Twin Tiger Shark (V8?)

21 April, 2015
I can't get this far yet! I had to use this pic from the website as I was unable to screengrab my own game. Boo!

I can’t get this far yet! I had to use this pic from the website as I was unable to screengrab my own game. Boo!

I was saying to a friend recently that Taito’s excellent Flying Shark is one of those games that really sorts out the “cans” from the “cannots” when it comes to gaming. Finishing the first level of this fair-but-tough shooter feels like an achievement, let alone the full game. It really shows how much easier things have got in more recent years as many games move more and more towards being interactive playthings as much as, if not more than, a challenge to be beaten.

Anyway, I recently discovered Twin Tiger Shark by accident and it’s clearly influenced by Taito’s rock-hard classic. Whilst it’s not as punishing, it still puts up a pretty mean fight and has some lovely features including a power-up that brings a squadron of planes in to fight alongside you for a period as well as a first level boss which seems to be a nod to the classic scrolling 16-bit shooter Swiv.

You can get Twin Tiger Shark here. It runs in Java, unfortunately, but don’t let that put you off.

Influential imps

12 March, 2015
Zombies! Not enough of those in games, are there?

Zombies! Not enough of those in games, are there?

MidBoss is an interesting mash-up (gods, I fucking hate that phrase but what else am I supposed to say here?) of traditional roguelikes such as Angband and the old Commodore 64 game Paradroid. The player starts in a dungeon controlling an imp with little to boast about other than the ability to possess defeated enemies. So the first thing to do is take possession of a defeated rat, the next-crappest creature in the dungeon after the imp, and from there try to possess stronger and stronger creatures, taking on their special abilities permanently with experience, until eventually possessing one of those BDSM monsters from Dungeon Keeper or something. It’s more simplistic than some roguelikes (not necessarily a bad thing) and the possession mechanic makes it feel suitably unique in a very crowded genre. The isometric graphics are a nice touch too.

Midboss is currently in beta and the developers encourage you to vote for it on Steam Greenlight if you enjoy it. You can find it here.


4 March, 2015


Not the Great British Institution who got a rude phone call from Jonathan Woss and pseudo-political bell-end Russell Brand. This is an “infinite runner” freeware game which runs in a web browser and features a bloke on a skateboard and a proper old-school difficulty curve, no hand-holding for ages here. It’s also got a weirdly enjoyable “horrible” 8-bit style in-game tune which rivals even the title music on Heist 2012 on the Spectrum for, erm, avant-garde-ness.

You can play Manuel by pointing your web browser here. No, I haven’t fucked his grand-daughter.

Great Head (Over Heels)

22 January, 2015
Is that the doors from the Amstrad CPC version?

Is that the doors from the Amstrad CPC version?

Hello, and happy 2015.

Yes, this blog is still very much here. I neglected it for a few months because I was in the midst of a very stressful housemoving and neglected a whole lot of things, of which this blog is the least really.

Anyway, the new year is an excuse to get things back on track. Let’s start with a quick mention of the fantastic news that one of the greatest videogames ever published, 1987’s Head over Heels, is finally being converted to top Japanese home computer the MSX2. Expect something as swish as the conversion of Knight Lore and something that, unlike the generally-great 2003 PC remake, doesn’t mess up the room by allowing the player to land on top of the doors (grumble grumble).

Ten Pints

29 September, 2014
A nice touch in all the Beast games is the mixture of olde world fantasy and sci-fi aesthetics.

A nice touch in all the Beast games is the mixture of olde world fantasy and sci-fi aesthetics.

Oh, Shadow of the Beast. You’ll read on half a dozen videogame nostalgia sites that it’s a “classic” and although I think that it’s fair to say it’s remembered fondly it’s really got nothing to do with the games in the series being good.

Shadow of the Beast and to some extent its two sequels is an example from an earlier era of the phenomenon of the “shop-front game”; the title that was left running on a monitor in attract mode in the window in order to get people to come into the shop and buy the game and, crucially, the machine it was running on (in this case the then-new Commodore Amiga). Beast, even to this day, looks and sounds gorgeous. It’s just a shame that the gameplay is so utterly flawed.

The first title in the series is a game that wanted to be an epic arcade-adventure set in a huge, open fantasy world; that’s very much what it’s clearly trying to be when you start playing. The player character can run either left or right and explore the environment the player has found themselves in which is full of forests, monsters and traps. After a bit of experimentation, though, it becomes clear that there’s only one way you can go in order to get anywhere in the game. And once you get there you’ll quickly discover that it’s like this all the way – run around, find the right swtich, find the right key, keep progressing until you reach a locked door because you didn’t get a key or flip a switch you missed half an hour ago. Gah!

Shadow of the Beast 2 upped the Arcade Adventure aspect and again presented an apparent open world whilst being just as linear and about twice as difficult as its predecessor. The sequel added much more interaction and plot to proceedings and was notorious for featuring a few puzzles which, if not completed correctly, left the player stranded necessitating a restart.

Shadow of the Beast 3 is considered by many to be the best of the bunch introducing levels (which can be played in any order) rather than a fraudulent open world, lives rather than a single energy bar, and some sometimes genuinely brilliant puzzles – more numerous and better than those in Beast 2 – which bring to mind those which appear in the indie arcade adventure LIMBO. Unfortunately, though, unlike LIMBO which allows checkpoints and endless lives to give the player multiple chances to experiment and complete puzzles, messing the puzzle up in Beast 3 means losing a life before you can try it again. Harsh.

So, a pretty and iconic series of videogames, but at the same time bloody infuriating and badly designed. Does this still sound appealing? Then you’ll be delighted to know that a number of enthusiasts are working on porting Shadow of the Beast and its sequels to modern platforms. They’ve attempted to improve gameplay with continues and the ability to save (the latter of which isn’t properly implemented); and only the first game is actually properly playable and completable. Regardless of their legendary flaws there remains something attractive about the Beast games and I’ll admit to sitting down and playing them again for a while and feeling the need to return. Maybe, despite their obviously flawed design, these were games that really do have that special “something” that makes people come back, even 25 years later. Or maybe, y’know, it’s just nostalgia and we all need someone to say “Dad, this game’s rubbish.”

(And if you don’t understand the title of this post then I’m now going to tell you. Ner.)

Ender, man?

15 September, 2014
"We don't need no steenkeeng Windows!"

“We don’t need no steenkeeng Windows!”

I suppose all good things have to come to an end and all eras must grind to a halt. No, I’m certainly not talking about the 1707 Act of Union (we’ll find out its fate on Thursday and, yes, I have my voting papers) but instead Minecraft as an independent videogame. It was announced today that the rumours were true and Mojang, that the studio which has been developing Minecraft over the last few years and created one of the truly phenomenal independent gaming successes of the last decade, has been sold to Microsoft. More alarmingly, the Mojang founders will also be leaving the company.

There has, understandably, been a wave of gloom and despondancy throughout the enormous Minecraft community, including me. I love Minecraft, I think it’s one of the greatest games ever made, combining the greatest creative tool since lego with an actual game requiring exploration, skill and strategy. The fact that it’s been a big hit with everyone from young children to adults who’ve been gaming for decades is testamount to its appeal. But another thing that has helped its success is its adaptability, being highly mod-friendly and in many ways parallel-developed by the community as much as Mojang. It’s losing this adaptability, and the spectre of one of the great evils of the modern software business – “micro transactions” – that has worried Minecraft players. Microsoft assure us it’ll be okay, but that’s PR, it’s what they do. They are, in reality, a hulking great corporation which regards our game as just another money-farm; it is truly sad to see the best kind of business taken over by the worst. I only hope the future is less gloomy than we all fear and that Minecraft continues to be a game that inspires and entertains more generations of players.

“What the frakk is this?!”

15 August, 2014
"My God, it's full of space mines!"

“My God, it’s full of space mines!”

Ages ago I wrote a short article about the indie Atari ST title r0x. I’d heard rumours of a new version for more modern platforms but thought nothing more of it until a few days ago when I discovered that r0x (extended play) has been published as freeware/pay what you want for Windows-based PC’s and the Ouya console.

And the best part of that news is that it’s cracking.

It has quite a few similarities to the original Atari ST game but introduces several new features. The most obvious of these are a front-firing cannon and a plethora of enemy ships. That might make it sound like r0x has been changed into a conventional scrolling shooter but nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead what we have is an ingenious highscore game that throws a whole lot of the rules out of the window. For a starter, very limited bullets. The most shots your ship can hold at any one time is nine. That makes weaving around blasting everything a bad idea. There are also smart bombs that destroy everything onscreen but you can only carry three of these at one time. For this reason, weaponry is used sparingly and carefully with much of the game involving dodging the space rocks and grinding for bullets. There are also numerous bonuses floating around including the crystals from the first game (much clearer and easier to see this time around), the lost cosmonauts from the previous game and enemy pilots which can be shot for bonus points if you’re willing to spare the ammo.

Yes, whilst bullets (and other goodies) can be collected from handy shootable supply ships, the main way to restore firepower is by grinding against the rocks which slowly restores ammo. This makes r0x ep feel entirely different to most games in this genre as you swap emphasis between avoiding, careful shooting and grinding. And that’s not all.

A risky way of scoring big points is to use the ship’s thrust. Press the appropriate button and your ship starts flying through the debris and enemy ships at several times its usual speed. The long you do this, the more a score multiplier goes up meaning that bonuses collected and enemies shot earn bigger and bigger points as long as you keep your foot to the floor. And, trust me, whilst it’s tempting, dodging those rocks and collecting those bonuses becomes a lot more tricky and at some point you’ll realise you’re close to crashing, release the thrust button, and cuss as your multiplier vanishes and the pace returns to normal.

r0x (extended play) is the best game I’ve played in ages. The “easy to learn, hard to master” feel makes it extremely addictive, it makes full use of modern widescreen monitors and has beautiful 16-bit style visuals and some cracking music. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to load it up and then have “just one game”; the fact that it’s free is just the icing on the cake.

You can get r0x (extended play) for PC and Ouya here. The score to beat, as of writing, is 198,265.


7 August, 2014
"Plunges into an orgy of violence wielding his trusty"

“Plunges into an orgy of violence wielding his trusty”

That last post? I thought I’d update you. It turns out that Savage has a ludicrous loading system whereby the intro sequence is loaded as a full program which then simply runs. Old man beardy doesn’t just waffled about Savage and how he’s fuelled by gravy or something before it lets you load the main game. No, you have to reset the computer and load and run the main game. I can’t tell this using emulation (where it’s fiddily enough to do this) but if they had both of those programs on the same side of the tape back in 1988 they can get fucked. Seriously.

Anyway, Savage is better than I thought it would be. It’s fundamentally like Trantor: The Last Stormtrooper in that it’s blatantly style over substance with lots of day-glow colour and ludicrous amounts of pixels flying everywhere in a “who says the Speccy can’t do particles?” stylee. But there’s also a reasonably cunning little scrolling shooter in there where the player actually has to think as well as react. For example, certain creatures when shot drop magical barriers which last a few seconds and both protect the player and attack enemies making them fairly essential in a game where the bad guys sap energy fast and just running and shooting mindlessly won’t cut it. Later on there’s also some barrels which can be jumped but if shot drop life-giving green bottles which are useful when fighting the mini-boss waiting in the room at the end of the corridor. And that’s just the first level, level 2 is apparently a bit like 3D Deathchase but with big scary face things and level 3 involves flying a massive bird about (I’m not entirely sure these were all originally part of one game in the beginning, come to think about it). Anyway, it’s basically quite good, even though I can’t get by the bit with the sinking platforms and the lava. Bwah.

The toughest obstacle in 8-bit gaming…

22 July, 2014
"Fired by rage"? You're telling me.

“Fired by rage”? You’re telling me.

…is clearly this old bastard. Every time I try to play Savage he pops up with his fucking white beard and scrolling waffle and I have no idea how to make him go away so I can play the game. I’m sure I’ve been told before and that it’s some kind of emulation quirk or something. And now Savage is this month’s WOS “Game Club” game and I have to find a way past him. Arrrgh!

Prehistorik 2

23 June, 2014
Looks better, isn't better

Looks better, isn’t better

Okay, then, so Prehistorik has a sequel, the name of which you can probably guess, and I decided to try it out and see if it was any better than the original ‘Rik which was, frankly, bloody disappointing despite my memory lying to me about it being quite good.

And the sad, short, answer is no, it’s not really.

There’s a nice touch at the start where the program prints up the year and expresses astoundment that the game is still being run and played. Unfortunately, this is the most surprising and likeable thing about the whole package.

There’s clearly been an attempt to improve on the previous game in terms of gameplay. When you load the game up it has a very console feel, from the title screen to the Ghosts n Goblins-style “game map” at the start to the much improved graphics. What’s weird though is, despite all this, it still feels horrendously clunky and 8-bit. The scrolling is still jerky and “screen by screen” rather than continuous and the control feels loose and imprecise. It’s been given a new lick of paint but for all the good looks it feels like a very old game engine running underneath some 1990s graphical sheen. And even without those problems it’s all a bit boring and uninspiring: Rik has to collect food again and enter caves, jump over spikes, twat monsters with his club. You get the idea. There are also some clumsy “features” which don’t quite work like the rubbish “lights off” pick-up which changes the colours so it appears dusk has fallen (until a “lights on” icon is collected) and the odd decision to make level codes a part of the background rather than appearing once a level is completed meaning the player is expected to take notes whilst playing. When Rik gets hit by an enemy he often shouts out what sounds like “Why?!”, it’s practically the tagline to this game. There’s really nothing to recommend Prehistorik 2 other than as a curio. A shame.

Faintly interesting thing about Prehistorik 2: it was released on unusual formats. As well as DOS-based PC (rather than Amiga and Atari ST) it was also published for the Amstrad CPC and CPC + (but not Commodore 64 or, again, Amiga or ST). There’s also a heavily-redesigned SNES port (where, confusingly, the caveman isn’t called Rik, even though the name is still used in the punning re-title of Prehistorik Man). It’s still pretty rubbish, though, despite feeling much slicker, suggesting that there was never much milage in this sequel.