Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

BombJack
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I defy anyone to play BombJack and not like it, once they've gotten reasonably good at it. It's a game that nails core gameplay mechanics, truly rewarding those who persevere past the "this is too frustrating" stage. And the great thing is, with Franxis' latest (1.4) release of MameGP32 it now runs sweetly with sound.
Controls are simple: an 8-way joystick and a flap button. That button can be used 2 ways: hold it down and you'll leap to the top of the screen (or until you hit an obstacle). While leaping you can direct your flight, including up for more altitude. But here's the cool part, release the button and start hitting it like Joust and you will indeed flap around just like Joust. Unlike Joust you won't increase your altitude (you'll need to leap from another platform), instead simply arresting your fall and enabling a gliding motion if you're quick enough. So you can leap to any height, then flap your way to any point below that apex.
To complete the level you'll need to collect all the bombs that are scattered about. But here's the real trick: the very first bomb you collect will cause another bomb (usually very nearby) to have a lit fuse. Don't worry, it won't explode, but if you collect that bomb next (and continue to collect them in their 'lit' order) you can score a huge bonus at the end of the stage, as long as you collect 20 or more lit bombs. Once you get good at this you'll be collecting 50,000 bonus points (for 23 bombs, the maximum possible) in every level, and that really adds up quickly.
Also, when you collect 9 lit bombs you'll spawn a 'powercoin', which will bounce around the screen slowly. Grab this (trying to avoid unlit bombs!) and all monsters will freeze and be collectible for points. I'd recommend you don't concentrate too much on collecting monsters. Instead, get them if they're close but use the time to get to the next lit bomb so you can continue to collect them in sequence. You should be able to spawn 2 powercoins on each level, and keep in mind that the game remembers the number of lit bombs you've accumulated over levels, so if you only have a couple left to collect at the end of a level in order to spawn a powercoin, be ready because you'll spawn it as soon as you collect those bombs on the next level. Because of the game keeping count of lit bombs you'll sometimes be able to spawn 3 powercoins.
You'll also see the occasional 'B' coin spawn and drop to the bottom of the level, this is a bonus multiplier which will accrue and multiply the points you collect for each monster you kill. Very occasionally a 'Special' will spawn, collect this for an extra credit (not particularly valuable in Mame, but still fun).
The monsters each follow a set pattern of movement. The bird is always following you, but can only move horizontally and vertically. The UFO is a real problem, very fast moving and difficult to avoid.
BombJack is a real favourite among old-school gamers and with good reason. It's hugely rewarding to get good at. Once you really nail all the tricky little jumps and flights that the controls are capable of providing the sky becomes the limit and you'll settle for nothing less than a 'perfect' level. At least until it gets really hard....
You'll find BombJack in the Tecmo folder of MameGP32, and I find it runs great at 156mhz, frameskip <=2 with sound on.
Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Dig Dug
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It seems appropriate to follow up on Mr Do! with Dig Dug, a similar game that was very popular back in the day. First time I saw this game was at an arcade across from my intermediate (junior high) school, and I believe that for the first few plays I thought you were supposed to clear all the dirt from each level to progress! Far from it, you just have to kill all the monsters. There are two types: Pookas and Fygars. Pookas are not too dangerous, but fygars spit flame, so demand a healthy respect for their position when close to the player. Especially so when on the other side of a thin wall, as they can still burn you up right through it! Pookas are a little quicker than the player, fygars are a little slower. Both monsters can change into 'ghosts' when held up in one spot for too long. These ghosts can move through solid dirt, changing back to solid form when they hit an open area. It's quite difficult to predict when they will change into ghosts, but that's part of the game's charm. The player is armed with a pump, hold down the button while pointing at a monster (assuming it's within range) and you'll pump him up until he explodes. The only other way to kill them is to drop a rock on them. Note that the pump can also be used to slow monsters down: if you pump one up for just a second or so he'll be inflated and unable to move for a few seconds. This stalling tactic can be very useful if you're faced with two monsters at once: try to pump one up just enough to stop him, then do the same to the other, then get the hell out of there! It's a difficult trick to pull off, but once you've got the timing figured out you'll find yourself using it regularly. Dropping rocks is a bit of an art form in Dig Dug. They take a second or two to fall when you've dug under them, so it's very easy to get the timing wrong when you're trying to flatten a monster. Unlike Mr Do! they can't be pushed, and they split apart as soon as they fall, no matter how short the distance. When digging up to a rock you have to remain pointed at it to keep it from falling. As soon as you turn to the side it'll fall on you. Once you've dropped your second rock a prize will appear in the centre of the screen, this earns quite decent points when collected. It should be your goal to collect as many of these as possible. When there's only one monster left he'll try to escape to the top left corner, though he's still dangerous while escaping. Tactics are pretty simple in Dig Dug: try to get the pookas to bunch up and follow you, dig a long vertical tunnel up to a rock and drop it on all of them. And remember to drop that second rock for the prize!
It's not hard to get quite good at Dig Dug, it's a charming little title that'll keep you coming back for more.
You'll find Dig Dug in the Namco folder of MameGP32.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Recommended Gaming: Theme Park (DrMD & SNES9xGP)



Theme park was originally made for the PC in the early 1990's and later ported to the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. You are a potential theme park tycoon first looking to buy land to build your empire on, then constructing the ultimate theme park. Theme park is a pretty basic simulator most people should be able to pick up and play very easily, without much learning curve.

You have many different items to buy for your park, including rides, shows, shops, restraunts, trees, bushes, and other miscellaneous objects. You also have to hire and maintain your employees, and deal with cost increases for restraunts. If you let too much time go by without giving your employees a raise, or negotiating with food distributors, they'll go on strike in front of your park! Go-Karts, Floom rides, haunted houses, observatories, and teacups are just a few of the rides you can build.

Graphics are decent, although nothing to blow you away. The rides look detailed enough to distinguish them, but still a little bland compared to some other games like Sim City. Sound is very good for the Sega Genesis, different tunes play for each ride, and sound effects are adequate.

This game is a little dated now with Roller Coaster Tycoon and it's 900 sequels & addons, but it's nice to see the inspiration of such a popular, best selling current game series. And it's also a damn good sim in it's own right. It's a really long game if you're trying to buy & sell all the land in the world, but savestates are a wonderful feature! The game may be long, but it's great for short bursts, five minutes here or there. It's fun to just maintain the park for a few mins.

Theme Park plays excellent in DrMD with full sound
Theme Park also plays in SNES9XGP without sound

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Mr Do!
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Mr Do came out in 1982, soon after Dig Dug. It was a lot cuter and had deeper gameplay, but many people still preferred Dig Dug, I think because that's a more straightforward game. Mr Do however is an easy game to pick up and play once you understand gameplay mechanics, making for an excellent 'quicky' GP32 session. Controls are a 4-way joystick and fire button.
Your character is a circus clown, and you can dig through each level. You carry a 'powerball' you can throw at any time. It bounces it's way around passages, but it's a little tricky to predict exactly where it's bounce will take it when it comes to a junction. It'll just keep bouncing around till it hits an enemy or returns to you. If it hits an enemy it'll take a couple of seconds to respawn in your hands. Each time you kill a monster it'll take a little longer to respawn. Scattered around are cherries, eat all these or clear the level of monsters and the level ends. Apples are also scattered about, if you drop these on to a monster you'll kill him. The same applies to an apple dropped on you unfortunately, so be wary. Note that an apple does not have to be at the very edge of a precipice to be pushed over the edge: you can push them as far as you like horizontally until they come up against an obstacle. Also, it may appear that a thin wall separates the apple from a precipice (a good example can be seen to the left of the main verical shaft on the first level), but you can in fact push them right though this thin wall. Very useful fact to know, as the monsters cannot go through walls at all (though they change to 'diggers' if they get stuck behind an apple for a while, then they'll come after you no matter the barrier). Also note you can drop apples a single shaft height, which may help you to block monsters and then push the lot, apple and all, over a precipice. In the centre of the screen a treat will appear, eat this and all monsters will freeze, making them easy to pick off if you're in a hurry to clear the level. But in addition new monsters will appear, 4 'blue chompers' and a single 'alphamonster'. The alphamonster has a letter of the word EXTRA printed on him. If you kill 5 alphamonsters you'll get an extra life. You don't need to kill all the blue chompers, just go for the alphamonster and once you nail him all the blue chompers will turn into apples and the level will return to normal (the monsters will unfreeze). The alphamonsters will continue to appear, cycling through the letters.
There are many strategies in Mr Do, but basically when I play I stick to a tried and tested method: kill all but one or two monsters and then go for the food to spawn an alphamonster. Concentrate on him, pick him off, wait for another to spawn (trying to not end the level by killing the last monster), repeat until you get the EXTRA.
Note also sometimes a diamond will appear. Collect this and the level ends, though I have no idea what makes it spawn. Maybe someone out there knows?
I really enjoy Mr Do, it's a game that rewards an understanding of cause and effect, insomuch as you can change gameplay by triggering events.
You'll find it in the Classics folder of MameGP32, and it runs very nicely with sound if you give it just a little frameskip.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Recommended Gaming: Yo! Noid (NES)













Does anyone remember Domino's Pizza's mascot, The Noid? The Noid was a funny guy in a red suit who liked to steal people's pizza in the late 80's and early 90's. Like most commercial mascots, he eventually went the way of the dodo. Remember Little Caesar? But, at least they released an excellent NES platformer based on The Noid before his untimely demise.

The game is fairly basic, but still with some depth. Your goal is to make it to the end of each level and get to the pizza eating contests. You have a yoyo that you use as an offensive weapon and collect scrolls for your special attack. There are small scrolls that are only used to collect power, and Large scrolls that can be used for more power, or you can hit them with the yoyo to open them up for different special attacks.

There are many different levels, each a little different than the previous, but all fun. The first level is at the docks, they move up & down and water fills the lower portions so you have to time your jumps correctly. Other levels include an ice skating rink, a skateboarding level, sewers, a flying level and more.

There are bonus pizza eating contests between stages, where you have to beat out another Noid in a sort of card game. It really helps to break the monotony that some platformers get stuck with.

I really like the music in this game. It's simple, yet very upbeat & catchy. The sound effects are also good considering the NES' limited capabilities.

Yo! Noid is an unexpected classic, that brings back some nostalgic memories of funny childhood commercials. Not that I'd expect a "Where's the Beef?" game to be any good or anything, but it sure beats the hell out of McDonaldland! Anyway, I recommend this game to anyone who likes good 8-bit platformers, it's a pleasant surprise!

Yo! Noid plays well in LittleJohn with standard, default settings.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Mappy
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I only ever found 1 Mappy machine in my home town, in a semi-local fish+chip shop, and it used to bug me every time I went in there. I think there was a 1941 beside it which I played to death, but during pauses in gameplay I'd have a quick scan of Mappy's attract mode to try to figure out what the hell you were supposed to do. Eventually I bit the bullet, slid a credit in and haven't looked back for the last 20 years. It's that good. As a platformer it ranks right up there with BombJack (in my opinion) for sheer playability and fun. It's one of those games that can turn a "I'm screwed!" moment into a "Sweet!" moment in the blink of an eye. And vice versa. Controls are simple: left/right joystick and open/slam door button. To clear a level you need to pick up all the treasure, consisting of safes, stereos, pictures etc. You're chased by mice and a cat. The cat can open doors from behind but the mice cannot, instead just turning around. You can open or close doors from a distance. Not a great distance, but a significant one, as you can slam doors on yourself as you're running toward them with a mouse on your heels, and the shock will knock out the mouse for a while. There are several 'microwave' doors which only you can open (again, from a distance) and which send a wave that carries all enemies off to the edge of the playfield, whereupon you'll score the points and they'll respawn in their attic. You can't jump over trampolines, you must use them. Note they change colour the more times you use them, until when red you fall right through and lose your man. As you're ascending you can go left or right to hit a floor or wall, you'll bounce back to the trampoline but it's very useful to be able to not have to bounce the full height of a shaft. Sometimes the cat will hide behind treasure. Get to it before he moves off and you'll score a nice bonus. It's tough to do but worthwhile. Get familiar with timing the slamming of doors to send mice skittling, it's the key to level progression. In later levels you'll be able to bounce right up into the attic, a useful tactic as long as you don't get cornered. From level 8 there'll be bells hanging over some shafts, bounce right up to the bell and it'll drop, taking out all enemies in the shaft. Challenge stages come up every few levels, they're self explanatory: pop all the balloons before the music stops (though you do have a tiny bit of time left after it stops). You have do do these levels perfectly to score 10,000 bonus points. If you waste any time you won't make it, so head for the cat balloon at the end as he's worth 2,000 on his own. You'll need to get good at making those short bounces off the sides on these challenge stages, or you'll waste time. You can see where you need to do it by the sides being slightly extended upwards to give you room to hit them, so you can break through the trampoline to get to the balloon below.
Mappy is a fantastic platformer, and with a little practice you should be able to get beyond level 10. You'll find it in the Namco folder of MameGP32, it runs best with no sound and frameskip >=2, but if you can handle the mildly jerky framerate run it with sound so you can hear the music during the challenge stages.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Gyruss
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Gyruss was a really popular game back in the day. Super-playable and with a killer soundtrack, I think everyone got at least reasonably good at it. Your ship is trying to return to Earth from (presumably) Pluto. You have 2 levels before arriving at Neptune, where you encounter a challenge stage, then 3 levels between planets (each with a challenge stage) before Earth, after which you'll start over with 3 to Neptune. I used to be able to get to Earth a few times but it took a lot of practice to get to that point. It's definitely a little harder playing on the small screen of a GP32, but it's still such a fun game that it's worth every minute. In earlier incarnations of MameGP32 it would slow down at times, but thanks to Franxis' latest version sporting auto-frameskip it's very playable. I run it with sound at frameskip <=2, but it runs far smoother without sound. There's not many tips to impart, watch where the formations enter the screen, zip around to that point and blast as many as you can as they come towards you. You'll get a nice bonus for destroying complete formations. Try to keep movement to a minimum, small changes are all that's needed to avoid most obstacles/ships. When the final formation has settled into the central 'ring' formation, a small formation of 3 enemies will appear directly in front of your ship. The 2 outside ships are easily dispatched, but the real prize is the orange orb in the centre. Shoot it and you'll have dual-fire, absolutely essential to progress. So make that your priority. Asteroids are indestructible, so don't waste your time on them. Come the challenge stages, you'll notice patterns to where the formations start from. Once you've figured out where they're coming from you'll have a good chance of clearing the stage with 100%, a great result and yielding another bonus. Note that on a regular stage, if you've got one finicky straggler you're having trouble shooting just wait him out and he'll eventually disappear, completing the level. I tend to stick to the bottom of the screen most of the time, letting the enemy come to me. And that's about it for Gyruss. It's highly original (though some used to consider it a mild rip-off of Tempest) and well worth re-aquainting yourself with. You'll find it in the Konami folder of MameGP32.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Friday, June 24, 2005

Recommended Gaming: SNES

Cameltry
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Cameltry.... this is a fairly obscure title. I originally found it through Mame (it was an arcade title, released in 1989 by Taito) on my PC at work and spent many an evening shift playing this instead of working. I've always enjoyed games that had a lot of physics in their gameplay, where you felt real momentum in control. Cameltry certainly scores big there, and it's also an amazingly easy game to just pick up and play, owing to it's simple controls: left and right rotate, and jump/speed button. You rotate the maze, your ball stays in the centre of the playfield. If you get stuck press jump to get moving again, and if you have a clear and straight path hold down jump to increase speed. But be careful, sometimes that speed can work against you if you bounce against something highly, umm... bouncy. You have a time limit to complete each level, and when things start to ramp up you'll be mopping your brow as it runs down. Each maze is full of items that work for or against you. The most frustrating are ones that'll cut 5 seconds off your clock. Hit two or three of those in a row and see how you feel... some others add 5 seconds. There are semi-permeable gates, 'wooden' blocks that require you to hit them at pace to smash through, little pinball-style bumpers that bounce you off at all angles, you name it it's in there. There's no real strategy, I guess the only thing I do is keep my eye on the prize, ignore the temptations and just keep firing toward that exit. It doesn't last all that long, but even once you've completed it, the replay value remains. There's really not much more to tell you about Cameltry, it runs great on the GP32 under both main SNES emulators. If you haven't played this before you'd better put aside a good 30 minutes, it's an addictive title that's hard to put down. Enjoy.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

GameProbe of the Week: Donkey Kong (Gameboy)


Donkey Kong is easily one of the most memorable video game characters ever, appearing in many different games across multiple systems. From platformers, to racers, to music games, Donkey Kong has been through almost everything. It is also known as the game that started the entire Mario phoenomenon.

To say that Donkey Kong for the Gameboy is just a port of the arcade classic would be an outright lie, It's more of an expansion of the original than anything. The gameboy version adds over 50 levels, bosses, doors to unlock, switches, springboards, moving ladders, and much more. The earlier levels are quite simple, but as you progress through the game they get gradually harder, although not impossible! Every 4th level Donkey Kong confronts you in a boss level, these have the same premise, get to the princess, but are a bit more intense! There are mini games between levels to gain extra lives. They are playable by gathering the 3 items in each level before finishing. One of the mini games is a slot machine, one of the others is a spinning wheel.

This is a Gameboy mono game, so there's no colors, but the graphics are still very nice! They look like some of the better NES games out there, with some Super NES styled menus and level select. The characters look proportionate, and don't blend with the background.

Music and sound effects are also great, considering the hardware. The tunes are catchy and the sound effects work well. The best part about the sounds in this game is that they used the original start and end sounds from the arcade. They really help to bring back that Donkey Kong feel, even in the more puzzling levels!

Donkey Kong is deffinately one of the better gameboy games, in my opinion. It adds to an already successful game, with puzzles and bosses. It also seems to have a nice balance between fun & challenging that puzzle games sometimes miss. Overall, I highly reccommend this title, if you like arcade or puzzle games, you owe it to yourself to try this out!

Donkey Kong plays great in Ryleh's new fGB32 f-day preview available here

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Juno First
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I loved Juno First at first sight. Though the gameplay couldn't be much more different, it has that same 'electronic' ambience that Robotron enjoys. Black background, small brightly coloured sprites and plenty of cool sounds blasting out. A little like Defender in this regard too. There were a few machines in local arcades back in the day and I'd always make time for a session when I was there. It's a game that's easy to pick up and has a very gentle difficulty curve. It also runs sweetly on the GP32!
Control is basic, an 8-way joystick and 2 buttons; one for shooting and one for warping (called 'hyperspace' on some machines). You get 3 warps per level but you'll likely not use them.
You have 99 seconds to clear each level, which is a tad too long and one reason why the difficulty level is so easy, at least initially. This is your basic shooter, just shoot everything on the screen. You'll notice that when you shoot an asteroid (they appear after about 20 seconds) it changes to a 'mystery', a little spaceman. Pick it up and enemies will stop shooting for a while, long enough to line a good number up and pick them off.
I keep my eye focused on the radar screen at top, using the main screen just for fine-tuning my shots. Your ship carries a fair amount of inertia, a feature I've personally always liked in games. So keep in mind that it takes a little time to reverse direction. And speaking of reversing direction, that's a great way to play: in reverse. By holding the joystick down you'll force enemies to wrap around and come at you from below, this usually gives you the advantage as you can sneak into tight areas to strafe away. If they're lined up on the radar you can just run straight at them, strafing away and pretty much wipe out most in that particular formation. But when they start to scatter a bit throw it into reverse (keeping a watchful eye on the radar) and figure out a good spot to hit them from. It's a hard techniue to describe, so try it out when you think it's appropriate and see if it works for you.
You'll come across challenge waves every few levels, they're pretty easy to clear at 100% and give a nice fat bonus.
There's really not much more to tell you about Juno First, it's really a very simple little shooter that sucks you in.
You'll find it in MameGP32's Konami folder, it runs nicely with sound and frameskip <=1.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Frenzy
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You want retro? This is retro. This almost as retro as it gets. If you start this up having never seen it before you'll probably laugh at the simplicity. For about, oh... 3 minutes or so. Then you'll be sobbing and calling for your mama, it gets tough. Frenzy was the successor to Berzerk, also a great game but lacking the varied gameplay of Frenzy. Both were ported to a lot of systems, owing to their graphical simplicity. But we're talking Mame here, so the original arcade version is our focus.
Control is classic early 80's: an 8-way joystick and fire button. The levels are generated randomly so you can't really assume that any particular starting strategy will work. There are 2 kinds of walls: reflective that ricochet bullets, and destructible that you can shoot a path through. You'll never be boxed in by the maze itself, but when a lot of enemies are concentrated in one place you'll be in trouble, so if you feel things tightening up have a quick scan to see if there is a wall you shoot a way through if need be. Note it takes several shots to clear a wide enough hole, so give yourself time to complete the task. Becasue you're tall and thin it only takes a few shots to clear a path through a horizontal wall, but if you want to escape through a vertical wall it may take 5 or 6. You're only allowed 2 bullets on screen at any one time, so the closer you are to the wall the better, you'll reload far more quickly. Unlike Berzerk the walls themselves are not deadly to touch, but ricochets can catch you out. Nothing is worse than shooting yourself! Note that if you're touching a reflective wall you can still fire off a ricochet, for some reason it won't hit you as it passes. When shooting horizontally at a refective wall the ricochet will pass above or below you (assuming you haven't moved since firing), whereas a vertical shot will ricochet straight back at you. There are 3 basic enemies in Frenzy: round-headed droids, skeletons and Evil Otto, a disembodied head with a mean streak. The droids usually move diagonally, looking to line you up for a shot. The skeletons usually move left-right or up-down looking for for a shot. Note that they're quite large and shoot from their heads, whereas you shoot from the hip so it is possible to have a bullet part your hair while firing one off yourself that will hit the shooter. But you'll have to be pixel-perfect. When they're firing vertically they shoot slighly right of centre, but you shoot from a lot further out so they can nail you on the inside. It pays to keep mobile in Frenzy. Be careful when you destroy an enemy, he explodes, taking out you if you're standing right next to him. Of course you can use this to good effect, starting a chain reaction if they're all bunched up. It's a great trick that's hard to pull off but you know you're hardcore when you nail it. Once you've cleared all the skeletons and droids you'll be awarded a nice fat bonus, so you should aim for this. Evil Otto appears when you've taken too long to clear a level. He's a real problem, though unlike Berzerk you can shoot him dead. But it's difficult owing to his bouncing motion. Of course, thanks to Mame we can affore to lose plenty of credits for practice's sake! If you want to kill him, wait till he gets close and fire off a 2-shot volley. If you keep dawdling you'll be greeted by another Evil Otto, and try getting out of that quagmire in one piece. Note that all you have to do to 'complete' a level (without a bonus though!) is run through a playfield doorway, so if you've got Otto bearing down on you find the nearest exit and make a run for it!
In later levels you'll come up against some static enemies, basically bosses. One is a giant yellow Otto. If you shoot a regular Otto the boss Otto will spawn 4 regular Ottos. And he smiles when you're killed.... nice touch. Another boss is a device that looks like an electrical generator. He's hidden behind destructive walls so clear a path through and shoot him, and all the enemies will stop moving. Another looks like an old punch-tape computer, take him out and enemies can't shoot. But he's tough to shoot, you'll need to hit him diagonally where the refective walls surrounding him intersect. So if your GP32 doesn't like diagonals don't waste your time, but if they're ok go for it as it'll make clearing the entire level a walk in the park. And then you can rack up a nice fat bonus! The final boss I've yet to see myself, but apparently he shoots balls at you. If you shoot all the balls it's the same as clearing the level so you'll get the bonus. Back in the day most folk never took the time (or money!) to see the later levels in Frenzy, but thanks to MameGP32 you can get stuck in and see how far you can get.
You'll find Frenzy (and Berzerk) in your Classics folder. Unfortunately sound is not replicated (the originals were famous for their speech) so turn the sound emulation off, go with no frameskip and you'll be good to go. And good luck! Writing this has made me want to see that ball-spawning boss so I know what I'm doing next.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Bagman
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Bagman was not a particularly common game back in the early 80's, but everyone knew what it was and you'd sometimes find a machine out the back with the other 'too hard' games. I tried to get into it on several occasions, but it was a pretty tough game and still is. The level design spans across three screens and I don't think I ever actually completed the first level! In fact I'm pretty sure that I never saw anyone achieve this feat, it really is a tough title to get good at. Luckily, thanks to Franxis' work with MameGP32 we can all get some practice in. I've played the game a dozen or so times in the last month and I still haven't cracked that first level, though I have gotten through to the third section so there's hope for me.
Despite the difficulty it's a really neat little game. You play a thief in a mine, running around trying to collect bags of loot. Bring the bags up to the surface and toss them into the wheelbarrow. You're chased by a couple of cops, who can team up to cut off escape. The characters all move quite slowly, especially you when you're carrying a bag of ill-gotten gains. The cops can run you down at this point so it pays sometimes to drop the bag and make a run for it. Control is simple: an 8-way joystick and single button (which performs several tasks). As you pass a bag hit the button to pick it up. To ride (or avoid, they're deadly if they hit you) the mine carts, look for the hand-holds in the ceiling. Place the thief below the hand-hold, hit the button and you'll grip the ceiling for as long as you need. Hit the button again as the mine cart passes to drop into it and get a free ride. You can exit the cart at any point by running off the back of it, climbing a ladder as you pass, or if you time it right you can grab a handhold as you pass. The elevators are a useful way to get bags to the surface as they move quite quickly. Notice that you can drop a bag on a cop if he's following you up a ladder. The cop will just be knocked out for a while, so do what you have to do and high-tail it out of there. You can drop bags into carts too if that helps your strategy. There are a few pick-axes dotted about, grab one of these to knock out a cop donkey-kong style. But they have another purpose too: you'll find a blue bag of gold in the second screen that's behind a wall. Demolish the wall with the pick-axe and grab that bag, it's worth a serious bonus. But we careful, it's twice as heavy as the regular bags and slows you down even more. The pick-axe will disappear after a while unless you drop it, so if you don't need it drop it, you may need it again later. Once you've gotten all the bags on the first screen to the wheelbarrow at the surface, grab it (with the button) and push it to the second screen. You can move the wheelbarrow at any time, so placing it close to a ladder or elevator will make your work a lot easier when bringing bags up. The cops can be lured into areas by placing the thief where they can 'see' him, that is to say vertically or horizontally in line with him. You can use this to good effect to buy time and get bags to the surface. As you ride a cart the cops can't get you, but they will still follow you so be careful when leaping out of the cart close to a screen border, the cop may be about to appear behind you! You can use the pick-axe to make the cop reverse his course as he runs away from you, then drop it for later and quickly take an elevator. Note that as the game progresses the cops get a bit quicker, so it's usually better to collect the bags from the bottom first so you'll have less distance to travel to the wheelbarrow later. Speaking of the wheelbarrow, if you place it over a ladder while a cop is ascending, you'll knock him all the way to the bottom of the shaft when he touches it. It's a cool trick to buy time. You can put the wheelbarrow on an elevator too, to make bringing bags to it a lot quicker. Note the slope on some horizontal shafts: if you drop a bag it will slide down the slope, taking out a cop with it. There are a few bugs in Bagman that can be exploited. You can ride slightly to the side of elevators to make your getaway quicker. If you're on the edge between two screens flick back and forth between them, sometimes it'll stun cops in either screen and sometime it'll reset the elevators.
Have a go at Bagman and see if you can work some new strategies, it's a tough game but once you get the hang of it's nuances you'll keep coming back to it.
You'll find Bagman in the Classics foolder of MameGP32. It likes frameskip 1 with the sound on and is very playable with these settings.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Friday, June 03, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Beastie Feastie
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Here's one I'd never played myself until a couple of months ago, despite being a Mame fanboy since 1998. I'm not sure how it evaded my gaze for so long, especially as it's known by at least two other names, 'The Glob' and 'Super Glob'. There are slight differences between Beastie Feastie and The Glob, I think limited to level design. I never saw these in the arcades, perhaps as they were a daughterboard add-on to pacman hardware, produced by 3rd party Epos (I'd never heard of them either... so much for being a hard-core retro gamer. Punishment: 100 Hail Marios). This game is proof positive that there's gold in them thar hills; keep fossicking around in those MameGP32 folders and you'll find a little buried treasure every once in a while. Beastie Feastie has fairly simple platform-style play mechanics, nothing really new to offer, yet it's all put together in such a way that it's a really adddictive little game. Once you get gameplay figured out it's pretty tough to put down, at least until it gets impossibly fast in later levels. And that's a pretty unique hook: as you progress, in addition to the levels becoming more complicated, more enemies and whatever it really speeds up. A lot. I really mean it, it gets crazy after a while. That's the addiction: never mind the score, what level can you get to?
Control is quite simple: a four-way joystick and two buttons: one for calling elevators, one for hanging on to the ceiling.
You have an energy bar at the bottom of the playfield which acts like a timer, slowly decreasing over about a 2.5 minute period. The longer you cling to ceilings, the faster the energy bar will run down. Note that the way the screen is set up you need to play it horizontally to see the energy bar (by pressing the R button). I've never had it run out as it gets too frantic to hang around for long, so I play it vertically and never have a problem, though I've played it horizontally a few times and it's still very playable. See what you think.
Your aim is to eat the fruit (that's original...) scattered throughout the levels. Eat the last one and it's on to the next level.
There are a number of elevators on each level, to call for one stand under the button nearest to the elevator shaft and press the call elevator button. Notice you can use this offensively, as the elevator will crush a beastie that drifts into it's path. Once on the elevator you can use up and down to control it, again you're able to crush beasties so use this to good effect, especially on the level you're aiming for, that way you'll have a clear path to the fruit. For a while anyway; notice that the beasties respawn where they died, usually in just a few seconds so make it snappy. The beasties follow quite random paths, so don't get too cocky with them, especially considering you move by jumping so pinpoint accuracy can be difficult. In later levels some beasties can call elevators themselves, so if you're intending to cross a shaft quickly scan up and down it to see if a beastie is getting ready to call the elevator, as he can crush you just as easily as you can crush him. The jump button needs to be held down to maintain your grip, then released whenever the danger has passed. Handily, you can crush beasties by falling onto them. Remember that they'll respawn though!
I find it's sometimes handy to call for an elevator before you've eaten all the fruit on a particular floor, that way the elevator can't be called by a beastie and you can use the time it takes for the elevator to get to you floor to eat the last fruit. As you ride an elevator you can't be killed by a passing beastie, but as soon as stop they can enter the elevator and waste you. So keep your eye on where you're going and try not to get side-tracked if it looks dangerous. As the level starts have a good look at it's design, notice that if there are no walls to the sides of a floor you can wrap around the screen, as can the beasties. And try as best you can to map a way through the level, it can get reasonably complicated in later levels so having a basic idea of which elevator go to which floor is a good idea.
Have a go at Beastie Feastie/The Glob. I reckon it's a great game if you've got a spare 10 minutes up your sleeve, though it gets really frustrating later when the speed ramps up. Which is a good thing in my book, if I slam it down on level 9 I know that sooner or later I'll be back trying to get to level 10.
You'll find the game/s in the Classic folder of MameGP32. It runs well with sound and frameskip 1.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Zaxxon
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Aaaaaah, good old Zaxxon. It's one of those '"Where were you when.." kind of games. Truly groundbreaking when Sega released it back in '82, it's a great space shooter and highly addictive. Every decent arcade had a few Zaxxons and interest never really waned, even years later it was still popular. The use of an isometric perspective created a true 3 dimensional playfield, offering up a variety of ways to complete the level. You could take it easy, flying high and staying (mostly) out of trouble or zip along nice and low, trying to shoot every red radar dish to score big. Zaxxon rates in my top 5 games of all time, and being able to play it on the run is a dream come true!
There's not a lot of secrets to playing Zaxxon. Controls are simple enough, an 8-way joystick controls your ship (keeping in mind the Y-axis is reversed, flight-simulator-style) and a single fire button shoots straight ahead. If you're unfamiliar with the game it may take a few plays to get familiar with the joystick setup, but it'll come, and it'll be worth it. The game really rewards the player who can control his ship with pinpoint accuracy. Notice the altitude gauge on the left of the screen, you need to keep an eye on this in the deep space section (this comes after you've traversed the enemy base section). During the enemy base section (where you start) you can gauge your altitude by firing constantly and noting where the bullets hit. Also note your shadow, straight below your ship at all times, so you can line yourself up on the x and z axis. Also note that fuel gauge at the bottom! The game takes a leaf out of Scramble's book, in that you need to destroy fuel tanks (liberally dotted around the enemy base sections) to top off your own supply. How this works is a mystery! There are a number of things to watch out for on the base. Gun emplacements shoot horizontally (at ground level) at you, missile silos fire their missiles vertically as you approach (you're warned though, the silo spits flames just before the missile is launched), electronic barriers and walls are placed in your path (use your bullets to gauge a safe path around or through these), runways contain enemy planes (secret: shoot as many of these in your first time through the base, you'll then encounter fewer in the deep space section. You'll know how many are around by keeping an eye on their numbers at the bottom right) and there are a few red radar dishes (though harmless, shoot as many as you can for big bonuses. Shoot them all for a giant bonus!). If you fly too high for too long an air to air missile will home in on you, and he's a tough customer. requiring 6 shots to destroy, so if you're new to the game and just want to get through this section stay around halfway up the altitude gauge, dipping down to pick off easy fuel tanks. Keep an eye on that fuel gauge, if you run out you'll crash! Once through the base section you'll be in deep space. Without a shadow it's difficult to gauge exactly where you are, so treat this section defensively. I place my ship on the far left and about 2/3 of the way up the altitude gauge. Just keep firing away, you'll note that when the enemy planes are at your altitude a small cross-hair appears for you to aim with. The real prizes here are the satellites, yielding good points. When you destroy planes or satellites your ship will be jolted by the shock, and you'll need to adjust your altitude back to that magic 2/3 area again. It's really worth trying to get as many planes as possible here, again you'll have fewer to deal with later. Once through deep space you're back over the base, but it's a lot trickier this time with a big helping of electronic barriers and walls to negotiate. Use that fire button! Once you're firing through the holes you can follow that line with your ship. At the end of this second base section Zaxxon himself will appear. He's a giant robot that fires air to air homing missiles at you. As soon as he enters the playfield start firing and keep it up. You'll need to hit the red missile mounted on the right of him 6 times, taking him with it. It's really not that hard once you've done it a couple of times, but you need to get it over with fast.
And that's it for Zaxxon. It's a really great game that you'll come back to time and time again. You'll find it in the Sega folder on MameGP32, it's quite processor intensive, so turn off the sound and give it frameskip 1. Enjoy!

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Monday, May 23, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Qix
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I still remember (admittedly vaguely) first seeing Qix at a local fish and chip shop, around 1981 when it was first introduced by Taito. What a futuristic looking and sounding game. Gameplay appeared to be quite simple, and sure enough it is. But as for difficulty, well that's another story. Qix must rate as one of the most difficult games out there. I never spent a huge amount of time on it, but I was a regular player, and can't remember ever getting beyond about the 5th screen. Control is simple: a four-way joystick and 2 draw buttons; one fast, one slow. Naturally the slow button scores more points. The aim is equally simple: fill in 75% of the playfield by drawing boxes. You're pursued by 3 kinds of nasties: the qix which you see drift around the open part of the playfield, sparx which zoom around the perimeter of the open part of the playfield, and fuses, which are lit and come after you when you dawdle too long while drawing. The qix will kill you by touching your line mid-draw, that is to say if you are drawing a line to form a closed box, but have not yet closed that box, and the qix touches any part of that unclosed box, you die. You may think the qix is moving in a set pattern, but he's not. He can dart to any point in the open playfield at any time. The sparx are a little easier to deal with, if only because they move in a predictible way (usually). They'll just hoon around the outside of the open playfield. This can cause problems though, if you have them coming at you from either side. In this case drawing a quick small box to get out of their way will give you some breathing space, at least until they come around again, as sparx cannot travel on a box that you've not yet completed drawing. Fuses are there to kill off the novice. If you pause for even a moment while drawing a box, they'll light from where you first started drawing and chase you down. So finish off that box as quickly as possible or you're toast! There are a lot of different strategies out there to fill the 75% needed to go to the next level. One I use sometimes is to try to start drawing long thin boxes, from the middle bottom of the screen toward the top. This way you can keep the qix on one side, eventually finishing off the draw to claim an easy 50%. Of course if you finish it off with the slow buttton you score huge points. You can do this again, this time horizontally, again coralling the qix and finishing off with the slow button. Keep in mind, every percent filled over the 75% threshold scores a large bonus. So filling to 74% and then attempting to get another 10 or so can really help your score. Of course, as soon as you hit that 75% threshold you'll move on to the next level. When you draw with the slow button the filled box will be brown, using the fast button it'll be blue.
At the 5th level you'll be facing 2 qix. Splitting them into seperate compartments will apparently give you a large bonus score, but I never managed it, though I've seen it done by Qix-addicts.
Qix really deserves your time, the sound is great, really worth turning the volume up on, and it's one of those games that'll put you on edge several times each time you play it. It can get really tense when you've got a qix hurtling at you, a fuse lighting up to run you down and no-where left to run. It deserved much more praise than it got back in the day. I think it got relegated to the back of arcades becuase it was intimidating. But we've all had 25 years to get better at videogames, so why don't you fire it up and see just how good you are.
You'll find Qix in the Taito filder of GPMame32, and it likes a little frameskip which doesn't detract from gameplay. When booting it up it'll ask you what language you want, do the same trick as the Williams games by hitting Start and Select to get through this.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Congo Bongo
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Congo Bongo is a quirky platformer that was released by Sega in 1983. It utilised an isometric viewpoint which was almost unique in the arcades, though frequently seen around this time in home computer games. It's pretty simple to get through the first couple of levels but things tighten up quickly. Control can be a little tricky, as diagonals are used, like Q-Bert. Once you've got the hang of it it's a lot easier.
First off you're treated to a neat cut-scene where Bongo the gorilla creeps up on you while you're sleeping and gives you a 'hot foot' with a burning log. Ouch! You vow revenge and enter the first level. Hang on, doesn't this sound kind of familiar? Yes, I'm sure the Sega developers got a lot of 'inspiration' from the arcade favourite Donkey Kong. But it's really quite a different game to play so we can forgive them.
All you have to do on the first level is climb your way up to the gorilla (I really could be writing this about Donkey Kong couldn't I?), avoiding coconuts he throws at you and monkeys that roam around. The monkeys are not lethal! They'll climb onto your back but can be dislodged by jumping repeatedly. If 3 monkeys hop on you they take you out, but it's not until later levels that that becomes really possible. Also keep in mind that they can be avoided by hopping over them, or using the full width of the platforms. Just as well we have that isometric view now isn't it? Once you get to Bongo's level he'll take off to level 2.
The lake level can be tricky as you have to take a circuitous route to get to the end, and the islands are inhabited by snakes that are deadly to touch. But you'll see lily pads, so do a Frogger and hop on one for a short cut. Hippos appear for a while before submerging and can be used to bridge gaps too. Not too hard so far.
The third level is where it starts to get tough. You'll start in a mole hole which offers great protection from charging rhinos. You'll need to scoot to another hole quickly or a native will appear and fill it in on top of you. Don't jump in the puddles, you'll drown. And watch out for those rampaging rhinos, you can jump over them but it requires some good control. Climb the rock at the end to get to Bongo and it's on to level 4.
The lagoon here is similar to level 2. You can hop onto rocks, lily pads, swimming fish and hippos to get through this level, but watch out for the charging rhinos at the end, after coming this far you'll be annoyed if you blow it. Once past them you'll creep up on Bongo as he sleeps and take revenge, giving him a hot foot of his own. Take that!
Naturally neither of you learn a lesson after all that, so it's back to level 1 with increased difficulty.
Congo Bongo is a game you'll probably play a few times, get ok at and put aside. But I bet you'll be like me and want come back for a session now and then, as the mechanics of this charming little game really stick in the back of your mind.
You'll find Congo Bongo in the Sega folder on Mame GP32. It runs great with frameskip 1.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Recommended Gaming: GPEngine

GPEngine emulates the classic PC Engine, or TurboGrafix 16 if you're in the states. The emulator works great on most games, although there's no save states. Here's a list of a few games that I found to be extremely fun and very playable with sound.

After Burner
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The classic arcade fighter jet simulator that needs no explanation. Roll your jet from side to side avoiding enemy fire & collisions. Take down as many as you can without being taken down. After Burner is a classic everyone should try at least once &amp; it works very well in GPEngine!

Batman
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This game is different than any other Batman games you've played before. This is more like pac-man than batman. Your goal in each level is to collect all the power-ups before the enemies get you. Of course, you can play offense, too with weapons like the batarang. Batman is a very fun arcade like game that you don't want to miss. Why are the Batman games so much better than the Superman ones?

Bomberman '93
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This is one of the better Bomberman games, in my opinion. Bomberman '93 is like most other Bomberman games but with bright, cartoony graphics, and a few new gadgets like Remote Bombs, and walking through bricks. Overall, this game is very fun & deffinately worth your time!

Crater Maze
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Crater Maze is another Pac-Man type of maze game. Your goal is to pick up the treasure chests while avoiding the enemies. The fun part about this game is your offense, you have to dig a hole for them to fall into, then bury them alive! It gets pretty hellacious further in the game, too.
This one gets a lot of play from me!

Galaga '90
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Galaga 90 is an excellent rendition of the Namco classic, Galaga with a lot of updates. You can start with a single or a dual ship, but starting with a dual ship will take one of your lives. The graphics in this game have been significantly improved over the original arcade hit. The sound has also gotten the overhaul.
Hint: try to kill most of the enemies before they come to the bottom of the screen, and DON'T stay in the corners!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Bosconian
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Bosconian was a pretty cool game, fist released by Midway and Namco in 1981. Not hugely common in arcades but everyone would have seen it at some point, usually in the back with the other also-rans. It had colourful graphics and excellent synthesized speech. "Alert! Alert!", "Condition Red" and "Battle Stations" would eminate at regular intervals.
Control is simple, an 8-way joystick and fire button, although a new twist is that you fire both ahead and behind your ship. So evading enemy ships can sometimes be a highly effective offensive tactic once you get good. Scattered through each level are a series of enemy base stations. These are made up of 6 cannon pods attached to a central core that fires missiles.
The whole game moves fairly slowly, and just as well because there's a lot going on in later levels. There's so much junk, mines and enemy fighters filling up the screen that just getting close to the base stations to get a good shot in can be really difficult. Once you've destroyed all the base stations you move to the next level. But there's 2 ways to attack the base stations: you can either pick off the cannons one by one, which yields the most points but can get pretty hairy, or you can aim a well-placed shot straight up the gullet to hit the core.
First thing you need to do on any level is scan the radar on the right to see where the base stations are. Figure out the quickest way to string them together, and get stuck in.
Keep an eye on the warning condition at the top right. Under condition green you'll have few fighters to deal with, yellow they're around and looking for you, and if you take too long to clear the level you'll get condition red, when the enemy fighters will swarm at high speed and try to ram you! Keep an eye on the radar as often as you can, and when you hear "Battle Stations" look for a formation of enemy missiles. If you're having trouble evading them, use any space junk, mines etc to wipe them out. Remember too, the screen wraps in both directions so you can get from one spot to another pretty quickly if you're near an edge or corner.
Bosconian is a lot of fun once you get the feel of it, and pretty unique. You'll find it in the "Namco" folder of your GP32. It likes a little frameskip and can be unstable with sound, so if you're having problems try it with sound off.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Monday, May 09, 2005

Recommended Gaming: Park-o-Rama

Sega SC3000
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The Sega SC3000 is considered a rare beast indeed in most countries, but if you lived in New Zealand or Australia (or Japan) in the mid-80's you'd have routinely come across them. Some were also available in South Africa, Italy and Spain. I got one after selling my well-used Sinclair ZX81, and to this day consider it my favourite little micro' of the time. Hardware-wise they featured a rubber keyboard, Z80A processor, 32k ram (another less common model, the SC3000H came with 48k and a 'proper' keyboard), 256x192 graphics, 16 colours and 3 sound channels. They had two big things going for them: a truly excellent version of BASIC, and Sega's quality software titles. BASIC came on a cartridge (in fact, 3 different versions were offered, one which also expanded system ram) and was quite close to MSX BASIC. Close enough that it usually didn't take too much twiddling to convert listings over. Sprite support was the real plus of the SC3000, with multiple layers of sprites of multiple colours being easily moveble, and collision detection too was well supported. A broad range of drawing tools were also available, from point plotting, through lines, polygons etc and all able to be filled. This micro could make anyone look like a coding wizard. In New Zealand we had a magazine for a while that would include tips and listings. A plotter (!) was available which utilised 4 different coloured pens simultaneously and did a nice job. Standard joysticks were terrible, real blister-inducers, but I persisted. Programs could be saved to audio tape, but a SF7000 'control station' was also available which used micro floppies.
The cartridge library was not huge, but did feature excellent ports. I had Border Line, Congo Bongo, Yamato, Champion Tennis, Champion Baseball, Flipper, Sinbad Mystery, Monaco GP, Pop Flamer and Exerion. I think my favourite to this day is Border Line, a really addictive title that most would never have heard of. There was enough support domestically in New Zealand for the distributor to publish home-brewed software too.
And the really neat thing about them is... the GP32 can run the games! Park-o-Rama is a nice emulator that also supports the SG1000 (a console that ran SC3000 carts). Games are out there (I suggest searching with 'SC3000' or 'SG1000' filters) and I'd recommend Border Line, Monaco GP and Champion Tennis to get started.
You can find more information on the SC3000 at http://www.retrogames.co.nz/ and http://homepages.paradise.net.nz/atari/segahard.html

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Moon Cresta
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Moon Cresta... this was a great game that rates as one of my top 5 of all time. It was one of the first games to introduce 'docking' of ships, which in this case increases your firepower. This was well before Galaga did the same thing. One almost unique feature of the game is that the enemies don't shoot, instead simply try to ram your ship.
The first 2 attack waves ("cold-eyes") are fairly simple, the best thing is to wait in the centre for a fraction of a second after the player's ship appears, then start shooting. As the cold-eyes appear you'll hit a few before they become dangerous. If you can concentrate on splitting just a couple of them, then finishing those ones off, you'll be in good shape to deal with the remaining enemies. If you split all of them it can get pretty hairy, as they have very random flight patterns and nowhere is safe.
Once you're dealt with the cold eyes you'll face 2 waves of ""super-flies". I like to start this wave slightly left of centre, as they loop around here in a tight bunch for a while, offering easy targets. When they start drifting down towards you, keep your focus tight on your ship, as you'll need to do some defensive manoevering when things get tight. Remember too, they can loop right back around from below your ship and take you out!
Once you've gotten through the super-flies it's time to dock. Hopefully you'll have not lost your first ship, as the combination of first and second ships is highly effective. The third ship is very wide so gives the enemies a large target area.
Docking is easy, the fire button serves as a thruster in case you get in trouble, and you don't need to be pixel-perfect. It helps to finish up the final super-fly attack in the centre, then you'll not need to use thrust at all. Docking quickly gives good points too. so try to not use that thrust button.
Next up are 2 waves of "four-d" attacks. These little buggers are tough. They disappear at random points, then re-appear somewhere else. Usually very near your ship and on a collision course! Start these waves slighly right of centre. If you have a 1+2 ship combination you should be fine, as you'll take out the majority of enemies before they get near your ship. If you've already lost ship 1 (or, god forbid, 1 and 2!) you're in trouble and will have to move very defensively, keeping your eyes close to your ship. Once you've almost cleared the final four-d move to the right, because next you've got meteors hurtling at you! Time it so you move out, shoot a meteor then move back to the corner to hide. It's really easy once you've done it a few times.
Now it's time to dock again, same as before. With luck you've not lost a ship yet, so you'll have some awesome firepower by combining all 3 ships.
Once that's through, it's on to 2 "atomic pile" levels. These guys are easily dealt with, as they only fly vertically so avoidance is no problem.
Moon Cresta is a really great little game with colourful graphics and infectious sound effects. You'll find it in the "classics" folder of GPMame32, and it plays nicely with sound and frameskip 1.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

excuses, excuses!

I would just like to formally apologize for the lack of updates recently on GameProbe32, I've been in the process of transferring schools, so I've had to go back and forth to 2 different schools trying to sort everything out. Everything should be back to normal this week.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

GameProbe of the Week: Streets of Rage

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Streets of Rage is a beat-em-up game made by Sega for their 16-bit console, the Sega Genesis back in 1991. This is deffinately one of the best games in the genre, and even spawned two of it's own sequels! The game consists of 8 kick-your-ass levels with many great additions like weapons, throws, special attacks, and team-up attacks. You have 3 characters to choose from: Adam, Axel, or Blaze, each has their strengths & weaknesses. For example, Adam is slower, Axel doesn't jump as high, and Blaze isn't as powerful. Beautiful multi-layered graphics really helped to show off the quality that the Sega Genesis could produce, even in it's launch titles!

Music in this game is made by Yuzo Koshiro, composer of the Streets of Rage series, Sonic the Hedgehog, Act Raiser, Act Raiser 2, & Shenmue 2, just to name a few. The upbeat techno-dance inspired soundtrack really adds to the intensity of beating the snot out of 5 guys at once! Sound effects are also great, many of them voice clips.

Overall, this game's deffinately worthy of our GameProbe Game of the Week. It works excellent in Dr.MD 2.0, but don't forget to turn the sound quality up!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Why We Love Those Old Games.

I've always enthused on early 80's arcade games. If you, like me, are in your mid 30's, you were more than likely just as hypnotised as I was at the time. But is it just misty-eyed nostalgia with no real basis, or was there something special going on in those days? I've done some thinking on it, and I believe it's a variety of factors: it was new, it was technology, old folk didn't understand (always a plus), it was created by passionate developers and we were the right age to appreciate it.

The Right Age: At 10-15 years old we were earning enough through pocket money, paper runs or whatever that we could afford to waste a few hours in the local arcade. We also were old enough that our parents would probably be ok with us cycling off into town for the afternoon. Much older than 16 and you'd be more interested in beer, girls and cars than Defender.

Arcades Were a Novelty: I believe the novelty factor cannot be over-emphasised when talking of the 'golden years' of arcades. Whereas anyone born after 1980 has grown up with computers and arcade games, they just didn't exist in the mainstream in the 70's. As the decade closed things were changing rapidly, but in 1975 arcades contained pinball and very little else. Computers were so monumentally expensive that for the vast majority of families they were off the radar. If you're of an age that you've grown up with computers, just imagine if you hadn't and they came out now! So for an 11 year old kid to see his first bank of Space Invaders machines was an unforgettable experience. The sound, the controls, the screen.... here was the future.

Creative Innovation: Remember finding a new machine for the first time, usually stuck out front? It may have been Dig Dug, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Gyruss or whatever, but it had some brand new feature that you'd never seen previously and the excitement was rekindled. Looking at a console controller these days with a dozen buttons on it, it's hard to believe that Defender was considered a near-impossible challenge with it's up/down stick and 5 buttons. Even 3 buttons was complicated. In an era when scrolling was new and vector graphics were considered stunningly realistic it's hardly surprising developers could try any idea and be almost assured of reasonable sales success.

Rewarding Gamers: Often these early machines are referred to as 'quarter eaters', as if they were impossibly hard and it was game over after one minute. Sure, games like that did exist (curse you Sinistar, curse you to hell!) but by and large you could get pretty good if you were observant. Watching over someone else's shoulder certainly helped, as did playing 'doubles' with a friend. I learned early on to watch the attract mode, the demonstration of gameplay and points scoring that appeared on screen when a machine was not in use. Everyone had some favourite game they were expert at and could play for 30 minutes or more (way more!) on one credit.

What Changed: Here's one way I believe games changed in later years: time limits. As technology ramped up in the late 80's and gamers demanded better graphics, the games became far more expensive for an arcade operator to buy or lease. So they either charged more or created time limits. Or both. It became common to run out of time in games, no matter how good you were. Another change in the late 80's was a lack of innovation. In 1980-84 there were so many ideas being thrown in the pot by developers that it was a real challenge just to stay sharp on the latest game, because there was always some newer game being installed that had some new way to hook you. Once we started seeing near-clones and franchises (and boy don't we hear that a lot about franchises these days) it was the beginning of the end of innovation. Also when computers and consoles began to become cheap and yet offer a near-arcade experience there was no need to hit the arcades. And of course as we got older that beer, girls and cars thing started taking up more of our time.

I really think we were lucky to have been the right age in that 5-year window. Anyone in their mid 30's can start up a conversation with someone of similar age about arcade games and the enthusiasm bubbles up, and we're 12 again with a pocket full of credits and an afternoon to kill. Sure a lot of it's misty-eyed nostalgia, but through emulation and a little spare time to get good at a few different old games you can see what was so right about these old games.

By Alyinsanfran

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Scramble
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Scramble was a very popular game in arcades of the early 80's, with good reason. It was pretty innovative in 1981, being side-scrolling and multi-levelled. The side-scrolling required gamers to learn a new skill: speed control. Because the landscape scrolled at a constant speed the player could adjust his speed to get around tight corners. I still remember desperately forcing the joystick down and back to get through the cavern section, only to have the screen catch back up and force me into a wall. All the advanced gaming skills we take for granted these days simply were not needed back in the early 80's. Many was the time you'd find a new machine that would need a new skill, and that's what kept the experience fresh.
There's no real secrets to Scramble, it's a pretty self-explanatory game. Keep an eye on the fuel guage, bomb and strafe as many of those fuel tanks as you can to keep yourself topped up (how blowing up fuel tanks could fill your guage was never explained), adjust your speed to the terrain.
The first two levels are reasonably easy as they don't require defensive manouvering. The third level hurls invulnerable fireballs at you, so the trick is to stay low in the valleys, zipping forward and over into the next during breaks. The fourth level tightens things up, bringing you into a city zone. Get every fuel tank you can because you'll need it as things get tougher in this level, when fuel tanks are far below you. Accelerating and decelerating to force missiles to take off is the key to the tighter parts of this level, hanging back will only see you forced into a collision. The fifth level is pretty easy once you've got the skill to match your speed to where you need to be. Extremely tight caverns force you to speed up whenever you can, so you can ascend or descend with the joystick fully back. The sixth and final level looks impossible: you need to destroy a base that's ridiculously difficult to get to. It is possible to drop down, hit the base and get out, but a far better approach is to treat your ship as expendable. Even if it's your last one, as long as you do indeed destroy the base you'll get a replacement once the machine has returned you to level one (although keep in mind it gets harder the second time around).
Scramble is a game that really gets under your skin, once you start to make progress.
It can be found in the 'Classics' folder of Mame GP32, and plays nicely with sound at frameskip 1.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Friday, April 22, 2005

GameProbe of the Week: Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

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Hello, welcome to another installment of GameProbe of the Week. This week, I'm going to highlight one of my all-time favorites, Aladdin, on the Sega Genesis. I fondly remember opening that package on Christmas morning, then running straight to the Sega Genesis to plug it in.

Aladdin is, for the most part, a platformer game, but there are different little mini-games also to divert you from getting bored. The platformer engine is incredibly solid, the default controls are the A Button for throwing apples, the B Button for using your sword, and the C Button for jumping. Level design is another strong point in this game, the artwork really sucks you in, especially the level inside Genie's lamp, it's amazing! Another memorable level was flying through the cave of wonders on the carpet. One of the mini-games I found especially fun, you play as Aladdin's monkey, Abu, your goal is to collect the falling gems while avoiding the falling swords. It almost feels like a little arcade game, it's quite fun! Another little mini-game is a spinning wheel where you try to stop the wheel on a free life or a continue, while avoiding Jafar, who takes all your jewels. You have as many turns at this as you have collected jewels.

Aladdin was, at the time, one of the most graphically beautiful games ever made. If you've seen the movie, the graphics here deffinately won't dissappoint you, they look exactly like the cells straight from the film. The sound is also not disappointing, the theme song is played very well and the sound effects are more than adequate.

Overall, this is one of my favorite platformers. It's a great game that really held up well over time. Aladdin is perfectly playable on DrMD, although, you may have to fiddle with the settings depending on your clockspeed.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Amidar
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Amidar was fairly common in arcades back in the day. Like Gyruss, it was a game you heard before you saw, with a catchy wee tune playing. First introduced by Konami in 1981, Amidar is a quirky beast, the player appearing as either a gorilla or paint roller. In pursuit through the playfield are pigs or tribesmen ('Amidars'), with a single differently-coloured pig or tribesman ('Tracer') circling the playfield border.
Your only defense is a jump button, which uniquely causes the enemies to jump instead of you! You can thus escape under them, but can only use jump 3 times on each level.
The objective is to fill all the boxes in the gridded playfield. In odd numbered levels (1,3,5 etc) this is fairly easy, as you consume the dots surrounding the boxes in any direction or order. But on the evenly (2,4,6 etc) numbered levels you have to 'paint' a constant line around a box to fill it, and can only start 'painting' from an already filled box. Hard to describe, you'll just have to boot it up to see what I mean.
There is a little secret to the game too: when you've filled all 4 corner boxes the enemies will change colour and you can chase them down pac-man style. Just watch out they don't change back.
Amidar is a game in which you absolutely must watch the attract mode (attract mode appears on games before you insert a coin. Often you'll pick up vital information by watching the attract mode). What appears to be random movement on the part of the enemies is actually a very simple set of rules. They move from left to right, top to bottom, taking every single junction they come to. When they hit a playfield edge they reverse that direction. Watch that attract mode and you'll see what I mean. Once you understand how they move the game becomes far more enjoyable, as real progress can be made. You can literally run straight toward them to within a few pixels securely aware that they are about to turn away anyway. They're not chasing you at all!
Between levels there's a mini-challenge that takes a lot of time to get good at. An Amidar will move across the top of the screen. At the bottom somewhere will be a banana. All you have to do is hit jump when you want the Amidar to start descending. He'll follow his 'Amidar movement' all the way to the bottom. If you got it right (and it's far from easy) he'll get the banana and you'll get a nice bonus.
Amidar is a great little game that becomes very addictive once you've familiarised yourself with it. You'll find Amidar in the 'Classics' folder of GPMame, it runs nicely with sound if you give it frameskip 1.

Reviewed By: Alyinsanfran

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Phoenix
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Phoenix was a commonly seen machine in arcades in the early 80's. First manufactured by Centuri (licensed from Amstar) in 1980, it wasn't particularly revolutionary, but was one of the first games to introduce a 'boss', in the form of a giant mothership in the final level.
Playability is one of the features of Phoenix: the difficulty level wasn't too high, owing to relatively predictable enemy flight formations. In addition, Phoenix had a highly colourful playfield and exceptionally smoothly moving sprites (for the time). I think this may have been the first Invaders-style game to feature shields, which had been seen in some Asteroids-style games. The shield button gets a lot of use in Phoenix, usually offensively to clean up 'low flyers'.

There's a few basic tips to help you out if you choose to spend some time enjoying this great old game. For a start, remember shields take about 7 seconds to recharge so use them sparingly. Once you've built up familiarity with the shields you'll find them highly useful, placing yourself squarely in the path of enemies. During the 'bird' levels you'll find it easier to shoot them from the left or right edge of the screen, where they slow down to u-turn. They also have difficulty shooting you when you're at the edge. And when you're faced with the mothership, move to it's side so you can shoot a hole through it's moving shield quicker. Then move to the centre and keep shooting straight at the alien leader; it'll just be a matter of time until you hit it to complete the level and start over. Judicious use of shields is needed in this final level, in a more defensive method than previous levels. Also, try to not shoot too many alien ships, you'll just get even more coming at you. Keep your eye on the prize.

With a little practice you'll find yourself putting up some big scores, I'm sure arcade operators weren't too fond of Phoenix, it took very few games to become pretty expert! Phoenix can be found in your 'Classics' folder in GPMame and played with no frameskip.

Reviewed By: Alyinsanfran

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MAME GP32

Targ
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Targ was one of those games of the early 80's that was hard to find, and
whose difficulty was rumoured in hushed tones in dark corners of arcades. I
personally never found a machine, so it stuck in the back of my mind in the
intervening years, until I discovered Mame around 1998. Sure enough, Targ
was almost impossibly difficult. This is classic twitch gaming, with just
enough strategy in the mix to keep up that 'just one more game' feeling.
Especially so when it's not costing you your hard earned pocket money! The
only game I can think of that is as hard to beat is Sinistar, a far more
commonly seen machine back in the day but also approached with trepidation,
bordering on raw fear.

First manufactured by Exidy in 1980, Targ employs very simple gameplay. The
playfield is a 10x10 grid of lanes ('crystal city'), your craft ('wummel')
travels the grid trying to shoot the enemies ('ramships' and 'spectar
smugglers') and avoid being rammed. Simple, right? But the curveball thrown
at you is what makes it unique when compared with similar games: your wummel
carries momentum. Turning 180 degrees takes time, slowing down, turning,
then speeding up. There's a trick to turning quicker: turn into a border or
square first, then complete the u-turn. And always remember you can
decelerate in a straight line, an ability the bad guys don't have, so
ambushing can be accomplished with a little foresight and good peripheral
vision. Even using these techniques this is a game that takes a lot of
patience and replays to just get through the first level. On the GP32 Targ
can be found in your 'Classics' folder and played with no frameskip, being
such an old game.

Reviewed by: Alyinsanfran

Welcome, Alyinsanfran!

Everyone please welcome our newest author, Alyinsanfran!
He's going to be writing some new content for the site!

Welcome!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Developer Spotlight: Graham Toal

A while after writing a review for the little-known game, Tailgunner, the Author has made himself known to me and provided some background on his developments. Here is some behind the scenes info on developer Graham Toal, which I think makes for an interesting read, from a very friendly fellow.

I'd done the work on tailgunner before I ever had a GP32; I originally
ported it to learn about binary translation (actually I reinvented the
technique without knowing it had been done before or even at the time
that it had a name!), but sometime after that project I thought it would
be fun to put it on my Palm. This was back in the days of 68000 Palms
and of course it ran like a brick. Later I bought a GBA and it *almost*
ran on that, but finally I discovered the GP32 and had a platform where
tailgunner would run at full speed. I'm fairly sure that the GP32 is
at that magic borderline of speed where a regular emulator just doesn't
quite cut it.

So, I learned enough to poke pixels on the screen and port the game
to the GP32, and it is pretty much complete - it's sometimes mentioned
as a demo, but that means it's a demo of *static binary translation*, not
a demo of tailgunner. The only thing missing at the time was that no-one
had ever samples the sounds from the game, so I couldn't add them. (and
believe me for several years I had been asking people who had access to
the cabinets to do the sampling but no-one ever did). Well, eventually
someone did, and I got a copy and shortly after so did MAME.

I didn't have the enthusiasm to add sound to the GP32 port, though I'ld
love if someone else did - the hooks are all there, basically all that is
needed is to kick off the appropriate sound in the appropriate procedure
which is currently a skeleton.

Since the core of the game was in very simple C, it just took a trivial
edit to convert it into Java, then Norbert Kehrer added graphics in
Java, and we put the game on the web:

http://web.utanet.at/nkehrer/Tailgunner.html

In the year or so since then, I first did a write-up of binary translation,
then I worked on a couple more translators (6502 then z80) as proof of
concept - unfortunately I had way too much 'real' work to be able to spend
the time I needed to finish those off, so they sat there with code generation
about 99% complete but no test harness to run games in since I'm not
really much of a GUI/video guy.

Anyway, the next development was that Neil Bradley (emulator guru) picked
up on the static binary translation stuff and wanted to write one himself.
I've been working with him for over a year now - his project is to write
a suite of translators (much in the way that MAME is a suite of emulators)
for multiple CPUs, and to use compiler-like technology to generate a
common back-end which will do optimisations and generate code that is
as close to optimial as it might be if the game had been written directly
for the target platform. A pretty ambitious project but we've had
impressive results so far, with frame rates like 50,000 frames per
second (not including the actual graphics; just the game play) for games
which when emulated might have been below 1000 fps with the same
harness.

Our current test program is Ms Pacman, and one of the things I want to
do for the GP32 is a MsPac with the display rotated sideways and scaled
to fit the full screen exactly. (The gp32 plays well sideways for
games that only use the joystick and don't need buttons as well). This
will probably be for personal use only as MsPac is still a commercial
property and the owners are likely to get upset if a high quality port
were made available. (Whereas with tailgunner, I've even spoken to the
original author about my work and he never raised any objections; in fact
he was quite interested in what we were doing)

Neil's optimised translations ought to also be fast enough that
some of the games will also run on the GBA which simply could not
go fast enough before - even with my earlier somewhat less optimised
translations.


Lookout for Graham's projects in future, and don't forget to visit his Homepage. If you want some meaty info on writing emulators or compiling, don't miss this essential link: http://www.gtoal.com/sbt/