Thursday, 1 May 2014
Unique Games! - Part 4
NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM / FAMICOM
1. Mad Max (Mindscape, 1990)
Let's start off this entry with a unique movie licence game. To my knowledge, Mad Max for the NES is the only video game based on any of the original Mad Max movies, and indeed, currently the only Mad Max game in existence. A new Mad Max game is coming up this year, to pave the way for a new Mad Max movie, which should be coming up next year, but who knows if we shall ever see it come to life. Anyway, this game is based on Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, which is a bit odd, considering the game title is just Mad Max, and the original movie is something rather different.
The basic idea in this game is to drive around in a series of non-linear maps of roads, destroy enemy vehicles, roadblocks and bunkers, loot some buildings and move on. The two main modes of this game are driving around and walking around in a pseudo-3D overhead view, but there is a more side-viewed bit in the game later on, as you need to have a shooting battle against the final boss. Of course, I never got that far in the game, but at least it doesn't seem like an impossible job. Unfortunately for us Europeans, this game was only ever released in North America, which would require us to have a modified or an original American NES. Still, it's not exactly something to lose your sleep on, but it's a nice curiosity to have a go at on an emulator, if nothing more.
2. Parallel World (Varie Corporation, 1990)
This one, in turn, was only ever released for the Famicom. Parallel World is a real-time puzzler, in which a boy and his girlfriend are sucked into an alternate universe, and your mission is to guide one of them, or both, through 25 different game worlds inside a castle, and make it back to their own universe.
The game is viewed from above, slightly tilted. The levels are single rooms fitted on a single screen, and everything moves inside the rooms in a Bomberman-type grid-based method. Instead of bombing your way out, though, you will need to find a key to open the door to the next room by crushing one of the enemies in the current room, and then build a route out of the room from blocks that look like Pipemania-like pieces scattered all over the room. It's a bit surprising, that this was never released outside of Japan, nor was it converted for any other machine, because it's a properly addicting game, and highly recommendable.
3. Street Fighter 2010 (Capcom, 1990)
I have to admit this is not really not my kind of a thing, but I suppose it's worth mentioning solely because of the title. I didn't know about this game until it was made into an episode of Angry Video Game Nerd in 2010, because of the game's title. As we all know, the first Street Fighter was converted for a few home gaming machines from the arcade original, and Street Fighter II created a whole new series of similar games based on itself, some of which were converted for even more computers and consoles over time. These were all versus-type beat'em-ups. This one, as you might already be well aware, certainly is not.
What it is, then, is one of the most difficult console games ever made, and more particularly, one of the hardest platform/shooters. What makes it such a difficult game, is the controls. The game somehow tries to combine Ninja Gaiden (Shadow Warriors for us Europeans) and Contra (a.k.a. Probotector or GryZor), and even somehow manages to be successful at it, but at the cost of making the whole experience frustrating and largely unworthy of being played. Your character Ken, or Kevin, depending on the version, latches on to pretty much anything that looks like some sort of surface, be it horizontal or vertical. Sometimes he doesn't, but you can't tell for sure about anything until you've tried it out. The character is animated nicely, but takes too much time to actually accomplish anything so that the game could be called fluid, so it takes useless amount of time to get used to all the actions. How the character shoots is a bit illogical: shooting forwards and above is easy enough, but shooting down can only be done while doing some sort of somersault, which seems to happen a bit randomly, and shooting diagonally up can be accomplished by holding the D-pad DOWN and shooting. Your mission is to destroy the target shown before each level, but I didn't have the patience to even finish the first target. If you want to see how the game looks like further on, grab a Rolling Rock (if available) and watch AVGN's more comprehensive (and funny) review.
4. Cycle Race: Road Man (Tokyo Shoseki, 1988)
Even though Parallel World came to me as a surprisingly positive surprise while doing research for this blog entry, it still couldn't beat Cycle Race: Road Man in its sheer madness and potential fun to be had in my future emulation sessions. As the title suggests, this is a bicycle racing game. It is top-down viewed, and in addition from being one of the most energetic sports game experiences I have ever played, Cycle Race also has some strategy elements. So far, my favourite cycling game had been Tour de France on the C64, but this manages to top it.
In the beginning, you select a cycler from one of four teams (Japan, USA, France and Italy), each consisting of five cyclists, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. After each stage, the player can earn points which can eventually be invested into a new bicycle with better statistics. The gameplay is nothing more than tapping the B-button in a frantic pace and guiding the cyclist through curves and past other cyclists, while trying not to crash into anything. If the bike gets too damaged, or your biker gets too tired, the game is over. The ultimate goal of the game is to win the 4000 km marathon, which seems to take place on four islands closely resembling Japan. As I only got around to playing this for about 10 minutes before writing about it, I only got past stage 2, but it feels like a superbly fun sports game, and I highly recommend it to every gamer who likes sports games that might make you sweat.
SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM
1. Cyclone (48k, Vortex, 1985)
Costa Panayi is another one of those one-of-a-kind great names in the gaming history books, much like Jeff Minter, Geoff Crammond and Sid Meier are: all known for doing something of particular kind in a particularly good and innovative way that can be instantly recognized, once you get to know their styles. I remember it was a bright and sunny summer's day, when I first came across a game by Costa Panayi, although of course, I didn't know it until many years since, because as a child, you wouldn't really pay much attention to who made what. I also remember the first thing I learned of that game was that my brother enjoyed it, although I can't say whether he would remember it any longer or not. That game was TLL, a.k.a. Tornado Low Level.
Cyclone feels like a spiritual sequel of sorts to TLL, and since it was only released on the Spectrum, unlike the other game, I had to choose it instead to represent Costa Panayi's input here. Come to think of it, I might actually do a comparison of TLL later on, when I get a good chance for it. For those of you who haven't played either of these games, they are basically overhead tilted-view 3D flight action games with a heavy basis on the use of altitude. In both games, you can control the aerial vehicle (a fighter bomber in TLL, and a helicopter in Cyclone) in what the manual says "360 degree control", but actually means 16 direction points. Whereas TLL is more of a low-flying target-based navigation game, in Cyclone, your mission instead is to collect people and crates of supplies from a fairly large map of islands while avoiding a Cyclone. As it is, I think Cyclone is actually the more interesting one as a concept, but it's also a bit more difficult to handle. It's definitely one to try out, if not one of the all-time must-have titles to have in your Spectrum exclusives library.
2. Chaos (48k, Games Workshop, 1985)
Julian Gollop should be another name to be known for his own particular style of games, which include such classics from the strategy games genre, as: the Rebelstar series, Laser Squad, UFO: Enemy Unknown and X-COM. Chaos: The Battle of Wizards was one of his earlier works, which was only released for the 48k Spectrum, and it's another one of those turn based tactical combat games that he was so good at. It is a bit peculiar, then, that the sequel, Lords of Chaos, was also available on its two main competing platforms as well as the two main 16-bit machines that are so frequently mentioned on this blog.
The plot of Chaos is not much to speak of: two to eight wizards battle their brains off on the plane of Limbo, in order to become the Lord of Creation. Sure, kill off an army or two and become God. Why not. Sounds very biblical. As there is no plot device as such, one would hope that the focus has been put entirely on gameplay. The battle area is one framed screen, built of invisible tiles that take up 10 tiles in height and 15 in width. Your wizard's abilities are very similar to their counterparts in Archon, but these can do a bit more in terms of battle magic. All the creatures have their own distinct abilities, which unfortunately aren't that apparent on the battlefield - you can only see them by examining the spells from the menu screens, which is really the main beef of the game. Once you have learned how the battlefield basically works, most of your time will be spent in the menus, trying to figure out what spell to cast next to counteract your enemy's. I cannot honestly say that I have learned even a fragment of what the game has to offer, but even from my first session playing this, I could tell that it could become insanely addicting. The only thing that I don't like about it is the turn based method of battling, which gives the player less direct input in the battles, and this is why I very much prefer the two Archon games. But, for a turn based strategy game fan, this might be one of the best and historically most significant titles of the genre. Therefore, it can only be highly recommended.
3. Pssst (16k, Ultimate Play The Game, 1983)
Like for so many other Spectrum users, at least one amongst a small default number of initial gaming experiences on the machine included one of Ultimate's arcade games re-released by Sinclair in those silvery cassettes. Pssst happens to be one of only two of that lot to not have a version on any other machine. Tranz Am is the other one, but since I didn't have one back then, I don't consider myself qualified enough to write about it.
Pssst is a rare sort of an arcade game, in which your mission is to help flowers grow by spraying different kinds of bug spray at different bugs that try to eat the flower up. The game's keyboard controls are somewhat awkward, but manageable - it uses the dreaded 56780 set-up, which are basically the Spectrum's cursor keys. Luckily, you can use a Sinclair joystick, if available. By some sort of perverse twist of fate, this game was placed second in the 1983 C&VG Golden Joystick Awards' Best Original Game category... behind Ah Diddums, of all games, which was easily the worst of the lot. Also behind Ah Diddums were such classics as Ant Attack and Splat!, both excellent games. I imagine the judges must have been at least fairly high on something. Anyway, Pssst is perhaps best experienced with a joystick on a 48k Spectrum, but if you have no access to such luxury, get Retrospec's remake and play it on your PC.
4. Back To Skool (Microsphere, 1985)
While Cyclone only might have been a spiritual successor to an earlier game made by the same author, this one definitely is a sequel. Considering that the creators of Back To Skool have managed to cram even more stuff into 48k than what was in Skool Daze, it is a bit curious this one was ever only released on this machine, unlike its predecessor.
Again, the game follows the same idea from the original: get through a day in school without getting into trouble, while still making your customary mischief. This time, however, the school is larger - there is a girls school across the courtyard, neither of which existed in the original game. Naturally, this means there are more goals to achieve, so it definitely can't be considered to be a walk in the park. So, if you liked Skool Daze on the C64, but didn't know of the existence of a sequel, you might want to take a look at this. If you're more of a Spectrum fanatic, and didn't know of this game, where the heck have you been?
1. Frederik Pohl's Gateway + Gateway II: Homeworld (Legend, 1992/1993)
In 1989, Legend Entertainment rose from the ashes of Infocom, which was quite possibly the most legendary publisher of interactive fiction titles, particularly of the plain text adventure sort. In 1992, Glen Dahlgren and Mike Verdu wrote their first of two IF games based on Frederik Pohl's (1919-2013) Heechee universe, and was given the title Gateway, following the footsteps of the first Heechee novel, although not making the game follow the novel in any literal sense.
Although I came across Gateway the game relatively late, and got seriously into it even later on, probably after the change of the millennium, I can safely say it was the first proper text adventure in the spirit of Infocom that I actually enjoyed playing, and sparked my interest in text adventures in general. I never got around to finishing the game, because I got very far in it and then got stuck on an alien planet that I could only meet my death in, but it was the most immersing piece of non-animated gaming that I had played so far. And frankly, it still is. The sequel was to be Legend's last text adventure, and it was a bit of a critical disaster, as well as a commercial one. Since both of these games are only available for DOS- and Windows-based PC's, they have well earned their place here.
2. Test Drive III: The Passion (Accolade, 1990)
One of my favourite annoyances in gaming history is the third part of the well-regarded car racing game series, Test Drive. The game was clearly designed for the more powerful PC's at the time, so much so that neither of the two 16-bit mass market computers, Amiga or ST, were able to reproduce it. Thus, Test Drive III was only ever made available for the DOS PC's. Of course, nowadays it is nearly unplayable, even in DOSbox, unless you have the patience to tinker around with its settings. I can easily confess that I do not.
I have been able to make it playable enough to get some screenshots of it, but I don't think I have ever been able to finish a race in it. But getting finally into the differences to the previous Test Drive games, there are admittedly quite a lot of them. First off, sprite-based graphics are replaced by 3D polygons. Then, instead of strictly road-based driving, it was the first of the series to have free landscape, so you could drive off-road as long as you didn't hit anything that made you crash. More firsts appeared in the forms of headlights, windscreen wipers and a railroad crossing, which you would have to watch out for. To be fair, Spectrum Holobyte's Vette! was released earlier, and was the first polygon-based racer with some sense of freedom in driving, but Test Drive III made it just better enough, and Vette! unfortunately was made available for the Macintosh and PC-98 computers as well, so I was forced to choose this one instead. But I think there are enough reasons for this one to be included on the list regardless. Both games were pioneers of open-world driving, and both games were pioneers in polygon 3D graphics being utilised in racing games, only TD3 did it better.
3. Freddy's Rescue Roundup (IBM, 1984)
I have always had very little knowledge on the really old DOS games, so I was a bit desperate to find a good really old game for the DOS machines that hadn't been made for any other machines. The only title I came across this time was this curious title from IBM, which seems to have been a fairly far-spreaded game at the time. By the look of it, Freddy's Rescue Roundup looks deceptively close to Lode Runner, partly because it was heavily inspired by it, but is just far enough from it to be called something rather different.
Your mission is to rescue all the roadrunners (little chicken-looking things) in the park before the maintenance robots disposed them. To make the game more separated from comparing it to Lode Runner are the doorways within levels, through which you can travel quickly from one side of the level to the other. Well, it might not seem like much, but it's still a DOS-exclusive title from the very early days, and as such, worth a look.
4. Jones in the Fast Lane (Sierra, 1990)
This relatively early life simulation game is a curious piece of gaming history. Originally being worked on under the title "Keeping Up With Jones" (referring to the idiom of comparing one's neighbour as a benchmark for social caste or the accumulation of material goods), Jones In The Fast Lane was one of Sierra's more imaginative works. It was entirely developed as a set of storyboards before starting the coding and artwork process. To ensure that the game would be more accessible for younger or more inexperienced players, the game was made to look like a board game, but the idea backfired on Sierra, as the reviewers failed to see the point in the game mechanics. The game was not a sales success.
The object of the game is to achieve 100% by reaching the four top goals: wealth, happiness, education and career. As expected, it basically plays like a board game, but luckily, the game does contain a good amount of the expected Sierra humour, so if you enjoy their style, you shouldn't miss this one just because it's a board game. Several other life simulation games have done well enough with an even more boring setting, such as Alter Ego from Activision. It all depends on the gamer, how does he/she perceive the happenings that take place on the screen. Of course, for all the worst control freaks, The Sims is closer to what the doctor ordered, but for you more adventurous people out there, you could do well worse than try this one out.
ATARI ST / STE / FALCON
1. Rock 'n' Roll Clams (Caspian Software, 1994) - ST,STe,Falcon - 1MB
For the second 16-bit Atari list in the Unique Games series, the following four games were all suggested to me by the user Marakatti from Atarimania, so thank you very much for the help.
The first one of the bunch is a strange platforming arcade title called Rock 'n' Roll Clams from Caspian Software, which utilises somewhat similar gameplay elements as Wizball. You control a rolling and bouncing clam through vertically scrolling levels, collecting cassette tapes, coins and other items to aid you through the game. At least for the first two levels, the game doesn't give you any means to defending yourself from the roaming depth mines and other enemies, making this game feel more like the wimp brother to Wizball. Perversely, exactly because of this, the game manages to hook you in and keep at it for a longer period of time than you would expect. It's a tough beast to tame, but can give you a very nice, and more particularly, unique gameplay experience as a whole. Perhaps against my better judgment, I do recommend everyone to try it.
2. Super STario Land (Top Byte Software, 1995) - ST,STe - 0.5MB
Here we have one of the most blatant copies of Super Mario Bros. ever made, and because it was such a low-key release, and released at the very end of Atari ST's commercial life, Nintendo never got a trace of it on their radar back then, and thus Top Byte escaped the very great possibility of a lawsuit.
As you can see, the game looks almost exactly like Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Land, apart from the main character looking actually about 5% cooler than Mario. Most of the gameplay elements are ripped from the Mario games: turbo run, fire flowers, flight (or continuous jump in mid-air) ability, breaking blocks... all that sort. With brilliantly fast scrolling, the game effectively makes the ST conversion of Giana Sisters completely obsolete - that is, if you only happen to be looking for a Mario-sort of a game. And as the name would suggest... you get the picture. It's certainly not a unique game, but very much an ST exclusive, if I ever saw one.
3. Substation (Unique Development Sweden, 1995) - STe,Falcon - 1MB
This is the first first-person shooter game I have ever played on either of the primary 16-bit home computers - Amiga or ST, unless you count Backlash. But definitely the first of the Wolfenstein 3D and Doom kind. It just so happens, that my first time playing this game was for this Unique Games entry. I have no idea what the game is like to play on a basic STe or Falcon, but on the emulator, it ran amazingly smoothly with relatively low emulated processor power, but then it doesn't have all that much in-game graphics that would require all that much power from the machine.
What Substation has instead, is atmosphere, and a rather brilliantly conceived storyline. In some ways, it actually feels better than Wolfenstein 3D, which is clearly its nearest competitor. I won't tell you too much of the plot, because I want people to test it out by themselves, but it takes place underwater. So, while the gameplay isn't exactly unique, it has a very personal overall feel, and a fairly unutilised environment in first-person shooters. Since it is only available on the Atari, and also because it's a rare artifact from the time around the ST's commercial death, it's highly recommended to get an emulator and download the cracked disks from your chosen source. If you get the Pasti images (perfect images of the original disks) from Atarimania, chances are you will not be able to play the game unless you have the manual.
4. Zero 5 (Caspian Software, 1994) - STe,Falcon - 1MB/4MB
Another game from Caspian Software to end this section is a completely different sort of an experience. Although Zero 5 is little more than a campaign-based first-person space shooter, the way it is constructed and the way it plays requires quite a lot of power from the machine, and preferably a hard drive on which you can install the game to, since there are three disks in the box and an additional "status" (save) disk, all of which you need to switch every two seconds if you don't have the game installed on a hard drive.
Zero 5 is almost entirely controlled by either a mouse or, as the other game by Caspian on this list, a Jaguar gamepad. For the most part, the game plays very fast, and it looks as though the Jagpad was the more preferable choice of control, because the speed of mouse control can make the gameplay a bit disorienting, since all the radars aren't nearly as informative as the one in Elite, for example. On the whole, Zero 5 is something from between the old Star Wars arcade rail shooters and Elite, but I suppose a closer point of reference could be found elsewhere, if you knew where to look; I'm really not an expert on these sorts of games. Other than the limited possibility of anyone ever really enjoying this game on real hardware, it seems like a fairly absorbing shooter. There is a different version of Zero 5 for Atari Jaguar around as well, but since it's still Atari, I'll let it pass this time.
1. Quinx (Supersoft, 1984)
This time, the first item on the C64 list comes from that quirky programmer/musician, Andrew Trott, whose output on the C64 was as many as three whole games: Stix (a variation of Qix), Xerons (a clone of Galaxians) and this little piece of uniqueness. Quinx was only ever released on the C64 for whatever reason, although it could have been quite at home in the Spectrum library as well, for one. The game is quite difficult to explain, but luckily, I have the original tape inlay to quote...
"Arthur keeps dreaming that he is trapped on a piece of paper that's being attacked by ink worms! ... You begin the game with a sheet of A4 paper, a full bottle of QUINX ink and a full bottle of TIPPIT correcting fluid. Ink worms appear at random, making their way from one side of paper to the other leaving a trail of ink as they go. They move much faster when travelling across a piece of inky paper, but you can prevent this happening if you cover up the ink using TIPPIT. As the worms reach the opposite edge of the paper they turn into paper-eating monsters! The monsters gorge themselves on the paper until they get to the edge and explode as a result of indigestion..." Well, as if that weren't enough, there are some other extras in the game to keep you busy. In short, this is a very unique sort of an arcade game, and a highly recommended one to try out.
2. Outlaws (Ultimate Play The Game, 1985)
One of my first games in my C64 library was this rather singular piece of software from Ultimate, the legendary software house that brought many classic titles, particularly for the Sinclair machines. Ultimate's C64 titles were never all that well regarded for some reason, as they seemed to be missing the graphical output and a similar atmosphere as the earlier Spectrum titles, such as Atic Atac and Knight Lore had. I thought this was actually one of their better titles in their catalogue, but then my tastes aren't necessarily what one might call normal. You see, the game got an abysmal 35% review from the Zzap!64 magazine in its time.
Outlaws is one of the rare games on the C64 that put you in the shoes of Lucky Luke, and more particularly, on the back of his talkative horse, Jolly Jumper. Naturally, being a Lucky Luke game, you fight against the Dalton brothers in various areas. Most of the action requires some good coordination and unorthodox controlling, but it is a nice change into the western themed games. The game wasn't licenced as a Lucky Luke game, although the Daltons are referred to in the game, so you are officially the "Lone Rider" and your enemies are simply called "Outlaws", but we all know the deal here. It truly is a pity this is the best Lucky Luke game the C64 has to offer, and apart from the Gameboy game from Infogrames, the only 8-bit game on the theme worth playing.
3. Mad Doctor (Creative Sparks, 1985)
You cannot have a Unique Games list without some sort of questionable content within. This time, that bit is represented by Creative Sparks' Mad Doctor, in which you play a Dr. Frankenstein-a-like. Your mission is to build a monster from separate body parts, be it dug up from a grave or from a fresh victim.
The strange thing is, although it very much sounds like one, this is not an action game at all - it's a puzzle game with a similar perspective and humour as you would sort of expect from a Sierra adventure game. Still, it was only ever released on the C64, making it an entirely unexpected piece of software. I'm not really sure if I should recommend it, but.. well, it's not as if anyone's out to dig some graves after playing this, is it?
4. Slamball (Synapse Software, 1984)
From the man who made the soundtrack for Peter Adams' conversion of Bob Polin's classic Blue Max came this single game for the C64 - the only commercially released pinball game on the machine that had a scrolling table. Another uncommon thing about this game is that it was one of the very few released through Synapse Software that neither originated on the Atari 8-bit computers, nor had a conversion made for them. Added to all that, the game is quite possibly even the most playable pinball game on the C64, until someone finishes the unofficial port of Pinball Dreams someday, so it's certainly a very recommendable item on the list.
TEXAS INSTRUMENTS TI-99/4A
1. Parsec (Texas Instruments, 1982)
It's not all that easy finding something properly interesting for a machine you don't know almost anything about. My previous adventure into the world of TI-99 was my first one at that, as well - you might remember my comparison of Aztec Challenge. Well, it took me a while to find these three games that were good enough to feature in this blog entry, but it didn't take me all that long to find a good emulator to run them on, since there is an emulator called Classic99, which happened to feature all three as in-built cartridge games.
Parsec does not necessarily look like one of the more interesting titles here, but it has a good few things going on for it worth mentioning. First of all, it's probably the earliest side-scrolling space shooter on an 8-bit home computer that I have ever heard to have speech synthesis. Secondly, your laser gun was possible to get overheated, resulting in your ship's explosion. Third, you would have to refuel your ship occasionally by making a pitstop. Fourth, your ship has three different "lift" settings, which would affect your ships control sensitivity; this I have never seen in a shooter game before or since, making it very possibly unique in more than just the sense of existing only on the TI-99/4A. It's not one of the most comfortable games you will ever play by any means, but at least it does have heaps of originality in a hugely overdone genre.
2. Tombstone City: 21st Century (Texas Instruments, 1981)
This game is so far the most functional and instantly playable straight-forward arcade action game that I have come across on the TI-99. Tombstone City is pretty much what it sounds like: a small old western town suddenly infested of tumbleweed and aliens called Morgs, killing everything and everyone in their way. You play as the schooner, and your job is to get rid of all the Morgs and tumbleweeds in order to woo people back to live in the city.
You start at the middle of a shelter built of 16 blocks, which the Morgs cannot infiltrate. You have to go out on the field to shoot all the tumbleweeds and Morgs, which are produced via one of the cacti out in the field. Since the Morgs can only appear from a cactus that touches another cactus, the goal is to destroy the cacti in such a way as to leave them standing individually. When this has been accomplished, the game moves on to the next day. For such a simple and wonderfully functional concept, it's a wonder that it hasn't been converted for any other machine. Highly recommended.
3. Tunnels of Doom (Texas Instruments, 1982)
Tunnels of Doom was the most interesting title of the three, at least when reading about it. It just happened to be also the only one of the three that also required the disk image along with the in-built cartridge in the emulator. Luckily, that wasn't much of a problem. What raised my interest with this game was the genre, which is basically a 2D/3D room-based dungeon crawler with highly modifiable gameplay.
Woefully, my limitations of knowledge about the machine almost put a stop to my adventures, because it took me almost 15 minutes to find all the controls, and learn to use them properly. The knowledge of how the TI-99's keyboard is mapped is pivotal, and even with some help in regards to the mapping, I still needed to make a few wild guesses as to how to get everything actually functioning. See, no one wants to read a manual on "how to push a key on your keyboard". In the end, the game didn't turn out to be all the unique or special, but some of the ideas must have been new and exciting back then. The only thing I can think of about Tunnels of Doom that can be legitimately called unique, is its sole existence on the TI-99. Worth a look, but you would really need to be a TI-a-holic in order to get any enjoyment out of this.
1. Timber! (Bally/Midway, 1984)
Bally, Midway and Sente have for long been my holy trinity of arcade gaming. Games such as Root Beer Tapper, Hat Trick, Marble Madness, Pac-Land, Bump 'n' Jump, Rampage and Spy Hunter have always held some importance in my development as a gamer, whether I was aware of it or not. So, even though MAME has been in my knowledge seeming for forever, it wasn't until a few years ago, when I bought the three Midway Arcade Treasures discs for PlayStation 2, that I truly got into the spirit of Midway. Eventually, from the set, I found an intriguing game that I hadn't heard of previously - Timber!
This unique piece of arcade gaming places the player into the boots of a lumberjack, whose mission is to chop down trees against time or against another player, while avoiding bears, beeswarms and other dangers. As with Root Beer Tapper (whose graphician coincidentally made the graphics for this game), you get a bonus stage in between every proper stage. In this game, your mission is to keep yourself on top of a rolling log in the water. So, while it certainly has its similarities to Tapper, the gameplay differences and the theme of the game itself make it a unique experience. Apart from that, the game was never converted for any home consoles or computers at the time, and only got a home release in the 32-bit age of gaming.
2. Dirt Fox (Namco, 1989)
Since most of the other sections featured something not necessarily interesting enough to be worth mentioning, I might as well do another one for the arcades. Namco has been known to be one of the front-runners during the Golden Age of arcade video games. They released a vast number of hugely successful arcade titles, such as Galaxian, Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Xevious, Pole Position, Ridge Racer, Tekken and Time Crisis, along with more modern home console classics such as Mr. Driller, Xenosaga and Katamari Damacy. This one, however, came a bit too late to have had the possibility to be considered anything but a curious side-step in their history.
The first game that will most likely cross any retro gamer's mind when taking the first looks at Dirt Fox is F-1 Spirit on the MSX, although it's not quite the same. Which is a good thing, because this works better on the whole, even though the simulation bit is completely thrown out of the equation. What has been taken in its place is a more instant variety of terrains. Also, the screen rotation is a bit surprising, when you compare it to F-1 Spirit. When you notice this game features jumps as well, and witness the very impressive scaling effects, it becomes clearer that this game actually has a proper place in history. Still, overhead racing games were becoming too outdated as a genre at that point, that it's really no wonder, if unfortunate, that this game never had a home conversion.
3. Bubble Memories: The Story of Bubble Bobble III (Taito, 1996)
The only sequel to Bubble Bobble to having only been released in the arcades, Bubble Memories is actually the fifth game in the series, although it clearly states its title as the Story of Bubble Bobble III, whatever it is supposed to mean this time. It's probably best I give you a brief history lesson here, in case you don't know what I'm talking about.
Bubble Bobble was one of Taito's biggest arcade titles, and spawned a stupendous amount of successful home conversions, currently going at around 25-26 versions, if you count all the unofficial conversions as well, so before you get all excited about featuring this game here, don't expect a comparison entry on it anytime soon. The game features two little bubble-blowing dragons, whose mission is to clear 100 single-screen levels from monsters, and finally defeat a big end-game boss monster. Nothing groundbreaking, but the execution was cute and refreshing for its time. Now, as some of you probably are aware, the first official sequel was called Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble II, in which you played as Bub and Bob in their original human form, and the gameplay was considerably different. Two different actual Bubble Bobble II titles have come out since: a Nintendo version for NES and Gameboy, which pretty much continues the same form from the original game, and Bubble Symphony (also known as Bubble Bobble II) for the arcades and Sega Saturn. Before either of these actual BB2's were released, Taito wrote a sequel to Rainbow Islands called Parasol Stars, which had the subtitle "The Story of Bubble Bobble III", so things started really getting out of hand there. See, the events of Bubble Symphony (Bubble Bobble II) take place well after Parasol Stars, considering that the four player characters are supposedly the original Bub and Bob's offspring. So, I suppose it's only logical that Bubble Memories takes place just after Parasol Stars, when the human Bub and Bob have again been transformed into dragons. But then, an actual Bubble Bobble III never came to exist, probably because the Taito team was already well beyond their own capabilities of comprehending their storylines. Just like what happened with the Legend of Zelda timeline.
Anyway, the gameplay in Bubble Memories is probably the closest to the original game that the sequels ever came back to. There are only two characters - the original Bub and Bob, and their mission is to climb a tower of 80 levels and defeat the final boss monster to become humans once more. Some of the gameplay mechanics have been enhanced and modified to be somehow in line with the abilities in the earlier games, but otherwise, it's a slight return to form. For the best Bubble Bobble history lesson, I would suggest everyone to play all the arcade Bubble Bobble games first, then if you must, take a trip through Rainbow Islands and Parasol Stars to see what happened in between. Bubble Memories was made available for the Playstation 2 in a Japanese compilation "Taito Memories II Volume 1", but the easiest way to experience this game is most certainly through MAME.
That's it for now, hope you enjoyed it! If any retro programmers are reading these posts, I hope they raise some ideas for new conversions. If nothing else, I hope more of you get inspired to try out some other machines that are not necessarily in your comfort zone.
Anyway, thanks for reading and happy International Workers' Day, everyone!
Comments, suggestions and corrections are as welcome as ever!