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