Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship YamatoThe Game: Players assume the role of Susumu Kodai, a hot-headed young recruit unexpectedly thrust into a leadership role on a mission to cross the galaxy and procure a device that can restore planet Earth’s war-decimated ecosphere within a year. As if crossing the Milky Way and returning within a year wasn’t enough of a formidable task, the Space Battleship Yamato faces stiff opposition from an alien race, the Gamilas, determined to seal Earth’s fate by bringing the last-ditch rescue mission to a halt. Kodai and the Yamato’s ailing commander, Admiral Okita, must decide where to commit their forces for maximum effect. Large squarons of Cosmo Fighters can be dispatched to take the Gamilas on head-to-head on the on-screen grid, but Yamato herself can also be ordered into the thick of the action (a strategy that puts the entire mission in jeopardy if the battle is lost). Success means fighting through the Gamilas’ offensive front and reaching planet Iskandar. Failure means death for all humankind. Pick your battles wisely. (Interbec, 1992)

Memories: Space Battleship Yamato is, to this date, one of the best anime series that anyone in Japan has yet produced. First aired in 1974, its meaningful, carefully-paced tale of duty, honor, sacrifice, compassion and rapproachment is one that remains nearly unsurpassed. It’s like the best war movie ever, except animated. The series very carefully laid out the tactical stakes of its frequent battle scenes, and showed how both sides planned their next moves – it’s a fertile breeding ground for tactical action games. And yet, of the few video games based on Yamato, fewer still have done the action and adventure and drama of the series justice. In a nutshell: the games aren’t as fun to play as the show is to watch. Continue reading

Yoshi

YoshiThe Game: Mario has to keep more plates spinning than usual. With a plate in each hand, Mario must be moved underneath a never-ending onslaught of enemy creatures. The object of the game is to stack up identical creatures to eliminate them from play, and, when possible, to stack up the two halves of Yoshi eggs to allow a new Yoshi to hatch. Management of the creature stacks is vital, since a stack exceeding the height of the play area ends the game. In two-player mode, both players simultaneously try to outdo the other. (Nintendo, 1992)

Memories: Yoshi first appeared in 1990’s Super Mario World on the SNES, but Nintendo was keen to keep the character in the public eye. The result is a game for the NES that looks and feels just a little bit rushed. Continue reading

Doctor Who: Dalek Attack

Doctor Who: Dalek AttackThe Game: As one of three incarnations of the Doctor (only Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy are offered), and with the option of a second playing assuming the role of either Ace or an unnamed (and yet somehow Watch a video of this gamefamiliarly mustachioed) UNIT soldier, you must navigate various environments from the sewers and streets of London to the Dalek-conquered ruins of once-proud cities like Tokyo and New York, defeating the Daleks and their allies to remove the evil scourge from Earth. Ogrons, hideous monsters, Dalek-possessed Robomen and ninjas, and – perhaps most terrifying of all – robo-sumo wrestlers will try to prevent you from completing your mission. (Alternative Software, 1992)

Memories: The first Doctor Who video game marketed for anything even vaguely resembling a modern PC (though other versions were available for such then-still-common platforms as the Amiga, the Spectrum Holobyte and even the Commodore 64), this straight-shooting scrolling quest game unashamedly goes straight for the classic arcade jugular, with game play and eye candy worthy of such all-time classics as Super Mario Brothers. It also displays a loving reverence for Doctor Who old and new, which is enough to tug at the heartstrings of the most cynical fans. Continue reading

Hyper Pacman

Hyper PacmanThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. Large red dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. Periodically, assorted items appear in the maze, and See the videoyou can consume these for additional points and power-ups. (Semicom, 1995)

Memories: Take Pac-Man, add a Lode Runner-style “only one way to solve this maze correctly” puzzle mentality, add NES-era power-ups, boss battles and vaguely 3D graphics, and the result is Hyper Pacman (note the spelling/punctuation there – a complete divergence from any of Namco’s first-party output). Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 2 (“A”)

Namco Museum Volume 2Buy this gameThe Game: Old games never die – they get emulated. Fortunately, one of Japan’s greatest exporters of video game hits has built a museum around several of its most popular titles. With Pac-Man still underfoot, you wander the corridors of the Namco Museum yet again. (Namco, 1995)

Memories: The second volume (also known as Volume A) in Namco’s 5-disc collection of arcade emulations for the Playstation is the most difficult to find – one often sees it going for nearly twice its original retail price in eBay auctions – and yet it has some of Namco’s biggest “cult” hits… and yet only volumes 1 and 3 have been reprinted. Go figure. Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 4 (“C”)

Namco Museum Volume 4Buy this gameThe Game: Namco has even more games they’d like us all to remember, only this time, you might not remember them half as clearly as Pac-Man, who’s still dragging you through the halls of the Namco Museum, eager to play each and every one. Oddly enough, you’ve probably never seen any of these games before. The greatest challenge in your path in Volume 4? Figuring out the controls for The Genji And The Heike Clans and Return of Ishtar. (Namco, 1996)

Memories: Personally, I don’t remember any of these games, save for the bizarre scrolling exploration game Pac-Land and Assault, which I believe was licensed to Atari. Inspired by the ABC-TV cartoon series, Pac-Land may indeed be the only reason anyone might now try to track down the now out-of-print Volume 4 of Namco Museum. Continue reading

Star Wars: Rebel Assault II – The Hidden Empire

Star Wars: Rebel Assault II - The Hidden EmpireOrder this gameThe Game: Darth Vader, forever vigilant in his quest to destroy the Rebel Alliance, has apparently enlisted some new help – and it’s up to you, a lone Rebel pilot, to brave the odds against enormous flotillas of a new breed of TIE Fighters, blast your way through entire platoons of armored stormtroopers, and bring home the details of the new Imperial plan – and then return to the fray to defense the galaxy against this nearly-invincible threat. (LucasArts, 1996)

Memories: I have to hand it to ’em – Lucas Arts finally came up with a game set in the Star Wars universe which won my heart. Rebel Assault II is somewhere between a video game and a movie. There’s a lot of action and forwarding-of-the-story in the game’s numerous well-produced cutscenes, and the whole thing honestly does feel like an untold, yet worthy, entry in the Star Wars canon. There is a straightforward plotline, a set goal you’re trying to achieve, which rings true to this long-time fan of droids and Jedi Knights. Continue reading

Tempest X3

Tempest X3Buy this gameThe Game: As in the original Tempest, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube as a strangely crablike creature, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and purple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things (swirly thing alert!!) which spin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should still avoid spikes. (Interplay, 1996)

See the videoMemories: My first reaction to Tempest X3 was “DUDE!” And that’s not even a “Dude! It sucks!” or “Dude! It rules!” Nope, it’s just a “Dude! What gnarly graphics!” This is kind of like the original Tempest, except psychedelically tie-dyed. To put it mildly, it’s a very…colorful updating of the game. The tube walls now have colorful (if subtle) patterns, and power-ups are hailed by more lens flares than an early episode of Babylon 5. Continue reading

ReBoot

ReBootThe Game: No one said it was easy being Mainframe’s Guardian, and this game is proof. You’re Bob the Guardian, trying to protect the citizens of Mainframe from a series of deadly tears unleashed upon the unsuspecting populace by an unholy alliance between Megabyte and Hexidecimal. Various characters show up along the way, like Mike TV, to offer advice, but aside from some vital health power-ups, you’re on your own. As you advance from level to level, a new ReBoot adventure is gradually revealed until you reach the end of the story – but if you fail in your mission to protect Mainframe, that episode’s going to come up short. (Electronic Arts, 1997)

Memories: What better property to base a game on than ReBoot, the all-CGI animated show from Canada which has never gotten a decent time slot in the U.S.? Originally shown on ABC in the early 1990s, ReBoot started out as standard kid-friendly fare. Its second season introduced some more violent elements, after which ABC dropped the show and its third season – complete with battles, psychological drama and character development aplenty – wound up in a dead-of-night slot on the Cartoon Network. (And this treatment of the show hasn’t changed – the fourth season was aired on the Cartoon Network, and went almost completely unpromoted.) Continue reading

Star Trek: Starfleet Academy – Strategic Command

Star Trek: Starfleet Academy - Strategic CommandOrder this gameThe Game: You’ve just embarked on the most challenging field of study at Starfleet Academy: Command College. Your instructor, the recently-promoted Captain Sulu (still two years away from his command of the U.S.S. Excelsior), arrives just a little bit late for his first lecture. Your initial missions include such tasks as destroying minefields, but your assignments soon grow in both complexity and risk. Not only must you battle alien threats in Starfleet’s most advanced simulator, but you must also get your crew to cooperate and learn how to lead them. (Interplay, 1998)

Memories: Though it’s mired in the mid-1990s trend of endless cutscenes and movies, inside Starfleet Academy is actually a fun little game, really more or less a 90s update of the old Star Trek arcade game with much flashier graphics (not the least of which is the full-motion video foreground of your crewmembers at the helm and at other stations) and a slightly different storyline. Continue reading

Star Trek: Starship Creator

Star Trek: Starship CreatorThe Game: Starfleet is looking for a few good Admirals. Despite the fact that these ubiquitous high-ranking officers are peppered liberally throughout the various Trek series, you’ve been recruited as one too – and your job is to be less Order this gameineffectual than most of the TV Admirals! You get to design, outfit and crew Federation starships to your specifications – within, of course, reasonable budgetary limits. Then dispatch your ships – one at a time, or an entire fleet – to do everything from study stellar anomalies to hold the line at the Cardassian border. The equipment you choose, as well as the interactions of the various crew members’ personalities, will play a part in the outcome of your fleet’s assignments. (Simon & Schuster Interactive, 1998)

Star Trek: Starship CreatorMemories: This sim-style game is almost exactly the same basic concept as the classic Apple II game Project Space Station, but in a science fiction setting. That game, too, put you in charge of designing, budgeting, populating and constructing a spacecraft. The only difference is that Starship Creator only allows you to monitor your ship’s activities from afar, not even able to advise. Project Space Station at least featured arcade-style segments in which you pilot space shuttles and construction pods. But if you give it any thought, Starship Creator is true to the Star Trek universe – you, the Admiral, are helpless to do anything but shake your head as those pesky, willful Captains in your fleet do their own creative rewriting of Starfleet regulations. Continue reading

Asteroids

AsteroidsBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of free-floating asteroids, but the job isn’t easy – Newton’s laws of motion must be obeyed, even by asteroids. When you blow a big rock into little chunks, those chunks go zipping off in opposite directions with the speed and force imparted by the amount of energy you used to dispel them. To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable hyperspace escape mechanism and a pesky UFO that likes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. (Activision, 1999)

Memories: Another entry in the race to revive as many video game classics as possible (at least the popular ones – I don’t see anyone reviving Bagman…), Activision’s update of Asteroids is fairly straightforward. This is the same company which produced such a winning resurrection of Space Invaders, so we can trust that these people know what makes for a good Retro Revival. Continue reading

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? online gameThe Game: You mean you’re the one person in the country who doesn’t know all the rules and the lifelines? Well, ooooooookay. The computer (sitting in for Regis Philbin) asks you a series of questions with four possible answers. Only one of these is the correct answer. If you’re not sure, you can ask an equally-computerized audience or phone a quasi-friend (actually, the phone-a-friend option in ABC.com’s online version of the game draws from a bank of answers given by people who have actually been contestants on the show), or you can eliminate two of the wrong answers. If you guess the wrong answer, you wind up going home a little less rich than you might be if you simply walk away. (ABC.com, 1999 – this game has since been removed from the site)

Memories: Admittedly, I’m waiting for Sony to get it in gear and release the Playstation version of Millionaire in late June, but for now, there’s the rather good online version of the game on ABC’s web site. At the behest of the benign overlords as Disney, ABC.com repeatedly – and I do mean repeatedly – reminds you that you’re not playing for any kind of money or prizes. Continue reading

Galaga: Destination Earth

Galaga: Destination EarthBuy this gameThe Game: A couple of centuries after the attempted Galaga invasion of Earth in 1982, human terraformers have set their sights on a nearby world for colonization, and a massive expedition is launch – but, of course, since such an exploration is a costly venture, defense cutbacks are made, leaving Earth vulnerable to a new Galaga invasion. Of course, you’re the only surviving space fighter pilot in the outer solar system, so it’s up to you to take on the Galaga invaders single-handedly. Now, however, you wage war on the bugs from one of three perspectives: Alpha configuration (an exceedingly difficult first-person vantage point), Gamma configuration (a side-scrolling shooter, a la Defender), and Delta configuration (an upward shooter like the original Galaga). You can also capture the aliens’ tractor beam device and use it against them, capturing their own ships and commandeering them. (Hasbro Interactive [under license from Namco], 2000)

Memories: This game has been much pooh-poohed by the modern gaming press, as well as by several classic gaming outlets. I’m here to break ranks with the masses – who are all too ready to declare that a new title sucks anyway – and let you know that Galaga: Destination Earth isn’t that bad. Continue reading

South Park Rally

South Park RallyOrder this gameThe Game: As any one of a large number of residents of that blissful burg known as South Park, Colorado, you compete against the rest of the town in a no-holds-barred race through the snowy streets. Helpful power-ups and hapless cattle are sprinkled liberally through the town like so many Cheesy Poofs. (Acclaim, 2000)

Memories: This hilarious third entry in Acclaim’s series of South Park video games takes a classic arcade staple – the first-person racing game – and adds some sound bytes, characters, and scatological humor to create what may be the best South Park title available. Continue reading

Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power Battles

Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power BattlesOrder this gameThe Game: As one of five Jedi Knights (or two, if you have a second player for cooperative mode), you take on the entire Trade Federation battle droid army in an attempt to reach Naboo, save Jar Jar and the Queen (and yes, you do have to save Jar Jar), and safeguard these two and a certain young potential Jedi from battle droids, Darth Maul and other menaces. And these aren’t your wimpy battle droids who short circuit if you tell ’em you’re taking the queen to Coruscant, either – these are kick-ass droids with slick martial arts moves who can inflict some serious damage. But then again…so can you. (LucasArts, 2000)

Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power BattlesMemories: The second entry in LucasArts’ effort to mine Star Wars: Episode I for new Playstation games is a vast improvement over the previous, generically titled Phantom Menace game. And, at long last, Jedi Power Battles offers something that has been missing from the Star Wars video gaming genre for a long time: a chance to fight some battles with the lightsaber as your chief weapon. Continue reading

Star Wars: Demolition

Star Wars: DemolitionOrder this gameThe Game: Jabba the Hutt has convened a host of hotshot pilots and a fleet of modern (i.e. original trilogy) and outdated (i.e. prequel-era) vehicles to engage in winner-take-all vehicular warfare. Contestants and opponents include Boba Fett, super-armed Snowspeeders, Trade Federation tanks, bounty hunter Aurra Sing on her swoop bike, Battle Droids astride their STAPS, and others. Obstacles include slow-moving Jawa sandcrawlers, unpredictable Banthas, and a little thing we call the Sarlacc – and that’s just on the Tattooine track. Other tracks include Cloud City, Hoth, Naboo, and – how did Jabba get permission to race there? – the Death Star. (LucasArts [developed by Activision], 2000)

Memories: Star Wars: Demolition is right up there with the upcoming PS2 game Super Bombad Racing. Demolition is a decent game, but for the fans who demand something that cleaves tightly to the continuity of the Star Wars universe, you’d best look elsewhere. If you have any doubt, check the bullet point on the game’s packaging: Interactive environment – blow it all up! ‘Nuff said. Continue reading

Star Trek: Invasion

Star Trek: InvasionOrder this gameThe Game: Starfleet’s long-range probes detect a massive Borg invasion fleet headed for Sector 001 – an incursion that couldn’t happen at a worse time, since Starfleet is still licking its wounds after the costly Dominion War. Worf, now Klingon Ambassador to the Federation, dons his Starfleet uniform once more to head up the training and deployment of the Academy’s ace Red Squad pilots in a new class of solo fighter vessel, the Valkyries. In the course of training, unwelcome surprises come from all corners – the Romulans, the last remnants of the Cardassian Empire, a Starfleet Captain who inexplicably goes renegade, and a new threat as well… (Activision, 2000)

Memories: This long-awaited Star Trek game for the Playstation demonstrates that Sony’s nearly-ubiquitous little grey console still has a few tricks up its sleeve before the PS2 grabs the spotlight. Continue reading

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