Mario Tennis: Power Tour, Game Boy Advance

This 2005 tennis game is one of my favourite sports games of all time.

Mario Tennis: Power Tour was developed by Camelot for Nintendo and is known as Mario Power Tennis in Europe and Australia, but I’m sticking to the original title.

What makes this game so good are two things: one – the single-player ‘Career’ mode (“Power Tour“) is like playing a tennis-based RPG, and two: the game of tennis here I would say is second only to the mighty Super Tennis in terms of playable tennis games. Arguably even better!

Mario Tennis: Power Tour is a 2D tennis game, played at an overhead, three-quarter perspective. You can play one-off Exhibition games; begin the aforementioned career; link up your Game Boy Advance for multiplayer games; or play any of the minigames that you’ve unlocked in career mode.

In career mode you choose to play as a either a boy or a girl and enrol into a tennis academy. Here you learn how to improve your game in both singles and doubles matches, and also get to meet and converse with a variety of colourful characters who will either help or hinder you. As your career progresses and you start to win matches you will be able to put experience points into abilities, and unlock new skills – much like you see in most RPGs. This superb single-player career game is very much a tennis Role-Playing Game, and has some similarities with Camelot‘s RPG series, Golden Sun.

Mario Tennis: Power Tour is an engrossing and fun game, and also one of the best tennis games ever made. If you like tennis and haven’t played it: you might want to rectify that soon.

More: Mario Tennis: Power Tour on Wikipedia

Magic Carpet 2, PC

The full title of this 1995 sequel is Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds, and it is an excellent continuation of the series.

Magic Carpet 2 features exterior and interior (cavernous) levels that are more dense than the original, with more new monsters, secrets, and evil wizards to defeat. It also has a multiplayer mode (which the first game didn’t have).

Graphically, Magic Carpet 2 is more impressive than its predecessor and the use of night and day in the game results in a more varied colour palette – and a more interesting landscape – than previously. Again: the landscape is deformable to some degree by shooting it with fireballs, and various locations hide triggers that spawn monsters, new spells, and bosses. Unlike the first game, Magic Carpet 2 features a useful ‘Help Mode’, that points out what everything is – until you get sick of it and turn it off. It helps get into the game quicker, and not miss any important gameplay features.

The gameplay in Magic Carpet 2 is pretty much the same as before: build a castle; collect mana with your balloon; build your castle up; collect more mana; rid the landscape of monsters; complete any quest objectives.

Most monsters are pretty tough, so the best tactic is to lure them away from groups to deal with them one at a time. The killer bees, for example, will kill you quickly if a number of them swarm you, so it’s best to split them up if you can, which you can do with your deft carpet skills. Mastering the carpet is key to beating the game, and the controls work extremely well, allowing you to perform very tight and precise manoeuvres with just a modicum of skill. You can also fly backwards and sidewards, which helps a lot. The controls are very responsive, though, so do take some getting used to.

There are 25 levels to play through in total – all of which can be completed quickly (by completing quest objectives), or can be scoured for more spells and mana, and a higher completion percentage, if so wished.

Magic Carpet 2 can also be changed to SVGA mode (640×480) ‘on the fly’, meaning: you can switch between the default VGA (320×200) resolution, and SVGA resolution by just clicking an option in the menu, although I couldn’t find a way of making SVGA the default (every time I restarted the game it ran in VGA, and I had to manually change the resolution). The game also crashed quite a bit for me in SVGA mode (usually preceded by graphical glitches), and I had some problems saving the game (and having to restart from the beginning – four times so far). Playing in VGA proved to be more stable (no crashes). And this is the bought GOG.com version I’m talking about… In spite of that I really enjoyed playing Magic Carpet 2 again – it is better than the first Magic Carpet, and it is also a superb game in its own right. Another classic DOS game from Bullfrog.

More: Magic Carpet 2 on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds on GOG.com

Magic Carpet, PC

Magic Carpet from Bullfrog was first released in 1994 through Electronic Arts. It is a DOS-based, first-person action game with you – the player character – flying a ‘magic carpet’ around a series of islands, fighting evil wizards and monsters and collecting ‘mana’ to increase your magical powers.

The game plays a bit like a flight simulator, although obviously flight sims don’t have magic spells, castles and monsters that shoot fireballs at you. Using a mouse and keyboard the carpet flies around very smoothly. Initially it moves quite slowly, but acquiring a ‘boost’ spell helps speed up when necessary. Which is often because the many monsters found wandering the landscape are actually quite tough cookies.

There are numerous spells to collect – usually in the shape of a red jar, and these only appear once you’ve flown near them to disable their “invisibility lock”, forcing you to explore the whole map – or at least certain places – to find them.

The one spell you begin with is the ‘Build Castle’ spell. Fire this into the ground (or sea) somewhere and a castle is created, which then sends out a balloon to collect any mana you’ve claimed. Neutral mana is coloured gold; your mana is coloured white; enemy mana is coloured whatever colour they’ve chosen. Mana can be found for free scattered around the landscape, or can be generated by killing monsters. The basic aim is to collect a set amount of mana on each level in order to progress to the next.

The landscape itself is deformable (to a degree), meaning: you can blast it with fireballs and change the elevation. You have to be careful where you shoot, though. Accidentally blasting friendly villages will usually result in a hail of arrows to contend with – as well as everything else – so is not advisable. What is advisable in Magic Carpet is to learn when to run away. And also how to ‘peck’ at tough opponents, and avoid their shots at you. Becoming familiar to the two-button command system is a must too, but learning how to play Magic Carpet properly is worth it, because it’s still a great game.

By level three you’ll also be up against a rival wizard, who flies out on his carpet, turning any mana he finds his colour. You have to build your castle quickly and turn any mana he’s earmarked as his, to your colour, and fend him off (with fireballs) until your balloon collects the mana. This results in some very exciting dogfights over coastlines. You can even get lucky have monsters kill your opponent – it depends on where he goes. When he dies, though, you get a message on screen. If you die, you start back at the castle and can continue the level without losing progress.

Finally: there are two really weird “3D” modes in the game (toggled by pressing F10), one being red/blue mode for use with cheap red/blue 3D glasses (these were supplied with the original game), and also a Stereogram mode, where a complex pattern of coloured dots are used to create a 3D image. I remember being able to actually see the Stereogram image when I first played this game back in 1994, but trying it now I just can’t see it. It must be age… There’s also a ‘high res’ mode (toggled by pressing R), although it really chugs (or at least it did for me) and I found it best to play in VGA mode for a higher frame rate.

Magic Carpet is a classic MS-DOS game from Bullfrog and is still very much fun to play today. GOG.com are selling the ‘Plus’ version of Magic Carpet, which includes the Hidden Worlds expansion pack, and it’s well worth picking up, as is the even better sequel, Magic Carpet 2.

More: Magic Carpet on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Magic Carpet Plus on GOG.com

FIFA Street 2, XBox

I do enjoy a game of FIFA Street 2 on my XBox from time to time. It doesn’t have all the pompous dramatics of a regular FIFA game, although it does have the players.

Developed by EA Canada and published in 2006, FIFA Street 2 is the sequel to the footballing experiment where they combined star players with 4-a-side street football. So you get top-class players like RonaldoRonaldinho, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henri, and even Franz Beckenbauer playing on dirt roads and in caged-off urban pitches. To win you’ve got to score goals using tricks, or by scoring within a set time limit.

There’s a single-player career mode called “Rule the Streets” where you create a character and build him up by beating a succession of increasingly talented teams across the world. It’s pretty absorbing for a football game and there are quite a few unlockables, such as classic ‘legendary’ players, like Zico, Carlos Alberto Torres and Abedi Pele, so plenty to play for.

More: FIFA Street 2 on Wikipedia

FIFA-Street-2-XBox

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