No Second Prize, Atari ST

No Second Prize is a 3D motorbike racing game from German developer and publisher Thalion, with mouse controls and an emphasis on fun, rather than realism.

Which suits me, because realism in these games can really become a problem when all you want to do is complete one lap of the course without crashing, but can’t seem to be able to do that.

Thankfully, No Second Prize is fairly easy to get the hang of. Swiping the mouse left and right banks the bike when cornering, and within a few races you will no doubt be good enough to be challenging for first place (in the easier races at least).

Of course: much better motorbike racing games have been released onto the market since No Second Prize was first released in 1992 (Road Rash 64 springs to mind), but this game is still worthy of a play right now. Especially if you like race games. It hasn’t aged too badly, at least on the playability front. Graphically No Second Prize is basic, but fast and smooth and reasonably colourful.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalion_Software

Star Fire, Arcade

Exidy‘s Star Fire is one of the earliest colour video games ever made. It was first released into arcades in 1979, when most arcade games of the time used black and white displays.

So, seeing a full colour video game – especially one that ripped-off Star Wars – was a delight to many games-players at the time.

That said: Star Fire‘s graphics are extremely basic, and the screen refresh is slow, so it looks a bit of a mess nowadays.

Another first for Star Fire was that it was also the first ever video game to have a high score table, onto which players could enter their names. Few people know this, though, because Star Fire is an obscure retro gaming curiosity at best, and not much more.

Star Fire remains obscure, in spite of its status as one of the earliest (possibly the first ever) colour video games. In 1979 the game struggled to find a market. And that reason – I think – is because the gameplay is no good. There’s no real structure to it, or rules that allow skilled play. Dodging enemy fire is almost impossible, and the game was basically a “pump more money in and play for longer” type of arcade machine, rather than a game that required skill, like other old school retro-gaming classics such as Space Invaders or Pac-Man.

I won’t give it any more of a kicking than that though. Star Fire is worth a look if you’re interested in video games history. It really is rather important in that sense.

One good thing, that I will close on, is that the rights holders of Star Fire (and its sequel, Star Fire II) have released them for free use in emulators, so you can download and play them for free in MAME legally. If you want to. Which is nice.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Fire

Automania, ZX Spectrum

Automania – developed by Chris Hinsley for Mikro-Gen in 1984 – is the first ever appearance of the character Wally Week.

Wally Week went on to star in a series of games after this (Pyjamarama, Everyone’s A Wally, Three Weeks In Paradise, etc.), but this first encounter with the yellow Wally is a simple game of collecting car parts and assembling them, and avoiding contact with various moving meanies.

Although Automania was not a massive hit (I must admit I did buy it back in 1984, and really enjoyed it), it did set up both Wally Week as an interesting character, and Chris Hinsley, as a developer to look out for. And Chris’s next Wally Week game – Pyjamarama (also released in 1984) – was the big hit that really put Wally Week on the map.

And now: some 30 years plus, after release, Wally Week is all but forgotten. A footnote in video game history. Unless someone’s attempted to bring him back via the magic of “homebrew”. You never know these days. Anything is possible.

The Wally Week series:
Automania (1984)
Pyjamarama (1984)
Everyone’s A Wally (1985)
Herbert’s Dummy Run (1985)
Three Weeks in Paradise (1986)

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikro-Gen

VVVVVV, PC

Terry Cavanagh‘s VVVVVV is an extremely smart-but-simple platform/indie game that feels a lot like a Commodore 64 game from the ’80s, although it was actually released in 2010.

VVVVVV – I think – is a wonderful love letter to the days of 8-bit gaming. The graphics are sparse but characterful; the gameplay is simple but maddeningly addictive; and the music really is something special (Magnus Pålsson‘s brilliant soundtrack elevates this game massively).

What makes VVVVVV really stand out from the crowd, though, is not its ridiculous title (is it pronounced “vee, vee, vee, vee, vee, vee” or “six vees”?), but the fact that your character (Captain Viridian) doesn’t jump (and in fact can’t jump), but that he reverses gravity instead. Which allows him to drop himself strategically into certain places. It’s all very clever when the going is easy, but highly challenging to get right when the going is tough. And there are a few places in the game that take great skill and determination to beat.

One of the best “modern retro” games out there, although VVVVVV loses ten percent for not having a built-in grabber. Terry: sort it out mate. 😉

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VVVVVV
Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/70300/VVVVVV/
GOG.com: https://www.gog.com/game/vvvvvv
Website: https://thelettervsixtim.es/

Alone In The Dark, PC

InfogramesAlone In The Dark is one of the earliest survival horror games to use 3D graphics (mixed with 2D graphics), and it really broke new ground when it was first released back in 1992.

The 3D graphics are very basic (compared to what we’re used to now), but they did the job (still do), and Alone In The Dark is a very atmospheric game with tense, cinematic scenes and viewing angles – in a way: a prototype for Capcom‘s Resident Evil games (the first of which came out in 1996).

And Alone In The Dark is quite difficult (unless you’ve got a walkthrough to hand, in which case it is very easy), because a lot of the puzzles and situations come from the days of old school gaming and “instant death without explanation”. You die quite often, and slowly learn “what NOT to do” as you play. Thankfully, the game has a decent save option, otherwise it would drive you nuts.

As an early survival horror game, Alone In The Dark is worth a look, and the AITD trilogy is a still available to buy via Steam and GOG.com. In fact: the Alone In The Dark games get better as the trilogy moves on, while still retaining their core qualities. So are well worth a purchase.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alone_in_the_Dark_(1992_video_game)
Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/548090/Alone_in_the_Dark_1/
GOG.com: https://www.gog.com/game/alone_in_the_dark

Mr. Gimmick, NES

Known as Gimmick! in Japan and Mr. Gimmick everywhere else, this 1992 release was an attempt by Sunsoft to push the graphical powers of the Nintendo Entertainment System further than they’d ever been pushed before (in order to compete with the Super Nintendo, which was relatively new on the market).

In order to do this, Sunsoft used all kinds of clever programming techniques using graphical tilesets and colours, and the end result is very striking. But it wasn’t enough to compete with the newer consoles of the time and Mr. Gimmick sank without a trace, into relative obscurity.

What makes Mr. Gimmick an attractive proposal now, though, is its difficulty. It is a deadly serious challenge to any gamer, although the gameplay is precise and not unfair, which makes it very appealing. And also because it is a lovely-looking obscure gem. A great-looking game that you’ve never heard of is mana from heaven to a retro games fan.

The scenario is funny too. You play a small, green creature called Yumetaro who was given to a small girl as a birthday present. Jealous of the attention the girl is giving to Yumetaro, the girl’s other toys kidnap her in the night and whisk her off to another dimension. So you have to go on a platform-based rescue mission to save the girl.

Mr. Gimmick is far too tough to be a kid’s game, although at first glance it might look like one. It’s aimed more at pros than anyone else.

And it was fun getting these grabs, but I was tearing my hair out with Mr. Gimmick in places. Especially the boss fights. All I can say is: thank God for quicksaves. 🙂

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gimmick!

 

Track & Field, Arcade

Konami‘s 1983 arcade hit Track & Field broke new ground with its button-bashing gameplay.

It also broke a fair few cabinets along the way, with arcade machine operators having to repair the buttons on machines quite often, to keep them operative (and therefore earning money). A broken Track & Field machine was no good to anyone, and people tend to get carried away and hit too hard when playing this game.

Of the six events available in Track & Field (100m, Long Jump, Javelin, 110m Hurdles, Hammer Throwing, and High Jump) four of them require the player to hammer the alternate run buttons to reach the highest possible top speed (represented as a bar that fills up with yellow the faster you’re running). The other two events do the running for you, leaving you to concentrate on button press timings for throwing or jumping.

Track & Field is still a wonderful game, let down by one event (in my opinion). The hammer throw. Which is so difficult to judge that getting in a valid throw is more luck than judgement. The rest of the game is still brilliant though – especially when played with friends.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Track_%26_Field_(video_game)

Metroid Fusion, Game Boy Advance

Also known as “Metroid 4“, Metroid Fusion on the Game Boy Advance is the fourth episode in the famous run-and-gun series from Nintendo and was first released in 2002.

In this game the lead character, Samus Aran, goes up against a mysterious type of alien parasite – one that can (and does) mimic Samus herself, as well as various other creatures roaming the environment. If you kill a monster, it can be ressurrected by other parasites floating around, which adds a more strategic edge to the gameplay that is most welcome.

As well as having her usual abilities (arm canon, missiles, morph ball, etc.), Samus can now hang from platform edges, which is highly useful, and can also climb on overhead bars to bridge gaps.

Graphically, Metroid Fusion is gorgeous, with more colours available in this game, compared to Super Metroid, although the definition is not quite as crisp.

Overall, though, Metroid Fusion lives up to the other classics in the Metroid series and is still worth a play today, if you can find a copy.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metroid_Fusion

Super Metroid, Super Nintendo

The third game in the Metroid series is a top class Super Nintendo classic.

Super Metroid (1994) is more detailed than both previous Metroid games put together, although the basic structure is the same – explore various levels to find your latent abilities, all of which have been lost (“Why does this keep happening in Metroid games?” you may ask. “It’s in the script,” is my answer).

Graphically, Super Metroid is great. Nintendo make good use of the SNES‘s Mode 7 abilities, and its colourful palette. Boss battles are dramatic and not too frustrating. There are loads of secrets to find. Super Metroid is also quite a popular speedrun game because it does have many ‘quirks’ in the gameplay that (intentionally or unintentionally) allow the player to make certain shortcuts. Wall Jumping, for example, isn’t a bug, but – as a technique – it is difficult to master. Bomb Jumping too – it’s easy to jump short distances, but – on occasion – you have to jump quite high, vertically, which can be quite daunting.

Still, you can play Super Metroid the ‘noob’ way (by missing all the secret shortcuts) and still have great fun.

Super Metroid is an atmospheric, finely-honed run-and-gun action extravaganza from start to finish. Arguably the best Metroid game of all time and well worth a play any day of the week.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Metroid

Metroid II: Return of Samus, Game Boy

The second ever Metroid game first appeared on the Nintendo Game Boy in 1991.

Metroid II: Return of Samus is a brilliant continuation of the first Metroid game. The animation of lead character Samus is much more gritty and realistic in this game, compared to the NES original. And the monochromatic graphics actually seem to add to the eerie atmosphere, rather than hamper the game at all.

All the usual Metroid tropes are present, like being able to roll up into a ball, or fire a laser beam out of your arm, and there are lots of other interesting gameplay elements added, such as an ice beam, spring ball, bombs, spider ball and more. Samus’s jumping is also nice and long, so you can leap around like spider man, though the cavernous levels.

The aim of the game is to find and kill 39 Metroids (weird floating space jellyfish), found scattered throughout a series of complex caverns. And to do that you have to explore a huge and varied map. Metroid II: Return of Samus is deceptively large. Exploration is quite claustrophobic, but the size of the game overall is ginormous.

Later Metroid games took the series even further, though not all of them used the cool spider ball, as first seen in this game. The Metroid Prime games used the spider ball feature, although the SNES and GBA Metroid games overlook it. The spider ball makes this game a lot more fun than it possibly might have been otherwise, since it leads to lots of secret, hidden areas. And you get it quite early on, which is a bonus.

Game Boy Metroid II is definitely an important step in the evolution of this important game series and well worth an investment of anyone’s time.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metroid_II:_Return_of_Samus