Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Retron 5 mini opinion.

Despite arriving well over a year late, at least in the EU, I finally got to try the Retron 5 last night and it did not fail to deliver.

First impressions were certainly mixed. The system is weird looking, as to be expected with so many cartridge slots. It's also feels lightweight and rather cheap, albeit solid in construction. The control pad is pretty poor and does lose connections from time to time but no retro gaming fan would use it when you can use Mega Drive, SNES or NES pads.

I spent about two hours with the Retron 5 last night and came away wanting one for myself. It runs a clean operating system with the usual emulator based options such as scaling, image size, region, force 60hz and the most important, scanlines. Scanlines add the black lines last seen many many years ago when it took multiple people to move a television from one room to another, when these systems the Retron is emulating were cutting edge.

The system was already set up before I played it so I cannot comment on any issues there, but the menu system was very intuitive to use and clean.
The first game I played was Super Mario Kart, a Mode 7 based game which doesn't run at all well on some systems such as a modded PSP.

Super Mario Kart ran superbly and looked lovely. I quickly forgot I was even playing an emulator device due to holding a genuine SNES pad in my had. The frame rate held up perfectly and was virtually indistinguishable from the original. Sound was also excellent.

Next up I put on Street Fighter 2 Turbo and it looks amazing. Easily better than using real hardware on a HDTV.  The sprites were wonderfully crisp and sound timing was pretty much spot on, an issue I had when trying to get the JXD to run SNES games.

I quickly moved on to the main reason I personally wanted to play on this system, Gameboy and GBA. I own a Super Gameboy and it is very good. Sadly is does not support enough later games, particularly colour exclusive games. I used to own the Gameboy Player on GC and frankly it's a load of rubbish. It forces the resolution to 480i which turns all Gameboy games into a flickery mess on the TV. It's a complete comedown after playing on the super sharp GBA screen, especially the Micro or AGS 101.
So, the Retron was the best chance of crisp and vibrant GB action and it delivered way above what I expected.

Metroid Fusion seen here in a slightly blurry picture looked absolutely incredible. The pixels were sharp, the colours blew out from the screen and it ran perfectly. Also the sound was excellent, something you cannot really get the most out of with a portable unless you use headphones. It controlled superbly, again with the SNES pad and seemingly ended my own personal wait to play these games on the big screen. 

Also popped on Revenge of the Gator which looked crisp and ran smoothly and after a recent update, allowed you to choose which colours you want to play in, much like the Super GB.

Finally I popped on the Mega Drive and it ran just as excpected. The MD is a much easier system to emulate than the SNES and GBA and as expected there weren't any real issues. The image was as crisp and the gameplay as smooth although I did use a SNES pad again.....

You can see here just how sharp it is, the only decent shot I took last night. All the games I played including the Gameboy ones were this sharp. It looks utterly sublime.

I haven't spent masses of time with it but the vast majority of games I am told work fine. There is an issue with it clearing battery saves which I wonder has anything to do with inserting carts while the machine is turned on. It certainly works differently from real hardware but once in game, it feels very real.

It was tested on a 55'' 4k television and still looked absolutely amazing. No scaling issues at all. I have no idea what the Retron 5 outputs as standard and if there is an option to change it, I didn't look to be honest. All I can say is that it looks better than real hardware when running through a HDTV. The only way real hardware will look as good as if you invest in a scaling device such as the Framemeister.

If you exclusively play games on a HDTV then I completely recommend it, especially if space is at a premium. If you are lucky like me and have a CRT in your lounge then it's not worth it, unless you want full screen GB action, It is probably worth waiting for the price to drop a little. For me I would pay around £100 for something like this as the current £130 price is a little high for something that comes with such a poor controller and the cheap feel to the plastic.


Monday, 29 September 2014

Martin and Darran play games, properly! Week 1.

After becoming increasingly disinterested in the path modern games are taking, myself and Darran Jones of Retro Gamer magazine decided to make a concious effort to play more games together from days gone by.
Our main interest in recent times lie with the golden 16 bit era. Darran has a growing Mega Drive collection containing some superb shooters and arcade games and I have a NTSC SNES collection with almost 100 CIB classics.

Our first game night accidentally consisted of a full playthrough of Akumajou Dracula on the Super Famicom, aka, Super Castlevania IV.

Originally, I took over a selection of action games for us to play together but I threw this on while Darran was thumbing through his latest bird pictures on his PC. It was only meant to be a quick go but a combination of the pin sharp image on the Sony CRT, and the immense soundtrack pumped through the Sony stereo I bought for Darran on his 40th birthday kept us hooked.

As many know, Super Castlevania is a classic so I wont bore you with the details and 'review' the game. However I will highlight the importance of having the right set-up to really enhance your gaming.
With a game like Super Castlevania IV, you are really missing out if you play it using only a TV for sound. The stereo takes the game onto another level as the soundtrack is perhaps one of the best of all time. It still sounds amazing, even today.
The sound designers used a huge range of sampled instruments and the depth of the soundtrack astounding, especially when you factor the machine only has 8 sound channels.
The bass is enhanced tenfold too, when hooked to a decent sound system, it really shakes the room on some levels.

The next component may not seem too obvious, playing with a friend, or in this case, a cousin, and enjoying a game together! Even with a game like this which isn't multiplayer, we still had a blast. As many gamers have gotten older, either time has become harder to come by or many have migrated to online gaming. However I urge people to arrange nights like this.

Once the game kicked off and the amazing atmosphere dragged us in , we played with the classic one life each system. I cannot remember the last time I played a game like that, many many years ago.
As the game progressed we delighted in the little details of the caverns in level 3. Marvelled at the incredible rotating room of level 4 and held our breath as we approached the castle at the end of the short but gripping level 5.

By the time we reached the midpoint of level 6, the swinging chandeliers, we were completely high on nostalgia and lost control of ourselves.


By this point, we realised we hadn't had as this much fun in a long time.
We started to find a pattern in our gaming abilities. Darran was clearly better at tackling bosses and I could negotiate the trickier platform sections, especially the vanishing platforms in the 8th level, the cellar.
Another handy aspect of playing alternatively is we could spot patterns and tactics when in tough situations, it really did help.

We ploughed on and managed to complete the game after about 3 hours play time. That Dracula fight remains an outstanding moment in gaming, truly cinematic despite only being 2D. Truly one of the best games of all time.

Stay tuned for more gaming including Thunderforce III, Pieces and Contra Spirits!

Friday, 7 March 2014


Ultra Sticker Removal!!

Good afternoon people. I have been rather busy lately so haven't had time to blog but I thought I would share tactics on removing stickers from game boxes.

Many of us buy and collect computer or console games that are housed in cardboard boxes. Unfortunately, many of these boxes end up tarred with promotional or price stickers or even worse over the years. At times, these stickers are simply impossible to remove without causing damage to the box.

Or are they?

I will now take you step by step on how to remove even the most insane stickers from your games.

What you need. 
1 x iron.
2 x sheets of baking paper.
1 x horrendously disfigured videogame box.
1 x Ironing board.
1 x heavy weight.
Plenty of patience!

Here is the game in question. I think you will agree it's utterly horrific! Never seen anything like it!

This game is not only wrapped with several layers of hard to remove parcel tape, it also has a layer of sellotape underneath! I can only think it was a revenge taping from a ex friend or partner!

The Process. 

First step is to cut two pieces of baking paper to a size that is a decent amount larger than box to ensure you do not iron it directly.

Next up you need to turn on the iron and set it to maximum temperature. No water is needed.

Now the game needs to be placed inbetween the two sheets of baking paper, ensuring the oiled sides of the baking paper are in contact with the box to prevent sticking.

Once the iron is hot you need to then simply iron the game. Iron the box as it is placed between the sheets for no longer than 5-6 seconds. Lift back the backing paper and check the stickers in question. If there is not enough heat, iron for a further 5 seconds.
5 seconds does not sound long but you are applying immense heat to the box. It's better to use shorter bursts rather than cause any potential damage.

Do not be afraid when ironing the box. The baking paper will protect the box completely and provided you don't leave the iron there, no damage will be caused.

When enough heat has passed through the sticker, it will melt the glue that binds the sticker to the box. You can then gently start peeling. Small stickers should come off in one go but tougher stickers may require more heat.

Here you can see how easily the tape is coming off. Sellotape is probably the easiest thing to remove as it melts the fastest. Parcel tape takes a bit longer and stickers generally take the longest.

Here you can see just how much tape there is on the box.

Once the stickers have been removed there is a next important step. The box has been subjected to a lot of heat so if you do not take the right action, it will warp and lose shape.
So, once you have removed all stickers, the game must be placed under a heavy weight on a firm surface while it cools down. This will allow the box to completely flatten while cooling and retain form.
Also keep the box between the baking paper to avoid damage and make sure the heavy item has a completely flat underside to prevent gouging the box.
Ideally you would probably want something heavier than what I have shown here but this is simply for picture purposes. A fair few very heavy books would do the trick.

After about 15 minutes of cooling, it should be safe to remove the box and reshape it for use. It will be a bit stiff on the joints so be careful when folding it out. If you fold carelessly, the middle of the box can bend. Make sure it is completely cool before folding.

If you follow this simple guide, you can pretty much fix any box. You can also use it for excessively squashed boxes to simply reshape them as the heat softens the box slightly and it hardens again when cold.
I have done this umpteen times and as you can see by the result, have removed even the most extraordinary of stickers.

The amount of tape on this may never be matched!

Good luck!


Thursday, 9 January 2014

RGB vs Composite comparison.

Being a so called elitist, certain things are essential in video games. One of those is obviously playing games in 60hz, certainly if they are coded that way in the first place. Regular followers on Twitter know how much I bang on about it, probably to their annoyance!

Anyway, another important aspect to me is picture quality, I want the best available. The first step is a CRT of course, no HD television has ever matched up to a CRT. The next step is the connection to the TV and it still staggers me how few people know about the merits of RGB. It's pretty much the best connection you can get to a standard definition CRT. Component is possible but they seem to be very rare, at least in the UK.

Anyway, here are some pictures comparing RGB and composite which is the same as RF/RCA.

Gran Turismo 3. 

Pause menu composite. You can really see the bleeding in the red and the general blurriness of the image.

RGB. Much sharper here. Not as vivid in terms of colour but that is because the colour is in focus. The image is still extremely bright in reality.

Composite far shot. Looks a little better in this far shot but colour is bleeding all over the place. Lines are also very grainy and lacking definition.

RGB far shot. Much better definition and the colours are in the correct places. You can also see the extra detail in the track and the writing on the car. 

WipEout 2097

Orange lines are extremely out of focus which is common with the signal.  

RBG shot. Crystal clear text and energy bars. You can see the black outlines too. 

Composite far. The colours of the FEISAR ship are blurry. 

RGB shots. Much less saturation of colour. Clean lines. 

Super Street Fighter II.

Composite. Cammy's stage is ideal to show a 2D game. Lots of colour bleed here. 

RGB. The harsh Northern Lights are much smoother here. Ken's costume is in focus. 

Composite close. You can see the insane colour bleeding again. 

RGB. All of the colours back in place and Ken looks a lot better than before. Better background definition too. 

So there we have it. RGB is hugely superior and vital if you have a CRT. Cables are generally cheap if you don't go official and a good quality scart switcher will also save the socket on your TV. 

Friday, 20 December 2013

Top Ten Scrolling Beat 'Em Ups part 2

Hi everyone and welcome back for the second part of the best scrolling beat 'em ups. No need to go into introductions so on we go!

5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time
Konami 1991 

Released during the end of the Turtles craze of the late 80's, Turtles in Time is a vibrant 4 player arcade beat 'em up which also saw a superb Super Nintendo port.

TMNT might be the most perfect license to turn into a beat em up. And Konami made the most perfect beat em up out of TMNT. It's super flashy. Every few minutes there's an amazing set piece or animation to ogle at. It also has great Konami-calibur music.

Yeah, I think it’s the best TMNT game around and depicts the Turtles really well. Lot's of fun to play, especially in the arcade with friends.

I will admit i'm biased, I love the turtles (I still own the Amiga coin op version, ahem), and I love the fact they finally appeared in a decent scrolling beat 'em up. The character animation, graphics and colours are awesome and the gameplay is spot on.

I don't entirely agree. It's not my personal favourite of Konami's licensed brawlers - actually hitting enemies feels a bit loose, and there's (understandably) no weapons besides the environmental one like fire hydrants so  it can get a little dry.

I agree the combat itself can be clunky at times. But I still find it so much fun, such a polished product. 

The gameplay is certainly simplistic, very repetitive but I just cannot help but enjoy this game. The levels are so varied and there is so much going on. I especially enjoy the Super Nintendo port when played with a friend. The arcade version is better but the added bosses of the home version is well worth the trade off. 

Despite my feelings on the combat, has some neat set-pieces like Krang attacking you on the first stage, and there is plenty of stage variety like the surfing levels. It's also ideal for co-op (and all the better for it) as it's very easy to pick up and play.

Although I never enjoyed the SFC TNMT as much as its arcade sibling, I did find it a very enjoyable romp. It still remains one of my favourite beat 'em ups on the system. It's a lot of fun with friends and Konami did a good job with the port. The arcade version remains the one to play though, it's brilliant.

Despite the simplistic gameplay, this game is immensely enjoyable to play and all the more so with friends. The Super Nintendo port is very good and the Mega Drive has a solid alternate version in The Hyperstone Heist.

4. Light Bringer
Taito 1994

Light Bringer is an isometric fighter with RPG elements. Set in medieval times and featuring platform elements too, it is one of the meatier games in the genre.

You don't see many isometric brawlers, and it's got a few light RPG elements too like levelling up and finding better weapons along the way. It's a bit slower-paced than some of the other entries, although if it went any faster it'd be perhaps too tough to play from this perspective.

The pace of the game is perfect, any faster and it would indeed be tough to play due to the viewpoint. The RPG elements really give meat to the game and I wish there were more games like this. For me, it's the perfect way to add depth to what is normally a shallow genre.

I could eat these RPG/beat ‘em up hybrids for breakfast – I love them! The isometric view and free-roaming nature of Light Bringer give it a different feel from the usual belt-scrolling jaunt.

Yeah there is a fair amount to do and lots of weapons to find. Also different paths through each stage (some with better loot/less traps than others) and the charge shot, which differs between the four characters is quite versatile. You've also got magic attacks for when things get too rowdy. The isometric angle takes a little getting used to, but this is really worth trying for something different from the norm.

Confession time; I only discovered Light Bringer about two years ago, on one of those Taito Legends compilations. On the one hand I was a bit sad that I'd missed out on it all these years, but on the other, I was elated because it's one of the best examples of the genre. Classic and gorgeous sprites, coupled with the rather unique (and charming) isometric viewpoint make Light Bringer a tremedous experience.

Light Bringer is stunning with gameplay that has aged really well and the game offers a lot of replay value. The only known home version is on Taito Legends 2. Any beat 'em up fan needs to play it.

3. Golden Axe
Sega 1989

Golden Axe is a Conan inspired fantasy beat 'em up featuring magic, dragons and violence aplenty.

It’s for me, the original hack and slash fantasy or certainly the first one I remember. I really like the setting and the music, particularly on the arcade version is excellent.

I spent a lot money playing this in the arcade, and was thrilled when it was released on the Amiga, I love the story, the action and the magical abilities. I really enjoy the fighting and combos and with bright vibrant graphics to match, it's a great 2 player game.

The fighting has a little less impact than others of the genre (more Konami -style than Capcom-style), but the addition of running attacks, creatures to ride and those magic spells are enough to keep things interesting.
It helps that the game knows to be brief, moving you quickly from scene to scene rather than dragging things out., keeping your attention at the same time.

Yeah the overall fighting is quite simple but the magic system and variety of the creatures really help this game. It does indeed move at quite a pace too. I really do love the magic system in fact, it really creates a strategy, especially when learning about the game. Do you use magic against multiple normal enemies or wait for a high power attack on a boss? Great stuff.

Now this is an older beat ‘em up I can really get my teeth into! It looks a little basic (it doesn’t exactly play like the most complicated example of the genre either) but the key points – flying on the back of a giant eagle, summoning a fiery dragon to destroy screens full of enemies, kicking tiny elves for potions – are perfect and elevate the game to a place I’ll reluctantly admit it probably wouldn’t reach just on the strength of its gameplay.

I know I'm risking the wrath of many a retro gamer when I say this, but I don't think Golden Axe is quite as good as many make out. It's not that I don't like it, it's just that I find it a bit plodding, a bit ugly and kind of boring although it's much more fun with friends.

Golden Axe is a classic. Despite dated gameplay, it still offers plenty of fun and as always with the genre, is a lot better with a friend. The magic system, running and beast riding systems really are excellent, even today. 

2. Final Fight.
Capcom 1989

Final Fight is a now legendary beat 'em up from Capcom. Ported to many a system, including famously the Super Nintendo where it has no 2 player mode and was missing a lot of content. 

Final Fight - The first ever scrolling beat 'em up I played, so has a special place in my heart.  I loved the characters and the subway train levels, it was something I had never seen before.

Final Fight: Final Fight is such a quintessential game in the beat em up genre. And yet there are many issues about it that would challenge this status. It's not the first beat em up. It's not even the first significant/popular one either (that might be Double Dragon). It's not the best. It's not even the best in its own series “gameplay wise”. But yet, a lot of people gravitate to it. And there has to be a reason for why people use the term “Final Fight-clone/rip-off” on many sub-average generic beat em ups. I think it's due to Capcom's great ability to give so much character to its games and to Final Fight. Haggar, Cody, Guy, Poison, Hugo, even Metro City itself are all great, memorable characters that have a bigger presence than just Final Fight. And I think tagging the Final Fight story into Street Fighter greatly helped give all of these characters many opportunities to appear again and again. And it helps that Final Fight is a good game too.

Every scene is absolutely packed with enemies, giving a true feeling of an all-out brawl.  It may lack the amount of moves later games have, but it still feels satisfying (going from a combo straight into a throw then back again especially) and Metro City and its inhabitants have a certain charm to them. It also has one of my favourite brawler stages- the Bay Area. Starting at midnight, it seems to be a never-ending road of punks, with plenty of changes to break up the action like the bathroom scene and the fire-bottle assault, until you end up by the Statue of Liberty as you see the sun rise... As if you've been fighting all night to clean the streets of Metro City. 

Final Fight is a game I never really loved but I have grown to enjoy it and respect it's place among the classics of the genre. It really is packed with action and a real exercise in crowd control gameplay. The graphics I still love today, with huge sprites and decent animation. I will never forget the size of the first boss. 

I think Final Fight often gets unfairly maligned these days. I adore the characters, and the fantastically ropey story, but most of all, I can't get enough of pounding about Metro City, stoving heads in. 

I think Final Fight is something I can appreciate rather than enjoy and I’d never dream of questioning its importance to the genre, but I must admit, I do find it a bit bland these days.

The animation and movement is very impressive in the arcade and it channels great through the SNES version. It's a pity the SNES version missed Guy. I do enjoy this game but I don't think it stands up well against Streets of Rage. 

Final Fight is legendary in the genre. Any fan really needs to play this. The SNES version is weak but the Mega CD housed a decent port as did the Gameboy Advance. 

1. Streets of Rage 2. 
Sega 1992.

Streets of Rage 2 is a 1992 sequel for the Mega Drive featuring 8 new stages and plenty of thumping techno music. 

This was always going to be top, I don't think anyone really doubted it. 

SoR 2 is one of the few games that me jealous of my Mega Drive owning friends, when I was younger. Probably because it is genuinely the best scrolling beat em up there has ever been. From the minute you set foot on the beautiful neon bathed streets, and hear the timeless music fill the room, you know that you're in for an experience that few can match. Throw in some fantastic characters, and an interesting one on one option and you're left with one of the games of the generation.

The animation and style of this game surpasses it’s prequel, it's probably the best sequel ever. Intense, superb animation and a mind blowing soundtrack makes for good viewing, listening and playability.

Whilst SoR3 is my personal favourite in the series, it’s obvious why this one remains the popular choice. It has big, beautiful sprites, a kick-ass soundtrack and above all else a fair and fun game to tie it all together. A huge step up from the first game and an instant classic.

Love everything about this title, specifically the awesome soundtrack and great combos. I also liked being able to pick up and use weapons! It's one I'll happily play through again and again. It also taught me it's fine to eat giant apples off the floor, and large bags of money can be easily hidden in an array of everyday objects, even in wooden chairs.

I love this game and I am not at all bothered that it sits at the top. Is it my personal favourite? Possibly. Regardless, the music is awesome, especially when hooked up to a stereo system with a sub woofer! The levels are big and interesting, weapons are varied and cool and the characters fun to use. The special move system is excellent, much better than the standard 'call the cops' of the first game. 

Really enjoy this a lot, worthy of being an absolute classic with good gamepaly and amazing sound. I just wish more people would give SoR3 a chance as I really feel it's the better game. 

Street of Rage 2 is rightly regarded as a masterpiece. It's regularly touted as the best scrolling beat 'em up so it's no surprise it takes top spot. If you haven't played it, well you cannot really call yourself a gamer!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Top Ten Scrolling Beat 'em ups part 1.

After plenty of talking and a whole lot of threats, a group of the worlds most respected retro gamers on Twitter finally got together to choose the greatest ever scrolling beat 'em ups!

Step in Martin (@nakamuramartin), Kerry (@_kimimi), Paul (@pablo_0151), Danny (@GuyFawkesRetro), Badr (@BadoorSNK), Ant (@TepidSnake) and James (@RealityGlitch). Each of us voted for our favourite games and this list was compiled completely fairly with absolutely no intervention by this blogger at all!

10. Aliens vs Predator.
Capcom 1994.

Released in 1995, AvP is a superb three player game developed by Capcom on their superb CPS-2 arcade board. Despite receiving very positive feedback on release, it has never been ported to a home system.

'What I love about this game,' said Ant, 'Is the excellent character variety and not just in terms of attack. Each character differs greatly depending on who you choose. Schaefer has a dash instead of a jump as standard and the Predators leap across the screen very quickly. This really changes how you approach the game with each character, making it stand out.
The long-range weapon, available at all times albeit with recharging ammo, gives you more attack options, of which there are loads already... And it's super-satisfying to get to use the Predator's laser cannon!'
'Yeah this is spectacular,' interjects Kerry, 'This is the AAA summer blockbuster of beat ‘em ups – showy, loads of fun, and a bit silly with a complete disregard for canon beyond plumbing the depths of both series for cool looking things to hit!'
'I absolutely adore it,' adds Paul. 'I think it's the fact that you get to take on literally hordes of screamingly violent xenomorphs...if only they'd ported this version to the SFC!'.
'It would have been a bit rubbish on SFC Paul, not sure that slow CPU could have handled it! Maybe with Super FX assistance but surely this was ideal for the Saturn. Pity it never happened.' Martin said.
'This is Capcom proving that licensed games don’t have to be terrible lazy cash
 ins like so many were back then, and still are,' said Kerry.
'This should be higher on the list really,' Danny groaned. 'I completely forgot about it when collating my list so I only have myself to blame!'.

AvP is a stonking game. Wether it be 15th on the list or 1st, it is undoubtedly one people should experience and one Capcom really should add to PSN or XBLA with online play.

9. Guardian Heroes.
Treasure 1996. 

Guardian Heroes is often considered one of the best games on the Saturn, no surprised given the pedigree of the developer. Released in 1996, it is one of the more unusual beat 'em ups around with a fully blown story and multi-plane battle system.

'Treasure doing what Treasure do best – have a quick go at a new genre and get it right first time while being completely different too.' started Kerry.
'Yeah this title is immense,' adds James excitedly. With it's branching story system and massive selection of characters (especially in battle mode). This is probably the game I've put the most hours into, trying out the different story lines, collecting all the characters to use in the arena, and basically just having lots of fun along the way.'
'I've struggled to get into this myself.' said Martin. 'I have always found the visuals a bit scruffy and it feel a little messy to play.'
'The sheer amount of enemies on screen at once gives it the feel of a true brawl, though,' added Ant.  Although I agree sometimes it can get so chaotic you can lose yourself on-screen.
The three-tier movement system means you never have that problem where you can't quite hit an enemy because you're not level with them and allows you to escape sticky situations easily, It also allows for magic shortcuts, tapped in like Street Fighter moves, which is a lot easier to get to grips with than mini-menus!'
'It's a simply brilliant battle system and a man that shoots laser beams from his crotch make for one unforgettable experience!' exclaimed Kerry.
'Kasumi Ninja on the Jaguar has a man shooting stuff from his crotch at that is certainly unforgettable, and not in a good way! I should really give this another go.' Said Martin. The rest nod in agreement.

Guardian Heroes is yet another in Treasure's Trove of genius. Available on Sega Saturn and XLBA, it's something that must be tried by fans of the genre.

8. Dungeons and Dragons:Shadow Over Mystaria.
Capcom 1996.

One of the last 2D scrolling fighters released by Capcom, D&D: Shadow Over Mystaria features many mechanics not seen in arcade games and was fortunately ported to the Saturn for home players in 1999.

'This one's got a slightly steeper learning curve, mostly because of the Alien Soldier-style menu for selecting items and magic- you have to juggle that and not get hit at the same time.' said Ant.
'Yeah it expands the scope of what a beat em up can be. There's so much content and so many different ways to play through it.' remarked Badr. 'And there's so much depth from the magic system and other RPG elements. All that, and yet there are no compromises to the basic physical combat. Mashing attack still feels great (and is still a viable tactic).'

'It's basically a full scale D&D game mashed with Goldenaxe. I really wished I owned a copy of this. That said, the recent Steam and online console release may push the price of the Saturn version down.' said Danny.
'I play this a bit with Darran from Retro Gamer. He loves and it you can see why. Such a stunning game and so many ways to play it. Loads of levels, amazing graphics too.' added Martin.
'It's one of my all-time favourites,' Kerry said. 'And to my mind both a good game in its own right as well as a good representation of the license, seeing as it features both dungeons and dragons along the way. Multiple routes, rare equipment, co-operative attacks… this is a rare game that manages to be both an engaging spectacle for first timers as well as offer a deep experience that rewards skillful play.'
'Yeah with a fair number of branching paths and weapons/gear to find, and six very different classes to choose from, you can't see all of it in one playthrough.' agreed Ant.
'I love that that with beautiful late-era Capcom 2D artwork, with nicely animated characters, large bosses, and amazing backgrounds, and you have what might be my all time favorite 2D brawler.' Finished Badr.

A must of beat 'em up and RPG fans alike. Now it's on all home consoles and Steam with online play, there is no excuse not to play this.

7. God Hand.
Clover Studio 2006

The brainchild of Shinji Mikami and Clover Studio, God Hand is the famously IGN maligned (3/10!) but utterly magnificent 3D beat 'em up. The last game from Clover Studio before it was sadly dissolved by Capcom, is arguably their most memorable.

'Alongside Sega's Dynamite Cop/Deka games, this is a great adaptation of the genre in 3D- the difference here is it's 'true' 3D rather than the side-on perspective in Deka. It's hard to get traditional brawlers to work well like this, but Clover pulled it off.' said Ant.
'Yeah it's no surprise they did it, there are pretty much a modern Treasure when it comes to game design, utterly superb.' Added Martin. The battle system is simply incredible and easily the most viable 3D beat 'em up ever. There is so much scope in the combat with customisable combos and impact moves.'
'It's tough but fair (dodge enemies then punish their mistakes!),' agreed Ant. 'Each hit has real impact (especially when you catapult enemies into the walls) and the combo creation system gives you a chance to be creative with the art of beating dudes up.'
'The special moves are insane also. Either the roulette ultra style moves from the 'Home Run' which is literally hitting someone into the stars with a baseball bat, to the 'Ball Buster' which involves a cheeky kick to the nads! Only works on the men though!' laughed Martin.
'It also retains that silly, over-the-top 'feel' of so many scrolling brawlers, like Gene's rapid-fire pummeling techniques and the enemies taunt you with baffling expressions like "You're not Alexander!"...'chimed Ant.
'Not to mention the homosexuality and spanking of scanilty clad women, there is nothing else like it on the market!' said Martin.
Badr coughs, 'It's God Hand, nothing else needs to be said, everyone needs to play this.'

God Hand is on PS2 and PS3 via the PSN store. Everyone must play this game. Visually a little average and quite tough to start, it's a complete modern classic and we may never see the likes of it again.

6. Undercover Cops.
Irem 1992.

Irem's first attempt in the modern beat 'em up genre. A few years later after its release, a lot of the team who made the game went on to form Nazca, who created the Metal Slug game series. It received a good quality Super Famicom port in 1995. 

'You can tell it's by members of the team who'd go on to make Metal Slug, as the graphics and animation are superb. With its post-apocalyptic backdrop, it's got a different atmosphere to many of the others on this list, leading to some unique enemies (like the underground mole people and cat-girls).' started Ant. 
'Yeah the game has a real Metal Slug Vibe in the art, kind of scruffy but neat, edgy if you will.' Added Martin. 
'I love the detailed and chunky sprites, a fantastic future wasteland setting and three distinctively different characters.' said Paul. 'Undercover Cops defines what I consider to be the perfect scrolling beat em up. Classic gameplay but it doesn't feel boring. It moves well and has lots of variety'.
'Plenty of varied moves indeed Paul,' smiled Ant. 'With wake-up attacks and weapons (lead pipes? They're for punks! You use a steel girder instead here!), it makes for a really good brawler. The soundtrack's top-tier as well- brought to us from HIYA! of Metal Slug 
fame, it really captures the mood of the game well... Complete with amusing 
voice samples.It's just a shame it never really got more attention overseas, as it really deserved it.'
'A huge pity it wasn't at least released in the west on the SNES.' said Martin. It's just such a supremely playable classic style fighter. I had no idea it was so old, it feels more advanced than a 1992 fighter as so many were formulaic at the time.' 
'I must admit It’s not that much fun, IMO Two Crude Dudes was better.' pipped up Danny. 
*everyone looks at Danny, a cat meows and licks it's paws.

Undercover Cops is a brilliant classic style game. Yet to be re-released on anything since the Super Famicom in 1995 it's tough to get hold of now but worth a play if you can. 

Thanks for reading part one. Part two will follow within the next week. In the mean time, why not let us know what games you feel should be in the top 5?

Monday, 1 July 2013

Ten Imperfect Tens part 2.

Here I have the second part of my inperfect tens feature. Enjoy!

Capcom vs SNK: Millenium Fight 2000. 

While this may not be the connoisseurs choice, that honour usually goes to Street Fighter 3 or Garou, I find Capcom vs SNK to be the finest fighting game ever made.
Released in 2000 for arcade and Dreamcast and later ported to PS1 with decent results, Capcom vs SNK was the first Capcom developed game in the VS series of games between the two companies.

The game features a huge roster of characters from both the Street Fighter and King of Fighters franchises and two fighting systems. Each character has a ratio level from 1-4 and you can select a team that contains up to 4 ratio points. After selecting characters you choose your fighting style, Capcom or SNK.

The two fighting systems have fairly minor differences but they change the approach of the play somewhat. The Capcom system features the three level super gauge. This charges throughout play when attacking or taking damage and when at least one level has been filled, you can activate a super move. Fill all three levels and you can access three level one supers or a level three super move which is crazily powerful.
         The SNK system differs a little, it features a charge based system. You hold the hard punch and kick buttons to activate the charge at any time. Once full it slowly decreases until empty and in this time you have access to a level one super. The biggest difference is the desperation attacks. When energy is low your bar flashes and you have access to a level one super at any time. Combine this with a maximum charge and you have a level three MAX super available to use.

The gameplay itself is superbly balanced. It features dashes, jumps, high jumps, chain combos, tech throws and more. There is an excellent speed to the game and the fighting is ultra responsive. It feels like a balance between the King of Fighters/Street Fighter Zero games and the Street Fighter III/Garou titles. Plenty of depth due to the ratio system and mixed fighting styles but not too deep that only the hardcore need apply.

The presentation is without doubt the best in the genre. The stages have loads of cool introductions and the 2D backgrounds are fantastic and overall the animation is superb. Music is absolutely pounding and flows with the game so well. When you win a bout, the music flowing into the next one starts immediately on connection of the finishing blow. It pumps you up in anticipation for the next match.

The main annoyance of Capcom vs SNK is with the sprites themselves. They are lower resolution than the lovely backgrounds and can look scruffy as a result. Also the Ryu/Ken sprites were redrawn for the game and suit the SNK style really well. The rest of the Capcom characters are taken straight from the Zero titles and look too cartoony as a result.

Capcom vs SNK is a fighters dream. Accessible, amazing presentation and superb balance to the gameplay. It has kept me playing than any other single title within the genre.

The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword.

There is always a huge debate of which Zelda game is the best but this one has taken things to a new level for the first time since Ocarina of Time.

Skyward Sword tells a much more cinematic tale compared to other games in the franchise and has some fantastic cut scenes as a result. It's told as a story of origin for the franchise and again manages to be relatively fresh despite featuring mostly the same cast of characters as ever.

The game uses a lovely pastel visual style which is vibrant gives off a lovely warm feel. It straddles the style of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess nicely. The music is also fantastic, the theme of Fi being a stand out track.

The gameplay is where Skyward Sword stands not only above other 3D Zelda titles but above other third person adventure games. While the overall basics are similar to every other game in the franchise, the Motion Plus led combat is not and brings a new level of immersion to the game.
The Motion Plus controller mimics your every move on screen, pretty much 1-1 tracking. When you stab, Link stabs. When you swipe, Link Swipes and he always swipes in the directions you swipe in.
While this is simple in itself, it's the clever enemy design that takes it further. Some enemies will guard with shields so you need to find a way past them. You can use your sword to make them follow your blade with theirs until they leave a gap. When this gap appears you need to swipe in the appropriate direction, it works really well. There are plenty of different enemies that require different strategies to defeat.
The Nunchuk is also used to parry with the shield. In certain sections, a few boss fights for example, the game feels like a full on sword fighting simulator. When you are parrying with the shield and counter attacking with the blade it really draws you in and immerses you so much more than with a controller.

Skyward Sword is a long game too, up to 40 hours for the story alone. There are also plenty of things to find, mini games to complete and side quests to do.

There are a few sticking points though. The opening two hours are far too slow and every time you continue the game, you have to read the same bug/rupee collection signs which is extremely annoying. Once would have been fine!

Skyward Sword is a 9/10 game with a controller, with Motion Plus it takes it to the next level, to a 10. On a game design front it is fantastic but certainly nothing new, the Motion Plus ramps up immersion ten fold and makes it easily the best Zelda game since Ocarina of Time and its superb Z targeting system.


Released in 1997 for the Japanese Sega Saturn, there was outcry when there were no plans to bring the game to the west. We had to wait September 1999 to play the game in English after it was ported to the PS1 but boy it was worth it.

Grandia is charming, it's probably one of the most if not the most charming game ever made. The characters are just superb. They manage to pull off the serious, the dangerous and the downright slapstick without ever looking out of place. The main character Justin, spends a large portion of the game larking around, trying to be an adventurer like his father and as a result gets into some funny situations such as a wedding hijack. Sue is his eight year old sidekick and manages to be cute without every being annoying. She also has a weird creature that lives in her hair called Puffy. There are a host of other characters too all with great back stories and motivations, all of which fit together in perfect harmony.

The battle system is perhaps one of the best in any RPG. It's semi time based and semi real time. All characters and enemies move along a bar until they reaction the action zone. Once there, a move is selected and then it needs a little more time to perform. Each move takes a different amount of time, often the more powerful the slower the time it takes. There is plenty of room for strategy here as you have to balance the moves depending on enemy actions. You can cancel an enemy attack with good timing too so it presents a lovely risk/reward system. Battles never feel a chore which is vital in an RPG.

Visually it's fully 3D which is rare during a time when games were often using pre rendered backgrounds. The game looks stunning and there so many incidental details such a falling broomsticks and hanging lights, each area feels like it has been crafted with real love.
Characters are drawn using sprites and work well with the backgrounds and the animation is great too.
Music is also wonderful, easily the best soundtrack by Noriyuki Iwadare. The main theme is so wonderfully triumphant, it cannot fail to stir even the most grumpy of gamer.

Grandia is such a wonderful game it feels someone wrong to pick holes in it but there are issues. The PS1 version, the one most of us will play does suffer from slowdown at times. The battle scenes uses flat 2D images which are quite blurry on PS1. Also even with the Saturn version, the 3D can look scruffy in places and the frame rate chugs a bit.

Grandia has no random battles, buy it now!

Super Tennis. 

Twenty two years after Super Tennis came out, it is still probably the best tennis game ever made. Only Grand Slam Tennis 2 on PS3/360 has come close to offering the sheer range of shots and shot placement that this game has. It's that good.

Released in 1991 for the Super Famicom and just in time for Wimbledon '92 on the European SNES, Super Tennis was a masterpiece then and it remains so today.

The main mode is the world tour mode, it features all of the major tournaments and a selection of unlicensed ones. You pick your player from a range of men and women and aim to be the number one ranked player. Unfortunately none of the players are licensed, nor are any of the tournaments but this does little to impact the game.
Each characters has various strengths and weaknesses that you need to find out by using them. Some are left handed, some right. Some use single handed backhand, double handed, two handed both ways, some are strong at volleys, some serving and so on.

There are four main shots using the four face buttons. B is a flat shot, A produces a slice, Y hits a lob and X give a wicked top spin shot. Combining these shots in context based actions and you end up with a huge range of shot chances. Volley with B and it will be hit with pace, volley with A and it will loop a little more, ideal to use from a deeper position to avoid the net.
Also timing, and d-pad direction play a huge part in shot placement. It's incredibly hard to explain but depending on how early you not only press the button or direction, it affects the direction of your shots. You can really push the ball right to the line with skill and of course the close to the line, the hard it is to return.
Serving is also deep and swerve can be added with L and R.

Visually it's functional and the sound is solid. The world tour mode is meaty and will keep you going for ages.
The password feature is a pain, it's miles too long and the game should really have come with a built in battery. An oversight there. No four player mode either.

Super Tennis is wonderful. Still plays a magnificent game today and when you play against someone that really knows the game, you can see the real depth it has.

Nine games down and one to go and of course there are other games I would rate as a ten. This feature though,  is to highlight that a 10/10 doesn't mean perfection, it simply shows that a game stands out above others for various reasons. These reasons are also quite subjective too. For example I have listed several RPG's in here and they are not for everyone.
Anyway, onto the last game in this feature...

The Last of Us. 

Yes the game that inspired me to do this. Not because of the scores it has been given, but because it has caused so many debates and humorous quotes throughout the industry. (Citizen Kane of gaming?)
The Last of Us is a ten for various reasons but fundamentally one reason, the story it tells and more importantly how it tells it.

Without going into too much detail due to the myriad of reviews online right now, The Last of Us tells the story of Joel and of his duty to escort Ellie across dangerous terrain to their destination during a major zombie outbreak. It sounds cliched but manages to avoid that with expert direction and fresh gameplay.  Along they way they meet various characters either from Joel's past or present and several unknown characters to ally with or fight against.

The beauty of the game is how much it makes you care and question yourself and the actions of each and every character you meet. It manages to deal with a multitude of serious issues, such as violence, death, loss, pity, guilt, homosexuality and more. None of these topics have been dealt with in a video game as well as this since Silent Hill 2.
You really begin to care about what happens on screen. Moments of desperation really put your heart into your mouth and it manages to avoid being predictable.

There is a scene near the end which sums up the experience completely. It plays wonderfully on the frame of the mind of not only the character in the game, but the mind set of the player. You are given a choice, it's a simple choice and many people I have spoken to all took a slightly different approach. The choice isn't even presented to you via instructions on screen, it's all in real time and left to the player alone. Once you make this choice, it sticks with you depending on what you did.

Another interesting aspect is the pacing. Being so intense an experiences, the length of the game is quite fatiguing. Again this actually adds to the brilliance of it because getting through a section loaded with enemies really brings a sense of relief and just draws you into the game further. You start to feel the pain of the characters who just want it all over. You want to stop fighting but you want to keep going to complete your mission, it plays with your emotions on a grand scale.
Also a lot of dialogue is told while you are playing the game. This allows the game to avoid over long pauses in the gameplay to tell its story. The cutscenes never interrupt the game as a result.

The game is based around stealth but offers a variety of ways to approach a situation. Its strength in gameplay is in the diversity it offers each player. For instance I killed a significantly lower number of enemies than a couple of friends I know that completed it, perhaps 50% less which is impressive variation. The gameplay works really well and creates a real tense atmosphere and manages to nullify the over use of checkpoints.

There are issues though, as expected! The ally AI is cumbersome at times and one the odd occasion they get you seen by enemies. This only seems to happen when travelling with a third person rather than with Ellie.
Also Ellie can bee seen and even touch some enemies without being noticed. This breaks immersion somewhat but it's certainly the right way to do it as it would be a nightmare otherwise. An AI instruction system would have probably worked well here.

The Last of Us is wonderful, a masterpiece of storytelling with a fantastic game to boot. It's hard to write too much about it without giving away the most important parts. I went in completely blind when playing this, didn't read a single review and I urge anyone into gaming to play it.
Without the story it's a brilliant game but the wonderful cast and writing push it to that magic ten.