Touch the Dead, Nintendo DS

Known as Dead ‘n’ Furious in Europe, but I’m going with the North American title for this Nintendo DS rail shooter – a touch-screen tribute to Sega‘s infamous arcade game House of the Dead. Only the title reference doesn’t work properly because there’s no “of” in it… I would’ve gone for ‘Touch of the Dead‘, which doesn’t really make sense but is better than what they used, because it at least references the original game properly. Anyway…

So a touch-screen House of the Dead? That should work okay, shouldn’t it? The DS has got a stylus, and the idea is to simply touch where you want to shoot. You don’t directly control the movement of your character (a prisoner), although you can occasionally choose the direction of travel. Some branches being easier than others.

Where Touch the Dead falls down for me is with gun reloading. The game was criticised at the time of release for the way you have to drag a clip onto the magazine, which works okay for me, but what I didn’t like was that you then have to wait for the reload animation to complete before you can shoot. Which takes too long. Either drag the ammo and you’re reloaded, or have the reload animation – not both! It feels like you’re being penalised by having to wait twice…

Touch the Dead is not a bad game, but it is both limited and lacking the graphical detail we’ve come to expect from the House of the Dead series. And I’m willing to bet there are better rail shooters on the DS.

More: Touch the Dead on Wikipedia

Archipelagos, Atari ST

Archipelagos came out on the Atari ST, Amiga, and for PC MS-DOS, and was developed by Astral Software in the UK and published by Logotron in 1989.

It is a strange first-person puzzle game where you must cleanse a series of islands of the ‘Blood of the Ancients’ by clicking on some obelisks. Getting to the obelisks is not always easy, however, but the idea is to find and click on a series of them to open a portal to the next level.

The Blood of the Ancients (represented as red on the ground) prevents you from walking through it, and will kill you if it surrounds you with no way to escape to untainted ground, so you have to be careful where you walk. And not step on the blood…

All of the levels are procedurally-generated using seed numbers – from zero to 9999 – which makes an awful lot of levels… Archipelagos does have some variety, though. Later levels introduce enemies that you must avoid contact with, and other hazards.

Archipelagos was a critical success upon release, and is fondly-remembered by some (enough to have been re-made at least once), but it hasn’t aged too well overall. It’s just about fast enough to enjoy for a while and does present a reasonable challenge. Whether the gameplay contains enough variety to keep your attention for more than ten minutes is another question, though.

More: Archipelagos on Wikipedia

Fallout 4, PC

The fourth Fallout was released by Bethesda in 2015, some seven years after Fallout 3, and five years after Fallout: New Vegas. In fact: I would call this the fifth Fallout game, because Fallout: New Vegas was more than just game number 3.5, in my humble opinion – it was the best game in the entire series. But anyway… What do I know?

What Fallout 4 retains from the previous games it benefits from (like lockpicking, hacking, and companions, which are essentially the same), and what Fallout 4 loses from the previous games it also benefits from too. Excepting for maybe the Perk Chart, which I found to be a big step backwards, usability-wise, in Fallout 4.

That ‘blip’ aside, I love the sparse and refined interface of Fallout 4; the story and conversations are simpler and more realistic; and ‘crafting’ has taken on a whole new meaning this time around. New additions to the gameplay, such as building and defending settlements, the use of power armour, and manufacturing helper robots, I think are all excellent. Although base-building in Fallout 4 is not perfect (trying to get fencing to connect up is a bitch), the fundamentals behind it work very well and add another dimension to the Fallout experience.

Of course, Fallout 4 is all about chasing quests, gaining and using experience points, playing politics with different factions, and hoarding every piece of tech and weaponry you can get your hands on. Exploring the crumbling, post-apocalyptic Boston, Massachusetts yields many surprising moments.

What I love most about Fallout 4 is the world itself. And the atmospherics. The effort Bethesda has made to create a believable, destroyed world is remarkable. The use of light/dark; coloured lighting; weather effects; music and sound effects all combine to make something really worth experiencing. On normal difficulty Fallout 4 is a challenging game – that I like too. At times the enemies in the game can be utterly ruthless and punishing (try meeting an Assaultron Demon and its friends when you’re lower levelled and see what you think of that experience…), and there are many unique monsters in the game that are way beyond your initial capabilities and who will mince you for dinner without warning if you make a mis-step. Which is all part of the Fallout RPG experience – fear, followed by eventual domination (when you go back to get your revenge later). And – there being no real level cap this time – you could in theory just keep on surviving indefinitely.

At times Fallout 4 can be frustrating. A game this big and complex is going to have some bugs, and I did experience a couple that broke my game (which I had to use to the console to fix), which nobody wants to do, but at least a fix was available, saving hours of gameplay that I’d otherwise have to re-do. I also think that the item management is still not quite as good as I’ve seen in other games. Organising items can be quite tiring in Fallout 4 and a few tweaks to the menu system might have made it a lot easier. But overall: I don’t want to complain about it too much, because I really enjoyed playing Fallout 4.

Where would I put Fallout 4 in my list of best Fallout games? Is it better than Fallout: New Vegas? Mmm. I would probably put it joint top with Fallout: New Vegas. In some respects, Fallout 4 is better, but in other respects: not. The story/characterisation and world-building in Fallout 4 are outstanding. There’s no doubting that.

More: Fallout 4 on Wikipedia
Steam: Fallout 4 on Steam

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

The Kung-Fu Master Jackie Chan, Arcade

This 1995 arcade beat ’em up from Kaneko is an obscure Mortal Kombat clone, with digitised pictures of Jackie Chan and his stunt team playing a set of fairly weird fighting characters.

“But is it any good?” you ask. “Not bad,” is my reply.

Apart from the flashing shadows underneath the fighters (which are unnecessary and distracting) The Kung Fu Master Jackie Chan is reasonably well designed and executed. The digitised graphics have dated badly, but they are well-produced – at least compared to other games like this – and the control system is refined enough to give any one of the six playable characters a fighting chance in a match.

Unfortunately Jackie Chan himself isn’t playable in The Kung Fu Master Jackie Chan – he instead appears in various guises in three different boss battles. A later remake of this game – called Fists of Fire – does include Jackie as a playable character though.

The Kung Fu Master Jackie Chan is an interesting obscurity and a relatively decent digitised beat ’em up. It’s nothing special though.

More: The Kung-Fu Master Jackie Chan on Wikipedia

Mortal Kombat, Arcade

Mortal Kombat is a legendary arcade fighting game, created and manufactured by Midway in 1992.

The game is famous for a number of reasons.

Firstly: Mortal Kombat is notorious for its violence. It’s a satirical, horror film type violence, but the game is bloody nonetheless. Each playable character also has a hidden ‘Fatality’ finishing move, some of which are very gory, and others are just plain hilarious.

Secondly: although it wasn’t the first game to use digitised graphics, it was the game that popularised the technique. Many other game designers started making Mortal Kombat clones after they’d seen the graphics.

Thirdly: it was one of the first beat ’em ups to feature a shaking landscape. When a combatant is thrown to the floor, for example, the whole screen shakes. This adds real weight to the action and also makes the fights more dramatic. It’s a small but important feature.

Lastly: Mortal Kombat is hard! It’s a six-button fighting game, so not always easy to remember to use block, which is essential. In order to reach the final boss – Shang Tsung (definitely a ‘tribute’ to Lo Pan from John Carpenter‘s 1986 film Big Trouble in Little China) – you must first beat the other six fighters; then a mirror or yourself; then survive three endurance matches; then beat Goro, the four-armed half man, half dragon. It’s a very tough ask…

Regardless, Mortal Kombat is a memorable game to play. It’s fast; it’s over-the-top, it’s outrageous, but most of all it’s extremely playable, very challenging, and great fun.

More: Mortal Kombat on Wikipedia

Dracula, Intellivision

This 1983 release from Imagic is somewhat revered among Intellivision fans, because it is an original title, and because in it you play Dracula and must drink the blood of victims in order to survive for as long as possible.

The idea behind the game is interesting – getting to play the monster, rather than the monster-hunter. You’re a vampire, obviously, and start out at night. The aim is to patrol the streets, looking for victims. When you find one you must lunge at them with your teeth bared and a successful bite will net you a massive 50 points… If you can’t find any people on the streets the alternative is to flush someone out of their house and bite them. You have to bite a certain number of victims before you can return to the graveyard, which you must do before the sun comes up.

Dangers include patrolling policemen, and a chasing white wolf, both of which can be avoided by turning into a bat and flying away, but in doing so will trigger a ‘purple vulture’ to swoop down and try to take the bat. If the vulture succeeds: it’s game over, so it’s vitally important you outmanoeuvre it.

To keep the policemen away you can also bite victims and turn them into zombies. Using the second Intellivision controller you can move the zombie to chase the police away, which is funny. Unfortunately zombification only lasts for ten seconds though.

As a game, Dracula sounds more interesting to play than it actually is, but it does have its moments. Surviving into a second day is quite an achievement.

Microsurgeon, Intellivision

Microsurgeon is a fantasy action game set inside a human body, similar in many respects to the scenario in the classic film Fantastic Voyage.

You control a microscopic robot and must administer care to patients in need of it. Inside the body you must be careful to move within veins and arteries, and the lymphatic system, so that white blood cells don’t attack you. By looking at the status screen you can pinpoint which part of the body needs help, then go to it. On arrival you must assess the ailment and administer one of three possible treatments (ultrasonic rays, antibiotics, or aspirin).

If you allow two or more major organs to become Terminal, then the game is over. If you run out of energy while inside the body the game also ends, so you have to try to keep topped-up, or make for the exit when you run out.

Considering that it was released in 1982, Microsurgeon is quite an interesting and imaginative game. Graphically it is colourful and appealing (unless you’re squeamish, but it’s hardly what I would call ‘gory’) and gameplay is quite compelling when you get into it. There’s even a two-player mode where one player controls the robot and the other administers the treatments.

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

Dino Crisis, PlayStation

Dino Crisis was a 1999 PlayStation release for Capcom and features soldiers taking on dinosaurs in a futuristic setting.

It was probably made to cash in on the success of Jurassic Park and plays a bit like an early Resident Evil game. No surprises when you consider that Dino Crisis was made by many of the same team who made the Resident Evil series.

Dino Crisis is pretty good. It’s got a female lead. Maybe too many door entry sequences though? It has sold more than two million copies worldwide, so someone out there certainly loves it…

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