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