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Gaming’s slower cars: a brief history, part 4

May 20th, 2018

Written by: Rik

Hi there. This is our fourth and final part of our look back at the pleasures, or otherwise, of driving a slow car in racing games. It takes us up to the end of the 00s or so, roughly in line with the newer games eligible for coverage at FFG.

I’m sure there are plenty of other great examples from more recent racers, and those I’ve missed out or forgotten from other periods. But, for better or worse, I decided to keep the focus on games I have actually played.

So…let’s continue!
 

Honda CR-X – Juiced (Acclaim, 2005)

Acclaim’s Juiced arguably got lost between the shinier (and better) NFS games of the time, but – a completely broken auto save system aside – it was still a decent racer.

Best of all, for our purposes at least, the crappy starter car seemed robust enough to see you through most of the game’s early stages, and with no requirement to make your vehicle more visually appealing, there was something vaguely comical, and satisfying, about defeating hordes of smack talking street-racers armed with a poxy old Honda.

In fact, the usual instinct to abandon your initial vehicle at the earliest opportunity soon became less appealing than dragging out the CR-X’s career for as long as possible.
 

Fiat Punto – Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Electronic Arts, 2005)

Arguably the high point of the NFS series, Most Wanted nevertheless presented you with a number of vehicles that you’d never pick unless you wanted to give yourself a hard time or derive some comedy value from the experience.

Enter the Fiat Punto, not many people’s idea of a getaway car. During my playthrough, we actually owned a Punto in real life (kindly bequeathed to us by our friend PG upon his departure to the US).

For the first couple of years it was relatively well behaved, but as time went on it became more temperamental: the airbag failed for no reason and couldn’t be fixed; the engine overheated on a dual carriageway on the way to Hemel Hempstead; and the windscreen wipers failed on the motorway (twice).

Anyway, I’m sure it’s just like those Ferraris – they look nice in games and on the telly, but they’re loud and uncomfortable and have terrible fuel economy. So, take it from me – driving a Punto isn’t as glamorous as games like Need for Speed: Most Wanted make it seem.
 

Mini Cooper – RACE: The WTCC Game (Eidos, 2006)

It’s been my experience that arcade track-based racers often give you the option of driving a slower car for laughs but then make the experience of doing so a largely joyless one.

RACE may or may not be the best racing sim (I mean, I liked it) but it did cultivate the sense of precarious danger that you feel would accompany the experience of driving even a modestly powered car around a track at speed. The engine is loud, the car shakes, corners bring a mild feeling of dread, and yet it’s all great fun, to the extent that I could understand why people might go to a race day experience or similar.

Without even starting a full WTCC season, there’s plenty of fun to be had racing around Monza in a Mini.

(Note: screenshot is from RACE 07 as RACE refused to work for some reason).
 

Audi A3 – Test Drive Unlimited (Atari, 2007)

The name Test Drive implies some fun twatting around in cars, so it was criminal really that it took many years of fruitless and low-quality circuit-based racing for the series to return to its roots.

If there’s an arcade racer that allows and encourages you to sample a variety of vehicles, drive them around for fun and beat challenges with them in a non-linear fashion, it’s TDU. Indeed, the early cars are more fun to drive than later challenges involving ludicrous Bugattis and Zondas and the like.

The Audi A3 (pictured here taking on Stoo’s Alfa Romeo, in a rare example of FFG indulging in multiplayer action) is a solid choice to start exploring Hawaii and, er, picking up hitchhikers and models in exchange for clothing vouchers.

As TDU helpfully gives you the full showroom experience, it’s worth pointing out that whatever we might say about crap cars in racing games, even this supposedly bog-standard Audi isn’t the same one that your estate agent might drive, with a list price of $37000 (I don’t know about you, readers, but I certainly don’t imagine ever spending that on a car).
 

Mazda RX-8 – Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights (THQ, 2008)

This gaudy sequel delivers plenty of vehicles although not much in the way of distinctive handling models. Still, it does successfully manage to cultivate some sense of ownership through a stats tracking system for each car, tallying up your race wins and losses for each.

Such was my attachment to this orange Mazda (pictured here with ludicrous Guy Ritchie avatar) – a potential TigerCar 2 – that I became incensed when I lost it to a rival and engaged in a costly and ultimately fruitless battle to win it back.

If, like myself, you’re a veteran of silly arcade racers but remain ignorant of real-life car performance issues, you might also be puzzled by the way the same cars seem to be ranked differently in different racing games. In Juiced 2, the RX-8 is a lowly machine, while in, say, Need for Speed: Underground 2, it’s near the top. Next time: some kind of graph comparing them all in painstaking detail.

Gaming’s slower cars: a brief history, part 3

May 13th, 2018

Written by: Rik

Hello. You can forget your Ferraris and Porsches (Ferrarae? Porsche-e?) – we’re celebrating the Volvos, Nissans and Mazdas of the racing game world with our look back at some of the slower cars on offer over the years. Sometimes they’re simply more fun to drive than your Mr-Smug-Show-Off-Lamborghini and sometimes they, er, aren’t.
 

Ford Ka – Ford Racing (Empire Interactive, 2000)

After the strange advertainment of the Ford Simulator series, someone had the bright idea to make a proper racing game featuring Ford cars to put in the shops next to Need for Speed et al.

And which of us hasn’t had the dream of driving a Ford Ka(ck) around a track against a field of like-minded opponents? Well, thanks to Ford Racing, that dream can come true. Sadly, the game lacks the requisite quality to make anything of this thrilling setup, coming off as a poor relation of TOCA (following some fairly smelly reviews, copies were later bundled with other, more popular, budget releases like Crazy Taxi).

Later Ford Racing games took more of a lightweight arcade approach, allowing you to utilise a variety of cars and trucks from the US range of vehicles across a number of lap-based events, and the Ka was nowhere to be seen.
 

Peugeot 106 – Rally Championship Xtreme (Actualize, 2001)

This underrated rally game certainly made you work for its top end cars, earned through hours of practice on courses with the lower class vehicles. However, it’s a blessing in disguise, as there’s plenty of fun to be had with the tiny hatchbacks on offer.

At the very bottom end you have the Citroën Saxo and Ford Puma, but if you’re feeling a little braver there’s a Honda Civic and a Peugeot at the next level up. We’ll go with the Peugeot 106, as some of my fondest memories with the game are associated with that car and the various UK based rally stages, particularly this move using a powerslide to get through some concrete gateposts.
 

 
(It’s an ancient pre-YouTube video with no sound, sorry! We had short clips like this in the site’s early years and kept them for posterity).

Side note: this game is still awesome! I spent ages trying to get it to work again and was fairly emotional when it seemed like I wouldn’t be able to.
 

Lancia Fulvia – Rally Trophy (JoWood, 2001)

An honourable mention for this game, dedicated to the classic era of rallying and a selection of rather rustic vehicle options, many of which are prone to sliding all over the place at the merest hint of a driving error.

Salvation comes in the form of the Lancia Fulvia, which seems much more inclined to stay put, allowing you more opportunity to enjoy the scenery and the occasionally passive-aggressive comments of your co-driver.

(OK, so this is technically one of the better cars in the game, isn’t it? But slow and unglamorous by the standards of most racers…)
 

Vauxhall VX220 – Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2 (Electronic Arts, 2002)

The pursuit was anything but hot in this underwhelming entry in the NFS series so it seems fitting that one of the starter cars is Vauxhall’s attempt at a sports coupé. (Bizarrely, the game also features the Opel version of the same car, with a negligible performance difference).

I may be generalising here but no-one buys a racing game to drive a Vauxhall. Although I do believe the VX220 was also the cover star of Bizarre Creations’ Dreamcast racer Metropolis Street Racer. (Did enough people buy that though? Perhaps the demise of the Dreamcast is all the VX220’s fault).

I don’t recall ever seeing one in real life, though, apart from maybe once, although that could have just been an Astra.
 

Kuruma – Grand Theft Auto III (Rockstar, 2002)

The driving bits in the earlier GTA games aren’t always the best – particularly when driving to a mission and accidentally causing a police chase, or those occasions when you actually race other cars – but as I mentioned before, they do capture perfectly that feeling of trying to push an average car to its limits during a getaway.

The Kuruma – your vehicle during GTA III‘s first mission (“Give Me Liberty”) – is an unexciting but solid beast that’s fun to throw around, and is one that will certainly ‘do’ if you need some wheels in a hurry.
 

Chrysler Neon – Need for Speed Underground (Electronic Arts, 2003)

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 was as naff as one of Richard Hammond’s leather jackets, so EA wisely decided to give their long-running racing series a Fast and Furious style makeover, based around earning respect on the streets.

You won’t get much respect by driving a Chrysler Neon, though, especially if you customise it like a vehicular version of Tony the Tiger. Still, although the distinctive handling (and, dare I say it, dashboard views) of the various cars had largely disappeared from the series over the years, one side effect of making you undertake thousands of very similar races was that you did begin to cultivate a sense of ownership of your ludicrously decorated motor. TigerCar, I still love you. And miss you, every day.
 

Ford LTL-9000 – TOCA Race Driver 2 (Codemasters, 2004)

The TOCA Race Driver games are known for their wide selection of vehicles (as well as some largely unsuccessful attempts to inject story-based drama into proceedings) and there were plenty of candidates for inclusion from the first game (the Saab-based racing series stands out). But instead we’ll go with some big trucks from the second game.

I know – trucks don’t really technically count, but we’re not going to go all Bus Simulator on you, I promise. I believe there were some entirely truck-and-track-based racers in the early 00s, which sounded awful, but for a quick few laps in one race, it’s a good laugh. And you can pretend to be in one of those big truck races like at the beginning of Smokey and the Bandit 2.

In Part 4: We close out the 00s with street racers galore and a trip to Hawaii…

Gaming’s slower cars: a brief history, part 2

May 6th, 2018

Written by: Rik

Hi there. We’re moving into part two of our look back at gaming’s less impressive automobiles. Here’s part one, in case you missed it.
 

Proton Wira – Network Q RAC Rally Championship (Europress, 1996)

Without stepping into review territory, it’s hard to credit that this game was once considered ‘da bomb’, if you forgive the expression [no, it’s unforgivable – FFG reader] in PC racing circles, and I remember PC Zone excitedly declaring it superior to Sega Rally, darling of arcades and consoles of the time.

In keeping with its boxy and slightly pedestrian interpretation of motorsport, there are some suitably unexciting motors to choose from. Those of a certain generation would naturally gravitate towards the Skoda, given it was the butt of many playground jokes in the 80s (“your Dad’s got a Skoda/Lada” etc) and in numerous motoring columns by Jeremy Clarkson as well, no doubt.

However by the mid–late 90s they actually weren’t bad cars. My Dad would now say, they’re basically a Golf, but cheaper. My wife would say, I don’t care, it’s still a Skoda, and if you think we should get one it’s further evidence that you’re turning into your Dad. So, in this case, we’ll plump for the equally crap–sounding Proton Wira.
 

Mundano – Grand Theft Auto (BMG Interative, 1997)

In 90s Britain, the vote of ‘Mundano man’ was widely considered to have been key in Tony Blair’s reimagining of the Labour party, and the subsequent landslide victory for New Labour in the 1997 general election.

Ahem. Grand Theft Auto isn’t technically a racer, but I’d credit it with being one of the better games to accurately recreate the feeling of driving a crap car quite fast. I mean, in real life, if you floored it in any car and drove like a maniac, it’d be scary, right? You wouldn’t be thinking, “ah, but this is just a Ford Fiesta, I’d really need to be driving a Porsche to feel anything approaching terror.”
 

Volvo S40 – TOCA Touring Car Championship, (Codemasters, 1997)

Along with rallying, the British Touring Car Championship is another great showcase for the unexciting hatchback or saloon. The selection in TOCA is a veritable middle–class 90s parents’ evening car park.

Helpfully, the game never gave you sufficient information about each vehicle to make an informed decision: I’m sure I remember reading in some magazine or other that the Audi A4 was the best because it was 4 wheel–drive, but I don’t know if that was true. In–game, the Renault Laguna always seemed to finish near the front when controlled by AI opponents, but in my experience was more prone to TOCA’s trademark unexplained sliding off the road when you selected it yourself.

It’s a tricky choice, but in any game that offers you the chance to drive a Volvo, it has to be the Volvo.
 

Mazda Demio – Gran Turismo (Sony, 1998)

This is meant to be a PC–only list (don’t write in) but the GT games have a proud history of crap cars, even if driving them (in my opinion) isn’t particularly exciting. Anyway, in the original Gran Turismo, you’re forced to do the first licence tests in this boxy embarrassment, which just adds extra humiliation to your failure to do something as simple as drive for a bit and stop in a box.

Some years later, during my one and only concerted attempt to get though Gran Turismo 3‘s career mode, I spent ages trying to win one of the early tournaments, and received some other tiny Japanese hatchback (moderate internet research suggests it was most likely either a Suzuki Alto or Daihatsu Cuore) which I assumed, despite modest appearances, to be some kind of upgrade from my current motor and I tried in vain to soup it up. It turns out you’re just supposed to sell it for the cash or something.
 

Jaguar XK8 – Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit (Electronic Arts, 1998)

As we go through this list, I can’t quite decide whether we’re meant to be looking at the best slow cars or the worst ones. If it was the former, then the Mercedes–Benz SL 600 would be the one to choose from NFS III, ahead of the Aston Martin DB7.

At the bottom of the pile, we have the Jaguar XK8. As well as being peak 90s soft–top naffness in appearance, it never seems as if it’s going very fast at all, regardless of what the speedometer says, and sounds as if it’s stuck in a middle gear at all times due to some kind of mechanical fault.

(Side note: I hadn’t played this for ages, but can report that, despite occasionally iffy handling and boxier graphics than I remember, NFS III still holds up pretty well).
 

Cadillac Eldorado – Midtown Madness (Microsoft, 1999)

The revamped VW Beetle would be an obvious candidate here, except it was quite a novelty at the time and well-suited to nipping about in urban environments. And, I know, you can drive a bus and a truck in Midtown Madness, but they don’t really count. (Warning: in later lists, trucks and buses may count).

Instead I’m going to plump for the Cadillac Eldorado, which may be a perfectly ok car, but shares a name with one of the worst ever BBC soap–operas, and seems to be the kind of dull 4–door saloon no–one would ever want to go racing in. But you can throw it about a bit and it goes quite fast.

(Note: this screenshot is from Midtown Madness 2 – DON’T WRITE IN!)

In Part 3: The early 00s! With rally games and street racers galore…

Moments in Gaming: How appropriate, you fight like a cow

May 4th, 2018

Written by: Stoo

Let’s consider a conundrum facing point and click adventure games about pirates.

We might expect it to feature some sort of combat. Pirates led a fairly violent life after all. I mean “boarding ships and taking stuff” was pretty much their job description. Even if you don’t go down that route, because your pirate hero is actually kind of useless, there are other situations where he or she will end up in a scuffle. I imagine when there was a dispute over who drank all the grog, or which idiot got the ship stuck on a sandbar, it wasn’t resolved with reasonable discussion and a firm handshake.

That said, combat scenes never fit all that well into those adventures. When sitting down to play one, I would get into the mindset of methodical exploration, investigation and puzzle-solving. I would expect to walk into a room, survey the scenery, items and characters. Then try picking things up, talking to people, seeing if any items I have right now enable a useful interaction with anything I’m seeing now. All a nice relaxed pace, over a cup of tea.

What I wouldn’t want was to find myself suddenly mashing the keyboard, swinging a sword around. That would be jarring, an unwelcome change of pace. It’s a particularly poor fit for Lucasarts adventures, which aimed for a welcoming, stress free style of game where you can’t make errors. Over in Sierra where you could randomly fall down a trap door or get murdered by an angry troll at any moment, I suppose the danger of combat fits a bit better.

Looking at some Lucasarts games, he fistfights were (IMO) the least appealing part of Fate of Atlantis. They were wise to make this part entirely optional. Meanwhile Full Throttle gave us biker fights based on a basic system of hard counters (each weapon is very good against one other type). It wasn’t terrible but it dragged on a bit.

So how should a developer implement swashbuckling swordplay in a pirate game? For The Secret of Monkey Island, Ron Gilbert and co hit on a neat solution: turn the fighting into dialogue-based puzzles.

I’m sure many of you remember how it works. Combatant A insults B. B tries a clever response. If the response matches the insult, B wins that round and then fires off an insult of their own. If their answer falls flat, A wins. Overall victory goes to the winner of three or four rounds.

Thank you, mobygames.

The Monkey Island protagonist Guybrush Threepwood is kind of a dorky loser, and is not known for cutting wit. So you start off with a pitiful range of both insults and responses. As you roam the moonlit pathways of Melee island, you invariably blunder into aggressive, swaggering pirates. You will lose a lot, at first, but every new line that that your enemies speak is added to your own library. Soon you can humiliate and bellittle your way past any cutthroat on the island.

The really clever bit is when you have to fight the swordmaster, as part of three trials to prove yourself a proper pirate.  [puzzle spoiler follows!] Her set of insults is entirely different to anything you’ve so far encountered. This is initially bewildering and you may be swiftly knocked on your ass. If you pay attention though, you realise that you are not as defenseless as it seems. For each of her insults, one of your responses makes sense, just not in the way originally intended.

Before when a pirate said “My handkerchief will wipe up your blood!”, you would say “So you got that job as janitor, after all.” Well, that also works if you’re told “My name is feared in every dirty corner of this island!”

It’s just one of the ways that Monkey Island was such a clever, creative game, one of the all time finest of its kind.

Review: L.A. Noire – Mistakes get made, but you deal with them

April 29th, 2018

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

It’s been a while since we had what my friend and colleague might call ‘proper’ content. But here we have a review, of a relatively recent game, Rockstar’s L.A. Noire.

Gaming’s slower cars: a brief history, part 1

April 25th, 2018

Written by: Rik

Driving an unremarkable car is a dream that many of us are now living: if I want to drive an unmodified Honda Civic (unless you count a few dents as modifications) then I can go outside now and drive it wherever I like (but probably to either Waitrose or the tip).

Often in driving or racing games, the slow car is something to be endured until you play for long enough to unlock the faster ones. At other times, though, you’re given the full selection from the start, which begs the question: what’s the point of including them at all?

Whether it was the nerdy childhood appeal of pretending to race a car that you’d actually seen in real life, the potential for comedy value (intentional or otherwise), or simply the fact that they were more fun to drive, gaming’s underpowered cars have provided plenty of fun over the years.

So, why not join us as we take a look back through gaming history to evaluate the merits of the less exciting end of driving games’ vehicle selection screens?
 

Muscle Cars – Test Drive II: The Duel (Accolade, 1989)

As the title suggests, the core game of Test Drive II was about two cars – THE FASTEST CARS IN THE WORLD (in 1989) – namely, the Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959.

You’d think that didn’t really leave Accolade anywhere to go, but, showing admirable devotion to the slower car (and making money), they released two vehicle add-on packs: The Supercars (a selection of modern sports cars, all slower than the big two, and a line-up that bears a suspicious resemblance to that of the first game) and The Muscle Cars (5 big gas guzzlers from the 60s).

On the one hand, TDII is a better game than its predecessor, which suffered from excessively sluggish handling and repetitive cliffside scenery, and provides a better basis for (ahem) test driving the cars. On the other, the slower vehicles, particularly the 60s Muscle Cars, seem rather bland when compared with those on offer in the main game; subtleties in handling are largely absent; and you’re much more likely to be caught by the police.

There’s a nice selection of dashboards, for those fetishists out there, but otherwise the original duel is where the action is.
 

Lancia Delta Integrale – 4D Sports: Driving/Stunts (Brøderbund, 1990)

Test Drive developers Distinctive Software went on to make Stunts, a cult favourite in these parts. The track construction kit and wide selection of cars provided endless opportunities for messing about, and setting custom challenges (“here is this absolutely mental track I created, now beat my time with…the Audi Quattro”) back in the day.

It wasn’t the slowest car in Stunts (that honour belonged to the Lamborghini LM002) but the aficionado’s slow car of choice was the Lancia Delta Integrale. While the real car was a nippy effort that achieved notable success in the World Rally Championship (and later earned an appearance in Sega Rally) there was something about its depiction in Stunts – it seemed too small, the dashboard was brown, and the default colour was a pale yellow –  that made it look like the kind of car your grandparents would drive, lending it significant comedy value. Here’s a clip of it attempting Rik’s patented ‘3 building jump challenge’…

 

Mythos Pininfarina – Test Drive III: The Passion (Accolade, 1990)

The Test Drive series limped on without Distinctive, and this third effort was certainly ambitious, pushing into full 3D, adding alternative routes and weather effects. Unfortunately, for our purposes, two of the three vehicles were wacky concept cars (the Ferrari Mythos Pininfarina and Chevrolet CERV III) and the third was the FASTEST CAR IN THE WORLD, the Lamborghini Diablo.

One of the game’s many flaws was that it was far too fast to actually see what was going on, and so some less ambitiously powered vehicles might have been welcome. Which made the Mythos, the slowest of the three originals, the most sensible option. The Road & Car pack later provided an Acura NSX and Dodge Stealth, and a slightly straighter section of road, to restore some balance.
 

1957 Ferrari Testarossa – Car and Driver (Electronic Arts, 1992)

Another example of a slow car being chosen out of expediency, the notoriously tricky Car and Driver gives you a couple of highway routes upon which to enjoy a leisurely drive, but then emphasises the dangers of the road in a brutal manner akin to an episode of Police, Camera, Action!

Developers Looking Glass went on to make serious flight sims including Flight Unlimited, and though this might look like a Test Drive or Need For Speed game, on anything but the easiest settings you’ll be spinning and rolling your chosen dream car towards certain doom. With that in mind, it’s worth considering the ’57 Testarossa, a far cry from the 80s dream machine of Outrun fame, even if it does mean you’re subjected to a crude potato head representation of your driver in the replays.
 

Any 1994 Ford – Ford Simulator 5 (The SoftAd Group, 1994)

A curious entry in gaming history, the Ford Simulator games were part glossy showroom brochure, part dreadful sub-Test Drive driving game. You’d think you’d be in slow car heaven here, but despite an enterprisingly dull selection of vehicles, not a huge amount of effort was expended in differentiating them out on the road. Dashboard fetishists, in particular, will be disappointed, as will European gamers expecting to see familiar Ford models – where’s the Fiesta? The Granada? The Orion?
 

Mazda RX7 – The Need for Speed (Electronic Arts, 1995)

We’ve already written about The Need for Speed‘s Lamborghini Diablo, but a high top speed, combined with the game’s sluggish braking and steering, makes the game’s faster cars less than enjoyable to drive.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Mazda RX7, the slowest car in TNFS. Later to become a high end dream machine during the NFS Underground import years, here the RX7 calls to mind a punier model like the MX5 (the kind of car your middle-aged neighbour might have). Even the yellowy green colour is kind of unimpressive. I don’t care if it does have a Wankel Twin Turbo (snigger).

It’s good fun to drive, though, even if it is harder to evade the police or prevent opponents’ superior top end speed besting you. But, on a twistier course like the final section of Alpine road, it should be possible to triumph over even the mighty Diablo, which may well speed past you at the start but is equally likely to plough guilelessly into traffic later on, allowing you to sail past wearing a smug expression.

In Part 2: the late 90s! With more Need for Speed, Midtown Madness and, er, others!

Mini consoles, and old debates

April 16th, 2018

Written by: Stoo

In the past couple of years Nintendo have successfully released miniaturised versions of both the NES and SNES. They’re little emulation boxes that come pre-loaded with games, shaped to resemble the original console. Aimed at the casual Nostalgic 30\40 something, you just plug them into your TV and start playing, with a minimum of fuss. Perfect for when you only have 30 minutes gaming time in your average evening.

The idea is catching on and a few other mini-machines have either been released or are on the way.

We recently saw a C64 mini, and at the risk of losing all my retro-gaming cred I wish I had more to say about it. I don’t think I’ve ever actually played on a real C64. From what I’ve heard the problems with this device are:

1: the keyboard doesn’t actually do anything
2: its missing some of the most popular games
3: the joystick sucks. Personally I think gamepads were more usable than those 80s joysticks anyway, but apparently this one is extra bad.

Also though, it was inevitable that Sega would want a piece of this market. So they have recently announced a miniature Megadrive\Genesis. Games onboard are unknown, but it’s due out this year.

Myself, I always saw Sega consoles as a step lesser than their competitors from Nintendo. The Megadrive wasn’t bad by any means, but it did have a more limited colour palette. Also, more subjectively, it didn’t have quite the same appeal. The SNES was colourful and earnest a bit dorky, yet utterly charming. The Megadrive was all black plastic and trying too hard to be cool.

I might feel that way because of Sonic the Hedgehog, which always struck me as a bit over-rated. The game presented raw speed as its key advantage over the competition, but that just meant half of each map shot past in a blur leaving me thinking “do I need to go back there?” Once you slowed down to walking pace, it was all a bit average.

Also I didn’t care for attempts to make a mascot with “attitude”. Nintendo’s unfashionable middle-aged plumber is sincerely likeable, while Sonic’s smirking face was too transparent an attempt to appeal to kids. As if he was meant to be one of us, charging off having fun and thumbing his nose at authority instead of doing his math homework.

That said I don’t actively dislike those games, they’re just not a match for Super Mario World. Meanwhile there are several Megadrive games that might tempt me to shell out. Shining Force, which I wrote about over on Just Games Retro, was a great tactical RPG. Castlevania: Bloodlines is my favourite instalment from the vampire-killing series’ 8 and 16 bit days, with some memorably atmospheric levels and a spear-wielding hero to complement the usual Whip Guy.

Then there’s Golden Axe, the classic scrolling beat ’em up. Rather than the usual setting of denim clad karate men fighting criminal gangs amongst urban neon and grime, this one went for Conan the Barbarian style fantasy. Top memories from Golden Axe include those huge hammer guys, and riding fire-breathing dragons. Also wasting your fully charged special magic attack on a single wimpy enemy, just before a boss fight starts.

One reason not to get the Megadrive mini will be, you can already get a bunch of the games on Steam (since they no longer make their own hardware, Sega are logically much more willing than Nintendo to release their retro games on other formats). That’s another easy and legal way to play, although with my setup not quite so conducive to playing from the living room sofa.

Anyway this isn’t as high personal priority for me as the Nintendo minis, but, I do in general applaud the push to make oldies more accessible to modern casual gamers. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues, and what else may be announced in the future. How about a tiny Atari ST? (cheers from back of room. Boos from Amiga owners).

Moments in Gaming: 200mph

April 1st, 2018

Written by: Rik

Last time, Stoo talked about how Doom is synonymous with the PC consolidating its position as a proper gaming machine. Today, we move a bit further forward into the mid-90s, and a point in time when console games on PC started to become a reality, and the phrase “anything console X can do, the PC can do better!” seemed less like empty my-format-is-best posturing.

The death of the 3DO led to some of its best games arriving on the PC, including Road Rash, FIFA and, best of all, The Need for Speed. TNFS was the racing game I’d always been waiting for, to the extent that I’d asked my parents to consider getting me a 3DO: a racer with real cars, real roads, civilian traffic, and police chases. It was the game Test Drive 2 and Car and Driver could have been if they hadn’t been held back by the technological limitations of their era.

PC gamers were soon furnished with a demo, which allowed you to take the Dodge Viper out on a drive along a single section of coastal road. Even on a 486, which could only handle the visuals in 320×200, it looked great, and repeated plays only served to heighten anticipation for the full game. Aside from trying to drive properly, there seemed to be significant scope for messing around: hitting traffic, pulling handbrake turns, and – best of all – getting up a significant amount of speed and crashing into a roadside barrier, prompting an unrealistic, but spectacular, crash sequence.

Those initial experiences with the demo could almost have been a gaming moment of their own, and the coastal roads did boast some lovely scenery (for the time) including one memorable section where hot air balloons appeared on the horizon, which could have been another contender (banishing memories of Test Drive 2’s windmill-based scenery packs).

However, fun as messing around with the Viper was, it was only natural that the fastest cars would be held back for the full game. The received wisdom of the school playground was that the Lambourghini Diablo had overtaken the Ferrari F40 (which featured in a number of games in the late 80s and early 90s, including Crazy Cars 2, Turbo Outrun and Test Drive 2) as the “fastest and best car ever” and someone had read in their Dad’s car magazine that it could do over 200mph.

The Need for Speed gave you the opportunity to drive a Diablo, and a stretch of road long enough to achieve that top speed. The first section of the city race was pretty much a long straight with little to stop your progress, other than a few pesky slow-moving civilians. While hitting the 200mph mark and beyond was pretty simple, there was also enough of a sense of speed and danger that meant it didn’t feel cheap, either.

In that moment, the promise of so many racing games – that you, a nerdy kid with a computer, could have the keys to any of the world’s top sports cars – had finally been delivered.

The Great Skate 8

March 30th, 2018

Written by: Rik

For reasons unknown, my mind recently warped back to the 16-bit era and a game called Skate Tribe. It was developed in STOS, a version of BASIC geared towards making games for the Atari ST. STOS was one of those packages that was both too complicated for the unrealistic and lazy end of the target market to fathom and also simple enough that any games produced with it were automatically considered inferior.

Other than Skate Tribe, I can’t recall any other notable STOS titles, and I never used it myself, although I’m sure I would have fallen into the unrealistic/lazy category – Klik and Play was more my level. (I’d better also point out that there was a version for the Amiga called AMOS and it was much better in every way, I’m sure).

I probably wouldn’t have heard of Skate Tribe either had it not been given away on a magazine cover disk, and one-time ST Format readers are more likely to recall it than most. Essentially an object dodging game, you guide your pony-tailed dude through 9 increasingly hazardous levels, starting with a fairly straightforward opening in which you slalom through various roadside objects. Later challenges can be slightly more nuanced, involving the fire button to effect a jump and avoid holes in the road, oncoming vehicles etc.

The context always seemed a little ambiguous, as aliens turn up at various points, and there’s a level in which you have to avoid a giant snake thing while balancing on the back of some kind of flying craft. Which is weird. (Although looking back now at the cover disk pages of ST Format #7, some more detail is given – apparently your character is called Apache Joe (…) and there is a reference to supplies to your home town of Wood Green (London N15?) being cut off).

I never managed to finish it, although it’s not a long game, and I’m not sure if it’s even all that good: the collision detection is particularly ropey, and once the game decides you’ve finished a level you often find your skater riding roughshod over oncoming obstacles with no ill effects.

Still, I must have spent enough time with it for it to leave an impression on me after all these years. Some of the credit must go to the soundtrack – there are some cracking tunes in there, particularly if you’re a fan of slightly melancholic and wistful loops (it kind of reminds me of the Outrun soundtrack and also the music from the CPC version of Robocop that got used in an advert for Ariston washing machines).

Here are a few short clips of my favourites:

Title music

Level 1

Level 4

(Thanks to stformat.com for the ST Format scan).

FFG Mobile

March 26th, 2018

Written by: Rik

Exciting news! We have a mobile version of the site, thanks to WPTouch.

Owing to a combination of the plugin’s limitations and our own, the mobile site doesn’t have the same functionality as the desktop one. Our intention is that it serves as a more accessible way to browse reviews and view the latest site updates on a phone.

The main thing that’s missing is the search function. There’s a technical reason for this, something to do with WPTouch conflicting with another plugin we use. However, you can browse the reviews using the menu as normal, and the latest blog updates will be on the main page, so hopefully you won’t miss out on too much.

We’re also aware that, as a free mobile plugin, quite a few sites also use WPTouch, including our friends over at Just Games Retro. We looked at a few options, but this one seemed to fit best considering our (limited) technical knowledge.

On the plus side, it was a relative doddle to sort out, and all the possible limitations that caused us to put this whole thing off for so long were actually pretty easily resolved (the main one did need some background tinkering from my friend and colleague).

Hopefully you’ll consider it an improvement: a generally streamlined and cut-down version of the sprawling and cheerfully eccentric main site (which is always available as an option, should you need it).

Believe it or not we did do some reasonably thorough checking on the test site, but there are bound to be things we missed. Any issues, feedback or other comments, do let us know!