Tiny Toon Adventures

“We’re tiny, we’re toony. We’re all a little looney. And in this cartoony we’re invading your TV. We’re comic dispensers. We crack up all the censors. On Tiny Toon Adventures get a dose of comedy.”

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Tiny Toons Adventure is a single-player platform game developed and published by Konami. It was released on the NES in 1991.

Not all is well in Acme Acres. The spoilt rich kid Montana Max is angry because he was unable to bribe the judges of the Animation Festival at Acme Looniversity. Now in a sulk, and wanting to get back at the winner, Buster Bunny, he kidnaps Babs Bunny. Buster, along with pals Dizzy Devil, Furrball, Plucky Duck and Hampton, sets out to rescue Babs.

A cute little platform game (Screenshot taken by the author)

You initially start as Buster Bunny, but can also select Dizzy Devil, Furrball and Plucky Duck, each with their own unique abilities, to assist Buster. You will become your selected character when you collect the star icon. Using these characters, you must complete six worlds each with three levels (except the last two worlds which need to be completed in one go). These include: Field of Screamz; Motion Ocean; Sure Weird Forest; Boomtown; Wacklyland; and Monty’s Mansion. Each world ends with a boss battle. Throughout the levels you have the chance to collect carrots which can be exchanged with Hampton for extra lives.

This is a cute little game, and it’s quite fun to play as the different characters. The controls are easy to learn and are very responsive. Each level has a time limit, which gives you a warning if the timer goes below 30 seconds. You also have unlimited continues. However, if you do use a continue, it takes you back to the beginning of the world.

Each character has unique abilities. Plucky Duck is the best swimmer (Screenshot taken by the author)

The Graphics for the levels and backgrounds are good…not great, just good. Then again, they don’t need to be ground-breaking. This is based on a children’s cartoon after all. The sprites are nicely drawn, although, it is a bit peculiar how Buster Bunny and Plucky Duck don’t have a nice clear black outline like the other sprites.

You can only choose one character to assist Buster at the beginning of each world. It is disappointing that in order to change characters, you need to find the star icon as it would have been a nice opportunity to put in some more complex puzzles where each character is needed to use their unique skill. My preferred sidekick was Plucky Duck as he is the best swimmer and can glide whilst jumping.

It is also frustrating that if you die in the boss battle, you are sent back to the beginning of the level, but I guess they need to give the game some longevity. Oddly, there is no music over the title screen, but the in-game music is an 8-bit version of the Tiny Toon theme from the animated series. There is some musical variety through the different levels, but it is the main theme that is most often heard throughout the game.

I’m confused as to why Plucky Duck and Buster Bunny don’t have a nice clear black outline like all the other sprites (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

Yes, although I think I used approximately 20 continues for the last two worlds alone.

What the critics said:

GamePro: “Strip away that popularity, however, and you’ve still got a solid game with decent challenge. Konami’s given the Toons’ graphics their 8-bit best. Overall 3.4/5.[1]

Entertainment Weekly: “This multilevel action game is easy enough for even small children to master, although older kids may be challenged by the higher levels. Overall A-“.[2]

N-Force: “The funky fluffy sounds, perfectly compliment the graphics, and gameplay’s as brilliant as ever, with six massive levels and a multitude of sub-levels, the lastability factor’s excellent. Overall 89%”.[3]

My verdict: “Nice graphics and a fun little game which is diverting in its own way. The last two worlds in particular are quite challenging. Sadly, with one difficulty setting, there is a real lack of replay value. Definitely one for the younger gamers out there.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Tiny Toons Adventure? 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 Facebook.


[1] The Missing Link. ‘Nintendo Pro Review – Tiny Toon Adventure’. GamePro. (December 1991). 29:38. (https://findyourinnergeek.ca/2013/10/magazine-monday-46-gamepro-issue-29-december-1991/#gallery/5a5d0712b6d4562dc1b1bb0f692dfbf5/8163 Accessed 10th May 2020).

[2] Strauss, B., ‘The Latest Video Games Reviewed’. Entertainment Weekly. (August 7th, 1992).   https://ew.com/article/1992/08/07/latest-videogames-reviewed/ Accessed on 10th May 2020).

[3] ‘Reviewed! – Tiny Toons Adventure’. N-Force. (August 1992). Issue 2:56-7. (https://archive.org/details/N-Force_No_2_1992-08_Europress_Impact_GB/page/n55/mode/2up Accessed on 23rd February 2020).

Final Mission (S.C.A.T./Action in New York)

Shoot ’em ups are not for the light-hearted. They require the quick reflexes and hand-eye coordination of a sprightly feline. They can also be immensely fun to play, especially in co-op mode. These sorts of games were perfect for the arcades and players brave enough to attempt them would soon find they had a mass of spectators cheering them on. Those were the days!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Final Mission is a side-scrolling shoot ‘em up developed by Natsume. It was published by Natsume Co. Ltd. (North America and Japan), Infogames (Europe), and Konami (Australia). It was released on the NES in Japan in 1990. In North America it was released in 1991 under the name SCAT: Special Cybernetic Attack Team. In 1992, it was released in Europe and Australia under the name Action in New York. It was later released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2011, and the Nintendo DS and Wii U in 2014.

The year is 2029, Supreme Commander Vile Malmort leads an army of aliens to invade and conquer Earth. A team consisting of soldiers that are part-human, part-machine, are assembled and sent to repel the invasion.

Use your satellites to attack the enemy, and protect your six! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Final Mission can be played in one, or two player co-op modes. You play as either Arnold or Sigourney, no doubt a nod to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sigourney Weaver (in the Japanese version they are both male). You are equipped with jet packs and two satellite modules that fire at the enemies as you fly around the levels destroying the invaders. You must battle your way through five levels: New York City Ruins; Subterranean Realm; the Astrotube; the Battleship; and the Orbiting Platform. You can pick-up several upgrades along the way, boosting your attacking power and maneuverability. The upgrade icons are: S – Increases the speed of your warrior; L – You wield a high powered laser gun that can shoot through some walls; W – You wield a wide beam to attack multiple enemies; B – Explosive shells; and R – Restores your lost energy.  

The controls are simple and easy to learn. The D-pad moves you around the screen. The B button fires your weapons (some weapons fire continuously when the fire button is held down). The A button locks your satellites into position, and unlocks them again so that they can change position as you move. There is no time limit but the screen will scroll sideways (and sometimes up and down). This feature adds an element of strategy when battling through the levels. Sadly, it only takes three of four hits before you die. You only have one life and four or five continues, which are used up very quickly making this game is very tough.

The graphics and level detail are good. The backgrounds are very detailed and look great. In NES shoot ‘em ups, the backgrounds aren’t usually as detailed (see Gradius II [1988] and Over Horizon [1991]), but Final Mission’s backgrounds are really impressive. However, there is a little bit of flicker when the screen gets too busy.

Did I complete the game?

Nope, didn’t even get past the first stage.

What the critics said:

At present I have been unable to find a contemporary review of this game.

My verdict: “This game looks great and the controls easy to learn and are very responsive. Sadly, the difficulty level is rather off putting and I found that I simply didn’t enjoy playing this game. However, it is a little more fun in two-player mode.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Final Mission? 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 Facebook.

Contra (Probotector & Gryzor)

A picture containing man, holding, people

Description automatically generated

Arcade games were designed to be nigh on impossible to complete. This was because not only did the creators want to challenge gamers, but they also needed to be able to sell a product to arcade owners who in turn wanted games that gamers would repeatedly pump their pocket money in to continue playing…it is a business after all. When arcade games were ported to home consoles, it often seems that the creators failed to adjust the difficulty levels. Young gamers today have no idea how easy they have it all with constant automatic saving, online walkthroughs and cheat pages close-by, at the touch of a button.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Contra is a run and gun video game developed and published by Konami for the Arcade in 1987. A home version was released on the NES in 1988 (in Europe, Contra was known as Probotector). Ocean Software ported the game to the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC in Europe in 1988 under the name Gryzor. Interestingly, Ocean’s cover art for the game was a clearly influenced by a photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Predator. I reviewed the NES version of this game.

The cover art was clearly influenced by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Predator (1987).

According to the NES manual, in 1957, a large object crashed into the Amazon near some Mayan ruins. Nothing further seemed to have happened and the incident was forgotten about. 30 years later, reports of weird alien monsters terrorising the local villages have been received by the Pentagon. Rather than create a political incident by sending in an army, the US send in two commandos, Lance and Bill, to find and destroy the aliens.[1]

Bright colours, clearly defined sprites, and excellent gameplay (Screenshot taken by the author)

Contra is easy to play but tough to master. You mainly run, jump, lay down, and shoot. The controls are nice and responsive, and you can shoot in all directions. However, if you want to shoot directly down, then you need to jump. You can jump down to a lower platform simply by pressing down and jump. Be careful though…one shot can kill you and you only get a finite amount of lives and continues

The manual describes all the levels you will fight through as well as what all the power-ups do. The power ups are greatly appreciated as you progress through the games and the enemies begin to increase in number and strength. They also make defeating the end of level bosses much easier.

After every level you must battle your way through a series of rooms by destroying a flashing button to lower the electrical field (Screenshot taken by the author)

After every level, the perspective changes and your character begins in the foreground firing at enemies and defensive weapons in the background. Once you destroy the circular flashing light, which powers the electrical fence stopping you from moving forward, the rear wall explodes and you can progress to the next room. This must be done several times before you complete the level.

The levels are very well designed and very detailed. They are brightly coloured with many different platforms for you to jump up to and down from. The music fits the game well, and the sprites are clean and nicely animated. The overall graphics are pretty damn good for a home console in 1988.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

The game becomes a lot more fun in two-player mode. Although you are competing for points, you are actually co-operating to beat the game, and it certainly makes the game easier. Mrs. L was my co-op buddy for this run through.

Did I complete the game?

Mrs. L and I did complete the game, but we needed the cheat that gave us 30 odd lives each. Else we could only get past the first few levels. On YouTube I did see one video where someone completed the game without dying once. Fair play to them.

What the critics said:

Computer Gaming World: “Two player contests are always in demand, because most video games are designed for a solo gamer. Contra is doubly welcome, because it is a truly outstanding action epic.” No rating given.[2]

Joystick: ”Overall 92%”.[3]

Awards:

Best Action Game – 1989 Player’s Choice Awards[4]

My verdict:

“Although this game is tough, it is also a lot of fun, especially in two player mode. Great graphics, tight controls, and adrenalin inducing levels. I think that you will find yourself returning to this game again and again.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Contra? 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 Facebook.


[1] ‘How to Play Contra’. NES Contra Manual. :4 (https://www.gamesdatabase.org/Media/SYSTEM/Nintendo_NES/manual/Formated/Contra_-_1988_-_Konami.pdf Accessed 28th March 2020)

[2] Katz, A., ‘Video Gaming World – Contra’. Computer Gaming World. (June 1988). 48:40. (https://archive.org/details/Computer_Gaming_World_Issue_48/page/n39/mode/2up Accessed March 29th 2020).

[3] Huyghues-Lacour, A., ‘Probotector’. Joystick. (April 1991). 15:118. (https://archive.org/details/joystick015/page/n117/mode/2up Accessed on 6th July 2020).

[4] ‘The 1989 “Player’s Choice Awards” – Best Action Game: Contra’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :20. (https://retrocdn.net/images/6/64/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1989.pdf Accessed on 6th February 2020).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

“They’re the world’s most fearsome fighting team.
(We’re really hip!)
They’re heroes in a half-shell and they’re green.
(Hey, get a grip!)
When the evil Shredder attacks,
These Turtle boys don’t cut him no slack!”

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles burst onto our TV screens in 1987. I had very mixed feelings towards them. On the one hand, ninjas were cool to most boys when I was a kid. On the otherhand, it coincided with the end of my favourite cartoon series Transformers. Over the next few years their star rose culminating in a trio of mediocre live action films in 1990, 1991, and 1993. With such a high evel of popularity, it was only a matter of time before video games featuring Turtle Power would appear.

A picture containing food

Description automatically generated
Title screen (Screenshot taken by author)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a side-scrolling platform game developed and published by Konami in 1989 for the NES (Ultra Games published it for the North American and European markets in 1989 and 1990 respectively). It was later released on the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX, ZX Spectrum, and Playchoice 10. The version I reviewed was a on the NES.

The story follows the main objective of the animated series. Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo must retrieve the Life Transformer Gun from Shredder in order to return Splinter to his human form.

The overworld map allows you to explore buildings before heading back to the sewers (Screenshot taken by author)

There is a basic intro which shows the Turtles mutating from their smaller selves, before showing the range of moves they can perform. It music over the intro is quite good as to seems signifying the tough attitude of the Turtles. Sadly, the intro is pretty dull when compared to the likes of Batman and Castlevania III.

There are three aspects to the game: A side-scrolling platform part, a swimming part, and top down adventure style part.

The menu screen allows you to see a map of your area, receive instructions from Splinter, and change between the Turtles if their energy is getting too low (Screenshot taken by author)

You begin in the overworld adventure mode, on the streets of the city. There is some catchy music playing whilst you investigate your surroundings. For some reason the energy meter at the bottom flickers, and I’m unsure if that was intentional, to draw your attention to it, or simply an error on the creators’ part. If at anytime you are unsure what to do, you can select the information area where either Splinter or April will explain your task. You can also see a map of the area, and the energy levels of each Turtle. If you need to, you can select which Turtle to use at any time.

When you enter buildings and sewers, you begin the platform part of the game. Which involves battling through enemies from left to right, and interestingly, right to left. Each Turtle is equipped with their respective weapon of either a katana, sai, bow and nunchuks. Along the way they can also pick up weapons such as shurikens with which to throw at the baddies. To gain health, keep an eye out for slices of pizza.

The sewers contain lots of baddies for you to defeat (Screenshot taken by author)

During all levels you can change between Turtles at any time. Each Turtle is distinguishable by their coloured bands and weapons just like the animated series. I tended to favour Donatello because of his long reach and power with the bow.

The gameplay itself is simple. Walk, jump, swing your weapons in various directions, and throw projectiles. Annoyingly, the movement can get a bit choppy and jerky when there are too many enemies on screen.

Occasionally you get a cut scene using a mix of in-game sprites and nicer drawn character close-ups. I feel they could have done better with these cut scenes, they feel lazy and uninspiring.

Some of the baddies are poorly illustrated , and it is unclear exactly what they are (Screenshot taken by author)

In overworld areas, the graphics are clean and colourful. However, some of sprites during the platform section are poorly illustrated and it’s difficult to identify what they are. Some enemies are clearly defined, but others look a bit hazy, and stick out like a sore thumb. The NES is clearly capable of so much more. You only have to look at Duck Tales and Batman to see how naff the platform level sprites are, including the Turtles themselves.

The swimming level is notoriously tough. You need to find and disarm bombs that have been planted to destroy the dam. Although they can breathe underwater (not accurate for turtles but we won’t hold that against the creators), for Turtles, they don’t seem to be able to swim very well, and are hard to control. Often you must swim through tight gaps where “electric seaweed” damages you if you touch it. You also need to evade electric beams and disarm all the bombs before the time runs out.

The swimming level has gone down in history as being very tough to complete (Screenshot taken by author)

The music, though fitting for the game, lacks the recognisable traits of the animated series. The only time you hear anything resembling the original theme at certain times like when you rescue April or finish the swimming level. This is stark contrast to games like Duck Tales where the recognisable theme is present throughout.

The game is notoriously challenging. There are lots of baddies to kill but completing missions with all Turtles and health intact is nigh impossible. If you re-enter buildings and sewers, the levels are reset meaning you have to fight all the baddies again, but this is handy when needing to find pizza to gain health.

Did I complete the game?

No, I just about got past the swimming level.

What the critics said:

Computer & Video Games: “The graphics are great, a bit on the blocky side at times but with lots of colour and some nice additions such as the opening sequence which shows the turtles being transformed into their mutant alter-egos. The game itself is very tough…the high level of difficulty isn’t at all frustrating, in fact it only adds to the overall brilliance of the product. Overall 89%[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: Donn – “TMNT wasn’t overly impressive – I thought it would have been much better considering all the hype that t achieved. The game play is there and the graphics are nice, but the whole cart didn’t meet my expectations. It is good, but I was expecting more. Overall 5.75/10.[2]

Nintendo Power: “The sound effects and the music in the tunnels and buildings are excellent…Great graphics and excellent character control in Action Scenes make this an exceptional game…cool storyboard graphics. Overall 4.125/5.[3]

The Games Machine: “The game kicks off to a great start with an oriental tune and some impressive portraits of the turtles. Though, sadly, some of the in-game graphics are a bit iffy and there is the odd screen glitch. Initial playability is high, all the turtle sprites are well drawn and animated and the bad guys present quite a challenge. Overall 86%.[4]

Gamepro: “The absence of a multi-player option detracts from the whole concept of Turtle togetherness, the overall action is average, and it’s nearly impossible to finish with only two continues. Also, although the Turtles look cool, the Foot Clanners’ graphics are a little weak. Turtles Overall 3.8/5.[5]

Raze: “The difficulty factory is set just right; frustrating but nothing to put your Nintendo in physical danger. The graphics are impressive for the NES, with superb use of vivid colours and impressive animation. Overall 87%.[6]

Awards:

Best Theme, Fun 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989[7]

Best Overall 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989[8]

Most Eagerly Anticipated Game (That Was Released) – Electronic Gaming Monthly Best and Worst of 1989[9]

My verdict:

“TMNT is as tough as I remember. Graphically, the platform levels should have been much better. The gameplay would be great if it wasn’t so choppy, and it was disappointing that the original theme tune didn’t feature more. However, It was still a fond trip down memory lane, and I will certainly pick it up the controller up again at some point to try and beat the game in the future.”

Rating:

What are your memories of TMNT? 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 Facebook.


[1] Rand, P., ‘Mean Machines: Nintendo – Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles’. Computer and Video Games. (June 1990). Issue 104:98-9. (https://archive.org/details/computer-and-videogames-104/page/n97/mode/2up Accessed 20th March 2020).

[2] ‘Review Crew – TMNT’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (October 1989). Issue 4:10. (https://retrocdn.net/images/6/6e/EGM_US_004.pdf Accessed 20th March 2020).

[3] ‘Previews – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’ Nintendo Power. (March/April 1989). Issue 5:52-5. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20005%20March-April%201989#page/n47/mode/2up Accessed 20th March 2020).

[4] Caswell, M., ‘Reviews – Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.’ The Games Machine. (July 1990). Issue 32:28-9. (https://archive.org/details/the-games-machine-32/page/n27/mode/2up Accessed 20th March 2020).

[5] Slasher Quan, ‘Pro Classics – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’. Gamepro. (March 1991). Volume 3 Issue 3:28-9. (https://retrocdn.net/images/9/92/GamePro_US_020.pdf Accessed 20th March 2020).

[6] Ellis, L., ‘Reviews – Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.’ Raze. (December 1990). Issue 2:46-7. (https://archive.org/details/raze-magazine-02/page/n45/mode/2up Accessed 20th March 2020).

[7] ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:27. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20012%20May-June%201990#page/n23/mode/2up Accessed 1st July 2020).

[8] ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:28. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20012%20May-June%201990#page/n23/mode/2up Accessed 1st July 2020).

[9] ‘Best and Worst of 1989’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1990 Video Game Buyer’s guide. Issue 5:19. (https://retrocdn.net/images/d/d5/EGM_US_005.pdf Accessed 1st July 2020).

Age of Empires II: Age of Kings (Including The Conquerors, The Forgotten, The African Kingdoms, and The Rise of the Rajas Expansion Packs)

Age of Empires (AoE) allowed you to take part in the rise and domination of Ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, Yamato and Romans. The Roman Empire has now collapsed and a power vacuum has appeared in Europe. You can take control of civilisations such as the Mongols, Holy Roman Empire, Moors, and Franks, and follow the stories of some of history’s most famous people such as Joan of Arc, William Wallace, El Cid, Saladin and Barbarossa. It’s time to shine up your armour, sharpen your weapons, and prepare to build an army capable of dominating your enemies. We are now in the Age of Kings!

The Age of Kings

Titlescreen (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

Released in 1999, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings is a real-time strategy game and the sequel to Age of Empires. It was developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft (for Windows and Macintosh), and Konami ( for Playstation 2) for the 2001 port. A spin-off was created for the Nintendo DS in 2006.

Every campaign has a campaign map allowing you to easily replay missions. This map is from the William Wallace tutorial (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author).

If you are new to AoE, and even if you’re not, a tutorial campaign is available where you help William Wallace (1270-1305) and his armies defend their lands from English encroachment. Other campaigns include:

Joan of Arc (1412-1431): Help the French push the English out of France during the Hundred Years’ War.

Saladin (1137-1193): Fight with the Muslim armies and help expel the Crusaders from the Holy Lands.

Genghis Khan (1162-1227): Lead Khan’s army on their invasion of Europe.

Frederick Barbarossa (1122-1190): The Teutonic expansion of the Holy Roman Empire.

As with AoE, you have the option to play Campaign or Random Map modes. In Campaign Mode, you are given a specific objective fitting with the storyline. You must send your villagers to collect resources (wood, food, gold and stone) in order to build a base and an army. By gathering resources you will also be able to progress from the Dark Age through the Feudal and Castle Ages to the Renaissance. If resources are scarce, you can used trade cogs or the market to sell and buy materials.

In-game in the William Wallace campaign (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

In Random Map Mode, the computer generates a range of differing landscapes and conditions. You have the option of choosing between 13 civilisations. Once chosen you can then opt who you compete against, and your and your opponent’s starting ages. You can win by either defeating your enemy, by building a Wonder that stands for 1000 years, or by collecting relics in a certain amount of time. The additional Deathmatch Mode starts you with an abundance of resources to quickly build a powerful army, and Regicide Mode sees you needing to kill the opponent’s king unit to win.

What’s new?

Before each campaign mission you are greeted with a screen showing text, illustrations, and voice over narrating the context of the mission. During the missions, some of the characters converse with each other offering hints to help find resources, make you aware of enemy locations, or simply helping to move the story along.

Cut scene from the Joan of Arc campaign (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)
The Siege of Orleans from the Joan of Arc campaign (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

AoE II has also introduced counter-units to ensure more strategic gameplay. For example, infantry such as men-at-arms and swordsmen, are good against buildings but poor against cavalry. So how do you defeat cavalry? You train spearmen and pikemen who, in groups, make short work of cavalry. Each civilisation also has one or two special units. For example, the Britons have Longbowmen, archery units with an increased attack range. Like priests in AoE, monks can convert enemy units and heal your own. They are also able to pick up and carry relics back to their churches. These relics can offer bonuses such as giving you a slow but steady trickle of gold into your coffers.

Another new interesting feature is the option to garrison units in town centres, castles, archery ranges and guard towers. When you garrison archers and villagers into the aforementioned buildings, additional arrows will be fired to help defend your base.

One more helpful feature is the town bell. By pressing the bell icon when the town centre is selected, villagers will automatically garrison in the nearest building, which is handy for when you are being attacked. Interestingly villagers are now male and female adding more realism to the game.

The graphics and sound have been greatly improved from the first instalment. Buildings and units are more colourful and intricately illustrated, adding to the idea that technology has moved a long way since the Classical world. The overall look of the landscapes has also greatly improved from AoE.

The Siege of Jerusalem from the Saladin campaign (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

This game has tons of replay value. Once you’re bored with the expansion campaigns and random map modes, you can also play multiplayer online where the game really comes into its own, or so I am told.

Last, but not least, you are able to read a short history of all civilisations featured in the game. As a history buff I find this a neat little feature as it adds more context to the campaigns and offers further insight into civilisations that we didn’t learn about at school.

What the Critics Said:

PC Zone: “Easy to learn, hard to master…detailed graphics and finely balanced units. Vastly improved single-player game…perhaps too similar to the original game. Overall 90%[1]

Gamespot: “No matter how you play it, chances are good that you’ll enjoy Age of Kings if not for its careful historical detail then because its context never takes precedence over the game’s playability. And if you’ve ever liked any other real-time strategy game in this classical style, then you’ll clearly see why this one deserves so much credit, even in direct comparison to the finest examples in its category. Overall 9.1/10[2]

Awards:

1999 Strategy Game of the Year – http://www.Gamespot.com

Best of ’99 Strategy Game – Gamepower

Editor’s Choice – PC Gamer

Editor’s Choice – Computer Gaming World[3]

Wikipedia states that AoE II won several other awards but I have been unable to verify those claims.

The Conquerors

In 2000, the Conquerors Expansion was released adding five new civilisations (Aztecs, Mayans, Spanish, Koreans and Huns) and four new campaigns:

Atilla the Hun (406-453): Follow Attila’s rise to power as he battles against a crumbling Roman Empire.

Montezuma (1466-1520): Ruler of the Tenochtitlán who must defend the Aztec Empire from Hernán Cortéz and the Spanish invasion.

El Cid (1043-1099): The Castillian knight who fought for both Christians and Muslims in Spain.

Battles of the Conquerors: A group of unrelated but famous historical battles including the Battle of Hastings (1066), the Battle of Tours (732), and the Battle of Yamazaki (1582).

Although some units are the same, many new buildings styles and units are introduced (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

The Conquerors also introduced several new features and tweaks. New buildings styles and units indicative of the civilisations were introduced such as the Eagle Warrior for the Aztecs. The addition of the King of the Hill, Defend the Wonder and Wonder Race scenarios, add new criteria for winning Random Map games. New winter and tropical maps have been included, and it is now possible to garrison infantry troops inside battering rams, increasing their speed and attack strength.

AI has been improved to help manage your settlement. For example, villagers will automatically begin to collect the nearest resource once they have built a resource gathering site such as the lumber or gold mine sites. When building walls, villagers will spread out and build separate parts of the wall rather than massing on one block at a time. Also if more than one villager is sent to a farm, the second villager will automatically seed a new farm and begin to harvest food. Siege weapons such as mangonels and onagers will not automatically fire if they are at risk of hitting their own soldiers, which I know was something that annoyed a hell of a lot of gamers about AoE and AoE II.

What the Critics Said:

Gamespot: “Virtually every addition in The Conquerors helps make Age of Empires II a better, more thoroughly enjoyable game. Nevertheless, it’s true that the enhancements to the interface and the tweaks to the game’s balance are more obvious to more experienced Age of Kings players. This is largely because Age of Kings was an outstanding game to begin with – and as such, any improvements in an expansion pack such as The Conquerors understandably provide only a marginal improvement overall. At the same time, the multiple additions in The Conquerors add up to be more than enough to entice Age of Kings players to focus their attention on this ambitious, deeply strategic game once again – and for a long time. Overall 8.5/10[4]

Awards:

According to Wikipedia, The Conquerors won PC Gamer US Best Expansion Pack of 2000, but I was unable to find the magazine to verify.

The Forgotten

Titlescreen (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

In 2013 another expansion pack, The Forgotten, developed by SkyBox Labs and Forgotten Empires, and published by Microsoft Studios, was released. It introduced five new civilisations: Italians, Indians, Slavs, Magyars, and Incas. It also offered seven new campaigns which included:

Alaric of the Visigoths (370-410): Fighting back against the Romans.

Bari (c.800-Middle Ages): The fall of Rome left room for competing Italian states to try and gain power. Here is the story of one such Byzantine family.

Sforza (15th century): Sforza is a mercenary offering his services around Italy where they are needed. His fate is in your hands.

Dracula (1428-1477): The Story of Vlad the Impaler amidst incursions from the Ottoman Empire.

El Dorado (1540-41): Francisco Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro travel to South America in search of the Lost City of Gold hidden somewhere in the Amazonian rainforest.

Prithviraja III (reign c.1178-1192): Help Prithviraja III unite the warring clans of India.

Battles of the Forgotten: More independent historical battles including the Conquest of Cyprus (1570-73), Battle of Langshan Jiang (919), and Dos Pilas (629-761).

The Forgotten fixed a few bugs noted from the Age of Kings and The Conquerers. As well as new technologies and new units consistent with the new civilisations, it also introduced Capture the Relic and Treaty modes for Random Map games. Not only are new maps included but some maps have been expanded so that they are four times bigger than previous maps.

What the Critics Said:

I was unable to find critic reviews for The Forgotten, although it has had mostly positive ratings from users on Steam.[5]

The African Kingdoms

(HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

In 2015 yet another expansion pack called The African Kingdoms was released. It introduced four new civilisations (Berbers, Ethiopians, Malians, and the Portuguese). The new Campaigns included:

Sundjata (Malians c.1217-c.1255): The Ghanaian Empire has fallen leaving a power vacuum in West Africa. Help Sundjata build the Malian Empire and rule over West Africa.

Francisco de Almeida (c.1450-1510): Wars between the Moors and Christians have taken its toll on Portugal. They must branch out to find new sources of wealth unavailable to them in Europe. You must help push East to India.

Yodit (Ethiopans c.960): The Ethiopian Princess is accused of theft by her jealous nephew and is forced to flee her homeland. Help her regain her birth right.

Tariq ibn Ziyad (Berbers invasion of Spain and Portugal 711-718): Lead your army across the Strait of Gibraltar to wealth and glory in Iberia.

Screenshot from the Yodit campaign showing new building styles (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

As well as the usual bug fixes, tweaks, new units and technologies, consistent with the new civilisations, and new maps; a new mode, Sudden Death mode, was added.

What the critics said:

I was unable to find critic reviews of The African Kingdom, although it has had very positive ratings from users.[6]

The Rise of the Rajas

(HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

Finally, in 2016, The Rise of the Rajas expansion pack was released. It included four more civilisations (Burmese, Malay, Khmer and Vietnamese). The new campaigns were:

Bayinnaung (Burma 1516-1581): A warrior king is betrayed and assassinated. His devoted servant pledges to carry on his legacy and seeks to reunite south-east Asia and create an empire.

Suryavarman I (Cambodia 1002-1060): The Khmer Empire is in turmoil due to internal politics and warring factions. There are also external threats from the surrounding, hostile neighbours. You must help Suryavarman I rise to power, defeat the warring factions and restore the Khmer Empire to dominance.

Gajah Mada (Java 1290-1364): Prime Minister of Majapahit, Gajah Mada, plans to build an empire that will rule the archipelago. However, he has sworn an oath to the king. How will he reconcile his ambition and his loyalty?

Lê Lợi (Vietnam 1384-1433): Vietnam is in the midst of a civil war and the Ming Empire of China has intervened and seized control. Minor noble Lê Lợi must reunite the warring factions and regain independence.

(HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

As with the other expansions, many bug fixes and balance changes were made. A multitude of more maps were added, as well as the usualy building and unit style changes consistent with their respective civilisations.

What the critics said:

I was unable to find critic reviews of Rise of the Rajas, although it has had very positive ratings on from users on Steam.[7]

The graphics of AoE II and all respective expansion packs are beautiful. The lush green maps, arid deserts, and coastal areas and are vastly improved from AoE. Although not perfect, and there are plenty of similarities, they have done a fine job in trying to create unique buildings and units distinctive to their respective civilisations.

The music has also been improved. Although the in-game background music isn’t designed to take your attention away from the action, the music adds a feeling of dread to the game, and is very atmospheric.

The campaigns are excellent and are far superior to AoE. Before each misson, the cut scenes really help set up each scenario, drawing the user into the story. The mix of different civilisations and empires rising and falling is based on real history, highlighting how violent our past was, and how things could easily have turned out differently for the winners or losers. Imagine if the Normans were defeated at the Battle of Hastings, or if the Aztecs were able to repel the Spanish invasions. History may have turned out differently. The addition of the expansion packs focussing on the history of not just European empires, but Asian, African and South American empires as well, means that the history of those non-European empires can be brought to the western world, where these histories are not taught in mainstream education. Learning about other cultures and histories will only enrich us.

One of the downsides to AoE was that once you had an army of maxed out hoplites, you could pretty much win any scenario. The introduction of counter units in AoE II has added an extra challenge to the game, forcing players to use a plethora of different units in their armies in order to be successful.

For me, what lets this game down, and this is why I have only given it four stars instead of five, is that I feel that this was made for hardcore real-time strategy gamers only. There is nothing wrong with that of course. What I mean is that I found the majority of the missions too difficult, even on the standard difficulty setting. You barely have time to figure out your location before you are inundated with wave upon wave of attacks. In some cases I got the feeling that the game must be cheating as they seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of resources.

“Get good!” I hear some of the hardcore real-time strategists say.

You may be right. Maybe I need to get better, but surely that is why difficulty settings are there. I also found that some of the missions took over two hours to complete. That just seemed too long for me.

Did I complete the games?

I have completed the games, but I mostly had to use the resource cheats as even the standard difficulty setting proved too difficult for me on many occasions.

My verdict:

“All real-time strategists will love this game. The sequel and expansion packs are great value for money with tons of replay value. They are beautifully designed and very challenging. Too many similarities between units of different civilisations and the overall difficulty was too apparent to allow a clean sweep of five stars.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Age of Empires II? 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 Facebook.


[1] Shoemaker, R., ‘Reviews – Age of Empires II: Age of Kings’. PC Zone. (Xmas 1999). Issue 84:72-75. (https://archive.org/details/PC_Zone_Issue_084_1999_Dennis_Publishing_GB_christmas_edition/page/n73/mode/2up Accessed on 8th February 2020).

[2] Kasavin, G., (12th October 1999). ‘Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings – Review’. http://www.gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-ii-the-age-of-kings-review/1900-2537995/ Accessed on 8th February 2020).

[3] (27th January 2000). ‘“Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings” Crowned No. 1 on Holiday Sales Charts Around the World’. News.Microsoft.com. (https://news.microsoft.com/2000/01/27/age-of-empires-ii-the-age-of-kings-crowned-no-1-on-holiday-sales-charts-around-the-world/ Accessed on 8th February 2020).

[4] Kasavin, G., (25th August 2000). ‘Age of Empires II: The Conquerors Review’. www.gamspot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-ii-the-conquerors-review/1900-2620147/ Accessed 8th February 2020).

[5] ‘Age of Empires II (2013): The Forgotten’. Steam. (https://store.steampowered.com/app/239550/Age_of_Empires_II_2013_The_Forgotten/ Accessed on 8th February 2020).

[6] ‘Age of Empires II (2013): The African Kingdoms’. Steam. (https://store.steampowered.com/app/355950/Age_of_Empires_II_2013_The_African_Kingdoms/ Accessed on 8th February 2020).

[7] ‘Age of Empires II: The Rise of the Rajas’. Steam. (https://store.steampowered.com/app/488060/Age_of_Empires_II_2013_Rise_of_the_Rajas/ Accessed on 9th February 2020).