Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Megadrive/Genesis

Developed by Sega and released for the Megadrive/Genesis in 1990, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a masterpiece platform game that has stood the test of time extremely well.

The game itself is pretty simple: running, jumping, climbing, and swimming, with Mickey on a quest to save Minnie Mouse from the evil witch Mizrabel.

Mickey’s main weapon is his bounce, which he can perform while jumping and which helps him defeat enemies. He can also pick up items, such as apples and marbles, to use as projectiles to throw at enemies.

To defeat Mizrabel, Mickey must find the “Seven Gems of the Rainbow”, each of which can found behind a door, in a different realm, protected by one of Mizrabel’s henchmen. There are six different – graphically distinct – stages (The Enchanted Forest, Toyland, The Storm, Dessert Factory, The Library, and The Castle), with a boss battle at the end of each.

Castle of Illusion still looks and plays great to this day. If I had any complaint it would be that the Megadrive doesn’t have transparent pixels (like the SNES does), which means that the designers had to make do with using ‘stippling’ in the water sections (which is ugly and makes the game look dated). Otherwise: it’s marvellous (still).

A remake of Castle of Illusion was made by Sega Studios Australia in 2013 and is currently available on Steam.

More: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse on Wikipedia

Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Nintendo 64

Conker’s Bad Fur Day was a surprising 2001 release – on the Nintendo 64 – for British developer Rare, in collaboration with Nintendo.

What is surprising about it is that it is an “adult” game – meaning: it contains cartoon characters behaving in ways that you don’t normally see in a Nintendo game, like vomiting on people’s shoes, making sexual innuendo, and using mild swear words.

The game begins with a cinematic Clockwork Orange-style scene, with Conker (a squirrel) looking over the top of a glass of milk as the camera slowly tracks backwards while a pseudo Beethoven musical score warbles away in the background. You know – or at least should know – at this point what kind of game this is going to be… And that is: extremely satirical, and with maybe a bit of a screw loose…

When Conker’s Bad Fur Day eventually gets going the first thing you have to do is get rid of Conker’s hangover, which is an unusual way of introducing a player to the game. Then you go on a surreal 3D platform adventure, full of Pythonesque characters, toilet humour, silly and poor taste jokes, endless tasks and puzzles, tons of film references, and of course the occasional boss battle (including one where you fight a giant turd).

Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a game that will appeal to adults who like puerile humour, and also to children as a “forbidden” game that “must not be played under any circumstances”, but they all do… It’s actually not that bad in terms of its ‘adult’ nature, and doesn’t contain anything too contentious, which is why Nintendo allowed Rare to make the game in the first place.

More: Conker’s Bad Fur Day on Wikipedia

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

Millipede, Arcade

Millipede is a direct sequel to Atari‘s Centipede and was first distributed into video game arcades in 1982.

It’s basically the same trackball-controlled gameplay as before, but with a few changes and enhancements.

You control a small elf (yes, an elf – called Archer) who can move anywhere within a small area at the bottom of the screen. Millipedes – long, multi-sectioned insects – move side to side and down the screen, turning when they hit a mushroom (or the side of the screen). What this basically means is that hitting mushrooms makes the millipede move down the screen quicker, so shooting the mushrooms and removing them from the millipede’s path helps keep it higher up the screen for longer. The ‘elf’ fires constantly if you hold the fire button down, but – crucially – he will not fire another bullet until the last one has gone. So shooting becomes tactical at certain times.

Differences to Centipede include: DDT bombs that can be shot once and will kill any insects caught in the blast radius; a bonus level where a swarm of bees replace the usual millipede; the choice of whether to start at an advance level before the game starts; and the introduction of a variety of new enemy bugs. The millipede itself also moves faster than the centipede in the previous game, which makes it harder to hit.

Millipede is a fast and enjoyable shooter from the early days of video game arcades. It’s also been converted to many home systems and is still popular today. Considering that it’s been 37 years since it’s release, that is quite remarkable.

More: Millipede on Wikipedia

Basketball, Arcade

This is the 1979, black and white arcade game, Basketball, as developed and manufactured by Atari Inc. It had two trackballs on the cabinet – one for each player.

Atari Basketball is a one-on-one game with ridiculously simple controls and objectives. For a single coin you got a three minute game, and either played against the computer or a second player. Adding more coins gave you more time, and the aim was simple: score baskets; score points; be the highest scorer.

Compared to video games now Basketball looks a bit ridiculous, but – believe me – when this was in arcades in 1979 it was pretty dazzling stuff. In fact, this was one of the earliest video games I remember playing, and I also remember hurting myself on the trackball by nipping the skin on my hand between the trackball and the cabinet! It hurt a lot, which is why I remember it so well after so long has passed (40 years ago!)…

Atari Basketball was also one of the first two-player games I remember playing – against both my brother and my dad (my dad used to play basketball so this game was attractive to him). It’s definitely fun two-player, for a short while at least.

While this is nothing like the basketball games of today, it was an early, important seed in the genre. It was the first basketball game to use the side-on, high-angled view of the court, which you see all the time now. It wasn’t uncommon to see Atari Basketball cabinets in video game arcades up and down the United Kingdom in the early 1980s and it almost certainly had an considerable influence on other video games that followed it. Even if it does look a bit lame by today’s standards… 🙂

More: Basketball on Wikipedia

Frogger, Arcade

Konami‘s Frogger was released into video game arcades in 1981 and was an instant hit with gamers.

The basic premise of Frogger is to guide a hopping frog over a road and a river, to reach a safe haven on the other side. The road is full of dangerous traffic that will squish the frog on contact. The only way of crossing the river is by jumping on a series of floating logs that move from left to right at varying speeds. It’s basically an amphibian assault course…

Get five frogs to their homes on the other side and you complete the stage. Bonus points are also awarded for catching and guiding other frogs home.

Every new stage sees the introduction of new and more dangerous hazards. The first stage is relatively easy, with a quiet road and fewer dangers on the river (there are diving turtles that you can only stand on for a limited time). By the second stage, the road is much busier, and there are now alligators to contend with on the water. Later stages also introduce otters and snakes as frog predators. There are so many ways to die in this game…

Frogger is a very simple game to play (requiring only a single joystick – no fire button needed), but feels very satisfying – the game is a masterwork of timing and design and is both challenging and absorbing. Frogger has seen a number of sequels over the years, plus the usual torrent of clones and tributes. It is undoubtedly one of the best and most fondly-remembered games of the early arcade years, and is still worth a play today.

More: Frogger on Wikipedia

Space Panic, Arcade

Universal‘s 1980 arcade platformer, Space Panic, may not look like much by today’s standards, but it is a hugely influential video game.

For starters: it pre-dates Donkey Kong by a year, which makes it one the very first (if not the first) platform games ever made. Certainly one of the very first to use the now familiar brick platforms and ladders style of graphics.

The aim of the game is simple: you avoid the monsters; dig holes for them to fall into, and batter them on the head with your spade when they fall into a hole. You’ve only got a limited time to get to one that has fallen into a hole, and if it climbs out it fills the hole as it exits – sometimes becoming more powerful.

You can score more points by dropping a monster through multiple holes, which means digging a series of them underneath each other. Which is easier said than done… The chasing monsters have pretty sketchy AI, but since there are five of them it is very easy to get caught out. On later screens different-coloured monsters appear and these require dropping through more than one hole.

There’s also a timer in the form of an oxygen counter. Take too long to squash the bug-eyed beasties and your man goes red-faced as he slowly asphyxiates…

Space Panic is reasonable fun to play now, and the ironic thing about the game is that there are probably better (con)versions out there, and almost all of them are unofficial clones. The 8-bit home computer market was awash with Space Panic clones in the early 80s – most were poor, but a few were arguably better than this arcade original.

More: Space Panic on Wikipedia

International Karate Plus, Game Boy Advance

This handheld conversion of Archer Maclean‘s classic IK+ was published in 2002 by Ignition Entertainment and is generally quite excellent.

The only real complaint I have is that the fighters are slightly oversized (in relation to the backgrounds), although you probably wouldn’t notice unless you’d played the C64 version, or Amiga/Atari ST versions. Those of us who have played the earlier versions might be slightly irked by this scaling discrepancy, because it gives the player less room to fight in. Does this affect gameplay adversely in this GBA conversion? No, no really. Yes, there is less room to fight in, but International Karate is more about close-quarters combat, and timing your moves correctly, than jumping all over the shop like in Street Fighter II. So the oversized characters aren’t really a major problem.

This GBA conversion seems to have more responsive controls than previous versions, probably because it runs at a higher frame rate. I’m not entirely sure if that’s true of not. One thing is true: IK+ on the GBA runs at a blistering pace. Later levels require zen-like skill to beat and are often over in seconds.

IK+ is excellent on the Game Boy Advance, although does have limited appeal. It is a game you can pick up, play and enjoy at any time, though.

More: International Karate Plus on Wikipedia