I’m going to use the Japanese and North American name for this game – Star Fox – rather than the European name (Star Wing, which was chosen because the name “Star Fox” was apparently too similar to a German company called “StarVox”!).
Star Fox was a Japanese/British co-production between Nintendo and Argonaut Software that was released on a cartridge with a special chip on it – a co-processor called the Super FX chip. This gave the Super Nintendo a power boost when it came to graphics processing, and allowed the developers to use polygonal 3D graphics on a console that wasn’t really suited to them. And, although Star Fox doesn’t use the entire screen during play (resulting a black border – helping to keep frame rates acceptable), and doesn’t have particularly high frame rates (it must dip to somewhere around 10fps when the screen is busy), it is still fun to play and bold and dramatic in its presentation.
Using animals as characters adds an undeniable charm, and using them as wingmen is neat. You can instruct your wingmen to do things for you. You can also lose them if you don’t protect them.
Star Fox is quite old now. It was first released in 1993 and has been far superseded by the most intricate of space shooters (just look at Elite: Dangerous), but – in retro gaming terms – it is still hot property. The music; the sounds effects; the graphics – they all come together to make something unique, comforting and timeless.
The second Medal of Honor game on the Game Boy Advance, and a fantastic, all-action overhead shooter, first released Electronic Arts in 2003.
Medal of Honor: Infiltrator puts you into the boots of Corporal Jake Murphy, and throws you into miniature versions of some of the most famous battles of World War II. Gameplay is mostly third-person, although there are some first-person sections where you’re shooting things with an aiming recticle.
The graphics in Infiltrator are detailed and colourful, and the music and sound is quite good too, with some decent tunes driving the action along.
Overall: Medal of Honor: Infiltrator is a hugely fun game, with plenty of militaristic destruction and grenades and tracers flying everywhere. Taking control of a machine gun is particularly memorable. Being able to sneak up on the enemy and stealthily knock them out is fun too. It makes the action a bit more strategic than simply blasting away.
Argonaut Software‘s 1992 release (through Jaleco) – King Arthur’s World – is an interesting and challenging real time action game with strategic overtones.
King Arthur’s World is basically a side-scrolling war game with you controlling King Arthur (and his small army of soldiers, archers and wizards), and who must lay siege to various enemy outposts, and survive to complete a series of tests and missions. Your troops (and King) are controlled via a menu and some icons. King Arthur is the only essential character. When he dies, the game is over, so you have to protect the King at all costs.
The learning curve on King Arthur’s World is just about right, although later missions are very tough. The game is visually and sonically appealing, and the gameplay is compelling enough to warrant attention. If you’ve never played it before: definitely worth a look.
First released in 2015, CD Projekt Red‘s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a third-person, open world Role-Playing Game that is based on a series of novels by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.
Obviously it is the third instalment in the series (and last, according to the developers), and in it you play a monster-hunting detective badass called Geralt – a Witcher; a carrier of two swords (one steel, for killing humans, and one silver, for killing monsters); and a superhuman solver of problems with acute senses and no emotions.
One thing that immediately becomes apparent, when playing this game, is that it is a VERY adult game – it is not for kids. Which is a good thing, in my opinion, because video games have incorrectly been labelled as “for kids” since the dawn of time. The Witcher 3‘s dialogue is peppered with laugh-out-loud humour, profanity, and great characterisation. There are sex scenes, but these are not gratuitous – they actually add to (and change the course of) the story. And, of course, there is violence galore, with both monsters and people being hacked-up in the most gruesome manner (again: not gratuitous, but relatively realistic).
The second thing that becomes apparent when playing The Witcher 3, or at least it did to me, is the fact that this game is VASTLY better than Skyrim. A game I love to be honest, but one that seems second-best when compared next to this. Comparing The Witcher 3 directly to Skyrim is not entirely fair as there are a number of years between them, and developer CD Projekt Red have openly admitted to loving Skyrim, but not wanting to make the same mistakes that Bethesda did in making that game. And – on the whole – they have succeeded. There are less game-breaking bugs in this, less illogical paradoxes in the script, and the story and dialogue is a DAMN SIGHT better than Skyrim‘s. In fact: I might have to say that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is arguably the best-written game of all time. Not to mention fantastic to play on all levels… The combat; the quests; the side-games (I’m not particularly fond of Gwent, the in-game card game, but I can at least see it is a sound creation, if a little difficult without a decent deck) – it is clear that a lot of thought has gone into how the game plays.
And it certainly looks amazing too. The environments, weather and light modelling, and all the models and animations are – quite frankly: amazing. It’s an incredible piece of world-building.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt isn’t perfect. I could give you a list of ten things that bother me about the game, but at the same time I could give you a list of a hundred things that are absolutely great about it. And – on balance – this game is certainly one of the best games ever made.
There are no two ways about it: if you like story-driven, single-player RPGs, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a MUST PLAY game. If you don’t yet own it: wait for the next Steam/GOG.com sale and get it bought; get it played; and let it own you.
Note: I have filtered out all the swearing and nudity from these grabs, because that’s not what this blog is about. Although I very much love the profanity and humour in this game I wanted to keep this post relatively clean. Profanity is not “bad language” – as some people like to argue – but is a colourful and common form of language use.
The sequel to Cauldron, Cauldron II: The Pumpkin Strikes Back was a brilliant ‘curveball’ from Palace Software, back in 1986, and is still a great game to play now.
Whereas the first Cauldron game put you in control of a witch who was searching for the ingredients of a potion to defeat the evil “Pumpking”, Cauldron II puts you in control of a bouncing pumpkin survivor of the Pumpking’s defeat, and whose aim to defeat the witch who deposed him. The game takes place in the witch’s castle and hidden around the various different rooms are items that enhance the pumpkin’s defensive and offensive capabilities.
Cauldron II: The Pumpkin Strikes Back is known for its high level of difficulty, but the key to survival is in finding those defensive items as soon as possible. When you start the game you can begin in any number of different places, so having a map to hand might help you quickly orient yourself.
Cauldron II is a Commodore 64 classic from British software house Palace Software.
SNK‘s Twinkle Star Sprites was released for the Neo Geo in 1996 and is an interesting mix of vertically-scrolling shoot ’em up and head-to-head puzzle game. Yes, I know that sounds weird, and this game IS weird, but weird in all the right ways…
The idea is: you compete against another player (or the computer AI if you don’t have any friends) in a split-screen environment. Enemies come down the screen in waves and shooting them in chains (combos) sends fireballs (and other special attacks) towards your opponent, and vice versa. Combo attacks can also be reflected back a number of times, creating indestructable enemies and even summoning a Boss Battle. Whoever loses all their “life points” first loses the game. So Twinkle Star Sprites is less “bullet hell” and more “opponent hell”.
Graphically, Twinkle Star Sprites is full-on, Japanese, mega-cute Manga, and the humorous and wildly-colourful visual style suits the manic gameplay perfectly.