Posts Tagged ‘ Throwback ’

Throwback Friday: Bubble Bobble

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Back in 1986 in the back of a smoky arcade in Clacton on Sea, my annoying younger sister and myself stumbled upon an arcade cabinet. The game in question was Bubble Bobble from Taito a simple but charming platforming game straight from Japan. What followed was a love for everything Taito and indeed Bubble Bobble.

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Starring the lovable dragons Bub and Bob the premise was simple, clear the single screen levels of monsters and move onto the next. Killing enemies was handled by blowing bubbles around them and then popping them by jumping into them. It wasn’t all that simple though, the last monster left on the screen would get a bit unhappy about seeing his brethren defeated in such a manner. Turning red the last monster standing would suddenly gain super speed making it tricky to catch. Also lingering on a level for too long would initiate the word ‘Hurry!’ plastered over the screen, this was extremely bad. As what can only be described as Death himself infiltrated the screen and proceeded to chase down the heroes until either they were dead or the stage was cleared.

As with all arcade games of the time your only goal was to score well enough to be able to put your initials up in the top ten players for all to see. Points were awarded for killing monsters and picking up fruit and random treasures dropped by your fallen foes. If you wanted to score big though then the bonus levels were where you wanted to be. Occasionally in the game special bubbles would appear with letters inside them. Popping these bubbles would place the letters on the side of the screen until the word Extend was formed, this unlocked the bonus level for the big points. Other bubbles were there more for immediate help which included water bubbles which when burst sent a torrent of water down the different levels taking all out in it’s path and fire bubbles which dropped flames onto the floor which more often than not became a hindrance to your progress.

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Over the years the Bubble Bobble formula of single screen platforming has been copied with varying degrees of success. Probably the two of the best that spring to my mind are Snow Bros form Toaplan and Taitos own Parasol Stars. Both of these games are superb and carry with them the pedigree of Bubble Bobble. Bub and Bob went on to star in Bust a Move also known as Puzzle Bubble in some territories, and was an insanely addictive bubble matching game which graced multiple home platforms. If you ever come across an old arcade cabinet of Bubble Bobble be sure to give it a go if only to get the infectious music from the game stuck in your head, which I still have some 23 years later.

Written by Andy Marsh

Written by Andy Marsh

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Throwback Friday: Mega Bomberman

Back in 1994 I fell in love with a little game called “Mega Bomberman”. I had never played the Bomberman franchise before, and despite the sheer number of games that lie in the series now, it still stands out as the best one for me.

There really is nothing like some four player Bomberman action. Whatever version you are playing, its simple, its addictive and utterly frantic. People who have never even played games before can drop into Bomberman and have a whale of a time from the word go. Purists may have doubts about its simplicity, but I personally absolutely adore it.

Much like every other game in the series, there is an utterly pointless one player mode where Bomberman has to travel something…save something else….yawn fest. I know that Hudson soft have to include these modes to pan out the bulk of the game, but I do not know anyone who has honestly enjoyed the one player mode of any console-based Bomberman game. The multiplayer, as always, is where the real meat of the game lies.

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If you’re unfamiliar with the Bomberman formula, and if you are you should be ashamed of yourself, the game revolves around a square arena filled with hard blocks that cannot be moved, and soft blocks that can be blown up by bombs that your Bomberman can lay at the push of a button. Your bomb blast will destroy anything in its range apart from hard blocks, and that includes you. The strategy is to try and bomb the other players whilst trying to stay out of the way of other bomb blasts. Most levels include power ups to give you an edge over your opponents, either by making your bomb blasts bigger or helping you move faster, and the majority of levels also have insane traps or stipulations to make the action even crazier, like conveyor belts or trapdoors to drop your bombs down into.

The reason that Mega Bomberman is set apart from the rest of the pack, for me at least, is the inclusion of the “Louie” power-up. Though technically an item that you can pick up during play, a Louie is a creature that your Bomberman can ride to give you an extra ability, and also allow you to take an extra hit without dying. These Louies looked like adorably cartoony kangaroos of different vibrant colours, and each one had a different ability.

The Green Louie can zip in straight lines at incredibly high speeds until he hits a wall – very useful for getting out of tight situations. The Yellow Louie can kick soft blocks – not particularly great but good for trapping people in tight gaps! The Blue Louie can kick bombs over blocks and walls – not massively useful unless you were very devious! The blue Louie was the thinking man’s Louie. The Purple Louie was an absolute gem if you got it, but a pain in the butt if you were against it. The purple Louie could jump over bombs, blocks and bomb blasts. It was incredibly difficult to stop the purple Louie because it just jumped over everything! And my personal favourite, the Pink Louie.

At the touch of the B button, it performed a little dance for you. Completely useless but exceedingly pleasing. This Louie was also described as being “full of surprises”. It’s difficult to document exactly what these surprises where, but I could swear that at one point I was teleported away from danger whilst riding a pink Louie. It’s almost as if it knew.

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The Louie was such a simple concept. Simple, colour coordinated adorable power ups. Methinks that more games these days can learn from Mega Bomberman.

Throwback Friday: Troff and Scoff from Donkey Kong 64

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Troff and Scoff are two of my favourite characters from the Donkey Kong Country universe, purely because they don’t deserve to be in it at all. The DKC series is populated by monkeys: Apes, gibbons, baboons, whatever you want to call them. A few lizards here and there and the odd familiar animal that is actually of use. I speak of course of Rambi the rhino and Enguarde the swordfish.

Imagine my surprise at playing Donkey Kong 64 all those years ago when I attempted to open the first Boss door, only to realise it was being watched by a grossly overweight pig, Troff, and his hippopotamus friend, Scoff. The latter creature sat atop a lever that could propel his counterpart up to a lock at the top of the door that could be opened to initiate the boss fight. However, Scoff was never large enough to propel his friend high enough, so you as the player needs to feed him a set amount of bananas to “fatten” him up, as it were, to launch Troff up to open the door. Cue large amounts of collecting; immense satisfaction at completing your task, only to have it all fed to a hippo.

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I wonder why rare decided to include these characters. Why not have a door with a set amount of bananas that merely opens up when you have enough ala Banjo Kazooie? Why the pig and hippo combo? Why did Troff and Scoff never trade places so that the small hippo could be launched up by the fat pig? Why the hell couldn’t Lanky Kong stretch up and open the lock himself? It’s madness.

So, I raise a glass to Troff and Scoff. Congratulations for being placed in a brilliant platform game that you don’t deserve to be in and stick out like a sore thumb. Kudos.

Throwback Friday: Dino Dini’s Kick Off 2

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I’ll forgive you if you do not know Dino Dini from Adam, but in 1990 he gave us one of the finest and fun football games to grace the Amiga. Before Sensible Soccer there was Kick Off 2 and it’s predecessor which oddly enough was called Kick Off. I owned number two and it led to a seven year war with one of my best mates, just who was the best at Kick Off 2.

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Kick Off 2 was a top down football game with the maddest ball physics you’re likely to encounter in a game of this ilk. The action was fast and frantic and quite often hilarious. The game moved at an almost lightning pace as the ball moved constantly from one end of the pitch to the other. Ball controls were quite simple but underneath that simplicity was a control system full of quirks and depth. In general once the ball was intercepted it would stick to the players feet for the most part. Passes were handled by either tapping the button for short passes or holding it down for long ones, after touch could be added to the ball by moving the joystick in different directions while passing and shooting. Bending the ball for shots on goal was a skill that needed to be mastered, as the goalie was always controlled by the computer and done a very good job at saving all but the most spectacular shots.

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Match options allowed you to create custom colours for your on screen team and more importantly choose a referee for the game. The one rule myself and my friend would always follow was to choose S. Screech as ref for all games. Mr Screech was a particularly nasty ref and wouldn’t tolerate any sort of mischief on the pitch. More often than not we would end up with half a dozen players sent off in the course of a match. Injuries were also a good way of getting your opponent off the pitch and putting the odds back in your favour. The best way to win a game we found was to try and injure each others goalie with sliding tackles, a substitute goalie would take his place but he was never as good at saving goals. This wasn’t the only dirty trick that could be used to get the upper hand. From the kick off spot at the start of each half a goal could nearly always be gained from lobbing the ball half the length of the pitch and over the goalies head.

In our seven year battle for the pitch I don’t think either of us really was an outright winner, oh all right I’ll admit it I lost far more than I won. But you know what it didn’t matter, Kick Off 2 was such a fun game. Later on Sensible Soccer took the crown and the limelight away and Kick Off faded into obscurity which is a real shame. I for one would have preferred to see Kick Off 2 on XBLA rather than Sensi, but it’ll always live on in my heart.

Throwback Friday: Mario Kart Clones

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Back in 1992, Super Mario Kart was released unto the world, and changed the way we thought about racing games. Almost single handedly creating the “Kart Racing” genre, Super Mario Kart was the first racing game of its type – incorporating colourful characters and locales from an already successful gaming series and offensive weapons that could be used to take out opponent characters whilst driving. The game sold eight million copies worldwide, and became one of the best selling SNES games ever. However, it also spawned a hellish amount of games that copied the formula to the letter to try and match the success of the game. These will hereafter be referred to as “Mario Kart Clones”.

The majority of these came about at the advent of 3D gaming, most notably with the N64 and Sony PlayStation. Now, most of the clones did an absolutely awful job of mimicking the formula, and were clearly attempting to cash in on the success of the genre. This isn’t helped by the fact that most of them were licensed games trying to tie in with a particular popular character or movie. If you’ve ever played the catastrophes that are Muppets Racing, Mickey’s Speedway USA or Bomberman Racing then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Look no further for the videogame equivalent of a “cash-cow”. Even Mario’s biggest rival attempted to cash in on the action, with everyone’s favourite Blue Hedgehog starring in no-one’s favourite racing game: the awful Sonic Drift on the Game Gear. Copying a formula and expecting a license to carry a product does not make for a good game.

There were, however, a few diamonds in the rough that did an excellent job of keeping Karting going into different realms and franchises, and some arguably did a better job than the original Mario Kart.

Crash Team Racing – Playstation, 1999

My personal favourite Mario Kart clone. God-like developers Naughty Dog threw their world-renowned orange bandicoot into a kart and sent him hurtling around 20-odd weird and wonderful tracks with all of his friends and enemies. The one player story mode was immensely long and very challenging, and included one-on-one “boss fights”. There were unlockable characters, and each one actually felt different. My personal favourite element of the game though was the powerslide. I spent hours and hours perfecting my route around each map, making sure I could powerslide whenever possible. I quickly gained all of the gold medals on the time trials and beat all of my friends during the tremendous multiplayer levels. I’ve only ever been beaten at CTR once – by my girlfriend…and I..well, you know…kinda took it easy on her I guess…

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Diddy Kong Racing – Nintendo 64, 1997

An absolute stonker of a Kart Racing game, DKR did everything perfectly, with the exception that it didn’t have Dixie Kong in it, something I’ve only really been able to forgive with the advent of DKR for the DS. Back in the days when Rare could do no wrong, Diddy Kong and pals were thrown into Go-Karts to rid their island of the evil Wizpig, a massive…well…pig thing, really. To this day it stands as one of the most challenging of the Kart racing games. The last race against Wizpig requires some real steady hands. And that’s not all. Bored of racing around in Karts? Fine, why not try a hovercraft? Still not good enough for you? Right, get in a plane. That’s right, the first Kart racing game to incorporate flight, and have it available from the very beginning. Coupled with a host of loveable characters and brilliantly designed levels, DKR was not to be missed.

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Speed Freaks – Sony Playstation, 1999

Relatively unknown, and shamefully so, Speed Freaks for the PS1 boasted one of the toughest single player modes of any Kart racer I’ve played. The game was utterly excellent – very very fast, and demanded a high level of attention if you wanted to get everything right. The slightest slip up could cause you to drift to the back of the pack, and then you’d have a very tough time getting out in front again. It wasn’t unforgiving as such, it was just very very challenging, and in a genre dominated by kid-friendly games, it was nice to see one that tested the older generation too.

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So there’s my three favourite Mario Kart clones. Anyone else have any Kart-related experiences they’d like to share? Answers on a postcard…

Throwback Friday: The Bitmap Bros Part 2

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Well it’s Throwback Friday again today and as promised here is the second half of my Bitmap Brothers piece. Hope you enjoy it.

Whenever The Bitmap Brothers are mentioned to the more mature gamer, one game above all others will come up. That game is The Chaos Engine, an isometrically viewed shoot’em up that bears all the graphical trademarks that make all the Bitmap Brothers game stand out. The Chaos engine was unlike any other game I had played to that point. At first glance it’s just another shooter, but look beyond that and you find it has RPG leanings. Starting the game the player has £6000 to spend on two of the six mercs which all have different prices, characteristics and weapons. The characters had a great design to them and were the Mercenary, Gentleman, Brigand, Preacher, Navvie and the Thug. During play gold would be dropped by the myriad of enemies which could be used to upgrade weapons, items and character stats. Having an AI controlled team mate was fun but the game really shone through with co-op. Me and my mate played The Chaos Engine for hours and hours at a time and like most other Bitmap Brothers games it was brutally tough. I will always have great memories of the Chaos Engine and would love to see it re-released on PSN and XBLA.

The Chaos Engine

Last but far from least is Gods. Gods was a side scrolling platformer which at the time was a stunning looking game. You controlled Hercules on his quest for immortality through a collection of devious dungeons. Again the Bitmap Brothers gave us huge array of weapons and power-ups to play around with. Weapons like knives where thrown as projectiles and picking up more of the same weapon would increase the amount you threw up to a maximum of three. Not only that but new weapon arcs could be picked up or bought from the friendly shopkeeper. These arcs changed the way your knives or throwing stars flew. There was a focused fire which threw all weapons in a close group straight forward that was great for taking down the tougher enemies and two more that opened up your projectiles until you could fire one forwards and the other two straight up and down. This really helped out through the levels as monsters became more and more devious, coming at you from all angles. Puzzles involved a lot of switch pulling and to-ing and fro-ing through the maze like levels and often rewards could be gained from secret areas which helped you with health and often gems which could be spent in the shop.

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The Bitmap Brothers have made some of my all-time favourite games and made many more than I talked about over the last couple of weeks. Their distinct visual style and fabulous music scores helped elevate them far and above a lot of other games developers. The Bitmap Brothers are still about and many of their titles are still available. Their most recent title World War 2: Frontline Command came out in 2003 and was a war themed RTS that got decent reviews. I for one though hope that is not the last we hear The Bitmap Brothers and would love for them to bring more of their classic games to consoles.

Throwback Friday: Demo 1

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The video says it all, my throwback feature this week is on the Demo1 disc that came with the PlayStation on release. I still remember the day that I brought my PS1 home, unwrapping it eagerly. I’d bought Doom to go with it (which cost £50! and gave me terrible motion sickness) but the real gem was the demo disc that came with the system.

I’d just got off of my Mega Drive and onto SONYs grey box and the 3D modelling blew my young mind. I eagerly set up the console and put the demo disc in for a spin. After browsing the menu I decided to check out two tech demo’s that were contained, a Manta Ray and a T-Rex. By today’s standards these models would look horrible but to me they were amazingly lifelike. Whenever one of my friends would come to visit I would boot up the T-Rex demo and they would go fucking bananas over how it looked. Even my mum was gobsmacked by it’s pointy and jagged beauty.

But it wasn’t just the tech demo’s, there were trial games to lap up too; Abe’s Odyssey, Hercules, Lifeforce Tenka, Porsche Challenge, Ridge Racer, Rapid Racer, Kurushi, Overboard. Each of these games was a gem in the new generation that I would explore over the next few years.

Abe’s Odyssey was a charming side scrolling puzzle game with a cute (but ugly) Mudokon who had to escape Rupture farms meat processing plant. You had to guide fellow Mudokons out with you by talking to them and overcoming obstacles, you had a fart button too, which was great in my adolescent age.
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Lifeforce Tenka was a first person shooter that’s set in a futuristic action environment that, upon entering is immediately hostile. You engage in battle with a number of various armed flying robots, stationary turrets and bipedal creatures. Strangely Tenka never triggered my motion sickness. The game is fuzzy in my memory, but I remember the guns feeling “real”
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In Kurushi, the player controls a character who must run around a platform made of cubes, capturing certain cubes as they approach. Cubes are captured by marking a spot on the stage, waiting for the cube to roll on top of it, and then capturing it by deactivating the marked spot. This was tough for me, especially having to think in three dimensional space.
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Those were my favourite games at the time and thinking about that demo gives me a warm feeling inside, it reminds me of a less stressful time. I would spend hours playing the demos and watching the preview videos, I felt like I was having a sneaky glimpse at the future. I suppose I was.