Blog update and news

Hello everyone. I know I haven’t update the blog or published a new review for over a month and I really apologize for it. The reason is that, like I’ve said before, my new full-time job has taken a lot of my time and I don’t have a lot of free time. However, starting next month, things are going to change.

No, I’m not abandoning the blog (this is a labor of love for me), I’m actually renovating it and bringing a lot of new stuff, starting with a new review I’ll have it ready at the start of October, along with 2 new reviews for the rest of the month.

So, hang in there and I promise you’ll have a great retro time! And while you’re at it, keep on playing!

Advertisements

DuckTales DOS review

With the return of the most ear-catching cartoon theme song of all times (and the show too), I decided to take a look at the videogame. No, not the popular NES version but the PC version instead. I’m talking about DuckTales (WOO HOO!).

DuckTales: The Quest for Gold is an action-platform game developed by Incredible Technologies and published by Walt Disney Computer Software. It was originally released in 1990 for Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Commodore 64 and DOS.

But first let’s look at the cover, shall we?

92384-disney-s-duck-tales-the-quest-for-gold-dos-front-cover

“D-D-Danger lurks behind you
There’s a stranger out to find you
What to do? Just grab on to some…”

The cover could perfectly be used on a VHS, DVD case or even a comic book, because it looks like it was directly taken from the show or drawn by Don Rosa. It depicts Uncle Scrooge and Launchpad McQuack running from a mummy while carrying a pot full of gold and gems. And if you know the show, it’s a typical image from it.

But it’s time to boot this sucker:

The title screen is taken from the cover art and of course it wouldn’t be a DuckTales game without its infamous theme. I swear, I’m hearing it in my head while I’m typing this. WOO HOO!

ducktales_theme_by_punkkis_chan-d7b2u5c

The intro then shows us Scrooge’s rival, Flintheart Glomgold, barging in Scrooge’s office and challenging him to a contest: whoever amasses the most riches in a month, gains the title of “Duck of the Year” and appears on the cover of Dime Magazine (Disney’s equivalent of Time Magazine, get it?). Wasn’t that in an episode of the show?

Then you choose between three difficulty levels and off you go. You start in Scrooge’s office where you can swim in Scrooge’s money bin (and find rare coins), play in the stock market, buying and selling stocks (I’ll get back to that later on) or you can click on the map on the right.

ducktale_004

Yes, you can travel around the world, but only to four different locations that are constantly repeated.

Clicking on the map grants you access to the copy protection in some versions and after passing it, with the help of the manual, you can choose between several locations around the world to travel. Now you must be thinking that this game has lots of levels in it because of all the locations, right? Wrong! It has only four different stages:

  • A mountain stage, where you control Scrooge’s three nephews (Huey, Dewey and Louie) and with a climbing rope, you need to get to the top of the mountain to reclaim the treasure while avoiding enemies and falling rocks. You only get three opportunities (one for each nephew).

  • A jungle stage, where you again control the nephews, but this time you travel from left to right while jumping on branches, swinging on vines and avoiding dangerous animals. Easily the hardest stage in the game.

  • A photograph stage, where you take control of Webby and need to take photographs of animals that pop up. Photographs of rare animals are more valuable. Because there aren’t any enemies or obstacles, it’s the easiest stage, but it has a time limit.

  • A labyrinth stage, where you take control of Scrooge, the nephews and Webby, all at once and you need to travel across a labyrinth while avoiding pits and mummies before your torch burns out.

But before starting any of the above, you need to travel to them. Enter a flying stage, where you take control of Launchpad’s plane and fly it from left to right without crashing to the ground and other obstacles. If that happens, you lose time and money. In some cases, you get to race against Glomgold and if he finishes the stage first, he gets the treasure.

ducktale_010

In case you’re wondering, you’re the pink dot. The yellow dot is where the treasure is and the brown dot is a mummy, who’s looking for you.

Apparently, you can find in some stages Bombastium, which can be used by Gyro Gearloose to invent a teleporter, thus bypassing the flying stage, but I haven’t found it so far. Also, for every stage that you finish successfully, that particular location on the map turns green and can’t be played again. Consequently, every treasure found by Glomgold, turns a location red and can’t be accessed either.

During the 30 days, you can return to the office for more money-swimming or to check your investments in the stock market. While I get the money-swimming part (it’s a staple of the character), the stock market minigame baffles me. I mean, yes in the comics and show, Scrooge is depicted as a business man but the main focus of the show was adventure, exploration and treasure hunting. Buying and selling stocks isn’t what I call exciting and this game was supposedly targeted for younger players. Did anyone actually played the stock market minigame? Even when this game was released?

ducktale_002

How is this physically possible?

Anyway, back to the map, you can also travel to the Island of Macaroon where a giant weighing scale waits to weigh all the gold you and Glomgold have amassed so far. If you go there before the end of the 30th day, it weighs your current gold and keeps it until the end of the month. When you reach the end of the month, you’ll be automatically transported there to weigh the final gold and determine the winner.

ducktale_008

Like always, the Junior Woodchuck Guide is a godsend.

And that’s the entire gameplay! No special stages nor anything. There’s practically no difference whatsoever between the four stages, just very small variations. The graphics are colorful but the animation is very stiff. And the controls, even with a gamepad, aren’t very responsive. The music is OK (nowhere near as good as in the NES version) but the sound effects are very limited. While I found the easiest difficulty setting not much of a challenge, the other difficulty setting posed a real challenge during the gameplay, but with only 4 different stages, it gets very repetitive in no time.

ducktale_006

“When it’s seems they’re headed for the final curtain
Bold deduction never fails, that’s for certain
The worst of messes become successes!”

The Amiga version not only has better graphics and sound effects, it also has digitized speech taken directly from the show. But the controls are a bit over-sensitive, especially during the flying stage.

In conclusion, this game pales in comparison with the NES version. While it has a few funny visual jokes here and there (like every time you crash the plane), in overall it isn’t a great game, despite having some cool cameos from the show. However if you’re a DuckTales fan, you might want to give it a shot by clicking here and enjoy it in your own browser.

I’m terribly sorry for the lack of reviews lately but I’ve found a new full-time job in another city, which prompt moving and everything, so there isn’t going to be as many reviews as before but I haven’t quit on playing and reviewing games.

Well, do you like DuckTales? What are your favorite episodes? Tell me on the comments below and while you’re at it, tell me of you think of the new show. See you guys around and keep on playing. WOO HOO!

Pipe Mania/Pipe Dream review

No, I’m not reviewing another game with two different versions, it’s the same game with two different titles, that’s all. And it’s one of the most ported and influential games of all times. Even if you don’t recognize the title, I assure you that at least you’ll find the gameplay familiar. I’m talking about Pipe Mania aka Pipe Dream.

Pipe Mania is a puzzle game developed by The Assembly Line and published by Empire Software. It was originally released in 1989 for the Amiga, Atari ST and DOS (US version, distributed by Lucasfilm Games under the title Pipe Dream). It was re-released the following year for DOS (EU version), Acorn 32-bit, Amstrad CPC, Apple II and IIgs, Arcade (Japan only), BBC Micro, Commodore 64, Electron, Game Boy, NES, Sam Coupé and ZX Spectrum. In 1991, it was ported to the PC-88, PC-98 and Windows 3.x (as part of the Windows Entertainment Pack). And in 1992, it was ported to the Sharp X68000 and Super Famicon.

But first let’s take a look at the covers, shall we?

183624-pipe-dream-commodore-64-front-cover

“AAAAAHHHH! A tiny plumber fixing pipes!”

This is the European cover and probably the most famous one. While I do enjoy the cartoon plumber at the bottom with a huge wrench trying to fix a pipe, I, still to this day, don’t understand the huge screaming face that covers almost all of the cover. Is that supposed to be one of the developers? Or just a frustrated player? Am I going to fell frustrated and scream by playing this game? But at least the back cover is a bit better:

183625-pipe-dream-commodore-64-back-cover

Yes, you better run. I’ve seen what that stuff did to 4 little turtles in New York.

Not to mention the US cover:

110732-pipe-dream-dos-front-cover

See? He works much better without a giant face screaming behind him.

Just get rid of that hideous face, focus on the plumber, make a nice title and fill the rest with pipes and voilá! An instant classic cover. Because this game was heavily ported, some console versions have their own covers:

218685-pipe-dream-game-boy-front-cover

Oh! The pipes form a “P”. But what does it stands for?

This is the Game Boy cover and while I do appreciate minimalistic covers, this one feels lazy compared with the previous ones.

193945-pipe-dream-snes-front-cover

“Damn it, Harold! How many times do I have to tell you? Righty tighty lefty loosy.”

This is the Super Famicon cover and while it’s a bit more cartoony, it’s also quite good and invokes a sense of fun. Because whoever made the EU cover has to explain to me what fun am I to expect with that face! Sorry, I’m still traumatized since childhood by that…. thing!

But it’s time to boot this sucker:

The title screen is very similar to the cover and the music theme (while being on the PC Speaker) isn’t bad. The gameplay is also quite simple to learn: just put on pipes to let the flooz (fancy name for basically sewage waste) flow through them a certain distance, rack up the points and move on the next level. And you can blow up any pipe that’s wrong and substitute it with another one. This gameplay takes inspiration after Konami’s Loco-Motion, which was released in the arcades back in 1982.

pipe_008

You can choose between 3 different modes from the menu screen: a single-player mode, a competitive two-player (through hotseat) and an expert single-player. You’ll also have access to a training option, which causes the flooz to flow slower at the cost of not gaining points. You play through 36 levels which get increasingly harder with the flooz running faster and the distance required getting bigger. But luckily you’ll find special pipes that will reduce the speed of the flooz, giving you extra time. The level ends when you run out of places to put pipes, the flooz catches up to you or it reaches the end pipe, which will appear more or less around level 15.

pipe_001

The flooz must flow!

Every 5 levels, more or less, you’ll have access to a bonus levels, where blocks with pipes start to circulate at the top of the screen and you have to make them fall in order to construct a way for the flooz to flow. The more it flows, the more points you get. At the end of the bonus level, you’ll also get a password to record your progress.

After winning the final level, you return to the first level with all your points intact. That’s right! Another arcade-style game in which the main objective is basically to rack up points. I recommend trying it out first with the training option ON to get a good understating of the mechanics of the game and then turn it OFF to get points. And if you want a real challenge, then try the expert mode or get a friend to play against with.

pipe_006

I like the color in this one.

Pipe Mania/Dream is one of those games that’s easy to learn but hard to master and it’s quite addictive and fun. The graphics and sound are simple but adequate for a puzzle game. Great for short periods of time and for younger players. Click here to play in your own browser.

pipe_002

The bonus level.

I haven’t played any of the other ports, but the original Amiga version is considered the best one. There have been almost countless clones afterwards but only 2 official remakes: Pipe Mania 3D/Pipe Dreams 3D in 2000 for the Playstation and Pipe Mania in 2008 for Macintosh, Nintendo DS, Playstation 2, Windows, PSP and iOS. I have the Pipe Mania remake for iOS and it’s OK. It’s basically the same gameplay but with new graphics and new options. It’s geared towards younger players and it’s adequate, I suppose.

But Pipe Mania did have a great influence and it’s not uncommon to find some puzzle based on it in modern games. It kind of felt out of the public memory but the core gameplay still remains in our collective memory. It might not have the accolade of Tetris nowadays but it’s still one of top puzzle games out there.

So, what’s your favorite version of this game? Tell me by commenting below. I know that this week’s review was a bit short, but I promise next time we’ll take a look at a bigger and more complex game. Till then line up those pipes and keep on playing.

Dr. Doom’s Revenge review

With the new Spider-Man movie in the theaters now, I’ve decided to take a look at one of the earliest Spider-Man games ever made for the PC. And since the new movie is part of the MCU, I think is fitting that I review one of the few Spider-Man titles for computer more integrated into the Marvel Universe that I know of. I’m talking about Dr. Doom’s Revenge.

The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America in Dr. Doom’s Revenge (definitely a contender for the biggest game title award) is an action game developed by Paragon Software Corporation and published by Medalist International. It was originally released in 1989 for the Commodore 64, DOS and ZX Spectrum and it was re-released the following year for the Commodore Amiga, Amstrad CPC and Atari ST.

But before we take a look at the game, let’s check the cover, shall we?

196457-the-amazing-spider-man-and-captain-america-in-dr-doom-s-revenge-dos-front-cover

Cap: “Gee, take a look at this guy, will ya?”

The cover looks just like a comic book cover, with our villain looming over our heroes. Very fitting for a game that features classic superhero imagery and artwork. I suppose you couldn’t ask for more.

But it’s time to boot this webslinger:

The title screen, despite being colorful, is kind of ugly, artwork-wise. It has a nice music theme though. About the backstory, the game comes with a comic made by Marvel itself, explaining why our heroes are facing Dr. Doom. But about the comic itself, maybe I should someone else properly review it:

(Video courtesy of Atop the Fourth Wall)

Thanks Linkara! And don’t worry, I’ll handle the game.

The game starts right after the comic ends, with Spider-Man and Captain America splitting up to cover more ground, so the game alternates between both. It starts with a comic panel featuring Captain America and then changes to a side-view in which you control the character against a robot. Then after defeating said robot, it goes back to the panel to continue the story and then back again to the side-view where you need to avoid some traps. And then it goes to another panel, now featuring Spider-Man. And that’s practically the entire game, with both heroes facing enemies and avoiding traps with comic panels serving as sort of cutscenes, telling the story as it happens.

But it’s during the action sequences that the game turns ugly. From terrible controls, to awful animation and pitiful sound effects. This is not a fun game to play!

marvel1_001

I didn’t knew that Danny Trejo was part of the MCU!

The side-view depicts all the action and characters, while the bottom depicts pictures of said characters along with their names and health bars. Spider-Man, however, gets a second bar reflecting the level of his web-fluid. And during the stages where you have to avoid traps, a “Super Hero Challenge” image appears at the bottom, next to our character’s health bar.

The graphics aren’t anything special, with very ugly (but colorful) sprites during the action scenes and the artwork in the comic panels range from ugly to acceptable. At least some of the backgrounds during the action stages are somewhat nice and detailed.

There are only three music themes throughout the game: at the title screen, at the game-over screen and at the ending screen, after defeating Dr. Doom. There’s no more music during the rest of the game. And the sound effects are as basic as possible with a lot of screeching noises.

marvel1_003

Arch-nemesis?! Red Skull isn’t going to like that.

But perhaps the worst parts of the game are the controls and the animation. The animation is almost non-existent, with the characters moving extremely slowly. And as far as the controls go, I actually recommend the keyboard over a joystick or gamepad. The controls are limited to an action button and arrows and it’s easier to use the numeric keypad over the keyboard arrows. You have to press the action combined with a direction in order to attack your enemies and the distance between your character and your enemies determines which attack you’ll use. So you have to be far from the enemies for your character to use their signature attacks (Captain America throwing his shield and Spider-Man using his webs). There aren’t any special or particularly strong attacks, but some of the latter enemies do have special attacks that can drain your health bar.

But what makes the game particularly hard, it’s the fact you only have one life and no way to recharge your health bar (and neither Spidey’s webfluid). Also there are some traps that are insta-kill and if one of the characters dies, it’s automatically game-over. Even in the easiest difficulty setting! And then it’s back to the beginning.

marvel1_002

“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does everything a spider can”

Depending on your skill (or luck), the game isn’t very big, but a tremendous amount of patience is required to finish it. And after finishing it once, there’s virtually no reason play it again. Despite the fact that it features several villains from both characters’ rogues gallery.

So, the only good things I can say about the game is that it has a good title theme and some of the backgrounds are well detailed, but the gameplay is just dreadful. The comic that comes with the game is also quite good but still, I can’t recommend this game, not even to Marvel fans.

I haven’t played the other versions, but the Amiga version seems to have better animation though. If you want to give it a shot, you can play it right here in your own browser.

1343-the-amazing-spider-man-and-captain-america-in-dr-doom-s-revenge

“When Captain America throws his might shield”

And if you want to kick Dr. Doom’s ass with Spider-Man and/or Captain America, there are several other games out there, each one better than this one.

So, what’s your favorite Marvel game and/or hero? Comment below and let me know. I think I’ll go the cinema and check out Spider-Man Homecoming. Well, see you around and keep on swinging and playing.

Daughter of Serpents/The Scroll review

If you read the title, you must be wondering: am I reviewing two games at once? Not exactly. Actually I’m reviewing two versions of the same game: a floppy disk version (Daughter of Serpents) and a CD-ROM version (The Scroll), which contains extra scenes and alters the gameplay significantly from the floppy version.

Daughter of Serpents is a graphic adventure developed by Eldritch Games and published by Millennium Interactive. It was originally released in 1992 for DOS and re-released in 1995 as The Scroll by Nova Spring and Psygnosis in CD-ROM format.

Eldritch Games was a small company based in the UK, that began making role-playing tabletop and board games based on the Cthulhu Mythos. But later, they decided to move to videogames and in 1989 released The Hound of Shadow, a text-adventure that was well received by gamers and critics alike.

But back to Daughter of Serpents/The Scroll, let’s look at the covers, shall we?

324187-daughter-of-serpents-dos-front-cover

No, I assure you, this isn’t Cleopatra.

As you can see, it features an Egyptian-style queen surrounded by Ancient Egyptian imagery, but featuring prominently serpents, including two at her feet. Although the game isn’t set in Ancient Egypt, it still gives a mysterious look about it.

33680-daughter-of-serpents-dos-front-cover

OK, who brought the snake to the Egypt exhibition?

This one’s more simple, but still as effective. It shows some hieroglyphs surrounded by a snake.

41016-daughter-of-serpents-dos-front-cover

Now this one has a more ominous look, with the smoke rising and the figures on the side. While with the other two covers, one might get the impression of the game being set in Ancient Egypt, this cover has a more archaeological aspect to it, like you’re about to discover Tutankhamun’s tomb.

But it’s time to boot this sucker:

Sorry for only showing The Scroll intro here, but I had some issues with the floppy version, and besides, both versions have very similar intros. As you can see, a boat arrives at Alexandria, Egypt in 1925 and one of the passengers, when exiting the boat, is killed by an Arab, who’s then shot by the police, but then, the Arab turns into a man-serpent hybrid just before dying. And it’s with this mystery that the game starts, hooking the player’s attention.

But before starting the game, Daughter of Serpents gives you the innovative option to choose between 9 established characters or create your own. This character creation option hearkens back to the company’s past as a RPG developer and was also featured in The Hound of Shadow.

loload_001

In creating your character, you can choose his/her gender, nationality (UK or US) and profession. In it, you can choose between nine: Egyptologist, Traveler, Sleuth, Private Eye, Mystic or Occultist. Then you have to spend your remaining points in several skills, including skills outside your chosen profession. To get a better understanding of the character creation, I recommend reading The Alchemist of Istanbul, a pen and paper RPG which also serves as an introduction to the game’s story and came included with the game itself.

So how does the different characters impact the story and the gameplay, if it’s an adventure game? Well, according to the chosen profession, you can play 3 different adventures, although the basic story remains the same and the different skills change the dialogue significantly. It increases the replay value drastically by encouraging you to try different variations of professions and skills.

loload_002

Exploring the museum.

I just wish the rest of the game was equally impressive. The game has a first person perspective with still images, featuring average quality graphics and minimal animation. The gameplay consists in a point and click interface with your mouse icon changing between several functions. While the mouse interface can be more or less intuitive (except when giving objects to other characters, which requires some pixel-hunting), the inventory system is very cumbersome, as you simply put objects freely in the inventory screen and it’s quite easy for a big object to obscure a smaller one. Not to mention, that to operate a specific object, you need to move it to a different screen (the floor screen) and then use it there (unless it’s to interact with another object and/or character).

In the inventory screen, you can find at the start of the game, a map (for traveling) and two books: a guide explaining all the Ancient Egypt mythology relevant to the game’s story (couldn’t this be in the manual?) and a option called Essentials, which is basically the game’s option screen. Yes, to access the game’s options (including the save and load options), you need to click your left-mouse button three times in very specific places. This is very counter-intuitive and time wasting for a graphic adventure! The other book is a diary describing your progress (couldn’t this be the options screen?).

loload_005

Why, hello there, gorgeous!

But at least the story, characters and dialogues aren’t bad. The story has some Lovecraftian elements seamlessly intertwined with the mythology, although I considered it more supernatural suspense than horror, but still quite enjoyable. The game doesn’t have many characters to interact with but it has a lot of dialogue which is displayed in speech bubbles like in a comic, with certain words in red for dialogue options.

Of all the three adventures, the Occultist/Mystic one seems the most satisfying to play and explores more of the story, while the Egyptologist/Traveler one seems the smallest and the least enjoyable to play. The same goes for the endings. But whatever adventure you’re playing, the game isn’t hard for experienced players and the gameplay is very linear, especially towards the end.

loload_010

Exploring the catacombs.

The music is adequate and provides proper atmosphere but the sound effects are a bit lacking. Also, there isn’t a proper tension during the final part of the game, which is something that a game based on the Cthulhu Mythos should provide. You know, the tension, isolation and vulnerability that are common Lovecraftian themes.

But in The Scroll, some big changes were made. It isn’t a remake by any means, but more of a remastered version in which the animation, sound and music are vastly improved. It also contains voice acting throughout the game (with some speech bubbles for dialogue options), which is quite good for the time, but the dialogue remains more or less the same.

loload_008

Messing with the wrong Out……….. *starts foaming from mouth*

It also expands the locations, including a bazaar that wasn’t in the floppy version and some new characters. But the biggest change is the lack of a character creation option. Instead you choose between two established characters: an English male Egyptologist or an American male Mystic. Yes, now you only have two adventures to play and although they’re expanded from the previous version, it severely limits the replay value. And the Egyptologist part is still very short in comparison with the Mystic part.

The emission of the character creation option also denotes another thing: in Daughter of Serpents, you could create a female character and although it didn’t have any impact in gameplay or story, there weren’t many games with female protagonists back in the 90s and the fact that The Scroll only has male protagonists doesn’t help. It should have been one male and the other female.

loload_006

Is that Teela’s cobra hood?

So in general, although both versions have a good story and atmosphere with some very interesting ideas (especially the character creation) that elevates it somewhat above the rest, its execution is less than stellar. Like I said before, the inventory system is a mess and the gameplay is very easy and linear. The lack of a character creation in The Scroll turns it into another average adventure game. I can’t really recommend it, but you might want to give Daughter of Serpents a shot. If so, then click here to play in your own browser.

Well, do you like games based on the Cthulhu Mythos? If so tell me which are your favorites in the comments below. I’ll see you guys around and till then………………..PH’NGLUI MGLW’NAFH CTHULHU R’LYEH WGAH’NAGL FHTAGN

Tetris Retrospective

Today I’ve decided to do something different. And if you read the title, I’m sure you’ve, at least, heard about Tetris. If not, welcome to planet Earth and I apologize about all the craziness, but I’m sure you’ll love to hear about this game. So join us at taking a look at a very popular game (that defined the puzzle genre), its history and its most famous versions and ports.

Tetris was created in June 1984 in Soviet Russia, when Alexey Pajitnov, a 28-year-old computer engineer working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow, decided to program a puzzle game to test the capabilities of the Electronika 60 computer. Based on the puzzles he played as a child, Pajitnov programmed shapes formed from combinations of 4 blocks, which he named tetrominoes. And combining that word with tennis, he created Tetris:

1st version of Tetris. (Video courtesy of the Sergei Frolov)

As you can see, the gameplay is extremely easy to understand. You only need to combine all the different shapes as they fall until a horizontal row is filled. Then said row disappears, clearing that particular line, up to a total of 4 consecutive rows. After a certain number of cleared rows, the blocks start to fall faster and faster, increasing the difficulty until the entire playing area is full, prompting a game-over.

Pajitnov showed the game to his colleagues at the Academy, who became easily addicted to it and two of them, Dmitry Pavlovsky and Vadim Gerasimov (who was 16 at the time) helped Pajitnov to port the game to DOS and later distribute it through BBS in 1995.

This is the DOS prototype found on the Tetris Gold compilation by Spectrum Holobyte.

After being smuggled to Hungary, it spread across Europe like a virus until it fell to the hands of British software publisher Andromeda, who after failing to secure the rights from Pajitnov due the Cold War politics at the time, decided to illegally sell its rights to Mirrorsoft and Spectrum Holobyte, who then released the first commercial versions of the game for several computers, featuring Russian imagery and music.

This is the 1st commercial DOS Tetris game by Spectrum Holobyte.

But back in Russia, following the initial success of the game, Pajitnov was forced to give the rights of Tetris to Elektronorgtechnica (Elorg), a state-run organization, for 10 years. But Elorg’s director at the time, Alexander Alexinko, found out that Andromeda was selling Tetris rights (which they had no legal claim to) to almost everybody, including Atari, Sega and a certain Dutch publisher called Henk Rogers.

Tetris arcade version by Atari. (Video courtesy of 90’s Arcade Games)

Henk Rogers’ participation was key in finally securing the rights. After watching a version of the game in the Las Vegas’ Computer Electronic Show in 1988, Rogers saw its potential and broke a deal with Nintendo, but unfortunately, Tengen (a subsidiary of Atari) already made a version of Tetris for the NES:

Tetris for the NES by Tengen (Video courtesy of EMN Company)

Rogers then travelled to Russia to properly secure the rights from Elorg and Pajitnov. But he wasn’t alone. Robert Stein from Andromeda and Kevin Maxwell from Mirrorsoft also travelled to Russia for the rights to Tetris.

What happened later was the stuff of legends (so much so, that Hollywood wants to make a movie trilogy based on it), from the fact that Rogers travelled with a tourist visa instead of a business visa (which could have put him in a very tight spot) to even an appeal from Mirrorsoft to Mikhail Gorbachev to mediate all the legal chaos. But Rogers, using his charm and with Pajitnov’s help, finally secured the rights for Nintendo. Although the battle for the rights would continue to rage on through the following years.

moscow

Alexey Pajitnov and Henk Rogers in Moscow, 1989

Nintendo then, with the rights properly secured, mass-produced Tetris for their new portable console, the Game Boy! And they had the masterstroke to bundle Tetris with each copy of the Game Boy, insuring Tetris’ place in videogame history.

Tetris for Game Boy (Video courtesy of 316whatupz)

And after releasing their own version for the NES, Nintendo then forced Atari and Sega to recall their own copies from the market, claiming sole ownership of Tetris for consoles. Which made the Tengen NES and the Sega Mega Drive versions of Tetris so rare, they’re considered extremely valuable among collectors nowadays.

Tetris for the Mega Drive (Video courtesy of Oberon Gaming)

But it was the Game Boy version released in 1989 that became the most famous version of Tetris, due to its portability combined its addictive nature and simplicity, that even people that never thought about playing videogames, could easily play and enjoy it anywhere! Also, an arrangement of a Russian traditional song, Korobeiniki, became so associated with Tetris, that people still call it the “Tetris theme”. In fact, it became so popular that Andrew Lloyd Webber (you know, the guy behind the Cats and The Phantom of the Opera Broadway musicals) even recorded a dance remix with Nigel Wright under the name of Doctor Spin:

Yes, this is your brain on Tetris

But our story doesn’t end here. In 1996, the rights of Tetris reverted back to Pajitnov, who then with Rogers, funded the Tetris Company and trademark not only the name, but every aspect of the game, regulating every license and prosecuting every unlicensed version and clone. Pajitnov and Rogers also created other puzzle games, but never recreated the success they had with Tetris. But they still produce new versions with new features up to this day.

Tetris basically reshaped all the puzzle genre and even the videogame industry itself. Its gameplay is extremely simplistic and yet, extremely addictive. Its accessibility however is what makes Tetris so enjoyable. Seeing someone with disabilities that can’t play typical videogames, enjoying a simple game like Tetris, is a sight to behold. And it opened the Western world a bit more towards Russian culture, so I think I’m not exaggerating when I say Tetris is a true icon of Humanity.

Important Links:

So, what did you think of my retrospective of Tetris? I hope I made it proper justice. If there’s anything you’d like to add, please leave it in the comments below. Next time, is back to basics. Till then, keep on stacking those blocks.

J.B. Harold Murder Club review

Sometimes there are games out there that seem simple enough and hardly make more than a blip in the radar. But sometimes they get noticed by other reasons outside the game itself or even develop a cult following, or even sometimes they’re successful in one country but hardly register in another country. Not to mention how much the game was influenced by and how much it influenced other games afterwards. Today we’re going to take a look at one such game: J.B. Harold Murder Club.

J.B. Harold Murder Club is an adventure/mystery game originally developed and published by Japanese company Riverhill Soft for the PC-88, PC-98, Sharp X1 and the FM-7 computers in 1986. It was released again in 1988 for the MSX and Sharp X68000 and in 1989 for the NES. It saw its first remake for the Turbografx-CD in 1990 and translated and brought to the US the following year for the same console, while the original version was released in the US for DOS that same year. The remake was again released (in Japan only) for the FM-Towns in 1992 and for Windows in 1996. A second remake was made for the Nintendo DS in 2008 under the title Keiji J.B. Harold no Jikenbo: Satsujin Club.

Only the DOS and Turbografx-CD versions were ever translated and released here in the West and although the Turbografx-CD is the most famous version, the game was originally released for the PC-88, which is a personal computer, which makes the DOS version eligible for review here.

But first, let’s take a look at the cover, shall we?

93912-murder-club-dos-front-cover

No, this isn’t a Casablanca adaptation, although that would be cool

The cover definitely has a very noir feel to it, with the gun and the detective smoking in the background. A bit generic nowadays, but not a bad one for a mystery title. And because of all the other covers being variations of this one, there’s no real need to show them.

But it’s time to boot this gumshoe:

The intro is simple and gets to the point: a wealthy businessman named Bill Robbins was found stabbed to the death and it’s your job as a police detective to find the culprit and bring him or her to justice. Although they aren’t bad, I wish the intro screen showed more than some woman’s legs. The intro theme is surprisingly good and pumps you up for the game.

The game starts in your office where your secretary, Catherine, encourages you to give your best in solving the case. And from there you can go out to investigate by interviewing the witnesses and the victim’s friends and relatives. And I hope you’re still pumped from the intro theme because that’s the only piece of music you’ll hear until the end. That’s right, there’s no music throughout the entire game, only at the intro and ending.

eclub_008

The gameplay consists of choosing a command from a list situated at the right of the screen, with the text appearing at the bottom. From the command list, you can chose your destination (when travelling) and other options when interviewing people or searching for clues, with the main screen showing the places and people through still images.

You’ll have to constantly return to your office, either to request warrants from the prosecutor, interrogate suspects and present clues to the crime lab, but also it’s the only place in-game where you can save and load games and check your progress.

With still images, several lists of commands to choose from and no music whatsoever, the gameplay quickly becomes very monotonous, especially since you need to trigger specific dialogues and events, which then prompts a lot of backtracking and return to the same locations or people for new dialogues and clues. You can’t even get search or arrest warrants until you get a specific clue or dialogue that might be or not related to a specific suspect.

eclub_003

Time to get cracking. Those pillows look suspicious

Also, there’s so many information to discover that unless you have a superb memory, I recommend taking notes about everything and everyone, so as to not get lost in the middle of the investigation.

And that’s not the worst of it. First a little spoiler warning:

254-spoiler-alert

Near the end, you might get a good idea of who the killer is, but he/she won’t confess until all other suspects confess their own crimes and/or motivations. Only after gathering and fully investigating all the evidence and clues and getting confessions from all the other suspects, does the killer finally confesses the crime.

OK, spoilers over! Back to the review.

Although this version of the game was released in 1991, it has the EGA graphics and sounds of an late 80s DOS game (because that’s when the game was made), although the art style is very westernized, just like the rest of the game. If I didn’t know, I would swear this was a western game, based only on the graphics and story. And because of the still images, it has virtually no animations whatsoever.

And the mystery itself is actually well written, albeit quite cliché. In fact, it uses most of the basic mystery tropes, including the fact that the victim was an asshole, thus increasing the number of suspects with motivations to kill him. But the final twist is actually quite good.

eclub_005

“Just the facts, ma’am”

So, apart from the mystery itself, this game is quite monotonous to play, with a lot of repetition and backtracking. But I won’t deny it has good dialogue and the most of the characters are interesting. So if you have lots of patience and love mystery titles, you might give it a shot.

The Turbografx-CD version has better graphics (including still photos), a great intro with good animation, voice-over, some extra screens and music throughout the game, although it still has the same boring gameplay. But now with the music, it’s a bit less monotonous. I have no idea about the Nintendo DS remake, though.

The Turbografx-CD version had more success than the DOS version, not only because of the above, but also due to a little controversy: at the beginning of the game, there’s mention of an unsolved rape case. Now, that doesn’t seem a big deal, but since console games were originally targeted to children and teens and because there wasn’t any mature warning in the game’s box, you can see why it raised some eyebrows. IMO, the rape case was an attempt to make the game look more noir and gritty, but it’s possible that the developers might have second thoughts about it, because it’s hardly mentioned again throughout the game.

eclub_011

“And I mean all of your steps”

Still, even with this controversy, the game was quickly eclipsed by other mystery titles, like the Sherlock Holmes series. However, it had a great success in its native Japan, because not only it had 2 remakes, but also four sequels. It also developed some cult following here in the West, enough to release an iOS version of the second game in the series, Manhattan Requiem.

The J.B. series were also responsible for influencing the visual novel genre, which has been quite popular in the East for many years and has recently becoming popular here too in the West. So, despite being mostly forgotten by now and aged very poorly, one can not deny the influence that Murder Club had in some modern titles, especially in dialogues and character interaction.

If you’re interested in trying it out, you can play it here in your own browser.

What are your favorite mystery games? Tell me by commenting below. Next time, I’m going to do something a bit different with a game everyone knows, and I mean everyone! Till then, keep on playing.