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/

Friday, April 15, 2005

Help Wanted: Inquire Within

Hi! In case you haven't noticed lately, the site has been a bit dry. There are a few reasons for this, one of them is that my schoolwork has been kicked up a notch until the end of the month. The other reason is that frolik has to leave for a few months, and won't be around a computer. He'll be pretty busy until he leaves and I don't know if he'll get out any more articles before then. Frolik deserves all our thanks for his excellent contributions to the site. I wish you well, my friend.

So, currently, the predicament arises that we need another writer or two for GameProbe32. If anyone with decent writing skills would like to contribute 1 or 2 articles a week pertaining to anything GP32, like software, hardware, add-ons, tutorials, site reviews, etc. Then please respond to this topic over at GP32x.com:
http://www.gp32x.com/board/index.php?showtopic=18436

I'd hate to see this site wither away and die, we seem to have some (a few) regular visitors. Not that I'm going to stop the site, or anything, though. I plan on keeping this site moving alone, if needed. Although, help would be highly appreciated from the community right about now.

Thanx again to the GP32 community, you guys are the reason this site exists today.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Recommended Gaming: Atart ST (Part 1)

The following games work like a charm on Skeezix's impressive CaSTaway emulator, if you haven't already tried it out then you owe it to yourself to fire it up. Many of the games are more involved than your average console blasters, so you'll have to put your thinking cap on and using the custom keyboard mapping works like a dream, so get stuck in!

Civilization

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Probably the most famous strategy game of all time, the name sums up what is involved, but the intricacies are what make it a beautiful thing. Start by founding a village and then move on to colonize the continent, all the while developing new technologies and keeping a careful eye on trade and commerce. To begin with it is a very daunting task getting to grips with the controls, which there are plenty of, but if you persevere you will find one of the most rewarding gaming experiences of all time. Castaway emulates the game well, but you do have to wait sometimes while the computer takes its turn, and I recommend you immidiately turn off animations and auto saving to speed things up and prevent saving issues, use the built in savestates to record your game. I have created my own Castaway keyboard mappings that simplify the basic controls, if you would like to use them, drop me an email. For help and full instructions on playing the game, go here: http://www.civfanatics.com/civ1

Nebulus

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This is a platform game with a difference, all the usual running, jumping and shooting controls are in place but the action takes place around several towers sticking out of the sea. Instead of a two dimentional scroll, you remain in the centre of the screen while the tower rotates around you. The illusion is created to good effect and it really fits in with the game. Along the way you must avoid meanies and traps but you will not lose a life unless you fall into the water at the bottom of the tower or the time limit expires .Work your way up to the top of each tower to destroy it and go on to a journey in your submarine to reach the next stage. I don't think there's been a single game to follow up on the originality found here, definately a keeper.

Captive

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Now here's a game that makes me feel all nostalgic. Captive is a Dungeon Master style first person RPG in a sci-fi setting, and it's not the most straightfoward game ever, I remember spending hours puzzling over the first level alone! The story is that you have been convicted of some terrible crimes and locked up on a prison planet, but war breaks out and turns the galaxy upside down, leaving you alone in your cell. Within reach of your cell is a briefcase, which you find out is actually a state of the art remote droid control device, using this device you must guide the four droids across the universe to locate your prison planet and free yourself. Once you get to grips with the necessaries, there is a deeply dark adventure to be embarked on involving many planets, weapons, special enhancements, and robot parts! You can find the game manual and guide here: http://home.att.net/~captive/

Magic Pockets

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You have to love the Bitmap Brothers for the stylish character design, when Magic Pockets was realeased, it was one of those games that showed off what the 16bit systems could do in the graphics department and made all the 8bit posse green with envy. But we all know that there's more to a game than a cool sunglasses wearing dude in a pretty looking platform world, right? There's a few twists to stand it apart from the rest, but the game is so stylish and the journey through the levels is so varied that it all works extremely well. There's a few challenges along the way which offer a reasonable challenge, and you will find the experience well worth the effort.

Harlequin

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Another stylish platform game, this time featuring a manic looking jester in a darkly circus world. There's plenty of bonuses and various other objects to collect, but the original aspect here is the use of some outlandish style puzzles. I must admit that solving some of the riddles can be infuriating, and I've pulled a few clumps of hair out as a result, but you can't deny that there's a lot of effort been put in to create a platform game with a difference. Try it, you might like it.

No Second Prize

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One of the best racing games I've found on the ST, jump on your bike and race over 20 different circuits. The game engine consists of basic 3D polygons, but don't let the simplicity fool you, it runs very fluidly and has the feel of an arcade game of the 90's. The controls may take a little getting used to as it requires mouse control, but there is adjustable sensitivity and after a few laps you will pick it up with ease. There's not really any frills in the package, just a solid racing game, and one that deserves some of your attention.

Sundog - Frozen Legacy

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Sundog was a piece of gaming history, it combines chunks of various gaming styles to create one hell of an adventure. The game starts with you only having a bit of background storyline, and pretty much being plonked in a spaceship and having to work out everything for yourself. Some of your initial tasks are to refuel and repair the ship, which isn't too difficult, but working out what everything does is a large part of the enjoyment. You will then be able to travel to different planets for various tasks and investigate a job you have been contracted to supply goods to a distant colony. It's all very involving stuff and you are given full freedom to roam wherever and whenever. Just remember that this game can get you sucked in, so don't make any plans for the forseeable future!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

SceneProbe: GP32 Theatre

GP32 Theatre is an excellent site maintained by Sam Fisher with some major contributions from MarkusDragon. GP32 Theatre contains, you guessed it, videos pre-encoded for the GP32! And good ones, at that! All the movies you'll find here are public domain, so if you're looking for Spiderman 2 or Sin City, you're going to the wrong place. But if you're in the mood for movies like "Night of the Living Dead," "Master with Cracked Fingers," starring Jackie Chan, "Little Shop of Horrors," or some shorts from "Animatrix," this is your place! GP32 Theatre has many categories to choose from including movies, animation, CGI, and ads. This site comes highly recommended for a good movie fix, and according to Markus Dragon, many, many more movies are on the way, so deffinately, keep your eye on this site!

Visit here:
GP32 Theatre

Emulator Review: CaSTaway GP v16.1

CaSTaway GP is an Atari ST emulator for the GP32 written by the always helpful, Skeezix. CaSTaway is currently on version 16.1, as such, it's one of the most updated GP32 programs!

The Atari ST was a home computer in the early 1990's similar to the Amiga or Commadore 64. Being a computer, you'd think that the emulator would be harder to operate. But Skeezix has made it very easy to load and play most games in one or two steps, like many console emulators. I am almost ashamed to admit I've never heard of the Atari ST before I took the "GP32 plunge," but now I'm an avid fan. Thousands of games are available like, Civilization, Sim City, Populous, Star Wars Arcade, Dungeon Master, Pirates, and Leisure Suit Larry, just to name a few.

CaSTaway is a full-speed emulator, it has enough cpu speed settings to satisfy most people. It also has user-definable frameskip to help maximize your experience. Sound and Music is also included and sounds excellent most of the time. One of the downfalls to being a computer is that some games need to use the keyboard as well as the joystick, or sometimes even the mouse! Well, Skeezix has you covered there, CaSTaway GP supports the joystick, the mouse, and even a pop-up keyboard. If that's not enough, you can make your own controller config file on the computer and load it onto the GP32. For joystick emulation, the "up" direction has been mapped to the "a" button also, so many platform games are much easier to play.

Overall, CaSTaway is one of the best emulators for the GP32, unfortunately, it also seems to be one of the most underrated. I think it may be due to the Atari ST not being known throughout the entire world. Oh well, I have an entire 128MB card dedicated to CaSTaway GP. If it weren't for Skeezix, I would've never even heard of the Atari ST before. Thanx a ton, Skeezix! Now, off to play more Civilization!

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Saturday, April 02, 2005

GameProbe of the Week: Ren & Stimpy - Quest for the Shaven Yak

Ren & Stimpy - Quest for the Shaven Yak

Welcome to another installment of the GameProbe of the week! This week's game is Ren & Stimpy - Quest for the Shaven Yak for the Game Gear and Sega Master System. The game has been tested extensively on fSMS32, and it works very well!

Ren & Stimpy star in this excellent platformer. You choose between the two characters at the beginning of each level, and each one has different abilities. Ren is able to jump extra high, while Stimpy can bounce on the ground and break through certain areas. Many different weapons and powerups are around to pick up including powdered toast, the firedog hat, and the happy-happy joy-joy helmet.

The graphics in this game are top-notch, deffinately some of the nicest looking sprites to grace those systems. The characters are animated very well, they even do a little dance at the end of each level! The classic Ren & Stimpy theme song has been reproduced perfectly and is a joy to hear each time. The in-level music is very well, also. Sound effects aren't going to blow you away, but it certainly pushed the limits of the original hardware.

Overall, this is a great platformer that has been enjoyed by me many times over. I keep coming back to it's classic gameplay, it's great graphics, & it's awesome music! It's too bad that when they brought back the show, they tried too hard to make it disgusting. Oh, well, the "classics" are usually the best of everything, anyway! Right?