Gain Ground – Review

As you can imagine, thousands of video games have been created since they became a thing way back in the 1960s. So, it is perfectly understandable that with great regularity you may come across a game that you have never heard of. However, just because you have never heard of a game doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t worth playing. After all, it may be one of those “hidden gem” games that one finds every now and then. Could Gain Ground be one such game?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Gain Ground is an action-strategy game developed and published by Sega. It was first released for the arcade in 1988 before being ported to the Master System and Mega Drive in 1991. For this review, I played the Mega Drive version found on Sonic’s Ultimate genesis Collection (2009) on the PlayStation 3.

In the year 3000AD, there is no poverty. There is no war or discrimination. Humans finally live in a time of total peace…but…with total peace comes a price. Without the threat of violence, humans have forgotten how to defend themselves, leaving them vulnerable. To retrain humans how to fight, the United Earth Government create a war simulation run by a supercomputer called Gain Ground. During testing, an error occurs, and its creators are taken hostage. A rescue party is also captured. The government have one final chance to rescue the creators and stop the computer.

Mediocre graphics but this is a highly addictive game (screenshot taken by the author)

The game can be played in single and two-player mode. Even though you are competing for the highest score, the two-player mode is co-operative. There are five rounds, with each round having 10 stages. The last stage of each round being a boss level. The rounds are as follows:

Round 1 – Dark Ages

Round 2 – Middle Ages

Round 3 – Pre-Revolutionary China

Round 4 – Present day

Round 5 – Future

The on-screen information allows you to see the time limit for each stage, the number of enemies left to kill, the character you are using, how many of your soldiers you have left to escape, how many have already escaped, and your score.

There are two ways to complete each stage. You can either destroy all enemies on screen or you can guide all your soldiers safely to the exit. At the beginning of each stage, you have the opportunity to choose which soldier you wish to use. If that soldier is killed by an enemy, they will turn grey before becoming an icon on the screen. You then pick another soldier to complete the mission. You can pick up your fallen comrades and finish the level to ensure they are available in the next stage.

Each character has unique weapons, special weapons, abilities, and weaknesses, and so it is important to use each character where they will be most useful. For example, some are powerful but slow. Others are weak but fast…you know…the usual trade off.

You must choose to either run the gauntlet to escape or kill all enemies on screen (screenshot taken by the author)

The game is very easy to learn. You can move and fire in all directions, but when using some of the special weapons, you will automatically orientate yourself to fire up the screen. This can be a great help at times and a hinderance at others. You also have to be accurate with your shots and this will take some getting used to. It can be frustrating when you miss the enemy by a hair’s breadth and he is able to kill you.

The graphics are just what you need for a game like this. They are mediocre but detailed enough so that the game is playable. They won’t win any awards, mind. However, this game isn’t about graphics. It is about the action and there is plenty of that!

I actually enjoyed the music, especially early on. The music has a typical arcade-style upbeat tempo that gets your blood pumping for the action. Upon completion of each stage, you are rewarded with a nice little victory riff.

There are three difficulty settings to choose from. Easy offers you up to eight continues and the game ends after Round Three Stage 10. Normal offers up to four continues, and hard gives you no continues but you have all 20 of your soldiers available to you from the beginning. These changes with each difficulty level offer a good level of replay value.

I had never heard of this game before reviewing it. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. This is just the sort of game that I would have played with friends for hours and hours in my teenage years. It is fun, challenging, and highly addictive like all arcade games should be.

Did I complete the game?

No, I couldn’t get past Round 3 Stage 4. I will, however, definitely be returning to this game.

What the critics said:

Sega Pro: “Great two-player action as you battle through multiple levels of complex action. You control a band of warriors from ancient times right through to the future. Detailed graphics and very addictive gameplay. Overall 89%.[1]

Raze: “…the graphics are very small, and the sound not too spectacular. But a closer inspection reveals some great animation on the characters and their weapons, and a splattering of colour and variety all through the game. Overall 92%.[2]

Computer & Video Games: “It’s very simple and very boring. You’d have to be stark raving mad to part with thirty quid for this… Overall 49%“.[3]

Mean Machines: “A very accurate conversion of an obscure and hopelessly crap arcade game which features the average graphics, rubbish sound and boring gameplay of the original machine. Overall 43%.[4]

Sega Power: “Choose the right soldiers in this intriguing flick-screen combat game. Heavy on strategy, its slower pace might make a change from alien death. Unusual two-player mode. Overall 3/5.[5]

My verdict:

“Pleasantly surprised by this game. Although the gameplay is simple and the graphics won’t blow you away, I found it enjoyable, challenging and highly addictive.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Gain Ground? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Gain Ground – Mega Drive’. Sega Pro. (December 1991). Issue 3:18.

[2] ‘Gain Ground’. Raze. (May 1991). Issue 7:64.

[3] ‘Byte Size Mega Drive Review – Gain Ground’. Computer & Video Games. (March 1991). Issue 112:72.

[4] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Gain Ground’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:139.

[5] ‘The Hard Line – Gain Ground’. Sega Power. (October 1991). Issue 23:53.

Star Trek: Judgement Rites – Review

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary (1992) was a commercial success and highly praised by critics on MS-DOS. Star Trek fans everywhere were treated to the reunion of the original cast with episodic-type missions that contained all the atmosphere and charm of the television series. A sequel would be released a year later. Would it achieve the same success as its predecessor?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Star Trek: Judgement Rites is a single-player point and click game developed by Interplay Productions and released for MS-DOS in 1993. A version would be developed by Mac OS and released on the Mac in 1995. I chose to review the PC version downloaded from Steam.

Judgement Rites picks up directly after the final mission of 25th Anniversary. Once again you take command of the USS Enterprise bridge crew and are instantly thrown into a scenario that could spell disaster for the Federation. There are eight missions or “episodes” for you to complete with the emphasis on brains over brawn. The main story arc consists of the crew becoming aware that the missions they are embarking on seem to have been created by a superior race of aliens who are testing the Federation’s suitability for contact.

Captain’s Log…(screenshot taken by the author)

During each mission, Kirk, Spock and Mccoy beam to a planet or another spaceship. They are joined by a fourth member of the crew whose speciality is needed for that particular mission. In 25th Anniversary, the focus was very much of Kirk, Spock and McCoy but this game also allots time to other characters such as Uhura and Scotty, allowing them to come to the fore and shine.

The original cast all return to voice their characters which, naturally, makes you feel as if you are playing an episode from the Original series. The game just wouldn’t be the same without the dulcet yet unemotional tones of Spock, or the comedic bickering of Spock and McCoy that we know so well from the television series.

The missions and story are more complex than 25th Anniversary. The game really tests your problem solving skills (screenshot taken by the author)

The gameplay is identical to 25th Anniversary. You use the cursor to direct your characters to interact with objects and characters. When speaking to other characters, there are times when you have the option to choose a diplomatic or terse response. This will directly affect your end of mission score. If your end of mission score is too low, you will be ordered back to Starfleet Academy to retrain, ending the game so save multiple games and save often.

Once again, the vibrancy of the colours and the detail of the sprites and background are very pleasing to the eye. Apparently, Judgement Rites had sharper graphics and SFX than 25th Anniversary, but after comparison I can’t say I noticed it really. Maybe the backgrounds were more detailed but the improvements maybe so subtle as to go undetected by my aging eyes.

There are a few differences between Judgement Rites and 25th Anniversary. Firstly, 25th Anniversary focussed on individual missions much like the TV show. Judgement Rites sees most of the missions follow a story arc throughout the game. Also, unlike 25th Anniversary, you do not have to fight in a starship battle which I was a little bit disappointed in. After all, we all love a good starship battle don’t we?

I found this game harder and the missions more complex than 25th Anniversary, especially the mission called “Through This Be Madness…”. I felt that the puzzles were harder and there was greater depth to the material of each mission.

A character from the Original series makes an appearance and no it’s not Harry Mudd (screenshot taken by the author)

I first played this game almost 20 years ago. If memory serves, the voices of the original cast were not available then. I can’t remember if the issue was my computer or not but according to my research, the voices of the cast were only available on the CD-ROM versions. I wish more of these games were created as they are so much fun, and not just for Star Trek fans. I’m sure point and click fans would also enjoy the challenge of the game.

Together, 25th Anniversary and Judgement Rites feel like the final season of the Original series that the crew and fans deserved. With the passing of DeForrest Kelly, James Doohan and Leonard Nimoy, games revolving around the Original series are incredibly unlikely.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, but I did need to use a walk through several times. Much more than I did with 25th Anniversary.

What the critics said:

Electronic Entertainment: “Judgement Rites captures the feel of the original show, down to the nuances of the dialog. Other than Kirk, though, the characters in the game aren’t used to their fullest potential, so there’s room for improvement. Overall 9/10.[1]

Awards:

Game of the Month – Electronic Entertainment (March 1994)[2]

My verdict:

“Complex and challenging puzzles, fantastic dialog true to the TV show, bright colourful graphics and excellent SFX. There is more depth to the peripheral characters although, it is still the Kirk, Spock and McCoy show. Pity about the lack space battles though.”

Rating:


[1] Olafson, P., ‘Game of the Month – Star Trek: Judgement Rites’. Electronic Entertainment. (March 1994). :80-1.

[2] Ibid,. :80-1.

Flicky – Review

Quite often, game developers would re-release arcade games onto home consoles, no doubt in a bid to cash in once its arcade popularity waned. Unless they were re-vamped a little, these games could look dated, and underwhelming compared to more modern releases. I’ve never been a fan of the basic platformer where you simply accumulate points and there is very little story, but then there are millions who do so maybe I’m wrong about my disdain for these money-guzzlers. What are your views on games like Flicky being released at a high price on a console seven years after its arcade release?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Flicky is a single-player platform game developed by Sega. It was released by Sega in the arcades in 1984 (Bally Midway in the US). Originally ported to the SG-1000 in Japan, it was released in North America and Europe in 1991 on the Sega Mega Drive. I chose to review the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate genesis Collection (2009) on the PlayStation 3.

You play as a blue bird called Flicky who must save all the little Chirps before they are eaten by the Tiger cats and Iggy lizards. To save a Chirp, you simply walk past them, and they begin to follow you. Once they are following you, you need to escort them to the door where they can escape, and you gain points. The more Chirps you rescue at any one time, the higher your points multiplier. The speed with which you rescue the Chirps is also a factor when accumulating points. You must do this whilst avoiding the cats and lizards which kill you as soon as they touch you. Thankfully, you can defend yourself by picking up various objects and hurling them at the beasties.

Rescue the Chirps before Tiger cats and Iggy lizards get you (screenshot taken by the author)

The physics of the game are quite hard to control and take some getting used to. The jumping action is rather floaty, and you tend to bounce of the walls when you hit them. It is also very slow in changing direction, and lots of practice is needed to spot the cats and lizards and being able to avoid them in time. I found the Iggy Lizards the hardest to spot and got killed by those little bastards a lot.

Although bright and colourful, the graphics of this game may have been excellent for when it was released in the arcade in 1984, but by the time it was released on the Mega Drive in 1991, things had moved on and the game looks dated. The sprites are so small that it is difficult to make out the detail that should be there. Considering games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario World and Mickey Mouse: Castle of Illusion were all released around 1991, I can’t imagine why anyone would bother with Flicky unless it was incredibly cheap (unlikely), wanted the game purely to add to their collection, or were buying it for a child. These later games contain so much more in regard to story, characters, graphics and music.

The music isn’t actually that bad. On the contrary, the music is quite fun and gives this game a light, playful feel.

Did I complete the game?

There are 99 levels to play through, but I did not have the patience or desire to play this game for too long. I simply got bored. I think I had had my fill by level 10.

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Here is a low cost game for the Genesis aimed purely at younger players. The theme is cute, as are the characters, but 99 levels is a little much. Since the enemies and music don’t change, the game becomes tiresome quickly. The bonus stages do break the monotony a bit. Overall 21/40”.[1]

Mean Machines Sega: “The conversion of the ancient coin-op looks crap, sounds crap and plays…brilliantly! It’s very simplistic, but for some reason the action is incredibly enjoyable and addictive. Check it out! Overall 88%.[2]

Sega Power: “Cheap maze-chaser with 99 levels of moderately difficult platform action. Cute and definitely aimed at younger players. Overall 2/5.[3]

My Verdict: “Bright and colourful with cute music is all you can say about this game. There just isn’t the detail or depth to this game and it feels like a quick cash in on Sega’s part. It’s cute and great for youngsters, but by 1991, looks dated and I’d suggest spending your money on better games out there…unless you’re a collector of course.”

My Rating:

What are your memories of Flicky? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review Crew – Flicky’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1991). Issue 21:24.

[2] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Flicky’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:138.

[3] ‘The Hard Line – Flicky’. Sega Power. (October 1991). Issue 23:53.

Fatal Labyrinth – Review

Some gamers love nothing better than to take control of an individual or a group of fighters and battle through endless dungeons gaining experience points, better armour, better weaponry and even stronger magic spells. To me, these games feel a tad monotonous and I rarely complete them purely because I don’t have the desire to spend hours fighting the same monsters to gain a few levels to help defeat a big boss only to have to do the same again soon after. It feels like a waste of time to me. Fatal Labyrinth, although containing RPG elements, is an alternative to these types of games. A sort of RPG-lite if you will. The question is, is it any good?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Fatal Labyrinth is a single-player RPG developed and published by Sega. It was released on the Mega Drive in 1991 and appears on Sonic’s Ultimate genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It was also released for Microsoft Windows in 2010 and can also be found on the Nintendo Switch. For this review, I played the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate genesis Collection (2009) on the PlayStation 3.

One day, in an unnamed village in a faraway unnamed land, the monstrous castle of doom known as Dragonia rises from the earth. Ghouls from the castle pour out and head towards the village. They steal the Holy Goblet, a sacred artifact and source of light in the world and take it back with them to the castle leaving the villagers in a state of terror.

One man, Trykaar, volunteers to take up arms and infiltrate the castle to steal back the goblet. To find the goblet, he must search through 30 levels of labyrinth that are filled with all manner of creatures hellbent on stopping him.

Beware the wizards, for they can paralyse you, leaving youu open to attack. (Screenshot taken by the author)

There is very little intro to this game. You simply speak to a few people in the village before heading off to the castle. They don’t confide any information that is particularly helpful, and it all feels like a half-arsed afterthought.

Throughout the labyrinth, you can pick up various weapons, shields, body armour, helmets and bows to defend yourself with. You can also find many magical items such as canes, potions, scrolls and rings. Initially, you don’t know how strong each weapon is or what each of these magical items do until you use them. This works well in this game as it forces you to experiment with your items and adds an element of danger and risk.

You do not automatically pick up these items though, and only have limited numbers you can carry. However, rather than just discarding them, you can choose to throw them at the enemy which I think is a nice, realistic touch. Afterall, having a metal helmet thrown at your face isn’t exactly going to tickle.

Like other RPGs, you gain experience points when you kill enemies. You start as “Beginner” and as you level-up progress onto “Valet” and countless other names. With each level you increase your attack, defence and HP also increase.

When battling the monsters, they will only move in response to you moving. When you take a step, they will take a step at the same time. Some need to be next to you to attack, and others can throw projectiles at you. This means that once one is chasing you, it’s incredibly difficult to lose them so you may have to simply fight them. An annoying aspect to the game is that when you are approaching an enemy to attack, they will move aside one square and so you’ll turn to face them but they will move again meaning that you also move a square. It is as if you are engaging in a medieval dance with a monster. It’s very frustrating. Also, when you do get hit, you are frozen for a split second, and this makes it very difficult to escape, especially when surrounded by multiple enemies.

Every five levels is an automatic checkpoint so that if you die, you will go back to Level 5, 10, 15 etc. You seem to have infinite continues so in theory can play until you get tired of the game. If you stay on the same level for too long, then the screen flashes and the monsters will respawn.

Food is a vital part of the game. When fed, the hero slowly regenerates health. If unfed for extended periods of time, the hero becomes hungry and loses health. If too much food is eaten, the character’s movements become sluggish due of overeating. This is an unnecessary addition to making the game even harder.

Throughout the levels, you can pick up gold. This has very little benefit in the game other than when you die, your gravestone is more elaborate, and more mourners attend your funeral. It’s almost as if the game creators know you are going to die a lot during this game.

Features to watch out for:

Secret Doors – You actively have to press the ‘Pick Up’ button (the square button on the PlayStation joypad) when you are next to a wall to find these secret doors.

Trap Doors – Occasionally, you will fall through the floor to the level below. You simply have to find the stairs again to take you up.

Booby Traps – You may also set off an alarm which causes enemies to respawn and surround you.

There are lots of items to search for and pick up throught the labyrinth. Beware, as not all items will aid you. Some are cursed! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Personally, I feel the graphics leave a lot to be desired. The initial top down view is similar to other games such as Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (1991), but that is all you get. There are no additional battle scenes where player and foes are seen with more elaborate illustrations and animations. The game also lacks the scary atmosphere of Shining in the Darkness (1991).

The music in this game is very unassuming and very repetitive. You won’t need SFX or the music anyway for this game as they add very little to the atmosphere, so I just turned down the volume and listening to a podcast.

This game has plenty of replay value. Although it only has one difficulty setting, the levels are randomly generated so that every time you play, you are greeted with a new labyrinth, and the items will never be in the same place twice.

Did I complete the game?

No, I couldn’t get past Level 11.

What the critics thought:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Even though the mazes change constantly, the gameplay itself never changes, let alone the music! How Irritating! The price is right, however, for the Gauntlet fan who hates playing the same levels over and over. Since no passwords exist, you can only finish in one sitting. Yikes! Overall 20/40.[1]

Mean Machines Sega: “This Cross between a scrolling beat ‘em up and a role-playing game fails to deliver in both categories. The RPG aspect is dull and limited and slow, boring action fails to offer any thrills and spills. Overall 51%.”[2]

SegaPower: “Addictive roam around the labyrinth and collect the goodies RPG. Overhead graphics reveal themselves as you enter each room, which is nice, but it’s just too easy. Overall 2/5.[3]

My Verdict:

“Sadly, this game is rather monotonous and lacks atmosphere. The constant “swing and a miss” dynamic of the fighting is downright tedious. Mediocre graphics and dull music mean that you won’t be missing much if you give this game a miss. Pity really, as the concept had potential.”

My Rating:

What are your memories of Fatal Labyrinth? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review Crew – Fatal Labyrinth’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1991). Issue 21:22. file:///C:/Users/nikth/AppData/Local/Temp/EGM_US_021.pdf Accessed 16th September 2021).

[2] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Fatal Labyrinth’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:138. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n137/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[3] ‘The Hard Line – Fatal Labyrinth’. SegaPower. (October 1991). Issue 23:53 (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 16th September 2021).