Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Secret History of Star Raiders

Back in the stone age days of the Atari 2600, when it was the videogame system, there was one game that stood out away from the rest, and not for any good reasons. That was Star Raiders.

Everyone had Star Raiders, but I don't think anyone liked it, or even played it. Ninety-nine percent of all Atari games used either a joystick or a paddle controller, but not Star Raiders. It had a big number pad controller with a phone cord like cord. As an oddity it stood out, and as I said, I didn't know anyone who played it, maybe because it was a bit difficult to play or to understand how to play. My Atari is long ago stored away, and I'm not digging it up any time soon to check it out - so forget that noise.

But the facts are of course that Star Raiders predates the Atari 2600, and goes back to the Atari 400 and 800, and the Atari 8-bit family of games. Yeah, this is one of the ancestors. Star Raiders may have been crippled by the limiting graphics of the 2600, or at least that's what my computer geek friends tell me. I have also been told that it was the precursor to later games that I have enjoyed like Starmaster and the Star Trek arcade game, and even Wing Commander. The original SR even borrowed itself from Trek, Star Wars, and even Battlestar Galactica in its own designs. Man, I wish I remembered this game better, or at least played it.

Now imagine my surprise when I saw Star Raiders listed as a free download at the PlayStation Store. I downloaded it but only remembering it vaguely from childhood I didn't play right away. After learning more about it, I was eager to play and jumped right to it.

Wow, the visuals are something else, but man, the controller directions are among the most complicated I have seen so far for the PS3. Steering was insane, but the format was eerily similar to favorite games like those mentioned above, Starmaster and Star Trek. It was very cool. I will have to learn more. I'm sure it will be worth it. And I actually feel a little bad I didn't put more time in with the 2600 version.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Deluxe Is Not Always Better

I used to play the original Elevator Action all the time. The concept had the player controlling secret agent Otto in a 2D vertical scroller as he went from the roof of a building dozens of floors down to escape from the basement in a cool car. Along the way you used elevators and escalators to descend while finding secret plans behind doors, jumping and shooting enemy spies. It was fairly simple but I loved it, and I was good at it. I could play for hours on just a few quarters, and always got through more than a few buildings.

I think there's an NES version of this but I recall it was just not the same. There just certain tricks to the arcade game that just didn't carry over. This seems to be by far the case with the PS3 version, called Elevator Action Deluxe. The deluxe in the title refers to better I guess, or at least it seems that's what the creators want you to think. I think not. If PS3 made the old arcade game, just the way it was, I would be happy as a cat in a tuna factory, but that wasn't the case.

In this case, the deluxe meant 3D rather than 2D, giving the game a whole new, and not necessarily better look. They also added in bombs and bigger guns, but when you can't ride on top of the elevators and do other such tricks, what's the point? This version is still fun to play, easy to beat, but if I'm being honest, I'd rather play the original. Anyone know where they still have an arcade machine of this one?

Monday, August 6, 2012

That's Really Trippin', Man

Thinking outside the box. That's where some of the cooler videogames of our age are coming from I think. Not so much fighting or blowing stuff up, or even trying to do puzzles, but more like dig the visuals, man. Much like coming down off a alcohol or drug-induced party high and watching "Teletubbies" on PBS at four in the morning, that's what some of these games are like.

One such game is called Flower, created by Thatgamecompany, not as a game per se, but more as a work of art. It shows. You are a flower petal floating in the wind, controlled by the movement of the game controller. Set to beautiful calming music, the petal floats across gorgeous landscapes through your direction. This is a fantastically visual game, what little game there is to it. I could watch for hours, as it is relaxing.

And then there's Eufloria from Valve Corporation, also known as Steam, the folks that brought you Portal. They call it a 'real-time strategy videogame,' whatever that means. With backing music that sounds like it was lifted from WXPN's "Star's End," you are a space seed in the future, and you have to make your way to another asteroid to grow into a tree, from which more seeds will come, just like nature, ya know? It's even more frustrating than Flower.

My days of post-party diversion are long over, so I guess these are not the games for me. But they sure are pretty, or at least Flower is, but I'm sure will put most folks to sleep…

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Demo, Not the Movie II

Continuing my quest to play videogames based on movies and not get disappointed, I decided to give Back to the Future - Episode 1: It's About Time a shot. Firstly I was put off by the ugly cartoony graphics and even moreso by the punny title, but let's put that aside.

I did like the music from the movies, and the voicework, all originals I think, in the opening cinematic. Or is it just the opening cinematic? This is actually a whole lot like watching a movie with choose-your-own-adventure capability. It gets old pretty quick - especially when you don't know the right answers or choices. It's a lot like being an actor in a movie where you didn’t get the script, and nobody else is prompting you.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I only have the demo so I didn't get to play much, but I don't see it changing later on. Good mystery, good plot, I like the music and voicework quite a bit, but all in all, a bust.

Finally, Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime gets the prize for being the loudest and most annoying game of all, and that's even before one hits the start button. As I scroll through all my downloaded games, bits of music and backgrounds from the games come up as I pass the titles. Every time I pass by this one, the refrain to Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters" screams out of the television, making anyone not prepared or warned jump out of their seats. This game almost made it onto The Rejected list just for this several times.

Thankfully the music in the actual game is of a lower volume. The Ghostbusters portrayed in the game are not the ones we know from the movie or the cartoon series, although they are outfitted in the same way. The opening depicts these new anime-like Ghostbusters in a comic booky intro before actual gameplay begins. Gameplay is pretty lame however in my opinion. The characters are small and distant, similar to Voltron reviewed earlier, or the first versions of X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES. Not good.