Mamecade’s QUIZZOR: Nintendo

Author: John Pio  //  Category: Articles

Mamecade Quizzor is a multiple choice quiz game where you test your gaming knowledge with your host John Pio.
Episode 1 Quizzor Nintendo!

Top 10 Arcade Games of 1975 – 1979 (part 2)

Author: John Pio  //  Category: Articles

Continuing out countdown we’re not at the top 10 arcade games of the 1975- 1979.top 20 games 75 to 79 thumb2

Top 20 Arcade Games 1975 to 1979

Author: John Pio  //  Category: Articles, Reviews

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Breaking down the best Top 20 Arcade Games of the 1970’s. A time when computer pioneers were creating a video game industry. This is a list of the Top 20 Arcade Games from number 20 to 11.

Shadowgate

Author: John Kest  //  Category: Articles, Home

A game that stands out to me, which is known for it’s intense difficulty, cryptic puzzles, and infinite deaths it’ll cause, Shadowgate, holds up to it’s reputation as being a very challenging point-and-click adventure game. The developer responsible for creating Shadowgate was ICOM Simulations, Inc. Mindscape published the game on the Macintosh in 1987, and there was also a port on the NES, which was published by Kemco in 1989. The game was also created on other platforms such as the PC/DOS, Amiga, and Atari ST. I actually own the Macintosh version, which is for the Macintosh 512K. Apple released the 512K in 1985 two years before Shadowgate’s release. The version on the Macintosh is in black & white unlike all of the other ports, which are in color. Shadowgate was the third entry in a series of four games known as the MacVenture series, which were all very well known on the PC. The other three MacVenture games in the series include Déjà vu, Uninvited, & Déjà vu II. Déjà vu II was the only title that wasn’t ported to the NES. Shadowgate on the NES is the version I will focus on in this review as that’s what console I discovered it on. Although Shadowgate wasn’t the first in the series, it was the first to be released on the NES. The game saw some slight modifications in order to adjust to the NES controller vs. a keyboard and mouse; they were mostly unchanged other than Nintendo’s censorship restrictions.

 

As the story goes, you’re the last generation of a line of Kings who is destined to foil the plans of the Evil Warlock Lord who will stop at nothing from summoning the great Behemoth and unleashing it upon the land. The story begins in the world of ‘Tyragon”, where the land known as “Kal Zathynn” is located. Your journey will lead you to Castle Shadowgate, which encompasses a slew of secret passages, collapsing floors, puzzles, traps, and an array of demons. Castle Shadowgate is located on the top of “Gatekeeper Mountain” and was occupied by a group of highly skilled wizards who were known as the ‘Circle of Twelve’. One of the wizards in particular, Talimar, fell into darkness and became corrupted. Once his fellow cohorts learned of his corruption, they ousted Talimar. After, he was exiled and began to call himself ‘The Warlock Lord’. Talimar brought nothing but chaos and death to the land, even challenging the kings themselves. Soon after, the Circle of Twelve intervened and defeated Talimar and sealed him inside the caverns, which lied beneath the great Castle of Shadowgate. Many years followed and the Warlock Lord managed to claw his way to freedom, in which he’d terrorize the lands once again. A great wizard named, Lakmir, will bring you to the castle door of Shadowgate to begin your quest. It is your duty collect information about your surroundings by examining objects with a keen eye, as well as reading and learning spell books you come across throughout the castle, which will ready you for your long journey ahead as well as the confrontation with the evil and powerful Warlock Lord.

 

 

Shadowgate is a very unique game and not what you would expect; especially back in 89’. When I first played it, it took me a little while to get use to controlling the game and figuring out it’s objectives. Although it’ll take some time you’ll get use to the mechanics of the game rather quickly just as long as you focus and take interest. Shadowgate’s gameplay is a very different experience. Your game screen consists of three windows, and you use the NES control pad to move the pointer, a skeleton’s hand, to make selections on the screens. As you proceed through the castle in a first person perspective, you’ll be shown your current location on the View Window screen. In the View Window screen you’ll come across doors and many items that may be of use. Next, the Command window lets you control objects in the View Window. The commands are Move, Look, Open, Use, Leave, Take, Close, Hit, Speak, Card, Self, and Save. To perform and execute a command, place the pointer on your chosen command and press the A button. The box next to the command will be highlighted. Next, move the pointer to the object in the View window that you’d like the command to act upon and press the A button. The Command Window will be replaced at times with text feeding you valid information. You’d think that once you start the game you can move your character around freely with the directional pad on the controller, however, you must use the cursor instead and select the proper commands to execute. For example: The ‘Move’ command has it’s own section on the Command Window, so you’d select/highlight Move first, then select/highlight the direction to travel in or choice of door to go through. This must have discouraged the hell out of kids in the 80’s, as I’m sure many just wanted to pick up the controller and go to town. The third window is the Card Window, which shows you your inventory of the items that you are carrying throughout the castle. Only one card in the stack is visible at a time. The cards are also separated into two categories, Goods and Spells. ‘Goods’ hold your items such as torches, keys, spheres, and many other artifacts, and ‘Spells’ store the spells you’ll learn from the books you read scattered throughout the castle. Navigating between these windows are quite fun and a nice change from the norm. Shadowgate is a thinking man’s game and every move counts, as it could be your last.

 

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Shadowgate is a very creepy game, and the music helps in setting the tone. Hiroyuki Masuno composed the music on the NES, and whoever has heard it will agree that it went well with the game’s atmosphere and surroundings. A kickstarter project went into affect a year ago for a new Shadowgate remake in which they are using Masunos’ theme used in the entryway on the NES. Thankfully, the kickstarter project reached its goal on November 25, 2012. You can check out all of their info on www.zojoi.com. I like to think of Shadowgate as a chess game. If you make a clumsy choice, it can cost you dearly. Death is eminent in this game so get use to it. Also, if you do anything that doesn’t make sense, the game will proceed to tell you that, “You’re wasting your time”. One item in the game that you’ll have to keep your eye on constantly is the torch. You can collect a number of them throughout the game, which is important because if it goes out, you’re dead! It’s easy to tell when your torch is going to run out, as you’ll see the flame diminishing. Come to think of it, the torch acts as a time limit feature in the game as there are many torches spread throughout the castle that will allow you enough time to explore and solve puzzles. Obviously the castle is pitch dark so torches are a necessity so make sure you stock up on them. Looting is very important in the game, and it’s probably wise to pick up everything you can get your hands on because only in a few rare cases picking an item up will kill you. I know I keep bringing up death, but if you choose to not use a walkthrough playing the game for the first time you’ll die in so many ways you haven’t imagined possible. You’ll get burned alive, fall in pits, fall on your face, get run through with spears, poisoned, slimed, ripped to shreds by a rabid beast, and so much more! No matter how you die you’ll be greeted by Death himself, the Reaper, who disturbingly has a grin on his face as if to laugh at your misfortune. Such a nice guy! The different rooms in Castle Shadowgate are all beautifully drawn and really add to the creepy and highly refined atmosphere. Whenever you come across something, which is able to perceive or feel things, it’s always a bit of a traumatic experience. Many times creepy music will start playing, which will make you feel uneasy as you contemplate whether your idea will kill the creature or end up killing you somehow. You must figure out the correct sequences in order to advance in the game. To complete the game you’ll end up doing all sorts of things. Some things will make sense like burning the mummy with a torch in order to find a scepter, or smashing a mirror to reveal a door. However, other things are very cryptic and virtually impossible to figure out without a ton of trial and error. You’ll be clicking on the View Window like a lunatic trying to find hidden areas and items. The game can have you stuck in limbo, scratching your head confused on what to do. Another scene in the game that’ll have you puzzled is the room with a shark-infested lake. A skeleton is in middle of the lake holding a key, which you must obtain. In order to retrieve the key you must drop a sphere into the lake, which will freeze it. You’d think that your task would be complete, however, it’s not because you must then take a torch to melt the ice and pick the sphere back up. Finally, you’re able to get the key and push on. Who in their right mind would ever think to do this?! Some traps are beginner traps, which you only have to deal with one time. The more obnoxious traps, however, are the ones that want you to use specific items or spells to get passed. I have to say gamers back then were hardcore because there was no safety net such as the Internet. The main goal of the game is to collect the three separated pieces of ‘The Staff of Ages’, which are the staff, blade, and orb. By the time you reach the Evil Warlock Lord in the summoning chamber, it’ll be too late as he has already summoned the Behemoth. You must then reassemble the staff using these parts and use the resulting weapon to vanquish both the Evil Warlock & Behemoth. The staff has to be put back together correctly as you must start with the blade into the orb and finally the staff. Use the staff on Behemoth and send the beast screeching back to the depths of hell with the Warlock Lord in his grasp. After defeating the Warlock Lord you return to Castle Stormheaven and kneeling before the king you are given a hero’s welcome. The king gives you his daughter’s hand in marriage and your very own kingdom to rule over. Sweet!

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The MacVenture series have trial-and-error as their primary game mechanic. Even games like Camelot, King’s Quest, and Monkey Island will have you trying anything and everything in order to come up with the solutions to advance in the game. Given the games controls, sheer volume of beginner traps, the large amount of items needed to complete the game and, of course, the amount of times you’ll die, I would consider this to be one of the most challenging and frustrating games on the NES. I challenge anyone not to use a walkthrough in order to complete the game. I dare you!

 

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Wizards & Warriors

Author: John Kest  //  Category: Articles, Home

 

 

Growing up in the 80’s I was very fortunate to have a mother who spoiled me rotten, and when it came to choosing Nintendo NES titles she had a sixth sense in doing so. One game in particular that stood out from my childhood was ‘Wizards & Warriors’. This game left such an impression on me at a young age that whenever I see the artwork on the box or hear it’s infamous music, a wave of nostalgia follows. The music was composed by none other than David Wise. David is well known for composing the music in the Donkey Kong Country series on the SNES, which demands respect.  Wizards & Warriors is considered to be an action/adventure platformer created by Rare Ltd. for the Nintendo NES. Acclaim published the game and released it upon the states in December of 1987. Rare is a British based video game developer founded in 1985. Rare is known for creating classics like Killer Instinct, Donkey Kong Country, and Golden Eye 007.

 

 

Wizards & Warriors is your typical hero saves princess story. The princess was taken by a truly powerful wizard, who goes by the name, Malkil. Malkil has a reputation so great, that even Merlin was his pupil. However, age has gotten the best of this powerful wizard resulting in him losing his mind. After going mad, Malkil turned his attention towards a darker side of magic. Have no fear for Malkil’s reign won’t last long due to a diligent knight. This is no ordinary knight by any means because there is only one meant for the job in order to stop this corrupted wizard, and that’s, Kuros! Kuros is a noble and reliable hero who is fearless in which he must enter the woods of Elrond. It is he who was born to wield the Brightsword, which is a sword so powerful that it will carry Kuros through the dangerous and treacherous journey. Kuros must find his way to castle Ironspire, which is buried in the deep and dark woods of Elrond. In this very castle Malkil has taken the princess captive. Before Kuros reaches his target destination he must venture through woods, caves, underground passageways, and tunnels fighting creatures and demons destined to try and stop any living soul who tries to save the princess. Malkil has cast an evil spell on the forest’s creatures and you must put a stop to his tyrannical ways before it’s too late.


Wizards & Warriors consists of eight levels. You begin the game in the forest of Elrond. You’d think the forest would be an easy run, however, you’ll have to collect items that’ll open doors and chests, which will help you progress through the level. The items are not in plain sight, but hidden, so it’ll take some patience and searching. I would classify Wizards & Warriors as a nonlinear game. Although the levels are short you’ll have to search for three sets of colored keys, which will open chests consisting of special items and gems. There are red, blue, and pink keys, which match the color of the chests and doors littered through the levels. You also have to collect a certain amount of gems in order to pass the guardian in each level. The fee to the guardian will usually run you one to two hundred gems or maybe less. Controlling Kuros is pretty straightforward. He can crouch, jump, parry, and use magic and special items. Prepare to jump a lot, as you’ll have to jump from ledges, gaps, bubbles, and anything else your armored boots can land on. When jumping, you can bounce off stationary as well as moving objects. Kuros can also jump off enemies using them strictly as a springboard in order to reach difficult places such as the tippy tops of the forest trees in level 1. If you stay in one place for too long you’ll encounter a relentless onslaught of enemies, which respawn every couple of seconds, driving you crazy as well as taking valuable life force energy away from you. Always stay on the move. Some enemies and hazards you’ll face are spiders, werewolves, hornets’ nests, rock faces, acid, and red devils. Although you’ll die a lot you can continue from the last level you were in with all of your special items intact by pressing any button within five seconds. There are infinite continues, which makes the game very fair and able to complete. Also, if you have the right gear equipped you can get passed certain sections without being harmed such as the ‘Boots of the Lava Walk’, which lets you walk on lava, columns of fire, and over other places that are too hot to handle. Another cool and highly needed item is the ‘Feather of Feather Fall’, which allows you to float to hard to reach areas and over pitfalls. You’ll also need the ‘Potion of Levitation’, which boosts you up a few feet so you can jump to a ledge or whatever you’re trying to get to. Without the feather or levitation you’ll not be able to progress. Most weaponry and magical items will be swapped when you pick up a new item. However, some items, once found, can be carried constantly. The items that are permanent are The Dagger of Throwing Axe, Shield of Protection, Feather of Feather Fall, and The Potion of Levitation. Keep this in mind. Another thing to keep in mind, which everyone confuses are the three colored potions. Each potion gives you a different type of power for a limited amount of time. Red potion grants you invulnerability, the blue potion is for speed, and the purple potion is for extra jump height. At the end of each level there is a boss to battle. They can be laughably easy like the demon skull in level one or difficult such as Bones, the boss of level seven, or the wizard Malkil himself. However, when you defeat each boss there will be a distressed damsel to save until you reach princess at the end.

 

 

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Wizards & Warriors was an early release on the NES and it’s a must have for any Nintendo or retro game collector. The game still holds up today and can dish out a challenge and then some. There are also two sequels, ‘Wizards & Warriors II’, ‘Ironsword’ and ‘Wizards & Warriors III’. Another version was also on the Nintendo Gameboy, ‘Wizards & Warriors X’, ‘Fortress of Fear’. The entire Wizards & Warriors series is very dear to my heart and I’m glad I was lucky to start at the beginning. Try it you won’t regret it.

 

 

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Diablo

Author: John Kest  //  Category: Articles, Home

 

In the wake of the Diablo III expansion ‘Reaper of Souls’ and the new Loot 2.0 system, I’d like to pay my respects to where it all started. Diablo is an action role-playing hack and slash game created by Blizzard North and released by Blizzard Entertainment in late 1996. Before the release of Diablo, Blizzard had some leeway into the gaming market, and one year at an E3 convention they had crossed paths with a gaming company called ‘Condor’. Condor was creating a turn based RPG at the time called ‘Diablo’. Blizzard was more than happy to publish the game, as they were very interested and intrigued by it. As the game was moving along well into production, Blizzard decided that they just didn’t want to publish Diablo but they wanted to recruit condor as a new division to their company. After, Blizzard wanted to change the turn based RPG into a real time strategy game with pre rendered 3D graphics. After all of the kinks were ironed out Diablo was released on the PC and the game dominated the market. At the time of the release, Diablo had sold over a million copies, which was unheard of at the time. Diablo was later ported to the Play Station as well.

 

 

As the story goes, long ago the great conflict between the forces of light and darkness made its way into the mortal realm known as the kingdom of Khanduras, which is one of the Western Kingdoms of Sanctuary. Khanduras is notorious for the occurrences surrounding Diablo’s return and the darkening of Tristram. Two hundred years earlier Jered Cain and his fellow Horadrim aka “the Crusaders of Light” were an ancient brotherhood of magi and wizards that were recruited by the archangel Tyreal to go against the three Prime Evils, Diablo, Maphisto, and Baal who were exiled to the mortal realm. During the Dark Exile, Jared, the Horadrim, and Tyreal defeated Diablo and sealed him and the other two Prime Evils into the three soulstones. After, Jered put the soulstones in the Horadric monastery located in the town of Tristram. Diablo, or better known as the Lord of Terror, was locked away beneath the town. Over time the Horadrim fell apart and the monastery deteriorated. Through time, villages began to pop up in the surrounding area. The villagers were totally unaware of the horror that lurked beneath in the labyrinths below, and this is where the story of Tristram began.

 

 


Many years after, Leoric, from the kingdom of Westmarch, captured and converted Khanduras to the Zakarum religion and became king. He then made Tristram Khanduras’s capital, with his seat of power in the old Horadrim monastery, now a cathedral. Leoric had a very trusted adviser and enforcer of Zakarum, Archbishop Lazarus. The Order of Zakarum is one of the religions dedicated to light, however, later due to corruption it became influential in the revival of the Prime Evils. Lazarus was drawn by some mystic energy and ventured deep below the cathedral. At the bottom Lazarus discovered Diablo’s soulstone. Diablo fully corrupted the soulstone and was able to sway Lazarus into shattering it. After Diablo was released he tried to possess king Leoric’s body but instead drove him insane. Frustrated, Diablo demanded a weaker host, and Lazarus proceeded to hand over Leoric’s son, Albrecht. Before Lazarus did he inserted the demon’s soulstone into the Prince’s forehead prepping him for Diablo. The Lord of Terror possessed the prince in no time flat resulting in him to fully manifest in the mortal realm once again. Leoric’s conditions became worse especially with the disappearance of his son. Leoric who was distraught and confused blamed the townsfolk and even his most trusted knights. After Diablo gained control he ordered hordes of demons to attack the towns, and Tristram fell into ruins. The once all holy cathedral became a place of dark cults and rituals. The Archbishop Lazarus emerged from the ancient Horadric monastery, and gathered the townsfolk into finding the missing prince in the dark chambers below the cathedral, only to lure them to their fate with the Butcher, a powerful demon, who took many lives that night expect for a handful of survivors. Survivors included Gillian and Adria who fled before the carnage started, Deckard Cain, a descendent of Jered Cain, and a few others.

 

 

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Diablo begins in the dark and dreary town of Tristram in which a hero, you, arrives in town and learns that the Archbishop Lazarus has led the townsfolk to their deaths in the labyrinths below the cathedral. Being the courageous person that you are, you must descend down into the labyrinth to fight demons and whatever else lurks, which will later prepare you when you reach the Lord of Destruction, better known as Diablo. Before you confront Diablo you must travel through sixteen dungeon levels, ultimately entering Hell itself. The gameplay in Diablo was so simple yet addicting and gratifying. To attack an enemy you would simply put the cursor over the enemy and left click. The keyboard is also used to carry out specific actions such as the I key, which will open up your inventory.  Pressing the 1 key on the keyboard will cause your character to drink the potion in the first spot on his belt. When you begin the game you must choose your character’s class. The character classes are Warrior, Rogue, and Sorcerer. The Warrior class allows you to equip heavy weapons and brawl with melee weapons. The Rogue class allows you to equip bows, however, this class is weaker than the Warrior, but can sense traps in the area and evade danger quickly. The Sorcerer has the ability to wield staffs and cast spells. The other classes can cast spells, but these spells are a lot stronger for the Sorcerer. By the game allowing you to choose different classes it opens the door for more replay. The game also throws random enemies and dungeon layouts at you making a new campaign feel like a brand new experience. The game never gets stale. It’s amazing! There are also random weapon drops, and you’ll be able to equip your character with different swords, staffs, amulets, rings, helms, and armor. This makes the game highly addicting because it’s a lot of fun to customize and upgrade your character. Each item or weapon drop will be very important to you as it took many hours to farm the item in the first place. Farming and looting items and gold set Diablo apart from other games and this is still a key element in the game even to this day, with their latest installment Diablo III. In the village of Tristram there are seven villagers to talk to such as the blacksmith Griswold who sells swords and other useful equipment. Griswold also purchases items for gold as well as fixes your items if they happen to need a little tender love and care. Another villager goes by the name ‘Pepin’ who is the town healer. Pepin also buys and sells healing potions and elixirs. Pepin will also initiate the Poisoned Water quest if the well in town happens to get polluted. Tristram is also home to Wirt the peg-legged boy, who sells rare items, which usually costs an astronomical amount of gold and not very useful at all. What’s a town without a tavern?! Ogden is the owner of the tavern in Tristram, and although he has no significance in the game he assigns one quest. Two other villagers also have no significance in the game such as the barmaid Gillian and Farnham the drunk. Next there is Adria the witch who sells and recharges staffs, potions, town portal scrolls, and elixirs. If you choose the Sorcerer you’ll be seeing a lot of Adria. Finally, The town elder aka Deckard Cain identifies weapons and items for a small sum of gold. He is known for his famous quote, “Stay a while and listen”.

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The game itself can be quite short depending on how well equipped you are. One gripe that I have with that game is that you cannot run. This makes it a pain in the neck to get from one area to another especially if there’s a mob of monsters attacking. They fixed this issue in Diablo II and by being able to run you can avoid attacks or being overrun by a horde. Another thing to watch is your health globe. Your health depletes fast especially in the later levels of the game as you descend deeper into the labyrinths and run into more and more mobs of monsters and demons. You’ll find yourself making multiple visits to Pepin in town for health potions. One aspect I love since the game is an RPG is the leveling system, which was very unique at the time. When you level up you will receive five attribute points in which you can apply those points to any of the four attributes such as Strength, Dexterity, Magic, and Vitality. Strength basically allows you to carry heavy weapons and output more damage. A high Strength base is key for the Warrior class as they tank the best. Dexterity is the amount in which it takes you to hit an enemy. I also noticed that if your Dexterity base were to be low, you’d miss enemies a lot of the time, so it’s important to keep your Dexterity high especially for the Rogue class. A high Magic base is key for the Sorcerer allowing you to perform higher-level spells and wield better weapons. A very important attribute is vitality aka HP. This is your health in the game and should be raised up for every class no matter what especially weaker classes like the Rogue and Sorcerer. I’m not saying they’re weak but unlike the Warrior they can take less of a beating because their defense is not that sharp. The graphics in the game were very revolutionary for the time as it was up against the console market such as Nintendo 64, etc. The soundtrack was amazing consisting of extremely ambient and dark scores especially in the labyrinths. The most memorable score is the theme of the town Tristram. When I first played the game that theme caught my attention and really set the mood and captured what the game was really about. The theme is truly nostalgic! One special thing that this game had that no game ever had was the Universal Internet Service, which allowed gamers from far and wide to team up, experience the story, and play online together at all hours of the morning and night. This was the first online service incorporated directly into the games that actually made use of it. The best part was ease of account creations and the absence of member fees. This was the birth of Battle.net, and the rest is history.

 

 

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Disney vs Capcom Fighter

Author: John Pio  //  Category: Articles

Can a Disney vs Capcom fighter game ever come true? Yeah, it can if the Disney company can imagine some of their beloved icons and Princesses kicking ass. Granted, not everyone of Disney’s Princesses have been prim and proper. Mulan is a born fighter as is Merida of Brave and Rapunzel certainly knows how to swing a frying pan.

 

A Disney vs Capcom fighter game seems like a no-brainer judging by the long history the two companies have shared from various Mickey Mouse games like Magical Quest and Magical Mirror to their 3 DuckTales games, the latest DuckTales Remastered, being a huge success. Now add into that story, Capcom’s long history with the Marvel superhero franchise and their amazing 17 year long success of Marvel vs Capcom fighting games… let’s not forget that Disney now owns Marvel, and the plausibility of  a Disney vs Capcom starts to look better and better all the time.

 

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Designer Mike V has taken that pixelated vision and put out there for us to imagine, and perhaps the folks at Disney and Capcom. Of course we’d love to see Goofy putting the smack down on Wolverine or perhaps Donald Duck ripping the Juggernaut’s helmet off but let’s be honest. We want to see the Princesses have a good old cat fight and thanks to Mike V we can get a gimps as to what that might look like. Visit his site and let’s hope we get to play Disney vs Capcom very soon.

 

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Meet the Makers: Ninja Baseball Bat Man

Author: John Pio  //  Category: Articles, Reviews

 

Ninja Baseball Bat Man by IREM and conceptualize by Drew Maniscalco of Jersey Jack Pinball. John Pio of Mamecade gets a chance to talk with Drew about Ninja Baseball Bat Man and what he has in store for its future in this episode of Mamecade: Meet the Makers.

Visit Ninja Baseball Bat Man

Princess Rescue on the Atari 2600

Author: John Pio  //  Category: Articles, News

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Mario hasn’t been this low resolution in years but he’s still lovable old Mario even though he’s on a different console in Chris Spry‘s, Princess Rescue on the Atari 2600. One of the latest demake games to be released through Atari Age. Chris was inspired by other resent demakes like Mega Man and Halo 2600 and created Princess Rescue using a program called  Batari BASIC. Amazing!

 

Ultima Forever Quest for the Avatar (Pre) Review

Author: John Pio  //  Category: Articles, News, Reviews


As a lifelong fan of the Ultima series, and I mean life long, way back to the early 80’s, I was as excited as I was skeptical when I heard Electronic Arts was going to make a new free to play cross platform version of Ultima 4 called Ultima Forever, Quest for the Avatar. After nearly two years since it was announce, EA and its developer Mythic Entertainment are currently conducting a soft launch in certain markets to test out Ultima Forever’s mechanics with real players.

 

Obviously much will change before the final version is released this July, as Mythic tweaks things like weapon damage, quests and in game purchasing. So please consider this a preview and not a review of some of the features we can expect in Ultima Forever when it officially launches. For the purposes of this video I will assume you have some basic knowledge of the Lore of Ultima and the relationship history between Origin Systems and Electronic Arts.

 

Mythic Entertainment is charged with the incredibly difficult task of being true to a franchise that is over 30 years old with legions of fans, while at the same time setting out to bring modern gaming mechanics that today’s players expect in a game that can be played on mobile devices, all the while bringing those original fans and new players together in harmony, not an easy task.

 

Ultima Forever is set 21 years after the events of Ultima IV Quest of the Avatar. The eight virtues that were so pinnacle in that game to heal Britannia are now being attacked by the Black Weep, a plague that corrupts them and infects those its contacts. You and others have been summoned by Lady British to find its source and stop it. In a clever nod to older Ultimas you’re told that people who are infected turn and many often come back to life without their heads, which possibly explains one of Ultima’s most bizarre monsters, the Headless.

 

As in most of the Ultima series the Gypsy character is back, this time taking on more of a supportive role. She still presents you with a several moral dilemma questions to choose your path at the beginning but is also the omnipresent voice during the game, which begs the question, is she more than she really seems to be.

 

At this time your class selection is limited to just the Fighter or Mage archetypes, with more promised at the release, it’s not know if there will be eight classes to match the eight virtues as in other Ultimas but I’d assume it’s a safe bet. The landscape of Britannia is all there with all the major cities and towns we remember along with many new points of interest like towers, caves many other potential entry points to dungeons.

 

There is a brief tutorial that introduces you to the basics and kickstarts the plot. Combat is as simple as clicking an enemy but depending on your position to your enemy you can increase your damage and possibly doing critical damage. Plus as you progress you’ll get a special attack that has a cool down meter attached to it.

 

Lets talk about the visuals of the game. Its a top down isometric view more reminiscent of Ultima 6 than Ultima 4. I’m really impressed with the 2D landscapes and town interiors. Everything has nice a watercolor painted look to it, it’s really beautiful to take in. Though I haven’t noticed any lapping waves or rustling trees as an overlay on the 2D art. It’s not a huge deal but even Ultima 4 had wave tiles. To Mythic’s credit I did see some realistic rain in the opening intro title screen.
The portrait art is also very appealing and keeps in with the style of the overall game. Characters, NPCs and monster sprites look really good, though the fighters top heavy proportions took me a little while to get used to.
Music has always been a big part of Ultima and it still is. I was happy to hear familiar melodies set to a full orchestral score. Though I confess I have all the original Ultima synthesized music on my iphone.

 

Ultima Forever is a freeium game setup with in game purchases. Mythic has stated that you can play the game without ever spending a cent but if you want you can purchase nearly anything except virtue points which is their new take on the old experience point system that other games use. They’ve also got rid of the old gold coin system and uses a variety of keys, bronze, silver and gold. Keys are used to open chests and depending on which key you use, your chances of finding uncommon, rare or epic items rises. Bronze keys can be found in dungeons as loot or you can craft them. Combining 15 bronze keys yields 5 silver keys and golds keys can be purchased with real money or awarded in certain situations. Keys are also used to buy in game items and repair damaged weapons and armor. And you will be doing that a lot. Your equipment deteriorates over time and must be repaired, the good news is it doesn’t required you to visit a blacksmith shop, simply spend your keys for a easy fix. In fact Mythic has used the soft launch to gauge costs and have recently reduced repair costs significantly due to user feedback.

 

Of course the eight Virtues are at the the heart of Ultima. Throughout the game moral dilemmas are presented to you that don’t have any real right answer, but your choices will direct your character’s virtue path. For instance leaning towards honest deeds will increase your reputation in the town of Moonglow, Justice earns reputation in the town of Yew and the higher your reputation the better you will be received in those towns, unlocking new areas and new quests. All virtuous deeds are tallied and are translated as a purple bar beneath your health, when the bar fills completely your character advances a level. It’s a clever new take on the old experience point system.

 

If you’re like me you like playing solo but Ultima Forever is a multi-player game where parties of up to four friends can band together. Another creative solution to the problem of players with vastly different levels forming a party is addressed by temporarily lowering certain stats on high level characters, the game counts this as a sacrifice for their deed. Clever reward systems are peppered all throughout the game.

It’s important to keep in mind this is a reimagining of the classic Ultima 4, not a sequel to the original timeline. Sort of like a Hollywood reboot as in the recent Batman and Superman films. Mythic does try to keep old school fans happy by pointing to certain people, places and things from the original and you can’t help but smile when stumble on them. Though it never detracts from the plot to annoy new first time Ultima players.

 

Though there are hundreds of dungeons to conquer, people to help and quests to complete it’s laid out in little accomplishable chunks. You could pick up and play a quick 15 minutes and actually complete something instead of a continuous chain of quests that does on and on. Ultima Forever is meant to be quick and light, perfect for mobile gaming.

 

The more I experience this game the more I find I like it, though my old Ultima prejudices are really hard to fight back. The fact that the original Ultima 4 used so much of the player’s imagination to fill in the blanks that the technology of the time couldn’t do, gave us an incredibly invested feeling in the game. Ultima Forever is a modern game, with portability, touch screen, mouse driven, social media connected, multi-player game, it’s not 1985’s Ultima 4. If you want vast super immersive gameplay with full economies and sociopolitical relationships to dive into they’re on the horizon but what EA and Mythic have done here is create a enjoyable and respectful reimagining of a beloved classic. I’m looking forward to the July 2013 full launch to Journey Onward again to Britannia.