Video 4
Notes

Apr 23,
2014
Posted 15 hours ago

Time for coverage of another modern PC and/or mobile game that I’m playing and enjoying. Have you ever wanted to unleash a killer disease upon the Earth? Probably not. I hope not. But you’ve maybe had at least an idle curiosity about what that would be like, maybe you’ve even wondered what it would take to wipe out humanity. After all, movies like Contagion and Outbreak and 28 Days Later do well in theaters for a reason. Well, with Ndemic Creation’s Plague Inc., you can get a taste of your answer. Just a taste, mind you. This is no full-blown, WHO-endorsed epidemic simulator, but it gets the job done.

Plague Inc. is an evolution of the classic (and free) Flash games Pandemic and Pandemic II, and it improves upon those games in just about every way imaginable. Each game starts roughly the same: choose a disease type and name it, select a starting country with a single Patient Zero, and try to grow your disease into the end of humanity by evolving symptoms, transmission venues and special abilities. The only way to win is to wipe out every human on Earth before your malady can be cured. To kill people, you have to infect them first. There’s a careful balance that must be played between infection, severity (visibility) and lethality. Kill people too quickly and your victims might die off before they can infect healthy people; wait too long and you might run out of time against a cure.

There are currently nine different kinds of diseases to attack with, from the basic bacteria and viruses up through advanced killers like prions (the most famous of which is variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, aka Mad Cow) and even special fantasy options like a mind-controlling parasite and necrotic zombie outbreaks. Each disease plays differently, although many of the basics are similar. Various pre-made scenarios are also available, such as reliving the Spanish Flu, to see if you can improve on one of nature’s most crushing victories. There is an astounding variety of symptoms that can be inflicted, although they don’t always have the impact you might expect (for instance, inflicting insanity on a completely-infected world should pretty much completely end any hopes of developing a cure, but alas.) Plague Inc. isn’t the kind of game you’re likely to sit around and play for hours at a time, although who knows, it could make for great drunken Friday night fun if you’re in that kind of mood.

The screenshots above come from the iPad version of the game, which I own and purchased for 99 cents. Full disclosure: the game has in-app purchases of diseases, cheats, modification genes, scenarios and the like, but all of those can be unlocked just by playing the game and, in my opinion, don’t really take long. There are no “energy” or “token” restrictions; you can play as often and as much as you want. The game is also available on Steam for $15 and, while it has improved graphics (of course) and, I presume, comes with everything unlocked from the start, that price is still too high in my opinion. But once it drops to, say, $5? The world is mine to destroy. Again. I’m looking forward eventually to putting this on the wall-mounted 32” LCD TV and running it like something right out of the CDC.

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  TAGS:  Plague Inc.   Ndemic Creations   2010s games  
Video 24
Notes

Apr 22,
2014
Posted 1 day ago

Before Power Stone, before even Super Smash Bros., there was The Outfoxies. Namco’s 1994 fighting game has the discinction of being, as far as I know, the first hectic free-for-all, kill-your-opponent-with-anything-you-can-find game ever created. And although being the first of its kind brought its fair share of problems, it’s a pretty amazing game.

The story, like the rest of the game, is brilliantly ridiculous. Six eclectic (to say the least) assassins are hired by the mysterious Mr. Acme to each kill a famous art collector. He also hired them all to kill each other. You select one of the six assassins and, having already taken care of your art collector, you’ll face off against the other assassins, one at a time and within an arena of their choosing. The variety of characters, their personalities and motivations are quite nice, but they’re not that different from each other, and it’s the weapons and environments that steal the show. Each level has a bevy of weapons scattered around, from the expected items like guns and grenades to much more improvised items, such as pies and the coal yanked out of a train’s fuel car. The levels themselves are also out to get you, with collapsing roofs, dangerous edges to fall off of and all sorts of other ways to take damage. Many stages change form as time passes as well.

Sadly, this potential is somewhat marred by a clunky control system and confusing visuals. Characters don’t always respond as you would expect them to, which can cause you to pick up the wrong weapon, miss a ledge grab or take an unnecessary hit from enemies. The screen rumbles and shakes, zooms out when the characters get further apart, and even occasionally rotates, all of which can disorient your sense of positioning. The Dr. Chang level, which isn’t even the last stage, is a horrific nightmare of industrial hazards that’s hard to keep your bearings in—I took at least twice as much damage from the scenery there than from my opponent. The final boss is also very frustrating, first presenting you with a challenge that requires extreme precision (under a timer and constant barrage) but then a rather difficult fight.

Even though there are some quite unfun sections of The Outfoxies, it’s still a tremendous effort, and a game that you should try. It remains one of the few titles of its kind in the arcade, and the only one in sprite based form. Namco took a big risk in developing a game like this at the time, and I think it deserves better remembrance that what it’s received from the world.

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  TAGS:  The Outfoxies   Namco   arcade   1990s games  
Photo 20
Notes

Apr 21,
2014
Posted 2 days ago

Random game art day: cabinet art for the Capcom Classics Collection. This image was whipped up by Capcom and put on the side of a custom arcade cabinet meant to promote the release of the collection on multiple platforms. That must have been one sweet-looking machine. It’s a good day to test your arcading history - how many games can you identify from their reference here?

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 TAGS:  Capcom Classics Collection   Capcom   arcade   Video Game Art  
Text 3
Notes

Apr 20,
2014
Posted 3 days ago

The Week-at-a-Glance

Time for another rundown of this week’s games, in case you missed them:

The Main Event (Konami, April 14)
Magical Error wo Sagase (Technosoft, April 15)
Mazinger Z, Part One (Banpresto, April 16)
Mazinger Z, Part Two (Banpresto, April 16)
Miss Puzzle (Min Corp, April 17)
Mortal Kombat 3 (Midway, April 18)
Nebulas Ray (Namco, April 19)
Night Slashers (Data East, April 20)

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TAGS: Byte Sized Week at a Glance  
Video 20
Notes

Apr 20,
2014
Posted 3 days ago

Rarely am I excited by a new discovery and then let down as quickly as I was with Night Slashers. This 1994 (according to MAME) Data East beat-em-up appears awesome on the surface and in many ways it is awesome. Much like Mutation Nation on the Neo Geo, the game puts you not just against everyday humans but against something else entirely. This time it’s not mutants but the supernatural. Zombies, werewolves and vampires, as well as plain old psychopaths, are present in high numbers—and that’s just among the common enemies.

There’s nice graphics, a catchy soundtrack and some interesting character designs on display here. Many of the environments have impressive ambience considering that they’re just 256-color, 320x240 screens. The bosses look cool and include not only Frankenstein’s Monster, but an elder vampire, a golem and even the Grim Reaper. It’s almost like someone at Data East sat down and tried to make Castlevania into a beat-em-up game.

But there’s a darker underside to Night Slashers: the difficulty. The game is extremely tough, sometimes frustratingly so. If you’re looking to be a badass slayer of the undead (to make them, I guess, more dead or something), then plan for turning on a cheat or something. It’s not just that enemies surround you here; that’s to be expected in any decent beat-em-up. The problem is that most of the enemies move faster than you do, and will not hesitate to attack you from out of range of your own attacks. Even the most basic zombie will regularly spit on you from out of reach (see the second gameplay pic for an example) and it’s not like you can absorb fifty such hits before dying, either. There are a lot of moves at your disposal, but many of them don’t have much effect, especially the charge attacks, which require you to hold down your attack button for a precious three to four seconds and deal negligible damage (albeit to large areas and looking spiffy in the process.)

If you’re a challenge fiend or okay with having your butt handed to you (or eaten—these are the undead, after all), then give Night Slashers a go. Its design and motif deserves a playthrough from beat-em-up fans, it’s just a shame that its balance of kick-butt and butt-kicked wasn’t a little better.

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  TAGS:  Night Slashers   Data East   arcade   1990s games  
Video 11
Notes

Apr 19,
2014
Posted 4 days ago

As a 1994 arcade release from Namco, Nebulas Ray (the lack of apostrophe being an official part of the name) is a slightly odd game. For a shoot-em-up at the time, it’s actually quite standard, even a little humdrum in its gameplay, but the game’s presentation stands out among not only fellow shoot-em-up games, but Namco’s other releases of the time.

Having established themselves as one of the premier 3D arcade game developers the year before with Ridge Racer, you might expect Namco would be eager to maintain that image. And, in a way, Nebulas Ray does. The 3D influences here are undeniable; your ship, as well as every enemy and much of the environments, are rendered in 3D. But they’re not rendered in real-time; rather, they are pre-rendered and stored in the game’s ROM as sprites and tilemaps, somewhat akin to Aicom’s Viewpoint. As an aesthetic, it certainly makes the game different, but I can’t help but feel it’s the worst of both worlds: you have the blocky nature of mid-90s polygons, and since they’re pre-rendered as sprites, you don’t have the “flexibility” of real-time rendering that made 3D graphics so useful in the first place. I do have to give it up for the environments, though, which are impressive in their detail. Several of them use four-layer parallex for an almost disorienting sense of depth. (Note that this can be an occasional problem in some later stages which are so “busy” you can lose track of enemy shots.)

The gameplay doesn’t quite live up to the interesting level of the visuals. Through the game’s six stages (plus a bonus challenge stage if you’re good enough to finish), you’ll battle mostly the same enemies with just two primary weapons at your disposal, depending on what power-up you last grabbed—a powerful straight-ahead laser or a weaker spread shot. There are several special weapons you can pick up (as well as a forcefield), but they come with a built-in timer and only last about twenty seconds. The gameplay and ship handling is quite smooth and has a nice, even escalation of difficulty, but I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing as I moved through the levels, some extra thing that I would have expected a top-selling company like Namco to include in a shoot-em-up of the era. When you stack this up against the offerings coming out of new developers like Psikyo and Raizing, or even old-timers like Capcom, it just feels a little flat. A positive note here are the bosses, which are all varied from each other and provide some novel attack patterns I hadn’t personally seen elsewhere.

Should you play Nebulas Ray? If you’re a fan of shoot-em-ups, there’s no reason not to. It’s not likely to become a favorite, but it provides a new experience and does have some standout graphical and boss moments. But if you’ve never found the genre to be your thing, this isn’t the game to change that opinion.

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  TAGS:  Nebulas Ray   Namco   arcade   1990s games  
Video 13
Notes

Apr 18,
2014
Posted 5 days ago

The storyline of Mortal Kombat 3, Midway’s 1994 installment in their by-then most prosperous series. Previously, we had seen things like the mysterious de-aging of Shang Tsung, but by now,the story had devolved into something practically soap opera-ian, with resurrections and contrived world takeovers. Even keeping the alliances between each of the characters is problematic, especially since it feels like half of them don’t even have much interest in the Mortal Kombat tournament or saving the world so much as settling their personal vendettas—yet they’ll fight a dozen people without question. When you can’t tell your players without a program, your fighting game’s story might be a little too convoluted.

This was the point at which my interest in Mortal Kombat as a series waned significantly. There are some really interesting additions here, such as the ability to run in fights and entering all sorts of codes (that you could find in gaming magazines or other sources way back in the day) that would modify the game. But the unbreakable combo system was a part of the fighting game genre’s shift into mega-hit flash fighting (in my opinion.) The overall look of the game just doesn’t feel right to me. Some of the previous actors, due to disputes with Midway, did not return, resulting in new people portraying the iconic characters of Liu Kang and Sub Zero (as well as Sonya, who was only in Mortal Kombat II as a cameo) and the removal of Johnny Cage. The overall graphic design feels “moody” for lack of a better term, and the character designs look like something right out of the WWE Attitude Era.

Overall, Mortal Kombat 3 is a fine game, with decent mechanics that clearly were popular, but just never really matched up with my own tastes.

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  TAGS:  Mortal Kombat 3   Midway   arcade   1990s games   art in video games  
Video 5
Notes

Apr 17,
2014
Posted 6 days ago

Meet some of the ladies of Miss Puzzle, a sliding tile puzzle game put out by Min Corp in 1994. Like so many of its brethren, the game unfortunately objectifies women, making them the “prize” for good gameplay, but I have to at least give it up for Min Corp for releasing a version of the game that features absolutely no nudity—not even the imprint of a nipple against a too-tight shirt is to be seen here. In addition, the art for the game is quite nice, with the in-game images clearly being scans of physically sketched, inked and colored artworks, as opposed to graphics that are often sloppily edited digitally for a much less-pleasing effect. Each of the 28 different faces first appears as a classy-looking black and white pencil-style sketch when you clear its stage a first time, and then as the full-color version after the next level. There are, oddly enough, also four completely G-rated animal pictures that appear in black and white and then color, leaving a total of 64 stages to puzzle your way through.

Some of the faces here would look right at home on those cards they love to hand out all over the Vegas Strip, but for the most part fhe women appear cheerful and happy, again a nice contrast to the looks of concern and dismay (justifiably so) one can often see in a game of this type. There’s a ROM version of the game out there that shows nude images, but it isn’t supported in the version of MAME I use, and I’m completely okay with that.

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  TAGS:  Miss Puzzle   Min Corp   arcade   1990s games   art in video games  
Video 17
Notes

Apr 16,
2014
Posted 1 week ago

Mazinger Z, part two. You remember how I’m a sucker for blueprints, schematics and technical diagrams in games, right? If not, maybe you didn’t catch my posts on E-SWAT, G-LOC, Xexex, Riding Fight and StarBlade. Defeating all of the stages in Mazinger Z (twice) gives you some blueprint rundowns on your three giant robots, which fans of the series or of robot design may find especially interesting. The side-by-side images (for the Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger models) actually appear on separate screens, but I thought it was a better contrast to put them directly side-by-side here.

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  TAGS:  Mazinger Z   Banpresto   arcade   1990s games   art in video games  
Video 10
Notes

Apr 16,
2014
Posted 1 week ago

Scenes from Mazinger Z, part one. Like all of the other Banpresto games I’ve covered so far, this is another mid-90s licensed anime tie-in. I know even less about the Mazinger Z universe than I do about Macross, In fact, I have never seen a single episode nor read any manga (if any exist) of this series. I can therefore only surmise that it’s the uplifting tale of a mech designer who, after twenty five failures, finally manages to create a machine useful to man. Kind of like the story of WD-40, but with giant robots beating the crap out of each other. Fortunately, the 26th version stuck, because “Mazinger AA” sounds like either a substance abuse program or a brand of battery.

The game itself isn’t bad, although I was surprised by just how powerless my giant robot was. Regardless of which of the three units I selected, unless I was unleashing the limited-use super bombs, I felt like I was flinging rubber bands at my enemies for all the good it did me. And without an attachment to the characters and events portrayed, I was left mostly unsatisfied. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a fan to appreciate the art shown at various points in the game’s attract mode, as demonstrated here. I dig the 70s-inspired robot designs and the various headquarters, which would look right at home in a Godzilla flick.

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  TAGS:  Mazinger Z   Banpresto   arcade   1990s games   art in video games  
Text 2
Notes

Apr 15,
2014
Posted 1 week ago
How do you actually indicate the changes? Click on the screen?

That’s it exactly. You use the joystick to move a cursor around the screen until you locate something on your side which doesn’t match the opposite side (in a two-player game, each player controls and clicks on their own respective side) and then press the button to identify the error, such as in the screen excerpt below where the player on the left has identified that the hilt of the sword does not match between the two pictures. Neither player has yet identified that the “bun” in the female’s hair does not match.

image

Less obvious differences are worth more points, based on size, shape and color. So, the hilt difference above is worth 50 while the hair might only be 15. The colored bars on each player’s side steadily count down and making a wrong “guess” drains it even further, so you can’t spam guesses and you have to be extra careful when the object you’re identifying moves, or during stages where the screen scrolls.

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TAGS: bailesu   Magical Error wo Sagase  
Video 8
Notes

Apr 15,
2014
Posted 1 week ago

Selected scenes from Magical Error wo Sagase (translated as “Find the Magical Error”), a 1994 game about spotting mistakes between two nearly identical pictures, and released by Technosoft of all companies. There are something like half a dozen art styles represented in the game and while they aren’t all to my liking, some of them are quite lovely.

Obviously, these images, without their counterparts, don’t tell you whether or not your powers of perception are up to the task, but rest assured, they are not. The early stages start out easy, with the requirement to locate three obvious changes between pictures. By the end of the game, you’ll be tasked with finding up to five obscure alterations in a very short time period—I actually had to put some of them in Photoshop and contrast them against each other in order to advance. If you want an entirely different kind of challenge, here’s your fix.

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  TAGS:  Magical Error wo Sagase   Technosoft   arcade   1990s games   art in video games  
Video 2
Notes

Apr 14,
2014
Posted 1 week ago

Gameplay snippets from Konami’s 1988 arcade wrestling game, The Main Event. I’m not showcasing this because it’s a great game. It’s not a great game at all. The controls, combat and grappling results are haphazard at best, and the method of pinning an opponent where you have to jam on the buttons in order to secure the pin seems out of place when you’ve pounded them to within an inch of unconsciousness. In “real” wrestling, you pin someone just by laying on them. Sometimes just by touching them with one finger.

The game does have some good points, though. The American version allows you to make a tag team from any of eight different wrestlers, and the game features a nice variety of moves, especially for the time period. You can even fight dirty, like choking, biting or hitting opponents with a steel chair. It’s possible to get all four characters in the ring at once for brawling action, just like in the “real thing.” The game employs a “constaint drain” energy system like Gauntlet or Crime Fighters, which is a bit of a drag, but there otherwise is no time limit on matches, which is nice, especially if four players are going at it with each other.

The Main Event is a jobber up next to others like my favorite, Mat Mania, because the controls make playing against the computer less fun than actually watching the attract mode demo, but it still reminds me of the glory days of cheesy 80s wrestling, which is a huge win regardless of its other shortcomings.

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  TAGS:  The Main Event   Konami   arcade   1980s games  
Text 2
Notes

Apr 13,
2014
Posted 1 week ago

The Week-at-a-Glance

As visitor week two approaches its end, it’s time for a rundown of the games I featured this week—all from the 1980s:

Gladiator (Taito, April 7)
Moon Patrol (Irem, April 8)
Gun.Smoke (Capcom, April 9)
Qix (Taito, April 11)
Green Beret (Konami, April 12)
Journey (Bally Midway, April 13)
City Connection (Jaleco, April 13)

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TAGS: Byte Sized Week at a Glance  
Video 5
Notes

Apr 13,
2014
Posted 1 week ago

Gameplay snippets from City Connection, Jaleco’s 1985 hit. I’ve mentioned this game before and even released a gameplay wallpaper for it. In the convenience store that was located on my route to school in the eighties, this game was next to Gyruss, and when I wasn’t playing that game, I would take a crack at this one. You drive a car pretty much across the entire world, painting the roads that you travel on while dodging other cars (or shooting them with oil barrels and then spinning them off the road) and avoiding stationary obstacles like a rather out-of-place cat with a checkered flag.

As a child, I was enthralled by the variety of locales you could travel to, each with not only their own distinctive background (some of which I could never identify, not even today without the help of the internet) but also unique music, which was generally a variant on the main theme introduced in the first stage. As an adult, I can appreciate technologically how advanced the game was. To be clear, this game isn’t in the same league as Sega’s Space Harrier which came out the same year, but it’s still a cut above a lot of other hits from 1985. City Connection would mark the last time Jaleco was a major contender in the arcades, though, as they would thereafter be left behind by the emergence of Sega, Konami, Capcom, Taito and Namco as the arcade industry’s titans.

As a side note, this game made me want to buy a car just the one in it when I was a kid. Not even to drive it, just to have it. Even today, that car looks awesome. It’s a stylized early 80s Honda City, which is going to be a little tricky to come by. However, there are ultra-small Zip Car models out there that look remarkably like this. Repaint one all in red and you’re ready to cover the city.

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  TAGS:  City Connection   Jaleco   arcade   1990s games