Here's the towering oaf in his original arcade form...
Despite being fairly original in some ways, Sega's mythical scrolling punch/kick 'em up, Altered Beast, received a rather mixed reception upon its release. It looked pretty good, sounded okay and presented a reasonable challenge, but slightly sluggish controls and repetitive gameplay didn't give it much long-term appeal. It definitely had its good points though, with several aspects still fondly remembered today. The ability to transform (or indeed 'alter') into various 'beasts', for example, was undeniably cool, even if you didn't get to spend as long as you'd have liked rampaging about the place as a werewolf, weredragon, werebear, or weretiger, but another thing many gamers seem to remember most about the game was its bosses. Most of these were large and came in varying degrees of grossness such as the gloopy Oct-Eyes or stinky Moldy Snail, but it was undoubtedly the first of them that everyone remembers the most.
Charles Messier (1730 - 1817) was a French astronomer who spent much of his life identifying various star clusters, galaxies, nebulae, and other notable occupants of our glorious heavens. Ironically, it wasn't even his aim to create a comprehensive list or catalogue of interesting sights - he actually did it purely as part of his efforts to hunt down comets which was his primary goal - but make a list he did, and such was the importance of it and the many discoveries on it, the list of 'Messier Objects' has remained in regular use to this day by amateurs and professional alike.
This could be down to the fact that the list contains many of the biggest, brightest, and best-known (and therefore most popular) objects to be found. Indeed, many of us will have grown up seeing or hearing about a lot of them, myself included, without ever knowing what they are or even what they're called. There are 110 objects in Messier's catalogue too, which means simpletons like me often forget about some or get others mixed up, so I figured it might be worth listing them here. The first such post is therefore thus. The pics should all be 1200x900, hope you like them :)
Wanted: Monty Mole (1984) By:Peter Harrap / Gremlin GraphicsGenre:Platform Players: 1Difficulty:Medium Featured Version:ZX Spectrum First Day Score:2,555 Also Available For:C64
I'm not sure if systems having their own gaming mascot has ever really been that big a thing outside of the world of Sega/Nintendo and their rivalry but when I was young I always used to consider Monty Mole as the Speccy's unofficial mascot. Some might go for Miner Willy over Monty but the latter had more games and I was for some reason much more familiar with him at the time, so I went for him even if some of his games did appear on rival systems. He was created by Peter Harrap, at the time a 'fresh face to Spectrum programming', and Wanted: Monty Mole, sometimes just known as Monty Mole, was his first adventure. From the title I had assumed he was some sort of cat (or mole) burglar on the run but no, apparently he's just looking to snaffle some coal from the local mine for the 'bone chilling Christmas ahead'. No one wants to see him frozen solid so let's grab that coal bucket and get collecting!
It has now been one year since Nintendo first revealed details of their new console, the Switch, and eight months since its actual release. To be honest, I had largely forgotten about it for many of those months, partly on account of seeing/hearing almost nothing about it in social media and the like. Chatter has recently picked up a little owing to Super Mario Odyssey's release though, so I figured I'd take another look at it and see if there is yet justification for me to get one.
Since my last post on the subject I've actually had the chance to play around with a Switch a little and it's definitely a nice bit of kit. I found the detachable bits of the main controller a little small for using on their own but apart that it's real nice. As expected, Mario Kart 8 is a lot of fun, especially when racing against a friend, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is absolutely stunning and will almost certainly go down as an all-time great. I've already been hearing similar things about Mario's new adventure too. I thought it looked a bit stinky from the early shots/videos (I don't like that there are parts set in the 'real world') but it's great to hear such glowing reports so far. I have only had the chance to sample the two games though, so what else is there?
You know, if you stop to think about it, there really aren't as many alien invasion films around as you might think. There are probably many reasons for this - the need for a sizeable budget, for example, but just as important for me are the need for a tense build-up before the inevitable invasion, and human characters that you actually like and can engage with. I imagine it's difficult to strike the right balance but one film that seemed to do just that was Independence Day.
Sure, it wasn't terribly realistic and many outside its home country disliked all its jingoistic flag-waving 'America saves the day' cheesiness, but what's wrong with that? It's an American film for goodness sake! Its teaser trailers did their job superbly leading up to its release and when the time came to actually watch it, we found likeable stars, some appealing support characters, and of course those ground-breaking special effects, and the result was... aweeesoommmeee!
Well, not everyone thought so I guess - there are always a few spoilsport buffoons who moaned about the story and the plot-holes and the blah blah blah, but for most of us it was a dazzling visual spectacle and enormous fun with plenty of memorable scenes and set-pieces. Here are the five that stand out the most to me:
Spoiler Alert: the Top Five Movie Moments featured here obviously assume that you've seen the film in question or don't mind knowing about its most prominent moments so don't come whining to me if they ruin a film that you haven't seen yet!
5... "They're using our own satellites against us."
Obviously we are expecting the aliens to be evil malevolent exterminators, you know they're going to attack and bring mankind to its knees - the producers of the film did absolutely nothing to hide this, but this scene was the moment in the film when most of the characters found out too! David (Goldblum) had already worked this out but he had to use his ex-wife's influence to interrupt a presidential conference before he could make the leader of the free world aware, and the rest of the US by extension.
Following an amusing conversation between David, his ex-wife, and his father about how the former once punched the President (but he wasn't the President then so it was okay) while they're waiting for him:
President (entering the room, seeing David): "I don't have time for this." Constance:"Two minutes, Tom." David:"I told you he wouldn't listen." Constance:"David, you have to tell him... DAVID, TELL HIM!" David:"Uh, I know why we're having satellite disruption." President:"Alright, go ahead." David (drawing a crude diagram to illustrate his point): "Let's say that you want to coordinate with spaceships on different sides of the Earth. You couldn't send a direct signal, right?" President:"You're talking about line of sight." David:"Yeah, that's right. Exactly. The curve of the Earth prevents it. You'd need satellites to relay that signal in order to reach each ship. Well, I found a signal hidden inside our own satellite system. They're using our own satellites against us, and the clock is ticking..."
(David turns his laptop around to show a clock counting down ominously...)
Bomberman World(1992) By:Irem Corp Genre:Maze Players:1-4 Difficulty:Medium Featured Version:Arcade First Day Score:158,900 (one credit) Also Available For:Nothing
For our next visit to Bomberland we return to the arcades - a place our explodey friends have visited surprisingly few times over the course of their careers, and only once prior to this release. Like the previous effort, Bomberman World is again brought to us by Irem and should prove very familiar to fans of the first game. It's actually little more than an update, although I guess you could say that about several games in the long series. The backstory sees the return of the heinous King Bomber and, after briefly trying to reform himself, he has 'reverted to his evil ways' and deployed robot armies across the world. These idiotic clankers have now taken control of the UN building so the Bomberman Brothers (who apparently number four now - White, Red, Yellow and Blue - as the game is four-player) begin their 'ultimate battle to save the world from an evil takeover'. That's jolly decent of the pyromaniacal imps.
Everyone knows Streets of Rage 2 is the greatest scrolling fighting game of all time so it's somewhat surprising that there have been so few clones, tributes, or sequels to Sega's undisputed masterpiece over the intervening years, official or otherwise. Yes, there was a direct MegaDrive sequel, generally considered to be a step back, and there have obviously been many further examples of the genre, but none that attempted to duplicate SOR2's distinctive style (or if they did it wasn't particularly successful!). We did get the crazy Beats of Rage but not much else has emerged from the retro scene that I'm aware of. Now, however, that has changed and then some, for arriving very soon is this oddly-named example from Watermelon Games, the same team responsible for Pier Solar, surely one of the most best known of all homebrew releases.
There's something very 80's about treasure hunt films in my mind. I'm not quite sure if that's because there were a lot of them or if it's just because there were a few notable examples that stuck in my mind (most likely the latter), but for some reason I had far less interest in the genre by the time Jon Turteltaub conjured up the first National Treasure film some years later. Many apparently were interested though, as it was successful enough to spawn a sequel, and both were recently recommended by a friend, so I set aside my apathy and watched them. My main question prior to this, however, was: could they be as much fun as their 80's forebears?
Leading the impressive cast is the usually-dependable Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Gates, a historian and cryptologist who has long believed in a story from his childhood about a great treasure hidden by the Founding Fathers and Freemasons; a treasure he may have found the first clue to the location of. As you might expect, the clue just leads to another clue, and then another, all of which are followed confidently and enthusiastically by Gates who is joined by his sceptical father (Jon Voight), friend Riley (Justin Bartha), and Dr Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) of the National Archives who is roped into helping. As skillful as they may be at deciphering the cryptic clues and secret codes and following the trail they lay out, however, they'll have to hurry as not only have they attracted the attention of the FBI (led by Harvey Keitel) but there is also an 'evil' group chasing the booty at the same time, led by Ian Howe (Sean Bean) who has less noble plans.
Silkworm (1988) By:Tecmo / Virgin Genre: ShootingPlayers:1-2Difficulty:Easy-Medium Featured Version:Atari STFirst Day Score:74,500 (with a wonky control pad) Also Available For:Arcade, NES, Amiga, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Okay, so technically this one isn't really a computer shmup as it was actually an arcade game originally, and also appeared on console owing to an apparently-not-well-known NES conversion. However, in my experience it's far more well known, in the UK at least, for its home computer conversions, both 8-bit and 16-bit versions alike. I enjoyed a decent (if rather slow) version on my trusty Speccy but even then I couldn't help but cast the odd envious glance or two in the direction of the colourful Atari ST and Amiga versions fuelled by their 16-bit power. I guess I got distracted by other splendid games though, as when I finally had the chance to own/play one of them, I never got around to it, and to this day I've still not played it on either machine. Time for Red Parsley to rectify another oversight!
It sure is a good time to be a sci-fi fan at the moment - no sooner do we get an all-new Star Trek-style show to investigate in the shape of The Orville, but mere weeks later we get a brand new actual Star Trek show as well! Discovery had seen much controversy prior to its premiere this past Sunday though, mainly due to distributor CBS's decision to broadcast it exclusively on their subscription streaming channel in the show's native U.S. while the rest of us get it on Netflix (tee hee!), but many fans had also determined from press releases or trailers that they didn't like some aspect of the show, dismissed it as 'shit', and vowed never to watch it. I can't remember any show getting so much sheer, irrational hate (and unlike most people these days I don't use that word lightly either) before even reaching our screens but happily for me I'm not stupid (well, not that stupid) and have therefore been eagerly awaiting it!
Cybernoidby Raffaele Cecco / Hewson Consultants (1987) - Various Formats
If you were the owner of an 8-bit home computer here in the UK during the mid-80's, particularly a Spectrum, it can't have been long before you played one of Raffaele Cecco's games. He didn't develop many but the ones he did bestow upon us were warmly received, at least partially on account of the splendid colourful graphics he squeezed out of the humble Speccy. One of the most celebrated of his games was Cybernoid, a flick-screen shooter which featured swarms of irritating aliens as well as plenty of obstacles to test your timing as well as your trigger finger.
Why is it memorable?
Like most of the best adverts of the day it was hand-drawn. Sadly I don't know the name of the talented artist in question but it was certainly an eye-catching piece of work, arguably even more so the game itself or the many glowing reviews it received in magazines of the day (a whopping 96% in Crash!). As with many other adverts around that time (such as Driller which I looked at previously), it's drawn in a wonderful 70's sci-fi style and shows a cool-looking red spacecraft zooming over an alien installation of some kind towards the 'camera', an explosion behind it obscuring the starry background. Even the 'futuristic' font was cool. It made you want to get stuck in straight away which is exactly what it any good advert should do.
I don't normally do these posts for TV shows but the arrival of a new sci-fi show is always something to herald as far as I'm concerned and I've had my eye on this one for a while. Like most sci-fi fans, I had some minor reservations but it was looking good from its trailers so I was cautiously optimistic. For those who don't already know, it's the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy amongst many other notable achievements. He's renowned as a bit of a sci-fi geek so the passion will undoubtedly be there, but he has also cast himself in the lead role of Ed Mercer, the new captain of the Planetary Union's mid-level exploratory vessel, the U.S.S. Orville. There has been a question mark over his live-action acting ability for a while, never mind his leading man potential, so I was curious to see how he did, and how appealing the show is generally as well.
Circuitry(2017) By:John Blythe / Rucksack Games Genre:Platform Players:1 Difficulty:Medium Featured Version:ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 368k
Splendid loading screens always make a game better...
When I first started this feature a few months back I thought I was pretty lucky to find a single-screen platformer to start it off - they are one of my favourite types of game after all - so imagine how happy I was to find another such example just recently! This one was made by John Blythe, a.k.a. Rucksack Games, using Jonathan Cauldwell's Arcade Game Designer and casts you as Nan'O'Bot, a tiny robotic AI which you must use to infiltrate the mainframe of Revanox, the R&D branch of military contractor SecuriCorp, and save as much of their data as possible from a rogue AI activated by a heinous hacker before Revanox cut their losses and pull the plug. This is done by hopping around twenty appropriately-themed single screen stages, each of which features two 'data packets' which come in the form of floppy discs (both 3.25" and 5.25" varieties) or cassettes. Hopefully these are just symbolic though - I'd hate to think of an R&D dept using such outdated storage media nowadays!
Colossal (2016) Director: Nacho Vigalondo Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson
Certificate: 15 Running Time: 110 Minutes
Tagline: "All she could do was save the world"
While amazingly popular in Japan since the fifties, giant monster films have never really seemed to catch on around the rest of the world for some reason. Indeed, the genre is even known by its Japanese name - kaiju - but that doesn't mean us Westerners don't get the odd example here and there. The latest one is Colossal, an original effort from acclaimed Spanish director/writer Nacho Vigalondo and stars Anna Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis as Gloria and Oscar respectively, childhood best friends who are suddenly reunited when the former moves back to her home town after being booted out by her latest boyfriend Tim (Stevens) for being an alcoholic waster. Oscar now runs his dad's old bar and invites Gloria to work for him, and after closing time the two stay up drinking with his buddies until morning, with Gloria usually engaging in some sort of drunken tomfoolery that she later regrets, if she even remembers it at all.
Mojo!by FarSight Studios / Crave Entertainment (2003) - Xbox
Since I've been collecting for the original Xbox, a lot of the games I've encountered have been ones already familiar to me - I'm sure you all know the big hitters as well as I do - but it's finding the more obscure titles like Mojo! that I've enjoyed the most. It cost me a mere £1.50 so it was undoubtedly a bargain and I was really looking forward to giving it a try. It's a platform/action/puzzle game which places you in command of a ball of some sort, much like the splendid Kula World. The objective here, however, is a bit more destructive than it was in the PS1 classic, but also somewhat simpler - just destroy all the colourful cube blocks on each stage by rolling into them. You have to change the colour of your ball to match the blocks you want to destroy using special 'infuser' transformation things but there isn't a great deal more to it really. Sounds like it could be a lot of fun!