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Review: Kick Off 3: European Challenge

July 5th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hi there everyone.

Hope you’re doing okay.

Today’s review is Kick Off 3: European Challenge from Anco.

We’ve got a few video clips from the game too.

And, as ever, a new football game review also means a change to the standings in the FFG Football League.

I hate you, Supreme Titans

June 26th, 2020

Written by: Stoo

The other night I sat down for bit of Might and Magic 6, which I started five years ago but have not yet completed. Which may seem a bit ridiculous. Certainly this is personal record for the longest amount of time spent on a single run through a game.

The slow progress is due to the way I only intermittently give it my time. I make it my main gaming pursuit for a few weeks, and make a bit of progress. Then I put it aside for several months. This might give the impression of a game that has become a chore, something I force myself to trudge through before running out of willpower.

I won’t deny the game can be hard work. It’s taken me weeks to play through some of the larger dungeons, slogging my way through one room full of monsters at a time. It also lacks the conveniences we expect from modern RPGs – there are no map markers to tell you where to go, and fast travel is limited to a few links between towns. On top of all that is the sheer scale of it; the sort of game you can play for weeks and feel barely any closer to the end. So inevitably I’d want a break sometimes.

However, that’s all to be expected from older-school RPGs. I am in fact quite enjoying MM6, and find that it meets my requirements for exploration, questing and goblin bothering. I’m certainly determined to finish it, however long it takes, just for my own personal satisfaction. If I was fed up of it I’d have abandoned ship and churned out a review already.

The problem is more that my gaming time is limited, and I’m also easily distracted. When I do have an hour free I’m thinking do I want to play a Space Quest, or have another go at Diablo 3, or dust off a 90s shooter. Or, I’ve really been wanting to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution. There are stacks of games sat on my virtual shelves, all demanding my attention. So MM6 sometimes falls a little behind on my priority list.

Still, I’ve been making progress since I last wrote about it. My team has levelled up numerous times, gained better shiny swords and learned new spells. Most of the enemies I complained about last time are now a minor threat at most. Every time I see those damn harpies I obliterate them with fire and lightning, even the Evil Eyes are manageable.

Not that the entire game has become easy; I’m questing in new regions where far more potent enemies await. Currently the deadliest threat I have encountered are the Supreme Titans, who are bastards of the highest order.

This isn’t going well.

The Titans are massive, taller than a house. They take the forbidding appearance of ancient, armoured warriors. You’d only need to see them striding around, to guess they are heavy hitters. Indeed they can inflict grievous damage with their fists or magical attacks. Furthermore they can take an insane amount of punishment in return.

These basic factors alone would make them extremely challenging, and thus suitable foes for a high level party. Yet they have one more ability, that elevates them to true bastard status. They can fling a spell that inflicts instant death. Armour is irrelevant. Hitpoints mean nothing. Your guy just keels over stone dead.

The spell isn’t always successful; I estimate it works maybe one time in three. Yet because the titans are so durable, they will have time to cast it several times even if you blast them with everything you have. So the odds are, if you go into battle, someone’s dead within a thirty seconds. Charge into sword range: dead before can swing at them. Stand back and launch spells: watch 10% of their health fall then someone is dead. Cast a bunch of buffs on your team: more attacks land, you take 20% of their health off this time! Then someone’s dead.

Each battle is, therefore, a rather panicked business. In turn based mode it’s impossible to dodge spells and projectiles, so I can flick over to realtime, but that’s all a bit chaotic. I sometimes end up doing these ridiculous evasive manoeuvres: firing my best spells, then running in circles until my casters are ready to fire again (as written about fighting Fire Archers a looong time ago). Another tactic I found was to hide behind an obstacle like a stone obelisk firing meteor shower. This spells calls a hail of firey rocks downs from the heavens and doesn’t actually need clear line of sight. A slightly cheap trick perhaps, but one that I feel is justified in these circumstances.

I’m currently exploring the Hermit’s Isle region, a desolate desert far from civilisation, and the terrifying giants are every where. Every time I see their looming shape on the horizon I hope it’s one of their lesser cousins, the Noble Titans or just regular no-prefix Titans. Those ones are a bit less tank-like in their constitution, and more important can’t cast instant death.

Invariably though, any group will contain at least one Supreme. So I take a deep breath, check all the buffs are up (to boost hit chance, spell damage etc), and look for any bits of scenery to duck behind. If I can somehow bring this thundering colossus down, that’s fantastic but there are probably another eight or ten in the area.

I suppose I am approaching the end-game here so I should be expecting something particularly brutal. The titans are, hopefully, the toughest non-boss enemies. If not, well, I’ll probably be back in another couple of years to grumble about something else.

Review: NBA Jam: Tournament Edition

June 14th, 2020

Written by: Rik


Hope you’re all doing well, or hanging in there, at least.

Like many others, I recently watched and enjoyed The Last Dance on Netflix. I don’t know much about basketball, or US sports in general, but like all the best documentaries, I don’t think that’s necessary in order to enjoy it.

Anyway, it of course stirred memories of the NBA in the 90s, and sent me scurrying back to this DOS version of an arcade basketball favourite: NBA Jam: Tournament Edition.


Dusting off an old feature

June 5th, 2020

Written by: Stoo

Hi all.

When we started this site (nearly 20 years ago) we envisaged writing second opinions for each other’s reviews. Not that I envisaged many major disagreements (“Rik speaks lies! Zone Raiders is a classic!”), just the chance to look at games from a slightly different angle, making observations that would not have occurred to the original reviewer. After all, this is a subjective business and we all have our own point of view.

Sadly, very few of these items ever materialised. I’m not going to dwell too much on reasons why, and certainly don’t mean to be critical of Rik when he’s written a far greater number of actual reviews than I have. However, I’ve lately been tempted to return to the format. So here are a couple for you.

First up, here’s my uneducated but enthusiastic take on early-90s racing in Test Drive III.

Also, I’ve written some thoughts on the MS-DOS platform game from Epic, Jazz Jackrabbit.

More of these to come, hopefully.

Discussion: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (spoilers!)

May 29th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

Today we’re continuing our series of discussions of more modern indie titles. They’re not traditional reviews, as such, and we go into some detail about the specifics of the story of each, and so they’re heavily flagged for spoilers.

Previously, Jo and I have talked about the FMV mystery Her Story and the 90s-themed exploration adventure Gone Home. Today’s game is The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, developed and published by The Astronauts in 2014.

As with those other games in this discussion series, you’re probably best off not knowing too much about it before you start playing. However, the basic setup is that you are Paul Prospero, a paranormal investigator who responds to a letter from a young boy, Ethan Carter, by travelling to Ethan’s home in Red Valley Creek, Wisconsin. Here’s a short teaser trailer from the developers:

We weren’t quite as fond of this one as the previous games we discussed, but it still has plenty to recommend it, and it’s reasonably short and digestible, so do check it out if it looks like it might be of interest.

Otherwise, the usual ***spoiler warnings*** now apply, should you read any further.
Discussion: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (spoilers!) continued »

Super off-brand Mario

May 20th, 2020

Written by: Stoo

I have a tradition that occurs about twice a year. I dust off my 3DS, tell myself this time I’ll find something to play on it, then stuff it back its bag and ignore it for another six months.

I think there are a couple of problems contributing to this neglect. Firstly, games on its online store seem rather pricey to me, a PC gamer long accustomed to Steam sales. Secondly, I’ve come to the realisation that, apart from those famous first-party series like Mario, I actually know nothing about the games on there. I’m too out of touch to know what an Animal Crossing is, have never been interested in Pokemon and am completely baffled by any jrpg that isn’t Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy 6/7.

To this day I’ve only actually completed two games for it – Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (actually for the older DS) and Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Both of them were pretty great but I might have to just admit I’m not going to get much more use out of this device. I’m otherwise too dedicated to the PC, and my Steam and GOG backlogs are too lengthy. My interest in consoles remains limited to the 8 and 16 bit days.

Still, the 3DS can at least cater to this nostalgia for a short while, thanks to its virtual console. The classic games are also pricey (compare to GOG stuff of similar vintage) and the lack of SNES games is inexcusable but it does have a decent library of NES and Gameboy games. So I was rooting around trying to remember what I’d bought several years ago, and found myself on Super Mario Land.

It was probably had the second-highest profile of any Gameboy game, after the almighty Tetris. I’m sure many of us could hum the music to stage one. Yet I’ve always found something about it to be weirdly distracting. It has most of the familiar Mario features – mushrooms, head stomping, bashing blocks from underneath. Yet there are also a bunch of little differences that feel out of place.

The fire flower is renamed “power ball” and works differently. The koopas don’t leave shells for you to kick; rather they explode like a bob-omb. In some levels it turns into an side-scrolling shooter. Worlds are themed on real life locations; so we get ancient egypt in one, China in another. Also Easter Island statues, which have an otherworldly quality wherever you see them (part of why they are so fascinating), but are just plain odd in a Mario game.

The primitive nature of the graphics, even by Gameboy standards, adds an extra layer weirdness to it all. The faux-koopas are barely recognisable, and I was never quite sure if that’s a mouse with big ears or a fly with wings, attacking you on the first level (it’s the latter).

The overall effect is a bit like playing some kind of knock-off; like someone copied Mario but threw in random ideas of their own. Still worth playing for a bit, but even if it’s quite brief I doubt I’ll ever bother making it to the end.

I also downloaded the sequel, which feels much more like a proper Mario game. The artwork looks a lot better, probably because developers had learned how to squeeze more out of the Gameboy’s meagre hardware. Add to that the inclusion of a flying powerup, and levels joined by a map screen, and it’s clearly following the lineage of Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World.

So it’s a reason to keep the DS out of storage for the rest of the week, at least.

Review: Quarantine II: Road Warrior

May 17th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hi everyone.

Hope you’re doing ok.

I hope today’s review doesn’t seem in poor taste, considering the current situation: I can promise any link between the decision to cover it and the real-life global pandemic is purely coincidental. As any regular readers will know, we move far too slowly these days for anything to be topical, whatever our intentions.

Anyway, the game in question is Quarantine II: Road Warrior from GameTek.

(Which I think might well have been one of the games in The Big Cardboard Box).

Vault of Regret: The Big Cardboard Box

May 14th, 2020

Written by: Rik

The Vault of Regret is a very large place, which houses dusty old game CDs and boxes, untouched digital libraries, and the metaphysical concepts of remorse and embarrassment. Here we write about all the games we should have played but haven’t, or that we have played but didn’t enjoy, among other things.

Do you still have all your old boxed games from the 90s? If not, do you remember what happened to them? Why you kept some, and not others? And would you make the same decisions again now?

Perhaps you just got rid of the boxes, and kept the discs, for reasons of space. Or maybe it all just stayed at your parents’ house for a while, until several years passed and they had a clear out which forced you to make a decision. You weren’t to know, back in those days, that you’d be able to play those old DOS games again. Or that you’d even want to.

In our house, three people contributed to the shelves surrounding the family PC, and we each had different strategies when it came to our purchasing decisions. At the one end of the scale was Jo, who kept a fairly short list of adventure games that she wanted and would make sure she either saved up for them or put them on the next Christmas or birthday list. And at the other was yours truly, a gullible idiot who would buy whatever happened to be in the sales. (My Dad was somewhere in the middle, a keen follower of review scores but also always up for a bargain too.)

While Jo and I were living with our parents, at least some of the time, we could take and leave what we wanted back and forth to university. But when the time eventually came for me to move out, to share a room in a London flat with my girlfriend, I had a feeling that the arrangement would come to a swift end if I arrived armed with stacks of big box PC games.

And so it was time to perform a serious audit. Items of moderate value, generally the more modern titles, could be put on eBay as individual items. But in a pre-DOSBox world, the more genuine oldies were of less interest to the game-buying public. The only thing to do was to throw them all into a big cardboard box and sell them off together at a low, low price: 40 or so games at a starting price of 99p plus postage. (I think I got about 35 or so quid for them in the end).

It doesn’t bother me that I got rid of these games – the particular source of regret, in this case, is the fact that I can’t really remember many of their names, and even the ones that spring to mind, I can’t be 100% certain about. What was in that box? I guess it feels weird to have sold games that I didn’t play, or that didn’t make much of an impression on me: a collection of impulse purchases and some filler from compilations, no doubt, with some titles ones that I genuinely did mean to get around to one day, and others that were frankly never likely to make their way to the top of the pile.

I remember this much. But the box wasn’t empty, it had stuff in it.

As a dedicated archivist of my own digital past [Jee-sus! Just say ‘hoarder’ – FFG reader], it does genuinely bother me that I don’t know what these games were (I’ve already spent longer than is healthy scouring my e-mails and old backups for evidence of the eBay listing from 2003). Plus, it sort of blows my mind that I could have spent so long writing about old games here (admittedly, at an extremely slow pace) without even remembering, never mind getting around to revisiting, all the ones that I used to own.

In all likelihood, the full list will forever remain a mystery. But slowly, a few names are coming back to me: I’ve even somehow confirmed, thanks to MobyGames, that a seemingly random collection of CDs that were in my collection at one point in the 90s was a genuine, real-life compilation and not simply a figment of my imagination. So perhaps I can still dredge up a few more memories, pick out some of those abandoned oldies and give them a proper look over, all these years later.

Review: International Cricket Captain III

May 8th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

I’ll say it again: I do hope you’re all keeping safe and well at the moment.

In search of something calm and gentle, I decided to turn to cricket, and so today’s review is of a mid-to-late 00s entry in Empire’s long-running cricket management series: International Cricket Captain III.

Review: Colin McRae Rally 3

April 29th, 2020

Written by: Rik


Hope you’re all keeping well, under the circumstances.

At times like these we might find ourselves trying to go to our respective happy places, trying to find ways to relax or escape, whenever possible, and games can certainly help with that.

In my case, I think playing endless racing games from the 00s and early 10s would do just nicely.

So, today, we’re taking a look at Colin McRae Rally 3.