Monday, May 21, 2012

Into The Eagle's Nest (C64, 1987)

If you grew up in the 80's, you probably remember Gauntlet. For those who don't, the simplest way to describe it would be: an overhead maze shooter. In other words the action takes place in a maze, viewed from an overhead perspective, and it involves shooting, along with the odd puzzle. It was a big success and - unsurprisingly - it spawned a lot of variants. Some of them were good (the Druid trilogy) and some of them were not so good (Dandy). Thankfully, Into The Eagles Nest is one of the better ones.

The action takes place in in four different floors of a WWII German castle. You access these by using the lift, but in order to use the lift you must first find the lift-pass. Some searching is in order then. Your mission is to free the three prisoners that are located in the basement, first and second floors, and then blow up the castle. In order to blow up the castle you need to set the four detonators, one in each floor. An awful lot of searching is in order then. And it's not easy. For starters, ammunition is limited. There are supplies in the castle, but not excessively so. So don't waste your ammo. Furthermore, the place is crawling with German soldiers. You can take a lot of hits, and there are medical supplies here and there, but things are far from effortless. And finally, there's the maze. While not labyrinthine, you won't get far without a map.

All in all, that's good stuff. Almost. There's two faults which - annoyingly - spoil what could have been an exquisite gaming experience. Firstly, the scrolling isn't that good. Instead of the screen moving seamlessly, it works so that first you reach the limits of it, and then it moves abruptly to the next section. Not so easy on the eyes. Secondly, the game structure is a bit rigid. You start with the ground level, find the lift pass, proceed to one of the other floors, find the prisoner, escort the prisoner to the exit in the ground level, find the lift pass again, proceed to one of the other floors.. See what I mean? You have to go through the ground level every time you rescue one of the prisoners. That's just bad game design.

Despite these flaws, the game is quite good. So check it out.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

McDonaldland (Amiga, 1992)

Scroll down the page, and you'll come across my review of McKids for the NES, which just so happens to be the original version of this game. So, the Amiga version (and any other version for that matter) is a conversion of that.

McDonaldland/ McKids is a weird game. Inside of it there is the basis for a cracking gaming experience, and yet no version of it fulfilled the promise. The NES version plays too fast and rigid. The DOS version plays too fast and rigid and lacks the graphic charm of the NES version. The C64 version is the most atmospheric of the bunch, but apart from that it's a technical disaster. And now, here's the Amiga version.

So what do you do in McDonaldland? Well, it's a platform game, so you travel across the levels of six different worlds in pursuit of Hamburglar, who stole Ronald McDonald's magic bag. In each level there is a hidden McDonald's card which you must find in order to proceed further. After you've done so, you must then find the level's exit. So, primarily, McDonaldland is an exploration game. There are baddies around, and to get rid of them you must pick up and throw crates at them, Blues Brothers-style. Be careful though, baddies respawn and crates don't, so think twice before you waste them.

McDonaldland is far from linear. To quote from the NES version review: "McKids has a lot of clever ideas in it: walking upside down, springs, non-linear routes, shortcuts, mazes, different types of gravity, trolleys etc. It's a good game which will appeal if you like some mystique into your arcade endeavors".

The good news is that as far - as far as the gameplay is concerned - the Amiga version is the best one, thanks to the pace being more measured, and the controls being more fluid. Hurray. Alas, every rose has a thorn, and where the Amiga version falters (sort of) is in the atmosphere. The programmers did their own thing with the graphics and music, and their bright and sugary renditions of the levels and tunes lack some of the charm and personality found in the NES and C64 versions. It doesn't matter. Overall, this is the version to get.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Batman (Gameboy, 1990)

Batman on the Gameboy is considered a classic, though it's debatable whether it stood the test of time well. It got ace reviews back in the day. Nintendo Magazine System gave it 91% and commented "with small, but nicely detailed graphics and excellent sound, Batman is one of the most addictive Gameboy platform games around".

Alright. So, the plot is taken from the Tim Burton film, which was hugely popular at the time. You wouldn't be able to tell though. The game for the most part involves controlling a tiny Batman sprite, jumping on platforms and shooting enemies, Super Mario Land-style. Although the action takes place in locations like the Chemical Factory, Gotham City, and the Gotham Cathedral, it feels like you play a generic Batman game and not a conversion of the 1989 film. That said, there are some nice (static) cutscenes.

Although basic, the platforming shoot-em-up action is well done and addictive. Jumping is a bit sensitive though, which means that it's easy to either jump too high, or too low, and thus miss the platform you're supposed to land on.

For further variety, there are two scrolling shoot-em-up sections, R-Type style, where you're flying the Batwing and shoot at a multitude of enemies. Hmm, didn't see that in the movie. To be honest, it seems that the game designers aped Super Mario Land (it also had a few scrolling shooter sections). It's pretty much the same thing.

The game's difficulty curve is reasonable, neither too easy, nor too difficult, until you reach the final level which is nigh on impossible - unless you've managed to retain all the power-ups from the previous stages. The music is pretty good throughout. And that's that. Batman on the Gameboy is a solid platform-shooter which will appeal, but not thrill.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

M.C. Kids (NES, 1992)

My first acquaintance with the bizarre world of McKids came through the C64 version, which was titled McDonaldland. It got OK reviews (71% in Commodore Format) and I was into platformers at the time, so I tried it out. I liked the atmosphere, and it was clear there were some nice ideas in the game, so I sort of liked it - at first. However, when I made it through the later stages in the game, something began to feel off about the C64 conversion: it felt unfinished. But it was only when I came across the NES original that the extent of how poorly programmed the C64 version was became evident: a rush-job that in later levels bore very little resemblance to the original.

But let's leave aside the C64 version and take a look at the NES one. Let's be clear about this, McKids has a lot of clever ideas in it: walking upside down, springs, non-linear routes, shortcuts, mazes, different types of gravity, trolleys etc. It's a good game which will appeal if you like some mystique into your arcade endeavors. That said, I feel that it could be better. There aren't many enemies around, and to make up for this the programmers have turned the pace a bit on the fast side. I would rather have more enemies and a slower pace. The music and background graphics could also be more atmospheric. It would have added enigma and fascination.

I feel like I'm not done with McKids though. I'm gonna try out the Amiga version (also titled McDonaldland) and see whether they finally nailed it there. There's also a Gameboy version but from what I've seen it's not much cop.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Batman (C64, 1989)

Ocean was, arguably, the most popular software house back in the late 80's and early 90's, and their specialty was movie conversions, often labeled as "the Ocean tie-in". So here is the game that started it all, Batman The Movie (along with The Untouchables).

What Ocean did in these two film licenses was to present a mix of gaming styles, the most prevalent of which was the platforming shoot-em-up. Ιn Batman, that is the case for levels one and five, which take place in the Axis Chemical Factory (where Jack Napier becomes the Joker) and in the Gotham Cathedral (where the final showdown occurs) respectively.

These two sections are by far the best in the game, offering solid platforming action with a twist: Batman can swing from platform to platform using the batrope, Bionic Commando-style.

To add spice, levels two and four offer isometric-3D racing action, the former featuring the Batmobile - which allows you to drive in a fast and precise manner, the latter utilizing the Batwing - which is slower but more difficult to maneuver. Finally, level three is a minor puzzle sub-game. All good stuff, which follow the plot of the film surprisingly well. As a fan of the movie back then, I wasn't disappointed. However, what really sets this game apart is the fantastic music by Matthew Cannon, which really gives it an atmospheric edge, particularly in the later levels.

So that was it, with an enormous hit on their hands, Ocean had a mold, which they used to shape later conversions like Total Recall, The Terminator 2 and Darkman.