Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon – Review

For better or for worse, game creators are always looking to innovate with video games. They strive to make games more realistic, to give gamers a feeling of awe and wonderment when they first see the game. They want the experience to be immersive, drawing the gamer into an imaginary world of escapism. Sometimes, the innovations are ground-breaking and the game in question is revered by creators and gamers alike, going down in history and regularly being referred to as “the game that broke the mould”. Sometimes, however, the game is a dud. Sometimes, creators try too much too soon before the technology has been fully realised, affecting the gameplay, sound and graphics, leading the game to be panned and unappreciated in the annuls of video game history.

Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon broke the mould of the format of the games that went before in the franchise. The question is: Is the game a dud or is it hailed as a giant leap forward in adventure gaming?

Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon is a single-player adventure game developed by Revolution Software. It was published by THQ in Europe and The Adventure Company in North America. It was released on Microsoft Windows, Xbox and PlayStation 2 in 2003. It is the third instalment of the Broken Sword series. For this review, I chose to play the PC version.

The story begins a few years after the events of Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror. We find that Nico Collard and George Stobbart have parted ways. George has returned to the US to continue his career as a lawyer and Nico is still that hungry journalist we met during their first outing.

It is a dark, stormy night in Paris. Beneath the city, a clandestine meeting is taking place. We are given little information other than a moment in time of great significance is drawing near. An individual known as the Preceptor sends his minions on an important mission…and failure will result in Armageddon!

Next, we find George on a chartered flight, flying over the jungle in the Congo. His pilot is unable to evade an oncoming storm and the plane crashes.

No more point and click (Screenshot taken by the author)

Back in Paris, a software consultant by the name of Vernon Blier is working at his computer. In the background, the news is reporting occurrences of extreme weather around the globe.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon is the first and only game of the series to break away from the point-and-click style of gameplay. The game itself is more action driven. You can control your character making them walk and run, and creep, and there is an introduction of a new action menu. When you near something or someone that you can interact with, a little animated star-type cursor will appear on that something or someone. At the same time, a symbol will appear in the bottom right screen where there is a template of four buttons in the shape of a diamond. You have the choice to click which action you wish to take. There are also instances in the game where you need to time your actions precisely, else you may die and have to restart the action scene.

Straight away I can tell you that judging by the way the game is designed, it is clearly created with a joypad in mind. When playing on the PC and using a keyboard, the game feels awkward and clumsy. I was unable to get my PC joypad to work with the game but that may simply be down to my technological ineptitude. Eitherway, it shouldnt be that difficult to switch to a more game-friendly way of playing.

One rather annoying aspect of the game is that you cannot seem to skip conversations that you previously have had.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Spoiler Alert

Occasionally, there is a convoluted puzzle like when you need to use an iron bar to break some silver coins out of a laminated book cover. I know, right? Also, there is a lack of inventivness in the puzzle department. On several occasions, the puzzles are simply the same tired moving crates and square boulders around in a logical way to climb over a wall or onto a ledge.

The graphics look great. This is the first instalment of the series where Broken Sword moved into 3D graphics, and thankfully they did a great job. The characters do not look polygonal at all, the backgrounds are detailed and well designed. When the camera gets a bit too close to Nico, it seems she has a bit of a pig nose reminiscent of Christina Ricci in Penelope (I may be exaggerating here).

Even though the game contains voice actors, the subtitles appear in different colours, signifying that a different person is speaking, which is a nice touch. It would still have been nice to have the name of the individual talking or a little portrait box indicating who is speaking.

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Adventure Gamers: “An amazing, brilliant story, at times told with such directorial excellence as to bring out emotions normally reserved for Final Fantasy. Gorgeous, eye-popping cutscenes. Infuriatingly stupid puzzle design at nearly every step of the way. Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is a game of breathtaking (sic) highs and ridiculous lows, and thankfully the highs definitely outnumber the lows (moreso(sic) if you’re better at crate puzzles than me, which apparently shouldn’t be too difficult). The bold attempts to innovate and push the adventure to new places are generally successful and quite welcome. Overall 4/5.[1]

Edge Online: “Extravagance was one of the signatures of the graphic adventure: extravagance to bring them in, and a cracking story well told to keep them. Both tenets of the Broken Sword series remain intact here, and that’s all the devoted fans could have wanted. A fairytale (sic) comeback. Overall 9/10.[2]

GameSpot: “Even if Broken Sword can at times be frustrating to play, it’s a joy to behold. The graphics sure aren’t cutting edge, but the attention to detail, vibrant colors(sic), and smooth animations give the game its own attractive style. (The “idle” animations of Nico repeatedly brushing her shoulder or stretching are odd and distracting, though.) The wonderfully elegant and evocative soundtrack varies from bold fanfares to jaunty comic bits to pensive piano interludes to suit the locales and situations. The voice-overs really bring the game to life, too. By and large, the actors are really acting here instead of just lazily reading their lines like you find in so many games. Unfortunately, the voice-overs highlight the game’s biggest flaw, a major sound bug. Occasionally, dialogue can cut out, a character will make two statements at the same time, or two characters will speak over each other entirely. This bug can ruin the mood or make it hard to know what on earth is going on when you miss vital dialogue.

It’s a shame problems like that mar Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. With its blend of cinematic style, 3D immersion, sharp writing, and likable characters, this is otherwise an adventure game that does the genre proud. Overall 8.1/10.[3]

IGN: “Cartoonish graphics, incredible voice acting and an engrossing story all make this a game to look at, that is – if you can get past the horrible interface and somewhat repetitive block puzzles. Finishing the game also has a reward associated with it, in addition to the impressive ending. This is something far too few PC games do. The ending left it open enough for the next incarnation of Broken Sword – the adventures of George and Nico. I just would ask one thing of the developers – please improve the interface and skip the block puzzles! Those are the two things preventing this from being the perfect adventure game. Overall 8.4/10.[4]

Game Chronicles: “Adventure gaming is alive and well thanks to designers like Revolution and publishers like The Adventure Company. Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is a stunning achievement in interactive entertainment. With a solid story, engaging characters, stunning visuals, and delightful dialogue, this is one adventure you simply won’t be able to tear yourself away from. This is a must-own title for anyone looking to relive the golden era of adventure gaming Overall 9.2.[5]

Eurogamer: “In many senses The Sleeping Dragon is a leap forward for the genre. The actual play mechanics, the interface and the visuals are great, but you’ll be wishing Revolution and THQ had invested as much time and effort polishing the narrative and puzzle element to the same high standards. We’re in no doubt that it tried, but we can’t lie just because we think Charles is a good bloke. We’re caught in two minds, ultimately. One says we’re excited to be talking about a largely uncompromising adventure game that does much to revive a dead genre, the other is that we’re gutted that it’s populated with cast hired from Stereotypes Anonymous that should have been subjected to the firing squad at the concept stage. There’s much potential here, but Cecil and co. have some work to do before they can awaken The Sleeping Genre. Overall 6/10“.[6]

My verdict:

“It’s great to have another Broken Sword game to add to the franchise. The game looks awesome, the music is cool and the story is…ok. However, the controls are awkward when playing on PC, and I didn’t like the move away from the point-and-click style of controls. I also found some of the puzzles montonous and tiresome. I just didn’t enjoy this game as much as I enjoyed the previous instalments in the series.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon? 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] Dickens, E., (December 16, 2003). ‘Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon – Review’. Adventure Gamers. (https://adventuregamers.com/articles/view/17657 Accessed 1st September 2020).

[2] Edge Staff, (December 1, 2003). ‘Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon review’. Edge Online. (https://web.archive.org/web/20140911031744/http://www.edge-online.com/review/broken-sword-3-sleeping-dragon-review/ Accessed 1st September 2020).

[3] Osborne, S., (November 25, 2003). ‘Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon Review’. GameSpot. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/broken-sword-the-sleeping-dragon-review/1900-6084646/ Accessed 1st September 2020).

[4] Krause, S., (13 Dec 2018). ‘Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2003/11/25/broken-sword-the-sleeping-dragon-review Accessed 1st September 2020).

[5] Smith, M., (January 11, 2004). ‘Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon Overview’. Game Chronicles. (http://www.gamechronicles.com/reviews/pc/brokensword/sleepingdragon.htm Accessed 1st September 2020).

[6] Reed, K., (26 November 2003). ‘Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon’. Euronet. (https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/r_brokensword3_ps2 Accessed 1st September 2020).

Hudson’s Adventure Island – Review

As a married man with a full time job, I find that I have less and less time to devote to videogames. I love modern games like the Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed series and thoroughly enjoy playing and immersing myself into these worlds. Sadly, I don’t have 40 extra hours a week to devote to such in-depth games on a regular basis. It is for this reason that I have embraced the retrogaming world. Games that one can simply pick up, mess around with for 20 minutes and put down again very much have their place in the gaming world. Simpler games should not be sniffed at!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Hudson’s Adventure Island is a side-scrolling platform game adapted from the arcade game Wonder Boy. It was developed and published by Hudson Soft, released in Japan in 1986, North America in 1987, and Europe in 1992 under the title of Adventure Island Classic. Versions can be found on the NES, MSX, Game Boy, Gamate, Game Boy Advance, Game Cube and PlayStation 2. For this review, I played the NES version.

You play as Master Higgins (Master Wigins in the UK and Takahashi Meijin in Japan), who has travelled to an island in the South Pacific to rescue Princess Leilani (sometimes known as Tina) from the Evil Witch Doctor. Along the way you need to eat fruit that appear out of the ether in order to keep your energy levels up. However, if you get touched by an enemy, you instantly die.

Whilst traversing through forests, mountains and caves, you will find eggs that contain bonus items to help you on your way. These items include:

Stone axes – Which can be used to throw at the enemies

Skateboard – Helps you travel faster

A flower – Double the points you get from collecting fruit

Milk – Fills up your energy bar

Honeygirl – Make syou invincible for a limited period of time

However, beware of the:

Eggplant – Takes energy away from you.

There are 32 stages in total spread out over 8 worlds. These are further divided up with checkpoints. Once the fourth stage of an area is completed, you must fight and defeat an end of level boss.

It’s easy to look at these videogames nowadays and compare them to modern games, where they will always be found wanting. It is very unfair to do so. So let us compare it to a game that is still revered and remember fondly today: Super Mario Bros (1985). Intially, I don’t think the background graphics are any better or worse than Super Mario Bros, but I do think it’s the sprite design and colours that separate the two here. From what I have seen so far from Adventure Island, the enemy sprites have little to no animation, a stark contrast to Super Mario Bros. Also, unlike Super Mario Bros., Adventure Island’s music is very forgettable.

So what of gameplay? Adventure’s Island’s controls are very slip/slidey (seemingly even more so than in similar games), meaning lots of sliding off the edges of platforms and it takes a while to get used to. It is also very unforgiving. You only have three lives, with little chance of gaining more and no continues.

Did I complete the game?

No, at present, I can only get to the third level of world one.

What the critics said:

At present, I cannot find any comptemorary reviews.

My verdict:

“I just didn’t enjoy playing this game and had little desire to put too much time and energy into it. The graphics are good and it is diverting if you have a spare 15 minutes on your hands, but it just lacks charm and for me, the game just feels cheap.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Hudson’s Adventure Island? 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.

Tekken 3 – Review

Normally, fighting games aren’t for me. I have neither the patience nor desire to learn all the moves and master them so that I can spend hours on a single play at the arcades, defeating all opponents who dare to approach the arcade machine. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. The Street Fighter, Tekken and Soul Blade franchises have always managed to gain my attention. Tekken 3 is now 23 years old. The question is, does it still hold up?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Tekken 3 is a fighting game, and the third instalment in the Tekken franchise. It was developed and published by Namco and was released in the arcade in 1997 before being ported to the PlayStation in 1998. The arcade version was released for the PlayStation 2 in 2005, and re-released on PlayStation Classic Mini in 2018. Although I have previously owned Tekken 3 on the PlayStation, I chose to review the PlayStation Classic Mini version.

15 years after Tekken 2, Heihachi Mishima has established a paramilitary defence force, known as Tekken Force, to protect his company. Upon searching an ancient temple, they unwittingly release an ancient demon known as Ogre. Ogre proceeds to travel the world killing martial artists. In order to lure Ogre into a trap, Heihachi organises a third Iron Fist tournament.

The game contains 21 characters (11 of which need to be unlocked by completing the game with different characters). Each character has their own unique back stories, endings and fighting styles.  There were two characters only available on PlayStation: Dr. Boskonovitch and Gon.

The returning characters were:

Anna Williams – Younger sister of Nina Williams, she wa placed in suspended animation after the second Iron Fist Tournament. Before the third tournament she was reanimated. She follows Nina into the third tournament in a bid to help her regain her memory and to stop her from becoming an assassin again.

Heihachi Mishima – Head of Mishima Zaibatsu and grandfather of Jin Kazama, he arranges the third Iron Fist Tournament to lure Ogre into the open.

Lei Wulong – A respected detective, Lei has entered the tournament to investigate the disappearance of the martial artists masters.

Nina Williams – After failing to assassinate Kazuya Mishima in the last tournament, Nina was forced to become a test subject for cryogenic experiments. She has been reawakened by Ogre’s powers and plans to assassinate Jin Kazama.

Paul Phoenix – Frustrated by letting victory in the previous tournament slip from his grasp, he has renewed his training. He is determined not to let vistory escape him this time.

Yoshimitsu – Leader of the Manji Clan, Yoshimitsu and his clan act as a modern day Robin Hood. Upon learning his friend Dr. Bosconovitch needs Ogre’s blood to survive, he has entered the tournament to help the man who once saved him.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

New Characters:

Bryan Fury – A cyborg kickboxer who plans to kidnap Dr. Bosconovitch for his creator Dr. Abel.

Dr. Bosconovitch – Elderly genius scientist and friend of Yoshimitsu’s. Currently imprisoned by the Mishima Zaibatsu.

Eddy Gordo – Eddy seeks to avenge his father who was killed by the “Organsiation”, and were also responsible for him being thrown in jail. By winning the Iron Fist Tournament, he hopes to take over the Mishima Financial Empire and use their resources against the “Organisation”.

Forest Law – Son of Marshal Law, he was persuaded to enter the Iron Fist Tournament by Paul Phoenix where he can prove himself to his father.

Gon – An unlockable fighting dinosaur.

Gun Jack – Third in the series of the Jack robots. He has been sent into the tournament to retrieve the memory data of Jack 2.

Hwoarang – Hwoarang has two motives for entering the Iron Fist Tournament. The first is to defeat Ogre who killed his mentor, Baek. The second, is to defeat Jin, who he had previously lost to in a fight.

Jin Kazama – Jin is Jun Kazama’s son. He was trained by his grandfather, Heihachi, and seeks to defeat Ogre in order to avenge the death of his mother.

Julia Chang – Adopted daughter of Michelle Chang. She has entered the tournament to rescue he mother who has been kidnapped by Mishima Zaibatsu.

King II – A protege of the original King, who was killed by Ogre, King II wishes to become a professional wrestler and take over his mentor’s orphanage.

Kuma II – Son of the original Kuma, he is Heihachi’s loyal bodyguard.

Ling Xiaoyu – Ling is a huge fan of amusement parks. She wishes to win the Iron Fist Tournament to raise enough money to build an amusement park in China.

Mokujin – A 2000 year old training dummy who has been brought to life by Ogre’s release.

Panda – Xiaoyu’s pet and bodyguard.

Tiger Jackson – A disco man with an afro. Basically, a palette swap of Eddy Gordo.

Ogre – The God of Fighting, he is a mysterious humanoid who is immortal.

True Ogre – Ogre’s true self.

Fight! Fight! Fight! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Ok, let’s not beat around the bush. This game is awesome! There really is no disputing that statement. I remember when this game came out. I was blown away by the graphics. Although nowadays, it looks a little rough around the edges, I still think it looks great and, graphically, has held up.

The basics of the game are easy to learn. Advance, retreat, left punch, right punch, left kick, right kick, jump etc. However, this is a 3D game, so you are able to side step into the back and foreground. If you’re close enough to the opponent and perform a throw, your chareacter will perform different throws depending on which way your opponent is facing. During the fights, you are able to access the move manual which shows you how to perform a large array of moves, which is handy for beginners.

As well as the standard Arcade/Story Mode and Two Player Vs. Mode, there are several other modes which really add to the replay value of this game:

Team Battle Mode – Each team chooses four players in a winner stays on fight. The first defeat all characters in the other team wins.

Survival Mode – Choose a character to fight with and see how many fights you can win consecutively. You gain back a little bit of energy after each fight, but not much. You cannot change the difficulty setting, time limit or number of rounds. There is no option for Player 2 to join.

Time Attack Mode – Compete against the clock to complete all stages. Again, you cannot change the difficulty setting, time limit or number of rounds. You cannot change characters when continuing and Player 2 cannot join.

Apologies for the blurry shot (Screenshot taken by the author)

Tekken Force Mode – This beat ‘em up style mode sees you fight your way through several levels battling the Tekken Force. Although it was a nice idea, this mode falls a bit flat in practice. It’s a poor man’s side-scrolling beat ‘em up.

Practice Mode – Pretty self-explanatory.

Tekken Ball Mode – This is great fun. It’s beach volleyball, but using fighting moves to hit the ball. The stronger your attack, the more power the ball absorbs until it finally hits someone, dealing them a devastating blow, or until it hits the floor.

No bikinis in this game of Tekken Ball (Screenshot taken by the author)

Theatre Mode – This mode allows you to re-watch all the FMV sequences that you have unlocked in the game.

You’ll have hours and even weeks of enjoyment out of this one. I’ll say it, this game is amazeballs! My favourite character to play with is Hwoarang. Some of his kick combinations are phenomenal, and I throroughly enjoy kicking my little brother’s butt with him.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I unlocked all videos, modes and characters

What the critics said:

Allgame: “It’s loads of fun with quick and deep gameplay that’ll keep you, your friends, and most of the gamers in this genre busy for weeks and months on end. Overall 4.5/5“.[1]

Computer and Video Games: “Fantastic! Own the arcade at home, plus a whole bunch of new features and characters. Overall 5/5.[2]

Edge Magazine: “Edge’s only – slight – reservation is that those who have played Tekken 2 to the point of exhausting all enthusiasm for the game may not find this new version initially appealing. Those prodigal sons should persevere, as even a short sequence of bouts will bring the reward of instant addiction. Make no mistake, the master has returned. Overall 9/10.[3]

Entertainment Weekly: “Building on its predecessors (both all-time PlayStation best-sellers), the latest version has crisper graphics and speedier martial-arts animation. Watch the characters sidestep, punch, and kick in their beautifully detailed costumes, and you’ll think you’re performing in a ballet choreographed by Jackie Chan. Overall A.[4]

Game Informer: “Tekken 3 is just plain awesome. Tekken 2 is still one of my favorite(sic) fighters, but 3 just puts it to shame. There are so many unique fighters like Lei, King, Gordo, and Hwoarang that can be played by anyone; but only a select few will be able to master their fighting styles. It is a shame though that the 1-player Arcade mode can still be beaten on Easy set at one round, but the Force Mode does make for some very interesting and entertaining 1-player fighting. Of course, 2-player mode is where Tekken 3 is at. Spend a night unlocking the characters and a lifetime battling it out with your friends. If you only buy one fighting game this year, make it Tekken 3. Overall 9.5/10.[5]

GamePro: “There’s no arguing that other games will try to topple Tekken 3, but that’s a tall order to fill. Trust us-Tekken 3 is the best fighting game ever. Overall 5/5. [6]

Game Revolution: All in all, Tekken 3 ranks as one of the best console fighting games ever…If you have a PlayStation, and you love fighting games, the decision to buy this game is a no-brainer. If you’re still dropping quarters in the arcade version, forget it, just get the home version. With everything that the arcade version has and more, this is one of the few times that a console game outshines its arcade counterpart. Overall 4.5/5.[7]

GameSpot: “Not much stands between Tekken 3 and a perfect 10 score. If the PlayStation exclusive characters were better and Force mode a bit more enthralling, it could have come closer to a perfect score. Needless to say, Tekken 3 is the best PlayStation game to come along in a long time, and this one won’t be topped anytime soon. Overall 9.9/10.[8]

IGN: “Tekken 3 on the PlayStation is the most well-rounded fighting package on the market. Not only does it provide an excellent fighting game, but the extra modes and practice features make it the benchmark for fighters to come. The only gripe that we’d have with it is that Namco’s set the bar so high that we shudder with anticipation and dread over what the designers’ll have to do to top this.  Overall 9.3/10.[9]

Next Generation: “There is no better fighting game, on this system or any other. It’s clearly superior to the previous games in the series and a stunning value for Tekken aficionados. Overall 4.5/5.[10]

Awards:

Best Fighting Game1998 Best of E3 Game Critics Awards[11]

Fighting Game of the Year – 1998 Gamers’ Choice Awards[12]

Best Fighting Game of the Year – Video Games Awards[13]

My verdict:

“Great graphics (with the exception of a few shaky parts) and great gameplay, full of unique characters and storylines. There is plenty here to keep you coming back for more time and time again. The game has aged very well and still feels fresh.”

Rating:


[1] Sackenheim, S., ‘Allgame – Tekken 3 Review’. Internet Wayback Machine. https://web.archive.org/web/20141114121007/http://www.allgame.com/game.php?id=9362&tab=review Accessed on 14th August 2020).

[2] ‘Tekken 3 Review’. Computer and Video Games. Issue 202:48-55. (https://archive.org/stream/Computer_and_Video_Games_Issue_202_1998-09_EMAP_Images_GB#page/n47/mode/2up Accessed on 14th August 2020).

[3] (April 23, 1998) ‘Edge – Tekken3 Review’. Internet Wayback Machine. https://web.archive.org/web/20120509212114/http://www.edge-online.com/reviews/tekken-3-review Accessed on 14th August 2020).

[4] Walk, G. E., (June 19, 1998). ’The X-Files Game; Tekken 3; Gran Turismo; Mulan Animated Storybook’. Entertainment Weekly.  https://ew.com/article/1998/06/19/x-files-gametekken-3gran-turismomulan-animated-storybook/ Accessed 14th August 2020).

[5] (May 1998). ‘Game Informer – Tekken Care of business’. Internet Wayback Machine. (https://web.archive.org/web/19990911170224/http://www.gameinformer.com/cgi-bin/review.cgi?sys=psx&path=may98&doc=tek3 Accessed on 14th August 2020).

[6] Scary Larry. (November 24, 2000). GamePro – Tekken 3 Review Internet Wayback Machine. (https://web.archive.org/web/20090107235810/http://www.gamepro.com/article/reviews/207/tekken-3/ Accessed 14th August 2020).

[7] Ferris., C., (June 4th 2004). ‘Tekken 3 Review’. Gamerevolution. (https://www.gamerevolution.com/review/34070-tekken-3-review Accessed 14th August 2020).

[8] Gerstmann, J., (March 30, 1998). ‘Tekken 3 Review’. Gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/tekken-3-review/1900-2549648/ Accessed on 14th August 2020).

[9] (24th Aug 1998). ‘Tekken 3’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/1998/08/24/tekken-3 Accessed 14th August 2020).

[10] ‘Tekken 3 Review’. Next Generation. (June 1998). Issue 42:138-140. (https://archive.org/details/NextGeneration42Jun1998/page/n141/mode/2up Accessed 14th August 2020).

[11] ‘1998 Winners’. Game Critic Awards. (http://www.gamecriticsawards.com/1998winners.html Accessed 14th August 2020).

[12] ‘1998 Gamer’s Choice Awards’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1999). Issue 117:112. (https://retrocdn.net/images/4/4d/EGM_US_117.pdf Accessed 14th August 2020).

[13] ‘Video Games Awards’. Game Informer. (February 1999). Issue 70: 25. (https://archive.org/details/Game_Informer_Issue_070_February_1999/page/n25/mode/2up Accessed 14th August 2020).

Return to Castle Wolfenstein – Review

There is something inherently violent about humans, there really is no way to ignore it. Archaeological evidence of mass graves where the occupants show signs of sharp and blunt force trauma, and historical records of battles throughout history attest to this. This may be why gamers are drawn towards to violent games. Although, it is not so much the killing but the hero fantasy that we seek. We are never going to take on an entire castle of baddies using only our guile, sharpshooting and hand to hand combat skills in real life (thankfully). So we immerse ourselves in artifical worlds. Some may think there is something wrong with that. I say, what’s wrong with a little hero fantasy every now and them?

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a first-person shooter, and a reboot of Wolfenstein 3D (1992). It was developed by Gray Matter Interactive (Nerve Software developed the multiplayer) and published by Activision. It was released for the Microsoft Windows in 2001, Linux and Macintosh in 2002, Xbox and PlayStation 2 in 2003, and Steam in 2007. I chose to review the Microsoft Windows version.

It’s 1943 and World War II has been raging for four years. The Nazis have uncovered an ancient demon named Henrich who has been trapped deep underground in magical prison for 1000 years. They’re also developing a super soldier capable of destroying the allies and winning the war. You play as US Army Ranger William Blazkowitz who is charged with investigating the Nazis’ SS Paranormal Division and stopping their evil plans.

Even after 80 years, games about World War II are still popular (Screenshot taken by the author)

The missions consist of assassinations, data retrieval and sabotage. Some of the missions rely on stealth and your mission is over if you are spotted, which adds an extra layer of difficulty and breaks up the action nicely. It’s quite a long game, with some of the missions being quite lengthy for the time. There are plenty of authentic World War II weapons to choose from as well as fictional weapons such as the Tesla gun. Along the way, you will find ammo, armour and health packs to restore you weapons and health.

Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valour (Screenshot taken by the author)

The story, although fantastical, is engaging. The graphics and sound effects are good for the time, but the AI, as with lots of gmes of this era, still needs work. Enemies vary in strength and difficulty, these include standard German soldiers, experimental soldiers and the undead.

There is not much replay value here but the multiplayer addition was critically acclaimed.

Did I complete the game?

I am adamant that I completed this game when I first played it after its release. However, this time around, I couldn’t get defeat the final boss.

What the critics said:

Computer Gaming World: “If all you want to do is blast your way through countless Nazis and zombies, then this game is probably for you. But if you want a deep, engaging storyline with surprising twists and turns, this probably isn’t for your cup o’ tea. Overall 3.5/5.[1]

Eurogamer: “Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a worthy addition to the stable of id Software affiliated shoot ’em ups. The single player game is average to good and takes quite a while to finish, but the game really earns its salt by shipping with a first class multiplayer element. Overall 8/10. [2]

Game Revolution: “But in all, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is not what it could have been. As a story it’s utterly bizarre, as a sequel it’s sub-par, but as a stand-alone game it’s very good. The simple truth is that regardless of the detractions, killing Nazis will always be fun…always. There are few times that you can play a game and feel you made the world a better place. Wolfenstein 3D was one of those times. If the world isn’t any better after playing Return to Castle Wolfenstein, at least it might brighten your day. Overall 3.5/5.[3]

Gamespot: “In a weird inversion of the typical shooter model, Return to Castle Wolfenstein features an amazing multiplayer component coupled with a good if somewhat underwhelming single-player game. Then again, fans of id Software’s previous 3D shooters should be familiar with this model. But honestly, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is well worth buying for the multiplayer game alone, so the fact that you get a solid single-player game in the box can only be considered a bonus. Overall 9.2/10.[4]

IGN: “The single player campaign is certainly decent and will hold people’s interest long enough to get them accustomed to the various weapons in time to jump into multiplayer. It’s not quite the revolutionary trip back to Castle Wolfenstein that people may have been hoping for, but that’s no reason to discount it, as it is nothing less than a solid and satisfying experience. But it’s no doubt that the real value in the title falls on the multiplayer which is definitely one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in quite a while. It all adds up to a really fun game that fans of the genre will love to get a piece of. Overall 9/10.[5]

My verdict:

Defeating the Nazi’s always feels fun and for the most part so is this game. I like the story, I like the graphics and I like the variety of missions. Unless you play multiplayer, there isn’t much replay value, but the game is long enough to certainly justify the purchase.

Rating:

What are your memories of Return to Castle Wolfenstein? 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] Price, T., ‘Reviews – Return to Castle Wolfenstein’. Computer Gaming World. (March 2002). Issue 212:74-5. (https://archive.org/stream/Computer_Gaming_World_Issue_212#page/n75/mode/2up Accessed 3rd August 2020).

[2] Bramwell, T., (25th July 2001). ‘Return to Castle Wolfenstein’, Eurogamer.net. (https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/r_rtcw Accessed 4th August 2020).

[3] Radakovic, N., (1st July 2001) ‘Return to Castle Wolfenstein Review’. GameRevolution.com.  (https://www.gamerevolution.com/review/32806-return-to-castle-wolfenstein-review Accessed 4th August 2020).

[4] Wolpaw, E., (27th Nov 2001). ‘Return to Castle Wolfenstein Review’. Gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/return-to-castle-wolfenstein-review/1900-2827475/ Accessed 4th August 2020).

[5] Adams, D., (1st December 2001). ‘Return to Castle Wolfenstein’. IGN.com (https://www.ign.com/articles/2001/12/01/return-to-castle-wolfenstein Accessed 4th August 2020).

Phantasy Star II – Review

A picture containing text, book

Description automatically generated

Before the 1990s, RPGs were a niche genre in the video game world. They take a lot of time and effort to play, and not everyone has the patience or desire to attempt such gargantuan games. However, those that do play RPGs cherish every moment of their journeys through fantastical universes. They take great care in building up their warriors and magic users in order to defeat hordes of enemies. Phantasy Star was one such RPG which was highly praised by critics, even though it did push the Sega Master System to its limits.[1] The successor to the Master System, the Mega Drive, offered the creators of Phantasy Star II more to work with.

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Phantasy Star II is a single-player RPG developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in 1989, but it wouldn’t reach North America and Europe until 1990. It was later re-released on the Sega Saturn and Game Boy Advance as part of the Phantasy Star Collection, and the Dreamcast as part of the Smash Pack Volume 1. In 2005, an updated remake was released in Japan for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable. For this review, I played was the Mega Drive version on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection on the PlayStation 3 (also available on the Xbox).

Walking around the overworld (Screenshot taken by the author)

The game is set 1000 years after the events of Phantasy Star and takes us back to the Andromeda galaxy and the Algo star system. Orbiting the Algo sun are three planets: Palma – where the government reside; Mota – once an arid desert planet that has since been transformed into a tropical paradise; and Dezo – an inhospitable ice planet.

The Algo star system has prospered under the control of Mother Brain, a computer that regulates the climate, and is responsible for terraforming Mota. However, Mother Brain has started malfunctioning, producing increasingly strong monsters. One night, Rolf (our main protagonist) awakes from a nightmare, where a young girl whom he doesn’t recognise is battling a demon. It is suggested that this girl is Alis from Phantasy Star. After being informed of Mother Brain’s malfunction, Rolf, along with Nei, a humanoid with cat-like features, sets off to investigate why Mother Brain has seemingly turned against her creators.

The screens for dialogue have been greatly improved (Screenshot taken by the author)

Phantasy Star II is first video game to use  a mega 6-bit cartridge. This enabled the designers to create the largest world yet seen in a video game.[2] They have dispensed with the dingeon crawling parts of the game, and have focussed on the overworld views when trawling through the dungeons. As expected, the overall graphics have been improved, creating three very distinct worlds. The sprites in the overworld maps are more individualised and are brightly coloured. The dialogue screens have also been greatly updated to anime-style character screens.

Where did the beautiful backgrounds go? (Screenshot taken by the author)

The battles screens are greatly improved. Firstly, you can now see your characters attacking animations, and the enemies are more varied and detailed. Sadly, they decided to take away the scenic backgrounds and replace them with a blue grid. I’m not sure what the thinking was behind that decision. They have still yet to fix the fighting menu. Annoyingly, You still need to scroll through the menus to target individual monsters which is tiresome.

There are two further irritating aspects to this game which I would have hoped they’d have resolved by now. The first is that many of the names of the plethora of spells you are able to use do not indicate what type of spell it is. The manual doesn’t have any information on this either, so you need to experiment during battles to find out what the oddly named spells do.

“That’s part of the fun!”, I hear some of you cry. Not really. One would assume that a magic user would know what the spell was they were using. Hopefully this will be resolved in Phantasy Star III.

The second irritating aspect is that you do not have a combined inventory, so you need to constantly scroll through the menus in order to exchange items between your fighters. Its exasperating!

Overworld view on Dezo world (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

Yes, it felt like a slog at times, and needed a walkthrough on occasion.

Dragon: “The animation, especially for battles, is superb. There are over 50 spells available. Even weapons and armor can give benefits to characters beyond their normal effects. For example, special armor found in one dungeon allows the wearer to cast a healing spell every so often. The battle system enables more than one type of creature to attack and allows the characters to attack specific creatures instead of idiotically going after one creature at a time. This game is definitely a winner. Overall 5/5”.[3]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: Martin – “RPG’s aren’t my thing., but this one has a monstrous quest anyone can get involved with and lost in…I wish the battle scenes were on landscapes instead of boring blue grid, but all in all PS2 is presented well. Overall 8/10”.[4]

Raze: “Large combat sprites, wonderful scenes and backdrops. Great in-game effects and unobtrusive background music. A challenging quest packed with gameplay. Overall 90%”.[5]

Video Games and Computer Entertainment: “It’s very user friendly, with a simple but extensive menu system, and a battery back-up that allows you to save numerous games in progress. The plot advances quickly, providing a constant stream of new subplots…Phantasy Star II is a complex and eminently enjoyable game that will give you more variety and challenge for your buck than any other video game. Overall 9/10”.[6]

Zero: “Phantasy Star II is definitely not just any old thing. In fact, it’s just about everything you could want from this kind of game – big (very big), involved, exciting and challenging. Overall 89%”.[7]

Sega Power: “Long-awaited sequel to the MS RPG. With a massive quest set over different worlds and four characters to control, you should be thankful for your battery back-up! Overall 5/5.[8]

My verdict:

“Graphically, a great improvement on the first, with an engaging story and plenty of action to keep you quiet for many hours. They just need to sort out that poxy battle menu! RPG fans will love this game!”

Rating:

What are your memories of Phantasy Star 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 Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Tracy, T., (16th December 2002). ‘Phantasy Star Collection Review’. Gamespot.com.  (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/phantasy-star-collection-review/1900-2901862/ Accessed 15th March 2020).

[2] Adams, R., ‘Wishing on a Phantasy Star II’. Computer Gaming World. (November 1990). Issue 76:85. https://archive.org/details/Computer_Gaming_World_Issue_76/page/n83/mode/2up Accessed 14th March 2020.

[3] ‘Phantasy Star II’. Dragon. (August 1990). Issue 160:51.  https://www.annarchive.com/files/Drmg160.pdf Accessed 14th March 2020).

[4] ‘Phantasy Star 2’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1990). Issue 9:18.  https://archive.org/details/Electronic_Gaming_Monthly_Issue_009_April_1990/page/n19/mode/2up Accessed 14th March 2020).

[5] ‘Reviews: Phantasy Star 2’. Raze. (April 1991). Issue 6:34-5. http://www.outofprintarchive.com/articles/reviews/MegaDrive/PhantasyStar2-Raze6-2.html Accessed 15th March 2020).

[6] ‘Sega Genesis – Phantasy Star 2’. Video Games and Computer Entertainment. (March 1990) Issue :34 & 49. https://retrocdn.net/images/d/d2/VG%26CE_US_14.pdf#page=24 Accessed 15th March 2020.

[7] ‘Review Console: Mega Drive – Phantasy Star II’. Zero. (March 1991). Issue 17:88. (https://archive.org/details/zero-magazine-17/page/n87/mode/2up Accessed 15th March 2020.

[8] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Phantasy Star II’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:54. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed on 29th July 2020.

Street Fighter II – Review

Every once in a while, a game comes along and raises the bar for video games everywhere. In the 70s there was Space Invaders, Pong and Asteroids. In the 80s you had Pacman, Super Mario Bros. and Tetris. In 1991 Street Fighter II hit the arcade and was an instant hit, and people lined up to spend their pocket money for a few minutes of intense action.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting is a competitive fighting game developed and published by Capcom for the arcade and released in 1992. It is part of a sub-series of Street Fighter II games along with Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, Super Street Fighter Turbo, and Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition. I will not be reviewing each sub-series instalment individually, so they will all be lumped in together. For this review, I revisited Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting version that can be found of the SNES Mini.

Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting was also ported to the following:

  • 1992 – Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Spectrum ZX and PC (DOS)
  • 1994 – CPS Changer
  • 1995 – Game Boy
  • 1997 – Master System
  • 1998 – Saturn and PlayStation
  • 2004 – Mobile
  • 2006 – PlayStation 2, XBox and PlayStation Portable
  • 2018 – PlayStation 4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch and Windows

According to Street Fighter “canon”, Ryu won the first tournament by defeating Sagat. During the battle, Sagat was badly injured by Ryu, hence his chest scar, and suffered a mental breakdown. Later, the story seems to have changed a bit. Now, Sagat was winning the fight quite easily. When Ryu had been knocked down, Sagat offers a hand to help him up. Ryu, possibly affected by the darker nature of his martial art, takes advantage of this show of mercy and performs a Shoryuken to Sagat’s chest. Ryu goes on to win the tournament. Sagat melts away, is recruited by M. Bison and joins Shadaloo (Shadowloo – a powerful and deadly criminal organisation).[1]

There are 12 characters to choose from and the fights take place all over the world (Screenshot taken by the author)

So, we find ourselves entering a second tournament. Who are the competitors?

  • Ryu is the champion of the first tournament and a student of Shotoken karate. Dedicating his entire life to martial arts, Ryu has no home, no family or friends. He wanders the globe testing his skills against other fighters.
  • Ken is also a student of Shotoken karate, but has a huge ego to match his fighting ability. In recent years, Ken has not been training as hard, and is not as sharp as he used to be. A challenge from fellow student Ryu prompts Ken back into action and he enters the tournament.
  • E. Honda is the greatest sumo wrestler of all time and has received the highly prestigious title of “Yokozuna” (Grand Champion). After hearing that the world doesn’t consider sumo wrestling a true sport, he has entered the tournament to prove the them all wrong.
  • Guile is ex-special forces. He was captured and imprisoned, along with co-pilot Charlie, during a mission to Cambodia (or Malaysia depending on which information you read). After months of imprisonment in the jungle, they escaped and began their long trek back to civilisation. Along the way Charlie died, and Guile has been seeking vengeance ever since.
  • Chun-li is an undercover Interpol officer secretly tracking a smuggling organisation known as Shadowloo. The trail leads to the tournament in which she enters, believing that one of the Grand Masters (Balrog, Vega, Sagat or M. Bison) is responsible for her father’s death.
  • Blanka is somewhat of an enigma. From the rainforest of Brazil, he is the source of reported sightings of a creature that is half-man, half-beast. Recently he has been found wandering into cities and fighting whoever dares to confront him.
  • Zangief is a proud Russian. He loves his country and he loves fighting! One of his favourite pastimes is wrestling bears, hence the scars all over his body.
  • Dhalsim has spent a lifetime dedicating himself to yoga. He has a disciplined mind, but now he wishes to enter the tournament to test his fighting skills. Proving himself will help him gain a higher state of consciousness.
  • Balrog (based on boxer Mike Tyson) is a former Heavyweight boxing champion who has been banned from the ring for disobeying the rules. He is very strong and very aggressive, and fights in the streets of Las Vegas for money. He is also bodyguard to M. Bison.
  • Vega is a nobleman by birth, he has spent time blending Ninjitsu with skills learnt while he was a matador. He has been nicknamed the “Spanish Ninja”.
  • Sagat was once labelled “King of the Street Fighters” but has since lost this title due to being defeated by Ryu in the first tournament. Skilled in Muay Thai boxing, he plans to regain his title in this tournament.
  • M. Bison is a mysterious but powerful man. He is the leader of the criminal organisation Shadowloo. He is the ultimate boss that must be defeated to ensure victory.[2]
Fight! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Street Fighter II can be played in one or two-player modes. In one-player mode, once you have selected a fighter, you must battle your way through all the other opponents before fighting the Grand Masters: Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison. There are eight difficulty settings allowing for less experienced players to practice on easier settings. Each character has their own motivation for entering the tournament, and in order to see each character’s own unique ending, you need to defeat the game on at least level six (as I recall but I may be wrong).

Shoryuken! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Each character is distinct (although nowadays some argue a little stereotyped) and has their own individual fighting styles, except for Ken and Ryu who have the same Shotoken fighting style. The fights take place all over the world with beautifully illustrated and animated backdrops. The music is memorable, with each fighter having their own distinct tune. Some, annoyingly, get stuck in your head.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Like all great games, Street Fighter II is easy to play but difficult to master. Once the fun of the one-player mode has been exhausted, Street Fighter II really comes into its own with a highly addictive two-player mode. All over the world, you can be guaranteed to bump into people who have memories and stories about late rainy afternoons and nights with friends playing into the the early hours of the morn. Additionally, during one and two-player modes, you can increase the fun and challenge even more by turning the time limit and increasing or decreasing the speed of the game.

Did I complete the game?

I have completed the game in the sense that I have finished the game with all 12 characters and have seen their respective endings. However, I have not defeated the game with all 12 players on the hardest setting.

What the critics said:

Edge Magazine: “If you own SNES SFII it’s still a tricky decision whether you should buy Turbo: at current import prices, probably not. But if you’ve yet to be introduced to the genteel art of street-fighting, and have a few pounds to shed, SFII Turbo is the one to get. Overall 9/10“.[3]

Gamepro: “Despite the minor quibbles with the AI of the computer, the repetitive crowd-noise effect, and the removal Re-Dizzy Combos from CE mode, SF II Turbo is worth every penny for its boss and speed features alone. Overall 5/5“.[4]

Nintendo Power: “This game is a must have for all Super NES players who like action and competition. Overall 4/5.[5]

Electronic Games: “For those looking for a good fighting game, Street Fighter II is the best to date. Capcom should be proud. This translation has no equal. Overall 94%.[6]

Superplay: “Faults? Well, as a one-player game it’s superb, but inevitably has its limits – it’s the two-player game that makes it so great, even trouncing Super Tennis for laughs and general lasting interst. Overall 94%.[7]

Super NES Buyer’s Guide: “Spectacular graphics, great animations and realistic sounds make this a great game to get! Overall 9.3/10.[8]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: Steve: “All the moves, graphics, gameplay and sounds are rolled into a 16-Meg cartridge that will do anything but disappoint fans of the arcade original or fighting games in general. Awesome! Overall 9.5/10.[9]

N-Force: “The smooth animation’s poetry in motion, it’s martial art! Apart from minor control problems which will be remedied with the new joypad, this is everything you could ask for. If you’ve got a SNES you’ve got to get a copy. It’s the game of the year! Overall 96%.[10]

Megazone: “Street Fighter II is already and undoubted classic on the arcades and this classy conversion will be a smash hit for the Super Nintendo. Overall 95%.[11]

Awards:

Best Game of the Year (All Games Systems) & (SNES) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[12]

Best Video Game Ending (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[13]

Joint winner of Best Video Game Babe (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[14]

Hottest New Character in a Video Game (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[15]

Best Trick That Didn’t Work (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[16]

According to Wikipedia, Street Fighter II won several more accolades, but as of yet, I have been unable to find the original magazines to verify.

My verdict: “Memorbale characters, memorable music, and fab gameplay. SFII has multiple difficulty levels, plenty of different characters to use, and a competitive two-player mode, giving this game huge replay value. SFII remains close to the hearts of gamers everywhere.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Street Fighter 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 Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Jasper, G., (July 20th, 2018). ‘Street Fighter: Timeline and Story Explained’. www.denofgeek.com. (https://www.denofgeek.com/us/games/street-fighter-v/242133/street-fighter-timeline-and-story-explained Accessed 20th February 2020).

[2] ‘The World Warriors’. Street Fighter II: Turbo Instruction Manual. (March 1991). :14-37. https://www.nintendo.co.jp/clvs/manuals/common/pdf/CLV-P-SABHE.pdf Accessed 20th February 2020).

[3] ‘Testscreen: SNES – Street Fighter II: Turbo’. Edge Magazine. (October 1993). Issue 1:82. https://archive.org/details/EDGE.N001.1993.10-Escapade/page/n81/mode/2up Accessed 21st February 2020).

[4] Quan, S., ‘Super NES ProReview: Street Fighter II: Turbo’. Gamepro. (August 1993). Issue 49:26-35. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

[5] ‘Now Playing: SNES – Street Fighter II’. Nintendo Power. (August 1993). Issue 38:105. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20038%20July%201992#page/n113/mode/2up Accessed 21st February 2020).

[6] Camron, M., ‘Video Game Gallery: SNES – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Games. (October 1992). Volume 1 Issue 1:72. (https://archive.org/stream/Electronic-Games-1992-10/Electronic%20Games%201992-10#page/n71/mode/2up Accessed 21st February 2020).

[7] Brookes, J., ‘UK Review: SNES – Street Fighter II’. Superplay. (November 1992). Issue 1:67. (https://archive.org/details/Superplay_Issue_01_1992-11_Future_Publishing_GB/page/n65/mode/2up Accessed 22nd February 2020).

[8] ‘Super NES Review – Street Fighter II’. Super Nes Buyer’s Guide. (July 1992). Volume 1 Issue 2:60. (https://archive.org/details/snes_buyers_guide_002r_-_1992_jul/page/n59/mode/2up Accessed 22nd February 2020).

[9] Steve., ‘Review Crew – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (July 1992). Volume 5 Issue 7:18. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_036.pdf Accessed 23rd February 2020).

[10] ‘Reviewed! – Street Fighter II’. N-Force. (August 1992). Issue 2:48-9. (https://archive.org/details/N-Force_No_2_1992-08_Europress_Impact_GB/page/n47/mode/2up Accessed 23rd February 2020).

[11] Iredale, A., ‘Review: SNES – Street Fighter II’. Megazone. (October/November 1992). Issue :36-7. (https://retrocdn.net/images/5/55/Megazone_AU_24.pdf Accessed 23rd February 2020).

[12] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Best Game of the Year (All Game Systems) & (SNES) – Street Fighter II: Turbo’. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :14. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

[13] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Best Video Game Ending (All Systems) – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :20. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

[14] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Best Video Game Babe (All Systems) – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :20. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

[15] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Hottest New Character in a Video Game (All Systems) – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :20. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

[16] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Best Trick That Didn’t Work (All Systems) – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :22. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

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

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. I chose to review the PC version.

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 Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[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).

Phantasy Star – Review

Role-playing games have the ability to take us out of ourselves and whisk us off to fantasy lands where we can choose to be warriors, mages, dwarves, and any other imaginary creature that suits us. We can select our own weapons, and if we are successful, gain strength and are harder to defeat. Phantasy Star promised to whisk us off to such a fantasy universe.

Screenshot taken by the author

Phantasy Star is the role-playing game developed and published by Sega. It was released on the Sega Master System in 1987, and latterly re-released on the Sega Saturn, PS2, and Nintendo Switch. To review, I played this game as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection.

The game is set in the fictional Algol star system which contains three planets: Palma – a lush and green planet, Motavia – a desert planet, and Dezoris – an ice planet. Algol is ruled by King Lassic, who early in his reign was considered kind and benevolent. He later becomes a cruel and sociopathic ruler. Soon, a rebellion begins to overthrow the now evil king. One hero, who falls during a battle, is Nero. His sister, Alis, the main protagonist (incidently, one of the first female protagonists), swears to avenge her brother. She assembles a party consisting of a warrior named Odin, a wizard named Noah, and a cat-like creature named Myau. Together the party swear to kill King Lassic and restore pease to the Kingdom.

Screenshot taken by author

There are two gameplay modes. The first is from a near top down perspective whilst walking around the villages and planet surfaces. When exploring dungeons and caves, and in a battle, the view switches to first-person mode.

Screenshot taken by author
Screenshot taken by author

For an 8-bit game, I think it is a really beautiful game! The colours are vibrant, the sprites are well designed, and there is a great variety of them to fight. The game is easy to learn and enjoyable. The fight mode is simple, but it can become frustrating that when fighting multiple enemies, you seem unable to select which enemy to attack, which can hinder fighting tactics. The game contains a back-up save option, which if you play RPGs will know that this is very useful. The music becomes tiresome after a while but since it is not essential to the game, you can simply turn the sound off and listen to your own music or podcasts.

Did I complete the game?

I did complete the game, but with the assistance of a walkthrough. Sadly, as I have gotten older, I simply don’t have the time or inclination to spend 100 on these sorts of RPGs.

What the critics said:

Computer & Video Games Magazine: “Real RPG fans should definitely check Phantasy Star out, but anyone with a passing interest in this type of game might not feel they’re getting their money’s worth. Overall 75%[1]

S: The Sega Magazine: “An excellent entertainment – once you’ve teamed up with Odin, Noah and Myau and built up some strength, it’s like controlling an interactive movie. Brilliant? Yes it is. Overall 94%[2]

Mean Machines: “A sprawling RPG which offersa great depth of gameplay, decent graphics and a good challenge. There are slightly better games of this sort (and cheaper too – this cart costs £40), but if you’re an RPG fan who has them all, this is well worth getting. Overall 75%[3]

Sega Power: “If you’re into RPG adventures this is the one to go for. Explore stunning 3D labyrinths and solve a quest big enough to last for months. Huge. Astounding Get it. Overall 5/5.[4]

Sega Power: “If you’re into RPG adventures this is the one to go for. Explore stunning 3D labyrinths and solve a quest big enough to last for months. Astounding and huge. Get it. Overall 5/5.”[5]

Awards:

Best Graphics – 1989 Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Player’s Choice Awards[6]

My verdict: “A beautiful 8-bit game, just a pity the story is a bit thin. However, all RPG fans should enjoy this game.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Phantasy Star? 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] Rignall, J., ‘Mean Machines Review: Master System – Phantasy Star’. Computer & Video Games Magazine. Issue 89:92-3 (https://archive.org/details/cvg-magazine-089/page/n91/mode/2up Accessed on 1st January 2020).

[2] ‘Special: Phantasy Star’. S: The Sega Magazine. (June 1990). Issue 7:11. (https://retrocdn.net/images/3/3b/StheSegaMagazine_UK_07.pdf Accessed 1st January 2020).

[3] ‘Games Index: Master System – Phantasy Star’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:135. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n133/mode/2up Accessed 15th February 2020).

[4] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Phantasy Star’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:58. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 29th July 2020).

[5] ‘The Hard Line – Review: Master System – Phantasy Star’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:100. (https://retrocdn.net/images/b/b9/SegaPower_UK_46.pdf Accessed 17th February 2020).

[6] ‘The “Player’s Choice Awards” – Best Graphics: Phantasy Star’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :19. (https://retrocdn.net/images/6/64/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1989.pdf Accessed on 6th February 2020).