Congo Bongo – Review

There will always be a debate about emulation vs original hardware. Some argue that you can only experience the true essence of a game upon playing the original. Others aren’t that fussed or simply can’t afford or access the original hardware. Why should they miss out? I tend to fall into the later category. I would never have played Congo Bongo had it not been for emulation…and I’m glad I did.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Congo Bongo (also known as Tip Top) is a platform game developed and released by Sega for the arcade in 1983. For this review, I played the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

Plot

One night, deep in the jungle, an unnamed safari explorer has his tent set on fire by a huge ape named Bongo. The explorer then proceeds to chase Bongo to try and capture him.

Gameplay

The explorer must pursue Bongo across four screens. Whilst in pursuit, there are a number of obstacles for you to evade and conquer. These include jumping across water, dodging other jungle creatures who wish you harm, or evading coconuts thrown by Bongo. You are unable to attack any of the other jungle animals, but you can jump over them to avoid being hit by them.

The four stages include:

  • Stage 1 – The hunter must climb a series of cliffs whilst dodging coconuts thrown at him by Bongo and avoiding the smaller monkeys that try to throw him off the ledges.
  • Stage 2 – The hunter must cross a swamp by riding on the backs of diving and swimming hipposs. There are also poisonous snakes and scorpions to avoid.
  • Stage 3 – The hunter must cross a plain and crouch into holes to evade the horns of charging rhinos. He must then climb more ledges to get to the next stage.
  • Stage 4 – The hunter crosses a second swamp with lily pads, fish, and hippos. Once you reach the other side of the swamp, you must dodge more charging rhinos that are blocking the ledges where you can capture bongo.

One you reach the end of level four the game repeats from the first level with increased difficulty.

Watch out for the cocnuts! (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

I think our hero moves at a good speed and is easy to control once you gets used to the isometric view. I find it helps to rotate my controller to match the directions he will go on the screen. The jumping is tight too. No complaints there. As you can imagine from old arcade games, this is a tough game to master. I think I’ve only ever managed to get to level five or six before losing all my lives.

Graphics

I think this game looks great for 1983. I love the blue of the water, and the animation of our hero as he climbs out of the holes and climbs up the ledges of the mountains. I think the animals are nicely animated too. No issues for me here.

Music & SFX

There is no intro music or in-game music, but there is a nice little piece of celebration music as you pass each level which for some reason reminds me more of a wild west game than it does a jungle game. There is also a strange little riff when you die and float up to heaven.

The noise that the coconuts make as they are being thrown and bounce down the mountains is annoying, as is the low level bassy noise when the rhinos are on screen.

Replay Value

I can imagine that when this game was released it had tons of replay value. I can envisage groups of friends hanging around the machine seeing who could get the highest score. I can also see this game being quite addictive too. There is something about it which draws you back to it.

Did I Complete The Game?

I don’t think this sthe sort of game you can complete but I only reached level five or six before losing all my lives.

I didn’t know there rhinoceroses in the jungle?! (screenshot taken by the author)

What The Critics Said:

Computer and Video Games:  “Donkey Kong in three dimensions is the fascinating idea behind Tip Top. (No rating)“.[1]

My Verdict:

“I think this would have been a good game in its day. I like the look of it, but the music just doesn’t fit for me. It is also incredibly difficult. Other than that, I can see this game becoming addictive.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Congo Bongo? 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] ‘Arcade: Jungle Revenge in 3D – Tip Top’. Computer and Video Games. (July 1983). Issue 21:30.

Golden Axe Warrior – Review

It is always a pleasant surprise when you find out that a game that evokes so many fond memories from your childhood has prequels and sequels. Sadly, some of these are often vastly inferior to the original and are clearly a quick cash in for game companies. However, some are rather interesting, especially when a different genre is attempted. I’d never heard of Golden Axe Warrior until I began playing Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Golden Axe Warrior is single-player action-adventure role-playing game. It was developed and published by Sega and released for the Master System in 1991. It would later be released as part of the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. For this review, I played the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Playstation 3.

A spin-off of the Golden Axe franchise, I was unable to find out where it fits into the series (if, in fact, it does). It is possible that it may simply be a reboot in a different genre.

Plot

In ancient times, a race of evil giants rose up and fought the Elders. At one point, it looked as though the giants would emerge victorious…but from imminent defeat emerged a hero carrying the Golden Axe bestowed upon him by Thor, God of Thunder. This unnamed hero put down the giant’s rebellion and peace ensued in the kingdoms of Firewood, Nendoria and Altorulia for many years.

As time passed, the war was nearly forgotten until the evil giant Death Adder eyed the kingdoms greedily. He first conquered Nendoria and Altorulia but could not invade Firewood as the kingdom was protected by nine magic crystals. One day, a greedy minister betrayed the King of Firewood, stole the crystals, and gave them to Death Adder, allowing him to finally invade and defeat the kingdom.

An unnamed young hero (you) soon sets out to recover the nine crystals, find the Golden Axe and defeat Death Adder. To do this, you must locate, and search nine labyrinths created by Death Adder and guarded by his armies of minions.

Gameplay

Starting out with a short sword and a shield, you must begin to explore the world one screen at a time. Each screen will spawn a differing array of monsters both in appearance and difficulty. Defeating these enemies will allow you to pick up horns, which you can use to buy items, health, and magic potions. Occasionally you’ll come across towns where the inhabitants offer tips on where to go next. Some even lead you to secret objects. Along the way you’ll have the opportunity to acquire better weaponry and armour. You can also learn the Thunder, Earth, Fire and Water magics.

There are many shops dotted throughout the map where you can buy items. These include:

Magic Oil – Use when your armour gets rusty (flashes).

Golden Apple – Fills up your life gauge.

Magic feather – Whisks you away from danger and back to where you last saved your progress.

Small Key – Can be bought or found and used open locked doors in the labyrinths.

Other items to look out for include:

Yellow Horn – Worth 1 horn.

Blue horn – Worth 5 horns.

Bread – Increases your life guage a little.

Meat – Increases your life guage a lottle (like a little but a lot).

Heart – Adds an extra heart to your life gauge.

Magic potion – Will fill an empty magic pot (if your magic gauge is full, it will add another pot to it increasing your magic gauge).

Ice Bell – Allows you to see rocks that can be smashed open.

Torch – Allows you to light up dark rooms.

Magic Rope – Allows you to ascend and descend certain parts of the mountains.

Thief’s Key – Opens locked doors in labyrinths and can be used Infinitely.

Speed Shoes – Make you run faster.

Hourglass – Freezes all monsters on screen for a short time.

Don’t forget to be on the lookout for sages where you can save your progress and inns where you can pay to stay the night and restore your health.

You will need to make your own map to record all the secrets you find (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

Although the manual contains a map of the world, annoyingly, the map in your inventory is a blue-lined grid which tells you basically nothing about where you have been and where you yet need to explore. It stays black the entire time. However, this does allow a bit of old school mapmaking and note taking to do yourself…which I find fun!

Your sprite is easy to control but there is an element of finesse to the fighting. For example, when your enemies are throwing their weapons at you, you can manoeuvre yourself to block the attacks with your shield. You must also ensure you are not swinging your weapon at this time else you will take damage.

Graphics

First of all, I love the title screen. Definitely the sort of imagery that would have a younger version of myself chomping at the bit to go on a fantastical adventure.

The hud is unintrusive and allows you to keep track of the magic crystals you find, the number of horns you loot, your life and magic gauges, and the weapon/item you are wielding.

I think the in-game graphics are good for an 8-bit system, and better than any top-down RPG I’ve seen on the NES (prove me wrong gamers). However, I don’t think they compare to the quality of Phantasy Star’s (1987) introduction, or open world graphics where the towns and sprites are more detailed and colourful.

The labyrinths are where you’ll find the magic crystals (screenshot taken by the author)

Music & SFX

I quite like the intro music. It gets the blood pumping. The in-game music is good too. There is a relaxed, mellow air when you walk around the villages but when you’re out in the open it takes it up a gear with a melody that will get stuck in your head whilst you reach for your sword and prepare to charge at your enemies!

I don’t really think there is much to comment to discuss where the SFX are concerned. There is a semi-pleasing explosive noise when you kill an enemy, and a rewarding noise of some description when you pick up a goody, but these sounds are very forgettable.

Replay Value

As much as I enjoyed this game, I can’t say I would return to it as I don’t think there could be enough variation in the game to warrant a second run through.

Spoiler Alert

Keep an eye out for the cameos of Gilius Thunderhead, Ax Battler and Tyris Flare (in this game she is a princess).

Along the way, you’ll find faster modes of transport (screenshot taken by the author)

What The Critics Said:

Mean Machines: “It’s no sequel to Golden Axe – instead Golden Axe Warrior is an unsurprising and uninteresting role playing game. Overall 40%.[1]

Sega Power: “An arcade adventure based on the Golden Axe characters. Akin to Golvellius, this is a flick-screen quest for amgic and monsters. Pretty, but too tame for true RPGers. Overall 2/5.[2]

My Verdict:

“I have a soft spot for this game and had a fun time playing it and creating my own map. I think it has been harshly judged by critics who unfairly compared it to Zelda: A Link to the Past, in which it can never match in graphics or music, and called it a poor clone. I still think this game is worth playing.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Golden Axe Warrior? 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] ‘The Hard Line – Golden Axe Warrior’. Sega Power. (October 1991). Issue 23:57.

[2] ‘Master System Review: Golden Axe Warrior’. Mean Machines. (April 1991). Issue 7:72-3.

Alien Syndrome – Review

Sadly, I was a bit too young to experience the heyday of the arcade. Being born in 1983, the closest arcade we had was at the Rotunda Amusement Park in Folkestone, England. My parents took me there a handful of times but mainly for the rides. We only ventured into the arcade to play a few games. I remember playing either Hang-On or Super Hang-On where my father had to help me shift my weight on the bike to steer. I also recall a clay pigeon shooting game, but we mostly stuck to playing pinball machines. By the time I began to venture into arcades on my own as a teenager, many of the games had been replaced by fruit machines. There was still a good selection of video games but my pocket money would never last as long I wished it to. Nowadays, the Rotunda has long since gone, and the nearest arcade is over 20 miles away. C’est la vie!

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Alien Syndrome is a run and gun game that can be played in single-player or two-player co-op mode. It was developed and published by Sega and released in the arcade in 1987. A year later, it would be ported to Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, NES (published by Tengen), Master System and MSX. Later ports also appear on the ZX Spectrum in 1989, Game Gear and Sharp X68000 in 1992. For this review, I played the arcade version found as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

Plot

An alien fleet as appeared in our solar system and has captured has captured a large number of humans. You must travel from ship to ship and rescue 10 captives for n each before a bomb explodes killing all on board.

Gameplay

You can play as either Ricky or Mary (or both in two-player mode). As you run around the ship looking for captives to free, you will encounter many weird and hostile aliens. You are armed with a gun and will find many power-ups along the way including flame throwers and lasers. Once you have rescued enough captives, you will be told to head for the exit. Once through the exit, you will encounter a boss battle. Once that boss is defeated, you will head to the next alien ship. However, there is time limit so be careful you don’t take too long rescuing the captives. To rescue the captives, simply walk into them.

Shoot those blobs! (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The controls are tight, much needed for a game of this sort. You are able to fire in eight directions and there is a nice array of different weapons, each with their own merits. These can be found by looking for metallic doors with letters painted on them (L for Laser etc.). You can’t hurt your partner or the captives so I’d recommend pounding that fire button!

Each level also contains maps that are attached to the walls. When you walk near one, a small map appears which shows the exit and locations of the other captives.

This game is very difficult and unforgiving, and you will die a lot!. It’s one of those games that older gamers would tell younger gamers about whilst stating things like “Games were harder when I were a lad!”. The difficulty does diminish the fun a little, but I think that if you had a dedicated friend who was willing to play a few hours with you, I reckon it would be completable.

Graphics

The graphics look good. Certainly not as colourful as the likes of Gauntlet (1985), but the backgrounds and levels are certainly more detailed and interesting to look at. There are also levels (like Level 3) where enemies rise and fall giving the game a real feeling of depth. The enemy sprites are more detailed and are nicely animated too.

Music & SFX

At the beginning of every level, a robotic voice states “The time bomb is set!” which is a nice touch as it adds to the tension of the level.

The music is there, but I think you become so engrossed in what’s going on that it is easy to forget it’s there. Add to that the constant zapping from your weapons and I think your brain seems to filter the music out. I’m sure you would miss it though if it wasn’t there.

Replay Value

There are many ways to increase the difficulty of the levels including adjusting the difficulty setting, number of lives and by reducing the timer limit. The two-player co-op mode also adds to the replay value because it is quite a fun game to play with a friend.

Don’t be fooled by this weird brain-type thing, the bosses are tough (screenshot taken by the author)

Did I Complete The Game?

No. At present, I can’t get past the second boss on my own and couldn’t get past Level 4 in two-player mode.

What The Critics Said:

Computer & Video Games: “It is a classic L and R job with the usual high strains of play and presentation expected from Sega. Overall 8/10.[1]

My Verdict:

“This game is tough…but fun. You just enjoy running around the levels blasting away to your heart’s content, especially in two-player mode.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Alien Syndrome? 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] ‘Mean Machines – Alien Syndrome’. Computer & Video Games. (April 1988). Issue 78:23.

Altered Beast (Arcade) – Review

One of the great things about emulation is that you get to play arcade games that you didn’t get the chance to experience first time around. Compared to their console ports, the arcade versions usually had better graphics and sound…but are a lot harder!

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Altered Beast is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up with some platform gaming elements. It was developed and published by Sega and released in the arcade in 1988. I have already reviewed the Mega Drive version of Altered Beast (1989). For this review, I played the arcade version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

Smash your way through a graveyard filled with the undead (Screenshot taken by the author)

Plot

“Rise from your grave!” commands Zeus, as you emerge from your tomb. You play as a Roman Centurion who is resurrected by Zeus (I know Zeus was a Greek God and the Roman equivalent was Jupiter, but let’s overlook the mythological inconsistencies). Your mission is to rescue Zeus’ daughter, Athena, (Minerva for the Romans) from the evil Demon God known as Neff who has taken her to the Underworld.

Gameplay

You must punch and kick your way through graveyards and caverns to reach the Underworld, all the while fighting numerous undead minions and monsters. In order to meet and defeat the end of level bosses, you need to collect three orbs which increase your strength and eventually morph you into anthropomorphised animals such as wolves, bears, tigers and dragons, each with unique abilities.

The Gothic organ that plays over the cutscenes is awesome (Screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

Interestingly, there is quite a difference between the Mega Drive version and the arcade version. For example, the punching and kicking is noticeably slower in the arcade version. This all changes, however, once you transform into your beastie. Your speed increases significantly and you pretty much fly around the screen, which you don’t do when playing the Mega Drive version. The arcade version also sees a slight delay when you try to jump higher because our hero crouches briefly before leaping. This adds an element of realism to the game but takes some getting used to.

Graphics

Being an arcade version, the graphics are obviously superior to any of the console ports, especially where the backgrounds are concerned. The sky on Level One, for example, blends the different shades of blue seamlessly, and the sprites themselves are smoother and more detailed with more vibrant colours. The two-headed dogs, for instance, are more defined and you can actually see what they are. As a kid, I thought they were some kind of bull. When you kill an enemy, rather than just explode, bits of their broken torso fly at the screen towards you which is a gory but cool touch. The animations for when you transform into your beast look great and your attacks are better illustrated and animated. I also like the fact that when you are greeted by Neff at the end of the level, you actually see him grow before he turns into the boss which is a nice little addition. After the boss fight, Neff’s head appears and sucks the orbs out from you, returning you to your puny self. The blue field that surrounds you whilst he does this looks great.

Music and SFX

The music itself isn’t all that memorable but I do like the way that for each level, it starts off quite understated but jacks up when you transform into your beast, and for when you fight the boss battle. The best music from this game, though, comes during the cut scenes. When the purple disc appears showing the various stages of Neff’s ritual, a creepy, Gothic organ plays over the top. It certainly sends a shiver down my spine.

When you collect an orb, your hero proclaims “power up” as he grows into a more muscular version of himself. This is so iconic that I’d wager any gamer worth their salt upon hearing that soundbite would be able to tell you what game it came from.

I also like when you meet Neff and he states, “Welcome to your doom!”. In the arcade version he actually sounds scary, as oppose to the raspy greeting your get on the Mega Drive.

Collect three orbs and become magical beast (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I Complete The Game?

Yes

What The Critics Said:

The Games Machine: “Altered Beast is an interesting coin-op in that while not being a highly visual game like Space Harrier, Out Run and the like, it offers enough in its gameplay warrant a good play. Overall Positive.[1]

Commodore User: “…the gameplay really doesn’t vary greatly, or increase markedly in toughness. Still, a cleaver game, and still worth a few tens of anybody’s money.  Overall 7/10.[2]

My Verdict:

“Although the graphics are clearly superior to any port version, the action when you’re human is slowed down and gives the game a laboured pace. Disappointing really as even the arcade version falls short of what could’ve been so much better.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Altered Beast? 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] ‘Confrontation Co-op – Altered Beast’. The Games Machine. (November 1988). Issue 12:30-1.

[2] Kelly, N., ‘Arcades – Altered Beast’. Commodore User. (September 1988). Issue 60:94-5.

Monkey Island 3: The Curse of Monkey Island – Review

After the success of The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (1991), is it any wonder that LucasArt would continue with the franchise? However, fans would have to wait another six years before the third instalment appeared…The Curse of Monkey Island!

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

The Curse of Monkey Island is a point and click adventure game develop and publish by LucasArt. It was released in 1997 for Microsfit Windows. For this review, I played the version downloaded from Steam.

Plot

Once again, we follow our hero Guybrush Threepwood. After being stranded at sea for many days on a bumper car, the tides drift him to Plunder Island and caught between LeChuck’s bombardment of Elaine’s fort. It seems LeChuck still wants to marry her and won’t take no for an answer. After foiling LeChuck’s assault, Threepwood finds a diamond ring amongst the pirate treasure. He then formally proposes to Elaine, who accepts. As soon as she puts the ring on, she transforms into a gold statue…the ring is cursed! She is stolen soon after. Threepwood must save Elaine and find a way to lift the curse. Easy right?

Gameplay

The game continues with the point and click style. Your cursor is an ‘X’. When you hover over items, characters, or scenery, that you can interact with, the name of it will appear on the screen. The interface is in the style of a gold pirate doubloon.  To access it, simply hold the eft mouse button over an item and the interface will appear. The hand icon instructs Threepwood to pick up, use, or hit someone; the eyes allow you to examine something; and the parrot head instructs Threepwood to talk to or bite/eat something. To access your inventory, you simply click the right mouse button.

When talking to characters, there are usually several options that appear which usually involves comical quips or questions that help you progress.

A new feature in the series are the sea battles. Using left click to steer and right click to fire, you must learn to manoeuvre you ship into range before firing a volley broadside into the enemy whilst evading their fire.

The new graphics look fab! (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The user interface and the number of commands has been simplified to make the game more enjoyable (in my opinion). This game is easy to learn and easy to navigate. No complaints here. The ship battles easy, but fun and a good way to mix up the action. They may not be everyone’s bottle of rum though.

Apart from the usual: examine everything on screen tactic used by point and click fans everywhere, which offers quips from guybrush, there are two other aspects to the game that add to this gaming experience. The first is by adding a banjo duelling scene where you must compete with another banjo player by plucking the correct strings in order. The second is by sword battle where you win by hurling verbal assaults at your opponent or countering their insults with even bigger burns. These two aspects of the game are alot of fun!

Graphics

As one may expect after such a long hiatus, the graphics are vastly improved. Not everyone was happy with the more comical style that the characters took on, but I loved it. The scenes are quirky an colourful with plenty to investigate, and the characters are larger than life. Bravo!

Music and SFX

Once you’ve selected your difficulty setting, you begin to hear a few primates chattering away. Over the next few seconds there is clearly some excitement as the voices become louder and more animated. I loved this intro to the game…but then again, I love chimps too.

During the story introduction, you are met with a beautifully animated introduction to the game with some fab Caribbean-style music played over the top. The in-game music doesn’t grab your attention, but its subtlety really works and is fitting for the game.

This game is the first in the series to have voice acting. It stars Dominic Armato as Guybrush Threepwood, Alexandra Boyd as Elaine Marley, and Earl Boen as Ghost Pirate LeChuck.

Replay Value

You have the option of playing a simpler game with less puzzles for a harder game with more puzzles. This is a neat feature and adds replay value to the game. This game is certainly worth revisiting and I know amny of my firends who have played through this more than once.

“I am rubber, you are glue!” (screenshot taken by the author)

Did I Complete The Game?

Yes, but I probably used more hints from a walkthrough than I should have. Oh, the impatience of age!

What the Critics Said:

Computer Gaming World: Outstanding animation, plot, dialogue, and puzzles add up to the most satisfying adventure game of the year. Overall 5/5.[1]

Next Generation: “…despite its flaws, Curse, like its two predecessors, is still fun enough to remain a satisfying experience. The Monkey Island games are massively popular for a reason: people enjoy playing them. So it’s hard to find too much fault with LucasArt for epitomizing the axiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Overall 3/5.[2]

Gamespot: “There simply isn’t much to dislike about this game, except possibly the ending, which seemed a bit abrupt and anticlimactic after 20 hours of gameplay. Still, The Curse of Monkey Island should more than satisfy the cravings of the Monkey Island faithful and even appeal to gamers who don’t typically go in for graphic adventures. Overall 9/10”.[3]

PC Gamer US: “If this isn’t destined to be a classic, I’ll swallow a cutlass. Overall 95%”.[4]

PC Zone: “Essentially, then, The Curse Of Monkey Island offers more of the same. That’s no bad thing because there are still mad fools out there who’ve never laid their eyes on Monkey 2, but of course to us old ape hands, Monkey 3 is no longer startlingly ‘new’. It’s far more polished than its prequel, yet at the same time familiar and reassuringly tip-top territory. Overall 9.2/10.[5]

PC Games: The Secret of Monkey Island was an enormous success. By contrast, LeChuck’s Revenge seemed weak, and the laughs intermittent. The Curse of Monkey Island, though, features all the vitality of the original release. If you want inventive puzzles, fine graphics, and, above all, enough wit to power an entire season of prime-time television, don’t miss this game. Overall A.[6]

Awards:

Adventure Game of the Year 1997 – Computer Gaming World[7]

Adventure Game of the Year 1997 – Computer Games[8]

Best Adventure Game 1997 – Gamespot[9]

My Verdict:

What’s not to like? This game looks awesome, has fab music with great SFX and voice acting with larger than life characters. It is also incredibly fun to play and is a worthy sequel to the ever-popular Monkey Island series. I’m now itching to play the next instalment.

Rating:

What are your memories of The Curse of Monkey 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.

[1] Green, J., ‘Review: The Curse of Monkey Island’. Computer Gaming World. (March 1998). Issue 164:152-3.

[2] ‘Rating – The Curse of Monkey Island’. Next Generation. (March 1998). Issue 39:113.

[3] Ryan, M.E., (Nov 25 1997) ‘The Curse of Monkey Island’. Gamespot. (http://www.gamespot.com/pc/adventure/curseofmonkeyisland/review.html Accessed 18th April 2022).

[4] ‘Curse of Monkey Island, The,’ PC Gamer US. (February 1998). (https://web.archive.org/web/19991206173715/http://www.pcgamer.com/reviews/289.html Accessed on 18th April 2022).

[5] ‘PC Reviews – Monkey Island 3: The Curse of Monkey Island’. PC Zone. (https://web.archive.org/web/20080407171909/http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=3210 Accessed on 18th April 2022).

[6] Brenesal, B., (01/05/1998). ‘The Curse of Monkey Island’. PC Games. http://www.games.net/pcgames/articles/0%2C1034%2C1211%2C00.html?CHANNEL=pcgames&AD_SECTION=review Accessed on 18th April 2022).

[7] ‘CGW 1998 Premier Awards: Adventure Game of the Year’. Computer Gaming World. (March 1998). Issue 164:76.

[8] ‘The winners of 1997 Computer Games Award’. Computer Games Strategy Plus. (https://web.archive.org/web/20050206152953/http://www.cdmag.com/articles/009/194/1997_cgsp_awards.html Accessed on 18th April 2022).

[9] ‘Best & Worst Awards 1997 – Best Adventure Game’. Gamespot. (https://web.archive.org/web/20010210224852/http://www.gamespot.com/features/awards97/adven.html Accessed on 18th April 2022).

Vectorman – Review

It is always confusing when you come across a game that you’ve never heard of before and it’s awesome. Why? Because you begin to wonder why you haven’t heard of it before! Why were these games not championed more by creators, critics, and gamers alike? I wonder whether Vectorman’s late arrival to the scene was simply overshadowed by the focus on the next generation of consoles. Had Vectorman been released just a year or two earlier, it may have been given higher regard by the gamer community.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Vectorman is a single player run and gun platform game developed by BlueSky Software and published by Sega. It was released on the Mega Drive in 1995 and would later appear on a number of compilations such as Sonic Gems Collection (2005) for the GameCube, Sega Genesis Collection (2006/7) for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was also released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007 and on Steam in 2018 as part of the Sega Genesis Classics Pack. It was also included on the Mega Drive Mini in 2019. For this review, I played dthe version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

Plot

In the year 2049, the Earth is one big cesspit of pollution and toxic waste. Humans decide to leave Earth and seek a new home to colonise. In the meantime, they create robots known as “orbots”, designed to clean up the mess whilst the humans are away.Raster,a highly advanced orbot, is accidentally connected to a nuclear weapon by a lesser orbot. This turns Raster from a benevolent orbot into the psychopathic machine known as Warhead. He is hellbent on ruling Earth himself and plans the execution of humans once they return to Earth.

Vectorman is a lesser orbot whose job is to clean up toxic waste and dispose of it in the sun. He was off planet when Raster became Warhead and returns to find the planet in a state of chaos. Vectorman decides that he should try to stop Warhead’s evil plans.

Vectorman has a built-in gun in his hand (Screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

The game consists of Vectorman fighting his way through 16 levels, battling Warhead’s minions on the way. At his disposal is his built-in gun, which he uses to destroy the baddies or to blow-up the TV screens that offer power-ups. The weapon power-ups include:

  • Rapid Fire: Keep the fire button held down to produce a continuous stream of bullets
  • Wave: Useful for killing enemies not directly in your line of sight.
  • Bolo: Fires a bit rotating ball
  • Orb: Can be used only one and designed to kill all nearby orbots in a huge explosion
  • Nucleus Shield: Temporary invincibility. Once it runs out, you also lose your previous weapon power-ups

Note: Shooting downwards whilst falling, will slow your descent.

Other power-ups include:

  • Health Point: Fills one ball on your health indicator
  • Full Health: Fills all balls on your health indicator
  • Max Health: Increases number of balls on your health indicator.
  • 1-Up: Gives you an extra life
  • Milestone: Should you die, you restart the level where you picked this up
  • Extra Time: Adds time to the count down
  • Photons: Pick these up for extra points
  • x2: Multiples points by 2
  • x3: Multiples points by 3
  • x5: Multiples points by 5
  • x10: Multiples points by 10

Vectorman can also pick up morph icons that will transform him into other types of robots to help him advance in the level:

  • Drill: Allows you to break through certain floors
  • Bomb: Explosion will kill nearby enemies and destroy certain walls and floors
  • Jet: Enables you to fly higher than you can jump
  • Fish: Enables you to swim faster than you can run
  • Missile: Enables you to break through certain ceilings
  • Parachute: Allows you to slowly descend with greater manoeuvrability
  • Buggy: Can be used as a battering ram to break through certain walls

Vectorman has the ability to jump a little higher by tapping the jump button again whilst when he reaches the top of his initial jump. This will briefly ignite rockets in his feet which also causes damage to enemies.

Destroying satellite dishes allow you access to bonus stages. However, to destroy these you first need to find and destroy the shield generators which are hidden throughout the levels.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The game is quite chaotic at times and there is a lot on the screen to take in, and at first, I had no idea what was going on. However, there is lots of fun to be had charging through the levels and blasting all the baddies.I feel it would have been better to have the view zoomed out a little more so that you can tackle in more of the level.

Graphics

The Vectorman sprite looks awesome and movements are incredibly fluid. When you move into dark areas, your sprite also goes dark, but you can still see red flashing lights on his body, face and extremities. remind us that he is a robot. This was a nice touch. I also liked the lightning flashes on Day 12.
 
Most of the backgrounds for the levels looked good, but I just felt that they lacked something. Maybe they just weren’t full of vibrant colour that I have been used to with so many Mega Drive games. Then again, maybe the drabness was to emphasise the polluted state the Earth is in. Even so, the flags flying in the breeze in particular look very realistic.

Music

The game contains electronic techno dance music throughout which I though suited the game very well.

Replay Value

The game has three difficulty settings Lame, wicked, and insane which offers some relay value. However, although the end of level scores state whether you picked up all the photons and destroyed all the TV screens, there is no difference to the outcome of the game if you do destroy all TV screens and pick up all the photons. I think this is a missed opportunity to add something more to the game encouraging gamers to return to it.

Did I Complete The Game?

Yes, but so far, only on the Lame setting.

What The Critics Thought?

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “It seems like Sega has a new mascot. Vectorman offers graphics that make it look like it’s on a system other than the Genesis. The animation is really smooth. Surprisingly, VM excels in the control department. It doesn’t have anything really new, but it plays well. The gameplay is fast, and the action generally is intense but not frustrating. Think of Strider with a gun. The audio is just right. Overall 33/40.[1]

GamePro: “Your 16-bit system isn’t dead yet, and Vectorman is the reason why! This entertaining platform game is tough, but it rewards you with tons of fun. Overall 19.5/20.[2]

Awards:

GamePro Editor’s Choice Awards 1995 – Best Genesis Game[3]

GameFan’s 1995 Megawards – Genesis Game of the Year[4]

GameFan’s 1995 Megawards – Best Genesis Action Platformer[5]

My Verdict:

“This is a fun game. Lots of charging through levels blasting everything in sight with an array of weapons. It’s a beautiful looking game with a solid soundtrack. My only criticism is the lack of replay value for me. Definitely worth your time though!”.

Rating:

What are your memories of Vectorman? 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] ‘Vectorman’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (November 1995). Number 76:42.

[2] ProReview – Vectorman‘.GamePro. (November 1995). Issue 76:70-1.

[3] Editor’s Choice Awards 1995‘. GamePro. (February 1996). Issue 79:26.

[4] ‘GameFan’s 1995 Megawards’ GameFan. (January 1996). Volume 4 Issue 1:106.

[5] ‘GameFan’s 1995 Megawards’ GameFan. (January 1996). Volume 4 Issue 1:104.

Streets of Rage 3 – Review

Streets of Rage (1991) and Streets of Rage 2 (1992) were both awesome games worthy of the highest accolades. Their success would naturally spawn a third in the series. The question is, would the creators be able to make the game unique enough to stand on its own whilst at the same time staying true to what made the first two instalments so successful?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Streets of Rage 3 (known as Bare knuckle 3 in Japan) is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up developed and published by Sega. It was released in 1994 for the Mega Drive and would appear on later compilation packs including Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and Sega Genesis Classics (2010) which is available for Microsoft Windows, Linux, MacOS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. In 2012, it was released on Steam as a stand-alone game as well as with Sega Genesis Classics Pack 5. For this review, I replayed the version for the Mega Drive found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

Plot

Streets of Rage 3 is a direct sequel to Streets of Rage 2 (1992). It has been Several years since Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, Eddie “Skate” Hunter and Max Thunder defeated Mr. X and rescued Adam Hunter. However, Mr. X, head of an organised crime group known as The Syndicate has returned. Since his last defeat he founded RoboCy Corporation, a legitimate robotics company that acts as a cover for his illegal activities. He has hired the world’s foremost expert on robotics (Dr. Dahm) to create an army of androids under his command to secretly replace important city officials with a view to controlling the city. Whilst this operation comes into effect, he plants bombs throughout the city to distract the police while the city officials are replaced.

After realising what Dr. Dahm’s research as really been used for, Dr. Zan, a cyborg himself, contacts Blaze Fielding and explains Mr. X’s plans for the city officials. Upon learning of the severity of the situation, Blaze contacts her old police partners Axel Stone and Adam Hunter. Axel agrees to join the task force, but Adam is unable to because of his own commitments within the police force. However, his younger brother Eddie “Skate” Hunter agrees to join the task force in his place.

It is unclear what happened to Max Thunder but Dr. Zan takes his place (Screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

Consistent with the previous two instalments, Streets of Rage 3 follows suit. The game can be played in one-player or two-player co-op mode. Each fighter has different stats depending on what you prefer to play with. Some are faster, some are more powerful, but none are considered the ultimate fighter.

The fighting is much the same. You must fight your way through a number of levels fighting baddies of varying strengths. Along the way you can pick up money and gold bars which increase your points tally, and food to help restore your life gauge. Occasionally, you will spot a 1-up.

As well as the usual weapons of knives, pipes, baseball batts and swords, you can also pick up grenades. Just be sure to not hold on to them too long else they will explode, and you will suffer damage.

There are a few differences from previous games, however. This is the first game in the series to utilise the six-button controller allowing for a larger move set. For special moves, you have a power bar consisting of six segments. The higher the gauge the more damage you will do to the baddies. One you perform a speicla move, the bars will empty and you will need to wait a few second for them to recharge. If the gauge is empty when you perform a special move, your life gauge will deplete slightly. With every 40,000 points you accrue, a star appears below your fighter’s life gauge. Each star you earn increases the strength of your Blitz attack. You can earn up to three stars but if you lose a life, you will lose a star.

Whereas in Streets of Rage 2 (1992) only Skate could run, Streets of Rage 3 allows all characters to run as well as roll up or down to screen to evade enemy attacks.

The story itself is more complex, with dialogue between the characters after each level, adding another layer to the story telling.

Characters:

Dr. Zan – After discovering what The Syndicate are planninng with their androids, Dr. Zan contacts Blaze Fielding in a bid to acquire her help in stopping Mr. X.

Blaze Fielding – Since defeating The Syndicate a second time, she now works as a private detective. She agrees to help when she is informed that the next victim of this dastardly plan will be her old friend the Chief of Police.

Axel Stone – After defeating Mr. X a second time, Axel moved far from the city to start up his own martial arts school. Blaze convinces him to return to fight Mr. X one more time.

Eddie “Skate” Hunter – Since helping the others defeat Mr. X and rescue his older brother Adam, Skate has grown in strength and speed. He agrees to join the task force to take down Mr. X once and for all.

The Duel Mode has been made more interesting. It is no longer just a one-on-one fight. For example, on one fight stage, the floor contains sparks that travel along a line on the floor. If it touches you, you get electrocuted. Another has holes for you to fall down which will make you lose health.

New sprites have been introduced… (Screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

This game has tight controls, and the increase in the number of moves ensures that the fighting does not get monotonous. I did think that the hit detection was off a little though. There were instances where an enemy is slightly to the back or to the fore of the line I was on, and I was unable to hit them, but they were able to hit me. That was frustrating! There were two bosses that I felt were annoyingly difficult. The two women in the bar, and the three samurai. Even on Easy I struggled with these bosses. I appreciate this may simply be a case of finding a strategy, but these fights are where I lost most of my lives.

There was an interesting level consisting of our heroes moving from right to left and having to punch through concrete walls whilst being chased by a bulldozer. This level is easy and just seems to slow down the gameplay. It was a good idea, I’m just not sure it worked.

Graphics

Even though the levels and sprites were highly detailed and well animated, I did think that the levels and sprites of four protagonists were not as good as Streets of Rage 2 (1992). There were plenty of enemy sprites who were still around from the previous two games to make it feel familiar, but I did question the reliance on sprites from previous game. Having said that, I still think the game looks pretty darn good.

One level I though was particularly good was the disco stage. The lighting occasionally flashes, and the lighting makes the level feel really authentic.

Music

The music was criticised by several contemporary critics (see below). Although not necessarily as memorable as the previous games, the music is still that adrenaline fuelled upbeat techno/electronic music which fits this game well.

Replay Value

There are three difficulty levels: Easy, Normal and Hard, as well as the option to alter the number of lives you begin with. Initially, when I completed the game on Easy, the game ends after five stages and I thought the game was very short. However, completing the game on harder settings reveals several more stages and a continuation of the story. Apparently, there are four endings depending on which difficulty level you complete the game on and the time it takes for you to do it. The Duel Mode has been improved too, but again, it will never compare to fighitng games such as Street Fighter II (1992).

…and some old sprites resurrected (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I Complete The Game?

I have completed the game on the Easy setting, but whilst looking into this game, I have discovered that there are more levels when played on harder settings. Clearly, I will have to re-visit this game.

What The Critics Said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “This has always been a good series, and I really enjoyed this cart. A few things bothered me. The music wasn’t up to par with what Yuzo Koshiro normally does, and the sounds were sub-standard. The background animations were really good, and the diversity of game play adds tremendously. One question: Why did Sega change the characters’ outfits to gender neutral colours? It is still a great Sega fighter. Overall 29/40.[1]

Gamefan: “I’m usually blown away with any of the SOR games, but part 3 just didn’t do it for me. The graphics and control are very good, but the music is horrible compared to previous versions. It’s as if the person who composed the music in Chakan did the BGM in SOR 3. What were you thinking Yuzo?” Overall 234/300.[2]

Hyper: “If you liked the rest of the series then you’ll love this game. If you’re a sensitive new age type I’d steer clear though…stick to Ecco. Overall 83%.[3]

Mean Machines Sega: “A stylish continuation of the series, but not all it could – and should – be. A classic case of ‘If only they had…’. Overall 83%.[4]

Sega Magazine: “Expensive, but you’re paying for the best scrolling combat game in existence. Only Streets of rage 2 is anywhere near as good as this. Overall 90%.[5]

My Verdict:

“Don’t get me wrong, this is a solid third instalment of the franchise. Great graphics and gameplay with a more complex story…I just wasn’t feeling it. The music was less memorable, I didn’t like Dr. Zan as a new character and I felt the protagonist sprites didn’t look as good as in previous games. I felt the hit detection was slightly off and some of the bosses were insanely hard, even on Easy. If I had a choice, I would much rather revisit the first two instalments.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Streets of Rage 3? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review Crew – Streets of Rage 3’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (July 1994). Number 60 Volume 7 Issue 7:34.

[2] Viewpoint – Streets of Rage 3’. Gamefan. (June 1994). Volume 2 Issue 7:24.

[3] ‘Review – Streets of Rage 3’. Hyper. (June 1994). 7:30-33.

[4] ‘Megadrive Review – Streets of Rage 3’. Mean Machines Sega. (March 1994). Issue 17:42-45.

[5] ‘Megadrive Review – Streets of Rage 3’. Sega Magazine. (May 1994). Issue 5:78-9.

Sonic & Knuckles – Review

I’m sure we’ve all said at one point in our lives, “Wow, we have reached the pinnacle of videogaming,” only to be proved wrong a year later. Innovation is the key to ensuring that gaming franchises don’t become stale. The introduction of new characters, new features and gameplay styles are all used in attempts to keep games fresh. But what if you could add new characters to older games? Well, that’s just what the creators of Sonic & Knuckles did.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic & Knuckles is a single-player platform game developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in 1994 and later on various compilations including:

  • Sonic Jam (1997) for the Sega Saturn
  • Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997) for the PC
  • Sonic & Garfield Pack (1999) for the PC
  • Sonic Mega Collection (2002) for the GameCube
  • Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004) for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC
  • Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
  • Sonic Classic Collection (2010) for the Nintendo DS

The game would also become available on the Wii’s Virtual Console, Xbox 360 Live Arcade, and Steam. For this review, I played the version found on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

No sooner had the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) been concluded, where once again Sonic thwarted Dr. Robotnik’s evil plans to steal the Chaos and Master Emeralds causing DeathEgg to crash land on Floating Island (Angel Island), Sonic must again act quickly to seek out the emeralds and recover them before Dr. Robotnik can find them. However, Sonic is now fighting a war on two fronts. He also needs to beat Knuckles to Echidna to them too. Knuckles is the Guardian of Angel Island and the Emeralds, and his mission is to stop any invasion by any means necessary.

You cannot fault this game’s beauty (screenshot taken by the author)

You can choose to play as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles in this game. Sonic and Tails have the same skill set as before. However, if you play as Knuckles, you may not be as fast or be able to jump as high as Sonic, but you do have your advantages. For one, you can glide! Secondly, you can climb walls using the spikes on your fists.

As is standard for Sonic games, you collect rings along the way. When you gain 50 rings you can enter the special and bonus stages. These are identical to those found in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) in that you must run around a globe and collect small blue spheres. The more you collect, the faster your run making it more difficult to control.

Another bonus stage is similar to the emerald stages of Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) in that Sonic is curled up in a ball and must navigate a rotating stage. The aim is to stay as central as possible and enter a slot that spins fruit machine reels to win rings. This continues until you touch the outer edges a few times revealing red circles in the wall that make you exit the game when you land on them. As before, every 100 rings you collect gains you an extra life.

A third bonus stage sees you use glowing electrical spheres to catapult yourself up the screen. However, you need to be quick. A horizontally spiralling laser beam slowly moves up the screen. if you fall into it, you will exit the bonus stage.

The special stage where you can win the Chaos Emeralds (screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic & Knuckles must traverse the following levels:

Mushroom Hill Zone

Flying Battery Zone

Sandopolis Zone

Lava Reef Zone

Hidden Palace Zone

Sky Sanctuary Zone

Death Egg Zone

Doomsday Zone

Throughout the levels you must try to find the Chaos Emeralds. As with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994), these are found in hidden locations. Once you obtain all the emeralds, you gain access to special abilities.

The power-ups are exactly the same as found in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994). The boxes contain:

  • Super Rings – 10 rings
  • 1-Up – Extra life
  • Invincibility – Invulnerability for a short time, however, you can still die if you are crushed.
  • Water Shield – Allows you to breathe underwater as well as bouncing on the heads of the badniks.
  • Lightning Shield – This magnetic shield attracts rings when nearby, can absorb energy ball attracts, and allows you to gain a little extra height with a double jump.
  • Flame Shield – Makes you impervious to lava and fireball attacks. You can also briefly turn into a fireball that will destroy badnisk.
  • Super Shoes – You can run at hyper speed for a short period of time.
  • Robotnik – Avoid these as they spell instant death if you break them.
Knuckles has the ability to climb and glide (screenshot taken by the author)

One of the biggest selling points of this game was that the cartridge was designed for you to attach Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) onto the top of the Sonic & Knuckles (1994) cartridge allowing you to play the previous games with Knuckles. This isn’t just a quirky feature either. It actually allows you to reach previously unattainable areas of the levels.

This is the title screen that appears when you attach the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) cartridge to the Sonic & Knuckles (1994) cartridge.
This is the title screen that appears when you attach the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) cartridge to the Sonic & Knuckles (1994) cartridge (screenshot taken by the author)

Although the gameplay is unchanged from Sonic the Hedgehog 3, the game has added a few nice touches to make the gameplay a little more interesting. An example of this can be found in Sandopolis Zone 2 where you need to pull down bars to light up the level. When the lights start to dim, you will begin to be attacked by ghosts and so you need to find more levers to pull down to scare the ghosts off.

Graphically, you can’t fault this game. Colourful, vibrant and detailed backgrounds, and gorgeous looking sprites. The levels have some nice touches too, such as Mushroom Hill Zone when you land on the green ground and what looks like yellowish pollen balls fly up.

The theme tune is the same as Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994), and the music throughout the levels continue to be of a high standard as we have with previous Sonic games.

The replay value of the game is certainly there too. Not only do you have to ensure you gain all the Chaos Emeralds to earn the good ending, but some of bosses are different depending on if you play as Sonic or Knuckles which certainly warrants a play through as both characters.

My only criticism of the game is that I question whether the format is now becoming a bit stale. This is Sonic’s fourth instalment, ignoring Sonic Spinball (1993), and it feels like it’s the same game being rehashed over and over again. I appreciate that Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) and Sonic & Knuckles (1994) were originally meant to be one big game, but one could be forgiven for wishing Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) had added something to differentiate itself more from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992). Whilst the adding of a new character and creating a system where it can be played on older Sonic games is ingenious, I just think the format of the game needs a good shake up.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have completed the game with both Sonic and Knuckles and with both obtaining all the Chaos Emeralds.

What the critics said:

Computer & Video Games: “It’s over a year old now and you need to buy both Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles to fully enjoy it. That’s why it’s here at the bottom. But in truth, Sonic 3 and Knuckles is the best platform experience ever. It’s what video games were invented for. Overall 97%.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Sonic and Knuckles is the ultimate Sonic game. This is the best game of the series and the lock-on technology offers new life to older games. Many new games can be plugged in, too. Fantastic graphics, sound and game play make this Sega’s ultimate game and it gets my vote for Genesis Game of the Year! Overall 37/40“.[2]

Game Pro: “Sure, sure, it’s just another Sonic game. But this one’s got some revolutionary elements that make it another ground breaker for Sega. Overall 20/20.[3]

Next Generation: “A slot in the top accepts previous Sonic carts and enables you to play them starring Knuckles instead of (yawn) Sonic. Does this make Sonic 2 less Tedious? Well, no. But it is an impressive technical feat and if it points to a future where old games can be given a new lease on life with “mission carts” similar to the expansion disk that have long been available for PC titles, then NEXT Generation is all for it. Overall 4/5.[4]

Sega Magazine: “Slick and accomplished platformer which doesn’t quite catch the edge over the younger, fresher Headdy. Overall 92%.[5]

Sega Power:Excellent ideas, great game. A change in gameplay is needed soon. Overall 90%.[6]

My verdict:

“Another winning instalment from Sega. Fun, fast and furious, with great new bonus stages, plenty of replay value, and stunning graphics. I just fear that the format is begininng to grow stale. Let’s try something different next time.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Sonic & Knuckles? 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] ‘The Computer & Video Games Christmas Buyers Guide’. Computer & Video Games. (January 1996). Issue 170:9.

[2] ‘Review Crew – Game of the Month’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (December 1994). Issue 65:34.

[3] ‘ProReview – Sonic and Knuckles’. Game Pro. (November 1994). Issue 64:72-3.

[4] ‘Rating Genesis – Sonic and Knuckles’. Next Generation. (January 1995). Issue 1:101.

[5] ‘Mega Drive Review – Sonic the Hedgehog’. Sega Magazine. (October 1994). Issue 10:81.

[6] ‘Mega Drive – Sonic and Knuckles’. Sega Power. (November 1994). Issue 60:35-6.

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master – Review

Who hasn’t fantasised about being a ninja? The idea of being a highly skilled assassin infiltrating an enemy base and dispatching your enemies using an array of weapons like the shuriken, katana, and kusarigama is a hero fantasy that I certainly had (and still do at times). The Revenge of Shinobi (1989) was a popular game. Would a third instalment prove just as successful?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master (Super Shinobi II in Japan) is a single-player hack-and-slash action game and a sequel to The Revenge of Shinobi (1989). It was developed and published by Sega and released on the Mega Drive 1993. It would appear as part of the Sega Genesis Collection (2006) for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, on the Wii Virtual Console (2007) and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It would also be released for the PC on Steam (2010), iPhone (2011) and Nintendo 3DS eShop (2013).

After the events of The Revenge of Shinobi (1989), Joe Musashi also known as Shinobi, returned to Japan to recover from his battle with the Neo Zeed organisation. He soon learns that the Neo Zeed are rebuilding and that members of the organization have been sent to kill him. Once again Shinobi must prepare to battle for his life and stop the evil Neo Zeed once and for all!

Beautiful level and sprite design (screenshot taken by the author)

Shinobi must battle through seven Levels:

  • Zeed’s Resurrection – Battle through the forests and caves of Japan
  • Secret Entry – Infiltrate a high-tech facility
  • Body Weapon – Battle through a laboratory where biological weapons are being created
  • Destruction – Infiltrate a robotics factory
  • Electric Demon – Infiltrate and destroy a weapons facility
  • Traps – Descend into a gorge where Neo Zeed’s secret base is found
  • The Finial Confrontation – Battle through an air fortress to defeat the Shadow Master

As with the prequel, there are several items and power-ups to look out for:

  • 5 x shuriken
  • 20 x shuriken
  • Heart bonus (for health)
  • Extra Life
  • Ninjitsu – Adds a special ability for you to use
  • Time Bomb – Avoid these as they explode and cause damage to you

A new danger to look out for is mines and these aren’t always easy to see.

Throughout the game, Shinobi can use his sepcial powers:

  • Jutsu of Ikazuchi – Summons a bolt of lightning to create an electrical shield that gives you invulnerability for a short period of time.
  • Jutsu of Kariu – Summons four pillars of intense flame to incinerate your enemies
  • Jutsu of Fushin – Increases Shinobi’s jumping ability
  • Jutsu of Mijin – Shinobi explodes killing nearby enemies, however Shinobi will also lose a life.

These special powers can only be used once per level unless you find a box a Ninjitsu icon along the way.

My kingdom for a horse! (screenshot taken by the author)

New additions to traversing the levels that break up the monotony include a horse and jet-ski. On the horse you must be aware of enemies hanging from kites. You need to dispatch them whilst keeping an eye out for tripping hazards. The jet-ski level sees enemies riding futuristic hover bikes whilst you keep an eye out for ramps that allow you pick up goodies and avoid enemy mines.

The creators have added some nice new moves to the game to make things a little more interesting. For example, Shinobi can now perform a mid-air flying kick, can jump off walls to gain higher ground, can hang from the ceiling (which I don’t recall him doing in Revenge of Shinobi (1989), and a running slash that makes him temporarily invincible.

There are four difficulty settings: Easy, Normal, Hard and Expert offering plenty of replay value to the game. You can also choose how many shuriken to start with, adding a further layer of difficulty should you wish it.

That’s one ugly-assed monster! (screenshot taken by the author)

I think this game looks great! The sprites look fantastic and are very detailed. I particularly like how the enemy sprites explode, reminiscent of many arcade games. The levels are also incredibly detailed with many having multi-layered parallax scrolling. In Level 1 when you enter the cave, the transition in the background is very smooth. The background of the forest fades and after a brief black backdrop, the interior of the cave fades in. I also really liked Level 5 where you are battling through a forest that is ablaze. The oranges and reds of the background really give you a sense of heat from the inferno. You can almost feel it coming through your TV screen!

The music is actually pretty cool. There are some nice upbeat electronic tracks similar to what you’d find on Streets of Rage (1989).

One issue I have with the controls is that in order to perform a somersault, you need to press the jump button a second time when Shinobi is at the peak of his first jump, else he will just begin to fall as normal. I found this frustrating, especially when the levels scrolled up or when you had to jump onto the falling rocks. I lost many lives on these levels and I felt that the window with which you needed to perform the somersault was a little too narrow.

I also have an issue with the fact that Shinobi can still only through his shuriken in one direction…the way he is facing. I think it would be time for him to at least be able to throw them straight up by now. Sadly, this lack of progression in his move set loses them game some points for me.

Did I complete the game?

As of yet, I can’t get past Level 6.

What the critics said:

Computer and Video Games: “As good as Super Shinobi II is it just doesn’t have that awesome mix of action and graphical excellence that the first one was full of. The graphics look a little better with some topper backdrops and Joe himself has had a bit of a facelift and been given Ultimate Warrior type arm-ties. Once again the music is absolutely superb with some really hard thumping rock tracks and some brilliant effects. Game play has been made a little more involving with some new moves and other treats but there’s just something missing to make it a classic. Overall 84%.[1]

MegaTech: “One of the best MD action titles around. Great, fast-paced action, briliant graphics and sound and a few new tricks up Joe’s sleeve make this a must for all atcion fans. Overall 93%.[2]

Mega: “As much fun as the previous Shinobi games and a bit better besides. Why the, didn’t they make the bloody thing a bit harder? Overall 74%.[3]

Sega Power: “Shinobi is to predecessors what Kellogg’s Special K is to cornflakes – same ingredients but with a different shape. It’s very playable, but unremarkable, performing title. Overall 79%.[4]

GamePro: “Just when you’re getting bored with similar-looking-and-similar-playing action games, along comes Joe Musashi to shake things up. Mind-blowing backgrounds, great new moves, a horse-riding sequence, and hot music push this Genesis to the max. III cheers for Shinobi III. Overall 19/20.[5]

My Verdict:

“This game looks great with some stunning levels and backdrops. It is enjoyable to play too and contains some fab music. Although there are some new moves, I still think they could have allowed Shinobi to throw shuriken in more than on direction. Apart from a few small gameplay gripes though, it’s defiantly worth playing and I will not doubt return to conquer this game at a later date.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master? 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] Anglin, P., ‘Three Page Review – Super Shinobi II’. Computer and Video Games. (February 1993). 135:22-4.

[2] ‘Game Index – Shinobi III’. MegaTech. (June 1995). Issue 42:30.

[3] ‘Game Review – Shinobi 3’. Mega. (October 1993). Issue 13:34.

[4] ‘Mega Drive Review: Shinobi 3 – Return of the Ninja Master’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:38-9.

[5] Slasher Quan., ‘Genesis ProReview: Shinobi: return of the Ninja Master‘. GamePro. (August 1993). Issue 49:58-9.

Ristar – Review

By 1995, 16-bit gaming was in its descendancy. The PlayStation and Sega Saturn had been released, demonstrating the future potential for video gaming to the world. The 32-bit era had arrived!!! Technology had finally reached a stage where 3D polygonal graphics were actually beginning to look good, and gamers were demanding longer more complex challenges. However, there were still a few gem 16-bit games in the wings, waiting to make their appearance.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Ristar is a single-player platform game developed and published by Sega and released on the Mega Drive for 1995. You can also find this game on various Sega compilations on systems such as the PlayStation 3 and 4. For this review, played the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

In a far-off galaxy, a band of space pirates led by their tyrannical leader Greedy is brainwashing the leaders of a nearby solar system and forcing them to do his bidding. On the planet Flora, Ristar, son of a captured space hero has pledged to travel from planet to planet to rescue his father and free all the brainwashed leaders which will in turn loosen Greedy’s power.

Superb graphics! (screenshot taken by the author)

There are seven worlds for you to save from Greedy:
 
Planet Flora
Planet Undertow
Planet Scorch
Planet Sonata
Planet Freon
Planet Automation
Greedy’s Space City

Ristar’s unique way of attacking any foe he encounters is by extending his arms to grab them and bring them towards him in what can only be described as a headbutt. Since his hands can be made to extend in all directions, this can make for some incredibly acrobatic gameplay.

There are times in the game where you will come across a Star Handle. By grabbing this, Ristar proceeds to swing like a gymnast. By pressing a direction button you can pick up speed until tiny stars start to appear. This indicates that Ristar is now a shooting star and when he lets go of the bar, will fly at great speed and will be able to reach very high places as well as kill any enemy he comes into contact with. You will find Star Handles at the end of each level where the higher you exit the screen the more points your earn.

There are also hidden Star Handles that allow you access to bonus stages. Each bonus stage has a treasure that you must find within a time limit. I’m unsure if collecting all these treasures makes a difference to the ending of the game.

Along the way you will find power-ups to help you on your journey:

Little Star – Yellow and black gives you an extra life, and black and white helps you through traps.
Restore Star – The gold star adds one more hit to your Gold Star count and a silver star resets your Gold Star count to four hit points.
Yellow Jewel – Collect these to gain points.

Ristar is an incredibly acrobatic sprite (screenshot taken by the author)

This game is fun and very enjoyable to play. Oddly there is no run button, so Ristar will always run at the same speed (unless using the Star Handle, of course). The controls are easy to learn but that doesn’t detract from the gameplay as there are plenty of enemies and handholds to grab thorughout the levels allowing Ristar to show off his agility. The controls are tight and the physics of the game are easy to get used to. However, one annoying aspect to the gameplay is that when you kill and enemy, Ristar backflips. You have no control over this and it leaves him vulnerable if another enemy is nearby.

For the most part the game is easy enough, although, I found the boss at the end of Planet Freon difficult to get past and it took me several attempts to defeat it.

Unlike many platformers which keep to the same formula of simply running and jumping through the levels, there is a puzzle aspect to Planet Sonata. You must find metronomes and take them to weird singing bird creatures that block your way.

There is little argument about it. This is one of the most beautiful Mega Drive games you will see. The levels are incredibly detailed and colourful with multi-layered parallax scrolling, and the sprites look superb. on occasion when Ristar is sliding on ice, or jumping from springs, he rotates which allows the Mega Drive to show of its graphics capability.

During the swimming levels when Ristar swims deeper, the screen becomes darker as it would in the real world adding a touch of realism to the game. Although, it would make sense to keep a circle around him which is brighter since he is a star and he emanates light. Ristar swims very well and doesn’t need to breath underwater either…which is a relief to platformer fans everywhere no doubt.

When Ristar has been standing still for too long, he begins to amuse himself in different ways depending on the planet you are on. For example, on Planet Freon, he will begin to make a snowman.

I can understand how this game has been criticised for being a Sonic the Hedgehog clone. The animations that appear at the beginning of every level telling you the stage are almost identical to what you would see in Sonic. The music, whilst being upbeat and enjoyable to listen to also reminds me of the Sonic franchise. This doesn’t bother me though as good music is good music.

Did I complete the game?

Not yet, I couldn’t get past Planet Automation.

What the critics said:
Computer & Video Games: “At first glance it just doesn’t have any original features, which is the real lifeblood of a decent jumpy game like Ristar. However, despite the absence of any real gaming inspiration so far as the format goes, Risatr is actually a pretty darned playable title. Overall 83%.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “An excellent new character, Ristar requires more technique than the typical run-and jump action titles. The stages are very colourful, with good graphics and control. The sounds could be a bit pumped up. Overall 38/50.[2]

Next Generation: “Ristar borrows heavily from Sega’s other budding mascot, Dynamite Headdy, but it still contains enough original gameplay, solid action, and fun to escape the ‘copy-cat’ labl and be one of 1995’s more promising games. Overall 3/5.[3]

Games World: “Beautiful and enjoyable platform adventure in true Sega style. No attempt is made to hide the fact that Ristar takes most of its influence and style – no all of its influence and style from the Sonic games. The idea for his telescopic arms has been lifted from Dynamite Headdy, (although he didn’t use his arms mush of course). Very playable but maybe a little easy to finish. Overall 83%.[4]

Mean Machines Sega: “Likeable, if not exactly lovable, and pretty interpretation of the old platform chestnut. Now does anyone have some new ideas? Overall 84%.[5]

Sega Magazine: “A highly polished platform game. Not up there with Headdy or Earthworm Jim, but Ristar has its own charms. Worth giving a try. Overall 87%”.[6]

Sega Power: “Far too close to Sonic to be judged on its own merits. It’s not as good as Sonic either – which doesn’t help. Overall 74%.[7]

Sega Pro: “A promising debut by RIstar, this guy will go far. Good stuff, but a touch more originality would have made it even better. Overall 90%.[8]

My Verdict:

“I really enjoyed playing this game. It looks gorgeous, is fun to play, and has a good soundtrack. It shows how incredible 16-bit games can look.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Ristar? 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] ‘CVG Review – Ristar’. Computer & Video Games. (February 1995). Issue 159:66-7.

[2] ‘Review Crew – Ristar’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (February 1995). :36. 

[3] ‘Rating Genesis – Ristar’. Next Generation. (March 1995). Issue 3:101.

[4] Reviews – Ristar‘. Games World. (March 1995). Issue 9:12.

[5] ‘Mega Drive Review – Ristar’. Mean Machines Sega. (February 1995). Issue 28:60-2.

[6] Mega Drive Review – Ristar’. Sega Magazine. (January 1995). Issue 13:889.

[7] ‘Mega Drive – Ristar’. Sega Power. (March 1995). Issue 64:50-1.

[8] ‘Review Mega Drive – Ristar’. Sega Pro. (February 1995). Issue 41:40-1.