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.

Black Widow (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Week for 30 January, 2017

Released: 1982
Developer: Atari
Publisher: Atari
System: Arcade
Genre: Shooter
Played on: MAME, gamepad

Another “I am sick as sick can be” week here at RGotW, so this is going to be brief.  Playing games on the Atari Vault collection on Steam is enjoyable not only because I get to play a bunch of old games I am familiar with, but also discover a few games I really didn’t get to see back then or ever try since.  Black Widow is one of those games, and it’s pretty good.  You move around on a web and basically shoot other spiders and creepy-crawlies using a twin stick shooter, with various enemy types, dangers and obstacles in your way.  Sounds simple, but again, simple can be really, really good.

Hopefully next week I won’t be horribly sick and I can actually think to write more than a single paragraph about a game.  Enjoy.

Pleiades (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Week for 23 January, 2017

Released: 1981
Developer: Tehkan
Publisher: Centuri (US version, played here)
System: Arcade
Genre: Vertical shooter
Played on: MAME, gamepad

This edition of the Retro Game of the Week is pure, unapologetic nostalgia. While its featured game, Pleiades (also spelled “Pleiads” elsewhere), is pretty much a bog-standard vertical shooter game with a few neat tricks, my affection for the game comes from it being an arcade game in a gas station within walking distance of my home back when I was young. I played this game probably way, way more than I should have. And I loved every moment of it. Nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake for once in RGotW, but at least somewhat deserved.

Pleiades is comprised of four stages, repeated over and over until you run out of lives. The first takes place on what appears to be a military installation, complete with makeshift shields and tracking satellite dishes (that also fire at incoming aliens). The aliens swirl in via various patterns, shooting at the player and occasionally morphing into fast-moving ball-shaped aliens and walker aliens that lay down shields just above you that block your fire. After you defeat them, the second stage has you blasting off into space to take on a group of small aliens that quickly grow into large bird-like aliens that you have to shoot the center of — shooting their “wings” only slows them down. When those are dispatched, you take on the alien ship that spawns waves of aliens while exhaust ports on the ship open for bonus points. When the ship is dispatched, a message onscreen tells you to return to Earth; you must then navigate through a landing strip full of parked ships and a quickly tapering edge (both of which destroy your ship and make you lose a life) to a target point, where the first stage begins anew and slightly increases in difficulty.

It is reminiscent of games like Phoenix, yet its style and gameplay make the game very compelling on its own. But let’s face it, I probably would never have made this a Retro Game of the Week if not for that arcade game in a corner grocery store near my house.  Nostalgia, friends.

Journey (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Week for 16 January, 2016

Released: 1983
Publisher:  Bally Midway
Developer: Bally Midway
Platform: Arcade
Genre: Action
Played on: MAME, gamepad

Sigh.  Another rushed Retro Game of the Week.  Too much going on, too many sick days, not enough time to play old games.

But that’s okay, because we have Journey.

No, kids, not that barely-a-game adventure game that came out a few years back.  This is the old arcade game, and the journey you will go on is that of the rock band of the same name.  Certainly you’ve at least heard in passing a few of their songs, like Wheel In the Sky?  Don’t Stop Believin’?  Well, if you haven’t, go spin a few of their hits on YouTube or something.  They’re good.  They may not be up to your sappy, repetitious, boring, pop-rock “standards”, but hey.

Oh, right, the videogame.

So you control the five members (at the time) of the band Journey on their quest to regain their instruments from… well, it doesn’t matter, because it’s a flimsy pretext (as all real games are and should be) to play the actual game, which is set up as a set of five minigames, one for each band member/instrument, which can be quite challenging at times.  Each game essentially is a separate challenge on a path to acquire your instrument, then turns into a mini-shooter to return to the other side of the screen where your bandmates are waiting.  Once you succeed, a minigame involving a bouncer keeping a crowd away from your instruments begins, and when the crowd succeeds, a more difficult round of the minigames start.  And for those who know Journey’s musical catalog, electric (MIDI-like) versions of many of their hits play during the game, and a tape recording (contained in the cabinet) of Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) plays during the bonus stage.

Is it a fantastic game?  No.  Is it fun and memorable?  You bet.  And that’s why it’s here.  Aside from the fact that I just had to pick a game quickly to highlight.  Hell, I liked it.  And that’s what matters.

 

Berzerk (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Day for 28 November, 2016

Released: 1980
Publisher:  Stern Electronics
Developer: Stern Electronics
Platform: Arcade
Genre: Shooter
Played on: MAME, gamepad

Berzerk takes place in a maze-like installation of killer robots all out to get you.  Simple premise, of course, but again, this is what videogames are supposed to be about — simple ideas as an excuse to put you right in the action.  Modern gaming, are you listening?

The robots themselves are (intentionally) pretty dumb — they will fire at you when you are in line with their shots (eight directions) and advance when you are near or at least they think they have a good path, but they are ignorant of the electrified walls, other robot’s shots, and even other robots, all of which will kill them.  This means that not only do you have a direct means of killing them with your eight-direction weapon (used by pressing a direction with the fire button) but you can also guide them to their own deaths by luring them into a wall or in the line of fire of another robot, or even into another robot.  This element of the game gives it a bit of strategy.

You don’t have to kill all the robots to exit a room, but the game will chastise you for doing so (via speech synthesis, a pretty cool feature at the time) calling you a “chicken”, but you get a bonus for clearing the room first, making it worth the effort.  Taking too long to leave, however, will summon an invincible, bouncing entity called “Evil Otto”, which will home in towards you even through walls and kill you on touch (and other robots, giving you another way to clear the room).  Killing all the robots in the room will make Evil Otto move toward you more quickly as well.

The game is incredibly fun even in its simplicity, and the voice synthesis is nice even as it taunts you when you lose a life (“Got the humanoid, got the intruder”) or you run out of the room without finishing it (“Chicken, fight like a robot”).  It even taunts the player to try the game at the high score screen outside of a game (“Coin detected in pocket”).  It’s definitely worth giving it a shot.  Because if you don’t… well… chicken.

 

Tapper (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Week for 21 November, 2016

Released: 1983
Publisher:  Bally Midway
Developer: Marvin Glass and Associates
Platform: Arcade
Genre: Action
Played on: MAME, gamepad

A new PC and a new, re-energized love for retro gaming means I’m back and ready for more games that you probably never knew existed!

Tapper is a cool one.  The game itself is incredibly simple, and almost seems like what a smartphone game would be these days.  You are in charge of a series of bars with a ton of thirsty customers waiting for drinks, slowly advancing down the bar.  You are in charge of filling up a mug of beer and sending it sliding down the bar so that the thirsty patron can grab it.  The customer can either take it with them and leave or send the mug sliding back down the bar, waiting for another drink.  If you let a customer reach the end of the bar, let a returning empty mug crash onto the floor, or send a full mug down the bar with no one along the bar to recieve it, you lose a life and start the round over.  Some customers will also leave tips at the very far end of the bar, where you can run down the bar to grab them (you can also run down to grab empty mugs, and any time you run down you don’t have to take the time to run back as any action will immediately move you to a bar end), and this money allows dancers at the top of the screen to distract some customers that would normally be advancing down the bar, waiting for you to serve them, giving you a little breathing room.

Sure, at first this seems simple enough, and the first couple of levels are indeed cleared very easily as long as you are quick to throw the drinks down the bar.  But as the bars get cluttered with more and more customers and more and more start chunking the glasses back for more, giving you many bars full of empty glasses threatening to break on the floor all at once, the game gets very hectic and quite challenging.  You have to prioritize where to go and what to do and if you can risk (and have time to) run down a bar to grab a tip that might give you a little breathing room.

The interesting thing?  The game’s blatant ad for Budweiser beer plastered everywhere.  Given that games of the time seemed to be geared for young people and be family-friendly for the most part, the idea of chunking beers down a bar and a Budweiser ad staring them in the face is a bit jarring.  This certainly prompted a different version of the game, Root Beer Tapper, that was the same game except obviously with root beer instead of the harder stuff, and a generic ad for root beer in place of the Budweiser logo.  Regardless, I remember many more arcades carrying the original Tapper game back in those days rather than its kinder, friendlier alternative.

Regardless, the game is fun and a nice, challenging arcade game to quench your thirst for simple action gaming.

This Tapper’s for you.

 

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.

Gorf (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Week for 29 August, 2016

Released: 1981
Publisher: Midway
Developer: Dave Nutting Associates
Platform: Arcade
Genre: Vertical shooter
Played on: MAME emulator, gamepad

The very reason I went to weekly Retro Game of the… entries was because I was unable to produce quality content on a daily basis, and I thought I would be able to produce better, less hurried content with better gameplay on a weekly basis.

Unfortunately, this week isn’t going to be a shining example of what I had hoped would come of this move.

Basically, I’ve been very much under the weather all week, with one ailment or another keeping me down and not being motivated to work towards the goal of creating this week’s Retro Game of the Week.  So like I had to do when I was forcing out daily content, I just had to wing it this week with Gorf.  Sorry.

I absolutely adored Gorf in the arcades.  The game had an actual voice taunting you (a rough one, but still), the game was a combination of several gameplay types, including Space Invaders and Galaxian, and it was just challenging to play.  I basically fell in love with the game instantly.

Of course, many other games over the years have taken Gorf‘s spot in my heart as my favorites, but playing it now, I still hold a great fondness for the thing.  It is a very challenging space shooter without being a freaking bullet hell anti-fun nightmare.  What a concept, modern games.

Hopefully whatever I pick for next week will have a lot more to it.  Sorry, everyone.  But hell, when one day the city I live in decides that something has to spew caustic smoke into the air and absolutely destroy my lungs as only one day of a week of ailments, I think I’m entitled to have an excuse this one time.