Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos, PC

Westwood Studios1993 RPG Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos is a Dungeon Master-like first-person, real-time action game with spells and combat and plenty of monsters out to end your life.

Las Vegas-based Westwood, coincidentally, were developers of the first two Eye of the Beholder games, but dropped the franchise in favour of developing Lands of Lore, their own IP.

Neat hand-drawn graphical cut scenes intersperse the hacking and slashing to create a decent fantasy atmosphere, although the corny voice acting does hold the game back somewhat (this is an American interpretation of British ‘lore’, and as such is quite laughable – even Patrick Stewart‘s bits are lamentably over-the-top).

The interface is similar to Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master. Throne of Chaos is easy to play, but difficult to master. It does have some significant differences to EoB and Dungeon Master, though. Like, for example, the fact that characters can ‘die’ and can be brought back to life with heal spells. Only when all your party are dead does the game end, so you can turn things around with some quick thinking and clicking if you’re getting hammered. It’s also good that you don’t have to worry about providing food and water to your characters, which is something that arguably holds back its aforementioned genre rivals.

Also – unlike DM and EoB – the monsters constantly re-spawn. And I mean quickly. The first major dungeon, the Draracle’s Caves, are terrifying because they contain a number of different hostile creatures, and they come at you relentlessly. Thankfully the ‘rest’ engine is quite forgiving and you can still recuperate while you can hear monsters nearby. You can, however, be woken from your rest if a monster is stood right next to you. In a nice touch, the character portraits all show visible alarm when this happens!

As CRPGs go, Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos begins rather meekly, then grows stronger and stronger – into quite a mature adventure. The main character is deliberately made to appear very naive initially, and slowly comes of age, probably as his companions die around him. Party members come and go relatively quickly and don’t tend to stick around for the whole game.

Personally, I think this first Lands of Lore game is the best in the entire series. It is the only one that uses a ’tile-based’ movement system – later LoL games use ‘free movement’ in a pseudo 3D environment, and in my opinion, don’t work quite as well.

Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos is still available to buy today – on GOG.com, along with its sequel – for a few pounds/dollars, and it is well worth investing the time/money in.

More: Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos on Wikipedia
GOG.com: https://www.gog.com/game/lands_of_lore_1_2

Sokoban, Commodore 64

Originally released in 1982 for the PC-8801, Sokoban is an ingenious overhead puzzle game about a guy pushing boxes around a warehouse.

That might sound as dull as dishwater to some people, but the fact is: Sokoban is extremely clever and very challenging, and is one of those games that really gets the brain muscles flexing in order to beat it.

The idea is to push the boxes (you cannot pull, unfortunately) into their required positions (marked by circles on the floor) in the fastest possible time, with the least possible moves. Pressing P will pause the game, giving you time to breathe (but unfortunately not time to study the floor – the game cuts to a score screen), and there is also a very handy ‘save position’ feature, which is enabled by pressing F7.

One wrong move in Sokoban, though, and a level becomes un-finishable. Thankfully, a press of F3 will start the level again from scratch, plus: pressing F1 will return you to an intro screen that allows you to choose which level to attempt next. Which is great because some levels are so difficult that they would block progress otherwise. You can take on any of the 99 levels in any order you like. Levels 01 to 50 are playable, and levels 51-99 are blank for editing, using the game’s built-in editor.

Sokoban isn’t for everybody. If you’re wanting for braincells, or patience, it’s unlikely to float your boat. That said, if you love a tough puzzle game, and prefer a decent challenge, you will probably love it. I think it’s an amazing puzzle game, but does require a lot of forward thinking. Advanced chess players will definitely see the appeal.

This Commodore 64 conversion was published by Spectrum Holobyte in 1988.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokoban_(video_game)
More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokoban

Kong Strikes Back, ZX Spectrum

Ocean Software‘s 1984 release for the ZX Spectrum, Kong Strikes Back, is an unashamed clone of Universal‘s Mr. Do’s Wild Ride, but with elements of Donkey Kong also thrown into the mix.

Kong Strikes Back is a playable and reasonably entertaining single-player platform game. I remember buying it, back in my youth, and thinking it was original. Years later I saw Mr. Do’s Wild Ride and couldn’t believe it was a copy of that game. Software publishers eh? Pirates, the lot of ’em – and they were the ones moaning about piracy… 🙂

Kong Strikes Back was programmed by the late, great Jonathan Smith and produced by Jon Woods. Woods was the co-founder of Ocean Software, with David Ward.

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

Streets of Rage 3, Megadrive/Genesis

Ask anyone what their favourite beat ’em up is on the Sega Megadrive/Genesis and they will probably reply: Streets of Rage 3.

Released by Sega in 1994, Streets of Rage 3 is the jewel in the crown of a brilliant trilogy of scrolling fighting games. It has four playable characters (Axel, Blaze, Skate and Zan), each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and can be played either single or multi-player.

As you scrap away you can pick up barrels and throw them at enemies (knocking over small groups in one hit) and also pick up a variety of weapons (knives, swords, baseball bats) to help give you an edge in the battle against the bad guys.

Streets of Rage 3 plays faster than its predecessors; the enemy AI has been expanded to allow more enemies to pick up weapons; players can team up to perform powerful ‘team attacks’; in general the game is much harder, and there are also multiple endings.

Graphically, Streets of Rage 3 is a work of pixel artistry. Everything is crisp, colourful, and beautifully-drawn, with superb 2D animation and backgrounds.

Other than it being a little repetitive, there is very little to fault about Streets of Rage 3 and it still pops-up on various retro game compilations and services from time to time, and probably always will.

Note: The Japanese original contains quite a few differences to the North American release. The story is different, and the English version is censored in some places. These grabs are from the North American version.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streets_of_Rage_3

Final Fantasy VII, PlayStation

Final Fantasy VII is a legendary level-grinding Role-Playing Game, developed by Square and released for the Sony PlayStation in 1997.

While the Final Fantasy series had grown in stature throughout the 1990s, it was this seventh instalment that broke Japanese CRPGs into the mainstream, with its outstanding mix of 3D, polygonal graphics, Full Motion Video, and pre-rendered backgrounds. But it wasn’t just the graphics that propelled Final Fantasy VII to stratospheric heights – it was both the story, and also the gameplay, that made games-players really sit up and take notice.

The story of a small gang of rebel kids – taking on a sinister fantasy government of the future – Final Fantasy VII is played from the perspective of ‘Cloud’, a young boy with a growing identity crisis and a crush on a young girl he meets called Aerith. Without going into detail about the plot (which is complicated, to say the least), Cloud suddenly finds his friends dying off as he runs from the dark forces that are pursuing him. This fact – that key characters are killed-off at certain points in the story – gives Final Fantasy VII a real emotional edge that other games do not have. Certainly not many games managed to shock you in the way that Final Fantasy VII did back in 1997, and that is testament to the writers, and the dev team, creating likeable characters and a plot that delivers twists and turns at every juncture.

The basis of the game follows the well-established JRPG formula: the ‘world map’, the ‘field’, and the ‘battle screen’. Different areas are linked by the ‘world map’, which is shown from a distance. Exploration and dialogue mostly takes place in the ‘field’ – screens in which you control the main characters and where, in some areas, just walking around will initiate random, turn-based combat. Combat in Final Fantasy VII uses 3D graphics for the action, and 2D panels for the menus and party information. The range of attacks, defences, spells, and graphical special effects, is just mind-blowing. Boss battles are extraordinary too.

The scope of Final Fantasy VII is also one of the reasons it was such a big hit. The game’s designers not only came up with a myriad of huge and visually impressive locations, but they also interwove them into the story very cleverly.

Graphically the game looks a little ragged, by today’s Hi Def standards, but a remake is apparently on the cards. It would be incredible if Square managed to re-render those Standard Def backgrounds into High Def… We can but hope…

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

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

Do! Run Run, Arcade

Also known as Mr. Do! Run Run or Super Pierrot in Japan, Do! Run Run is the fourth and final game in the famous Mr. Do series. It was developed by Universal and published by Taito in 1984.

Of the three Mr. Do! sequels this game is probably the closest to the original in terms of gameplay. The aim of the game is to complete each screen by doing one of three things: either collect all the on-screen dots, or kill all the monsters, or find the rare hidden diamond.

Just like in the first game: Mr. Do has a weapon – a thrown weapon – called a Powerball. Once the Powerball’s been thrown it takes a little time to return. Mr. Do can also kick the wedges from underneath logs and let them roll over enemies to kill them.

When Mr. Do walks he leaves a line behind him. If he connects both ends of the line, any dots within it will turn into cherries, and – not only are these worth more points – but they also accelerate the recharge of the Powerball. Also, turning large areas from dots into cherries can also reveal a switch with a letter on it, and standing on it will activate three blue ghosts and an ‘Alphamonster’, just like in the first game. Defeating the Alphamonster will add a letter to the EXTRA meter at the top of the screen. And – like in all the other Mr. Do games – lighting up the word EXTRA will net you an extra life.

Do! Run Run is a playable and enjoyable finale to the Mr. Do series.

Mr. Do series on The King of Grabs:
Mr. Do! (1982)
Mr. Do’s Castle (1983)
Mr. Do’s Wild Ride (1984)
Do! Run Run (1984)

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do!_Run_Run

Mr. Do’s Wild Ride, Arcade

Mr. Do’s Wild Ride is the second sequel to the classic Mr. Do! and was released by Universal (not the film studio – the Japanese company) in 1984.

This game is less well-known (and less well-loved) than its predecessors and takes place on a roller coaster. Mr. Do must run along the tracks of the ‘coaster, dodging oncoming cars and collecting cherries. Eventually, after some dodging and weaving, you’ll reach the ‘Goal’ and receive a bonus (usually letters, spelling out the word EXTRA, and a time-dependant amount of points). Collecting the cherries isn’t mandatory – you just have to reach the goal.

Later levels introduce elevators and moving platforms and are much more difficult to complete. And, unlike the first two Mr. Do games, Wild Ride‘s screen is horizontal, rather than vertical.

Although Mr. Do’s Wild Ride is a relatively obscure member of the Mr. Do series, it was re-made by Ocean Software as Kong Strikes Back – also in 1984. With or without Universal‘s permission: I’m not too sure. Probably without.

Mr. Do series on The King of Grabs:
Mr. Do! (1982)
Mr. Do’s Castle (1983)
Mr. Do’s Wild Ride (1984)
Do! Run Run (1984)

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Do%27s_Wild_Ride

Mr. Do’s Castle, Arcade

The 1983 sequel to the classic Mr. Do!, Mr. Do’s Castle, is a platform game this time, with pushable ladders and a hammer for bashing monsters.

Rather than bashing the monsters (actually, unicorns) directly, you have to knock bits of the floor onto them from above. Knocking holes in the ground also gives you a hole to escape down, but it can also stop you reaching certain parts of the screen. Some ladders (the ones resting diagonally) can be pushed between platforms, which adds a strategic element to the gameplay. Hitting a monster directly with your hammer will only deflect it momentarily, but if you strike one when it is on the ‘sweet spot’ of a floor tile you will kill it.

Certain floor tiles have keys on them. If you clobber all the keys it opens a door at the top of the screen, revealing a shield. Collect the shield and the enemies turn into ‘Alphamonsters’, each with a letter on them. If you hit an Alphamonster and collect all the letters of the word EXTRA you get an extra life. It’s very difficult to do that, though, because they all run away from you the moment you touch the shield.

One cool way of finishing a screen is to find the hidden diamond – just like in the first Mr. Do! game – which is hidden inside a cherry block. If it’s unearthed you have a limited time to collect it before it disappears. Grabbing the diamond awards 8000 points, a bye to the next stage, and an extra credit!

The AI of the monsters is pretty direct and they also speed up at certain points, making them run twice as fast as Mr. Do, so any level above the first one is a real challenge. Mr. Do’s Castle is a good game overall though and has been converted and cloned to most home systems over the years.

Note: Mr. Do’s Castle is known as Mr. Do Versus Unicorns in Japan.

Mr. Do series on The King of Grabs:
Mr. Do! (1982)
Mr. Do’s Castle (1983)
Mr. Do’s Wild Ride (1984)
Do! Run Run (1984)

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Do%27s_Castle