Grandia: Parallel Trippers, Game Boy Color

Grandia: Parallel Trippers was developed by Game Arts and published by Hudson Soft for the Game Boy Color in 2000.

Parallel Trippers is a spin-off from the Grandia series that takes place in an alternate version of the Grandia world, but still populated with characters from the original Grandia game.

You play a young Japanese boy called Yuuhi who is transported – along with his two friends, Mizuki and Shirou – into this surreal fantasy world, and who must reunite with his friends and find his way home.

Unlike the other Grandia games, Parallel Trippers is presented entirely in 2D, and with the Game Boy Color‘s limited resolution the graphic artists have gone for a ‘chibi’ style of presentation, and it results in a beautifully-looking, colourful, cute game.

Adventuring is not too dissimilar to a Zelda game, but combat is most definitely turn-based. When combat kicks in each character’s turn in the action is determined by an Initiative gauge and this is nicely represented at the bottom of the screen by a kind of ‘track’ that the character sprites move around on. Once it becomes your turn to act you then have to choose between physical attacks or magical attacks. Magical attacks are all determined by choosing playing cards, or “Synthesis Cards” as they’re called in the game. Each one of these gives your character the power to invoke various different magical attacks. Synthesis Cards can also be combined to create new magical effects, or even unlock hidden, special magical attacks.

Grandia: Parallel Trippers is definitely one of the best RPGs on the Game Boy Color. It’s different enough to be alluring, and challenging enough to appeal to the hardcore level-grind fan. Add in the ‘card’ element, and you have something quite special.

Note: Grandia: Parallel Trippers was only released in Japan. The English translation is a fan translation released by Adventurous Translations in 2012.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandia:_Parallel_Trippers

Top Gear 3000, Super Nintendo

An old-school 2D racer, developed and published for the Super Nintendo by a British company (Gremlin Graphics), way back in 1995.

Top Gear 3000 is a futuristic race game with tracks set on various different planets, with you driving fairly standard-looking sports cars.

What makes the game so good are the different split-screen modes – not only do you have two-player split-screen, but this was also one of the first SNES games to feature four-player split-screen (with the aid of a Multitap – a device that increased the number of gamepad ports). And – having had the pleasure of playing this four-player, with three other human opponents – I can confirm that Top Gear 3000 in four-player mode is superb fun. The tiny play window doesn’t really matter when you’re sucked into the race.

Top Gear 3000 is the third (and final) game in the Top Gear series, and definitely the best. In fact: it’s one of the best 2D racers around. Give it a spin if you can find a copy.

Note: in Japan Top Gear 3000 was released under the slightly awkward title of: “The Planet’s Champ TG 3000“. My guess is that we have Japanese publisher KEMCO to blame for that. It’s a terrible name.

More: Top Gear 3000 on Wikipedia

Pentagram, ZX Spectrum

By the time Pentagram came out in 1986, famous development and publishing house – Ultimate Play The Game – had been sold off to US Gold. How much of Pentagram was therefore down to Ultimate‘s designers, and how much was down to US Gold‘s programmers, is still a matter for debate. Most likely, Pentagram was a construct of US Gold, with Ultimate providing only the initial ideas, graphics and game engine (the famous Filmation Engine).

Although Pentagram is the de facto fourth instalment in the Sabreman series (after Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde, and Knight Lore), it doesn’t feel like it fits in with the other three aforementioned games. It doesn’t quite feel like Ultimate.

Unfortunately, after the purchase by US Gold, the Ultimate Play The Game label died a swift death. I don’t think people were fooled by the change of ownership and sales of the last few Ultimate games were peanuts compared to the previous releases.

As a game in its own right, Pentagram just about pushes the Filmation Engine as far as it can go on a humble Speccy. Just like in Knight Lore and Alien 8, there’s tons of slowdown when a few things are moving on-screen at the same time. And – like Knight Lore and Alien 8Pentagram is ridiculously difficult too.

More: Pentagram on Wikipedia

Alien 8, ZX Spectrum

The original ZX Spectrum version of Alien 8 was first released in 1985, not long after Knight Lore had already blown the world away with its incredible isometric graphics and characteristic gameplay.

This game carried on the tradition of great releases from Ultimate, even though the gameplay was very similar to Knight Lore. The general consensus at the time was that the graphics and gameplay in general were an improvement over the previous game, so we shouldn’t worry too much about the similarities. Which is right.

As much as I love Knight Lore, I think Alien 8 is more straightforward (and less annoying, since it doesn’t have you transforming into a werewolf in the middle of a jump). The ultra-cute design of the main character is wonderful – it contrasts with the puzzles, which are fiendish!

Just like in Knight Lore, Alien 8 features quite a bit of slowdown when there are multiple objects moving on-screen at the same time, but it doesn’t detract too much from play. This is a classic Ultimate game that cannot be ignored.

The Amstrad CPC version of Alien 8 features more colour (and less slowdown) and is arguably better than this Spectrum original.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_8

Beyond Oasis, Megadrive/Genesis

Also known in some territories as The Story of Thor: A Successor of The Light, Beyond Oasis is an action adventure game that was developed by Ancient and published by Sega in 1994.

You could describe Beyond Oasis as a Zelda-style adventure – the world is viewed from above and you control a sword-wielding adventurer who engages in a real-time combat – but in reality this game is not a patch on Zelda; it really doesn’t have the detail and finesse of a Zelda game.

Graphically, Beyond Oasis is nice. The graphics are beautifully-drawn and evoke a suitably Arabian fantasy style atmosphere. Unfortunately the overly-simplistic gameplay results in a kind of detachment from any kind of real engagement. What I mean by that is that it’s a bit boring to play but looks nice. Which is a pity. A bit more character and depth could’ve resulted in something special. As it is, we got something merely okay.

An official sequel/prequel to this, called The Legend of Oasis, was released for the Sega Saturn in 1996.

More: Beyond Oasis on Wikipedia

Crazy Climber, Arcade

Crazy Climber is an early colour video game, released into arcades in 1980 by Nichibutsu. The basic premise is to climb up the face of a large building to reach the helicopter at the top.

Controlling the climber is not that straightforward though. Crazy Climber uses two joysticks and requires the player to learn a pattern of moving them upwards and downwards to make the climber actually climb. It’s not a case of simply pushing upwards to make the climber climb. Which produces a challenge whereby you’re fighting with the controls – at least initially. After some practise you’ll probably get the hang of it, if you’re determined.

Next on the agenda is actually getting to the top of the building. Again: not easy. There are falling items that – if they hit you – will knock you down to the start. Windows open and close too, so you have to avoid being located on a window when it opens fully, or you’ll also take a tumble. Thankfully the windows open slowly, so you’ve at least got a chance of moving when you see one opening. From time to time you’ll also get more interesting hazards, like a King Kong-like monster that tries to knock you off the building, or balloons which will do the same if they hit you.

If and when you do eventually reach the top of the building you then have to grab the helicopter with your outstretched hand. Again: not that easy to do, because it’s constantly moving around, and you have a time limit before it leaves. Grabbing it is more luck than judgement.

Crazy Climber is an interesting game though. The gameplay is a bit archaic, but the underlying double joystick game mechanic is fun. For a while.

More: Crazy Climber on Wikipedia

Double Dragon, Arcade

Released into arcades in 1987 by Technos Japan, Double Dragon is a legendary one or two-player scrolling beat ’em up, starring twin brothers – Billy Lee and Jimmy – who are on a rescue mission for Marian – Billy’s girlfriend who has been kidnapped by a gang of thugs called The Black Warriors.

This double team punch and kick (or headbutt) their way through four different stages, a city slum, a factory, a forest, and a gang hideout. On the way they can pick up weapons such as baseball bats and whips and use them on seven different types of enemies.

What is interesting about Double Dragon is that if both players make it to the end, they must then fight each other for the affections of the rescued girl! Considering that it was Billy’s girlfriend they were supposed to be going in to rescue, it makes his twin brother’s challenge all the more incendiary. Families, eh? You can never predict them…

Double Dragon is a retro-gaming classic that is still great fun to play now.

More: Double Dragon on Wikipedia

Phantasy Star II, Megadrive/Genesis

Released in 1989 for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis, Phantasy Star II is a pioneering RPG for its time. It’s a sequel, obviously; to the classic Sega Master System release of 1987, Phantasy Star.

Phantasy Star II was the first RPG released for the Sega Megadrive, and pre-dates the release of Final Fantasy on the NESin the USA, that is. Both Phantasy Star II and the long-awaited English translation of Final Fantasy helped popularise RPGs in the USA and Europe in the ’90s.

Set some one thousand years after the events of the first game, Phantasy Star II is another sci-fi-based level-grinder with a party system and turn-based combat.

Graphically – and in terms of user interface – the game is a nice ‘step up’ from the original. The graphics are less cartoony and better-defined. In this sequel you can also now see all your party members above their associated info panels during combat, and they animate depending on what they’re doing. Which is neat.

The first-person sections seen in the first game have been dropped, and Phantasy Star II is played almost entirely with separate ‘overworld’ and dungeon sections, shown from an overhead perspective.

There are also fewer abbreviated names in the game, compared to the original, which is good although the names of items and magic and stuff in this are still pretty weird. We can at least thank Sega for trying to do something different with the genre with this weirdness.

As far as gameplay goes: Phantasy Star II is fast and slick, and the timing of all the different processes is pretty much perfect. It’s very easy to get sucked-in to the hypnotic gameplay of this classic level-grinder, but the experience is worth it.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantasy_Star_II