Shining In The Darkness

Shining in the Darkness (Shining and the Darkness in Japan) is a role-playing game developed by Climax Entertainment and Sonic Software Planning, and was published by Sega in 1991 for the Mega Drive.

Shining in the Darkness doesn’t have a title screen as such (Screenshot taken by the author)

In the Kingdom of Thornwood, the king’s daughter, Princess Jessa, has disappeared whilst visiting the shrine of her deceased mother. Mortred, one of the king’s most brave and trusted knights, was charged with escorting her to the shrine. He is also missing. You take control of Mortred’s son and agree to be the search party.

Shining in the Darkness is a real dungeon crawler that sees your character, along with friends Milo and Pyra, exploring what seems like endless miles of dungeons. Along the way you have random encounters with all manner of ugly beasts. Deafeating these will help your team gain experience points and level up, increasing stats and allowing new spells to be learnt. Gold is also acquired which allows you to buy new weapons and armour.

When leaving the palace, a map appears showing you the three locations you can visit: the palace, the town or the dungeons. In the town you can visit the shrine to save your progress; enter the tavern to talk to some interesting character and regain your health with an overnight stay; visit the weaponry and armoury where you can upgrade to stronger weapons and armour; and buy antidotes and healing potions needed for your adventures in the dungeon from the Alkemist (not alchemist I might add).

Isn’t that the same guy from Golden Axe? (Screenshot taken by the author)

Moving through the dungeons is simple. You can move forwards, walk backwards and turn left or right. The interactive menu consists of four boxes at the bottom of the screen and can be called upon at any time. It allows you to check your party’s status, use items, equip weapons and armour etc. When confronted with enemies, the menu changes to include attack, use item, use magic and flee options. When attacking, you have the option to choose which groups of enemies to attack first, but sadly, you cannot choose which individuals to attack within a group. If your health gets too low, you can spirit yourself out of the dungeons using the egress spell or angel feather.

The music sounds great and has heroic air, fitting for such a game. The graphics are awesome. The palace, tavern and shop scenes are bright and colourful, and the dungeons themselves and the enemies are well illustrated. There really are no complaints here. The game looks gorgeous!

To arms! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Although it is easy to learn, the game soon becomes too monotonous in my opinion. Having to navigate the same dungeon levels to gain enough experience points to fight deadlier opponents and raise enough money for better weapons becomes a real drag after a while. I know this is the whole point of RPGs but I found myself losing interest, especially when you have to traverse the same dungeons you’ve completed to reach the next dungeon. There are also times when it is unclear where you should go next. I definitely recommend you drawing your own map else you will get lost.

A nice little Easter Egg is that the dwarf who sells you your weapons seems to be the same dwarf from Golden Axe. One of his sacks on the left in the background even has a picture of one of those little imps who you steal magic potions from. Does this mean that Golden Axe and Shining in the Darkness occur in the same universe?

What the critics said:

Mean Machines: “A reasonable, but pricey RPG with impressive graphics, let down by combat system that soon becomes a chore. Overall 69%.[1]

Mean Machines Sega: “A role-playing game with excellent graphics and a brilliant window system. Shining in the Darkness is recommended to RPG buffs. Watch out though for irritating combat, reliant on luck than the player’s skill. Overall 72%.[2]

Dragon: “The game combines the icons and combat of Phantasy Star III, the first person perspective of Phantasy Star I, and the great close-up graphics of Phantasy Star II. The combat can sometimes be tedious without the battle animation so well programmed in Phantasy Star II. Overall 4/5.[3]

Sega Force: “Shining in the Darkness is the most colourful, enchanting RPG I’ve played on the Mega Drive – I enjoyed it even more than Phantasy Star II and III. Overall 90%“.[4]

Sega Pro: “RPG’s and great graphics don’t usually go together but Shining in the Darkness breaks the mould. Loads of playability and potential addictiveness will make this RPG a game to remember. Overall 93%.[5]

My Verdict:

“This is a beautiful game! It is easily to learn and there is plenty there to keep hardened RPG fans interested for hours and hours. For the average gamer though, monotony and frustration at repeating the same areas again and again soon becomes tiresome. However, this game is definitely worth your attention”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shining in the Darkness? 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] ‘Mega Drive Review: Shining in the Darkness’. Mean Machines. (November 1991). Issue 14:112-3. (https://ia800308.us.archive.org/3/items/mean-machines-magazine-14/MeanMachines_14_Nov_1991.pdf Accessed 11th February 2020).

[2] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Shining in the Darkness’. Mean Machines Sega. (October 1992). Issue 1:140. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n139/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[3] ‘Reviews – Shining in the Darkness’. Dragon Magazine. (February 1992). Issue 178:60. (https://annarchive.com/files/Drmg178.pdf Accessed 14th June 2020).

[4] ‘Reviewed – Shining in the Darkness’. Sega Force. (January 1992). Issue 1:52-3. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/27/SegaForce_UK_01.p Accessed 14th June 2020).

[5] ‘Proreview – Shining in the Darkness’ Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:58-60. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 15th June 2020).

Alien Storm

By the early 90s, multiplayer beat ‘em ups/hack and slash games such as Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Final Fight were growing increasingly popular. The increasing array of characters and fighting moves kept gamers playing these games time and again, using all characters in a bid to master them. The multiplayer modes meant that you could play with friends and spend countless rainy afternoons and cold winter evenings in imaginary worlds saving the planet, defeating crime bosses or rescuing royalty.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by author)

Alien Storm is a beat ‘em up/shooter hybrid developed and published by Sega for the arcade in 1990, and ported to the Mega Drive and Master System in 1991. It was later released in the Wii Virtual Console in 2007, and as part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The version I played and reviewed was the original Sega Mega Drive version.

Earth is being invaded by an army of incredibly ugly and aggressive aliens. A team of crack special force operatives known as the “Alien Busters”, comprising of the flame-thrower wielding Karen; the hunky Garth (Gordon in some versions) with his electric rifle, and Scooter (Slammer in PAL version) the robot, are sent to repel the invasion. Eight missions sees them battle through cities and towns, laboratories, electronic goods stores and eventually a UFO.

Oddly, the main character looks like Elvis Presley in his profile picture (Screenshot taken by author)

The game is mostly a linear beat ‘em up which sees the players fight from left to right. There are sections of the levels where the game changes to a shooter style game which adds a nice bit of variety to the action. Each character can attack, run, and perform a running attack. There are two bars: life and energy to keep an eye on too. When using your weapon, the energy bar begins to deplete. If you use your special attack, the energy bar depletes more quickly. Along the way, you can pick up medicine and batteries to replenish your life and energy levels. There are a few end of level bosses in the game which take a long time to deafeat if you don’t have special attacks, so I recommend not using them until the boss fights. The controls are very easy to learn, and the game quickly turns into a button masher with little strategy required.

Alien Storm incorporated elements of the rail-shooter genre (Screenshot taken by author)

The graphics are great! The levels contain detailed backgrounds and the sprites are bright, colourful and well designed with clear outlines. As the game progresses the increased difficulty of the aliens is noted by a colour palette change.

Each character has an individual move set and special attack but there doesn’t seem to be a difference in strength, agility etc. Interestingly, if you look at the profile picture of Gordon in the bottom left corner of the screen, to me, he looks unmistakably like Elvis Presley.

Watch out for the alien marsupials!!! (Screenshot taken by author)

Before beginning the game, you can choose between three difficulty settings: easy, normal or hard. To add an extra element of difficulty, you can also set your energy bar levels to either easy, normal or hard. When you complete the game, after the end of game scenes and credits, you get a score and a rating. As far as I know, your score makes no difference to the game ending. This adds to the replay value of the game as it encourages additional run throughs.

As with these types of games, two-player co-op modes only add to the fun. To further increase the replay value of the game, the Mega Drive version also contained a Duel mode and a Player v Player mode. In the Duel mode, you select a player and must compete in fights with differing numbers and strengths of aliens. The more rounds you win, the higher your overall score at the end. I received a score of 82 and the title “Champion”. During these battles there is no way to regain your energy so use your weapons sparingly. In the Player v Player mode, you and your opponent select one of the three main protagonists each to fight in a one on one battle. The first player to win two rounds, wins the fight. Sadly, this is a bit naff due to the fact that you only have a limited move set. There is not enough variation in attack combinations to make these battles interesting.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have completed this game many times over the years in both one and two-player modes, but only in easy mode.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines:An absolutely outstanding conversion from the coin-op, with great graphics and highly enjoyable one or two-player action. The big problem is that it’s just too easy. For some unknown reason, the import version was harder, but even then, it’s not that difficult to finish. Those new to the Mega Drive scene will really enjoy the action – experts, though, are warned that they might just find themselves finishing this prematurely. Overall 78%.[1]

Sega Pro: “A space age Golden Axe. One or two players can choose from three characters and then walk through eight levels packed with superbly animated and intricately detailed aliens. Great fun as each of the players has a special weapon and executes them in an amusing way. For instance, the robot takes off his (head) and self-destructs as he walks off screen. Way too easy, though. Overall 79%.[2]

My verdict:

“I have great memories playing this game with my sister and brother. Its looks great, plays great, and the mix of beat ‘em up and shooter adds some nice variety. The replay value is there too, and I think this is an underrated game from the Mega Drive catalogue. However, it must be said that titles such as Golden Axe and Streets of Rage are still superior in every aspect: Story, graphics, music…the lot.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Alien Storm? 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] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Alien Storm’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:137. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n135/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[2] ‘Sega Showdown – Alien Storm’. Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:19. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 15th June 2020).

Robocop

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!”

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Robocop is a beat ’em up/run and gun arcade game developed and published by Data East. Based on the 1987 film Robocop, it was released in 1988 for the Arcade, Apple 2, PC, Amiga and Atari ST. It was later release on the NES in 1989 and the Game Boy in 1990.

A crime wave has swept the city of Detroit and the streets are no longer safe. OCP, a private company, have developed a cyborg to assist law enforcement. Using his fists, and an array of guns, the cyborg known as Robocop aims to clean up the streets, destroy ED-209, and defeat Dick James, the mastermind behind the crime epidemic.

Before the game starts, the intro consists of a run through of Robocop’s cybernetic make-up, which I think would have been made better with a bit more backstory as to how Robocop came to be. Not everyone has seen the film after all. However, the cut scene between the levels are nicely illustrated and the phrase “Crime in progress” appears which is a nice nod to the movie.

A short but well illustrated cut scene kicks the game off (Screenshot taken by the author)

That game is very easy to play. Robocop is a big hunk of machinery and so he can only walk at one speed (As you can imagine, he cannot jump). However, he can also climb and descend stairs, crouch and block, and punch or fire his gun (Note: when descending the stairs you only need to press down as oppose to diagonally down). He can fire his gun in all directions except straight down. During the levels, Robocop can pick up and use other firearms other than his standard side-arm including a machine gun and cobra gun (Robocops standard side-arm has infinite ammo but these other weapons do not).

There is no time limit to the levels, but Robocop’s energy bar depletes as he progresses through the level. Once the bar is depleted he will cease to function and need to restart the level. Thankfully, he can pick up batteries along the way to restore his energy bar. Robocop’s health bar will deplete if he is hit by an enemy. Collecting bottles labelled ‘P’ will help restore his health.

Why unarmed criminals try to take on a cyborg I’ll never know! (Screenshot taken by the author)

At the bottom right of the screen are four symbols. When they flash they indicate the following:

Infrared Vision – Which will help you locate a weak wall that you need to punch to break through.

Punch – You can only defeat an enemy by punching.

Foe Detector – Begins to flash faster and faster the closer you get to a boss/sub-boss.

Energy/Power Alarm – Indicates when energy or health levels are low or when they drop dramatically.

Graphically, this game is good for an 8-bit console in 1989, and matches the likes of Ninja Gaiden. The sprites are detailed and clearly defined against the backgrounds, and when using his gun, Robocop even mimics the one-handed stance seen in the film. The backgrounds themselves are pretty good too. However, there is a fair bit of sprite flicker, especially from the dogs and when you’re shooting at the first boss.

Robocop will only use his gun when the threat level increases (Screenshot taken by the author)

Like the film, Robocop matches his weapon to the threat level of his attackesr, which I think is a very neat feature and adds an element of realism to the game. This means that Robocop won’t use his gun until he comes face to face with an enemy who uses guns, flamethrowers or explosives etc.

I do have a few issues with this game though. Firstly, the stupidity of the unarmed enemies and dogs. Why on Earth would you run towards a huge bloody cyborg that can dispatch you quite easily with one punch…especially when your only attack is a flying kick?! Also, you have one life, then it’s game over. You do seem to get an infinite number of continues but when you use them it takes you back to the beginning of that level. If you are going to force people to use continues and restart the level, then please give them more than one life.

This game only has one difficulty setting so there really is not much to keep you coming back once the game is completed.

Did I complete the game?

No, I barely got past the first level. I just couldn’t be bothered with getting to the end of level boss, dying and being sent back to beginning of the level.

What the critics said:

At present I have been unable to locate contemporary reviews for the NES version.

My verdict:

“Graphically, this game is good and the controls are simple and responsive. However, the game itself is very tough, and although it will certainly pose a challenge to gamers everywhere, the lack of lives sees you having to repeat the same monotonous levels over and over again. This game could have been so much more.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Robocop? 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.

Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle

A picture containing sign

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Alex Kidd proved to be a hit on the Sega Master System throughout the eighties, and was arguably the console’s mascot. The question was, could he continue to be their main draw for Sega’s latest console, the Mega Drive? Clearly not, as this was his only outing on the 16-bit console.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle is a single-player platform game developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in Japan in 1989, Europe in 1990, and the US in 1991. It was later released on the Wii Virtual Console, Mega Drive Handheld, Cloud Online, and Steam. The version I reviewed was the original Mega Drive version.

Rookie Town (Screenshot taken by the author)

On the planet Aries, Alex Kidd’s father, King Thor, has been kidnapped by Ashra, the ruler of planet Paperrock. Alex travels to Paperrock in a bid to rescue his father. He must navigate through 11 stages: Rookie Town, The Prairie, The Splashy Sea, Scorpion Desert, The Pyramid, The Hiho Forest, Tropics Town, Rocky Mountain #1, Rocky Mountain #2, In the Sky, and Sky Castle, where his father is being held. The Sky Castle is where you must fight Ashra at Janken.

The gameplay is simple: Run, jump, punch, kick, crawl and swim. Alex will slide around a bit when quickly changing direction, and is a bit floaty when jumping, which takes getting used to, so be careful near enemies. When breaking into red treasure chests, coins will spill out for Alex to collect. Grey treasure chests contain lives and power-ups. Beware, however, as some chests, some contain bombs that explode and will kill Alex.

Jan-Ken-Pon (Screenshot taken by the author)

Along the way, Alex can pay to compete in Janken fights (paper, scissor and rock) with shopkeepers to win equipment and power-ups. These include motorcycles, helicopters, a pogo stick, a wizard’s cane, a cape, and a necklace that helps Alex to see the thoughts of his opponent. This item gives you a better chance at winning Janken. At the end of every level, Alex must collect the piece of cake to progress.

Alex can swim and, thankfully, seems to be able to breathe underwater (Screenshot taken by the author)

The power bracelet is very useful and allows alex to shoot a crescent-shaped band of light that kills the baddies. Spoiler alert!!! You need to have this equipped after beating Ashra at Janken so that you can fire at him from a distance. This is the only way to defeat him.  

There are three difficulty settings: easy, medium and hard. With increased difficulty, you are given less lives to start with and the Janken opponents are harder to defeat, adding to the game’s replay value.  

Graphically, the Mega Drive is capable of so much more. The sprites are nicely drawn, if a little cutsie, suggesting this game was meant for a younger audience. Sadly, the levels and backgrounds are rather basic. The music, however, is very catchy and will get stuck in your head. When revisiting this game after 20 odd years, I still remembered the tunes instantly and began to hum along.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, but I have only played through on easy mode.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “The graphics and sound are almost Master System Standard, and while it’s fun to play, with plenty of secret rooms and things to work out, it lacks that really addictive spark that makes the 8-bit Sega Alex Kidd games so much fun to play. For ardent Alex Kidd fans only. Overall 68%[1]

Sega Pro: Alex’s only appearance on the Mega Drive is not a bad attempt…although it can get repetitive. Overall 77%.[2]

My verdict:

“Definitely one for the younger gamer. It can be completed very easily without too much hassle, but there is little to keep you coming back for more. Catchy music, nice sprites and bright colours, but the level design and backgrounds are a bit basic and could be more visually pleasing. However, I do have a softspot for this game and feel it’s been harshly judged by critics. I certainly keep it in my collection and revisit it every year or so. It’s also handy to keep around for my niblings.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle? 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] ‘Game Index: Mega Drive – Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle’. Mean Machines Sega. (October 1992). Issue 1:137. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n135/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[2] ‘Sega Showdown – Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle.’ Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:18. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 14th June 2020).

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.

Kage (Shadow of the Ninja/Blue Shadow)

A picture containing text, book, man

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I often wonder what goes through the minds of game creators. Naturally, creators wish to make money but at the same time, surely they want to make a game that’ll be loved by gamers. Why they would create games that frustrate gamers because of limited moves, the inability to select weapons, and limited lives and continues, I’ll never know? Kage is one such game!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Kage was developed and published by Natsume in 1990 (Taito in 1991). It was later renamed as Shadow of the Ninja in Japan and Blue Shadow in Europe and Australia. Originally released on the NES, it was later re-released for the Virtual Console on the Wii.

Set in 2029, the evil Emperor Garuda has taken over the USA. Two ninjas from the Iga clan, Lord Hayate and Lady Kaede, are sent to infiltrate the Emperor’s stronghold and assassinate him. Using weapons such as the katana (sword), shuriken (throwing stars) and kusarigama (sickle and chain), the ninjas must fight through numerous enemies and sub-bosses. There are five levels broken down into 16 stages, which see you fight through a seaport, underground sewers, city rooftops, an air fortress and a final fortress.

You can select to play either as Lord Hayate or Lady Kaede (Screenshot taken by the author)

It can be played in both single and two player mode. In one player mode, you have the option to decide who you play as. You can run, jump and attack, and even hold onto certain platforms and hang from them. You can then choose to flip up to that platform or drop to the platform below. However, you can only attack the way you are facing when hanging from a platform.

The controls are responsive and simple…perhaps too simple. When using the katana and shuriken, you can only attack straight in front of you or in a crouching position. You cannot slash your sword or throw a shuriken up or diagonally, which I think is pretty dumb, especially where the shuriken is concerned. You can attack diagonally up and straight up when you wield the kusarigama, but not down or diagonally down. Finding scrolls throughout the levels increases the range of your attack, but I didn’t find any on the first stage. You may also find bombs and health potions.

Hangin’ tough (Screenshot taken by the author)

Annoyingly you cannot switch between weapons meaning when you pick up shurikens, you have to use them up before reverting back to the katana or kusarigama, or you need to find an item box conatining a different weapon or additional shuriken. This is frustrating because, and I’m sure I don’t need to explain this, but I will, it would be very handy with some bosses and sub-bosses to be able to save some shurikens back.

Thankfully, there is no time limit on the levels meaning you can take your time.

Be prepared to evade small missiles (Screenshot taken by the author)

Graphically, levels are detailed and well designed, and the sprites are clean and well defined. No complaints there. The music is very basic and easily forgettable.

I didn’t spend that much time on this game because I found the limited move set frustrating and I just didn’t enjoy playing it. The inability to defeat various enemies without taking hits is frustrating.

Did I complete the game?

No, I only managed to get to level 2.2 before I gave up.

What the critics said:

GamePro: “Shadow of the Ninja, however, is above average Ninja fare with top of the line graphics and fast-paced gameplay. One minor hang-up is the sluggish transition between dialogue screens. But all in all this is a top flight, fast-paced action cart.” Overall 4.6/5”.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Superb Graphics and sound intensify this battle for freedom. No rating”.[2]

Total!: “A sexy-looking and very playable platform hack ‘em up, with great two-player option. It’s just a bit too easy for my liking. Overall 74%”.[3]

My verdict:This game isn’t bad, but the limited ways to attack your enemies make it very frustrating. Sadly, this detracts from the nice graphics and keeps me from wanting to pay more. It’s a poor man’s Ninja Gaiden”.

Rating:

What are your memories of Kage? 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] Bro Buzz. ‘Nintendo Proview – Shadow of the Ninja’. GamePro. (July/August 1991). :24-5. (https://archive.org/stream/GamePro_Video_Game_Greatest_Hits_1991-07_IDG_Publishing_US#page/n25/mode/2up Accessed 7th May 2020).

[2] ‘Shadow of the Ninja’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1991). 21:98-102. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/29/EGM_US_021.pdf Accessed 7th May 2020).

[3] ‘Blue Shadow’. Total!. (April 1992). 4:38-39. (https://archive.org/stream/Total_Issue_004_1992-04_Future_Publishing_GB#page/n37/mode/2up Accessed 7th May 2020).

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium

After six years and four games, Phantasy Star IV sees the conclusion of the original Phantasy Star series. In the Phantasy Star universe, the games have spanned several thousand years and players were introduced to many different characters including Alis, one of the first female protagonists in computer game history. I have throoughly enojoyed playing through the series but as George Harrison wrote, “All things must pass”.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

PSIV is a role-playing game that was developed and published by Sega and released for the Sega Genesis in Japan in 1993. It would not make an appearance in North America and Europe until 1995. It was later released on the Wii U Virtual Console in 2008. The version I played can be found on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 3.

Taking place 1000 years after the events of Phantasy Star II, a cataclysmic event known as the Great Collapse has turned Motavia back into a desert planet, and once again there is an increase in biomonsters appearing throughout the world. Chaz Ashley, a young hunter, learns of the link between the biomonsters and the ecological crisis on the planet. The computer system put in place to control the climate is malfunctioning, and the planet is reverting back to its original desert-like state. It also seems that Dark Force is back, hellbent on destroying the Algol system once and for all.

Sadly, the overworld graphics seem to have reverted back to the PSII model making it look a little dated (Screenshot taken by the author)

Firstly, the story is more fleshed out than it’s previous instalments, and a lot more engaging. The dialogue in general feels like there was a better translation of the original script. Additionally, during dialogue moments, character profile boxes appear which are beautifully illustrated. It also clarifies exactly who is speaking. During cutscenes, more illustrated boxes are added giving the illusion that you’re reading a comic book. There are also a few nice surprises in the form of characters from previous games reappearing, but I won’t spoil it by telling you who.

Originally the game came with a very comprehensive 40-page manual explaining every aspect of the game including: Information on each character, what the main items are for, what all the spells and techniques do when used, what injuries you can incur, a map of Motavia, and information on weapons and armour.

The gameplay has been kept the same – that is, top down view with the exception of battle mode. There is a significant increase in walking speed for the characters, meaning you can get from A to B a lot quicker. You are also able to increase the speed of the battles and text to help hurry the game along. One annoyance was that when you approach a person and/or object, whilst still pressing that direction, you walk around the target as oppose to stopping in front of it. When you play it, you’ll know what I mean.

The graphics in battle mode have also reverted back to a similar style to PSII, with the addition of illustared backgrounds (Screenshot taken by the author)

Oddly, the sprites in the overworld seem to have reverted to PSII style graphics as oppose to PSIII or creating newer, more improved graphics. Comparing the two, one could be forgiven for thinking PSIII was a later instalment. Sadly, these graphics look dated for the mid-90s, especially when compared to RPGs such as Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse (1994) and Shining Force 2 (1993). Also, the PlayStation had been released in 1994, upping the expected standard for games in general. When the PlayStation could produce RPGs like Suikoden (1995), what chance did the Mega Drive have?

The menu system is easy to access and straight forward to navigate. What made me particularly happy is that you no longer need to manually go into your menu and pass items between characters in order for them to equip or use them. The weapons and armour will automatically be available to those who can wield them.

On Dezo – added snowy effects give the impression that you are in a blizzard. However, this effect is heavy on the eyes. (Screenshot taken by the author)

Buying and equipping weapons and armour has been simplified, and for the better. When you buy a new weapon or piece of armour, arrows appear by the name of the individual who can wield it. Sadly, you cannot see if an item will improve the stats of that character until you buy it and equip it.

PSIV reintroduces fighter animations back into battle mode, similar to that of PSII. However, this time the backgrounds have also been kept. The animations of the physical attacks of the characters are the same as they were in PSII which is a little disappointing. The backgrounds during the battles are more detailed and, in some cases, animated. Additionally in PSIV, you can now use your transport vehicle during battles instead of using your characters.

A nice new feature is that two or more characters can combine their spells and techniques to create bigger and more powerful attacks. Sadly, this is very trial and error and it doesn’t always work (Screenshot taken by the author)

The enemies are beautifully illustrated and animated. There are some real ugly bastards in this game. A nice little extra is that sometimes, when two or more fighters use a certain technique or spell, it can combine to produce a stronger attack. Sadly, this doesn’t happen everytime you attempt it.

One added bonus is that you no longer need to  pay to restore a fallen comrade. You simply go to a hostel, and bed down for the night. In the morning, said comrade will be right as rain.

Finally, and thank Christ, the battle menu is now wonderfully intuitive. It is very easy to learn, and they have finally simplified the way you can chose which enemy to attack. This makes strategic attacks a hell of a lot easier.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, a walkthrough was needed on several occasions though.

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “This is the fourth instalment in the Phantasy Star series with an improved magic system that allows you to combine spells for more power. Overall 7.75/10[1]

GameFan: “The graphics are gorgeous, the music is some of the best I’ve heard in a while on the Genesis., full of batchin’ samples, and the game exudes nothing but pure, joyous power. Overall 93/100.[2]

Mean Machines Sega: “The best pure RPG for the Megadrive…” Overall 88%.[3]

Sega Saturn Magazine: “The gameplay – controlling inventories, arming combatants, and using spells – is not to everyone’s taste. But the game succeeds by creating climactic moments, introducing new characters and powers, and taking many weird and wonderful plot turns. Overall 90%.[4]

Game Players: “Newer RPGs like Final Fantasy III make this game look ancient…this still feels like every other Phantasy Star Game…The game offers plenty of items while staying clear and user-friendly. Fighting every other step drives you crazy. Overall 70%.[5]

My verdict:

“Although the graphics are beginning to look a bit dated, they are still pleasing to look at for the most part. The story is compelling with some nice surprises, and they have simplified the menu systems making them easier to navigate. Personally I feel this is the best Phantasy Star in the series.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Phantasy Star IV? 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] ‘Review Crew: Genesis – Phantasy Star IV’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (June 1995).  Issue 71: 46. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/21/EGM_US_071.pdf Accessed 17th February 2020).

[2] Rox, N., ‘Genesis Review – Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium’. GameFan. (April 1995). Volume 3 Issue 4:19 & 27. (https://archive.org/details/GamefanVolume3Issue04April1995/page/n25/mode/2up Accessed on 26th March 2020).

[3] ‘Megadrive Review – Phantasy Star IV’. Mean Machines Sega. (July 1995) Issue 33:76-7. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-33/page/n75/mode/2up Accessed 26th March 2020).

[4] ’16-bit Megadrive – Phantasy Star IV’. Sega Saturn Magazine. (December 1995). Issue 2:91. (https://archive.org/details/Official_Sega_Saturn_Magazine_002/page/n89/mode/2up Accessed 26th March 2020).

[5] Slate, C., ’Genesis: Review – Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium’. Game Players. (February 1995). Issue 49:38-9. (https://archive.org/details/Game_Players_Issue_49_February_1995/page/n37/mode/2up Accessed 26th March 2020).

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).

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom

Ah role-playing games, the opportunity for real adventure. Battle ugly-ass monsters, fill your pockets with treasure, and wield magic weapons. Cast spells of fire, lightning, as well as healing. Journey through mystical and fantastical lands, through deadly dungeons, dark forests, and creepy castles. Build your fighter’s stats until they are strong enough to defeat the demonic rulers of the evil armies.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom is an RPG developed and published by Sega and is the sequel to Phantasy Star II. It was released in Japan in 1990 for the Sega Mega Drive and reached Europe and North America in 1991. The version I played was part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection on the PlayStation 3.

1000 years before the start of the game, which seems to be set in a medieval setting as oppose to a science-fiction setting, two factions are engulfed in a bitter feud. Orakio, a swordsman, and Lava, a sorceress, meet for an armistice and both mysteriously disappear. Both factions blame each other for their leader’s disappearance, and all communication and travel between the two worlds cease. War seems inevitable…

The colours are less headache-inducing, and the graphics are more detailed than previous instalments (Screenshot taken by the author)

Firstly, you get a nice intro with some beautiful illustrations, and text explaining the back story. The game then begins with Rhys, Prince and heir to the Orakian kingdom of Landen. He is due to marry Maia, whom Rhys found washed up on a beach two months earlier (a bit odd, but ok). The ceremony is interrupted by a dragon, identified as a Layan, who abducts Maia in what is seemingly a deliberate act of war. During his search for Maia, Rhys recruits a number of fighters to assist him.

Continuing in the tradition of most RPGs, PSIII involves the player exploring a 2D world, recruiting characters, random enemy encounters, and a turn-based battle system. You can attack the enemy in three ways: with a weapon, using magic spells, and/or using special techniques. I know in PSIV you can use dynamite to attack the enemies, but I don’t recall seeing that option in this game…I may be wrong of course. Once enemies are defeated you gain Meseta (money) and experience points. Experience points are necessary to increase your fighter level which in turn, increases their stats.

The overworld is more detailed and realistic than previous instalments (Screenshot taken by the author)

The overworld gameplay hasn’t changed. It is still a near top down view and you must wander from town to town whilst buying new weapons and armour, gleaning information from local villagers, and fighting a multitude of different creatures. The overworld graphics are less vibrant, but more detailed, and realistic in my opinion. It certainly gives me less of a headache looking at it anyway.

When battling enemies, for some reason they have done away with seeing your fighters attack the enemies which is disappointing because it looked great in PSII. The enemies are more detailed, and some, in the later levels, just look really peculiar and I have no idea what they are supposed to be. Thankfully, they have brought back the backgrounds, and done away with the blue grid. Controversially, I prefer the backgrounds from PSI as I think they are more interesting to look at.

The blue grid system has been done away with in favour of scene-setting backgrounds (Screenshot taken by the author)

The battle menu is still more complicated than it needs to be. In PSIV, which I will be reviewing in several weeks, they rectify this to create an intuitive, and simple battle menu.

Strangely, PSIII doesn’t resolve what happened at the end of PSII. What happened to your fighters? What happened to Rolf, Rudo and company? Were they defeated? Did they survive? Me may never find out!

Why is Guile from Street Fighter II appearing as if he belongs in an 80s band (Screenshot taken by the author)

What is unique about PSIII, compared to other games in the franchise, is that the story spans three generations. At the end of each generation, you have the option to choose who you wish to marry. This determines who you will take control of in the next generation storyline. As I understand it, the only difference it makes is that it will affect the offsprings ability to use their techniques. There are potentially 10 different generational choices, which affect the game’s ending. Although this adds to the replay value, I don’t imagine many people would wish to play through such a gargantuan game a second or third time…but then again, I may be wrong.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, but with the help of a walkthrough at times.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines: “Another enormous role-playing game, but this one has far more depth and variety than its predecessor. It’s by far the best RPG on the Megadrive…Overall 89%.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: Martin – “One of the best RPGs ever! Phantasy Star 3 blows away the previous games, although it isn’t necessarily more challenging overall. The game throws in a lot of new features like different generations who each will encounter their own quests to overcome. Awesome RPG! Overall 8/10”.[2]

Dragon: “Though we didn’t like it as much as Phantasy Star II, Phantasy Star III is creative in many ways. First, you have the ability to marry a person and then become the offspring of that union to continue the quest. The various endings in the game are a definite plus as well. The graphics are excellent, except for combat (Phantasy Star II is better here)…Overall, this game will definitely keep you fixed to the television for weeks. Overall 4/5.[3]

My verdict:

“Another great game for the Phantasy Star universe. Improved graphics, a great story with a new generational storyline, and alternate storylines. They still need to decide what they are doing with the battle scene animations and battle menus.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Phantasy Star III? 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] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Phantasy Star III’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:140. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n139/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[2] ‘Review Crew: Phantasy Star III’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (May 1991). 22:16. (https://archive.org/details/Electronic_Gaming_Monthly_22/page/n15/mode/2up Accessed 23rd March 2020).

[3] ‘Phantasy Star III’. Dragon. (December 1991). 176:61. (https://annarchive.com/files/Drmg176.pdf Accessed 24th March 2020).