Saturday, 24 June 2017

Phoning It In

So, it turns out that Expander is actually a phone game that's been ported to PC. It's a game that was clearly made for touch screens, and the controls on PC are pretty horrific. That's not quite true. It's not that the controls are bad per se, they're just nowhere near as intuitive as moving your fingers on the screen. Luckily, I got it for Android in the deal at the same time. Let me step back and describe the game a bit. You essentially control the size of a bar - think a Pong paddle. Move your finger to the middle and the bar gets shorter, pull your finger to the outside and it gets longer. There is a direct and tactile relationship between the position of your finger and the size of the bar - something that is impossible to replicate with a PC keyboard. The only other input that you have is effectively a jump button, performed by tapping on the other side of the screen (with your other hand). The game is played on two planes - by default, you're on the lower plane, and when you press the button you move up to the higher plane until you release the button to drop back down again. It reminded me a bit of Zaxxon to begin with - the simple, clean block graphics showing the planes and an isometric viewpoint. There are little cubes at the sides of the course - red on the lower level, blue on the upper - that you need to collect by hitting them with the bar. The screen scrolls past at a constant speed, and the sides of the course move in and out meaning that you're constantly readjusting the width of your bar and moving up and down to avoid obstacles or collect cubes. At certain points, the view changes, so you might be directly behind the bar or higher above it. The screen scrolls past at quite a lick, so you need amazing twitch gaming skills to collect the cubes and avoid the walls. Skills that I just don't have. I find this game pretty impossible. I've only managed a number of seconds before dying and having to start the level again. My poor brain just doesn't work that quickly. So, I'm going to move on from Expander for now. It's still on my phone, So I might go back to it for a quick blast another day. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Unnatural Selection! Ooh, I remember this one from back in the day (no, it's got nothing to do with the recent Natural Selection games). You have to breed your own army of creatures to fight the evil ones. Might be interesting.

In other news, we're into Steam Summer Sale territory...did I succumb to the torrent of 'bargains'? Of course I did, and I was griping about how rubbish the discounts were as I clicked the buy button.

Thursday, 22 June 2017


Well, that was more fun than expected. A very early platform game from Apogee, with some good old cga graphics. It's a shareware game, like most Apogee games of the time were, with the first level pack released for free and then having to pay for the other three. Each pack consists of 20 levels, each a single screen. The story doesn't really matter, you're playing through a series of levels looking for missing astronauts, whom you find on the penultimate level of each pack. Games made using this engine were notorious for having terrible hit detection, with massive bounding boxes around sprites. This game's much better than Pharaoh's Tomb, but it's still far from perfect. It means you'll often see cheap deaths where you'd quite clearly leapt over a set of spikes, but the game counted it as a hit. Monuments of Mars gets around this by offering you infinite lives. The downside of that is that the game then simply becomes a grind of repeating the same thing until you finally get it right. The levels themselves only take a couple of minutes each to play through, unless you get stuck. I actually found that the first level pack contained much better designed levels than the larger, paid packs. They had cleverer puzzles and took more thought. Compared to the first one, the remaining three level packs were surprisingly easy, and it wasn't long until I was picking up the final batch of astronauts and touching... The Face! These games remind me a bit of the modern(ish) indie trend for 'skill'-based frequent-death platformers like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV. All in all, much more fun than I thought it would be, and kept me entertained from start to finish. What more can you ask for?

Next up on the randometer is...Peach the Lobster! Okay...never heard of that one. Apparently it's a platformer from the early '90s. Exciting!

And URGH!! Just...NO. That was terrible. An absolute turd of a game. It looks like it was made in a simple Game Creator style program, so it's more like a home brew. I guess that lets it off a bit, but even so, why the heck would you decide to release something as terrible as that? Have some pride, man! It's obviously supposed to be a bit like Sonic, but the controls are impossibly slippery, the movement is jankey, the jump is terrible, the weapon rarely hits anything, the level design is maddening, there's a crazy design decision where to jump higher you just continuously mash the three jump buttons (yes 3 buttons...I don't know why - at a guess, I'd say it was because they couldn't handle 2 keyboard inputs at once for jump and across, but actually that seems to work just fine. Similarly, I'd guess the mashing the jump buttons was a bug that became a 'feature'). The graphics are bad. It constantly crashes and glitches. There are no checkpoints (though there do seem to be infinite lives). Just all over one of the worst games I've ever played. I didn't make it off the first level, and I have absolutely no intention of trying to. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Expander! Never heard of it (I think something's telling me to go back to Fallout 4). I got it randomly in a humble bundle one day. 

Monday, 19 June 2017


Well, that was a surprise. I set out to dislike Ascendancy. It was a deep, 4X strategy game when I wanted something quick and arcadey. It was mission-less and freeform when I wanted direct and easy to complete. It was something I'd never heard of when I wanted something familiar. But Ascendancy got its hooks deep into me. It epitomises the one-more-go appeal of these kinds of games. A true hidden gem for me. It begins, as all these games do, with picking a race. Here, though, there aren't the usual 3 or 4 races. Here there are 21 completely unique races, each with a different special ability powerful enough for you to build a strategy around. I, of course, chose the scientists, as I always do. The equivalent of mages in a fantasy game. I'm in it for the long game, I want to see everything that it has to offer. And so I sit in my little corner of the galaxy, hoarding science, tearing through the tech tree. I send out a scout ship as ambassador, offering peace to everyone I meet, biding time for my research work. There's a decent tech tree here - mostly incremental upgrades to existing tech, but also a bunch of new random stuff that can turn the tide of a battle. With my lizards' scientific nous, I'm soon way ahead of the other races in the research race - I may not have an army to my name, but I know things. I keep going until I know everything. There's no science victory here, so at that point I switch all my planets from science to production and start cranking out the biggest warships science has to offer. Enormous leviathans packed with the latest nanotechnology. I break my non-aggression pact with my weakest neighbour - a race of space amoebas called the Mebes, and the long war of attrition begins. I have better weapons, he has better numbers. In the end, it comes down to who can rebuild their destroyed ships the quickest. I just have the edge, and slowly but surely start taking his planets. As each falls, he loses the resources needed to maintain his huge navy, and my victories eventually start to snowball. I thought I'd have to keep at it until he was completely wiped out, but after capturing an insignificant planet about halfway through his kingdom, a message flashes up on the screen congratulating me for winning the game! Apparently I only had to own two thirds of the planets in the universe, and I'm amazed that I did. And what did I do after I completed the game? Why, I carried on playing it, of course. I wasn't going to let those darned Mebes get away that easily! Is it a perfect game? No, of course not, travel between systems takes way too long, and there's no way to select multiple ships so navigation and battle with a large fleet is way more tedious than it should be. For all its flaws, though, and for its time, it's an excellent game that I'm really glad to have discovered. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Monuments of Mars! Never heard of it. Apparently, it's an early Apogee platform game. Another hidden gem?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017


I think I've gone about as far as I can go with Targhan. I'm not sure how you'd describe it - maybe an action-platformer? It's not quite either of those things. Whatever it is, it's definitely of its time. They don't make games quite like it, and for good reason. Although you can use the keyboard for Targhan, it's definitely meant for the joystick - luckily the gamepad works just as well. The controls consist of movement keys and a modifier (the fire button). Press a movement key to move in that direction, or press a key plus the modifier to swing your sword in that direction. The game starts off well enough (the story's in French, so I have no idea what I'm doing) - you move across the screen, jumping pits and climbing ropes until you encounter your first enemy: a lady with a bow and arrow. There's no block key, so you need to close the gap between you fast. I didn't manage to leap over a single arrow (not even sure you can), so I manfully ran through (while the arrow ran me through) and one hack with my mighty sword dispatched the enemy to the seven hells. All hail Targhan (am I Targhan?). Carrying on my journey, I encounter some kind of bat/bird creature. I can't slash upwards, so it's a case of timing my swing for the exact point in the creature's swoop where it's actually level with my blade. Not as easy as it sounds. The next challenge I face is s small step. Time your jump wrong, and you'll end up bashing yourself on the step and kneeling down dazed for a few seconds (much like real life). A few attempts later, and I'm away. The next foolish creature to stand in my way is a minotaur with an axe. I bravely charge forwards and -whack!- there goes my energy bar. Okay. A bit more cautiously now, wait for an opening, and... Aha! Take that, the mighty sword of Targhan. Oh, you did take that, and you kept hitting me with your axe. As far as I can see, the first enemy in the game is just there to lull you into a false sense of security. While that one only takes one hit to kill, every other enemy I've met takes a good 5-10 hits. That's not so good when they're hacking away at you at the same time. Rather unfairly, their hits are fast enough to get you into a stun-lock cycle where you can't actually move between hits, while your strikes only stun them momentarily, and they can still get in another hit before you can recover from your first. As far as I can tell, this makes the game impossible (or I'm just really rubbish at it). There are items that you can pick up along your way - shurikens that you can throw (and that don't appear to do a great deal of damage), and other things that... do something? I wasn't actually able to get any other item to work. So that's me and Targhan. I was about to dismiss it after a few minutes of using keys, but I switched to joypad and got quite a bit further. I was actually quite enjoying my exploration, but I was never able to actually do anything, and the story snippets that flashed up in French didn't give me any clues. Ah well, Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...F-29 Retaliator! Yay, a flight sim. One of my least favourite types of game. I'll take a look...might not spend too long on it. This one was quite heavily advertised back in the day. I really remember the box art...don't think I ever owned it, though.

Saved! The copy I have doesn't look complete and won't install at all. Next up on the randometer is...Ascendancy! It's a 4X game in space, apparently a bit like Masters of Orion. Could be fun.

Monday, 12 June 2017


I think I'm done with Constructor. There is no campaign mode as such, so the only real option is to try and complete one of the 'mission' modes, which are just things like 'earn $1,000,000'. I think the real fun would have been in multiplayer - singleplayer just doesn't have the depth of, say, Civ or one of the other city builders. So what is Constructor? it's a city building sim where you have a city map made up of plots of land that you can purchase from the council to build upon. You can then build housing (of various levels) or  different commerce or manufacturing buildings, such as lumber yards or cement yards that both increase your resources and the amount of different building options you have. You can also construct specialised buildings such as communes that allow you to send hippies off to disrupt your opponent's building plans, or pizza parlours that allow you to buy the favours of the local mafioso. Yes, it's that kind of game - serious on one hand and comedic on the other. That kind of interaction is what would make it pretty cool multiplayer - including actually fairly decent (in a low-poly '90s way) videos for each building/person. As I say, though, go under the comedy and it rapidly reveals itself to be a fairly complex business sim with a lot of numbers to juggle in order to progress into the upper echelons of the game. I'm rubbish at these types of games, and don't really enjoy them that much, but I surprised myself here and actually felt like I was doing okay in the time I played with it.I know that I only scratched the surface, but I'm ready to move on.

Next up on the randometer is...Targhan! Never heard of it. Looks like a side-scrolling barbarian beat-em-up from 1989. Golden Axe crossed with Conan. Might be fun.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017


Turns out I didn't have quite as far to go on Grim Fandango as I thought. I finished it off today and watched Manny and Meche steam away to the 9th underworld (wherever that may be). I ended up playing through the remastered version (it was on sale a few days after I started the original, so I grabbed it), and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. The graphics are slightly touched up, though it's nothing to really write home about, there's also an audio commentary, which was quite fun, but the biggest change by far was that they got rid of the tank controls and replaced them with a more normal point-and-click set up. That made the whole thing a lot easier to play through. Back to the game, though - even though I have played through the game before, there were a lot of parts I didn't remember, and some I remembered completely wrongly (for example, I was convinced that at the end there was a semi-action sequence where you have to shoot the bad guy, but it wasn't like that at all...I must have been thinking of a completely different game). The one thing that really struck me, though, was how hard it was. I was expecting to be able to breeze through the puzzles, but I found myself completely stumped a number of times. There are a lot of things that, by today's standards, seem criminally under-signposted or leaps of logic that seem impossible for your average brain - some of that may just be a result of the modern gamer mindset, but I thought parts were a little unfair. Let's face it, though, Grim Fandango isn't remembered for its puzzles, it's hailed as a classic because every other part of it is polished to perfection. The concept is just wonderful, and totally unique. The story draws you in and keeps you interested in the characters throughout their 4-year journey.The art is a thing of beauty. The voice overs are the best I've ever known in a game - flawless throughout. I can't think of a single voice that doesn't fit the character perfectly. The soundtrack captures the feel of the time and the place to a 'T'. I wouldn't say that there are particularly any stand out tracks that you'd whistle in the shower (well...perhaps one), but the soundscape adds so much to the ambience that it would be a completely different game without it. It's the work of a studio on top of their game, and it's absolutely criminal that it was also one of the last adventure games that studio produced. I'm pleased to say that I did my bit to try and keep them alive by purchasing the game when it first came out, but it just wasn't to be, and adventure games rapidly fell out of fashion as FPS games rose to the fore. I'll be very interested to play Broken Age one day and see how that turned out (it didn't review well, but it was never going to live up to the weight on its shoulders). It's still a fine game, though, and one that I recommend anyone - gamer and non-gamer alike - wander through the first few screens of, just to get a sense of the kinds of worlds of imagination that computer games can produce. The overall ambience (or sekaikan, to use a term I recently discovered!) is just stunning.

Next up on the randometer is...Constructor! Interesting. It's a city-building game with a dose of humour. Quite timely, as I think they're in the process of building a remake, but it's not really the kind of game I wanted to play right now. Ah well, a lot of people have fond memories of it, so I'll see how it goes.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Savagely bejeweled elephants

The kids have been on half term for a week (and still are today - thanks, inset days!) so no lunch times available for gaming. That means I haven't made as much headway as I'd hoped in Grim Fandango. I think I'm about half way through - just left Rubacava on my boat. Maybe I'll get through it this week if I have time. I'm purposefully avoiding Fallout 4 until I've got a few more games under my belt. That one will probably suck up the rest of the year! So what have I been doing? Not a great deal, but I have had a quick go on a few more PS3 games on weekend mornings that I'm going to call time on. First up is Elefunk, that I thought I'd signed off on years ago, but I can't find mention of it. It's a basic Bridge Constructor-style game, where you have to build a bridge between two sides of a chasm using whatever struts and supports the level provides you with. The odd title comes from the fact that when you've finished a level an elephant walks across it, and you pass the level if it makes it to the other side safely. I have to say that I am completely rubbish at this game (and all others like it). I obviously just don't have an engineering brain. But also think that maybe it's not all my fault, and that this game is incredibly hard. I can barely make it through the first level, and find the second level impossible. So, bah to Elefunk.

Next up was Bejeweled 2. Bejeweled is the godfather of match-3 games in the modern era, with Pop Cap taking the Puyo-Puyo formula and making it mainstream. This thing was massive back in the day. Bejeweled 2 doesn't bring much to the formula, adding a few different game modes and a couple of special gem types. Still, Max absolutely loved it, and it's easy to see how you could wile away the hours entranced by it. There are still a couple of game modes that I never unlocked, but I doubt they were *that* different to the standard formula. I also didn't get very far with the puzzle mode, which is as close as bejeweled gets to a story mode, but meh, it's Bejeweled, there isn't much else to see or say about it.

Finally, I played a little bit more of Savage Moon, and I think I'm going to call it a day for now. Savage Moon is a fun tower defence game that was one of the first 3D/HD affairs in the genre while most of the others were still on phones/in Flash. It's set in a sci-fi universe where you're protecting mining facilities on various moons against the rampaging alien hordes. It's a great example of the genre, but it doesn't really innovate much, and it is a little slow paced. I've got to the stage where each level takes about an hour to play, but there isn't really much variety between them. I feel like I've seen most of what it's got to offer and it hasn't grabbed me enough to play any further, so I think I'm going to call time on it. Too many other PS3 games to get through, but it's good to sign off a few more. Hopefully back to PC soon. Onwards!