The Commodore 64 conversion of Defender of the Crown is a celebrated retro gaming classic. Apart from loading times, there’s little to fault about it.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day was a surprising 2001 release – on the Nintendo 64 – for British developer Rare, in collaboration with Nintendo.
What is surprising about it is that it is an “adult” game – meaning: it contains cartoon characters behaving in ways that you don’t normally see in a Nintendo game, like vomiting on people’s shoes, making sexual innuendo, and using mild swear words.
Final Fantasy VII is a legendary level-grinding Role-Playing Game, developed by Square and released for the Sony PlayStation in 1997.
While the Final Fantasy series had grown in stature throughout the 1990s, it was this seventh instalment that broke Japanese CRPGs into the mainstream, with its outstanding mix of 3D, polygonal graphics, Full Motion Video, and pre-rendered backgrounds. But it wasn’t just the graphics that propelled Final Fantasy VII to stratospheric heights – it was both the story, and also the gameplay, that made games-players really sit up and take notice.
The story of a small gang of rebel kids – taking on a sinister fantasy government of the future – Final Fantasy VII is played from the perspective of ‘Cloud’, a young boy with a growing identity crisis and a crush on a young girl he meets called Aerith. Without going into detail about the plot (which is complicated, to say the least), Cloud suddenly finds his friends dying off as he runs from the dark forces that are pursuing him. This fact – that key characters are killed-off at certain points in the story – gives Final Fantasy VII a real emotional edge that other games do not have. Certainly not many games managed to shock you in the way that Final Fantasy VII did back in 1997, and that is testament to the writers, and the dev team, creating likeable characters and a plot that delivers twists and turns at every juncture.
The basis of the game follows the well-established JRPG formula: the ‘world map’, the ‘field’, and the ‘battle screen’. Different areas are linked by the ‘world map’, which is shown from a distance. Exploration and dialogue mostly takes place in the ‘field’ – screens in which you control the main characters and where, in some areas, just walking around will initiate random, turn-based combat. Combat in Final Fantasy VII uses 3D graphics for the action, and 2D panels for the menus and party information. The range of attacks, defences, spells, and graphical special effects, is just mind-blowing. Boss battles are extraordinary too.
The scope of Final Fantasy VII is also one of the reasons it was such a big hit. The game’s designers not only came up with a myriad of huge and visually impressive locations, but they also interwove them into the story very cleverly.
Graphically the game looks a little ragged, by today’s Hi Def standards, but a remake is apparently on the cards. It would be incredible if Square managed to re-render those Standard Def backgrounds into High Def… We can but hope…
Or – to give the game its full title: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – a legendary, open-world RPG with a dragon-riding, fantasy horror setting, and a chilly, Nordic, snowy feel to the landscapes.
Skyrim opens with you riding on the back of a cart, on the way to your own execution, and within a few short minute explodes into a startling escape from a fire-breathing dragon. None who’ve ever played Skyrim will ever forget the introduction…
From there it’s a long grind to greatness, with endless quests, bounties and conundrums to solve – all via a first-person viewpoint. A sword in one hand – a shield in the other – it’s up to you how you play the game out.
Add also a bunch of superb DLC and you have one of the best reasons to level-grind in existence. Skyrim is dungeon-crawling creepiness, and dragon-riding exhilaration, made real, for devotees of real-time, 3D adventure games. Atmospherically it is arguably at its best when underground. Clearing vast underground caverns of undead (the Draugr are inspired), or monsters, or Dwarven machines, or ghosts – or worse – is absolutely gripping. Storming castles full of bandits or vampires is also fun too. And learning the various spoken magic words to inflict great damage upon your enemies is unique and inspiring. Crafting, item enchanting, and potion-making are also incredibly detailed and fun too. Skyrim is a gigantic leap forward from Oblivion.
If it did have its downsides: it would be that the dialogue isn’t great at times – it isn’t particularly well-written – and there are some strange and frustrating paradoxes in the quests (not to mention game-breaking bugs). Also: the magic system isn’t as open and flexible as the one much-loved by TES fans in Morrowind – the magic’s been ‘reined-in’ a bit for Skyrim (there’s no levitation or long-jumping as seen in Morrowind). Other than that, though, Skyrim has more detail, more stats, and more grinding than pretty much every other RPG out there. Except for maybe The Witcher 3… 🙂
The original Skyrim was released in 2011 by Bethesda Softworks. A High Def remaster was released in 2016. These grabs are from the remastered HD version.
One of Cinemaware‘s last games, Wings was released in 1990 to critical acclaim.
It’s a First World War-based scenario, with you piloting a biplane over German lines, dogfighting enemy fighters and bombing positions on the ground.
Dogfighting uses a third-person cockpit view, with simple 3D graphics, and bombing runs use 2D bitmapped graphics (with overhead and isometric viewpoints). Cut scenes – like in all Cinemaware games – use high quality 2D graphics throughout.
As you create and lose pilots you get a great feeling of loss from the game, which is as it should be. You don’t recreate First World War battles and have everyone cracking jokes every ten minutes… The subject matter is treated with respect, and the result is: Wings is one of Cinemaware‘s (and the Amiga‘s) best games.
One of my favourite Cinemaware games, It Came From The Desert is a satirical detective story based on 1950s sci-fi B-movies about giant ants.
In it you play Dr. Greg Bradley, a geologist arriving in the desert town of Lizard Breath in order to study the site of a recent meteor crash. Unfortunately radiation from the meteor has caused the local ant population to mutate and grow in size – to gigantic proportions. Which you (as Dr. Greg) discover early on in the game.
Initially none of the local residents or law enforcement take you seriously and your job is to convince them and organise a fightback. The game is played in realtime and you have a limited time (15 days) in which to defeat the giant ants before they start breeding and become unstoppable. You explore the local town and its many locations via an overhead map, plus you can use the telephone to speak to people in a hurry. Conversations with locals often reveal clues, some of which will lead to an encounter with a giant ant.
One-on-one you have a chance to defeat an ant by shooting its antenna, which you must do with the first one you encounter, but in large groups there’s not much you can do but run, which happens via an overhead scrolling section with you represented as a titchy character in the middle of the screen. If you get stranded in the desert you will pass out, but are always rescued and wake up in hospital.
It Came From The Desert is a fun and imaginative game. Many of the characters are distinctive and humorous. The game mechanics are easy to understand. There are also driving sections and flying sections. It’s a game that has aged well, is still fun to play, and is fairly beatable.
This 1989 release from Cinemaware is probably one of the least played Amiga games ever made.
It is based around historic (12th Century) Japanese warfare, with you playing one of two famous generals (Yoritomo or Yoshitsune) fighting to unify (pacify; subjugate) Japan under one rule.
Lords of the Rising Sun is an extremely difficult game to get into – at least initially – because the action sections are so unforgiving. Within minutes of starting a game you will almost certainly be faced with a Ninja Attack, which activates a first-person action sequence. In it you must deflect thrown shuriken with your sword for a short period of time. The problem is: doing that is nigh on impossible… I could deflect two, maybe three… but anything more always ended in my death. I tried over and over again to beat it, even using emulator quicksaves, but to no avail. Just what the game’s designers were thinking, including this scene in the game I do not know. It’s way too hard and completely ruins the game.
There is a way around this problem, though. By selecting the second of the two generals (Yoshitsune) you can play a purely strategic game. This means that the action sequences are decided in private by the computer and you’re not forced to play them yourself. It is a highly unsatisfactory solution though, because you’re not experiencing the game as it is meant to be played. Actually, Lords of the Rising Sun is a highly unsatisfactory game overall because I know that there’s a good game in there – I just can’t get to it!
The Commodore 64 version of Cinemaware‘s Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon is the version to play in my opinion – the earlier Amiga version of this excellent fantasy adventure game is uncharacteristically poor in terms of presentation.
Sinbad is a disk only release and succeeds in bringing the swashbuckling adventures of Baghdad’s favourite sailor, complete with monsters, magic, platforming sections, and sword fighting.
At the core of the game is an open-ended world map which you can travel around, exploring places and talking to people. Random action sequences intersperse the story, bringing various challenges. There’s sword fighting; ship sailing (avoiding rocks), side-scrolling platform running and jumping and rope climbing, and even a Cyclops boss battle!
Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon is classic Cinemaware. Graphically, the Commodore 64 version is top quality (unlike the Amiga original). Gameplay wise it’s excellent too. It is an intriguing love letter to Ray Harryhausen films, and of adventure stories in general, and it works extremely well.
The King of Chicago is a strategic gangster simulator, released by Cinemaware in 1987. And – while “gangster simulator” might sound bad – the game is full of dark humour and is something of a satire, so is not to be taken too seriously on that front.
You play a young, ambitious wiseguy in 1930s Chicago who must work his way up to the top in The Organisation. You do that by initially towing the line and doing ever-increasingly dangerous jobs for the mob, until the time is right for a bloody coup… There are cops to keep off your back, and a demanding girlfriend to appease, so other challenges to consider as you progress.
Although The King of Chicago is a very good game I have to point out that the graphics – in particular the human figures – are laughably bad in places. I guess it kinda suits the satirical nature of the game, but it is one of the few Cinemaware games that I’ve looked at and gone: “what the hell is that all about?!” Still, at least the gesticulating characters look funny…
Surviving in The King of Chicago is not easy. Most of the decision-making sequences take the form of thought bubbles that you can click on, and some are time limited, so if you ponder too long you can lose a chance at a particular moment. As always, with games like this, making the right choice at the right time is key. Also, luck plays a big part of your success – maybe too much… If you do get stuck, there are always guides.