Jail Break, Commodore 64

Jail Break is a conversion of the Konami arcade game of the same name, and was developed and published by Konami themselves in 1986.

It’s a very spartan run-and-gun game where you’re basically a lone policeman, up against waves of escaping convicts.

Rescuing fleeing civilians will gain you an extra weapon – a shotgun or a bazooka – though neither really makes any impact on the gameplay. Which is truly awful.

If there was an award for worst sprites in a video game, the Commodore 64 version of Jail Break would be in contention. The expanded characters look ridiculous, frankly, and are animated just as badly.

The game’s only saving grace is that there’s some colour variation in the different stages. And it has a nice loading screen/tune. Woopie… Otherwise, it’s a pile of retro-gaming excrement. Konami really took their eye off the ball with this one…

More: Jail Break on Mobygames

Red Dead Revolver, XBox

Red Dead Revolver was first published by Rockstar Games in 2004. It is the first title in the Red Dead series.

It is a Wild West style third-person shooter, with RPG and adventure overtones. In it you play the lead – a bounty hunter called ‘Red’ who must track down various outlaws and collect the reward on them. Of course there’s more to the story than simply bounty-hunting, and this becomes clear as you progress.

Presentation-wise: Red Dead Revolver is atmospheric, but I thought that it looked a bit ‘murky’ overall. The colours are very subdued and the celluloid scratches out-of-place (scratches were more prevalent in 1930s and 1940s films, and grindhouse pictures, rather than Spaghetti Westerns, which this game is obviously trying to emulate), and the whole game looks very downbeat and un-colourful.

Gameplay-wise: Red Dead Revolver is engrossing and fun to play. The game didn’t do too well critically at the time of release, though, and it wasn’t really until 2010’s Red Dead Redemption that the world really sat up and took notice of the series.

Red Dead Revolver is still a game that should be in any self-respecting XBox collector’s library, though, and shouldn’t be difficult to pick up relatively cheaply.

Note: these grabs were taken on an XBox devkit, which produces lossless screenshots. Even so, with the game being as murky as it is, they still appear quite indistinct.

More: Red Dead Revolver on Wikipedia

Rolling Bird, PC

Rolling Bird is a modern tribute to the classic arcade game Rolling Thunder.

Graphically it looks a bit like an NES game, or an old arcade game. The colours are bold and the animation simple, but still excellent.

Gameplay-wise: you control a guy with a gun. He can shoot (obviously); jump forward; jump upwards (onto a higher platform), drop down (to a lower platform), and duck. And of course he can run left or right and enter doors (by pressing ‘up’ when stood in front of one). Some doors contain weapon upgrades, others: bullet refills, but most contain nothing at all – other than more enemies.

The game is basically a simple run-and-gun shooter, but is extremely challenging and really quite ingenious in its design as it uses ‘procedural generation’ to create the levels (ie. they’re different every time).

I can’t underline, though, how difficult Rolling Bird is. It’s one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played. Certainly one of the most difficult to grab… If you want to see how it should be played, watch this video.

The game’s designer, South Korean Hijong Park, has created a number of free and donationware games that are available on Steam right now. They are all well worth a play in my opinion.

See also: Golden Hornet, a great helicopter shoot ’em up by the same guy.

More: http://www.psychoflux.com/
Steam: Rolling Bird on Steam

Rolling Thunder 3, Megadrive/Genesis

Rolling Thunder 3 is a Sega Megadrive/Genesis exclusive. It was developed by Now Production and published by Namco in 1993. It did not appear in arcades, like its predecessors did.

This time you’re playing a different member of the Rolling Thunder team, a guy called Jay who wears blue trousers, as well as the usual gun holster on his chest. Jay is on the hunt for the Geldra gang second-in-command, while Codename Albatross and Leila go after the big boss – this is supposed to be happening at the same time as the events in Rolling Thunder 2, you see…

Unlike Rolling Thunder 2, Rolling Thunder 3 only has a single-player mode, which is a bit of an oversight. The Megadrive has two joypad ports by default, so I don’t know what they were thinking there… This would have been a great chance to combine what made the first and second games good – the ‘feel’, tempo, and graphical style of the first game, and the simultaneous two-player mode of the second… Oh well.

Jay operates similarly to Albatross – he can run, jump; leap up to an overhead platform; enter a door, and fire a variety of weapons. Gameplay is similar to the arcade original as you’d expect – some enemies get back up after being shot, so must be shot more than once; enemies come out of doors randomly so you have to be careful when you enter them; and each type of enemy has characteristic behaviour. Learning how to deal with individuals is a must in order to make it through a level – unless you know the game very well you’re not going to rush through it. Like the original: it’s challenging.

Features new to this game include: special weapons – selectable from a total of nine at the start, including three types of hand grenades; crosshairs lining up to fire on you if you take too long to complete a level; two fire buttons – one for special weapons; new enemies; checkpoint restarts; boss battles; and motorbikes!

In spite of there being no two-player mode, Rolling Thunder 3 is still an exceptional run-and-gunner. The graphics and gameplay are a nice re-imagining of the original and in this third instalment you can finally shoot diagonally! Back o’ the net!

Tip: Enter GREED as a password to play as the hidden character Ellen.

More: Rolling Thunder 3 on Wikipedia

Rolling Thunder 2, Arcade

Rolling Thunder 2 continues on from the classic Rolling Thunder: it’s secret agent “Albatross” against the sinister agents of “Geldra”, except this time you can play the game as the rescued Leila (from the first game) from the outset. Or, you can play two-player cooperatively with a friend, which you definitely couldn’t do in the original.

Playing Rolling Thunder 2 simultaneously with a friend is a blast, and the single-player game isn’t too bad either. The game doesn’t quite have the exceptional ‘feel’ of the original, though. Nor the same graphical style. It’s faster than the first game, but the character animation isn’t quite so good as seen previously. The colour scheme is also a bit ‘bright’ in places. It’s a pity Namco‘s developers didn’t go for a more subtle look, but it is what it is.

That said: Rolling Thunder 2 is still great fun to play – especially two-player. The time limits are quite harsh although they are designed to encourage players to put more coins into the machine, because you can continue where you left off if you have credits in. So playing it through in MAME shouldn’t be too difficult.

Rolling Thunder 2 is a decent sequel to a great arcade classic, and it’s good to see a female lead available to play alongside the usual all-male hero.

A third Rolling Thunder game was released for the Sega Megadrive in 1993.

More: Rolling Thunder 2 on Wikipedia

Rolling Thunder, Arcade

Rolling Thunder is a side-scrolling arcade action game, developed and manufactured by Namco in 1986.

You take control of Codename “Albatross” – a highly-agile secret agent and a member of the “Rolling Thunder” espionage unit. Your mission is to rescue your partner, Leila Blitz, from a secret society called “Geldra”, and who are holding her against her will somewhere in New York City.

Rolling Thunder is split into two ‘stories’, each one comprising of five different stages, making ten stages in total. The stages in “Story 2” are essentially harder versions of those seen in “Story 1”, with different enemy placement and more traps, which is a little disappointing. At the end of the game there’s a battle with the Geldra boss, Maboo, to free Leila. Getting there is quite a task, though, because if you lose a life during any stage you have to start at the beginning again. There are no ‘waypoints’ or ‘save points’, and there’s also a time limit on each stage, so you can’t dawdle.

Codename Albatross starts out with a bog standard pistol and can upgrade weapons as he goes. All the way up to a fully-automatic machine gun that fires continuously if you hold down the fire button. Ammo is strictly limited though, so you can’t just go blasting away willy-nilly. You can however replenish your ammo in special doorways that say “bullet” on them. Simply stand in front of one and push up.

The most memorable thing about Rolling Thunder is the animation of the main character. It’s very Japanese, very distinctive, and very dynamic. With his pointy shoes and flares – rockin’ that mid-Eighties look… Kind of a cross between Sonny Chiba and James Bond. That animation style has been noticeably influential on other games over the decades though.

Like a lot of old arcade games, Rolling Thunder is extremely challenging. There are a variety of enemies – all colour-coded in different outfits and each behaving differently. Some fire guns, others throw grenades; the lowest common denominator henchmen simply have their fists to rely on. There are also weird ape-like monsters that leap around like crazy, and some surprisingly laughable bats. In later stages the obstacles start getting trickier (like the tyres, for example) and you then have to be more careful with your moves. Thankfully you have a ‘Life Bar’ so at least you don’t die with one hit, but even so: Rolling Thunder is not easy.

Rolling Thunder is still playable enough to be enjoyable today. It might be hard, but at least it’s fair. And still looks reasonably stylish. A sequel followed four years later, and a third game three years after that.

More: Rolling Thunder on Wikipedia

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

Realms of the Haunting, PC

I have to admit that, in spite of the slightly wonky graphics/cut scenes, I have a real soft spot for Gremlin Interactive‘s 1997 PC MS-DOS release, Realms of the Haunting. Mostly because I was lucky and got to visit Gremlin‘s offices in Sheffield to see the game in production, and to talk to the people who were making it. I drove all the way from Bournemouth – where I worked as a video games magazine editor – and spent an entire day there to preview the game for PC Power magazine.

Back then, Realms of the Haunting looked good. It was a Doom-type 3D engine-based survival horror game, co-programmed by Tony Crowther, and written and produced by Paul Green. It had specially-filmed cut sequences using professional actors and came on four CD-ROMs. The thing it had over Doom, though, was being able to interact with objects on-screen, by clicking a mouse cursor on them.

Now time has passed and we can use hindsight to inform us, I have to say that I still quite like Realms of the Haunting, even though it’s dated badly and the graphics look weird (especially when looking up and down – the game doesn’t have any real perspective correction, just like the original Doom). Also: I always thought the cut scenes were hokey – even back in 1997 – so watching them now doesn’t appal me. It’s not the acting in them that’s bad (it’s actually pretty good), it’s the way the cut scenes have been produced. The film “special effects” are awful; the compositing is basic at best; and the video encoding is worse than standard definition. And I’m being charitable…

Thankfully the story is quite good. You play an investigator called Adam Randall who goes into a dark house looking for clues about the mysterious death of his father. And of course he finds more than he bargained for… Again, thankfully: there are weapons to be found and used against whatever it is that is out to get him. Eventually Adam discovers that the house is in fact a portal to different universes and that he must prevent an impending apocalypse by visiting each universe and unlocking its secrets. So nothing major…

Realms of the Haunting is involving and atmospheric – even gripping in places. It’s been designed to be scary, and succeeds in places. Some of the monsters look a bit dodgy but are tough opponents to beat, and the environments are relatively simple, but overall RotH is well worth a play if you like old school survival horror games. It’s still available to buy on GOG.com and Steam, which is heartening.

More: Realms of the Haunting on Wikipedia
Steam: Realms of the Haunting on Steam
GOG.com: Realms of the Haunting on GOG.com