Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Dance Game Review: Feet of Fury

This review was originally published on May 22, 2004, in the first issue of Dream On Magazine.

In 2003, Cryptic Allusion Games made history by releasing the first commercial independent Dreamcast game written with free development libraries.

Feet of Fury is a dancing game that borrows many elements from Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution games. You have a set of arrows that you must follow while keeping your steps to the music. The main difference in Feet of Fury is that the game is focused more on strategy and beating your opponent.

There are power-ups and power-downs on the board. Hitting an arrow that contains an icon may cause the speed of the arrows to slow down or speed up, or it might cause the arrows to reverse direction. Because of this element, the multiplayer mode in Feet of Fury is awesome. Another addition is the health bar. At the end of the round, the person with the most health is the winner. It adds a lot more to this type of game when you have to worry about your opponent hitting you with power-downs, and throwing your feet around on the dance mat like an idiot, all while trying to keep your health bar full.

The single-player mode is no slouch either. There are a good number of songs to play and unlock. Each song has a good tempo to it and fits this type of game really well. There are a number of hidden characters and features to be unlocked, so the game will entertain for hours. When you get sick of all that dancing, you can let your fingers do the dancing with what is in my opinion, the coolest thing to happen to dance games since their invention: The Typing of Fury mode. In this mode, letters fly up onscreen instead of arrows, and you use your Dreamcast keyboard to match the letters to the beat while spelling out words. This mode is very challenging, and surprisingly, very fun.

When you add multiple keyboards to the action for some multiplayer mayhem, you’ll see the pure hilarity that ensues. This is a top-notch addition and is a lot less of a gimmick than you might think. Take your underused keyboards from the attic, and set them up for some furious typing. You won’t regret it.

Good songs, multiplayer battle elements, unlockables, and Typing of Fury make this game a good investment, and an example for future independent developers to follow.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Shareware Platform Game Review: Commander Keen - Invasion of the Vorticons: Marooned on Mars

This review was originally posted at Jupiter Beagle on October 10, 2008.

Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons - Marooned on Mars is a shareware platformer created by Apogee Software, now known as 3D Realms. It is the reason I bought a Super VGA monitor for my DOS computer in the 1990s, and there’s a good reason for it. Commander Keen is one of the best classic platformers, and my number one pick for the game I’d love to see get a re-release on modern consoles.

Marooned on Mars was the first part of Invasion of the Vorticons, a three-part trilogy that was a shareware game by iD Software and published by Apogee. The idea of shareware was that the first episode was free to download and upload from dial-up text-only BBS systems before the World Wide Web, copy, and share with all of your friends. If you enjoyed the game, the rest of the episodes could be purchased by phone or by mail from Apogee, who would mail you the episodes on disk.

The trilogy starred the 8-year-old genius Billy Blaze, who built a spaceship out of household parts. He dons his brother’s football helmet and defends Earth from the forces of evil in the galaxy as Commander Keen. Part one finds Keen marooned on Mars, where he must find various parts for his spaceship so he can make his way back home.

At first, Keen can only jump over creatures or jump on top of the weaker ones. If he tries to hop on a strong creature, Keen loses a life. The weaker creatures are only stunned, and snap out of it momentarily. These weaker creatures just push Keen forward, while the stronger ones kill him on contact. There are hazards on the levels, such as pits, fire, and spikes, which also cause Keen to lose a life upon contact. Once Keen finds a laser gun, he can shoot laser shots until he runs out of ammunition or finds another gun. Located throughout each level are candy treats and soda, as well as things like teddy bears. Collecting these adds to Keen's points, and at certain score levels, Keen receives more lives.

Later on, Keen also finds a Pogo stick, which lets him jump higher when the pogo button is pressed, which can get Keen to higher platforms and collect more treats. Some levels require exploration, as there are doors that can only be opened by finding the correct colored key (a gameplay concept that iD Software will later incorporate into its popular first-person shooting games). The stages in the game become tougher as they go on, with more hazards and stronger and higher concentrations of enemies.

The game sported great graphics at the time for DOS, which were on par with the graphics on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The music, however, is non-existent. The game was made at a time when most PCs did not have sound cards, and sounds came from the PC speaker, which produced pretty terrible sounds. So, there are only bloops and bleeps in here for the jumping and shooting sound effects. These sound effects are not bad though, and the game is engrossing enough that even playing through the game again recently, I didn’t notice the lack of music.

There is a fan-developed interpreter, however, titled Commander Genius, which uses the original data files and adds optional music. This is my favorite way to play, as the music adds a lot to the atmosphere of the game. All and all, Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons - Marooned on Mars is a definite classic. The storyline is interesting, the graphics are nice, and the gameplay is superb.

Final verdict:
4½ out of 5

Monday, October 7, 2019

Platform Game Mega Review: Sonic Adventure

This review was originally posted in the first issue of the Dream On Magazine on May 22, 2004.

This Dreamcast launch title was Sonic the Hedgehog’s first three-dimensional platform game. For the most part, it maintains the speed of his 16-bit adventures, but it hits a few snags along the way.

Sonic Adventure starts out in a city setting, which represents the “adventure” part of the game. There are several buildings that you can choose to go into. This does get a bit tedious, as the stages are contained within the buildings, and are accessed by entering doors within those buildings.

It takes a while to get used to the layout of the entrances, as the camera often pans around you and gives you a different perspective. This can make finding the right entrance difficult at first, as all the doors look alike. Once you get the hang of it, however, it becomes second nature.

You have separate stories that unfold within the main story. Each of these stories is seen through the eyes of characters that you meet within the game. You start out as Sonic, and once you meet another character in the storyline, you can play that character’s story. This is quite a neat concept, even if it’s not a particularly original one. It’s interesting to see the storyline in someone else’s eyes besides Sonic’s for a change. The music is fitting for this game and it is rock-style music as started with the American release of Sonic CD. The voices are fitting for the characters, but the words do not match the mouths of the characters at times. The voice acting is not the best, but it’s acceptable. As for the game mechanics, the Sonic and Tails sections are by far the most fun. This is where you’ll find the trademark Sonic speed you’d expect from the series, with Sonic racing to the end, and Tails flying over certain paths that Sonic can’t reach to beat Sonic to the finish. The speed stays fast throughout the game, but it does come with a few drawbacks.

You can’t fix the camera to stay at a certain angle, so it will often wrap around your character at the most opportune times, meaning you might be rushing around a loop and the camera will pan backward. causing the movement to reverse, and Sonic to plummet to his doom.

This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen enough to become bothersome. While playing I also found certain areas where the collision detection was not properly tested, and you’ll find yourself falling through the floor at times if you’re unlucky. These problems are very minute and happen infrequently.

It’s possible that you might be able to play through the game without encountering any problems at all. The Amy portion has you avoiding Robotnik’s robots, and using a hammer to destroy enemies in your way. The speed isn’t as fast as Sonic’s or Tails, but as a result, the camera and collision detection problems are virtually non-existent, making for a pleasant gaming experience. The E102 portion (Dr. Robotnik’s robot) consists of blasting at enemies with a laser and rolling through to the end in time. These missions are fairly fun, and E102’s story is interesting enough to keep you going. Knuckles’ game consists of digging for emerald shards, over and over again. This can become quite tedious, and unless you’re an avid Sonic series fan, you might find yourself giving up before completing Knuckles’ storyline. As tedious as Knuckles’ portion of the game is, it’s nothing when compared to Big the Cat’s.

Big’s portion consists of fishing for a frog in water pools throughout the stages in the game. One can only assume that Sega was testing its fishing game ideas later seen in Sega Bass Fishing and Sega Marine Fishing when they came up with Big’s storyline. It is fun in those games as it’s expected.

In this game, however, it’s so out of place it’s almost annoying. Only the truly diehard fans will complete Big’s storyline, as once you complete it you are given the chance to play as Metal Sonic. Everyone else will find solace in the Sonic, Tails, Amy, and possibly Knuckles missions, as those are the meat of the game.

Sonic Adventure DX features improved character models and textures, changes in lighting, and improved water effects. It also adds a Chao Garden mode where you can hatch, raise, and race little blue creatures known as Chao. Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut keeps all of the improvements but increases the resolution and fixes some bugs.

The music is excellent, and the voices are tolerable. The Sonic and Tails storylines are a blast, but the camera and collision detection problems detract from the enjoyment. These problems persist in all versions, unfortunately, so which version you choose is a matter of which system you own as well as individual taste. The other storylines are more of a filler, as they aren’t nearly as fun as the Sonic or Tails portions. Big’s storyline is a big letdown. Fishing does not work in a Sonic the Hedgehog game. The game is worth the purchase for the Sonic and Tails portions. Only diehard fans will complete the rest of the game.

Final Rating:

3½ out of 5

Sunday, October 6, 2019

System Review: NES Classic Edition, Famicom Mini, and Shonen Jump Famicom Mini

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on December 7, 2018.

Nintendo didn’t start the idea of the mini-console revival of classic systems. Atari and AtGames have been releasing their own mini-consoles for years. Nintendo did manage to turn the practice around. These were once seen as niche novelties, but they are now big business, with Sony and Konami also joining the trend.

I'll look at each of the mini-consoles available from Nintendo, Sony, and Konami, but first, let's look at Nintendo’s first Classic Edition offering, the miniaturized version of its classic 80s console, the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The system runs on an Allwinner R16 system on a chip. It has a 1.2 gigahertz quad-core Cortex-A7 central processing unit, a 500 megahertz dual-core Mali-400 ARM graphics processing unit, 256 megabytes of random access memory, and 512 megabytes of Flash storage.

This is obviously more powerful than the 1.79 MHz CPU on the original NES, so the games, powered by an emulator created in-house by Nintendo European Research & Development, run silky smooth. They are also much crisper than the original, as they are output at full high definition, but there is a cathode ray tube filter available in the options for purists.

The menu is easy to navigate, and looks clean and professional, as expected with a Nintendo product. Unlike the later Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition, the NES Classic Edition only includes one controller, a faithful remake of the original blocky NES controller. The controller has a Nintendo Classic Controller port, so this controller can also be used with a SNES Classic Edition, or a Wii or Wii U. The controller cable included is also really short, but extension cables and additional controllers are also available to purchase.

Both the North American and European/Oceania versions contain the same 30 built-in games. They include a great variety of genres and include classics spanning the entirety of the original lifespan of the NES. The games include Balloon Fight, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Donkey Kong (strangely the version included is the original 1983 port that lacked the factory level instead of the 2012 release, Donkey Kong: Original Edition, which included this level as well as the animation of Donkey Kong carrying Pauline between stages), Donkey Kong Jr., Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Dr. Mario, Excitebike, Final Fantasy, Galaga, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Gradius, Ice Climber, Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventure, The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros., Mega Man 2, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Pac-Man, Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream, StarTropics, Solomon’s Key, Super C, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, Tecmo Bowl, and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link.

There are two Japanese versions, which are the regular Famicom Mini and the Weekly Shonen Jump 50th Anniversary version. The Weekly Shonen Jump version is gold. Both contain built-in controllers as did the original Famicom. Otherwise, the hardware specifications on both of these are the same as the NES versions, but the games differ slightly on the regular version and significantly on the other.

The regular Famicom mini contains Balloon Fight, Bumping Sumo, Castlevania, Donkey Kong (the 1983 port that lacked the factory level), Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Downtown Nekketsu March: Let's Go to the Great Athletic Meet (later released in English as Downtown Nekketsu March: Super Awesome Field Day! in the Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun Retro Brawler Bundle), Dr. Mario, Excitebike, Final Fantasy III, Galaga, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Gradius, Ice Climber, Kirby’s Adventure, The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros., Mega Man 2, Metroid, The Mystery of Atlantis, NES Tournament Golf, Ninja Gaiden, Pac-Man, Super CSuper Mario Bros.Super Mario Bros. 2 (released as Super Mario USA in Japan), Super Mario Bros. 3, Yie Ar Kung Fu, and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link.

The Weekly Shonen Jump Famicom Mini version contains games based on the manga that appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump, with the exception of Dragon Quest. The games included Captain Tsubasa (released as Tecmo Cup Soccer Game in North America and Tecmo Cup Football Game in Europe), Captain Tsubasa Vol. II: Super Striker, Dark Myth: The Legend of Takeru Yamato, Heaven and Earth (released as Destiny of an Emperor in North America), Dragon Ball: Shenlong's Riddle (released in North America as Dragon Power and in France as Dragon Ball: The Secret of the Dragon), Dragon Ball 3: Goku's Story, Dragon Ball Z: Assault of the Saiyans, Dragon Quest (released in North America as Dragon Warrior), Famicom Jump: Heroes History, Famicom Jump II: The Strongest Seven, Fist of the North Star, Fist of the North Star 3 - The Creator of the New Century: History of the Dreaded Fist, Kinnikuman: Muscle Tag Match (released in North America as Tag Team Match: MUSCLE), Kinnikuman: Struggle for the Throne, Magical Taluluto: Fantastic World!!, Red Dragon King, Rokudenashi Blues, Saint Saya: Golden Legend (released in France as The Knights of the Zodiac: The Golden Legend), Saint Saya: Golden Legend - Final Chapter, and Sakigake!! Men's Private School: Game No. 1.

The regular versions contain the best selection of games, but the Weekly Famicom Jump version may be worth the price if you can read Japanese and enjoy the included selection of games based on various manga, or simply for the collector's value as the gold system does look nice. However, suffice it to say, whatever you choose it is well worth spending if you or someone you love is a fan of retro games.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Arcade Maze Game Review: Pac-Man

This review was originally posted at Jupiter Beagle on September 28, 2008.

Pac-Man is a true classic. Pac-Man’s pizza-bodied visage is often used as an icon for gaming itself. Everyone has probably played Pac-Man at some point in their life, or if they haven't they at least know about it.

The premise is simple. You control a round yellow dot with no eyes and a mouth that is constantly opening and closing. You have to navigate a maze and eat all of the round pellets on the board while avoiding the four ghosts who are constantly roaming the board looking for a Pac snack to eat. You can turn the tables on the ghosts by eating one of the four large power pellets. This causes the ghosts to temporarily turn blue. Now, the ghosts run away from you and you are able to eat them before the large dot’s effects wear off. 

In the original Pac-Man, many of the enhancements that Ms. Pac-Man brought to the table are not present. The layout of the mazes never changes and the food items that you can eat in each stage after collecting a certain amount of points always remain at the center of the maze. The emulated versions from the Xbox 360 onward are my favorite way to play the game. 

All of the addictiveness of Pac-Man is there as most emulated versions use the true arcade version of Pac-Man. Thus, all of the tricks that can be pulled off in the arcade version can be pulled off in these versions. For anyone who loves Pac-Man but isn’t too good at it, there are tricks in the emulated versions that are not present in the originals. In some emulated versions, you can start from any stage in the game after you complete it once, and in other emulated versions you can rewind a mistake to try it again. 

Arcade purists may not like the fact that these emulated versions often have unlimited continues, but there were versions of Pac-Man in the arcades that had unlimited continues as well. In the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Class of 1981 arcade game, Pac-Man can be unlocked by entering up, up ,up, down, down, down, left, right, left, right, left at the game selection screen and then choosing Ms. Pac-Man after hearing a series of dings letting the player know the code was inserted correctly. This version allows unlimited continues as well. The only difference is you have to enter a quarter every time you wish to continue. 

On the subject of achievements in the latest console versions, Pac-Man typically has plenty. In the Xbox 360 version, each fruit or item in the mazes gives you another achievement. If you go for all of them, you will be able to see each of the game’s cutscenes, which were one of the main draws of the game in the arcades when it first came out. The cutscene music is so catchy that it’s sure to stay in your head for quite some time. There are only three cutscenes in the original Pac-Man, and they all show the comeuppance of the ghosts in various humorous ways. 

There are three achievements in the Xbox 360 version, in particular, that are a little more challenging. One requires you to eat all four ghosts in the stage, while the other, harder, achievement requires you to eat all four ghosts all four times in one stage. The latter is quite hard, and all but the most diehard Pac-Man fan should find this one a challenge. 

The other difficult challenge in the Xbox 360 version requires you to get to level 21. After you get to a certain point in the game, the large dots no longer turn the ghosts blue, and the ghosts merely turn around when you eat it. Thankfully the feature offering unlimited continues is there for those of us without super Pac-prowess, so it’s not an impossible task. 

In the end, the decision of whether to play Pac-Man rests on how much you like arcade maze games. Though, if you do, I’d say it’s worth the play even if you are a casual fan of the genre. 

Final Verdict: 
4 out of 5

Friday, October 4, 2019

Platform Game Mega Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

This review was originally posted at Jupiter Beagle on October 2, 2008. A note about Sonic Origins was added on October 1, 2022

Sonic the Hedgehog brought speed to a genre that was previously all about exploration. The levels are laid out well enough so that exploration is still possible, but the game is built with the intention to run through courses at breakneck speed. Going into a roll by pressing down while running causes Sonic to go faster through loops and down hills. Sonic’s speed can be magnified by obtaining a shoe powerup, which increases Sonic’s moving speed exponentially. Sonic attacks enemies by rolling into them or jumping on top of them while in a roll. He will lose rings whenever he touches an enemy. However, there is no health meter in this game. Sonic’s health is gauged by the rings he carries. As long as Sonic holds at least one ring. As with the Super Mario Bros. series, 100 rings give you a bonus life. There are also invincible power-ups, much like Mario’s stars that make Sonic impervious to attack for a short period of time.

In most versions of the game, the lack of the spin dash that was introduced in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is definitely noticed. However, there are some versions of Sonic the Hedgehog that have a spin dash, which helps a lot. No matter the version of the game, Sonic the Hedgehog still has my favorite levels of any Sonic game I’ve played. The layouts of the levels are very important in a platformer, and the level design of Sonic the Hedgehog is top-notch. There are several zones in the game, and most zones have 3 levels, with the third level being a boss battle against Sonic’s enemy Dr. Robotnik in one of his robotic contraptions. 

The bonus stages in this game are a little weird compared to later games in the series. Here, Sonic enters a bonus stage through a large ring whenever he has at least 50 rings when he reaches the end of the stage. In the bonus stage, Sonic is in a constant spin, and so is the bonus stage board. You have to guide Sonic to the chaos emerald in each stage, which is surrounded by breakable crystals. You also must avoid red exit markers that will end the bonus round immediately. When all 6 chaos emeralds are collected, the player will get the “good ending” upon completing the game.

Sonic the Hedgehog was released on a lot of systems. The game is just about equal on each system, other than control issues due to the limitations of some systems. The newer releases have savestates, or in some cases, save points where the game is automatically saved at the start of each level. This ability to save is a feature that is greatly appreciated for this game. In the original, you had to restart the game completely if you run out of lives and continues. The game also had to be restarted if somehow the power on the Sega Genesis game console was turned off. It’s nice to not worry about leaving the console on to take a break from the game for a while. 

Sonic the Hedgehog on the Xbox 360 is one of my favorite versions. The game is presented well. The sound emulation is well done. The music is faithful to the original, and the sound effects sound good. There are many options for the graphics display. The default setup has the screen at the original aspect ratio with blue borders around the screen where the television screen size surpasses the game’s resolution. The blue borders really stand out and made me sick while playing. Thankfully, these blue borders (called wallpaper by the game) can be turned off, and the borders will be plain black. Even better, in my opinion, is the option to stretch the screen to match the size of your television. There is also an option to smooth the graphics. The smoothing and screen stretching is my favorite combination. This makes Sonic the Hedgehog look wonderful on an HDTV.

In modern versions, most achievements in Sonic the Hedgehog are quite evenly paced. There are quite a few easy achievements, which are given for completing the game’s zones. There are also a few harder accomplishments, such as completing a level (as well as one for the entire game) in a certain amount of time. Other accomplishments seem hard, but with the save state system, even the achievement to complete the game without dying can be completed easily. There is nothing stopping Sonic fans from trying these accomplishments without saving and loading, however.

Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the best pure platformers. If you are a Sonic fan or a platformer fan, you owe it to yourself to try this one out.

Addendum: Tails and Knuckles are additional playable characters in the 2011 remake for Android and iOS as well as the 2022 Sonic Origins compilation for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. The Sonic Origins remake has a spin dash as well as a slightly modified drop dash from Sonic Mania that does not allow a change in direction before hitting the ground. It also has the ability to play the game in high definition without a status bar. In the high-definition mode, there are no lives, so the player can play without having to worry about having enough continues. 

Update March 23, 2022: Sonic Origins will be getting an expansion called Sonic Origins Plus. It will be released as a full game and as downloadable content for the original compilation on June 23, 2023. This version includes Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles as playable characters. It also will add Amy Rose, with animations based on her appearance in Sonic CD, as a playable character. As this is the latest version of the remake, this will be my preferred way to play this game.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5

Visual Novel Review: Detective Pikachu

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on February 15, 2019.

Detective Pikachu is a spin-off from the very popular Pokémon series.  A shorter, download-only version of the game, titled Great Detective Pikachu: Birth of a New Duo, was released in 2016 only in Japan. The full game was released worldwide in 2018.

The game stars a boy named Tim Goodman, who is looking for his father Harry, the latter of whom was in a car accident two months prior and vanished mysteriously. He meets his father's Pikachu, who is confused. The same incident that caused Harry to mysteriously disappear also changed Harry's Pikachu. Now, he has the ability to be a capable detective at the cost of his ability to conduct electricity. He also no longer acts like a normal Pikachu, as he has developed quirks such as eating sweets and drinking coffee.

Tim discovers that he can communicate with Harry's Pikachu, who talks to him in a gruff voice. Since both of them want to find out what happened to Harry, Harry's Pikachu, using the deerstalker cap Harry gave him as inspiration, declares that he will help Tim out as the "Great Detective Pikachu". Interestingly, the duo discovers that Harry's Pikachu cannot talk to other humans, and Tim cannot talk to other pokémon, including other Pikachus.

However, Harry's Pikachu can talk to other pokémon, which is helpful since pokémon sometimes see things that humans do not. Tim and Pikachu have to talk to everyone they meet, gaining useful information. They have to use that information to gain new lines of questioning and to collect evidence.

Overall, it's a straightforward game that's aimed at children, but the mystery surrounding Tim's father's disappearance and the sudden change in Detective Pikachu's behavior help keeps players motivated throughout. Plus, the deep-voiced voice actor of Detective Pikachu, as well as the contrasting cute animations, keeps it entertaining. After the movie, people will probably be expecting Ryan Reynolds as Detective Pikachu, but it's still worth checking out to see from where the ideas for the film were generated.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Point and Click Adventure Review: Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space - Moai Better Blues

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on March 2, 2019.

The second episode of the second season of Telltale's Sam & Max series takes the weird and wacky and rolls with it, creating a memorable episode with equally memorable characters and situations.

This episode takes Sam and Max to Easter Island where they meet arguably the weirdest set of new characters seen up to this point in Telltale's take on the duo. Of course, oddness usually equals goodness in the world of the Freelance Police, and that is certainly the case here. The new characters are presented, scripted, and voiced excellently. There are also some characters who return from Season One, and their interactions with the new characters are some of the best and most memorable parts of this episode. Plus, this is the episode that gave us Banang, which became a recurring gag in Telltale's games right up to their unfortunate majority closure and assignment in 2018.

The puzzles are equally as memorable and are among the best of Telltale's games up to this point. They are strange but have a weird logic to them that oddly works in the twisted world of Sam & Max. The portal puzzles remain one of my favorites throughout the entirety of Sam & Max. They took a while to figure out, but once I put my mind to the strangeness of the world, I figured them out right away. I've loved them for their weirdness ever since.

Jared Emerson-Johnson and Bay Area Sound are also at the top of their game in this episode. The island setting allows them to get their groove on, with a mix of tropical island beats and the jazz undertones that the series has always been known for, going right back to the original LucasArts adventure game. The voice work is also top-notch, with both the returning and new cast delivering some of the best performances so far.

This episode is an excellent example of a Telltale at the top of its adventure game-making powers. It's a fun, and funny episode, with excellent music, excellent music, and excellent puzzles. It's well worth a play for anyone who is even remotely curious about Telltale's earlier adventure games.

Update March 16, 2023: There is now another way to play the game. Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space Remastered by Skunkape games does update the game to the latest version of the Telltale Tool. It also has improved lighting, high-definition graphics, and a remade title song. Because of changing views on various culture-related issues, Bosco has a new voice actor. Because the new Bosco fits the game well, and the script changes are minor, this is now my favorite way to play the game.
Final Verdict:

5 out of 5

Episode 1 reviewEpisode 3 review

Arcade Platform Game Review: Donkey Kong Junior

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on December 19, 2018.

Donkey Kong Junior is the first game that pits Mario as an enemy to the player character. The latter is the titular Donkey Kong Jr., who must rescue his father from Mario, who has caged the gorilla due to his repeated attempts to steal Mario’s girlfriend in the previous game.

As this game stars a primate, there is a lot of climbing involved. Donkey Kong Jr. must climb up vines, ropes, and chains while avoiding the obstacles Mario sends after him such as crocodiles and electrical sparks. He will climb slowly when transcending a single vine, but if he climbs two at once, he will move faster.

The level design is quite well made in this game. It’s still a single screen, like its predecessor, but there are now much more varied obstacles than before, including trampolines and chains that raise and drop in height. Because of this level of variety, I recommend this game even more than the original.

Like the first game, Donkey Kong Junior was ported to many different systems, including the Atari 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision, Atari 8-bit computers, Nintendo Entertainment System, BBC Micro, Commodore-64, VIC-20, Coleco Adam, Famicom Disk System, and Atari 7800.

Also like the first game, outside of the original arcade version, the NES version was the most accurate of the versions. This version was emulated on the Nintendo 64 (in Animal Forest), e-Reader, Game Boy Advance, GameCube (in Animal Crossing), Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Famicom Mini, and the NES Classic Edition.

The game is a classic that deserves to be played by everyone. The best version remains the original arcade release, which was finally officially emulated in its entirety by Hamster as part of its Arcade Archives line on the Nintendo Switch on December 21, 2018.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Adventure Game Review: Hector: We Negotiate With Terrorists

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on February 22, 2019.

Straandlooper's first episode of Hector: Badge of Carnage was originally released without Telltale's involvement for iOS, after which Telltale got the publishing rights, ported it to other platforms and helped make the other two episodes in the season.  Even without Telltale's involvement, however, the first episode still has plenty to make it worth playing.

The game is a raunchy comedy game, set in an English town called Clappers Wreake. That sentence alone sets the tone of the episode, as there are innuendos everywhere, plenty of taboo subject matter, with a dark, distinctly British sense of humor aplenty. The game follows a crooked cop named Hector and his naive partner, as they attempt to stop a terrorist and rescue the hostages. The episode title is perfectly succinct, as Hector will negotiate with the terrorist to satisfy all of his twisted demands.

The game is presented as a classic two-dimensional point-and-click adventure, and there are plenty of inventory puzzles to work out.  Some of them go to weird (and sometimes unsettling) lengths, but they all fit within the tone of the game. The voices are all performed by one person, which is amazing, as they are all very memorable.  The music isn't quite as memorable, but it does fit the tone of the game nicely.

The first episode is mostly a setup for future episodes in terms of story, as it's mainly a fetch quest to fulfill the needs of a terrorist. Once Telltale becomes involved the story begins to shine, but this first independently produced episode still has a lot to offer and is a necessity if you want to enjoy the full story. If you enjoy raunchy British-style comedy, you'll likely enjoy this game.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

Arcade Platform Game Review: Donkey Kong

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on December 8, 2018.

Donkey Kong was the first game designed by Shigeru Miyamoto. Nintendo of America had many unsold Radar Scope arcade games and asked for a new game that could be shipped as a conversion kit for those cabinets. Nintendo asked its designers for game ideas, and the idea by Miyamoto (who had previously designed the case for the Color TV-Game Block Breaker console) was chosen.

The original concept was to be based on Popeye, but Nintendo couldn’t acquire the rights at the time. So, the broad character types were given to new characters. Popeye the Sailor became a carpenter, Bluto became the carpenter’s pet gorilla, and Olive Oyl became the carpenter’s girlfriend.

The carpenter was originally named Ossan (a nickname for a middle-aged guy), then Mr. Video, as Shigeru Miyamoto intended him to be an everyman character to use in any game that he created. When Donkey Kong was released, he was named Jumpman for the Japanese release of Donkey Kong, and Mario for the North American release. This name, as well as Mario’s Italian-American heritage, came from a man named Mario Segale. He was the landlord of a warehouse which was rented at the time by Nintendo of America.

Mario’s pet gorilla was named Donkey Kong, chosen because the designers wanted to signify that he was a dimwitted creature. In 1984, Universal sued Nintendo over the name, which they claimed infringed on their “King Kong” trademark, but Nintendo won the case as their lawyer, and future chairman, Howard Lincoln, noted that Universal themselves proved that the plot of “King Kong” was in the public domain in a court case against RKO Pictures in 1976.

Mario’s girlfriend was named Lady for the Japanese release of Donkey Kong, and Pauline for the North American release. This name came is said to come from a woman named Polly James, who was the wife of Don James, the warehouse manager at Nintendo of America.

Mario’s trademark hat, overalls, and mustache were designed to overcome the limitations of the hardware of the time. This design made it easy to distinguish his arm and leg movement, as well as his face. It also gave the game a unique aesthetic compared to the other games of the time period.

The object of the game is to have Mario climb platforms in order to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong. Mario must dodge the barrels thrown by Donkey Kong, as well as other obstacles in the way. Once Mario completes a stage, Donkey Kong will carry Pauline off to the next stage. Each stage is presented in meters, with the game asking Mario how high he’ll be able to get. The four stages are named by height: 25m, 50m, 75m, and 100m. Once 100m is completed, Mario will reunite with Pauline, only for Donkey Kong to kidnap her again and the game will repeat the four levels again. Like other arcade games of the time, the game gets harder as it goes on and the object is to get the highest score.

The game was ported to many systems, including the Atari 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision, Atari 8-bit computers, Nintendo Entertainment System, TI-99/4a, IBM PC, Commodore-64, VIC-20, MSX, ZX-Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Coleco Adam, Famicom Disk System, and Atari 7800.

Outside of the original arcade version, the NES version was the most accurate of the versions, except for the missing 50m, or factory stage. This version was emulated on the Nintendo 64 (in Animal Forest), e-Reader, Game Boy Advance, GameCube (in Animal Crossing), Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Famicom Mini, and the NES Classic Edition.

A more arcade-accurate version for the NES called “Donkey Kong: Original Edition” was released in 2010 for Wii in Europe pre-installed on red Mario 25th anniversary Wii consoles. It was later released on 3DS in 2012.

The game remains a classic and is worth playing even today. The best version remains the original arcade release, which was finally emulated in its entirety by Hamster as part of its Arcade Archives line on the Nintendo Switch on August 16, 2018.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5
Donkey Kong Junior review

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Open World Action-Adventure Mega Review: Shenmue

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on February 21, 2019.

Shenmue is undoubtedly an influential title in the history of video game development but, while it still does mostly hold up decades after its original release, it's bogged down by a few things that have been refined in later titles.

Shenmue was created by Sega designer Yu Suzuki to address problems that he saw in the role-playing genre in the 1990s, in order to create a game that would feel more realistic than what came before. He coined a new term for the genre of the game he created, FREE, or Free Reactive Eyes Entertainment. It combined aspects of role-playing games, graphic adventure games, and even fighting games using the Virtua Fighter 3 engine.

The game follows a seventeen-year-old Japanese boy named Ryo Hazuki, who witnesses the murder of his father by a mysterious man named Lan Di, who claims that he was seeking vengeance, as the elder Hazuki had murdered his own father. Not believing that his father could be a killer, and wishing to seek vengeance himself for his father's death, Ryo begins asking around his home city of Yokosuka, Japan, in an attempt to discover where Lan Di was from, and where he had headed after he murdered Ryo's dad.

The painstaking detail in the recreation of 1986-era Yokosuka is Shenmue's greatest strength. Even the weather patterns match up with the real weather in the city in 1986. The attention to detail extends to the characters as well.  Every non-player character can talk to Ryo. Every business with an hour of operation sign can be entered when the business is open. The city even includes an arcade that contains the classic 1980s arcade games created by Yu Suzuki, Hang-On, and Space Harrier. Bars, stores, and other buildings also let Ryo collect gatcha capsule toys, play billiards and darts, and try his luck at pachinko. These are side activities that Ryo can play when not furthering the main story, however, there are also scrolls that can be purchased to give Ryo new moves that he can use in the fighting sections of the game.

The game has a lot going for it, as it has an interesting cast of characters, an interesting story, and wonderful music, and it contains an interesting combination of adventure and fighting mechanics. It looked fantastic when it first released in 1999 and still looks decent today, especially in the recent Shenmue I+II compilation.

However, its biggest drawback has always been the English voice acting. It is dreadfully wooden and is a bear to drudge through. Luckily, the aforementioned Shenmue I+II collection includes the ability to combine the Japanese voice actors with the English script. This makes the game quite enjoyable and well worth playing, as long as you don't mind the outdated tank controls and the slow-paced gameplay in comparison to modern open-world games.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Arcade Platform Game Review: Mario Bros.

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on December 15, 2018.

Mario Bros. was the first game to feature Mario's brother Luigi and the first to feature the titular duo as the first and second player.

The game sees Mario shed his carpenter profession and join his brother Luigi in life as a plumber, heading into the sewers of New York City to eliminate all creatures that come through the pipes. The game has two-player cooperative play as both brothers try to take out the creatures together. Unlike the later Super Mario Bros. games, the creatures have to be knocked from below, which will flip them over.  Trying to step on them while they aren't flipped over will result in the loss of one life. The flipped-over enemies have to be knocked off the playfield into the water below by kicking them before they flip back over.

The creatures start off easy, with the shellcreeper turtles, which require only one hit to flip them. The game gets progressively harder, as enemies that require multiple hits, enemies that fly, obstacles that cause ice to form on the ground making things slippery, and many more enemies and obstacles, try to stop the brothers from performing their task.

To ease things a little bit, there is also a POW block in the middle of the stage, which will automatically cause one hit to every enemy that is touching the ground. However, this POW block can only be used three times during a game before it is used up forever.

Like Donkey Kong before it, the game has been released on many different platforms, including Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Apple II, Commodore-64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari 7800, and Atari 8-bit computers.

The NES version was emulated on the Nintendo 64 (in Animal Forest), e-Reader for Game Boy Advance, GameCube (in Animal Crossing), Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Famicom MiniNES Classic Edition, and the Nintendo Switch legacy games online service. The gameplay was also included as a mini-game in Super Mario Bros. 3, and a Super Mario All-Stars-style remake was released with the Super Mario Advance games for the Game Boy Advance.

The arcade original is the best version of Mario Bros., and it was finally emulated in its entirety by Hamster as part of its Arcade Archives line on the Nintendo Switch on September 27, 2019. Hamster's Switch version is the way to go as it also includes online multiplayer co-op gameplay.

Rad Is Out Now

Rad, Double Fine's post-post-apocalyptic rogue-like was released on August 20th for Windows, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. It's the last game to be published by a publisher other than Microsoft due to the studio's assimilation into the Xbox Games group of companies earlier this year.

I'll have a full review for it soon-ish, but I played the beta, and I can safely say that the game lives up to its name as it really is rad.