterhouse for still being awesome to play more than 20 years later and also to Outrun for being bloody fantastic and reminding me of a time when Sega weren’t shit.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Hail To The Conquering Hero.

I’ve finally done it… I’ve saved the kingdom and brought peace everlasting to the land of Albion, and yet… I’ve sacrificed so much to get here. My faithful companion lays bloodied and broken on the mountain top, my wife and children… banished into the realm of nothingness and here I stand with nothing to show for it, but a pitiful, neglected statue at the end of a forgotten alleyway and a note… a note filled with hollow, empty words that fill me to the brim with disgust.

I’ve sacrificed everything to get here, and for what? A world full of beggars, thieves and cretins… a world full of would-be adventurers who endanger the lives of others through their own stupidity… a world full of feeble parasites who would sit back and do nothing while they praise weak frauds who dare call themselves heroes. I stand here, a broken man before the crowd… wishing nothing more than to make each and every one of them feel the pain and sorrow which I now must endure… to feel the burden of magnificent loss I now carry upon my shoulders.

Let Albion Burn Today… let her fertile lands shiver at my touch… let her forests wilt and die, let her rivers boil away and let her people scream in agony, for I have defeated the vile monster who once plagued this land… and now I shall replace him, and take my seat upon this dark throne.

Thursday, 26 March 2009


It’s big, it’s stupid, it’s violent and it doesn’t give a damn who knows it.

MadWorld is grotesquely gory and incredibly stylish. The game puts you in control of a fourty-something ex-marine called Jack Cayman as he cuts a bloody swathe through a twisted, monotone hellhole called Varrigan City all in the name of rescuing the mayor’s daughter. The entire city has been taken over by a terrorist group called The Organizers who have turned the place into a giant game show called Death Watch, filled with zombies, aliens, vampires, brutal gangs and massive chainsaw wielding maniacs wearing Minotaur masks, all eager to win by laying waste to everything that moves.

For the hardcore gamers out there who have been waiting for a game to come along, that would finally force you to take the Wii seriously, I say… this is it. Although the game is somewhat short you won’t be disappointed if you knock the difficulty up and provide yourself with a real challenge, with brutal enemies waiting eagerly to knock you down a peg, as well as some incredibly memorable boss fights that put the Wii’s unique (although somewhat irritating) control scheme to good use. MadWorld also looks and sounds fantastic with its black and white graphics that do well to emphasises the harsh, gory atmosphere of the game and to squeeze every last bit of power out of the Wii, and there’s some fantastic audio commentary from Greg Proops and John DiMaggio that bring a somewhat childish but extremely funny sense of humour to the game akin to something out of a south park episode.

MadWorld is exactly the sort of game that hardcore Wii fans have been crying out for, it’s violent, it’s daft and it’s deeply, deeply satisfying to play. If you’re a fan of the harsh, unadulterated grittiness of the old GTA games or the stylish sense of humour of No More Heroes, you’ll definitely love this.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

No More Heroes

Some of you may have heard of a little game called God Hand. God Hand was a criminally underrated beat-em-up game created by Clover studios that was absolutely genius in its simplicity because all you ever did was run around beating the crap out of people. No More Heroes reminds me a lot of God Hand because all I really want to do is run around beating the crap out of people with a lightsa- I mean a “beam katana”.

Unfortunately No More Heroes has found the need to dilute this experience with GTA-esque sandbox gaming elements that force you to run around playing dull mini games in order to make money to keep beating people as you follow the games main story. I really want to love this game because it’s doing so many things right. The meat of the gameplay is solid… It’s extremely enjoyable eliminating wave after wave of enemies and despite the fact that finishing moves rely heavily on waving the wii and nunchuck it’s one of the few games were this doesn’t feel awkward and forced. There’s a much bigger emphasis on gameplay rather than graphics which is something that really appeals to me in this “next generation” of gaming that’s trying so hard to shove realism down everyone’s throats. Also, the tone and humour of the game is so unashamedly over the top that you can’t help but smile.

Sadly there are lots of little things that kill the experience for me, like setting the focus of the game in a little town called Santa Destroy forcing you to drive around the city to learn new moves and earn new weapons, as well as buying new clothes and partaking in various mini games such as a variety of jobs like cutting grass and collecting coconuts, as well as various straightforward assassination missions that all earn you money. Don’t get me wrong… there’s nothing bad or broken about driving around the city, it’s just that it all feels so… pointless. I’d be so much happier with a more old school gameplay element here, cutting a swath through wave after wave of enemies and occasionally coming up against a bad ass boss from time to time. There’s also a really big problem with special moves, which use a slot machine style system that randomly picks from a selection of different moves, but due to the sparsity of the enemies and breaking up of the fighting, you always seem to power up right when there’s nobody left to fight, and it really takes a lot of the shine away from something that feels like it could be the most fun part of the game.

I can completely appreciate Goichi Suda’s efforts to mix the old school with the new here, and No More Heroes is definitely a good game, but in my honest opinion it’s nowhere near the kind of nine out of ten scores it seems to have gotten and this really frustrates me as I feel the game could have been so much more.

Hats off to Grasshopper for having the balls to continue making consistently unique games with a fantastic visual style and extremely off the wall plots in an industry full of companies just looking for the quickest path to making money by making games that are safe and sure sellers, but sadly No More Heroes feels like it could have been pushed just a little bit further outside the box in terms of gameplay, instead of conforming to a sandbox style that’s becoming so overused in this generation of gaming that it’s bordering on cliché.

Having said that, No More Heroes still kicks the arse off most of the big releases of 2008, thanks to a lot of obvious effort being put into the game just being fun to play before anything else, and in an industry full of so many shills looking to make quick money off games with zero effort put into them like Dark Sector and Shaun Whites Snowboarding, games like No More Heroes are always something that should be supported, so it’s definitely still worth a punt.

The Maw

So you’re an oddly feminine looking alien called frank, controlling a little purple monster made of goo called the maw and your job is to guide him around various levels in an effort to make him eat everything in sight.

The game looks very cartoony and stylish and the visuals go a long way towards setting the extremely daft tone of what’s to come.

The game plays like an old school banjo kazooie style platforming game mixed with a genuinely funny, extremely cutesy innocent sense of humour that you won’t be able to resist unless you’re dead inside and your heart is just a broken shell. There are a few little puzzles dotted around the game here and there that all rely on giving the maw new abilities by making him eat certain creatures and absorb their traits… like setting things on fire with molten lava breath or charging at blockades. All of this is pretty basic and will never really make you stop to think for longer than a few seconds, but somehow this all works and adds up to a charming little 800 point game that you may only play once or twice but is definitely worth every penny.

It’s extremely refreshing to find a game as adorably simplistic as the maw at a time when we’re being bombarded with realism and exploited with over priced arcade and community games with hardly any effort in them.

There’s also something really heart warming about finding yourself getting attached to a character that’s nothing more than a little purple ball of goo, as he follows you around the levels with his tongue hanging out and a smile on his face, waiting excitedly for his next meal.

Twisted pixel have created something very special here with The Maw and proved that a game doesn’t have to be overly complex to leave a lasting impression on you and charm you for a few hours. I can only hope that we’ll see more developers follow the trend and make arcade games with as much personality and charm in them as this.

This is exactly the kind of arcade game that we need to see more off, and I really, really hope that others will follow the trend in the near future and take the time to make something with as much obvious love and care as The Maw.

There are a lot worse arcade games out there than The Maw that you could spend your money on. Sure it may not be the most complex, riveting game you’ve ever played and you may only get a few hours of fun out of it, but the adorable sight of The Maw as he beams proudly at you after consuming every single creature in the area, is a beautiful little moment that will stay with you till you’re old, gray and bitter, and it’s well worth the asking price.