Archive for May, 2007

River Raid

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

River Raid is an interesting game in a few ways. It was programmed by Carol Shaw, who is considered to be one of the first female game designers (or programmer, or both depending on where you get your information). It also featured massively long, non-repeating terrain, which was a pretty tough feat to accomplish on the marginal hardware of the Atari 2600.

But what was it? It was a shooting game (a.k.a. a Shoot ‘em Up, or Sh’mup) where you had to travel down a fictitious river, shooting down enemy ships, helicopters, planes, and bridges. You also had to keep an eye on your fuel gauge. Once it runs out, you = dead. So you have to make sure you hit the fuel tanks spaced throughout the river (which you can also shoot for points, natch). Your plane is pretty flimsy, it will crash if it takes a direct hit from anything but a fuel tank. Fuel tanks will give you gas. But, this is mitigated by the fact that the enemy vehicles and structures also become completely demolished with one shot.

Your goal, of course, is to get a high enough score to take a picture and send off for the super-sweet patch (the kind you sew on). I never managed to do that, though I did manage to destroy a bridge by hitting it with a plane. That counts for something, eh?


Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Who wouldn’t love to be mayor of a city? You would get to virtually play (a fairly limited) god and decide what and where to zone, plan transit systems, balance taxation with spending, provide for public safety, and all of the et cetera that goes along with it.

Limitless fun!

I don’t really know what it is, but taking control of hundreds of invisible simulated people inside your game is oddly compelling. You get to see how your control of your city’s dollars will affect your city’s growth, you gain an appreciation for how complex a web of airports, factories, ports, and residential high-rises all interact to entice people to move to (or from) a city. You also learn how to deal with an attack by a giant rampaging lizard-monster. Protip: get out of the way and build lots of fire departments to assist with the cleanup.

Your goal in this game is pretty much whatever you want it to be. You can try to get the biggest city, the Megalopolis, you can try to make a lot of money by playing the budget, you can experiment with mass transit vs. traditional roads, or you could run the city into the ground, the choice is really yours. Which might be why the game is so compelling. Or boring depending on how much freedom you like in a game.

Jordan vs. Bird: One on One

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

I’ve never been a very big basketball fan, so I don’t really know why I ever played Jordan vs. Bird. It’s very possible that I ran out of both money and fun games to play.

Jordan vs. Bird is primarily a basketball game where you can take control of one of the titular characters, Michael Jordan or Larry Bird, in a one-on-one basketball contest. Since Bird is apparently known for his 3-point shots, and Jordan for his dunking ability, playing a game pitting the strengths of each of these pros should be pretty close: one player plays well close to the goal, and the other further away. However, Bird is able to dunk, while Jordan has pretty appalling performance from 3-point land, almost completely destroying the already tenuous balance between near range and far range.

Of course there are other things you can do, you can play as either Jordan or Bird in a dunking contest or a 3-point shooting contest respectively. Neither one was very fun, but the song from the 3-point contest is incredibly catchy, in the bad way.

This game is really only fun if you have two players… and you get to be Larry Bird. And even then, only just.


Monday, May 28th, 2007

I was never, uh… fortunate enough to play Toobin’ in the arcades, I had to wait until it came out on the various compilations of arcade games for the home. Now that I’ve gotten a few rounds of this game under my belt, I still don’t really know what the appeal of this game was supposed to be.

Toobin’ takes the… ’sport’ of lazily floating down a river in an inner tube, and seeks to recreate it in video game form. Now, just that would not make a particularly engaging game, so you have obstacles to avoid, flags to paddle through for points, and soda cans to collect. You can paddle left or right (or both at the same time for straight ahead action!) and use the cans you collect as weapons. If you can make it down to the end of the river without having all of your reserve inner tubes popped, you can continue on to the next, more difficult mission.

My main beef with this game, other than the completely inane concept, was that it was very difficult to control your character. being able to paddle left and right while fighting the currents and water hazards was just an exercise in futility.

Clu Clu Land

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

I had never heard of Clu Clu Land during the heyday of the NES, and I wouldn’t until years after the system was out of favor with the masses and I unlocked it in my copy of Animal Crossing. Old NES games in Animal Crossing didn’t come with manuals, so I have to admit that I don’t really know what’s going on. I was able to piece some info together using my game playing knowledge and the description found on my Super Smash Bros. Melee Trophy, but I’m willing to admit that my understanding might be somewhat incomplete.

Bubbles, the protagonist, must navigate what looks like a game of Dots. The ‘dots’ in this case being objects that she can grab onto. She will go in a straight line forward unless she reaches out and grabs hold of one of the dots, or smashes into something to turn around. Grabbing onto the ‘dots’ will allow her to turn and go a different direction. Her goal, it would appear, is to search out and uncover shiny objects that will often be in the outline of a simple shape. She must do all of this while avoiding the sea-urchin things that are pursuing her. Find all the shiny things, move on to the next level where the sea urchins move faster and are more aggressively and the pattern that the shiny things are in changes.

I wasn’t ever able to get past more than about two waves, but I also didn’t really enjoy the game all that much to begin with. I’m not terribly disappointed that I didn’t get to play this during the NES’s lifetime.

Double Dare

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

If you were a kid in the late 1980s through the early 1990s and had Nickelodeon, or knew someone that did, you were familiar with Double-Dare. I’m talking about the original show instead of the later, and not nearly so fun spinoffs. The show where two teams competed in trivia contests and (often messy) physical challenges in effort to win a sum of prize money and some ridiculous prizes. For those of you not familiar with the formula of the show, it goes something like this: One of two teams of two kids is asked a question, they can either answer it or ‘Dare’ the other team to answer it for ‘double the dollars’, the other team could either answer it or ‘Double Dare’ the first team to answer it, doubling the value yet again. The first team had to either attempt to answer the question or take a ‘physical challenge’ instead. The physical challenges were the real hook for the show, they let the kids do bizarro stunts and get extremely messy in the process.

For the most part, the game was pretty close to the actual show, you answered ridiculously easy trivia questions (with the occasional abnormally difficult one thrown in to almost guarantee a physical challenge). The problems come up when you actually try to play the physical challenges. Running around trying to catch a series of pies in your comically large clown pants just isn’t as fun with a controller as it is with actual pies and pants, and some of the invented challenges, like being shot out of a cannon through some holes in a giant wooden picture of spaghetti would have never made it on television.

Whichever team comes out of the first round with the most money gets to go to the Obstacle Course, which is a series of eight specialized physical challenges in a row that the team gets one minute to complete. Again, not as fun as actually doing the events in person. Also, the events were mostly of the ‘mash one or two buttons repeatedly’ or ‘wiggle the controller/joystick repeatedly’ to complete. One obstacle in particular was something that looked like a giant mound of marshmallow cream that you had to scale, and I could never figure out what combination of buttons and control pad directions that I had to press and wiggle to complete the obstacle. I have never managed to complete the virtual obstacle course to win the virtual crappy prize at the end.

Mario Paint

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Mario Paint isn’t really a game, although it did have a game of sorts in it. It’s more of a rudimentary multimedia production tool. Since it would be difficult to make a drawing that doesn’t look like it came from an unskilled Etch-A-Sketch user, it was packaged with a mouse and mousepad.

There were three basic activities you could do, drawing, animating, and composing music. At its most basic, you can use the assorted pens, fill tools, geometric shapes, and 16×16 pixel ’stamps’ to create your own scenes or to simply color a few existing pictures. Or, you could edit your own set of stamps to provide an extra level of detail in your drawings, or even to animate.

To animate, you pick from either three, six, or nine frames of animation, fill in the frames accordingly, and choose a path on your crafted scene for the animation to follow. You can optionally play a musical score.

Your music composition options are fairly limited: you can compose in either 4/4 or 3/4 time, can play up to three notes at a time, and can only place quarter-notes on the staff. Different instruments are represented by some of the stamps from the drawing-mode. Mushrooms and hearts provide some percussion, Starmen provide high-pitched xylophone-like sounds, and then there are the baby faces, cars, and geese that make sounds that those things don’t really make in real life.

And if you could somehow get bored creating all of this glorious multimedia, you have the option of playing the bug-swatting mini-game, Gnat-Attack. In Gnat-Attack you have to swat 100 bugs of varying degrees of deadliness with naught but your handy flyswatter. After you’ve swatted the 100 little bugs, you get to swat the giant mechanical fly that takes significantly more swats to dispatch (just like in real life!). Then you get to proceed to levels 2 and 3 that are slightly more difficult, and then it loops back to level 1.

Although I can in no way be considered an artist, I played around with this thing extensively. So much so, in fact, that I ended up wearing off a good deal of the textured surface of the included plastic mousepad.


Thursday, May 24th, 2007

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, video games made in the 1980s were weird. It’s probably what drew me to them in the first place. Joust rates pretty high on the Weird List.

Joust takes the Medieval sport of jousting and replaces Mighty Steeds(tm) with Flying Ostriches. You, the mounted ostrich rider, must fly around and defeat the other riders (which greatly outnumber you), not by jabbing them with your pointy jousting stick, but by skillfully flying and landing on their heads, causing them to be trapped within egg, and then collecting the eggs before they hatches.

See? Weird! Although it does make a certain amount of sense within the confines of the game’s universe.

It’s Mr. Pants!

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

Imagine that you have a sheet of graph paper. On this paper you have a picture composed by coloring the squares different colors. You have the ability to make the picture disappear by making the component pieces into complete squares and rectangles with the provided pieces. The Wikipedia page does a slightly better job of describing this concept.

Like most good puzzle games, it’s fairly difficult to describe how to play it without actually showing how to play it. Unfortunately, this is different from most puzzle games in that I could hardly stand to play it.

There are two modes: Marathon and Puzzle. Marathon tasks you with building squares and rectangles on an empty playfield, competing only for a high score. Puzzle is more of the thinking-man’s game, tasking you with the aforementioned picture-clearing. Both modes are bad in their own way.

I couldn’t stand to play Marathon mode for more than a couple of minutes. It was exceedingly difficult to formulate any kind of strategy. There is a large number of possible pieces that may appear, of varying shapes and sizes, and it was just beyond me to actually formulate any kind of strategy.

Puzzle mode is slightly more entertaining. You have a finite number of pieces to clear the playfield, and you must use all the pieces given. The problem is twofold: you have a limited amount of time to make your move, and in later levels you can’t see all the pieces you need to formulate a solution. Puzzle mode, by its nature, should allow you to have all the time you need to formulate your strategy, giving extra points for speedy play could be acceptable, but penalizing you for thinking is pretty lame. In later levels, the amount of pieces you need to solve a puzzle is greater than the pieces you can see, barring you from making the correct solution on your first attempt a fair amount of the time.

It was fun for a while, but the novelty of a game starring a poorly-drawn character wearing nothing but a large pair of underpants wore off quickly.

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

The first Pitfall game was a very good game for the time, so it was only natural that a follow-up game be developed. Pitfall II takes the formula of the original Pitfall! game (Pitfall Harry is running around a jungle collecting things) and expands it with several new features that make this game quite memorable:

It had a soundtrack that looped endlessly and was very catchy, resulting in it getting stuck in my head for days on end. There were still long horizontal stretches of screens, but the screens had the ability to scroll vertically, a huge accomplishment for the time. Pitfall Harry learned to swim. You had unlimited lives (although dieing cost you some points). And it had a definite ending, you won once you rescue your pet mountain lion, your niece, and a ponderously large diamond.

I, unfortunately, was never able to rescue any of those things, although I did manage to get on the same screen as the mountain lion once, that’s got to account for something, right?