Friday, March 31, 2023

For Trans Day of Visibility, Here's a Review of a Shoot 'Em Up Arcade Game By Arcade Pioneer and transwoman, Jamie Fenton: Gorf

Gorf is a shoot 'em up arcade game by Midway Manufacturing that was designed by Jamie Fenton. It is one of the first, if not the first. games developed by a transgender woman. Gorf uses a lot from previous games in the genre, yet manages to remain a unique game on its own.

It contains five distinct phases. The first, Astro Battles, is based on Space Invaders. The second phase, Laser Attack, has dive-bombing ships, a ship that fires a single laser beam, and the Gorf robot. The third phase is named Galaxians and is obviously based on Galaxian, with ships in a formation similar to Space Invaders and ships that dive bomb at the player ship. The fourth, Space Warp, takes place in a wormhole where enemies fly out from the center of the screen and attempt to destroy the player's ship. The fifth, Flag Ship, is a battle against the enemy ship where a force field has to be broken before the floor of the flagship is shot through.

The game loops the five phases through six space ranks, each with increasing speed and additional enemy patterns. The ranks include Space Cadet, Space Captain, Space Colonel, Space General, Space Warrior, and Space Avenger. Once the five phases in Space Avenger are completed, the game remains on that rank but continues the loop.

Like other games of the time, such as Q-Bert, the sound effects are minimal but are amplified by the use of a synthesized voice. Like Q-Bert's backward speech, it is used here in a humorous manner. The voice will make insults and will make it feel targeted towards the player as it will say the current space rank as part of that insult.

Gorf is a game that is important to video game history for who made it, as Jamie Fenton was one of the first transgender female game designers. It was popular in its time, but it hasn't remained at the forefront of gaming history as the games that inspired it. This is a shame, as it is a fantastic game that has very different gameplay styles in each of the five phases. If you get a chance to play it, make sure to give this fantastic piece of arcade game history a try.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Sega Kills Sonic In A Visual Novel For April Fools' Day

These are the April Fools' Day jokes I love! Sega has actually released a real, free, graphic novel for April Fools' Day titled The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog.

You can grab it from Steam right now.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Arcade Table Tennis Game Mega Review: Pong

Pong wasn't the first video game nor was it the first arcade game, but it was the first game to jumpstart the craze that created the worldwide video game market.

Pong is not an original concept, both in the fact that it was simply a video game version of two-player table tennis, and also in the fact that the idea spawned from a May 1972 demonstration of video game table tennis created by Ralph Baer.

That demonstration of the ITL2000, a console better known as the Magnavox Odyssey, was attended by Nolan Bushnell, the co-founder of Atari. Bushnell took the general idea with him and tasked Allan Alcorn with developing a game based on what he witnessed.

Pong kept the basics of the square representing the ball, the middle line representing the net, and the score counter. However, Pong changed from Baer's Table Tennis in two main ways that arguably made the game more playable for mainstream audiences. Whereas in Table Tennis, the ball would be out when it went past the vertical gamespace, as in real-life Table Tennis, Pong would bounce the ball back, more akin to air hockey. In addition, Baer's game had the option to give the ball some English, which is slang for giving hitting the ball to give it a bit of a curve. Alcorn's Pong simply had the game bounce directly off the paddle.

Thus, this simple black and white game with a simple beep sound effect when the ball bounced, was tested as a coin-operated machine. It became a huge hit, leading to more arcade clones of Pong by Atari and other companies, a home console by Atari, home console versions of Atari's Pong clones, and even more console versions of Pong clones by other companies.

Today, Pong is not even a shred as impressive as it was when it was released. But, there is no denying that it made a mark not just on the video game industry, but in worldwide pop culture as a whole. It still can be fun to play in short bursts, as it's essentially black-and-white air hockey without the drag from the air, and air hockey never will become not fun.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Open World Third-Person Shooter Review: Yakuza - Dead Souls

Yakuza: Dead Souls, known as Like a Dragon: Of the End in Japan, was a third-person zombie shooter spin-off of the Like a Dragon series, which was formerly known as the Yakuza series in the West.

It is a weird premise, as the Like a Dragon series has always been as much about visiting shops and talking to wacky people to open up even wackier sidequests as it is about yakuza drama. A zombie apocalypse doesn't seem like it could fit in that mold. But, as Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise would show years later, an apocalypse doesn't slow down business much. Shoppers gonna shop.

As a matter of fact, the premise actually plays to the game's benefit. Because people aren't exactly beholden to yakuza alliances when faced with a zombie horde, that allowed two yakuza from feuding factions to enter the mix. The Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu, and the Lifeline of Kamurocho, Shun Akiyama from Yakuza 4 are back as protagonists. But they are joined by the Mad Dog of Shimano, Goro Majima, and the Dragon of Kansai, Ryuji Goda. The former is Kiryu's frequent series rival, while the latter was the villain of Yakuza 2.

Ryuji Goda survived his fight with Kiryu at the end of the game, causing him to be kicked out of the Omi Alliance. Somewhere along the line, he gets equipped with a metallic arm that transforms into a machine gun and becomes an apprentice to an elderly takoyaki cook. That pretty much sets up the tone of the game, which plays into the campiness more than any other game set in the Like a Dragon universe.

No one screams campiness more than Goro Majima, and Sega CS1 definitely had fun with his character here. It contains the funniest Majima scenes in the entire extended series, and that's saying a lot. This is the guy who randomly slammed his head on a desk to start an elevator after all.

It also has some really crazy sidequests, including one that even included Karens a decade before the COVID-19 pandemic brought those crazy entitled women into our real lives as well. On that subject, it was definitely surreal playing this during a global pandemic. What probably seemed silly in 2011 was extremely real when played today. There were people who refused to shut down their shops even though the evidence of the virus was right outside their door, the aforementioned Karens, and a woman who wore her medical mask on her chin instead of covering her nose and mouth.

The game begins with an open Kamurocho, but as the game continues, more and more of the city will be quarantined off in an attempt to keep the zombie virus away from the main populous. It is possible to enter the quarantined zones, which is necessary at some points to complete the main story, finish sidequests, and get businesses to reopen. In the case of the latter, the manager has you clear out the horde of zombies and monsters right outside the door. After that, the business will reopen and will remain open.

The shooting, which is the main gameplay mechanic, is unfortunately a little wonky. It takes a while to get used to the aiming and shooting mechanic, but, it becomes easier to use after trial and error. There are several different types of monsters, from zombies to screaming undead women who will bring more in zombies, to faceless wall-crawlers, and to big giant bosses. A lot of these enemies are really similar to those found in Capcom's Resident Evil games as well as Sega's own House of the Dead series.

Yakuza: Dead Souls is a fun spin-off of Sega's now-popular Like a Dragon series. The playable characters are fun, especially the always hilarious Goro Majima who has some of his funniest scenes ever in this game. The storyline is suitably campy, with crazy experiments and a former top yakuza turned takoyaki cook. This is probably the only game in the extended Like a Dragon universe where I'm not sure if the main story or the sidequests are funnier, and that's a good thing since playing into its campiness is by far the game's best strength. The shooting mechanic is a little wonky and takes a while to get used to, but the rest of the game more than makes up for it.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Yakuza 4 reviewYakuza 5 Review

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Arcade Beat 'Em Up Review: Battletoads

Battletoads was tough as nails on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but by the time the toads came to arcades, their game became a lot more balanced and a lot more fun.

The game was developed by Rare, but it plays a lot like a Konami arcade beat 'em up such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time. This is fitting considering Battletoads originated as a Ninja Turtles homage.

Battletoads has nice, large detailed sprites for both the toads and the enemies. It also has some fun with the format by having the enemies occasionally thrown toward the screen when defeated.

Like many beat 'em up games, to shake things up a bit from the usual walking and beating up of enemies, there is also an elevator level with the stage moving vertically as the enemies come in from the sides.

The game is not any more difficult than a Konami beat 'em up. It can be played through to the end easily since adding a credit continues right where the game left off. In the era of emulation that won't cost you a large chunk of quarters to do so.

Battletoads is a fun, colorful beat 'em up arcade game. The game isn't punishing like the console game of the same name, as it plays a lot like a Konami arcade beat 'em up. It's a shame that this one isn't as remembered as the console Battletoads, but its inclusion in the Rare Replay compilation at least makes it easily available to players new and old.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Monday, March 27, 2023

Creature Collecting Gardening Game Review: Viva Piñata

Viva Piñata was a creature collecting gardening video game by Rare, featuring animals represented by colorful piñatas, that was published by Microsoft Game Studios.

It was originally developed as a gardening game for mobile devices but shifted to a console game after the Microsoft acquisition of Rare.

The game uses that gardening simulation as a base, as the player has to plow the garden, plant seeds, and create ponds. The main draw of the game is what happens when the garden grows. If conditions are met, a silhouette of a creature will visit the garden. If more conditions are met, that creature will become a colorful piñata creature that will join your garden.

Thus, the goal is not just to grow a garden with ponds and plants, but to collect piñatas as well. It takes a while to collect them all, but it is a very calming and peaceful game with cute designs for the piñatas. 

It is a unique game so, like games such as Nights into Dreams, it might take a few plays until you discover whether this game is your cup of tea. It took me two consoles to discover I really enjoy it. I first played it on the Xbox 360 but stopped playing it after a while. After I played it on Xbox One due to its inclusion in Rare Replay, I discovered that I actually enjoy it quite a lot.

Viva Piñata is a hard game to judge, as it is one of those unique games that you either hate or you love. It has a relaxing game design and the piñatas are adorable. It also does what it says on the tin. You grow plants in a garden and attract various piñatas. However, it is a slow-moving game that doesn't involve much beyond farming. If that's your cup of tea, it is a fantastic game since it takes the usual farming mechanic and adds a creature collection aspect on top of it. However, if you aren't into farming games, it's a game that likely isn't going to be for you.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Arcade Brick-Breaking Game Review: Breakout

Sometimes a game comes along and gives birth to a new subgenre that becomes named after that game. Adventure, Pong, and Tetris are a few of these. Breakout is another.

Breakout was created by Steve Wozniak and was sold to Atari by Steve Jobs. Both of these men co-founded Apple Computer the same year that Atari released Breakout to arcades. Aspects of Breakout were later used in the design of the Apple II computer.

Breakout takes a paddle that is similar to Pong but places it on the bottom of the screen. There are blocks above the paddle that are broken by a bouncing ball. The goal is to move the paddle left and right in order to keep the ball bouncing so that all blocks are broken. 

The ball increases in speed as the game goes on, making the game gradually become more difficult. In addition, once the ball reaches the top rows, the paddle shrinks to half its size. This makes it quite challenging, but still fun.

The bricks were colored by the row in which they resided. The bottom two rows are yellow, the next two rows are green, the two rows after that are orange, and the two top rows are red. In addition, the paddle was colored light blue.

The game can be played in single-player or two-player mode. In the latter, one player plays the game until the ball is lost, and then the screen changes so that the second player can play the game. As with most arcade games of the time, the goal in both modes is to get as high of a score as possible.

Breakout is a classic game that is actually still enjoyable today. The graphics and colors are simple, but they do their job well. It's a fun challenge as the game gradually increases in speed. It created a subgenre known as Breakout games or Breakout clones. Some of the latter games did the Breakout concept better than the originator. However, if you enjoy games like Arkanoid, it's worth playing Breakout to see where the concept began.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Action Platform Graffiti Rollerblading Game Mega Review: Jet Set Radio

Jet Set Radio is a unique graffiti game developed by the Sega studio Smilebit. It was initially released for the Dreamcast and a high-definition remake by BlitWorks was later released for Android, iOS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Windows, and Xbox 360.

The game puts you in the shoes of Beat, the leader of a youth gang known as the GGs. They tag the streets of Tokyo-to, a city plagued by a corrupt police force. The youth gangs are known as the Rudies, who get information about police and Rudie activity from a DJ known as Professor K, who runs a pirate radio station known as Jet Set Radio.

The goal is to spray the graffiti indicated by arrows before time runs out while grinding on rails to gain speed and then jumping up onto higher platforms. Sometimes there are large areas that need graffiti, which is accomplished by spraying while using the thumbstick to follow the arrow prompts. There are also spray cans littered around the levels. Some add one can, some fill up the spray meter, and some refill life.

The game included the ability to draw your own graffiti, which could then be selected to be played in the game. On the original Dreamcast version, graffiti designs could be freely downloaded from the internet and then that downloadable content could also be used in-game.

There are also sections where you need to copy tricks by another Rudie. If you copy all of the tricks successfully, you will get another member of your gang. These characters can then be selected to play. Each has a different level of health and maximum amounts of spray cans that can be carried, so it is a matter of preference in which one will be played.

In most stages, another goal is to avoid the police, who will hang onto you, slow you down, and drain your life meter. Some stages will include the corrupt chief of police, who will shoot at you with his gun. There are also boss battles where you need to spray the backs of rival gang members, and a final boss battle with a mind-controlling supervillain.

The graphics are cell-shaded to appear like a cartoon, which is an effect that was highly regarded at the time, and still looks good today, especially in the high-definition version. The music is comprised of fun tunes in a variety of electronic music styles from chiefly Japanese artists.

The North American Dreamcast version, Jet Grind Radio, added two more Rudies, two levels in a new city named Grind City which are playable in flashbacks, and music by Rob Zombie. The changes were then incorporated into a new Japanese release titled De La Jet Set Radio. This version also included an unlockable secret character. The high-definition version included all of the content from De La Jet Set Radio, including all of the licensed songs.

Jet Set Radio is a fantastic game that blends together action, sports, platforming, and graffiti-spraying game styles and different electronic music genres into a game that is fun and very unique. It popularized the cel-shading cartoon graphic technique and still looks great today. The De La Jet Set Radio release in Japan for the Dreamcast was the most complete version, and luckily that is the version that is used for the high-definition version. I highly recommend trying this game, as it is one of the best video games ever released.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Friday, March 24, 2023

Free Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Homestar Runner - Halloween Hide & Seek

For Halloween 2021, a free Homestar Runner point-and-click adventure was released into the world called Halloween Hide & Seek.

The game follows the setup of early Homestar Runner Halloween cartoons, except this time it's playable. Homestar Runner travels across Free Country USA searching for the residents, including the King of Town, the Poopsmith, Homsar, Marzipan, Coach Z, Pom Pom, Bubs, The Cheat, Strong Sad, Strong Mad, and Strong Bad. They are all wearing costumes based on classic adventure games, and they are all hiding until Homestar finds them all.

It has a simple one-click interface with a non-combinable inventory. However, it's still a lot of fun. Homestar interacts with the characters when he finds them, and sometimes he even can use a dialog tree with funny questions to get funny answers in return.

It's just a short and sweet little experience, which should be expected since the longest Halloween Homestar Runner cartoon, Halloween Potion-ma-jig, was only fourteen and a half minutes long, counting all of the available paths. Once all eleven people have been found, like most of the Halloween toons, running the cursor over a person reveals their costume character. Clicking on characters prompts Homestar to guess their costume, which is always funnily wrong.

There is also a bonus quest with ten actions that will get you an 'X marks the spot' location with a surprise.

Homestar Runner: Halloween Hide & Seek is a fun short point-and-click adventure made by people that clearly love point-and-click adventures. There are tons of references to adventure game classics through dialog, puzzles, and characters. The game was created in Unity and can be played for free from your browser, but a fully-voiced talkie version is also available as a two-dollar download for Windows and macOS. If you're a fan of classic point-and-click adventures, it's well worth a play.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Platform Game Mega Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the sequel to the 1991 platform game, Sonic the Hedgehog, It adds another character as well as much-needed gameplay mechanics.

Dr. Robotnik is making his evil robot army again, and it's up to Sonic to defeat him once again. However, this time he is joined by a young fox named Miles "Tails" Prower. He got the nickname Tails because of his two tails. He can use these tails to hover for a short time.

This game is the first that adds the spin-dash, not counting the remakes of the original Sonic the Hedgehog. This is an important game mechanic as it keeps the game moving fast without requiring backtracking to get enough speed to get up hills.

It has an impressive style of level design just is just as excellent as the first, placing rings and platforms in the right places so that Sonic and Tails can run through the courses as fast as possible. This game also has the chaos emeralds that grant Sonic the true ending, however, the bonus round is so much more fun this time around. Whereas the original game had a spinning room with jewels that needed to be broken, this one plays more into the platform aspect of the game. Sonic and Tails will run around in a pseudo-three-dimensional track that has twists and turns and occasionally mines to trip them up. The goal here is to collect more rings than displayed, which earns the duo a chaos emerald at the end.

The neat thing is that Tails can be played with the player-two controller as the first player guides Sonic through the game. If Tails falls behind, loses his rings, or falls into a pit, he will fly back up to the level so that he can be controlled once again. In the regular game, this is most useful in the bonus stages as the rings Tails collects will be added to the total. However, whether or not Tails is being played by a human, when he loses rings it will also affect the total. When playing without a second player, the goal is to run and jump early so that Tails also has time to get past obstacles.

There is also a race mode, in which two players compete. One player plays as Sonic and the other player plays as Tails. Playing in split screen, the goal is to get to the end of the selected stage before your opponent.

By plugging the cartridge into a Sonic & Knuckles cartridge, Knuckles can also be played in the game. This is pretty fun, as Knuckles is a glide and stick mechanic which allows him to climb when he sticks to a surface. This lets him get to areas of the levels that neither Sonic nor Tails can reach.

The game was remade for Android and iOS and later in the Sonic Origins compilation for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. This version includes Sonic and Tails as playable characters as well as a secret level based on an uncompleted stage that was cut in the final game.

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, as well as the hidden level. It also will add Amy Rose, with animations based on her appearance in Sonic CD, as a playable character.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is an excellent game that improves upon the original in every way. Tails is a fun character that is a fantastic addition to the Sonic universe. Knuckles, when locked onto Sonic & Knuckles and in the remakes, is also a fantastic character. It's fun to be able to glide, stick, and climb to get into hidden areas with Knuckles. Amy Rose is also a fun character, so it's great to see her get added to the game in Sonic Origins Plus. The Sonic universe got overcrowded over the years, but the 16-bit characters of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy, are all great characters in their own right. As it's the first time it's possible to play with all of them for the first time, and because it includes the fun hidden level, Sonic Origins Plus will be my preferred way to play this game. However, it's not a necessary purchase, as any version of the game is well worth playing.

Final Verdict:

5 out of 5

Sonic the Hedgehog ReviewSonic the Hedgehog 3 Review Coming Soon

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Platform Game Mega Review: DuckTales

DuckTales was a 1989 platform game based on the popular DuckTales animated adventure series that itself was based on the Disney duck universe created by Carl Barks and Don Rosa.

It was created by Capcom, a video game developer that was prolific during the 1980s and 1990s. The developers worked with Walt Disney Computer Software to keep the art style as close to the television series as possible. This is very evident, as the characters are instantly recognizable even in the low-resolution pixel art produced by the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The game starred Scrooge McDuck as he went around the world collecting diamonds, jewels, and lost treasures. It had a fun gameplay mechanic where he would use his cane as a pogo stick. This could be used to jump higher, take out enemies, and cross areas he couldn't cross with his own two webbed feet.

There are five levels to choose from, including African mines, the Amazon, the Himalayas, Transylvania, and the Moon. Each of these had unique enemies and an end boss. Not all of these enemies actually appeared in DuckTales. However, as they all were created in the art style that was an 8-bit approximation of the art style of the beloved 1980s cartoon, they certainly looked like they could have been.

On the subject of characters from the cartoon, some of McDuck's allies appear in cameos. Huey Dewey, Louie, and Webby give Scrooge advice. Launchpad McQuack flies Scrooge back to Duckburg. Mrs. Beakley gives Scrooge life-restoring ice cream cones. Gyro Gearloose drops diamonds for Scrooge to grab. Finally, Gizmoduck opens up access to a new area on the Moon.

Two of Scrooge's biggest nemeses, the sorceress Magica DeSpell and the second richest duck in the world, Flintheart Glomgold, are also here trying to stop Scrooge from getting his treasures.

The music is one of the most memorable things about the game. I still have tunes from the game that come to mind when I think about the game, such as the music from the Amazon level. However, none are as iconic as the music from the Moon level. This tune is so beloved that the creators of the 2017 reboot of DuckTales used it as the music for the lullaby that Della Duck, the mother of Huey, Duey, and Louie, used to sing to her triplets before she found herself stranded on the Moon. That reboot also had an episode where Scrooge was given a pogo stick cane.

The game was remade as DuckTales Remastered in 2013. The game remains the same, except there is an option for easier pogo stick use. Originally, the down button had to be held down when jumping. The new optional control method allows pogo stick jumping with the tap of a button.

At the time the remastered version was released, the cast members of the original 1987 series were still alive, so they reunited to voice the characters in new cutscenes that were created in the art style of the classic cartoon. They had a scene where the inventor Gyro Gearloose gave Scrooge oxygen taffy so that he could breathe on the moon. The creators of the 2017 reboot also used this plot device, as Della was able to breathe on the moon using gum that Gyro invented called Oxy-Chew.

The remastered version faithfully recreated the art from the game in high resolution. It both matched the art in the game as well as matched the art style of the 1987 series. The music in the remake was created in an orchestral arrangement that remained faithful to the chiptune music from Capcom's original game.

DuckTales is a classic video game by Capcom that is still a lot of fun today. The art style remains faithful to the 1987 series, the game is a blast to play, and the music is phenomenal. It doesn't matter if you are playing the original Nintendo Entertainment System version or the 2013 DuckTales Remastered remake, there is a whole lot of fun to be had with this fantastic platform game.

Final Verdict:

5 out of 5

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Arcade Action Game Mega Review: Fix-It Felix Jr.

For the film Wreck-It Ralph, Avalanche Software conceptualized a game that featured the film's characters and resembled a classic 1980s arcade game. To promote the film, Disney contracted Code Mystics to make the film's arcade game a reality.

In the game, Felix jumps from window sill to window sill fixing the windows that Ralph broke with his magic hammer while avoiding getting hit by Ralph. Even though the game ran on Windows via a Hewlett-Packard desktop computer in the Nintendo-style arcade machine, it was specifically created to look, play, and sound like a game from the early 1980s.

The Avalanche Software concept appears in the Wreck-It Ralph film, and Code Mystics did a good job of making the actual arcade game look like it did in the film. There's a bit of a difference, mainly related to the voice clips and animation, as the film depicted a voice clip and some sprite animation that weren't in the arcade game, 

Fans have converted the game to retro home consoles with the missing bits to make it appear closer to the arcade game shown in the film. AtGames included Fix It Felix Jr. for their legends flashback line and use a retro console version, which is officially licensed by The Walt Disney Company.

Fix It Felix Jr. is a neat little throwback arcade game that actually looks, plays, and sounds like an arcade game from the early 1980s. It's pretty cool that the game featured in the movie is playable in the real world, especially because it appears close to what's seen on screen. The arcade game is expensive to acquire, but luckily it is available in home console versions that are closer to the game portrayed in the film. The easiest and least expensive route to go through to play this game is by AtGames as it has one of these console versions in its officially licensed Legend Flashback consoles. 

Addendum March 22, 2023: The game was also released as a free flash app. Flash is no longer supported in most web browsers, but the game can still be played using the Flash application for Windows.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Monday, March 20, 2023

Shoot 'Em-Up Video Game Review: Parsec

Parsec was an interesting horizontal shoot 'em-up video game that combined features of multiple arcade games into a single game. These elements actually worked well, making Parsec one of the most popular games by Texas Instruments.

Parsec was released for the TI-99/4A in 1982. The TI-99/4A was a computer released by Texas Instruments in June 1981. It was an upgrade of the 1979 computer known as the TI-99/4. Together, they were the first 16-bit computers released for the home market.

In 1981, Konami's Scramble and SNK's Vanguard were released into the arcade market. They were the world's first horizontally-scrolling shoot 'em-up games. Another game that was popular at the time was Atari's first arcade game with vector graphics, the 1979 arcade game Lunar Lander.

Texas Instruments took elements of these games, namely the horizontal scrolling of Scramble and Vanguard and the fuel meter of Lunar Lander, to create Parsec. Parsec had sixteen horizontal scrolling levels where a ship would have to shoot at enemy ships and avoid enemy fire as well as rocky terrain. There was also a fuel gauge which made it imperative to fuel the ship at regular intervals. This was accomplished by flying into a fueling tunnel.

One of the best parts of the game was a digitized female voice that acted as the ship's computer. This is optional, but the game is elevated from an average game to a cult classic because of it. The voice would let the pilot know when enemy ships and fueling tunnels are approaching, as well as a countdown that gives the pilot an idea of how long an asteroid belt would last.

Parsec is an excellent game for the TI-99/4A. On a computer that mainly had clones of other games, such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Head On, it is great to have an original title. The combining of elements from Vanguard, Scramble, and Lunar Lander gave the game a unique flavor. The digitized computer voice alerting the player of danger and fuel tunnels rises the game to cult classic status. If you ever come across Parsec, I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a play.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Free-to-Play Social City-Building Video Game Review: The Simpsons - Tapped Out

The Simpsons: Tapped Out is a free-to-play social city-building video game for mobile devices that defied the odds by having constant updates by EA Mobile for over ten years.

It is really no surprise that it is a popular game as it is based on the popular adult animated comedy television series, The Simpsons. That show has five generations of fans, from baby boomers to zoomers, as it has been on the air for nearly thirty-five years.

The game lets gamers create their own Springfield with characters and buildings that are unlocked as the player collects experience by buying and collecting rent from various buildings from the show such as Kwik-E-Marts and Krusty Burgers.

It's a fun concept that works well because there are hundreds of different pieces of content that can be added since the television series has been on the air for over thirty years.

One thing makes it a bit of a hard sell, however. At this point, it's easy to earn premium currency through collecting experience and leveling up, as well as collecting from donut-producing buildings. However, this is only true for players that have been with the game since near the beginning. New players will have a hard time collecting donuts past the first few levels.

Update March 20, 2023, adding more information: A free-to-play video game should have lots of content and updates, and The Simpsons: Tapped Out has that in spades as it has been consistently updated for over ten years. It's fun to build your own Springfield, and there are a lot of characters available for no charge through the level-up feature. However, there are only voice clips for some of the characters, and some of them aren't even interactable as they just wander around your Springfield. Another bummer is that some of the characters don't have outside jobs, so if you send your Springfielders away to earn money and experience so that you can buy new things as well as level up, some characters will remain hidden. There are unlimited levels, however, the level stories are not unlimited. 

After a while, all you get is premium currency and experience, which isn't a bad thing, but it's not enough to buy most of the premium items in the game, especially in the game's events, as they are usually vastly overpriced. If you have played the game for years, it's likely you have ways to get donuts more easily through quick level-ups due to lots of buildings, and possibly even through donut-producing buildings. If you haven't played for years, however, you'll probably find it harder to farm for donuts. Thus, it's a fun game that's ridiculously unbalanced. Because of this, it's hard to recommend the game to anyone but the most die-hard fans of The Simpsons.

Final verdict:
3 out of 5

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Free Direct-Controlled Adventure Review: Host Master Deux: Quest for Identity

Host Master Deux: Quest for Identity was the second of the Host Master free adventure games. The protagonist of these games is none other than the founder of Double Fine himself, Tim Schafer.

In Quest for Identity, Tim wants to get past the backroom so that he can host the Game Developer's Choice Awards. However, because he wore a suit and lacked his beard, the bouncer doesn't believe he's actually Tim Schafer, so he won't let him pass.

Tim has to explore both the back room of the awards as well as a tongue-in-cheek representation of Tim's home as a mansion filled with Double Fine mementos. He needs to get on stage and to be prepared to do a stellar job hosting the awards show.

Host Master and the Conquest of Humor was a throwback point-and-click adventure game with the look and feel of Tim's early work at LucasArts on the first two Monkey Island games. The sequel shakes things up a bit with a look reminiscent of Day of the Tentacle mixed with the zaniness of Major Bueno, the team behind the development of this game.

It's direct-controlled rather than point-and-click, however, it is very much still an adventure game. You still pick up things and interact with objects, talk to the bouncer, and pretty much do anything you would do in any adventure. In this way, the way it is played is more akin to The Cave than the LucasArts classics. It's all good though since the game is quite enjoyable and the controls work well with the gameplay and art design.

The best thing about the original host master was its humor, and the tradition is carried out in the sequel, if not more so. It's a lot of fun experimenting with the objects in the game to see Tim's comments on his game world. Like the original, there are multiple endings. However, there are more to be found here, and they are actually quite funny and well worth playing through multiple times to see something new.

Host Master Deux: Quest for Identity is not just a fantastic sequel, it's a fantastic game, period. The art style and humor are wildly different than the original, but it's all the better for it. It's like Maniac Mansion to Day of the Tentacle. They are two wildly different games with wildly different styles, yet they somehow still feel as if they are part of the same game world. Flash may now be dead, however, until the Ruffle Flash replacement is more mature, the game can still be played using the Windows Flash executable. It's well worth the effort to get this game working, as the humor and the replayability make this freebie a must-play for fans of Double Fine, Tim Schafer, or just adventure game fans in general.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Friday, March 17, 2023

Free Endless Brawler Review: Streets of Kamurocho

To celebrate its sixtieth anniversary in 2020, Sega released several small free games for Windows through Steam.

One of the smallest, yet also one of the most interesting, was Streets of Kamurocho. This game was an endless brawler that mashed together two of Sega's most well-known series, Streets of Rage and Like a Dragon, in a satisfying way.

The game remakes the first level of the Sega Genesis classic Streets of Rage 2 with background graphics and character sprites modeled after the original Yakuza. The game begins with a cutscene, told in 16-bit style still frames, which retells the plot of Yakuza. Kiryu goes to prison for a crime committed by his friend Nishikiyama. When he gets out of prison 10 years later, Nishiki has changed, becoming bitter and jealous of Kiryu and intending to become the next chairman of the yakuza organization known as the Tojo clan.

The player characters are either Kazuma Kiryu or Goro Majima, and Ichiban Kasuga can be unlocked. These characters have sprite sheets that resemble their 3D forms, however, they all have the same move set.

The game is an endless brawler in that the same level just repeats with a harder difficulty until the player runs out of lives, with the goal being to get the highest score. It's basically just a fun concept that was thankfully released completely for free. Due to its simplicity, it isn't more than a fun curiosity. However, because it is free, looks great, and has tight controls, it is worth playing, at least for a little bit, to see what might have been had a full Streets of Rage meets Like a Dragon spin-off ever released.

Final Verdict:

3 out of 5

Yakuza (Kiwami) ReviewYakuza 2 (Kiwami) Review

Book Review: Mr. Monk Helps Himself

This review was originally posted on the Jupiter Beagle website on June 20, 2014.

I just finished Mr. Monk Helps Himself, the 16th book in the Monk series, but the first one that’s written by Hy Conrad instead of Lee Goldberg. I really liked Lee Goldberg’s continuation of the Monk series after the finale, and his evolving of the characters (especially Monk’s brother Ambrose, who was woefully underutilized in the show, and Randy Disher, who was given much more respect in characterization in the novels than he ever was given in the television show), so I was curious to see how Hy Conrad would continue that.

Luckily, he manages to do so quite well, handling both the characters from the show respectfully as well as the original characters created in Lee Goldberg’s Monk novels. The characters were always my favorite part of both the television show and the books, even more so than the mysteries, so I’m glad to see that they’re still being characterized well, 125 episodes and 16 books into the franchise. Hy Conrad even has a few character evolutions and major changes himself already (including a major one in Natalie’s treatment of Adrian Monk, which I could totally see the television show Natalie doing if the show was still on the air in 2014).

Hy Conrad’s excellent treatment of the characters shouldn’t be a surprise though, since he has been writing for the Monk television series since season one. Mr. Monk Helps Himself is actually a story that was originally pitched for the television show but wasn’t used as the idea morphed into something completely different. I’m glad to see that they did finally get to use the idea though since it was quite good. The main mystery surrounds the death of a clown (which is one of Monk’s top 100 phobias) who was well known for entertaining for the children of celebrities. As the mystery unfolds, they find that it’s somehow connected to a cold case that made national headlines years ago. And, of course, the connection is not obvious, so it takes the detective work of everyone involved to work it out (which are the stories I love the most since even though Monk is a brilliant detective, Captain Stottlemeyer and his lieutenant aren’t slouches either).

At the same time, Natalie is trying to prove herself to make good on her recent ultimatum that she become full partners with Monk, rather than detective and assistant as they have been for almost a decade. She goes to a retreat of a self-help guru from which both herself and Monk’s current girlfriend have purchased self-help CDs. After a meet and greet, the self-help guru does a yoga stretch and jumps off a cliff, right in clear view of everyone at the resort, including Natalie and Monk. Her body is later discovered, and Natalie is able to make a positive ID, but she’s convinced that she was murdered, despite the fact that everyone saw her jump. Of course, Monk, the captain, and the lieutenant aren’t convinced since everyone saw her jump and the coroner ruled that her death was consistent with a fall and then ultimately drowning. So, Natalie has to work on the case alone, with only Monk’s girlfriend as her temporary assistant, while the rest of the police force works on the clown murder case.

Mr. Monk Helps Himself has a great storyline, with two intriguing mysteries, and contains some great characterization and character development, as well as the subtle humor that you expect from the franchise. After reading this, I’d say this is one of my top ten favorite Monk stories, from both the novel series and the television show. Hy Conrad truly knows these characters well and does them justice in his first outing as the author of the novel series. It’s well worth the read.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space: What's New Beelzebub?

The final episode of Sam & Max not only closes the second season with a bang but effectively closes the story started by Telltale's first Sam & Max episode, Culture Shock.

In the game, Sam & Max discover a passage to hell under the building that houses the Freelance Police office. They find that hell is run like a corporation and that Satan is just a figurehead. They have to discover who are the real brains behind the torture and torment.

Telltale gets super creative in this episode, to the benefit of the whole series up to that point. Once Sam and Max discover the room of ironic punishments, they find they can interact with each of them. This allows Sam & Max to interact with people from their past, as well as people with whom it is a surprise that they are now in hell.

The art design in each of these punishment dioramas is really fun and creative. The puzzles are also just as creative. Telltale used the crazy logic of the Sam & Max universe to its advantage in the finale of the first season. However, they have outdone themselves here. Everything including the story, the characters, and the puzzles are suitably weird, wacky, and really enjoyable.

Jared Emerson-Johnson and Bay Area Sound have once again delivered fantastic music that fits the game really well. The voice actors, likewise, have delivered some of their best performances of the entire season. You can tell that everyone had a lot of fun doing this episode, as everything shines.

What's New Beelzebub? is the finale that Sam & Max truly deserve. The music, voice acting, art direction, and story are great. The villain reveals, in particular, is fantastic. This episode satisfyingly closed the storyline of the first two seasons, allowing Telltale to go in a completely different direction in the third season. Whether it's the original game or the remastered high-definition version by Skunkape Games, it's a fantastic game that any fan of Sam & Max, or just point-and-click adventure fans in general, should experience at least once. 

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Episode 4 reviewThe Devil's Playhouse (season 3) Episode 1 review

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Puzzle Game Review: Hare Raising Havoc

Hare Raising Havoc is a classic puzzle game starring Roger Rabbit, the film version of the novel character that debuted in the 1989 Disney film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The film opened with a supposed short film with animated characters that was directed by a real human director. Roger was supposed to protect Baby Herman, an adult man in a baby's body who plays the part of a real baby in the short film, until Baby Herman's mother got home.

The game has the same premise. Baby Herman sees a giant milk bottle on top of a bottle factory and leaves the house to get it. Roger has to chase after it by performing cartoony acts to get from one room to another. He goes through the living room, to the kitchen, to the bathroom, to the backyard, to the street, to a construction site, and finally to the bottle factory.

Roger has to move quick as he has to make it all the way through to the bottle factory before time runs out. He can get more time, however, by doing the wrong thing, Roger will get hurt and the time still ticks down during his hurt animation. As the way through each area is not logical in terms of real-life, it is more likely than not that you will have to play each area several times as you learn both the correct way to get out of the area as well as which action gives Roger more time.

If you run out of time, you will be chewed out by the director and given the option to start all over again. If you get through it all, the director will be pleased and the cast, crew, and significant others, will be able to go home.

The selling point of the game, at the time, as well as now, is the Roger's excellent animated sprites that are full of expression. The full screen animation has few frames due to the limitations of the IBM PC compabibles running DOS and Amiga machines on which the game played. However, the animation of Baby Herman, and especially Roger, still looks good today.

The music in the opening screen is the same as that from the film, and the sound effects as well as Roger's voice clips, are suitably cartoonish. The voice actors from the film reprise their roles here, and sound as good as they did in the film.

Hare Raising Havoc is a hard-as-nails puzzle game. However, the game's presentation, animation, music, sound effects, and voices, make up somewhat for the difficulty. If you don't mind the tough difficulty level common in games in the 1990s, or use an Amiga or DOS emulator build with savestate support, it's worth checking out.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Free Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Host Master and the Conquest of Humor


Host Master and the Conquest of Humor is a free point-and-click adventure game that was created in Flash by the former webmaster of Double Fine, Klint Honeychurch.

The player character is the Double Fine founder himself, Tim Schafer. The year it was released, 2009, was one of the years Tim Schafer hosted the Game Developer's Choice Awards at the Game Developer Conference. Schafer is backstage waiting for the awards ceremony to begin. The problem is that he has no jokes to tell. In order to go onstage appearing as if he were prepared, Tim searches around the room for jokes.

Collecting jokes was accomplished by doing classic adventure game staples such as collecting random things into an inventory, using inventory items together, and, of course, using inventory items on different things in the room. The game is designed with a verb bar akin to Shaefer's classic games Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge and the VGA CD version of The Secret of Monkey Island. The art style was designed like an early 1990s adventure game.

This being a Double Fine adventure game, Host Master and the Conquest of Humor is filled with funny dialog as well as fun references to LucasArts and Double Fine games on which Tim Schafer had worked up to that point. The jokes that Tim Schafer collects, though, are purposefully old-fashioned dad jokes. This is funny in itself, as these are the jokes Tim will use onstage, to the delight of the fans. Well, the delight is based on how many jokes Tim is able to collect. There are three endings to the game depending on how many jokes Tim has when he gets on stage.

The music, by Bert Chang, isn't memorable but works well for this escape-the-room-style game. The fun thing about the music, however, is that the music changes based on a prompt before the game starts where the player is asked if their computer has a sound card. If no is chosen, the music will resemble the boops and beeps of the PC speaker commonly installed in IBM-compatible computers.

Host Master and the Conquest of Humor is a fun, free throwback to classic LucasArts adventure games. It is enjoyable and funny with graphics and music that resemble classic early 1990s computer games. It is made in Flash, so it's no longer playable online until the Flash replacement Ruffle becomes more fully featured. However, it can still be played just fine on Windows computers by using the Flash executable.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Monday, March 13, 2023

Free Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Steamed Hams: The Graphic Adventure

Steamed Hams is a fun meme that takes the classic "Skinner and the Superintendent" scene from one of the most creative pieces of content The Simpsons has ever produced, the season seven episode "22 Short Films About Springfield", and twists it into new forms. 

Last year a developer who creates games under the handle NeoDement made a fully playable graphic adventure out of the famous segment. Graphics were taken from the 1991 arcade game adaptation of The Simpsons, the 1990 Nintendo Entertainment System port of Maniac Mansion, and the 1993 adventure game Day of the Tentacle as well as created from scratch to match the classic early 1990's video game aesthetic. These are all blended in well, and if you don't know these games by the back of your hand as I do, it is likely you wouldn't know that they came from another game.

The crackling fire sound effects were taken from Day of the Tentacle and the water sound effect was taken from the enhanced DOS version of Maniac Mansion. The main voice acting was taken verbatim from "Skinner and the Superintendent". Adventure games have to have comments outside of the intended path, and this was done through voice clips from The Simpsons: Hit and Run and the season twelve episode of The Simpsons, "Skinner's Sense of Snow". The "Skinner and the Superintendent" voices were crisp and clean and worked well, as did the sound effects. The other voice clips varied in sound volume and quality, but they were just used for going off the intended path and didn't hamper the enjoyment of the game.

To match the feel of 1990's LucasArts adventure games, midi files were used for the theme of The Simpsons as well as the "Skinner and the Superintendent" theme song. Speaking of the latter, the intro was re-created faithfully in pixel art and legitimately looks like something LucasArts might have done with a video game based on The Simpsons circa 1993.

Steamed Hams: The Graphic Adventure is a small but excellent point-and-click adventure game that is designed to resemble classic LucasArts adventure games. "Skinner and the Superintendent" was one of the best things to come from The Simpsons, and Steamed Hams: The Graphic Adventure is one of the most creative products to come from the enjoyable Steamed Hams meme. It's short, free, and fun. Plus, it can even be played online in your browser. If you enjoy adventure games I wholeheartedly recommend trying this one out.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Adventure Superhero Trade Paperback Review: Captain America - First Vengeance

Captain America: First Vengeance was an 8-part Marvel Cinematic Universe tie-in comic by Marvel Comics that was collected into a trade paperback. It takes place in 1944. Captain America and the Howling Commandos, assisted behind the scenes by Howard Stark, infiltrate the base wherein the Red Skull is holed up with the space stone-powered tesseract. This is an event that takes place in Captain America: The First Avenger. However, that story is saved for the film, and the meat of the story is told in flashbacks from the 1930s to 1944, detailing the events leading up to The First Avenger.

A flashback details how Steve Rogers having tough times in his childhood led to him becoming the man worthy of getting the super soldier serum and taking the name of Captain America. The strength he gets from his experiences serves him well as, in 1944, he jumps out of an allied plane towards the Nazi stronghold that holds the villainous Red Skull.

On the opposite end of virtue are flashbacks of Johann Schmidt becoming a part of, and then infiltrating, the Nazi party. He is shown to be a cold, calculating man who kills anyone who stands in his way. He spares very few people, but the German scientist Arnim Zola is one of the lucky few. Zola was supplying the Nazis with huge mechanical suits of armor, but Schmidt was only interested in improving humankind, not augmenting it with technology. After watching "What If... Peggy Carter Were the First Avenger?", it's fun to see the parallel between Howard Stark's Hydra Stomper and Zola's mechanical augments.

The comic also shows how Johann Schmidt and Steve Rogers would cross paths, with Schmidt forcing Abraham Erskine, a scientist doing research on improving the abilities of humans, to come back to Germany after he tried to flee with his wife and son. Schmidt made Erskine create a super soldier serum, and Rogers repeatedly went to army recruitment offices in the hopes that he could serve his country in World War II. As shown in the film, they were both given the serum, with drastic differences in the results.

Other flashbacks detail how Howard Stark creates his shield made of vibranium, a metal that absorbs kinetic energy, which he says his employees discovered in deepest Africa. This is another instance where it is interesting to read this after the Infinity Saga has ended because Black Panther demonstrated a whole city made of vibranium as well as nefarious men from the west that seek to steal it. Since Stark sent his cronies to Africa, it's very likely that they stole it themselves with or without Stark knowing how they did it. Stark is a morally grey character, so either is as likely as the other.

It was also fun to see Peggy Carter infiltrate Hydra by serving as a servant girl named Eva so that she could get close enough to Erskine to free him and take him out of Germany. Agent Carter short showed how she has no fear to complete missions and the Agent Carter television show showed how she was skilled in speaking with different accents and disguising herself to complete her mission. Carter is one of my favorite Marvel characters, so it was fun to get her backstory as well.

Captain America: First Vengeance is a great comic that adds a backstory to the events of Captain America: The First Avenger. This is very welcome as the film was a lot of fun, but the explanation of how Steve Rogers became Captain America and how Johann Schmidt became the Red Skull came and went so quickly. Even after the Infinity Saga, this is one comic that still fits nicely in the sacred timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Captain America: The First Avenger Review

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Action-Adventure Review: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

After the release of the side-scrolling action RPG, Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System follow-up went back to the formula that made the original game so popular.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was a top-down action game much like the original The Legend of Zelda. However, it added many elements that made it the superior game. The story was expanded from the first game's plot. It started off similarly in that the legendary hero Link had to find the powerful Master Sword so that he could rescue Zelda, the princess of the Kingdom of Hyrule.

However, it soon became a much different game when the evil wizard Agahnim accomplishes his goal of sealing the Sacred Realm thus keeping that world plunged into darkness. Now Link has to travel back and forth between the Dark World and the Light World to rescue the young maidens descended from the seven wise men so that they can break the seal.

Unlike its predecessors, A Link to the Past included a world map that could be accessed at any time with the press of a button. This makes it a lot more fun because you don't need to memorize areas or create or use paper maps. It also has new items Link can acquire, such as boots that will allow him to run across areas with his sword stuck out. This makes the game less tedious because you can move quickly across areas.

Music has always been a strong point in The Legend of Zelda games, and A Link to the Past is no exception. It has great, memorable new music as well as a fresh take on the overworld music that uses the extra instruments that are available with the SNES sound chip. The graphics also are pleasing as they take advantage of the upgraded technology available in Nintendo's 16-bit powerhouse.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past improves upon its predecessors in every way. From the great art style and excellent music that takes advantage of the technological leaps between 8-bit and 16-bit hardware, to the larger worlds and an overhead map to make those worlds more enjoyable, A Link to the Past is leaps and bounds above the games that came before.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Friday, March 10, 2023

Discontinued Free Battle Royal Platform Game Review: Super Mario Bros. 35

It's the tenth of March, and that means it's Mario Day. Today I decided to do something less expected and look at a fun Super Mario game that is still playable only thanks to the hard work of fans. 

Super Mario Bros. 35 was a version of Super Mario Bros. by Arika that was released in 2020 for the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Super Mario series. It was an online game that pit up to thirty-five players against each other. Players would play through the levels of Super Mario Bros. until they died. After that, the game would continue until only one player was left standing.

Along with a leaderboard, the game also kept track of enemies encountered and the levels played. The latter would allow the player to enter a match that started with the level selected.

The levels look, sound, and play just as they did in the halcyon year of 1985. The control is just as tight as it was then, allowing for the precise running and jumping that is needed for this battle royale. The music, graphics, and sound effects are just as they were back then as well, giving the game an authentic retro feel that is all the rage right now.

Like Tetris 99 or Pac-Man 99, which were both also developed by Arika, the game worked as well as it did because it was a classic game that was built to be picked up and played without the need for instruction. This way players new to the game on which it was based would be able to play it just as easily as seasoned players.

Super Mario Bros. 35 is sadly no longer available as of April 1, 2021, since Nintendo only intended to keep it going during Nintendo's thirty-five-year anniversary of Super Mario in 2020. Thankfully, fans have stepped in as they often do and created a server to bring this game back alive once again. It is good that they did, as this fun, free little game is worth playing as long as you have to means to do so.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Platform Game Mega Review: Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country, a platform game by Rare based on the Nintendo character Donkey Kong, was so popular that it created a series that still continues to this day.

The plot of the game is simple in that it is just a quest to get Donkey Kong's stolen banana stash back from King K. Rool. It stars a gorilla named Donkey Kong, the son of Donkey Kong Jr., and the grandson of the original Donkey Kong who now goes by Cranky Kong. He is joined by a monkey named Diddy Kong, who is an original character created for this game. Rare's original intention was to use Donkey Kong Jr., but when Nintendo didn't accept their redesign of Junior, they created their own original character instead.

Donkey Kong is a slow brute that can kill enemies that Diddy cannot as well as find secrets by slam jumping on the floor. On the other hand, Diddy Kong can move faster as well as jump higher, allowing him to get to areas that Donkey Kong can not. One character is played at a time and can be swapped at will as long as the current Kong's partner is present. If a partner is present when hit by an enemy, that Kong will run away and will be replaced as the player Kong. There are DK barrels that contain the partner Kong if he is not with the player Kong.

The game world is populated with crocodile-like creatures known as Kremlings, which were originally intended for a point-and-click adventure that was cancelled by Rare prior to this game's release. One of the things that makes this game unique is that the Kongs can ride an animal companion. These range from the quick ostrich, to the rhino that can defeat enemies and find hidden passages with his horn, to the swordfish that makes swimming underwater easier and also acts much like the rhino in that he can defeat enemies with his sword-like snout.

Another unique thing about this game is the many barrels that are dotted along the path, especially in later levels. This is a clever take on the original Donkey Kong arcade game that had DK toss out barrels to try to trip up Mario. Here, the Kongs jump from barrel to barrel. There are barrels that go up and down and barrels that spin. These require the right timing in order to shoot to the next barrel rather than falling to your doom. There are also barrels with stars. These shoot the Kongs out as soon as they land in them. These sometimes shoot to other barrels and sometimes shoot up to hidden areas.

The early computer-generated imagery that was converted to sprites still looks good. The backgrounds, especially, are eye-catching and gorgeous. Because of the low resolution of the SNES, the characters look a lot like pixelated versions of clay models, which works in the game's favor. 

The music is great as well. I remember getting a promo VHS for this game and being impressed with both the graphics and the music. The underwater music is particularly memorable for its calm quality yet with a bit of a bubbly feel that works perfectly for the water levels. 

This game led to two more Super Nintendo Entertainment System games, three Game Boy games, two modern game revivals, and many spin-offs. It also had a Game Boy Advance remake that played just like the SNES version yet had brighter colors to compensate for the lack of a backlight in the original GBA model. The easiest way to play the game today is with an emulated version. The Wii, New Nintendo 3DS, and Wii U Virtual Console versions are no longer available, and neither is the version in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition. However, as of this writing, the game is available in the emulator for the Nintendo Switch Online service for the Nintendo Switch console. 

Donkey Kong Country is a fantastic game that has stood the test of time. The graphics and music are top-notch. The gameplay is excellent as well, leading to many sequels as well as inspiring other games that came after it. Because of the game's popularity, it has been ported and emulated on many of Nintendo's consoles. No matter how you choose to play the game though, it is a game that is well worth playing.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Free Point-and-Click/Direct Controlled Adventure Game - Dangeresque: Episode 1 - Behind the Dangerdesque

Dangeresque: Episode 1 - Behind the Dangerdesque is a graphic adventure game featuring Dangeresque, the alter-ego of Homestar Runner's one-time luchador acquaintance, Strong Bad.

It is an escape-the-room-style adventure where Dangeresque, a crooked cop, has to fake three pieces of evidence in a case file so that the chief will let him leave. To do so, he has to use the objects around the office to fill the missing evidence, and then mark the case solved.

The graphics and sound are designed to invoke the aesthetics of 1990s adventure games from LucasArts and Sierra. They do a good job with this, right down to the low-quality, sporadic voice samples that were included in floppy games in that era.

The only area that is a letdown is the controls. For the most part, it is point-and-click. You use the inventory box in the corner, ala Sam & Max: Hit the Road, choose an item, and use it in the environment. However, sometimes Dangereque says he can't interact with an item unless he is closer to it. This requires the use of the WASD keys for movement. It's clunky, unnecessary, and takes away from the otherwise enjoyable game.

Dangeresque: Episode 1 - Behind the Dangerdesque is a fun free Flash game with graphics, sound, and gameplay that feels lifted right out of the 1990s. It is mostly point-and-click, but the few times you are forced to use the keyboard take you out of the game. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between.

Flash may be dead, but the game can still be played using the Flash Windows executable. It will also be available to play online again someday when the Flash replacement Ruffle supports Actionscript 3.

Update April 17, 2024:

Ruffle now runs the Flash version of the game just fine and the Homestar Runner website allows it to be playable within web browsers. It's no muss, no fuss, just like the olden times.

Even better though, is the Steam version which includes two more roomisodes. The paid version of episode one has full voice acting and you no longer have to use W, A, S, and D at weird times to get to certain places. It's now a true point-and-click adventure in Unity.

The paid version is well worth the price, and is now my preferred way to play the game. If you want to stick to the old version, it now works well in Ruffle and is just as enjoyable as it always was.

Final Verdict:
3 out of 5

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Arcade Beat 'em Up Mega Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Turtles in Time

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time was the second, and arguably, the best, arcade game by Konami to feature the pizza-eating ninja turtles.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles features a wacky plot that fits right into the 80s iteration of the franchise. The mutant from Dimension-X, Krang, stole the Statue of Liberty and the nemesis of the turtles, Shredder, mocked them on live television to get them to come after them. Once the turtles get there, they are sent through a time vortex. The turtles get flung back and forth through time as they fight their way through the past, present, and future until they get back to their own time and stop Shredder's crazy plot.

The turtles have to go through nine levels, or ten in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System version since the first visit to the Technodrome was omitted in the other versions. The levels range from the sewers, alleys, and New York City streets in the present, to prehistoric times with stone warriors and dinosaurs, to a pirate ship in the golden age of piracy, to the western United States in the Wild West era, to hover transport areas in the future, and then finally to a space station and the Technodrome for the final fight.

Konami was the leader when it came to arcade beat 'em ups in the 1990s, and this game shows that in spades. The game has satisfying kicking, punching, and jumping moves and items that can be interacted with in the environment. It has excellent animation, from the turtles, to the foot soldiers, to all of the enemies throughout time. The backgrounds are probably the best two-dimensional art that Konami has ever produced, which is saying something for a company that was so prolific in the golden age of arcade games. The art really gets you invested in the game, as each location is highly detailed and makes you feel like you are really in those time periods.

The arcade version of Konami's original arcade game was the best version with the Nintendo Entertainment System version being only for those who were interested in the extra levels. It's harder to say this time around. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System version only supported two players rather than four, and lacked some animations and voice samples compared to the arcade version. The SNES version also has an exclusive Technodrome level and a fun battle where the object is to chuck foot soldiers toward the screen. Both versions have the Neon Night Riders level, but the arcade version has a straight-forward horizontal battle on hovercraft whereas the SNES version makes extensive use of the mode 7 effects of the system to make the level an over-the-shoulder battle. The arcade version has nine bosses. The SNES version has those bosses as well, with the exception of Cement Man who is replaced with the Rat King. However, the SNES version also has Slash, fan favorites Bebop and Rocksteady, and a stronger iteration of their main foe that goes by the name Super Shredder.

There are also no-longer-available variations of the arcade version of the game through emulation as a stripped-down bonus in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, as well as a remake titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Turtles in Time Reshelled. The remake isn't worth tracking down, as it lacks the SNES extras and the three-dimensional graphics don't bring across the fun animations as well as the original two-dimensional pixel graphics. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time is a seminal arcade game. Great, responsive combat, excellent animation, fun enemies, and enjoyable boss levels make the game still fun to play thirty years after its original release. Both the SNES and arcade versions have their own qualities that make which version to play a matter of personal preference. Personally, I'd pick the SNES version for the extra bosses, the replacement of Cement Man with the more recognizable Rat King, the great use of mode 7 effects, the extra level, and especially the fun boss fight that has turtles chucking foot soldiers towards the screen. The best way to play this game is in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection as it has both the arcade and SNES versions of the game so you can decide for yourself which is your preferred version to play.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

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