The Ys name, while notorious for its confusing pronunciation, carries a lot of weight in the JRPG world. Ys has been around since the 8-bit era, and new iterations are still being made today. Most games in the series are critically well-received, and the series as a whole has a large cult following. Despite all of this, I had never played a Ys game until very recently.
My first exposure to the series was the original Ys Books I & II. There are many different versions of the original Ys, sporting many ports and remakes across almost every console, but I played the TurboCD version, which is often considered the definitive release of the game. What I found was a unique "old-school" RPG adventure that I highly enjoyed despite being somewhat primitive and its sometimes awkward combat system. Ever since completing Ys Books I & II, I have wanted to dive into the rest of the series but have been confused about where to start next. Cue Ys: The Oath in Felghana.
Continue reading Ys: The Oath in Felghana
The Wolf Among Us
Telltale Games, 2014
I've been a fan of Telltale's adventure games for a while now. In a sense, their adventure games not only reinvigorated the genre - they redefined it. You could almost start talking about adventure games in a Pre- and Post-Telltale way. And though they had plenty of good and interesting games leading up to it, it's hard to not point at The Walking Dead as the moment where they fully nailed the formula. In The Walking Dead, the user interface was as equally as well-designed for a controller as it was a mouse. The story was strongly written with characters you could care about and who you felt like you got to know well. And most importantly, your decisions seemed to matter, and actually shaped the rest of the story going forward. This device seemed even more important when Season Two of The Walking Dead was released and you realized that many of your decisions and experiences carried over from the first game if you had a save installed.
The Walking Dead: Season Two and The Wolf Among Us finished up their episodic runs and saw retail releases as finished products around the same time this past year. And truth be told, I was far more interested in the former title. I couldn't help but want to see what happened next to Clem, and I figured that a game about a zombie apocalypse would interest me far more than one about fairytales. How wrong I was. [Disclaimer: It is nearly impossible to discuss a Telltale game without any sort of spoilers being involved. Though this review will stay clear of divulging anything that feels like it would truly 'spoil' the game, just mentioning characters, settings and the tiniest of plot points will indeed be spoilers to some. You've been warned!]
Continue reading Review: The Wolf Among Us
Developer: Bally-Midway Manufacturing Co., Inc.
Designer(s): Marvin Glass
Rarity (according to AtariAge): 6 = rare+
Number of Players: 1 - 2 (turn based)
Average Cost: currently, usually $10 - $30 loose, depending on condition
Also Available On: Arcade cabinet, Atari 8-bit, ColecoVision, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, PC, Mobile phone, Xbox 360 (XBLA); also released in the compilation "Midway Arcade Treasures" for PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, and the PC.
"Side-splitting, soda-flinging laughs and spills!
The Official Home Version of Bally/Midway's Arcade Sensation.
Five belly-busting screens of Soda Fountain Fun, including:
-- Four mad-capped barrooms of soda-starved, clamoring cowboys, sports fans, punks, and space creatures.
-- Plus a head-spinning Soda Bandit Bonus Round
Awesome color-packed action graphics.
Just try to keep your cool as hot-headed, crazy customers blitz your bar for another cold one."
In Tapper, you control a beer tapper (bartender) and have to serve beer to demanding customers. Customers shuffle up the four bars toward your beer taps and you must slide them drinks in order to keep them satisfied and make them go away. You start out with 5 lives and these lives are lost as follows: (1) if a bar patron reaches the end of the bar without receiving their beer, (2) if you slide an extra beer when there is no customer and accidentally spill beer needlessly, and (3) if a patron throws you back an empty mug and you fail to catch it. You can score additional points by competing in a bonus round between every few stages. In these bonus rounds, a masked bandit creeps into the bar and shakes up all but one, of six available cans. The cans then flip around in a shell-game fashion and you must keep your eye on the one that was not shaken. You then select the can you deem undisturbed and the bartender opens it; if you are correct, you are awarded bonus points, if you are wrong, the tapper receives a heady bath.
Tapper was originally a coin-op machine marketed in conjunction with Budweiser and intended to be sold only to bars; many of the cabinets were designed to look like bars with a brass rail footrest and drink holders. The controller was designed to look like the tap handles on a real keg (see photos below). It's also rumored that digitized belches were also recorded, but never used. In order to broaden their target market (and to not lure the kiddies toward the "sauce"), Bally/Midway created coin-op cabinets and tabletops known as Root Beer Tapper. The Atari 2600 version is simply called Tapper, which apparently leaves it up to the consumer, or pre-video game advisory warning parents, to determine which frothy beverage bar patrons are actually chugging in game. However, in between clearing a few stages there is a bonus stage, brought to you courtesy of your good friends at Mountain Dew. It's not clear whether or not Tapper on the 2600 was trying to "C.I.A." by employing the soda company's logo, but by doing so, the ad's presence resulted in one of the earliest examples of marketing within a video game.
Tapper is a great game and probably one of the best ports to the Atari 2600. Not only is the concept original and the gameplay simple and attractive, but the sound effects and music (yes, actual music on a 2600 game) are wild west saloon-like and second to none. The graphics are as good as they can be due to the limitations of the system and all characters and settings are well defined and recognizable. My only real knock on this game is the controls. You use the joystick to move the tapper up and down, while using the orange button to fire off brewskies. Like many other 2600 games, Tapper is hampered by the rough and often rigorous directional tapping of the joystick. Because the action is so fast paced, and gets even quicker as you progress through multiple stages, the 2600 joystick cannot keep up and it often results in a few misfired mugs. One would do well in achieving higher scores by obtaining a European CX78 controller and popping this game into the ole 7800.
Even though the controls can be a bit sticky, Tapper is still one of the best games for the 2600. Though the rarity and price point make it a harder game to come by, you can easily snag a loose copy at a good deal with a last minute, no reserve auction bid. No matter what price you pay due to condition or completeness, Tapper will be one of those games that you will be proud to own.
**video courtesy of Hairman9252
RATINGS (on a scale of 1-4: 4 being the highest):
Sound Effects/Music: 4
Replay Value: 3
Cart/Box Art: 4
Overall Score: 3.50
Game: Space Cavern
Publisher: Apollo, Inc.
Developer: Apollo, Inc.
Designer: Dan Oliver
Rarity (according to AtariAge): 3 = scarce
Number of Players: 1 -2 (turn-based)
Average Cost: approx $1 - $5 loose
Also Available On: exclusive to the Atari 2600
Tagline/Description: "You command an intergalactic starcruiser that has landed on a mysterious planet riddled with smokey caverns and inhabited by savage Electrosauri whose horns generate deadly electro-molecular charges. The Elecrosauri stalk you, their horns crackling and sizzling. If even one blast of energy strikes you, your skeleton will glow as you disintegrate. Warning: Beware the shaggy marsupods [last sentence added for blue cartridge version only]."
Space Cavern is a very simple space shooter created by Apollo Games. Apollo only officially released 10 games for the 2600, which does not include three (3) unreleased prototypes and an original (and very rare) version of Shark Attack called Lochjaw, that was removed early on from the shelves due to a lawsuit claiming that it's title was too similar to the movie "Jaws." Two versions of Space Cavern exist, a red box/cartridge and a blue box/cartridge. Neither version is more rare than the other, the blue version was released by Apollo later only as a means of cutting costs by using a simpler and more cost-effective color palate.
Unlike the more popular Atari space shooters, in Space Cavern, you do not control a ship fending off enemy starships in outer space, but instead, command laser wielding astronauts who have crash landed on an alien planet. Sounds cool right? Well, that's certainly the draw. Apollo was masterful in their marketing; if you don't believe me, take a look at the cover art for such super lackluster games as Lost Luggage, Infiltrate, or Final Approach (heck yeah a game about landing planes). I mean what early 80's video game playing kid wouldn't want to buy Space Cavern after seeing it in the store? Badass cover art - check! Cool description - check! Being hit by deadly "electro-molecular charges" and disintegrating - I don't even know what the hell those are, but DOUBLE CHECK!!!! The reality is that Space Cavern isn't all that great, but for an Atari fiend like me, it isn't all that bad either.
(Apparently someone took out their frustrations for being duped by this game.)
There are three (3) enemies that commonly fill the sky of Space Cavern and they are collectively called Electrosauri; however in my adolescence, they were affectionately named: egg beaters, toilets, and scissors -- I'll let you figure out which enemies fit these descriptions. By pressing the orange button, your astronaut fires his laser into the sky and is awarded 115 points (wow, random) for each Electrosauri he/she shoots down. These particular enemies are fairly colorful and typically either bounce in an up and down pattern or diagonally across the screen. When you zap one, they change to a pale blue and actually fall from the sky, which is pretty creative. After 20,000 points, smaller and much harder to hit versions of Electrosauri appear in the sky; at each 20,000 points you are also awarded an extra life.
The only other enemy in the game is the Marsupod (200 points each), which are dull gray in color and come out of the caves from the left and right corners of the screen. Since the orange button only allows you to fire into the sky, your must press the joystick up or down (up = left: down = right) to fire at and dispense with Marsupods - pushing the orange button to fire left to right is not necessary. Though you'll fire the wrong way several times, recovery time from firing is quick and becomes second nature after continued play.
There are 48 variations of gameplay, which can be set to adjust the number of participants, the number of Electrosauri that appear in the sky at one time (4 max), the presence of Marsupods, the random angles of enemy lasers, and the difficulty (i.e. speed of the enemies).
Space Cavern is tough to review, since I get a bit nostalgic when returning to play it (**see eggbeater, toilet, scissor discussion above). The controls are perfect for the 2600 system, since you only use the four (4) main directional positions on the joystick and the fire button. The sound effects are pretty good: shooting down an Electrosauri sounds like R2-D2 speaking in tongues and blasting a Marsupod is rather blunt and effective. There is really nothing that bad about this game, other than the replay value. Let's face it, there's not a whole lot going on in this game, and after about three to four rounds, you'll probably want to put it away if you are playing it alone. As far as Apollo releases are concerned, I'd put Space Cavern at the top with the Pac-Man clone, Shark Attack. If you're a serious collector, or just a casual 2600 gamer, the small price tag makes Space Cavern worth picking up.
**video courtesy of Highretrogamelord89 (this video does not represent the more difficult setting which includes Marsupods) **
RATINGS (on a scale of 1-4: 4 being the highest):
Sound Effects/Music: 2
Replay Value: 2
Cart/Box Art: 4
Overall Score: 2.83
Publisher: U.S. Games
Developer: Western Technologies
Designer(s): Jeff Corsiglia & Tom Sloper
Rarity (according to AtariAge): 4 = scarce+
Number of Players: 1 - 2
Average Cost: approx $3 - $8 loose
Also Available On: 2600 only
Tagline/Description: "You and your team of archeologists have fallen into the "catacombs of the zombies." There's no time to look around; these guys are after you, and they mean business! Your only salvation is that you have discovered the secret to the "make-break." Grab them, and you can break through walls when you get stuck, or create a wall behind you - if you are being chased. The longer you survive, the faster you have to move. Explore alone, or two archeologists can work together or compete in a frenzied trek through the catacombs."
There was probably no more diverse or stranger catalog of games than the fourteen (14) titles released by U.S. Games, a subsidiary of Quaker Oats (uhhhh....yeah), for the Atari 2600. Like several other companies (i.e. Purina, Johnson & Johnson, etc.), but with a larger volume than most, the Quaker Oats Company tried to cash in on the video gaming craze of the early 80's. Titles released by U.S. Games include:
Sneak n' Peek (a game of hide and seek);
Space Jockey (a horizontal, UFO shooter);
Word Zapper (a spelling shooter);
Commando Raid (a parachuting android shooter);
Eggomania (a Kaboom clone where you can fire back);
Piece o' Cake (a cake decorating game);
Picnic (a fly shooter);
Raft Rider (a river rafting game);
Gopher (a vegetable protecting game, similar to Activision's Oink!);
Squeeze Box (a prisoner trying to escape a constantly closing Tron MCP Cone);
Towering Inferno (a firefighting/rescue game);
M.A.D. (an improved version of Atlantis); and
Name This Game (an octopus shooter).
While some believe that a few of these games are among the worst titles for the 2600, I'd have to say that the overall catalog is pretty creative and solid (and fairly cheap). Where else can you fend off an octopus and fill your diving tank with air from a guy with long, flowing hair in a speed boat?
Entombed is another of these strange games in which you control an archeologist trying to escape a zombie-filled catacomb. While navigating a random, vertically scrolling maze, your only defense from zombies and dead end walls is an item referred to as a "make-break." A make-break allows you to knock down a square section of wall or place a similar section of wall in an open area to fend off zombies (similar to Lock n' Chase). However, make-breaks are not abundant and are collected 3 at-a-time in the form of side-to-side moving rectangles, throughout the maze. Scoring in Entombed, for the 1-player game, is determined by how deep into the maze your archeologist goes. You are awarded one point for making it through an undefined section of the maze; there are no treasures to collect or points for killing zombies. As you might have noticed, scoring is not one of the stronger features of this game.
Another poor feature of the game is it's graphics. Zombies, which should be very cool, instead look like arachnids, your archeologist is merely a semi-mobile stick figure, and the make-breaks are, well, just blocks (a hammer, or some sort of device would have been cooler). There is no music and the only sound effects are a series of extremely monotone beeps (only when zombies are near) and an electronic gurgle when you pick up a make-break.
With all of its faults, Entombed is a pretty good game (yeah, stick with me here). I remember loving this game as a kid and playing it every time I went to my neighbor's house. When I saw it in a pawn shop several months ago I grabbed it up quickly, even though it had a bit of label damage. So what is it that I liked so much about this game? Well for one, I enjoyed the pace of the game (how it continues to get faster as you complete every level) and the frantic dodging/escaping from zombies while collecting make-breaks to ensure mobility; you lose lives by either running into a zombie or by being forced into the top of the scrolling screen when you are out of make-breaks and are unable to escape a dead end. The controls are adequate for a 2600 game, since your only movements through the maze are vertical and horizontal; however, setting make-breaks correctly in open areas to avoid zombies can sometimes present a challenge.
While the originality of the game is great, the best feature of Entombed has to be its 2-player option. In two player mode, both participants play at the same time, instead of the Atari turn-based style that is typical with most 2600 games. Two player mode can be played in two different ways (as determined by the participants): (1) you can battle against each other to see who can make it deeper into the maze (whoever dies first loses), or (2) you can work with each other, hoarding and best using make-breaks, to see how far you both can go. Being somewhat of an a%$, and torturer of my wife and friends, I tend to prefer the former.
Though there is nothing particularly exceptional in terms of graphics and sound in Entombed, the gameplay is fairly solid and the cost of the game is typically low. For a few bucks, Entombed should be worth heavy consideration if found in the wild.
**video courtesy of Highretrogamelord89**
RATINGS (on a scale of 1-4: 4 being the highest):
Sound Effects/Music: 1
Replay Value: 2
Cart/Box Art: 3
Overall Score: 2.34