Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Setting things off... again.

Well, here it is, at long last, I finally have a dedicated PC to fit into my MAME Cabinet.

This little fella came pre-installed with a legit copy of Windows 7 Home Premium 32 Bit.
It has a dual core Pentium 3.20GHz processor, 4 gigs of RAM, and Terrabyte Sata 3 harddrive.

In short, it more than meets my needs for the cabinet.

Unfortunately it had previously been on loan to a woman in her 60's so it also came pre-installed with a fair amount amount of adware and enough browser toolbars to fill half the screen.

Even more unfortunately, in attempting to wire my mini amp from an internal source in the PC I managed to blow it up, the amp that is, not the PC, so I need to get a replacement.

If you take a look at the budget I set out in this post you will see that I have £14.50 left in the budget, with allocated £9.99 for wood filler.

Which leaves me £4.16p for a replacement amp...


Yes, I know that says £4.17 but what's a penny between friends?

So that's my budget spent. Any other calamities and I will have failed my target of building the whole thing for £50 (and a penny).

But lets not forget the main news here, that being the arrival of the PC.
Now that I the base unit it's great knowing that I can kick off 2014 by getting stuck into construction and assembly part of the project.

Happy new year everyone.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - O is for...

There must be something about the letter O.

There's not a lot of games that begin with the 15th letter of the alphabet but the quality over quantity rule has never been more apparent.
Even when you take away the well known classics Operations Wolf and Thunderbolt, Outrun and Outrunners - almost everything else was in contention for a place here.

I say 'almost' because Oriental Legend and its sequel are just average brawlers and Outzone is a commando style shooter that doesn't quite have the personality to stand out.

But everything else you will find listed below...

I'm going to kick off with Osman because this one is a bit special.

Created by the man who put together the original Strider, this game is seen by some as a 'pseudo-sequel' to the Capcom classic, although it has no official connection.

Osman, the titular protagonist, leaps, runs and slides around the game's levels in a way that more than a little echoes Strider Hiryu, but he has a fantastic trick up his sleeve that separates him from not only that character, but any other character before him.

Picking up power-ups allows Osman to create up to four shadows of himself. Each time you hit the attack button one of these clones is created and will stay in the spot where he first materialised for about 3 seconds and attack when you do.

Mastery of this deceptively complex mechanic allows you to attack the constant barrage of enemies, bosses and sub bosses from five places at once - and you'll need to - because this game is HARD.

The story, level design, characters, and aforementioned bosses are all entirely mental and rendered in an almost epileptic hail of colour and noise.

But through it all Osman is pure, hardcore, gameplay at it's very finest - You need to put this one near the very top of your 'must play' list.

If you were paying attention back in the Ks you might remember that I talked about discovering a genre I gave the moniker of Boss-Brawlers through researching and writing this blog. Oni - The Ninja Master, is another example of this sparsely populated area.

Unlike the better known Monster Maulers, Oni upgrades the usual brawler 2 button system to a fully rounded 2D fighting game move set.
Each of the three available fighters can string together combos and esecute specials and supers that follow the time honoured fireball and dragon punch template, these are tied to a super bar that can be charged by holding down a couple of buttons - should you get a break in the action long enough to do so.

When you put it altogether and start to understand the system this all makes for some frantic and spectacular battles.

When played in the marquee co-op mode the game's engine (and Mame's emulation of it) handles the massive - and brilliantly designed - boss enemies and two human controlled players on screen brilliantly. It is at it's best in this mode but it works just as well in 1 player, although sometimes frustratingly difficult - with only 5 levels to the game, this does add some welcome longevity.

There are very few of these blog entries that feature one game as good as Osman - but here's another one in the same post - Outfoxies is an absolute belter.

This is a 1-on-1 arena fighter played on a 2D plane with an insane amount of sprite scaling employed at times to keep both avatars on screen.

You pick one of seven available characters, each with their own bonkers biography.
For example there's Eve, the has-been film starlet. Now a thief to support her lavish lifestyle. She has the skill to break into Nox Fortress with the aid of her well-trained Lizard...

Or how about Danny and Demi the ex-Siamese twins, separated by a train crash...

The game's levels are no less ludicrous and if any anything have even more character.
Similarly to Powerstone 2, a game it pre-dates by over half a decade, the environments in Outfoxies evolve the more time you spend in them.
There's a plane that pitches and dives, rotating the level as it does so, and a boat that behaves similarly but occasionally submerges.
Another is a building filled with aquariums that rupture over time, filling the level with water... and piranhas... and sharks.

Weapons ranging from swords to rocket launchers are dropped around these labyrinthine, interactive levels and these are essential to achieving the games simple goal of the killing the other player before they kill you.

The graphics, sound, and music of Outfoxies have the feeling of been thrown together - but it works brilliantly - the game is loaded with manic atmosphere and boundless energy. It's one of those games you simply have to play to understand the full extent of it's appeal - I hope I've done enough here to make you give it a shot.

That's almost it but for a quick shout for Omega Fighter, a v-shmup that doesn't quite do enough for a full write-up, but I love it's concept of the whole game being an assault on a single giant mothership. Check it out if you get a chance.

#Arcade #Mame #Hidden Gems

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - N is for...

Well, I have to admit, this isn't the most auspicious start to the second half of the Alphabet.

Don't get me wrong, I've found 3 games that are worth a look - but that's about it - none of them are going to rock your world in the way others might, and in the way that at least one entry in the forthcoming 'O' section is likely too.

So forgive me if this is a tad brief, but believe me when I say that all these games are worth at least a cursory glance.

First up, the obligatory shmup, Nebulas Ray.

When you first load up Namco's 1994 V-shmup into MAME you get a warning that the sound emulation isn't 100% - I only mention this because the other common warning, that the video emulation isn't 100%, is rather conspicuous by it's absence.

The original arcade version of Nebulas Ray features a couple of 3D effects that don't make it to the MAME version, but even without them it's a great looking game, full of enormous mother ships, fighters coming at you from all directions, and a full on action soundtrack complete with a barrage of radio chatter that makes Fox McCloud and his mates sound positively taciturn by comparison.

The constant broken English dialogue might grate on some, but to me it helps to turn this rather straightforward shooter into something a little more, and it does this by providing a great arcade atmosphere, something you'll never quite get from screenshots and videos.

Similarly, Night Slashers' allure comes more from it's concept than it's execution.

The 1993 brawler from those borderline-geniuses at Data East uses videogames' marketings oldest ally, gory violence, as it's hook.

Fortunately, it builds on its Zombie apocalypse premise with versatile combat mechanics and a good number of beautifully drawn undead on screen at any given time.

There are fantastic bosses two. Horror staples such as Frankenstein's Monster, The Grim Reaper, and Dracula all make appearances and, while offering a considerable challenge, never feel cheap.

Make sure you get the Japanese version if you like your blood red rather than green!

Style over substance would appear to be the theme of the day as I round things out with Numan Athletics.

Best experienced with 3 friends and a case of beer, Numan Athletics is a superhuman take on the International Track and Field style of game.

There are 8 events in total, some of which are familiar in concept, if not name.
Turbo Dash is a straight 100m style sprint, Missle Toss is Javelin, Niagra Jumps is the Triple Jump - although what Niagara Falls is doing in South Africa is anyone's guess.

However there are several others that forgo the button bashing for more skill based mini games.
Numan Sniper, for example, is all about reflexes, Tower Jumper dares you to leave your pounce as late as possible for the best available elevation as you wall-jump between Paris apartment blocks.

There is no hiding the fact that this is all simply a fresh coat of paint on an age old concept.

But it is a pretty great coat of paint; the four available avatars are characterful and nicely designed, the music and sound support the concept wonderfully and the backgrounds are usually great fun too.

One final note, Numan has a sequel, Mach Breakers, which is well worth a look if you enjoy the vanilla version.

#Arcade #Mame #Retrogaming

Monday, 2 December 2013

Mame Hidden Gems A-M Round-up

I had expected my first post of December to be an update on my delayed challenge/project to build a Bartop Style MAME cabinet for £50 or less. Said update would have been fuelled by the delivery of a PC from my brother who, on Saturday, brought his family down to the coast to visit.

Unfortunately forgetfulness is a family trait - so I still don't have a dedicated PC for the cabinet.

The good news is that his company ship stuff around the country fairly regularly and he's agreed to send it down... although I won't be holding my breath!

So, rather than move straight onto N I've decided to mark halfway with a round up of what I've highlighted so far... Maybe by the time I've got to Z I'll actually have something to play these games on!

I kicked things off in the numbers with '99 The Last War - a fun Space Invaders style game with neat sprite scaling, next was 64th Street - a 30's USA set brawler, and finally there was 1-on-1 Government - a very cool basketball game with more than dash of fighting game inspiration.

I tested the limits of the 'Hidden Gem' moniker with Alien vs Predator in the As, but made up for that stretch with the Chase H.Q.-esque A.B.Cop and gorgeous mech-brawler Armored Warriors.

B brought to my attention the incredible Boogie Wings, a game that I now consider one of the best I've ever played. I wrote so much about it that I only had enough room left for a quick mention of simple-but-fun twin stick shooter Bullet.

Cotton 2, the Japan only horizontal cute-em-up started me off in C, followed by the Saturday matinee style Cliffhanger: Edward Randy. Last up was Change Air Blade, the entirely brilliant mash-up of fighting games and vertical shooters.

D began with eye candy v-shmup Dragon Blaze and continued on to mad sprite scaling, multi-directional fighter Dark Edge. Drift Out '94, the isometric/top down racer, was last up although I name dropped the two Dungeons and Dragons games which would have been featured had I been writing the last year, before they were re-released through XBLA/PSN.

A similar fate befell Esp Ra. De, EspGaluda, Eco Fighters, and Exzisus - all of which fell foul of my controls on what can be considered a hidden gem by being featured in various re-release collections. 
The honours for E instead went to '84 vertical shooter Equites, OTT first person mech shooter Enforce, and slightly mental but entirely brilliant v-shmup Explosive Breaker.

The audio visual barrage of contra-esque Finest Hour was the first to get a mention in the F bracket, Cave made their first appearance with Disco themed v-shmup Fever S.O.S, and lastly the simple but crazy addictive Fast Lane from Konami proved that classic concepts can still be improved upon.

There were so many great hidden gems starting with G that I had to split them into 4 categories. 
There should have been a fifth called 'Games the author has never heard of but which have achieved classic status to everyone else in the world" after I originally included Prehistoric Isle under its Japanese name!
The first actual bracket was (predictably) v-shumps and included the beautiful G-Stream G2020 along with Guardian Storm and Gunnail.

The second batch was 'Other Shooters' and contained into-the-screen sprite scaler Galactic Storm, Ikari Warriors style Gundhara, and multi-weapon-orb-spaceship side-scroller Gigandes.
Penultimately I grouped together 4 brawlers and started with the bewildering attention to detail of Guardians, the satisfying combos of Gaia Crusaders, and the platform infused action adventurer Ganryu. I rounded things off with Gun Master, which I still can't find a pithier way to describe than 'Gunstar Heroes meets Smash Brothers' - even though it pains me to do so.
The final group was the unusual crossover genre that I called Pinball Hybrids. It included Pinball-X-Breakout Gunbird spin off Gunbarrich, Pinball-X-Ikari Warriors stylings from Gunball, and Pinball-X-Vshmup shenanigans from Grand Cross.

When I finally moved on to H I still struggled to choose just three games and gave brief shouts to the original Hoops from Data East, Moon Patrol style shooter Horizon, and does-everything-well-but-nothing-spectacularly v-shmup Hotdog Storm
My attention then turned to transforming mech H-schmup Hyper Duel, future sports done right in Heavy Smash, and shameless nostalgia choice Hot Chase.

Such was the dirth of quality on offer that I had to bundle the choices for I & J into one post. 
Luckily the choices included I, Robot which, coming from 1983, seems decades ahead of it's time.
For I there was also the incredibly beautiful submarine h-shmup In The Hunt
J only really offered pseudo 3D space-invaders style shooter Juno First - although I still think everyone should play Journey; which is genuinely the game of the band.

Two thirds of the K games were shmups, vertical shooter and racing hybrid Kingdom Grand Prix was kept company by parallax heavy H-shmup Koutetso Yousai Strahl. I also cheekily included boss-brawler Monster Maulers under it's Japanese name Kyukyoku Sentai Dadandarn.

L was a bit of struggle but I finally plumped tap-the-fire-button-like-a-crazy-person v-shmup Lethal Thunder, Afterburner style shooter Lock On, and top down fighter/racer Lethal Crash Race.

And then, just a couple of days ago I got to M and finally got to wax lyrical about the exquisite Mille Miglia before going on to recommend the excellent multi-directional heli-shooter Metal Hawk and wonderfully designed Sunset Riders style brawler Mystic Warriors.

All of which brings me bang up to date.

I hope those of you who have been reading these have had a chance to give some of these games a look, and if so I'd love to know what you thought of them - even if those thoughts are about how completely wrong I am!

I'll be back soon with N and, hopefully, a budget Mame cabinet update!

#MAME #Arcade #Retrogaming

Friday, 29 November 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - M is for...

There are times when I find this blog quite difficult to write, times when the words just don't want to come.
There are times (I'm looking at you 'L') when I find it hard to find anything to say about the games that I'm trying to recommend... which is weird, as that's kind of the whole point, but happily that is far from the case today.

A game starting with M, Mille Miglia - The Great 1000 Miles Rally, is what that inspired me to build a Mame cabinet and that in turn inspired me to start this blog.
So here it is, slap bang in the middle of the alphabet, marking the halfway point with ultimate style.

Mille Miglia is special in quite an evasive way; it's difficult to pin down exactly why it feels like one of the best games I've played, it's exactly that - a feeling - and those are always such a bugger to quantify!

Obviously the graphics are beautiful, some of the finest sprite renditions of classic sports cars you'll ever see.
There are ten to choose from ranging across several makes and models; from a D-Type Jag to a huge Merc SSKL and even the beautiful Ferrari 250 GTO. All the cars appear to official licensing too.

Then there's the sound. Mille Miglia has no in game music but each of cars has a unique engine note that is punctured by the squeal of tyre as you throw your vehicle full bloodedly into hairpin bends and unforgiving chicanes.

The tracks are special too - not visually, you view the action from kind of isometric top-down view and, some neat detailing aside, most of the 13 courses look fairly similar as they blur by in the 60 seconds you have to complete each of them.

The quality comes from the track layouts which are always fun and always challenging.
The game's HUD constantly gives you an indication of the next corner to come, and this always flashes up a set time before a corner begins. Because of this, when you get in the zone, you'll be starting your turn before the corner has even appeared on the screen.

When it comes down to it though, the controls are probably what makes Mille Miglia so special.
All the cars handle identically, I suspect this is because it's impossible to have ten different variations on perfection.
You hurl your car into every corner at top speed, tail sliding, tires squealing, emerging through the apex with a huge grin as the game auto-centres in the direction of travel, just in time to be flung in another screeching arc before you can catch breath - Ridge Racer at it's finest never made you feel like this much of a driving god.

Although different in every quantifiable way, Metal Hawk does share some of these less measurable qualities.

In Metal Hawk you control a Helicopter from an overhead view. You can move forwards, backwards, left and right to track down your targets.
The game is given an extra dimension, both figuratively and literally by also having altitude control.
Each level has a time limit and set targets that must be destroyed in this time - they are highlighted with a yellow reticule when on screen and when they're not you are given an arrow to show the nearest targets direction and an indication of whether you need to be higher or lower also flashed on screen.

Unlike some of these Hidden Gems the production standards are pretty damn impressive too - I my have mentioned previously that I'm a huge fan of sprite scaling, I don't know what it is about the effect that gives me so much pleasure, but it always does. In this game it is incredibly smooth and both your helicopter and all the enemies are very neatly realised.

I guarantee that after you've been playing Metal Hawk for a while you start to feel like a bit of a chopper ninja; climbing and diving between targets and picking them before quickly moving to the next, what higher recommendation could there be than that?

Finally, and with another change of genre, we come to Mystic Warriors.

I could simply suggest that if you've played and enjoyed Sunset Riders then you need to play Mystic Warriors. And, now that I have, there may be no-one left reading this... but, assuming you've resisted, I'll add this - Mystic Warriors, made by the same team that put together Konami's western classic, is a better game.

The general controls are pretty similar to those of the better known game, you move left to right flinging shruikens  instead of bullets and the firing up and into the background effect is also retained here. There are melee attacks and magic as a bonus, and a very handy sliding move too.

It's the inventiveness of the levels that sets Mystic Warriors apart from pretty much every other game of it's ilk.
There's a great nod to Sunset Riders near the end of the first level but to take level two as a better example (I wouldn't want to spoil the discovery of anything later in the game) you spend the first half of the level making your way up a snow covered mountain.
You make use of a ski lift at one point and engage in a game of grenade hot potato at another.
Then, having reached the summit, you spend the second half of the level skiing down the other side whilst fighting off waves of goons with your projectile weapon.
It's all very Roger Moore era James Bond only with a ninja instead of a middle aged misogynist - and we all know that the skiing stunts were the best parts of those movies.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - L is for...

Well, it's been a while, things have happened, not particularly exciting things, and nothing pertaining to this blog... but things nonetheless.

So anyway lets get straight back into it, picking up where we left off with, you guessed it, a vertical shooter.

As with every shooter I've listed along the way Lethal Thunder offers something a little different.

And, as with most shooters I've listed along the way, that something is a power up system.
Yeah, truth be told Lethal Thunder isn't much to look at, and there's not masses of variety to the enemies or environments.

But, although it does feature standard power-ups, these only serve to affect the type of fire, the actual strength of the shot is related to how long you've been tapping the fire button.

Along the right edge of the screen there's a power gauge, it fills as you smack away at the fire button as fast as you can.

But this doesn't just relate to the power of your ammo.
Behind your ship is an orb that houses your special weapon. As the power builds so the orb spins faster a faster and it's strength grows too.
I'd love to tell you what happens when you fill the power bar to the top but I'm afraid I just don't know as I have not yet achieved this feat.
If anyone reading this knows then please share. But know that I never want to play you at Track and Field!

Next up is the sprite scaling shooter Lock On.

It's fast, it's frantic, and I honestly don't have much more to say about it.
I have a soft spot for sprite scalers, I think because I first started frequenting arcades at a time when Space Harrier and Afterburner were at the height of their popularity. The sights and sounds of those nailed-on classics will stay with me forever.

Lock On may not have the character and polish of Yu Suzuki's classic but it definitely falls squarely into the Afterburner category - some may even be uncharitable enough to call it a clone.
But that really isn't important.
What's important  is that Lock On is a hell of a lot of fun.
The 'Lock On' mechanic from which it takes it's name is a challenge to use well taking time and precision to line up before letting rip with a missile.

Moreover, everything else happens at such a riotous speed that it's pretty much impossible not to enjoy yourself.

Lastly we have Lethal Crash Race, another of the top down racers of which I am very fond.

This one differs slightly from 1000 Miglia and the like in two ways.
Firstly, you are always travelling up the screen or at a 45 degree angle.
Secondly, there's a few light elements of fighting game elements thrown in to liven things up.

As with fighting games each race is one-on-one and each participant has a stamina meter depletes as you take damage.
Unusually you carry any damage gathered into the next race - survival mode style.

Another similarity is the wealth of characters and cars, 10 in total, each with strengths and weaknesses.
They are all clearly based on famous sports cars, the characterful sprites ensure that each is instantly recognisable despite a total lack of licenses.

Of course, if you didn't recognise them there's always the deliberately, and hilariously, misspelt names to help you out...
Ever fancied a drive in a Lamborjini Daiblo? How about a Dadge Vipre or a Pharari 521TR?
They're all here, and more, in Lethal Crash Race. How could you resist?

Just one near miss for L, Last Resort is a NeoGeo H-shmup that is polished and fun but far too 'R-Type' for it's own good.

Finally, anyone following my budget Mame Cabinet project will be pleased to know that I should be getting the PC this weekend so an update is imminent (Spoilers: I blew up another monitor).

#Mame #Arcade #Hidden Gems

Friday, 8 November 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - K is for...

Bloody shooters, I'm sick to death of them...

Well, sort of... Obviously I'm not that sick of them because I keep highlighting the damn things here.
It just seems to be the case that when all else fails you're still likely to find a relatively obscure gem in the Horizontal or Vertical shooter categories.

That's certainly the case with the letter K, two of of today's three picks fall into these genres. Each of them with a little extra something to make them stand out.

Breaking with tradition I'm going to go with the best one first:

Kingdom Grand Prix has the potential to be the best known of these game too. It's the middle part of a three game series from the very well respected Raizing Studios.

I love a hybrid game. They're often akin to a developer taking two completely mismatched jigsaw pieces and pounding them with his fist until they somehow mash together. But that usually gives them a special kind of charm in my eyes.

KGP is a hardcore V.shmup mixed with a racing game - it really shouldn't work - but it really does.
The core is very much v.shmup. There are masses of colourful enemies spewing masses of colourful bullets on every level and a boss battle at the conclusion of each.

Unusually for a shmup there's a nice array of characters and craft to choose from, 8 in total, and you can use them to play each level for speed or for points - a combination of the two works, but doesn't seem right somehow. It may be the best way in truth as being first to the finish won't get you many points but shooting everything that moves won't win you the race.

Each of the 7 characters that you don't choose will line up along side you for the race, the do shoot the

enemies but don't expect them to stick around and help you out. You can't shoot them and bumping into them has no real effect - which is also true of most of the enemies in the game - but you can slow your rivals down by hitting them with you special bomb.

Otherwise the racing is fairly simplistic. If your craft is in the top half of the screen you speed up - in the bottom you'll slow down. You can also get an extra boost by holding down the fire button - although obviously this mean you won't be shooting anyone.

As far as I'm aware this excellent and very difficult game is in a genre of one, that on it's own makes it worth a play. But the fact that the unique premise is attached to such excellent gameplay makes it very easy to recommend.

Providing a breaking from the shooting action is Kyukyoku Sentai Dadandarn - known in the west as Monster Maulers.

Yes it's a bit of a cheat to use the Japanese name to squeeze this into the K bracket, but there wasn't a lot to choose from. Hopefully I don't regret it when it comes to list out the Ms.

This is another hybrid of sorts - the first but not the last game you'll see that combines elements of fighting games with those of the boss battle in a brawler.

You choose one of three characters, as per most brawlers, and choose one of twelve locations to do battle against the huge boss character that resides there. The option is there for 2 players simultaneously and if you plough into it with a friend you get access to an extra tag-team move.

The mechanics fall somewhere between the two genres too.
There are a greater array of moves than you'll find in the vast majority of beat-em-ups but it's still pretty restrictive when compared to your average fighter.

The whole thing is capped off with the kind of great Saturday Morning Cartoon vibe that you just don't see enough in videogames anymore.

Back to shooters, the horizontal variety this time, with Koutetso Yousai Strahl.

Yes, that's another Japanese name - but no, I'm not cheating again.

Koutetso Yousai Strahl translates as 'Steel Fortress Strahl' but as far as I can tell the game was never released in the west.

That's a bit of shame really as it's a great H.Shmup that, environmentally at least, put me immediately in mind of the recent Sine Mora from Digital Reality & Grasshopper.

I really am running out of ways to introduce shooters now, but you know the drill: You fly left to right, you shoot bad guys, at the end there's an bigger bad guy - so lets highlight by exception shall we:

Koutetso Yousai Strahl offer you a choice of weapons at the start of each level. You choose one of three main, chargeable weapons, one of three direct-able sub weapons, and one of three bomb types.
The direct-able fire on the sub weapon is neat too. A turret on either side of your ship rotate from front to back in five stages and is activated by pressing the bomb button whilst holding the main fire trigger.

The levels are nicely designed so that any configuration will work, but if you know what to expect you can choose your configuration to optimise your chances.

Graphics are a high standard and bosses are big and impressive as you would expect but I think it's the variation in level design that caught my attention first with the game though.
Each is beautifully drawn and most genuinely add to the experience. Moreover, the level shown in the above screenshot features six, count 'em, SIX levels of parallax scrolling.

#Gaming #Retrogaming #Mame #Arcade

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - I & J are for...

They say the universe needs balance. Well so, it seems, do videogames.

After stretching G out over 4 entries due to a surfeit of quality I've had to combine I & J into one as here the opposite is true.

Straight into it with I, Robot from 1983, the second game in as many posts that I'd played before this Mame project started.

I didn't play this in '83, I don't think I played anything other than Turbo Esprit that year. No, I first played I, Robot a couple of years back after reading about it in Tony Mott's excellent book: 1001 Videogames You Must Play Before You Die.

In case you're wondering, no, there is no connection to Asimov.
Rather than the 3 principles of robotics your protagonist in the game has only one - Don't jump when the big Sauron/Sentinel-esque eye is watching.

The game involves you re-colouring the blocks of 3D floating structures by riding over hem. Re-colour all the red parts blue and you will be able to attack 'The Eye' and win the level.
'The Eye' sits at the top of the screen  and is there to stop you jumping. Which is dashed inconvenient as the levels are fiendishly designed so that jumping is essential  to complete them - so you must time your jumps to take place when The Eye isn't looking.
There are brief shooty interludes in between stages but these are just mild diversions from the core game and do little more than make you think that the designers of SNES FX Chip game Vortex may have been I, Robot fans.

Despite being from the days when I was playing my games on a knocked off zx48 I, Robot presents itself with gloriously colourful solid polygons. It's something of a wonder in this regard and even has an 'un game' build in as an alternative to the main quest. In this 'doodle pad' you can move any of the ingame shapes around and they leave a trail of visual echoes behind them.
It's an effect that wouldn't even pass for a screen saver these days but I'm sure it was something of a talking point 30 years ago. 30 years... Christ, I'm old.

Despite these interjections and elements of platforming, at heart the game if an action puzzler, and its mix of impressive visuals and simple, addictive gameplay mean that it's one of the better examples of the genre you'll find on the format.

What I'm about to say may make you think I've lost my grip, but In The Hunt just might be the best looking videogame ever made.

You're probably looking at that picture and thinking I've lost my marbles - but static images really don't do this astonishingly beautiful game any justice.
Everything from the tiny missiles to the enormous bosses is drawn and animated in mind boggling detail and style.

You should recognise In The Hunt pretty quickly as being from the same team that brought you the Metal Slug games, it's dripping in the attention to detail that helped that series gain wide appeal.
The gameplay is essentially that of a H-shmup with the added ability of being able to stop. You have forward firing torpedo's on one button, missiles that fire upwards and depths charges downwards simultaneously on the other.

The missiles are great for attacking the underside of boats while submerged, but bob to the surface so that the con tower breaks the waves and you can use them to attack helicopters and planes that swoop around or fire at the massive boss ships from above.

Graphics do not make a game, but in the case of In The Hunt they bring so much detail, character, and artistry to proceedings that they become a very important part of the experience.
If the game wasn't so pretty I'd still be asking you to play it, the above and below mechanic and congested enemy patterns offer gameplay rich and different enough to gin a recommendation on that alone.
But it is so, so, pretty that I'm afraid I have to insist you play it.

You may recall that the thing that got me started compiling all these games together was that every message board post or YouTube video that proclaimed to be highlighting Hidden Gems seemed to be endlessly retreading the same games.
Chief among those those games was Juno First - So I guess I'm now part of the problem!

A harsh critic would describe Juno First as a Galaxians clone, and there's certainly some of that DNA in here.
But Juno First uses a distinct style and more immediate controls to set itself apart from its genre forefathers.
The game has a frantic atmosphere that is derived in part from the neon dot-matrix style graphics in which lurid pin pricks of colour pulsate against a stark black background.
This background is in fact split into lanes but they serve no purpose other to give the illusion of movement - which in Juno First is possible in 8 directions - there is a horizon line at the top of the screen, any enemies you fly past without shooting reappear above this line and aren't targetable until you press onwards to bring them into the game zone.

Another neat addition to the genre is the Warp move - tapping the B button instantly disintegrates your ship before recompiling it a moment after. This can be used to great effect to avoid enemies or their fire.

I know these older games with the Space Invaders heritage can be hard to get excited about, but that really isn't the case with Juno First. I, and many others before me, heartily recommend you find that out for yourself.

Strangely, considering the situation, there are a few near misses among the Is and Js.

The prime candidate among them was JoJo's Bizarre Adventure as highlighted by a commenter on Google+. I probably could have got away with including this excellent fighter of it just has the Dreamcast port, but it was recently re-released on XBLA/PSN which, I'm afraid, rules it out.
There's also Intrepid. This is a very old school effort in which you ride elevators to open doors in a side plan of a building and then search inside from a top down view, all whilst avoiding the enemies.
It's a tad too simplistic for a full scale recommendation but it's worth a quick play if you like the real classic age stuff.
Finally there's Journey, which has nothing to do with ThatGameCompany's PS3 arthouse tour de force and everything to do with the band of 'Don't Stop Believing' infamy. I note it here because it has to be seen to be believed.

#Gaming #Retrogaming #Mame #Arcade #Hidden Gems

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - H is for...

After the glut of quality in G you'd think I'd be glad of the limited unknown qualities of H...
But rather than be overjoyed at only having six games to choose from I'm finding it very hard to choose which to leave out!

So I'll start with Hyper Duel, because it's a stone cold banker for a spot.

Yup, we're back in H.Shmup territory - my preferred orientation for shooters in truth.
The H variety tends to be more about shooting bad guys than avoiding their (admittedly very pretty) bullet patterns.

Hyper Duel is kind enough to offer you two different ways to shoot said bad guys, each of them with distinct pros and cons, and each selected in a way so blinding simple you'll wonder why it isn't in every game!

Well, maybe not every game, I can't see it working in Tetris...

Anyway, basically you have two fire buttons. Hold the first and your space ship (one of three you can choose from) will fire continuously.
Hold the second and your space ship quickly and smoothly transforms into a flying mech which then also fires continuously.

It's a simple kind of genius that gives the game a real fluidity. Switching between the forms works so well that after a while you'll speeding through narrow gaps with the ship one second and instantly blasting at bigger enemies with the more powerful mech the next.

The game has a decent array of power-up and super bombs that act differently depending on the form at any given time and on top of that you can pick up little helpers that join the fray alongside you.
Intermittently a collectable appears that alternates between T and G. Grab it when it's G and another spaceship joins in, when it's collected showing T it's another mech that shows up.
They're no mugs either, taking down bosses is noticeably easier when these comrades fight with you.

All of the above is brought to screen with real flair - The enemies come in all shapes and sizes and are all beautifully drawn. There's cool use of sprite scaling and other effects too, as well as a high level of detail that includes - a personal favourite - showers of shell casings falling from enemy guns.
All in all it's as good as just about any H.shmup out there and it would be a crime to ignore it if you have any love for the genre,

Future Sports games are a difficult beast to get right - Fortunately Heavy Smash is one that get's it spot on.

It's a fairly simple effort really.
Select your nation (Why is England always depicted by a British flag?) either through patriotism, careful analysis of their strengths and weakness, or by choosing Australia because it's the only team with girls - Then it's straight to the action in the arena of a super-charged handball court.

With the ball you have jump, shoot, and pass buttons that can be combined for extra moves.
Lose the ball and the latter two have their actions swapped for long and short range tackle respectively - the animation for these varies depending on your choice of country.

The game has a nice balance to it that is tied, when you're playing the surprisingly effective AI, to a well considered difficulty curve.
There's a really satisfying mechanic for 'centring' that adds a huge amount of show boating fun for the more experienced player. This alone moves Heavy Smash towards the sweet spot of easy to play, hard to master that all games should aim for, and that alone should earn it a chunk of your time.

Aside from the dubious decision to include Alien vs Predator way back in the A's, Hot Chase is the first game I've listed in this blog that I'd played before I started this project.

Back when I used to bunk off Friday afternoons and go to one of the three arcades in the town where I lived Hot Chase was a personal favourite.

There were two reasons for this.
Firstly, no-one else was ever playing it. Secondly, it was 20p a pop in the days when 50p was the standard exchange rate for Game Credits.

It's one of those games that realised Outrun had perfected the pure arcade racing experience and rather than try to compete decided to add gimmicks in an attempt to get a chunk of the market.
The gimmick here being that there's a bomb in your car that will go off if you don't reach the check point in time. Clearly a badly drawn explosion instead of the usual grinding to a halt mere feet from the line isn't really a revolution in gameplay terms - so gladly there are other elements added to the mix.

As you race to your goal you will be assaulted by enemy soldiers and attack helicopters, boulders will litter parts of the road and will launch you, Buggy Boy style, into a massive jump.
Occasionally you have to cross an intersection and there's even trains that cross the road - albeit always accompanied by a conveniently placed ramp-truck to help you out.

The game is tough as nails and the animations are occasionally a bit wonky but it was genuinely unique at the time and always fun to play.

Okay, okay... this is a nostalgia choice. Sue me.

In an addition that I might make a habit of, here's a quick summary of the games that didn't quite make the cut:

Hotdog Storm is a really good V.shmup that you should give a shot - it's only failing is that it doesn't really excel at anything, despite being rather good at almost everything - check it out.
Also worth a look is Data Easts Hoops. Give the original a go, not the '96 version or any of the others, it may have ridden the coat tails of NBA Jam but it's very much it's own game and a really fun one at that. Lastly, Horizon is a Moon Patrol style shooter that draws a direct line from the arcade of 1985 to endless runners of smartphones in 2013, give it a shot.

#Gaming #Retrogaming #Hidden Gems #MAME #Arcade

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - G is for... (Pt4)

So finally we reach the end of the surprisingly vast range of games that the G bracket turned up - although admittedly there is one less than I thought because it turns out I was the only person in the world who hadn't played Prehistoric Isle (Masquerading as a hidden gem under the guise of Genshi Tou 1930's).

When breaking this list into genres the first few headings came easily - Vertical Shmups, Brawlers, and so on... then I noticed that three of the games fell into a genre that I wasn't even aware existed...

So without further delay, the final three hidden gems beginning with G all come from the genre that I like to call:

Pinball Hybrids

The first of this odd batch has the potential to be best known. Gunbarich is pretty recent by Mame standards, hailing as it does from 2001. It is a spin-off from the well loved Gunbird games and even features series protagonist Marion.

She is one of two selectable characters, the other being Grutan who may be from Gunbird too but I'm afraid I've played the series too intermittently to be sure either way.

The main crux of the gameplay in Gunbarich is that of an Arkanoid style brick breaker.
Your character sits at the bottom of the screen and directs a rebounding ball as you would expect - the twist in this game is that your characters 'bat' is actually a pair of Pinball Flippers.
Hitting the fire button as the ball reaches you not only fires it back with extra force but allows you to control the ball to some extent as it travels back up the screen.

As you would expects from the guys and gals at Psikyo the graphics are colourful, detailed and overflowing with character. the game starts as a simple brick breaker but more an shooter elements are added as the level progress.

It's a gem amongst gems this one. When fun, creativity and challenge come together under such a gorgeous umbrella - you really can't go too far wrong.

If Gunbarich is Arkanoid mixed with a little Pinball then Gunball (Nitro Ball outside Japan) does the same for Ikari Warriors.

I'm not entirely sure I can do this game justice - Suffice to say if you thought that what your Commando style game needed most was pinball scoring flags on the side of the tanks and the ability to shoot enemies into holes to receive power-ups as reward, then you'll be very happy.

To be fair, it's hard not to be happy playing this game - The bosses in particular tie the two game styles together excellently, proving that there is method to the madness.
The game in general is just mental enough that skill isn't entirely lost and it never overplays the gag. The 'future sports' premise is well realised and gives the whole thing a distinct Takeshi's Castle vibe - albeit a slightly more deadly one.

Grand Cross was the first of these pinball hybrid games that I found.

It's far more pinball than hybrid, especially when compared to the games above but this time there's a little v.shmup mixed into proceedings.

All the usual Pinball trappings appear; Score targets, chutes, multiple levels, and all that standard stuff - but added to the mix are alien ships, power-ups and bosses straight from any shmup you care to mention.

It doesn't really have the physics on board to be a great pinball game but the addition of these elements really raises the fun factor and the two combine better than you would expect - it clearly didn't have the biggest budget in the world either and this really adds to idea that the game deserves to be a genuine cult gem.
A bit more a curates egg than the other two games listed here, but no less worthy of your time.

Last up, a shout out to a gem of a different kind, my girlfriend, Gemma, who insisted I write something about her as she's is a Gem that begins with G (Which is a truism but... moving on...) and apparently she's also the best Gem I've ever 'found'... which would be vomit inducing if it wasn't quite so unbearably true.

#mame #retrogaming #gaming

Monday, 4 November 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - G is for... (Pt3)

After a bit of a break here is the penultimate set of games from the letter G, and this time I'm looking at a few quality under-the-radar brawlers.

First up, a sequel, Guardians, known to some as Denjin Makai II. The first Denjin Makai is a decent game, but this sequel goes way beyond 'decent'.

Have you ever wanted to punch a Doberman in the face whilst while wearing nothing but a pair of Heihachi Mishima style clogs and natty cod piece gun holster?

Yeah, me too, Guardians is hear to make your dreams come true!

I think the best way to discuss brawlers is by talking about what stops them being dull. Many games in this genre, most of them in fact, are ruined by repetition.
Without the benefit afforded to shmups of attack patterns brawlers have to mix it up in different ways.

Guardians does this in a number of ways. First of which is by giving you 8 characters to choose from, ranging from the aforementioned gun toting half naked wrester, through a half-bird girl, and on to your usual tough guy out for a decent scrap.
All these characters have there own set of moves which can be mixed up into a vast range of combos.

Beyond this, which would be enough to raise Guardians above the crowd on it's own, the game also adds an almost absurd level of detail and humour to the levels and enemies - something of which I am always a massive fan.

There's not a lot of info around about Guardians, but I have seen it described as the best brawler ever made. Play a few levels and you, like me, will find it hard to disagree.

Gaia Crusaders mixes things up by concentrating on diverse combo and magic systems - and it pays off big style.

The game has everything you want from a brawler; diverse enemies, great bosses, beautiful graphics, and varied characters.

On top of that you can add a combo system that rewards experimentation and a vast range of magic attacks that can are 'stacked' into your bank and accessed one at a time.

It has a more serious tone than Guardians but the two games are otherwise quite similar - in quality as well as content. Not a lot more to say beyond that that really. It's a great game but, like many of the best, you have to play it to appreciate it.
One small thing of note that I really love: The weapons are used in different ways by each protagonist.
For example, the way that M98S, the robot, wields a sword, is entirely different from the way it's handled by the Eddie Gordo style character, Fred Sathal.
This also includes the weapons integration into the combos, which is another great touch to a pretty great game all round.

Ganryu is something a little different, it's not a brawler in the usual 'Final Fight/Streets of Rage' mode.

Apparently derived from the a true story about Musashi Ganryuki a famous swordsman who defeated a foe, Sasaki Ganryu Kojiro, with a sword carved from a boats oar.
Having defeated him Ganryuki left Sasaki to die rather than killing him outright - stating that defeat was the lesson, not death - The games supposition is that Sasaki comes back from the dead to avenge himself.

Which is all a bit high brow really, considering the game involves running either left tor right and killing dudes.

You have a choice of character. As well as Ganryuki you can choose Suzame, his female counterpart who is along for the ride for reasons unknown.
Both characters are pretty dexterous, jumping around the stylishly drawn environment with speed and style. The buildings and other backdrops often go three or four levels up, and indeed down, and the protagonists leap about them with ease.

They are aided in this by a secondary weapon, a retractable claw on a chain that can be used both to attack and to swing on selected trees or posts. There is also a wall jump ability which adds to game earning a certain platformy air.
Ganryu may not be the most original product out there. There's some classic Ninja Gaiden in there and strong shades of Bionic Commando... but (whisper it)... Ganryu is probably better.

Big section this and it rounds off with Gun Master.

I hate this kind of writing but here goes: Gunstar Heroes crossed with Smash Bros.
It's a bit lazy but it really sums up what makes Gun Master so much fun.

It's structured in a way that has each individual section serving as both level and boss battle at the same time.

You bounce around these multi tiered levels as a one of two protagonists and battle both your main foe and their minions simultaneously.

You have a good variety of attacks with which to go about this. Standard punches & kicks are supplemented by special moves, throws, and projectile weapons. All of which can be combined and used either on platforms or hanging from beneath them.

It's a decent hunk of game too - with 12 enemies to defeat and then a boss character - and it's difficulty is set at a level that will ensure you won't be blasting through in one sitting.
A bonus is that, apart from the big boss, you can attack the levels in any order you choose - so those not wishing to coin spam can still see all the levels even if their skills are a little lacking.

#gaming #retrogaming #hidden gems #mame #arcade

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Setting the record straight

That title sounds a lot more dramatic than it should - I just wanted to provide a quick update for anyone who's still paying attention.

First up - the project is still on track, there have been no recent developments because I spent the last week holed up with full bed and board in a Hotel near Gatwick. My days were spent filling my brain with lots of fascinating(!) information about project management.

This has negatively effected two things:
1) My output on the 'Mame Hidden Gems' sub-blog.
2) My waistline.

One thing that has changed for the better is the monitor I'm using for the cabinet.

Yes. Again!

The Dell unit I picked up before my trip had a certain 'fuzziness' that I thought would go way with some tweaking and a little time... it didn't.
So yesterday I picked up this rather nice HP MX70.

It's nice and easy to dismantle, has an antiglare screen, and features a flatter tube than either of the previous two units as well.

It's a 17" screen again (about 15 and a half viewable) and this increased size over the old 14" I had is really tempting me to go vertical - I think it's more about giving the finished cabinet a distinctive look than appropriateness for any given genre of game.

I've still a while to ponder this as it's 4 weeks until I get the PC - and even then the whole project will doubtless get held up by the general madness of Christmas.

In the mean time I'll continue to update on any developments and the Hidden Gems posts will start up again (with Part 3 of G) tomorrow - the focus will be on Brawlers.

#MAME #Arcade #retrogaming #Gaming

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - G is for... (Pt2)

Last time out was the turn of Vertical Scrolling Shooters, this time out the theme goes by the pithy title: Other Shooters

How do I come up with these things...?

First up, Galactic Storm released by Taito in 1991.

Good old fashioned fly into the screen the shoot everything that moves action in this one.

Despite shades of Space Harrier, Starfox, Galaxy Force 2 and the likes, the great sprite-scaling 3D effects and some neat original level design help to keep things fresh - and the oddly laid back soundtrack give the whole thing an atmosphere all it's own.

Not a lot more to say than that really, it's just a hell of a lot of fun and, if you can resist spamming the coin button, a pretty intense challenge.

Next up is Gundhara, a shooter in the Ikari Wariors/Commando vein.

This 1995 effort comes from Banpresto, a company whose name I've seen a surprising amount while compiling these posts.

The game gives you a choice of two guys who play pretty much identically. Having chosen from either Jerry or Jinn you press on, ever upwards, shooting everything and everyone with pause only given to rescue the occasional brat tied inexplicably to an oil barrel - I have to admit though, there is something incredibly annoying about these little twerps and if you can resist 'accidentally' gunning them down then you're a better person than me.

There's a simple but effective directional fire mechanic to give you the edge in your quest.
You fire whichever way you happen to be facing, but if you hold down the button it locks the direction of fire allowing you to strafe in any direction.

There's a neat levelling power up system too. Picking up different weapons swaps them out, picking up the same weapon you already hold increases it's power.

There's also a couple of great looking vehicle elements in the game, in one you ride a motorbike and in another you pilot a mech. They both serve to break up the standard gameplay very nicely.

There's a lot going on in Gundhara but it manages to balance it all into a challenging and fun experience without ever seeming to take itself entirely seriously - and that's something that should always be applauded.

A couple of h.shmups to round things up, firstly - Gigandes.

Gigandes comes from a company call East Technology, of whom I have never heard. It also comes from 1989.

It is not the prettiest of games. The sprites are well drawn but the backgrounds fit in the vast range between empty and slightly less empty.

However the hook with Gigandes, like so many of the best shooters, is the power up system.

This time it's all about multiple weapons.
Your tiny spherical craft can equip up to four weapons at a time all of which can be powered-up individually - which, in itself, is nothing new.
Uniquely, in Gigandes each of these weapons is attached to an individual side of the ship - top, bottom, front, and back - and each fires in the corresponding direction.
The weapon will be attached to which ever side of your craft you ram into the icon with, this applies to choosing which weapon is affected by the power-up icon.

Unlike just about every shooter ever, getting killed does not rob you of your accumulated weapons.
You start each new level with just a simple cannon, no matter what you had equipped at the end of the previous one, but soon you'll be firing in every direction of the screen at once - that the game still remains a significant challenge despite this a great achievement.

Whether you have full compliment of weaponry or just the starting cannon pressing the second button allows the weapons section of the ship can be rotated, one section at a time, about the bot of the craft. This ensures that you can always have your most powerful gun pointed at the meanest looking bad guy. There's even a secondary function whereby holding the button moves whichever weapon is attached to the bottom to pivot 45 degrees - basically it can point south, south-west, or south-east.

As I mentioned when recommending Guardian Force previously, directional fire can sometimes be redundant in isolation. But as with that game, Gigandes has the level design and enemy attack pattern to ensure you are tapping away as furiously at B to rotate button as you are at A to fire.

Last up, the answer to what made the dinosaurs extinct, Genshi-Tou 1930's.

This one comes courtesy of SNK and, like Gigandes, comes from 1989.
Also like Gigandes is a power-up system that involves rotation, although this time it is of the more usual 'pod' design.
I never know quite what the correct name is for these things. In R-Type I always called it the 'Force', in Gradius I believe it's referred to as 'Option'. Is there a standard generic term?
Anyway, in this excellently atmospheric game you pilot a biplane to a Jurassic park style island and gun down everything you find there.

My game was in Japanese so if there is anything more subtle going on it was lost on me.

The pod style power-up is rotated around your ship with the second button. The type of shot fired changing depends on where you position it.
Position it out front and you get a more powerful supplement to you standard gun, position it underneath your plane and you get a spreadshot fired towards the ground, out back it will drop mines and placed up above it will give you the spreadshot again, only fired upwards.

The need for such a range of fire modes becomes apparent very quickly. You are attacked from the ground by land based dinosaurs who jump to try and hit your plane. They are accompanied by cavemen who will grab onto your plane entertainingly if you get too close - A little joystick jiggling is required toshake them off.
Additionally, as you move further into the game, the levels begin to scroll in various directions, further necessitating the need to adjust the direction of fire accordingly.

For '89 this game is a stunner, great sprites, massive bosses, fun effects and interactions, it all comes together under the original premise to create an experience that should not be missed.

#Retrogaming $Gaming #Arcade #Mame

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - G is for... (Pt1)

Note: Most of this post has disappeared into the void. No idea what has happened but I'll endeavour to get it rewritten soon.

Let me fill you in on a little of the process by which these blog entries come about.

Firstly, about a month ago, I played through every Mame game I could find.
A collection of around 9000 files was weeded out for poker games, Mahjong games, trackball games and just plain old bad games.
This gave me my 'Long List' - about 1300 games.

As I had been whittling down from 9000 to 1300 I made notes of any game that I wasn't already aware of but which impressed me - and it's these notes that I refer to when writing this blog.

I know this sounds like pointless ramblings but I promise you that I'm going somewhere, do bear with me.

For each of the previous letters of the alphabet I have chosen my three recommendations from between 2 and 8 games, from my notes, that fit the bill.
For example I'd noted 4 games originally for A, B had 6 notable entries, E had only 4...

For games beginning with 'G' there were 23.

After eliminating those that that only flew under my personal radar rather the games community's in general (Guwange, seriously, how did I miss that!?) I'm left with 15 'actual' hidden gems.

And I don't want to drop any of them.

So here's what's going to happen:
I'm going to divide them up into categories and the next 4 'Hidden Gem' posts will be themed accordingly.
The first of these categories is, predictably, Vertically Scrolling Shooters.
So - finally - here we go with 3 best slightly obscure V.shumps the letter G has to offer.

First up, G-Stream G2020.
As you can probably tell from that picture, this one is a real beauty, ground and air based enemies are all beautifully drawn and have a real feeling of weight to them.
The game was designed by a guy called Toshiaki Fushino who bloodied some ideas in this that have apparently gone on to become mainstays on the recent hardcore gaming scene.
Primarily, there's a great power-up system whereby the three types of shot fired by your ship are proportionate in power to the coloured cubes that fill the representative bar.
If you manage to fill the bar with a single colour that weapon becomes a super weapon.
It's great system and really adds an extra level to proceedings.
To further as to your arsenal there are two super bomb types.
The first is a standard big-explosion-that-blows-lots-of-stuff-up bomb and is fuelled by simple pick-ups.
This second is a 'black hole bomb' that absorbs enemy fire and is powered by medals that are dropped when enemies are destroyed.
The combination of all these mechanics and the fantastic design make G-Stream a great game, and it's all rounded of by a well pitched difficulty level too.

Note: The post went on to recommend Guardian Storm and Gunnail

Friday, 25 October 2013

Setting up a test bed... again...

Very brief update on the monitor situation:


This puppy is a Dell M770 from around the turn of the century.
Its listed everywhere as 17 inch. Corner to corner inside the plastic is only 16, and only there's 15 actually being used by the display.
It doesn't seem quite as crisp as the previous unit (R.I.P.) but it's more than up to the task at hand.

I'm about to strip it down to check the gubbins are in good dismantle-able order... I'll update in the next full post.

But basically - back in the game.

#Retrogaming #Arcade #Mame

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Setting me back...

The other day I was remarking to myself how lucky I'd been so far on this project, every potential issue or shabby piece of planning turned into nothing more than little hiccough on my journey to cut-price Mame cabinet glory.

Today, not 5 minutes ago, I blew up my monitor.

I was being an idiot, I have the screen out of it's casing, as you may have seen from pictures in previous posts, and for some reason I decided to try and rotate the whole thing with the power still connected.

I guess if I want to find something lucky about this then the fact that I'm not dead would probably be it.

So it's back to Freegle to find a replacement - I'll probably go back and contact some of the people who I rejected first time around, see if they're still feeling charitable. Needless to say this feels lie a bigger set back than anything that has happened previously.

But anyway.

This all happened because of a conundrum I have regarding the design of my cabinet. 

I'm toying with the idea of spinning my monitor 90 degrees - just to offer that extra bit of authenticity to the many (many) vertical shooters and older games that have made the cut into my Mame selection.

There are pros and cons to this approach, the big (and probably only) Pro is how great V.shmups look.
I wouldn't have believed this to be such a profound difference if I hadn't seen it for myself, so it's tricky to put into words.

The best stat I can offer is that, as the diagram below illustrates, it increases the size of the image size by 37%

The cons are that, for every other genre of game, the screen size is reduced by the same 37%.
Remember that this is 14" screen, when mounted vertically you would have a usable screen size of 6"x7"  - a diagonal measurement of just 9 inches - in which to try and appreciate beautiful games like STUN Runner, Powerdrift, or Street Fighter 3.

It shouldn't really be a question at all, I have far more games suited to a horizontal screen than a vertical one, and as much as a enjoy v.shmups they are not my favourite genre, fighting and old school racing games would both rank higher on a personal genre preference list and both suit a horizontal set up better.

But there is something a little bit special about a vertical screen that is unquantifiable in words and numbers.

So I've devised a third option.

It is feasible that I could mount the entire screen with its PCB inside a cube housing that was removable from the control deck and PC section.
This would allow me to physically rotate the screen to suit whichever game I'm playing at any given time.

This is a great solution in theory, but there are downsides.

The original dimensions for the screen area of the cabinet would have been about H35cm x W38cm.
To create this rotatable arrangement that increases to 40cm in both directions - it's not a massive increase, and the height is the main victim which is preferable to the width.

But, considering what happened a few moments ago, is it worth it?

#Mame #Arcade #Retrogaming

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - F is for...

First up, an apology:

I was reading back a few of these blog entries last night and was appalled by the number of typos I make - I think there are at least 5 in every post.
I will endeavour to do better in the future!

I'm also a little disappointed in the games listed under E. The pickings were slim and, while I stand by the choices and think they are all games everyone should play, I'm not sure they were all keepers.

Anyway, onwards.

I'm starting to see themes in the games I like on this format, Finest Hour falls into the "non-stop-balls-out-noisy-action" theme.

It's a 'Contra' style effort in which you pilot a mech-suit and travel left to right wielding an auto-targeting gun and a set of booster jets for massive jumps.
It has a couple of neat tricks up it's sleeve, both of are things that modern games consumers have learnt to hate.
First up, there's the time limits.
Each level has a timer tied to a bonus, so speed  is of the essence.
You can double tap to run and it's quite a blast to surge into the unknown, hammering the fire button whilst ready to hit the brakes, or the boost, at the first sight of a bigger than normal baddie.
As well instilling the game with this extra urgency the timer also prevents abuse of the second game mechanic, the very mention of which has classic FPS fans exploding into fits of nerd rage...
The game is the earliest example I've seen (note: I've seen) of regenerating health.
Well, technically it's not your health.
As you take fire from the swarms of other mechs that assail you, your own suit starts to overheat, take too much continuous fire and you start to fry the circuits and eventually 'die'.
Even the continue screen keeps up this design, asking if you want to engage the emergency cooling system (bpay up to continue) or bug out and go home (Quit).
This one may be a little simplistic for some tastes, but if simplicity has a place in video games then the arcade is surely that place.

I'm pretty sure that there's been a shmup in every one of these 'Hidden Gem' blog entries. Representing F we have Fever S.O.S. from the lovely chaps at Cave.

You do have to wonder what would have become of the the shooter genre without these guys in the market to continually offer up fresh takes on the standard format.
Fever SOS is not one of the companies better known IPs, it never saw action outside the arcades and there are no sequels.
Nevertheless, this one's that's an absolute belter to crank the volume on for the full arcade experience - because what they've done this time is create the first, last, and only Disco V.shmup.
How could I not list that here?!
To be honest the Disco theme is mostly cosmetic, the soundtrack, enthusiastic announcer, and end of level score counter are all in a gloriously cheesy seventies style but the game itself is a fairly straightforward, albeit very high quality, v.shmup.
It offers a choice of craft, a choice of bullet pattern, and a choice of speed.
The idiosyncracy in gameplay comes from a score multiplier system based on collecting the little dudes that float down and back up the screen after you have destroyed the enemy ships. If you let just one guy float off the top of the screen then your score booster is reset.
The rest of the gameplay is the usual classy Cave stuff; Fantastic bosses, challenging difficultly level, screens full of laser fire. Tie this to the hugely infectious Disco motif and you have a winner on your hands.

Last up is Fast Lane from Konami.

You will have seen something like Fast Lane before. Games where two icons travel in different directions around the same basic maze style track, one collecting dots, the other trying to prevent them doing so, exist in their dozens on Mame alone.
I don't know how old this style of game is, I'm fairly sure I remember playing a variant of it on a Game & Watch style device, but what Konami have done with it here is take that old idea and turned it into a fantastically addictive arcade puzzle game.
The first thing they've done is to imbue the game with simple, detailed, effective graphics.
You travel the map in a close approximation of a Ferrari GTO, your enemy(s) come at you in a blue 'Bigfoot' style monster truck, and all about the course are girls in bikinis on roller skates who hold the game's power-ups. The sprites are tiny but each is remarkably characterful.
The powerups work in the tried and true Pac Man style - variations on the theme of the hunter becoming the hunted - albeit very briefly.
A favourite touch for me is the design of the power up menu at the top of screen. It lists "Normal - Jump - Shoot - Attack - ? - Flash" in the classic Konami style that will be familiar to anyone who has played Gradius or any of its many sequels or spin offs.
Fast Lane isn't a game that will show of your Mame cabinet in all it's glory. Nor is it the most original game ever made.
But it has hidden depths, is incredibly addictive, and most importantly of all - it's a hell of a lot of fun.

#Retrogaming #Gaming #Mame #Arcade

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - E is for...

I've made a bit of a rod for my own back.

I keep finding games I've never heard of that, after a little research, turn out to have been fairly recently re-released in classic collections or on XBox Live or PSN.

This means, by my own rules, I can't include them, and unfortunately there's a whole bunch of games that fall into this category in the E bracket.

So a quick recommendation for Esp Ra.De. and EspGaluda from Cave, Eco Fighters from Capcom and Exzisus from Taito.
You should find and play all of these games if you haven't done so already. They are excellent.

With that out of the way, on to three real hidden gems, the first of them being Equites.

This vertical shooter from the dark days of 1984 is an early example of mixing up the genre a bit.
Your robot fighter guy walks up the screen blasting all in his path as you would expect.
The mix up comes by giving you the ability to jump or hover to defend against attackers from a higher plain.
Certain parts of the levels require you to do this to clear dividing walls, other areas use the two tier element to turn levels into a simplistic kind of 'canyon run'. 

As well as the two above ground tiers there are occasional tunnel entrances marked on the landscape. Walking into these take you to a third tier; underground corridors. 
These sections don't actually change much from the outside environments aside from removing the ability to jump, but they do offer the opportunity to enjoy some fun enemy destructions.
It's a great game and, for it's age, the attention to detail imagination on show is pretty impressive.

Next up is Enforce from those prolific boys and girls at Taito.

It's a bit basic this one, you walk into the screen (I think you're in control of a mech, although it's never really made clear.) blasting everything in sight with one of two weapons. A standard chain gun on the right and a more powerful plasma type thing on the left that has to charge between volleys.

It is simple and a little repetitive but it has a balls-out mania to it that I can't help but love a little.
It also features a hilarious example of that old Video Game trope; the damsel in distress. 
Simpler times, happier times.

Finally, Explosive Breaker, fairly standard v.shmup fair, you head up the screen, flying through space, shooting the alien bad guys. So far, so average...

No I didn't just photoshop a picture of an Apache Gunship onto a screenshot of Axelay. that's the first level boss of this shooter set in deep space.
It's like they did a whole game and then, when it came to designing the bosses, they couldn't be bothered and just scanned in a bunch of images from Warfare Magazine.

You only have to play the game for about ten seconds when this happens...

That, if can't quite make it out, is an aircraft carrier.

It's not always an aircraft carrier, oh no! 
On one play-through I saw a Jaguar jet at this point in the game, on another it was an eighteenth century sailing ship. 
And they all move about the level as if they have been cut out from photographs and are being pulled across the screen by an invisible thread.

They say it's a fine line between genius and madness, and I'm not sure which of those two things best describes this game, but you should certainly find out for yourself.

#Gaming #Retrogming #Mame #Hidden Gems