Thursday, March 31, 2005

Recommended Gaming: Sega Master System (part 1)

The Sega Master System was Sega's 8-bit NES rival with a large library of memorable games. I'm going to attempt to list some of my absolute favorites, & hopefully one of our readers will find a new favorite for themselves!

Alex Kidd in Miracle World

This game was built into my old Sega Master System. It's a fun platformer game, too! It's easy enough for most people to pick up and enjoy fairly quickly. One of the best parts in this game is it's use of Paper-Rock-Scissors in the boss-modes.

Phantasy Star

The classic Sega RPG series' beginning, and a damn fine one, at that. You start, like most RPG's, with a top-down view wandering around the countryside encountering random enemies. The best part to this game is when you enter a dungeon, the view changes to "3d" where it get's really fun. Many hours to burn on this one!

Enduro Racer

Enduro Racer is an excellent port of the arcade classic. You are a motocross racer jumping over hills, and avoiding other riders & traffic. You get points for every other vehicle you pass which you can use to buy upgrades between levels.
*TIP* Press down on the control pad right before you launch off a jump for a boost!

Alien Syndrome

The goal of Alien Syndrome is to go throughout the levels saving your ship-mates from the alien invasion. On the walls there's weapon powerups to help slay the aliens. I've not gotten too far on this game, but it's loads of fun! Savestates are a must!

Bank Panic

Bank Panic is another excellent arcade port by Sega. You play a security guard who's supposed to protect the bank from the wild-west robbers. You move from door to door, trying to collect money from all 12 doors, but be quick! Robbers are there to hold up the bank! Quick reflexes are the key to high score in this classic!

Astro Warrior

This is a simple shooter, not a whole lot to it, but it's a lot of fun. I compare it to 1942 a little bit, the aim of the game is just shoot at anything that moves!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Recommended Gaming: MSX (Part 1)

The MSX 1 & 2 computers are largely unknown to western gamers, since Rlyeh put fMSX32 into the public domain it has allowed GP32 heads like myself to experience a slice of the action. There is a pretty huge list of roms and disks available, many titles which are ports of popular arcade machines and a lot of lesser known games. All of the games here come with my personal recommendation and work well on the GP32.

Aleste Gaiden




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A different setup to the usual Aleste games, here you control a shuriken throwing hero from overhead, Plenty of interesting powerups are there for the taking and the graphics and scrolling are unusually good looking for an MSX title, and only matched by Aleste 2. You will need to use the B button to jump across some large holes in the hazardous landscape and you will encounter an alarming amount of Statues of Liberty!! But it's a damn good little blaster, check it.

Aleste 2



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Blinding! The Aleste series of games just sorts me right out, and this is one of the finest games released on the MSX system in my opinion. Featuring a bizzarre weapons upgrade system where you find yourself chasing a shower of powerups, and it even gives you the choice of which special weapon to start with which you will change throughout the game. It's amazing how well the emulator handles a screen full of sprites with little flicker and keeps it all running at a decent speed. The graphics are really good looking and obligatory end of level bosses are nicely detailed, but nothing too spectacular. This one is worth firing up fMSX32 for alone.

King's Valley II




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I've spent a long time in this gorgeous and enchanting game, there is a certain atmosphere created by the claustrophobic rooms an haunting music that sticks with you after you've been playing it. It's a platform puzzle combo, and the objective is to collect all of the orange spheres to unlock the level exit and escape to the next room, and do the same thing again. To help you along the way are various weapons to kill those nasty mummies with, a pick and a drill. You will soon realise that the drill will carve away a wall that is next to you, and the pick will allow you to dig down through the floor, these are essential to the game and you are usually only provided with just enough to get by. Use the savestates to your advantage in this gold nugget of a puzzle game.

Castle Excellent





Exploring a castle has never been so much fun, every screen offers something new and there has been a lot of thought put into the castle design. It almost feels like an advanced version of Jet Set Willy, only the graphics are much better and it isn't quite as difficult. Collect different coloured keys to work your way through the game and pick up an assortment of bonus items while you're at it. Don't get put off by the clunky movement, it's worth sticking with.

Thexder

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First time I played this game I thought the author was off his nut, it's not at all your conventional platformer / shootemup / whatever! The controls take a little getting used to and the dynamics of the game are somewhat strange but once you have a few goes and work out the fundamentals, there is an engrossing game in there. You are Thexder, a robot who can turn into a spacecraft and must navigate through a complex tunnel system through each level. Bonkers but well worth a little effort.

SD Snatcher



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This is supposedly one of the top games on the MSX, and I can't quibble with that for the most part. SD stands for "Super Deform" which is the style of the cartoon characters with big heads, and is not a feature of the plot as I originally thought. It took me a while to find a version that worked in fMSX32, but there is a disk version out there that will do the trick. You will soon feel at home if you are familar with the Final Fantasy series the combat system should be second nature to you, but one of the drawbacks is the amount of repetetive battles you must win to progress early on to level up. The graphics are original and create a unique atmosphere which draw you into the game from the start, and the storyline is typical RPG fare. Definately worth investigating if you are a fan of the genre.

Monkey Academy



Yes yes, I know this game is for kids, but then aren't all games intended for a youth audience? It's all about arithmetic, work out the sum presented to you to find out which blind you must grab to get the answer right and complete the level. Loads of fun for all the family, what have you got to lose!

Eggbert in Eggciting Adventure



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Don't let the pants name fool you, this is a top quality puzzle game, and the nice Authors are even giving it away free! The levels are truly fiendish but perseverence will get you through them once you fathom out how to use the equipment at your disposal. Lives have no meaning here as you are blessed with infinite attempts on each level, which is only right in this day and age. Nice to see a recent game released for the MSX, especially one as good as this.

Monday, March 28, 2005

GameProbe of the Week: Road Rash 3

Road Rash 3 / Genesis / DrMD

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The Background:
The original Road Rash game was one of the landmark games for the Megadrive, it showed a new level of violence and originality which many Sega lovers warmed to instantly. In fact it was so original that they followed it up with two sequels to squeeze every last bit of originality out of it! But joking aside, it's a hell of a lot of fun to play on the GP32, and I much prefer it to the original.

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The Rough with the Smooth:
For some reason the graphics are very grainy and I initially put this down to an emulation issue, but you really don't notice it after a while when you're speeding through windy country lanes at breakneck speeds. I find myself getting a little too stuck into the violence sometimes and forgetting about racing, there's something pleasing about ramming the side of your bike into an opponent while you whack him with your baseball bat, it's far more fun that trying to overtake them.

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The Open Road:
As you progress through the levels earning cash it gets harder to win races, so drop into the garage and purchase yourself a new set of wheels, only watch out, some of these babys are too hot to handle, I just purchased myself one of the super bikes and it can get really hairy out there, oh and I just discovered the brakes! On the road there are various obstacles other that the usual psychotic bikers, watch out for wild animals in the road, as well as cars, ramps, and the odd police helicopter that wants to splat you.

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The Emulation:
To maximize pleasure I tend to turn off the sound and run at 150Mhz with auto frameskip, it is slightly choppy but I suspect it was similar on the actual hardware. My favourite button configuration is A to accellerate, B to brake, and R to attack, the select button isn't convenient enough to be effective when you're battling.

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The FinalProbe:
Road Rash 3 has been at the top of my gaming list lately, and I recommend you give it a shot, I'm sure there will be differences of opinion as to which version is the best, but for me, it cuts the mustard, and spreads it all over.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Recommended Gaming: Shoot 'em Ups (Part 2)

Thunderforce III / Genesis / DrMD 2.0

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Hailed (by myself) as one of the juiciest blasters to be emulated on the GP32, this game pumps, and has plenty of variation to keep you interested. A nice feature is the ability to start on any level you like, although I find it best starting from the beginning to show off your skills in the early levels so that you are lulled gently into the mayhem that is to come. Graphics are just awesome, although they are slicker if you disable sound to get a faster framerate without much overclocking - it's up to you how you like it! Various meaty weapons are at your disposal but watch out, if you lose a life you will also lose the weapon powerup, so choose wisely.
FinalProbe: Hard to fault, top quality blastfest!

Armalyte / C64 / GPFrodo

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The almighty Armalyte received a grand reception when it was released in 1988, and since then has spawned many clones and variants but none attain the high standard set by the original. For an 8bit game, the graphics are glorious with fancy shading and smooth animation all the way. Frodo emulates the experience faultlessly, the one drawback being no autofire - I only mention this because it was this very game that caused me to break my GP32 fire button through aggressive blasting! The levels are well balanced, each with stonking badboys to defeat at the end, and the weapon system is truly original and above all, effective.
FinalProbe: One hell of a blast, DO NOT miss out on it.

Dragon Spirit / NES / LittleJohn 0.4

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An unusual mix of RPG storyline and "1942" oriented shoot'em up, Dragon Spirit delivers the goods and has a few unexpected tricks up it's sleeve to boot. Flying a dragon you have 2 modes of fire, air to ground, and air to air, both controlled independantly. The powerups are very cool, some grow you another head and others multiply your firepower in different ways. But what struck me was the appearance of some original enemies that require a little more than a bullet up the arse to defeat, my favourite are the beasts that roam around the screen leaving trails you must shoot through and appear to "home-in" to you.
FinalProbe: A solid blaster for the NES.

Bolcataxian by JBB

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If you haven't already played this then I doubt you have attained "GP32X Hardcore" status yet either. Undeniably, this is the best homebrew shooter released to date, from the moment I first loaded it I was stunned at the quality and presentiation - clearly a lot of work has gone into the aesthetics. Powerups are implemented in a traditional Gradius style, dispatch a squadron of enemys and grab the tokens they leave behind and save them up for the addon of your choice. The only dampner in this well polished game is the fact that it is too easily completable, seasoned gamers will have no trouble storming through to the end. But have no fear, JBB has mentioned his intentions to update this great game with more levels, so watch this space.
FinalProbe: Get it, play it, complete it, but love it!

R-Type / TurboGrafix16 / GPEngine

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I really need not say anything about this classic, play the best version on GPEngine.
MiniProbe: Classic classicness!

Salamander / TurboGrafix16 / GPEngine

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Man, I just love the Gradius series, and this is one of the best in my opinion. I used to play it on my C64 and never managed to complete the first level! But just recently I found myself somewhat addicted to the TG16 version which plays like a dream, and was I in for a surprise when I finally reached stage two and saw my craft rotate vertically and start flying up the screen. It just oozes class, no other game gives me the feeling this one does as it immerses you in the alien surroundings and throws at you a pleasing array of obstacles. It may not be the best shooter on this system, and that's just because there are so many good ones, but Salamander will certainly bring you top quality entertainment.
FinalProbe: All Gradius games are good, this game is Excellent.

Lightforce / ZX Spectrum / fZX32



Now don't skip over this one because the graphics aren't up to the high standards of the others here, there's still plenty of fun to be had. I don't claim to be clued up in the world of the Speccy, in fact I only discovered this game recently, but I was quite pleased to find myself hammering away at it trying to progress. You will fly past some modular ships that you can destroy by taking out each section, but you must be quick to down the whole ship before it scrolls off the screen. Accompanying these are some varied alien attack waves and a few heavy meteor storms you must navigate. The action is frantic and if you can overlook the dated graphics and minimal sound, you will be coming back to try and better yourself again and again. Particularly good is the end of level screen which is displayed on a large ship.
FinalProbe: Proof that looks aren't everything.

Recommended Gaming: Shoot 'Em Ups (Part 1)

Thunderforce III / Genesis / DrMD 2.0

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Hailed (by myself) as one of the juiciest blasters to be emulated on the GP32, this game pumps, and has plenty of variation to keep you interested. A nice feature is the ability to start on any level you like, although I find it best starting from the beginning to show off your skills in the early levels so that you are lulled gently into the mayhem that is to come. Graphics are just awesome, although they are slicker if you disable sound to get a faster framerate without much overclocking - it's up to you how you like it! Various meaty weapons are at your disposal but watch out, if you lose a life you will also lose the weapon powerup, so choose wisely.
FinalProbe: Hard to fault, reeks of quality!

Armalyte / C64 / GPFrodo

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The almighty Armalyte received a grand reception when it was released in 1988, and since then has spawned many clones and variants but none attain the high standard set by the original. For an 8bit game, the graphics are glorious with fancy shading and smooth animation all the way. Frodo emulates the experience faultlessly, the one drawback being no autofire - I only mention this because it was this very game that caused me to break my GP32 fire button through aggressive blasting! The levels are well balanced, each with stonking badboys to defeat at the end, and the weapon system is truly original and above all, effective.
FinalProbe: One hell of a blast, DO NOT miss out on it.

Dragon Spirit / NES / LittleJohn 0.4

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An unusual mix of RPG storyline and "1942" oriented shoot'em up, Dragon Spirit delivers the goods and has a few unexpected tricks up it's sleeve to boot. Flying a dragon you have 2 modes of fire, air to ground, and air to air, both controlled independantly. The powerups are very cool, some grow you another head and others multiply your firepower in different ways. But what struck me was the appearance of some original enemies that require a little more than a bullet up the arse to defeat, my favourite are the beasts that roam around the screen leaving trails you must shoot through and appear to "home-in" to you.
FinalProbe: A solid blaster for the NES.

Bolcataxian by JBB

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If you haven't already played this then I doubt you have attained "GP32X Hardcore" status yet either. Undeniably, this is the best homebrew shooter released to date, from the moment I first loaded it I was stunned at the quality and presentiation - clearly a lot of work has gone into the aesthetics. Powerups are implemented in a traditional Gradius style, dispatch a squadron of enemys and grab the tokens they leave behind and save them up for the addon of your choice. The only dampner in this well polished game is the fact that it is too easily completable, seasoned gamers will have no trouble storming through to the end. But have no fear, JBB has mentioned his intentions to update this great game with more levels, so watch this space.
FinalProbe: Get it, play it, complete it, but love it!

R-Type / TurboGrafix16 / GPEngine

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I really need not say anything about this classic, play the best version on GPEngine.
MiniProbe: Classic classicness!

Salamander / TurboGrafix16 / GPEngine

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Man, I just love the Gradius series, and this is one of the best in my opinion. I used to play it on my C64 and never managed to complete the first level! But just recently I found myself somewhat addicted to the TG16 version which plays like a dream, and was I in for a surprise when I finally reached stage two and saw my craft rotate vertically and start flying up the screen. It just oozes class, no other game gives me the feeling this one does as it immerses you in the alien surroundings and throws at you a pleasing array of obstacles. It may not be the best shooter on this system, and that's just because there are so many good ones, but Salamander will certainly bring you top quality entertainment.
FinalProbe: All Gradius games are good, this game is Excellent.

Lightforce / ZX Spectrum / fZX32



Now don't skip over this one because the graphics aren't up to the high standards of the others here, there's still plenty of fun to be had. I don't claim to be clued up in the world of the Speccy, in fact I only discovered this game recently, but I was quite pleased to find myself hammering away at it trying to progress. You will fly past some modular ships that you can destroy by taking out each section, but you must be quick to down the whole ship before it scrolls off the screen. Accompanying these are some varied alien attack waves and a few heavy meteor storms you must navigate. The action is frantic and if you can overlook the dated graphics and minimal sound, you will be coming back to try and better yourself again and again. Particularly good is the end of level screen which is displayed on a large ship.
FinalProbe: Proof that looks aren't everything.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Best Version: Ghouls'n'Ghosts



The macabre is a theme used every now and again to add substance and storyline to games, one of the most well known of these is Ghosts'n'Goblins (Makaimura) and its sequel, Ghouls'n'Ghosts (Dai Makaimura). They are well loved platform games starring the Knight, Arthur, who must rescue his Damsel from the clutches of evil. Many perils await him on his quest, and his only defence is his armour and one of an assortment of weapons to rid his path of spooks. Both games originated as Capcom arcade machines and had a bit of a reputaion for taking lots of our money when we were younger. Since then, various conversions were created on the 8bit and 16bit platforms of the day which vary in quality, here's a brief round up of the GP32 compatible versions and if you're good I'll let you know which version I think you should play.

Master System:



Emulated on fSMS32

This didn't really hit the mark for me, the graphics look too scrappy and the feel isn't quite right. It's one of the easier versions I've played and some differences are the strange end of level where you must shoot the chest to enter a door and take on the demon, and odd that when dead you can restart there, did I tell you he's easy to defeat too?

FinalProbe: A below average translation that may interest fans of the Master System
Sound:3/5 Graphics:3/5 Gameplay:2/5 Emulation:4/5

C64:



Emulated on GPFrodo

Sprites have been shrunken in this version and the screen is given a "widescreen" style aspect ratio, these are by no means bad things as the game plays very well and the difficulty factor is still wedged in place. Holding this version back is the 8-bit graphics which are rather bland, but for the C64 it's a pretty nice piece of work. The real hit here is the amazing soundtrack, just listen to the title screen tune, it's brilliant!

FinalProbe: Good for 8bit nostalgists, but not the best version.
Sound:5/5 Graphics:3/5 Gameplay:4/5 Emulation:5/5

ZX Spectrum:



Emulated on fZX32

You have to love the spectrum for it's cute mono sprites, the game does posess certain appeal but it cannot possibly hold up against the 16bit systems out there. I did try to get into it but there's not enough substance, and it seems harder than the others. I was happy to hear a fine rendition of the GnG tune accompanying the title screen, but little noise with the action.

FinalProbe: Is that an angry mob of Spectrum fanatics steaming towards me?
Sound:3/5 Graphics: 1/5 Gameplay:2/5 Emulation:5/5

TurboGrafix16:



Not emulatable

Sadly the SGX version is not compatible with GPEngine which puts it out of the picture for the GP32. A real shame as it would give the Genesis a run for it's money.

AtariST:



Emulated on CaSTaway

Probably one of the more faithful original releases of it's day, along with the Amiga, as the 16bit systems gave the game a little more oomph in the graphics department. A faithful conversion that is well emulated in CaSTaway, although the scrolling isn't as smooth as it could be. Spooky theme tune is rendered nicely in the title screen.

FinalProbe: Very playable, definately worth checking out.
Sound:3/5 Graphics:4/5 Gameplay:5/5 Emulation 4/5

Genesis:



Emulated on DrMD

The Genesis really looks good, very true to the original game with its glorious graphics and tuned up sound, using DrMD you will be able to emulate the game almost flawlessly. It's tough, but then so is the original arcade, and if you are a wet blanket you have savestates at your disposal to help you progress through the game. The one slight niggle is that the music isn't quite as good as the C64 version but this is purely aesthetic and the sound is actually emulated very well.

FinalProbe: I'll give you a hint, this version is bloody good!
Sound:3/5 Graphics:4/5 Gameplay:5/5 Emulation 4/5

SNES:



Emulated on OpenSNES9X

Not strictly the same product as this is the "Super" version of the game and been given the complete treatment. Double jumping is the order of the day, which you need to get the hang of earlyon to get over some of the tall gravestones that burst out of the ground. It's nice to see something new happening for GnG but the original feel and fludity is lost here, not that this is a bad game by any means, but it's just not the same.

FinalProbe: Consider it a spinoff and you will have some fun, needs to be overclocked considerably to play with sound.
Sound:1/5 Graphics:5/5 Gameplay:4/5 Emulation:4/5



Conclusion:
As with many old school gamers, we look back fondly on the system we had when we were younger, which may divert you to playing the same version that you know and love. There are pros and cons with all versions, I personally can't get enough of the C64 soundtrack, but the gameplay is below the standards of others. If we had a release of MAME which ran it at a decent speed, this would probably win hands down. Since we don't have that, and the TurboGrafix16 version will not run in GPEngine, the only real successor to the ultimate GP32 version has to be on the Genesis. Using DrMD as the preferred emulator it runs like a charm, and even has good sounds playing along with the action. What are you waiting for, Go Play!

Homebrew Review: Pogy's Adventure in Bobble World

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Name: Pogy's Adventure in Bobble World
Version: ADIC 2004
Author: Kikuta

Pogy's Adventure in Bobble World is a homebrew clone of Taito's Puzzle Bobble, or Bust-a-Move, as it's known in other countries. The main object of the game is to match at least 3 of the same color bubbles by shooting them to make them disappear. You must clear away all the bubbles to move on. Pogy's Adventure in Bobble World has 2 modes, Normal mode which has a full 40 levels, and Block mode, which has only 5. Normal mode is a great implementation of the original Puzzle Bobble we all know and love. Block mode is the same game, but instead of the bubbles disappearing after 3 connect, you have to hit them with a special colored bubble that has a "metal bead" in it.

The graphics in this game are all hand drawn, and done very well. The music is a cheery tune that helps make the mood for the gameplay. Sound effects are appropriate and sound good as well. The control in Pogy's Adventure in Bobble World is very solid, the joypad changes the direction of your "bubble cannon," while the shoulder buttons help with more accurate aiming. The A Button fires, the Start Button pauses, and the select button brings up the credits screen.

If you like puzzle games at all, this is a must have title! The presentation is A+, from the splash screen, all the way to the credits. The readme states that this is an "Alpha Demo" and only accounts for 20% of what will be in the final project. The backgrounds, sound, and title screen are all temporary. They also go on to say, "You can be 100% sure that the game will be completely finished. Final release is estimated to be June 2005." I, for one, can't wait until a new version Pogy's Adventure in Bobble World is released, especially when you see what they can pump out for an "alpha demo!"

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Homebrew Review: Mythic Chess

Mythic Chess v0.7
by: Dalto & MattMagoo

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Mythic Chess is a high quality homebrew chess game written by Dalto with superb graphics done by MattMagoo. It includes a full-featured chess engine including pawn promotion, saving & loading, and undoing your last move. You can play against the computer with 10 levels of difficulty, against a friend, or watch the computer play itself.

The graphics in Mythic Chess are simply amazing. There are 2 different visual styles, the normal top-down view, or a battle chess-like perspective view. There are 6 different pieces & boards to choose from, or you can make & import your own! There are 3 "themed" sets to choose from in addition to a classic styled set and a hand drawn classic set. The 3 themed sets are Mario & South Park made by MattMagoo, and a hand drawn Metroid set made by Kuwanger. There is also a board made for each set of pieces.

One of the only faults in this game is the complete lack of sound. Some people may say that there doesn't need to be sound in a game of chess, but I disagree. Even a simple "click" would work when placing your piece, or a "swoosh" when a piece gets taken. A nice feature would be a mod music player, so people could play what they want with a potentially long game of chess. One thing that's been bugging me is that the readme states that you can undo your last move, but doesn't say how and I haven't been able to find it yet. Overall, though, this is one amazing piece of work that is, for the most part highly ignored. One day, I'd like to see a v1.0 of this come out, but until then, Mythic Chess v0.7 will be one of the best chess games available in any form on the GP32.

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