Sunday, March 30, 2014

Aladdin: still amazing

I've been fiddling with the emulators on the Wii recently and have finally managed to get them in a state where they're easy enough to use.  I've also been experimenting with ROMs I've picked up.

The joys of being an adult and being interested in retro games is that many of the cartridges you long after when you're young can be had for a pittance when you're older - and you have the money to spend on them as well.  The disadvantage is having space to store them and the machines.  I've been buying various cart games off eBay for years, but often these have sat unplayed because my Mega Drive, Master System Converter, Game Gear, and so on, are all in the loft.  This emulation gives me a handy way of playing the games - and, of course, adding features such as save states and allowing me to run it through my video capture box.  It's not as good as using original hardware, due to the controllers, the lack of a clunk as the cartridge engages, and some emulation oddities, but it'll do.

The other benefit is that I get to try out some of the games I never played when I was young.  I've never owned a SNES, though have played many of the games through Virtual Console or other rereleases.  One day I will get a second-hand console, but until then this is ideal.

Anyway.  When setting the emulators up, the first game I wanted to try was the Mega Drive version of Aladdin.  This was always one of my favourite games when I was young, and I was great at it - making it all the way through without losing a life or even throwing any apples.  I thought that at the same time, I should try the SNES game, which was made by a completely different company, and also try the Master System and Game Gear games, which I own on cartridge but have never played.

Mega Drive

I immediately noticed that the game felt faster, which probably means that the 50Hz conversion wasn't entirely optimised.  Having said that, the difference felt marginal, and if anything controls felt a little less defined than I remember.  I last played the game on the Mega Drive about four years ago, so it may be a memory trick.

I ran through the first level with ease; I can remember ever jump, every enemy, every secret.  I lost a life on purpose just before the end of the level since I couldn't remember what happened - the genie int eh boxing ring.  I picked up the golden Abu and completed the bonus stage.

I played halfway through the desert before deciding that I ought to get on with one of the other versions, rather than spend the entire day playing this again.  It's still an amazing game, one of my favourites of all time, and I will play it again soon even if only to get to the rug ride stage.


It certainly looks nice, though the animation on Aladdin feels a bit off - his running animation isn't quite at the same speed as he moves.  And the controls feel a bit off as well, though this may be due to the emulation.  I went in expecting a bit of a rubbish game, because I've always been told it's not as good as the Mega Drive game ... and while it's definitely inferior, it's actually pretty good anyway.  You don't feel as free and athletic running through the streets, there isn't the same sense of scale and exploration, and it's doesn't make you smile as much when dispatching enemies.  It's still fun.

Master System

I wasn't sure what to expect from this.  I've never heard much about it at all, other than how great it looks.  And you know, it does look pretty amazing.  Obviously it suffers from direct comparisons to the Mega Drive game, but the animation is still top-notch, and it's vibrant and colourful.

What really surprised me was the complete difference in game style.  This is more like the endless runners that are now popular on the App Store, except with an end point.  The screen constantly scrolls, and you have to jump obstacles and avoid enemies in order to not get caught behind.  At first it's quite tricky, but you soon learn the level and can breeze through it.

The backgrounds are impressively drawn and the game moves at a fair pace.  I only completed the first two levels, but I will be back for the rest at some point - I do own the cartridge, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays on original hardware.

Game Gear

As with most games of the time, the Game Gear version is just a port of the Master System game, with a reduced window and slightly brighter graphics.  This makes the game a lot harder, as obstacles appear in front of Aladdin with much less notice.  It was no doubt great for anyone without other versions to compare it to, but against the Master System game it just seems unfair.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Brothers - a Tale of Two Sons: completed!

I've played through this over the last couple of evenings, and have loved it.  It's easy to think of the game as a gimmick, with the idea of controlling two characters at once, but once you get used to this (which takes a while!) the game reveals itself as a clever puzzle platformer with moving story.

The puzzles throughout the game are varied enough to not outstay their welcome, without the need for any sort of power-up mechanic. Some of the highlights were manoeuvring a long metal pole through  a maze with limited turning points, and a long section where one brother hung from a conveyor belt while the other opened gates.  These were by no means the only clever puzzles, and even those which are pretty standard parts of videogames were freshened by the control scheme.

The story was equally innovative, in that it explored the themes of sickness and death more intimately than most other games. The game starts with the background story of the little brother witnessing (and finding himself responsible for) his mother's death, followed by the main story of his father's sickness.  The two brothers journeyed to get medicine to cure their father, emphasising the importance of the family.  The strong bonds that the story imposes are all the more effective when ... things happen ... at the end of the game.  I've rarely felt such a sense of shock and horror.

Well worth playing through, though don't expect happiness and fun all the way through.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sega Ages Outrun: absurdly difficult

With the news that a 3D version of Outrun is on the way to the 3DS, I remembered that I bought a PS2 disc a while ago which has the Sega Ages versions of a few games, including Outrun, on it.  I decided to give it a go on the PS3.

It's still great fun, but it seems really hard compared to any version of Outrun I've played before.  I only managed to get to the end of the third stage, even after increasing the time limits available.  I wasn't even crashing or spinning out more than once before running out of time.

I can't think which other versions of Outrun I have. maybe I'll have to find an arcade in Shenmue II.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

New Super Mario Bros U: completed!

I left this alone for a long time - I'm not sure why, it may have been because some of the levels were a little too frustrating.  Indeed, after I went back to it a week ago, there have been a few instances where after completing a level I've had to put the controller down and walk away.  Alternatively, I've had to go back to an early stage in order to get a few more lives ...

Anyway, on returning it appeared that there were relatively few stages to complete until I reached the castle, which was hidden in a cloud of smog.  Or maybe magic smoke.

Some of the levels in the castle were really difficult.  I think the hardest was a level where you stood on a tilting platform, which you steered by tilting the gamepad.  At the same time, you had to control Mario jumping on switch blocks, throwing bombs off the platform, and avoiding getting stuck (so that the rising lava didn't catch up).

Eventually, I got to the final door ...

... and the final boss fight harked back to the original Super Mario Bros, where jumping past Bowser and hitting the button caused him to fall down and die.  Most amusing.

Of course, that wasn't the end, and Bowser came back four times the size and meaner than ever.  Luckily, Bowser Jr was there to lend me his little hovering thing, so I could get high enough to jump on Bowser's head.  It took me a couple of attempts, but he soon departed.

That's one strong hovercraft.

Of course, although I've marked this completed (I've seen the end credits after all), there's a lot of the game remaining.  I've not collected all the large coins on each stage - I went back after seeing the credits and collected the coins on Acorn Plains, just so I could play one level on Star Road.  There was one coin that eluded me for ages, and it turns out it was on a hidden route off another hidden route.

I'll go back to this one day soon, but for now I've still got NSMBW to complete ...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

999: it's like a novel

I've reached the end of the story, but I've not reached the end of the game.  Let's rewind a bit.

999 (with a full subtitle of 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors) is an adventure game, with the core gameplay being based around exploration and puzzle solving to escape rooms.  However, there's not a huge amount of exploration available to the player - instead, the main character (Junpei) explores the ship along with his new-found acquaintances, and the player is informed of this through reams of text.  At times, this is almost like a non-interactive version of an interactive novel ... a novel, then.

What surprised me was how well the text is written.  It could pass for a professional story, with appropriate descriptive language and varied vocabulary.  There are a few occasions where the wording felt slightly off, but each character had their own voice and mannerisms, which led to an accomplished narration.  It's sad that this should be a surprise, but there are precious few games with as much attention paid to their script.

So, having reached the end of the story, I've completed the game, surely?  No.  One of the limited interactive elements of the game is the choice of which doors to go through at three key points in the game.  I ended the last game with Junpei being stabbed in the back, and have since restarted.  Annoyingly, while I can skip through the text, I still need to solve the puzzles again in areas that I've been through before.  But each playthrough should give more information about the characters, and I understand there are six potential endings.  I'm not sure I'll collect them all, but the game is significantly quicker to play the second time around, so I'll see what else I find.

Monday, March 03, 2014

1000 Heroz: completed!

I can't remember when I first started playing 1000 Heroz; it was some time before September 2011, but I'm not sure how many days I'd been playing by that point.  I went back and completed all the levels at the start that I missed quite early on.  If I wanted to find out, I suppose I could look at every leaderboard and find the first one for which I had a time registered, but doing that involves opening every level and waiting for the leaderboard to open - it's not happening.

Even if I estimate that I've been playing since day 80, that's still over two and a half years of daily challenges.  I've played the vast majority of those; there were times when I had issues connecting, and there were very occasional times when I simply forgot.  I've always caught up on the missed days, though, and made sure that I had gold starred every level.

And then, today ...

Today is the last day.  Day 1000.  It was with a mixture of relief and sadness that I opened the level, not sure what to expect - a really long level, using all obstacles, or a long flat run with a credits sequence?  No, it was a normal level, 20 seconds long, with annoying bouncy blobs.  Not exactly going out with a bang.  The most fun part of the level came right at the start, with a swing just after an up-ramp, where it was tricky to set the swing going without overshooting.  These two scenarios were both seen many times.

And then the level was over.

Unfortunately, Onze has rejoined the RLLMUK leaderboard, meaning that I was unable to finish with a win.  I may have played this game a lot, but that doesn't mean I'm that good at it.  Still, at least I beat everyone else on the last day.  I'm the only UGVM player left, so I did at last win (by default) on that leaderboard.

And with that done, where have I finished?  First, the good news.  Through simple volume, i'm top of the UGVM leaderboard.

As predicted, I wasn't able to catch up with Don Rosco on the RLLMUK leaderboard, though I did make some progress.  My second place has cruelly been snatched by Onze's return.

And where did I place globally?  I am the 330th best 100 Heroz player in the world.

So that's it.  Every level completed with three stars, all relics obtained (including five from the tutorial levels which evidently aren't included in the total below), and all but one achievement gained.  The one I'm missing is for collecting 250,000 gold, which I'm still some way off - and given that you tend to get about 100 gold from fifteen minutes of playtime, that's not something I'm going to chase.

Thank RedLynx for the game.  Thanks to the UGVM and RLLMUK players for the competition.  Thanks to the elite players showing me every day that there were limits to my skill - or my patience and time, at least.  I suspect that tomorrow I'll find myself at a loss of what to do ...

... who am I kidding.

A couple of great posts about 1000 Heroz:

Sunday, March 02, 2014

A World of Keflings: to the desert!

This continues to be excellent, but as stated before I fear it may be rather short.  I've just journeyed to the last region, expecting to find it even more complicated than the second, but in fact it's rather a lot easier with fewer building materials and raw materials to deal with.  I can see that my stay here will be short, probably until I get to trade glass back to the main region.

It took me a while to leave the main region, in fact - I spend a bit of time stockpiling materials and making my trade routes more efficient.  The king asked me to go to the desert, but I had much more important things to do.

Like make sure all the houses were nicely lined up.

And making some fountains.

But I did eventually go to the desert, finding a grumpy old man complaining about the princess.  Hooray.