A quick recommendation for a simple but addictive and extremely playable highscore game. Antibody is an arena shooter where the player controls some kind of bug in the middle of circular area which has to shoot up a whole bunch of other bugs which appear out of nowhere in waves. Control is ludicrously simple: the mouse rotates the player and left button fires whilst right button makes the player’s bug briefly shoot forward to get out of the way of projectiles or marauding beasties (although this needs to reset itself so can’t be used indefinitely). The enemies come in a range of sizes and with a range of attack styles and the action never lets up. There’s also a nice touch when your bug gets hit where, instead of just blowing up, it goes red and remains controllable just before asploding allowing you to direct it into the enemies that done you wrong.
Posts Tagged ‘mac games’
So we’ve had a look at Populous II from the “mind” of Peter Molyneux and which I decided is a god-game which actually, in some ways, subverts its deep strategic intentions to be an entertaining and quite fast-moving clickabout which is fun even though it’s largely about flattening land. So what of the other game?
Well, Black & White came out in 2001 and is also from the “mind” of Peter Molyneux. It’s quite obvious when you start playing the game and have a flick through the fairly-hefty manual that B&W (as I’m going to insist on calling it from now on because it’s quicker) is the spiritual successor to Populous and its sequels even if it isn’t officially part of the same series. This is, once again, a god-game and, yet again, the player is up against rival gods using both followers and godly-powers to claim victory in a succession of landscapes.
There are, however, striking differences in gameplay. The main one of these is the addition of the creature, a hugh animal which becomes, in a way, your representative on the earth and wanders around under simple artificial intelligence “experimenting” with eating stuff and chucking followers around or whatever. The player, who is represented in-game by a floating hand, can slap or stroke the creature to “re-inforce” good or bad behaviour; what this means is entirely up to the player. This means the creature can, theoretically, be trained into doing tasks for the player like running about gathering-up food from farms for the granary or, if you’re a meanie, kicking the poor followers about and keeping them in line.
Indeed, the possibility of being a “good” or “bad” god was the driving force and selling-point with B&W, “find out who you really are” as the game’s tagline has it. Godly powers include everything from being able to grab fish from the sea and chuck them into the village food-store, to throwing followers around, to hurling fireballs and lightening. All of these things understandably make an impression on the mere mortals wandering around on the ground and increase belief in the player’s god. At a temple, worshippers dance around creating mana which is needed for the godly powers. The player can determine how many of his or her followers are worshiping at any time and is responsible for making sure they’re well fed and rested. The followers themselves build villages with buildings although the player-god can micro manage by creating scaffolds and dictating what should be constructed. Each village has a radius of influence which the player-god can act within meaning that, say, if a player village grows enough that its influence reaches an enemy village the player can start hurling fireballs or people around in it; this increases belief in the player god in the village: get enough and the village is yours.
Unlike Populous II, B&W has the very modern feature of some kind of narrative – largely explained by a “good” and “bad” character who accompany the player throughout the game and who are actually quite good fun – involving evil gods being horrible and kidnapping the creature and the like. This is the first thing that I feel goes against the game: I like the way Populous II is just a series of challenges getting slowly but surely more difficult whereas B&W has relatively few stages that take a long, long time to complete. The second thing that goes against the game for me is how this is achieved: impressing rival villages is actually rather dull and building up your own, interesting at first, becomes tedious and more like work than fun. I actually spent about an hour playing this where I was doing nothing more than picking up rocks and fences and stuff and throwing them at an enemy village to build-up belief.
None of this actually means that B&W is a bad game. There’s plenty to do and, unlike Populous II, there really is wide strategic depth in there but unlike the older game, after early enthusiasm it starts to feel more like a way to spend a few hours rather than something that’s actively a lot of fun. Reviewers at the time felt the same way: early excitement and praise for the visuals (which are, by the way, superb even 10 years later) and high scores gave way to disappointment as the much-vaunted creatures (which is, incidentally, one of the game’s most interesting features) were revealed to be difficult to keep tabs on and were actually captured or crippled in some way for several of the game’s levels, and the interaction with the villagers which seemed to promise so much variety was revealed to be mostly picking them up and throwing them or assigning them various tasks. Molyneux has, with B&W, created a very nice, very interesting idea for a game that isn’t quite as fun or as intriguing as it sounds on paper.
If you liked the Populous series then B&W (which you can doubtless pick-up for peanuts these days) is worth a look, although I found it became more work than play after a while, even if it does look stunning. There’s a sequel, Black & White 2, which came out a few years later and which I haven’t played but which may well fix some of the gameplay problems in the original. Maybe I’ll find out and let you know some day.
Well, this is odd. Not that long ago I wrote a post about two games I had recently discovered and grown to love: one of these was the superb iThing game Forget-Me-Not and the other was the 27 year old ZX Spectrum platform/action game Frank N Stein. Apart from having eerily (are you sure this is the appropriate word to use? – Imaginary Ed) similarly-structured names these are both excellent pick-up-and-play titles. And, weirdly, I’m going to tell you about them both again or rather about updates to both of them. That’s right, both.
First we have the excellent, if not entirely surprising, news (which reached me via Stu Campbell) that Forget-Me-Not has been ported to Windows and Mac-OS based machines for free. It’s probably my favourite game of the year so far and if you even slightly like videogames you have absolutely no excuse to not download a copy and learn to love it as much as I do.
The second, rather more interesting, news is that Frank N Stein creator Colin Stewart has been busy slaving over a hot Spectrum (or, more likely, emulator but let’s not destroy the romantic image) and has produced a brand new version of his 1984 game. That’s right, 27 years after it was originally published to cries of “It has lots of little additions (like ice patches) that make it better” and “Overall, a good game” from CRASH magazine we have a brand new update of this classic platfomer with new features and extra levels. Stewart isn’t publishing the game until the 14th of September – exactly 27 years since its original release, but he sent a review copy to the Retro Brothers who have an exclusive review of the new version here.
It’s a sad, but true, fact that there are several gaming genres that have fallen by the wayside in recent years, overtaken by fashion and the whims of the gaming industry which seems to think that people are only interested in playing variations on the first-person shooter (invariably set in either World War II, the modern era or the future; come on guys, there are more historical wars to pick from surely?) and Gran Turismo. One of these genres, once extremely popular, is the scrolling shooter. Unfortunately, it seems to have been a victim of the fad for polygon-based gaming: scrolling shooters really have to be side-on or top-down (into-the-screen based shooters have their fans but your correspondent has never got along with them, give me R-Type over Space Harrier any day of the week) and that means that, even if they use polygons, they retail an old-school 2D feel and certainly an old-school gameplay. “Boring” say ver kids, their sweaty hands clutching their moulded plastic XBox controllers, “it’s not 1995 any more, grandad, give me yet-another Call of Duty game! I WANT ANOTHER CALL OF DUTY GAME SO I CAN SHOOT PEOPLE IN THE HEAD LOL PWND!”
Kids are idiots.
(As a disclaimer I should point out that I quite like both racing games and first-person shooters but, dammit the industry, do we really need so many of them?!)
Luckily for people who actually like games rather than just playing the same two over and over again for ludicrous amounts of money (yes, it’s a bit snobbish to say that; no, I don’t care) a few titles in this genre still trickle-out every year, largely ignored by the headshot kidz and boy-racers. Today’s Game of the Decade, published in 2004 by indie developers Rake In Grass and unknown to your correspondent until a couple of years ago is just one of these game and one of the best in the genre I’ve ever played. It’s called Jets n Guns.
Now, I should point out at this juncture that I’ve only played the Gold edition of this game (unexpectedly given-away for free for one day via Game Giveaway of the Day, back in ‘08; a bargain I don’t expect to see repeated) which has numerous additons (such as extra ships to fly and extra levels to play) to the original although I’m sure that’s more than great as well.
In Jets n Guns you play a futuristic space-mercenary in his little ship and you take various missions for money. On these missions you shoot things, lots of things, many of which explode in spectuacular, often bloody and sometimes hilarious ways. There’s a thin plot running through the whole thing (accompanied by pre-level comic-style pictures in the Gold edition) explaining each level but really this is just a classic level-based blaster with the storyline adding a little atmosphere and an explanation for the scenarios each level is based around. Whilst many side-scrolling shooters have a power-up scheme throughout the level (meaning that the player is left vulnerable on losing a life since they tend to lose all their power-ups with it) Jets n Guns has a pre-level “shop” sequence where the player arms-up their fighter craft with whatever weaponry and armour they can afford. Naturally, beating a level leads to a cash injection which can then be used to make the fighter a bit more badass for the upcoming stage.
There are several things that make this game so much fun. The first is that it’s a really hectic, really exhilarating shooter. Pressing fire unleashes a bona fide hail of bullets/plasma beams/whatever at the enemy and, very often, they respond in kind. These aren’t all stoopid “fire off a bunch of glowing balls in all directions and hope they hit” enemies of the sort seen in so many shooters either; many of them take aim before firing meaning that the player can’t just casually fly through the levels lazily dodging floating bullets. If you want to survive you’ll have to weave and dodge as well as fire; this game isn’t just interested in showing you the pretty scenery (although that is very nice) it makes you work for it; you know, like games used to in the old days. When you complete a level of Jets n Guns then, fuck me, you feel a sense of achievement.
And it’s also funny in a way that doesn’t make the game seem cute or childish. One level sees the player escorting ships flown by attractive women and defending them from the unwanted attention of boorish male pilots of various extraterrestrial types whose ships have things like “Mr Loverman” painted on the side and who broadcast White Van Man-style comments over the airwaves just before you satisfyingly blast them to pieces. Another stage is set on a “perfect” planet overseen by a self-consciously attractive Alpha-male type who promptly sends his security forces against you as you trash his gleaming skyscrapers and blow the crap out of passing craft carrying his adonis-like face on giant TV screens. Even the violence itself is funny with poor, largely-defenceless spacemen with jetpacks being sent against your heavily-armed fighter and being messily blown across the screen in return with ridiculous Pythonesque amounts of blood.
And then there’s the variety of other features: the different weapons and add-ons (and, in the Gold version, the different ships) you can arm yourself up with; and the medals you receive for completing various achievements on a level; and the hidden rubber duck (really) bonus pickups; and the excellent ways of receiving extra money like the device you fit to your ship which broadcasts your carnage to a TV network and pays-out for extra gore. Someone put a lot of thought into this game and it’s paid off handsomely.
Okay, there are problems: there isn’t enough visual and audio feedback when the ship gets hit for my liking, the damage indicator would have been much more useful as a bar than the dial they use and it inexplicably doesn’t seem to support joypad control (although, on Windows at least, the excellent Joy2Key utility deals with this without too much hassle) but, for me, these are fairly minor quibbles. I love this game quite unashamedly and utterly and, when I loaded it up a few days ago to refresh my “feel” of it for this article I got sucked right back into it and wouldn’t leave it alone until I’d reached the next stage. This is a truly brilliant game and well-worth the asking price for those who aren’t afraid of a bit of old-school difficulty. It’s available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux. You can get a demo and order the full game from this link here.
Peggle is a funny one, part of a genre sadly known as “casual gaming” (simple games are not remotely casual – try playing Galaga for details) it looks a bit crap on paper – basically a pinball varient that, whilst entirely based on skill, feels more like it’s based on luck much of the time since it’s so hard to predict beyond a couple of bounces where the ball will end up. And yet its extremely simple gameplay, beautiful presentation and wide range of features make this a modern classic, easily for me one of the games of the decade.
The main reason that Peggle works is that it’s a highscore game. Unlike “hardcore” games which are often story-driven – all too often to the detriment of gameplay in the same way special effects films often spend too much time trying to dazzle and forget to tell a decent story (which reminds me, Avatar is out now) – highscore games are about achieving scores and either give the player a personal best to beat or, if they play with other people, an opponent to compete with and humiliate or be humiliated by.
And it’s in multiplayer mode that Peggle works best. Playing it on its own is like playing a high-tech version of an old-fashioned pinball machine; playing it with someone else is like competing in some kind of futuristic carnival game. It’s great fun aiming the gun and firing the shiny balls, trying to get the best angle to hit as many of the red pegs as possible whilst taking out as many blues as you can on the way; it’s even more fun when there’s someone else there to jeer as you bounce off a single blue and your ball careers into the gutter or gasp in annoyance as you hit dozens of reds and take out a cascade of blues before the ball makes a flukey landing in the bonus jar at the bottom for an extra ball.
Not everyone will like Peggle, some will be put off by its simplistic gameplay, some will dislike the somewhat “random” feel the shots can have if they’re not too good at judging how balls bounce. But I suspect most will see those as strengths, not weaknesses; a game that’s accessible and easy to play but takes real skill to master and yet is still a game where a novice can get a massive score with a lucky shot. There’s only one way to find out how you feel about Peggle and that’s to give it a try.
Just a quick post to let you know that a demo version of Machinarium is available to play online. It’s a point-and-click adventure/puzzle game for Windows, Linux and Mac by Czech indie company Amanita Design and, according to Wonkypedia, the money to finance the project came out of the developers’ own pockets.
Gameplay-wise, it’s a mixture of the Monkey Island games and the old Gobliiins series on the 16-bit machines but the really striking thing about the game is the visuals which look absolutely gorgeous even though they’re mostly of robots and things that look like they’ve been made out of scrap metal. Music and sound are also well above-average and, as is common in games of this type these days, there’s an enormous amount of character in the protagonist and the various other machines he meets.
Play the demo version on its website and, if you like it and you’ve got the readies to spare, buy a copy so that Amanita can refill their pockets and we, hopefully, can see more of this kind of thing.