World Series Baseball (Genesis) is the Retro Game of the Week for 27 September, 2016

Released: 1993
Publisher:  Sega
Developer: Blue Sky Software
Platform: Genesis
Genre: Sports
Played on: mednafen, gamepad

Another rough week, another last-minute Retro Game of the Week.  It’s as if I didn’t have seven whole days to prepare anything or something.

But this one is a game I played far too much of back when it was released, and the reason is that it was (and still is!) a really good baseball game.  I’m not the biggest fan of sports these days, but baseball is one of those games that really keeps my interest.  Something about a game that isn’t inherently violent and is so well-organized and balanced just appeals to me.

And World Series Baseball gives you a sense of real control over the game while still remaining very simple, as the pitching and batting controls are more than the typical “press button to pitch/throw” games of the time.  These days I do like a bit more behind-the-scenes management sim baseball games (which is why I like Out of the Park Baseball), but for an arcade-style game, this game is a really good one.

Seriously hope to have more than this next week.  Sorry, folks.  Go play baseball.

Go Braves! 

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Dragon’s Lair (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Week for 19 September, 2016

Released: 1983
Publisher:  Cinematronics
Developer: Advanced Microcomputer Systems
Platform: Arcade
Genre: Interactive movie
Played on: Daphne emulator, keyboard

Oh, where do I begin on this one?

Dragon’s Lair was a presence in the arcades of 1993, to say the least.  It commanded attention by the very fact that it wasn’t just another blocky game with simple graphics.  It was playing an animated cartoon and beckoned one and all to play: Lead on, adventurer; your quest awaits.  And it was quite an expensive game, often taking two or maybe even four quarters or tokens to play.  You’d approach the thing after everyone else got a turn, insert the necessary coinage to play, hit the start button.  The screen goes to a view of a dark castle, cutting to a scene of a daring knight entering the castle behind closing iron gates.  Suddenly, the game began before you were even aware of it, the daring adventurer reacting to a wall closing up in front of him.  You aren’t sure what to do, or even if you should do something.  And before you know it, you see the daring adventurer either caught in the wall or gassed to death on the side he came in on.  The game presents you with more scenarios, and unsure what to do, you randomly flick the joystick or hit the button.  You hear one assuring “beep” amid a cacophony of buzzer sounds, meaning at least something you did was right, but in the end, you die very quickly, and the game is over.  You walk away, puzzled but intrigued.

As you continue to play, you learn that Dragon’s Lair is essentially a memorization game, helped along by subtle visual cues in the video (flashing lights, movement, locations of items, etc).  And when you figure it all out and are able to execute the moves perfectly all the way to the eponymous dragon’s lair and rescue the fair princess, you become a star to all who watch, who marvel at your feat.  But in the end, what is it really worth?  Is doing nothing but tilting a stick or hitting a button to a visual cue for an entire game actually a game?

Soon enough, many other games followed in the shadow of Dragon’s Lair and presented their own video-backed gaming experiences, some with more actual gameplay than others.  There was even an actual sequel called Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp.  And as the arcade scene began to fill itself with these games, gamers began to see them as the boring, non-game fluff they really were.  Something that was at first exciting and new became a sideshow that wasn’t worth the price of admission.  The idea even spread to the home as CD-based game system began springing up, and games like Night Trap were rightfully criticized for being barely a game.  It had seemed like the idea of barely interactive, style over substance games had died a just death.

Unfortunately, we still get games that decide that “quick time events”, or QTEs, the new name for what Dragon’s Lair used as its primary “game” mechanic back in 1983, are a viable mechanic, and worse still, games have moved to a very story-focused experience which, while not having game mechanics as rigid as QTEs, have very focused live-or-die setpiece moments that almost feel as bad as what Dragon’s Lair had.  In this way, today’s games do owe a lot to Dragon’s Lair — which is not at all a good thing.  But when people lose the perspective of gaming history and view modern games as the standard by which all games should be judged, you elevate poor game design like this to an undeserved pinnacle.

When you rely on visual panache and gimmicks and overall style over actual gameplay and fun to sell a game, gaming loses.  And that’s where we are today.

Thanks, Dragon’s Lair.

 

Rampage (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Week for 12 September, 2016

Released: 1986
Publisher: Bally Midway
Developer: Bally Midway Manufacturing Company
Platform: Arcade
Genre: Action
Played on: MAME emulator, gamepad

Do you like destroying stuff with a giant monster?  Eating humans?  Smashing helicopters, tanks, and other things?  Are you an anarchist that wishes you were Godzilla or some other giant monster?  Well, wish no more!  Okay, maybe you can keep wishing, because it’s just an arcade game, but you can virtually live out your dreams via Rampage.  You can even invite two more like-minded friends, because it’s simultaneous multiplayer!  Joy! 

Rampage puts you in a series of cities with tall buildings to scale and punch into rubble while avoiding military attacks.  Seriously, that’s pretty much it.  If you wanted depth and complexity from a game about giant monsters punching buildings, you’re going to be disappointed.  If you want fun, quality gameplay, though, you’ve come to the right place, because the game really controls well and is a blast to play.  It’s a bit of a quarter-muncher since there’s not a lot of ways to regain health (eating humans and bits of fruit give you a little back) and a lot of damage comes your way that you are expected to pretty much tank (it doesn’t do a lot of damage, but it does add up over time and through all the levels), so you’re basically expected to keep feeding it coins to continue.  It’s still fun enough to make it worth it, and with emulation, you can feed it as many virtual quarters as you want.

There were a bunch of home console ports, but the arcade version is still the best.  Play it.  It’s fun.  Enjoy.

And if I sound a bit loopy right now, I just got back from a tiring session at the dentist, so I’m not at my best.  Sadly I can’t think of a good dentist-Rampage connection, so we’ll just leave it at that.  Play videogames, avoid dentists.  Brush and floss, folks.

 

 

BurgerTime (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Week for 6 September, 2016

Released: 1982
Publisher: Data East / Bally Midway
Developer: Data East
Platform: Arcade
Genre: Platformer
Played on: MAME emulator, gamepad

I know that when I want a delicious hamburger, I want one that has been stomped on by a tiny chef over and over again while being chased by food. Yum.

BurgerTime is a typically weird and nonsensical arcade game where the goal is to build hamburgers.  Each part of a hamburger is on a different level of a ladder-connected series of platforms, and you, a tiny little chef (or a normal sized chef making enormous hamburgers) must walk across each part (ew!) to make them drop down to a lower platform, and, eventually, onto a plate where it is assembled into a finished burger.  Meanwhile, you’re being chased by other foods, apparently angry that you dare… make hamburgers?  (Yeah, this is why videogames shouldn’t have stories.  It’s best when you accept the weirdness on its own terms and just play the damn game.)  You can stun them by sprinkling a limited supply of pepper on them, and squish them by dropping a hamburger part on them.  If they get stunned on a part of the hamburger that you walk across and drop, their weight will allow the parts to continue dropping more than just one level, as the hamburger parts do normally.

Of course, the strategy in this game is the same as many maze chase games — lure, avoid, and accomplish what you need while the enemies are trying to catch back up to you.  It seems best to use the limited supply of pepper to ensure a quick burger drop rather than an offensive/defensive weapon normally, but many times you will find yourself in jeopardy and need to use it as such.  The fun part of this game is the strategy you will need to use to do all of this effectively.

However, when playing this game via emulation, I noticed a problem that I really didn’t seem to remember having playing this back in the arcade: the game is really exact on moving off and on to ladders, and many times I would get stuck trying to get off or on one, causing me to lose lives I really shouldn’t be losing.  (This is demonstrated in the above video, and why I chose to upload one that didn’t get very far in the game but demonstrated several control problem attempts.)  I am not sure if it’s just me, or the emulation, or the controller I’m using, but I really don’t remember having these problems.  It’s still a fun game, but my memory of it is now a bit tainted by these issues that have cropped up.

Still, if you want to have the thrill of creating burgers with shoeprints all over them, this is your game.  Seriously, yuck.