Fifteen Recommended Steam Games

steam-logo1

So as someone that isn’t that keen on modern games, Steam is a platform that I have to pick and choose good games for.  It’s sad that Steam doesn’t really have nearly as many classic games as I wish it did; GOG.com has quite a few more, but there is no way to purchase anything from GOG without a credit card, which I don’t use; meanwhile I can buy cards with cash at retail stores for Steam with no issues.  Advantage: Steam.

But Steam does have some very good old games on its store, and here’s a list of what I recommend (in no particular order).  I realize that I have talked about many of these games in the past on this site, but hey, it’s time to talk about them again.

  • X-Com: UFO Defense
    The precursor to the modern X-Com games that, to me, don’t quite have the complexity and gameplay of this one.  There is even a modern engine port called OpenXCom that addresses some of the small issues of the original game engine and is highly recommended.
  • Wolfenstein 3D
    One of the original first person shooters, Wolfenstein 3D might not have the near-flawless execution of its successor Doom, but it’s a hell of a ride and a fun time.  There are modern sourceports of this game as well, and I highly recommend you take advantage of them.
  • Sonic CD
    A sadly underappreciated classic Sonic game, this one has Sonic running through time itself to once again stop Eggman from doing whatever evilness he does.  While this is a modern engine adaptation of the original game, it is extremely faithful to the original game minus a few odd movement glitches here and there, but definitly worth picking up.  Also, the USA soundtrack is better.  Don’t argue, you know it’s true.  /s
  • Quake
    What can you say about one of the greatest shooters of all time?  Well, besides the fact that id derailed the brilliant first game by making it into a boring techno-shooter with the second game.  At least it had one final great gasp with Arena before 4 ruined it again and id decided to mess with Arena’s perfection.
  • Heretic / HeXen
    Yeah, more first person shooters, but these are special.  Take the minimal yet effective Doom engine and put it in a magical world full of crazy magical weapons and insane enemies mixed with superb level design, and you have two games that nearly rival Doom.  Nearly.
  • Archon Classic
    It’s chess but with a combat motif — but if you’re thinking Battle Chess where you just get pre-determined animations for capturing, you’re way off.  You get to control your piece as it actually goes into combat against the other piece, with the victor gaining the square instead of just the captor as in chess.  It’s a brilliant game I originally played on the Commodore 64, and this version is a very good adaptation.
  • Wizardry 6: Bane of the Cosmic Forge
    If there is one thing Steam needs more of, it’s classic RPGs.  Modern computer RPGs seem to take their cue from Japanese RPGs as they are more story-heavy and linear instead of letting a character or group of characters loose wherever they want to go in a world ready to kill him or them at every turn.  Wizardry 7 and 8 are also on Steam, but honestly, I feel that 6 was the pinnacle of the series, and if you play only one, make this one it.
  • Sid Meier’s Pirates! Gold Plus (Classic)
    Honestly, anything from the Classic series of Sid Meier’s game is worth getting (check out Colonization and Covert Action), but come on — Pirates is absolutely iconic and has very addicting gameplay that will keep you playing longer than you might have wanted.
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization III Complete
    And speaking of Sid Meier, it wouldn’t be proper to list at least one of his Civilization games on its own.  Honestly, any of the Civilization games (including Beyond Earth) are worth getting and playing, but my personal favorite of the ones available on Steam is the third game, which seems to be more straightforward and satisfying than the others, though if Civilization II were an option on Steam, I would have opted for that one…
  • Master of Orion II
    Speaking of games that will have you losing sleep (and mealtimes, and work/school, and your social life…), Master of Orion is one of those “just a little more” games that will suddenly make you wonder how you have been playing for ten hours.  While the first game is great as well, MOO2 perfected the gameplay and is my recommended choice.
  • Commander Keen
    The PC platformer game of choice, Commander Keen from the same company that would go on to unleash Doom on the world is an immensely satisfying and fun experience.
  • Atari Vault
    Seriously, how can you not own this huge collection of Atari 2600 and Atari arcade games?  It will make you respect the Atari 2600 era a bit more, at least.
  • Bionic Commando: Rearmed
    As a near-perfect modern treatment of the NES classic Bionic Commando, there’s no reason to miss this one.  You may think that the limiting movement and controls in this game is a negative, but playing it long enough will hopefully convince you that it is for the best.
  • Unreal Gold
    As the last gasp of the old style of FPS that aren’t painfully story-based and has several exploration-focused levels, Unreal is absolutely brilliant.  You can probably ignore the included Return to Na Pali, though.  And please, for goodness sake, don’t even try Unreal 2.  Just pretend it didn’t exist.
  • And finally: Crysis…
    just kidding.
  • DOOM
    Bet you saw that coming a mile away.  The entire classic Doom collection is an essential part of everyone’s Steam collection, and the new “Doom” and Doom 3 just doesn’t measure up to the near-perfection — oh, who am I kidding, the absolute perfection — of the original games.  Grab a sourceport like zdoom and kill some demons today.

And just so I get this in there: do not purchase Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour.  While I would love to recommend that you get and play Duke Nukem 3d, this terrible cashgrab version by Duke’s new owners pales in comparison to the original version that was on Steam that included several extra episodes, a better overall experience, and was less expensive than this obvious attempt at grabbing as much money for a bare amount of poor extra content over the core game.  Demand that the Megaton Edition be brought back to Steam and purchase that.  (Fortunately, I purchased Megaton Edition when it was available, and still have access to that version because of that, but there is no way to get that version any more, which is terrible and a serious blow to anyone wanting the game that didn’t already own it.)

Review of PAC-MAN 256

Pac-Man-256

PAC-MAN 256 is a game available on Steam for Windows, Mac, and GNU (Linux/SteamOS) (also on mobile, but those have pay-to-win elements and I feel aren’t worth mentioning) released in 2016 by BANDAI NAMCO and developed by Hipster Whale, 3 Sprockets, and BANDAI NAMCO.  It is an endless runner game inspired by the classic Pac-Man game.

And, you know, it’s not bad at all, for one of those new games.

You start out in the middle of a randomly generated Pac-Man maze seen at a slightly right-skewed perspective, moving upward through an endless random maze full of dots, ghosts (your enemies that will end your run), power pellets (that let you temporarily turn the tables on the ghosts and eat them for points), and other powerups and elements specific to the game.  Your objective is to simply score as many points as possible while going as far as you can.  Meanwhile, behind you is the “glitch”, a representation of the glitched right side of the maze on the 256th level of the original Pac-Man game, motivating you to move forward.  If you are caught by either a ghost or go deep enough into the edge of the glitch, the game is over — no extra lives here.

Helping you out are other powerups that you can choose three from any that you have unlocked so far by eating more dots, and upgraded using coins you gain by moving over in the maze or completing missions such as eating so many of a certain powerup or killing so many ghosts.  These basically either give you other ways to kill the ghosts or at least limit their movement, or enhance your ability to get a higher score in your run.  (My favorite three are the one that turns Pac-Man into a bomb where any ghost you run into explodes as well as a large area that explodes around you when the power-up wears off, a laser shooting out of Pac-Man’s mouth that kills any ghost it touches, and my favorite, an electric powerup that destroys any ghost it touches as well as fairly quickly kills ghosts anywhere on the screen.)  There are lots of other interesting additions to the game, including being able to clear the maze of ghosts and gain a good bonus by collecting 256 dots consecutively (there are gaps in the dots here and there that will reset the counter, so it’s not just moving backwards that will break the chain), tunnels that work similarly to the ones in the original Pac-Man except that you also gain temporary invincibility when you exit one side, and arrow strips that will speed you up going along their line or slow you down going the other way.

The ghosts themselves add a very good strategy element to moving around the maze, as each ghost have a specific movement pattern you can exploit to avoid getting trapped.  For example, the red ghost will simply chase you, the pink one will only move towards you very quickly if you come into its line of sight, the gray one will stay still until you come close to it, the blue and orange ones prefer to cut you off instead of directly coming for you, and there are lines of ghosts that will move along a single horizontal corridor as more of a blocker than a real threat.  I really like this element of the game as it very much makes the game more of just a mindless, random runner game and hearkens back to the original game and the patterns of its ghosts.

Of course, the game has the trappings of its mobile pay to win roots — the game itself does get old fairly quickly, and the only real reason to play it for a long time (like I did) is to finish all ten achievements, especially the last one which requires a very long grind to level all the powerups to their maximum level, something that takes a very long time given that each powerup needs a total of 4,080 coins to fully level up and there are 18 powerups… and each coin you eat gives you either 4 or 10 coins and the missions will give you either 128, 256, 512, or 1,024 coins, heavily weighted to the low end of those numbers.  But I did it.  Suck it, game. 

PAC-MAN 256 is a very fun diversion, and if you like the original Pac-Man like I do, you might enjoy this.  Give it a try.

April Fool fool

I was going to make an April Fool joke last night.

My plan since… well, since a long time ago, really, was to make a Retro Game of the Week post (resurrecting the RGotW for one week as a “special” return) featuring the game Halo.  And I’d even have a video of me playing it and “enjoying” the experience (playing the PC version via Wine).

Of course, the foolishness here is that I never really cared much for Halo and see it as part of gaming’s decline into mediocrity.  The same old style-over-substance argument against modern gaming definitely applied to Halo as it cared more about its graphics and Mary Sue (Gary Stu) protagonist in a world that should have been a movie instead of a series of dull, repetitive, boring games.

I will admit, though, the multiplayer was okay at best.

Oh well.  Didn’t feel like bothering.  Go play the original Unreal instead.  Hell, that game manages to look pretty and have awesome, compelling, great gameplay (with many open, exploration-focused levels — take that, Half-Life!)  that tells its story via simple translation messages (within the gameplay) and the gameplay itself.  Oh, and fantastic multiplayer.  What a radical concept.

Sorry I didn’t feel like fooling you.  I’m sure Google has some silly and/or lame foolishness for you, though.

Earworm

Wikipedia defines “earworm” as “a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing”.  I had that the other day with a piece of music from a retro game that I could not remember the source of.  All I could remember was that it was probably a Commodore 64 game.

I got out a virtual piano and figured out the notes, playing it over and over, trying to jog my memory.  I looked through lists of Commodore 64 games, trying in vain to connect this little ditty in my mind with an actual game.

I felt like Al Bundy in Married… With Children trying to recall the song “Anna (Go to Him)”.  Hmm hmm hiiimmm…

The best feeling in the world happened after a good hour or so trying to think of it.  With absolutely no help from the internet or any other source, I managed to remember where it came from.

The theme from Pitfall II: Lost Caverns.  It was an Atari 2600 game as well, but I remember it (and played it, and beat it) on my Commodore 64.  The tune was burned so deeply into my brain from playing it at that time, it stuck into some unused, cobweb-filled crevace of my mind and finally unstuck itself while leaving its identity behind.

Man, that drove me nuts.  Go play Pitfall II. 

SegaCDedia

comptons

Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia brought an entire encyclopedia’s worth of information to the Sega CD (Mega CD outside of the USA) on a single disk, and included not only text articles, but also pictures, sounds, and even video, making it more like a proto-Wikipedia than just a CD-based encyclopedia.  Even though it wasn’t a game, I found it an interesting use of an early CD-based system and just how much can be stored on a single CD.  Sadly, game developers decided that having an entire CD to store data meant that they could use it for “video games” that were more video than games.  At least Compton’s wasn’t conceited enough to believe that it was in any way a game.

A C64stravaganza!

Hey, look, it’s Monday, and even though I said I’d stop Retro Game of the Week entries, here I am with a post!  No, RGOTW isn’t back, but I did say I’d post semi-regularly regarding some of the things I’ve been playing, and I did say I was going to play some Commodore 64… and so I have been.

When I was young, my parents scraped together enough money to get me the Commodore VIC-20, and eventually, the Datasette (basically a storage device that used regular audio cassette tapes to store data — yes, it was as slow as you might think it would be).  As my poor VIC-20 got atrociously out of date after some years, my parents, in their infinite lower-middle class generosity to their computer-crazed son, plopped down a brand new Commodore 64 in front of me.  Still had the Datasette, though, so loading something like Telengard would take an insane 30 minutes!  (The game was something like 35KB, smaller than most small images that it takes a fraction of a second to load from the internet these days.  Take that, priviledged kids.)  Eventually, they once again felt the sorrow of a poor nerd and ponied up the money for the 1541 disk drive, featuring 5 1/4″ floppy disks that held a whopping 170ish KB of data.  And loaded a lot faster than that damn Datasette — I was up and playing Telengard in a few minutes now!  (And thanks to me eventually acquiring a fast loading cartridge to speed up things, it loaded even faster!  It was no fraction of a second like it would load now, but hey, progress!)

So many exclamation points, I know.  The sign of a poor writer.  But it is a reflection of the excitement I had at the time for the Commodore 64 — a simple yet effective machine, every bit of it laid bare for me to manipulate, hack on, fiddle with, and, yes, play games with.  It was my first true love in computing, and it still holds a place dear to my heart.

My actual Commodore 64 hardware is long gone, long since broken and lost to the ages, but I still am able to play its games and toy around with it thanks to a magnificent emulator called VICE.  It is technically a multi-emulator that is able to run all 8-bit Commodore hardware, from the old PET computers to the VIC-20, Commodore 64, 128 and PLUS4.  It’s quite a magnificent feat of programming and very impressive work was done to simulate it very well, especially the magnificent Commodore 64’s sound chip (SID), which was capable of some impressive sound feats back in the day.

Did I mention it can play games?

International Karate+

international-karate

This game is probably one of the games you think of when you think of Commodore 64 gaming.  It’s a very early example of a fighting game, where you can fight against the computer or another player to execute a variety of karate punches and kicks to knock down your opponent (unlike many fighting games, one good hit knocks them down and you gain a point).  The controls seem rather awkward at first as you only have the standard Commodore 64 8-position joystick plus single button to control your fighter, but as you play more, you quickly remember the movements required to pull of any move.  There were many variants of this game, and trying quite a few of them, I never was able to find the exact version of the game I played back in the day, but the version I ended up with was close enough.

Great Giana Sisters

great-giana-sisters

Super Mario Bros. and Nintendo, eat your heart out.  The Commodore 64 proved it could play side-scrolling platformers, too, and delivered a very good Mario Bros.-like with this game.  Pressing up on the control stick to jump was a little awkward if you’re used to doing it with a button, but it was necessary, like International Karate+, to map everything to a single one-button stick.

Radar Rat Race

radar-rat-race

Hoooly crap.  I had completely forgotten about this one until scrolling through a game list for the C64 and happening on this thing.  The game is basically a clone of the arcade Rally-X, and is very well done and insanely fun.  Big smile on my face playing this one.

Raid on Bungeling Bay

raid-on-bungeling-bay

I didn’t play a whole lot of this back in the day, but I did remember that the helicopter controls were absolutely awesome, confirmed by my replay of it today.  It’s a pretty simple multiscrolling fly-around-and-shoot-things game, but it’s really a solid game.

Speedball

speedball

There seems to be many people who remember Speedball 2 and not this one, and claim that the second game was the better game.  I disagree.  2 had a more zoomed in view with clunkier controls and chaotic (in a bad way) gameplay, while the original seemed a lot more solid and fun to play.  2 wasn’t bad, mind you, but I think the original just has it beat in every way that matters.  In the end it’s just a simple football game, (“soccer” for my fellow USAians that are obsessed with that “other” so-called football) but hell, it’s fun, and that’s what counts.

I highly recommend grabbing the Vice emulator and giving these games (and others) a try.  You might find that the Commodore 64 will win your heart, as well.

The end of Retro Game of the Week

I figured that one day it would come to this point, but honestly, this lasted a lot longer than I thought it would.  I figured I wouldn’t have the patience to grind this thing out for longer than a few months before I tired of it, even after changing the original plan of one game a day to once weekly, and even with the breaks and weeks off, I didn’t think I’d make it this far.

But here I am.

This doesn’t mean the end of Retro Gaming Universe, at all.  And occasionally I will highlight a game I’ve been playing.  But RGotW as a regular feature will no longer happen.

The main reason: I’m sick of fighting with YouTube over copyright issues.  Seemingly every few videos, something crops up — either the video’s audio gets matched and is blocked in certain countries, or the entire video is blocked everywhere, or worse, flagged.  And it’s frustrating, because all I want to do is show a damn short video on typical gameplay.  It’s free publicity, I am not making one damn red cent from my channel, and I am doing this to inform and educate the public about old games.  And you still want to block me from doing that?  Typical corporate greed and short-sightedness.  It’s something I fight on a daily basis as a user and advocate of Free operating systems like GNU (aka Linux — GNU is the actual OS name, Linux is its kernel, and no cobbled-together name like “GNU/Linux” is going to improve it even though Linux isn’t technically part of GNU, as the argument goes; I’d rather just call it by its OS name) and other freedom and human rights advocacy online.  I realize that the use of Google’s services in any way makes me somewhat of a hypocrite, and I am well aware of my own hypocracy in this area — I have so many times in the past struggled with my relationship with Google, even completely removing it from my life at one point, but the problem is that it’s just too ubiquitous and useful to keep away from.  I try to keep my distance the best I can — my primary search engine is DuckDuckGo, and I would rather directly watch a YouTube video via mpv+youtube-dl than on its bloated site, but I still have an account there, I post YouTube videos, and I occasionally participate on Google+.  And I hate myself for it.

Trust me, I’m not even close to exhausting the amount of retro games I remember and enjoyed, and would love to share them.  My eventual plan was to go on a Commodore posting spree and highlight games from the VIC-20, Commodore 64, and Amiga very soon, and other systems like Apple 8-bit computers and the GameBoy barely got their day in the sun, not to mention a ton of Nintendo’s games that really don’t get much mention these days.  But Nintendo games again bring up the YouTube problem, as Nintendo doesn’t seem to like people posting their games much unless they are formatted in a way to prevent copyright matching (yeah, that’s fair), so as much as I would have loved to do a full Super Mario Bros. 2 (the USA conversion of Doki Doki Panic, not the Japanese version that was basically a masochistic version of the first one), I ended up having to do it on a week that I really didn’t feel like posting a full RGotW and just ended up attaching an image of it.  Not the way I wanted to celebrate the black sheep of the Mario series.

I am still going to post here, and I still want to highlight some Commodore games (Raid on Bungling Bay, The Last Ninja, the Scott Adams adventure games, Speedball 2, Shadow of the Beast, etc), as well as some DOS games (Ultima Underworld, Scorched Earth, Warcraft and Command & Conquer, etc).  But they won’t be in RGotW format, and in fact will probably be some all-in-one post, or just a single post on a certain game that I’ve been playing.

I’m just tired of a deadline, and tired of YouTube.  It’s been a fun ride, and the ride will continue in another form, but the Retro Game of the Week rollercoaster is done.

I think I’m going to play some C64 games now.

Here is a list of every single game featured on Retro Game of the Day/Week. Enjoy.

Cliff Hanger (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Week for 13 February, 2017

Note: due to YouTube stupidly blocking the video for copyrighted content, there will be no game video this week.  YouTube sucks.  Seriously.

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Released: 1983
Developer: Stern Electronics, TMS Entertainment
Publisher: Stern Electronics
System: Arcade
Genre: Interactive movie
Played on: MAME, keyboard

During one of my awkward school years, my class somehow thought that it might be fun to round us all up and head out to the local roller skating rink.  Being completely uncoordinated and awkward, this was obviously a nightmarish trip for me as I laced up my skates, wobbling and carefully moving everywhere.  I seem to remember spending more time on my ass with those skates on than not.

Fortunately, the place had a few arcade games, including one I had never seen before.  It was in the genre of Dragon’s Lair-like interactive movie games that were even at that time waning in popularity (and rightfully so), but having to choose between the other games that I’ve played a million times (and, if I remember correctly, weren’t even that great) and this new one, I chose the new one — Cliff Hanger.  Like several other barely interactive movie arcade games at the time, I spent way too much time and money on this thing, and never really got that far, but again, the alternatives were pretty poor.

Cliff Hanger follows the adventures of “Cliff” (well, sort of — read on) and his quest to rescue “Clarissa” from the clutches of the evil “Count Draco”.  The “game”, if you can call it that, involves hitting either a direction or one of two “action” buttons (hands and feet) at specific times during the video.  Failure at any point means you lose a life and must return to a specific point in the action (generally a few moments before your failure) to try again.  Losing all your lives isn’t a huge setback, as you can insert more coins to continue where you left off (or just hit the coin button in MAME… heh).

At this point in my life, I wasn’t very familiar with Japanese animation, even though I had seen a bit of it under the guise of Americanized versions of things like Mach GoGoGo (Speed Racer) and a few others.  I had no idea that this game, in fact, was a bastardization of the Japanese animated Lupin the Third, specifically the movie The Castle of Cagliostro.  Watching Lupin the Third some years later and specifically that specific movie, it was quite a realization that the game was a repurposed version of this movie, and that “Cliff” was really Lupin, “Clarissa” was Lady Clarisse, and “Count Draco” was Count Cagliostro.  Shocker, I know.  (The game also used a few bits of footage from another Lupin movie, The Mystery of Mamo, but it was primarily taken from Cagliostro.)

So yeah, another pointless nostalgia entry of Retro Game of the Week.  I try not to do a lot of these and focus on actual quality games, but sometimes, I just can’t help myself as I think of and rediscover games I haven’t played in years, and point out that not all games back then were great — it’s just that the greatest games of the time were better than the “greatest” games of today.  But gaming today doesn’t realize that you really can’t get away with just playing a movie, adding a bit of superficial gameplay, and expecting it to be good.  Sadly, today’s gamers have been trained to believe that is true.  The lessons we learned back in the day have been forgotten.

Oh, well.