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.
#MAME #ARCADE #RETROGAMING #HIDDEN GEMS