688 Attack Sub review

Like I said before, most genres started as computer games before being made for consoles. In fact, due to the limited fast action in favor of a slow, methodical gameplay, most simulations thrived in the computer realm in comparison with consoles. However some companies did try to port them to consoles, but most console players in the 80s and 90s preferred a more action-oriented approach to gaming. Today’s subject although more known in the Sega Megadrive/Genesis’ library, begun its existence as a computer game.

688 Attack Sub is a submarine simulation (or subsim) developed and published by Electronic Arts and originally released in 1989 for DOS. It was re-released a year later for Amiga and ported in 1991 to the Sega Megadrive/Genesis and PC-98.

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

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Man, this envelope went through a rough patch, hasn’t it?

The first cover isn’t bad in theory, with a simple vanilla envelope with the word “CLASSIFIED” stamped on the front. But it doesn’t say anything about the game itself, except that it might be a military type game of some sort.

The consequent variants were a lot better and my favorite is this one:

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A bit better, right?

With a simple image of two Navy boats, it gives a better idea of what the game is all about, but I still don’t know if this a subsim or a Battleship videogame based only on the cover.

But the Megadrive/Genesis cover is totally different:

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Confirmed target destroyed!

Now this is a great cover! You don’t need anything else to tell you about the game.

But let’s launch this boat, shall we?

As you can see, the title screen shows nothing more than the image of a submarine resurfacing featuring an adequate theme music. It’s not bad and the theme sets a good atmosphere for the game.

Then we have the mission selection screen, where we can choose between 10 missions to play. We can take control between an US 688 class sub or a Soviet ALFA class, except in the first mission, where we can also take control of a 700 class (but it’s identical to the 688 sub).

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I just shot an E at the B!

The lighting icons next to the missions’ name mean that those missions can be played with another player, each one controlling a different sub. However I have to apologize because I couldn’t play any multiplayer match. These matches could only be played through a modem direct connection and this game was released before the existence of the Internet and I lack the necessary knowledge to configure it in modern computers. So consider this a single-player review only.

After choosing which mission to undertake, you then have access to the configuration panel, where you can dial up your modem for multiplayer matches (if available) and/or choose your difficulty level.

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Is the guy on the left smoking a pipe in a confined closed space?

As you can guess, this game occurs during the height of the Cold War and the majority of the missions are between the US and Soviet forces. The missions, while being only ten, are very varied, ranging from training to surveillance to open naval battles.

At the start of every mission, you’re required to go to the radio room to receive your orders and objectives and then you can properly start your mission.

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“So, where’s comrade Sean Connery?”

From a screen called the CONN (Conning Tower) depicting the inside of the sub and its crew, you can go to six control panels in which you have access to the different functions for operating the sub:

  • The aforementioned radio room, where you can review your mission orders and objectives. Also at the end of each mission, you always end up here in case of whether failure or success.

  • The status panel, where you’ll see all the damage done to the sub.

  • The control panel, where you’ll basically drive the sub, controlling depth, speed and direction.

  • The weapons panel, where you’ll have access to the torpedoes, missiles (only in the 688 class) and noisemakers.

  • The periscope panel, where you can use the periscope to take a look at the surface.

  • The navigation room, where you can trace routes to navigate through using the auto pilot function.

  • And the sonar room, where you can use sonar to detect and analyze your targets.

And during battles, if the panels suddenly turn red, that means you have a hull breach and you need to resurface before your sub sinks!

In almost every panel, you’ll also have access to a map where your sub is depicted by a square in the middle of it and all the other ships are depicted by color-coded letters. But using your controls at the left bottom, you can also have access to a rough 3D vision of the ocean’s bottom, but it doesn’t depict any ships. Which is great for navigating slowly at the bottom of the sea, avoiding any rock formations and other environmental dangers.

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“Luckily we won’t hear Amerikan pigs singing this time, comrade kaptain!”

There is basically no difference between the American and Russian subs, only cosmetically. The only big difference is the lack of missiles in the ALPHA class, but then again you only need to use the missiles in one mission.

There are no limits to what you can do while controlling the sub, whether it is to sail away or attacking your allies, but of course, you’ll fail the mission. I do like the little portraits of your crew almost every time you do something, like raising your periscope or arming and firing a torpedo. Usually it takes two torpedoes to sink any ship, but sometimes they might miss the target, luckily you can guide them remotely to any chosen target.

At the beginning of every mission, any targets you detect are unidentified and to properly identify them, you can either use the periscope (if they’re at the surface) or use your sonar analyzer, which will reproduce their sounds and no, nobody sings the Russian National Anthem in this game.

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No, this isn’t the mission success screen.

Due to this strategic way of playing, the game isn’t very action-packed and it might look very slow-paced to most gamers. But if you prefer this kind of gameplay, then 688 Attack Sub is right up your alley.

The Megadrive/Genesis version plays exactly the same, with all the missions intact. And although it has better graphics and the gamepad controls aren’t bad, it also has worse sound and music, even if it has more themes than the DOS version. Also it lacks the crew’s portraits of the other versions.

688 Attack Sub wasn’t the first subsim to appear in the market, nor the most influential and it was followed by SNN-21 Seawolf in 1994 and by Jane’s 688(i) Hunter/Killer in 1997.

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Select your pain!

I haven’t played a lot of subsims to properly compare them to 688, but from a general gamer’s perspective, it might be a bit slow-paced, especially at the start of every single mission, but it grows to a certain level of action at the harder difficulty level and the objectives’ variation gives it a small replay value, but after beating all the missions with both subs, you’ll hardly play it again.

So if you like subsims, give it a shot but it might be a bit complex to serve as an introduction to the genre.

So, what do you think of this game? Feel free to leave your comments below and next time, we’ll take a look at one of my personal favorites, in both genre and theme. Till then, keep it under the sea and avoid the Crazy Ivans.

Emilio Butragueño ¡Fútbol! review

Regardless of my Portuguese nationality, I love football (soccer to ya bloody Yankees!). And of course, I was over-enjoyed when Portugal won the European Cup last year!

I also like football videogames (although I do struggle with modern titles) and my introduction to the genre was through a Spanish football computer game, Emilio Butragueño ¡Fútbol!

Emilio Butragueño ¡Fútbol! (also known as Buitre) was developed by Topo Soft (kind of, read below) and published by Erbe Software (in Spain) and by Ocean (outside of Spain). It was originally released in 1987 for Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum and DOS. It was re-released a year later for Commodore 64 and MSX.

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I don’t know if the kid on the right is surprised or scared.

But perhaps more interesting than the game itself, it’s the story of its development and how it came to be:

Both Topo Soft and Dinamic (another Spanish developer) were after Real Madrid football player Emilio Butragueño, in order to license his name for a football computer game. Dinamic apparently had a verbal agreement with Butragueño for 1 million pesetas (Spain’s former currency, which equals to 6010.12 Euros), but Topo Soft with the help of their distributor, Erbe, managed to sway Butragueño away with 10 million pesetas (60101.16 Euros)!

But the story doesn’t end there. Three of Topo Soft’s main designers were unsatisfied with the company, so they form a new company called Animagic and did a unofficial port of Tehkan World Cup outside of Topo Soft’s working schedule (so it wouldn’t get claimed by Topo Soft) and sold it back to Topo Soft under Animagic’s brand. That’s why Animagic’s name appears in the Amstrad CPC’s version. But all other versions were ported by Topo Soft.

But let’s get back to the game, starting with the cover:

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Is he playing against Italy?

As you can see, that’s Emilio Butragueño himself in the corner and in the main image using the red kit. And you must be asking: “if Butragueño played in Real Madrid, why isn’t he wearing its traditional white kit?” Well, apparently Topo Soft decided to use an alternative kit as not to alienate non-Real Madrid fans, but I bet it was so that Topo Soft wouldn’t be forced to pay royalties to Real Madrid. And that’s not the Spanish National Team’s kit either.

But enough talk and let’s boot this sucker, shall we?

As you can see, the game starts with a very bad rendition of the box cover, without any title whatsoever, just the company’s logo. And then we get to the menu in Spanish. Fortunately, this is basically the only Spanish you’ll find in the game, so non-Spanish speaking gamers can play it.

In the main menu screen, you can choose between 1 or 2 players game, the duration of the match between 10, 20 or 30 minutes and the difficulty level between 2 options. You can’t choose which team to control, with player 1 always controlling the white team and player 2 or the CPU controlling the red team. In the other versions, it was possible to choose between both teams.

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Actually the white team looks more like Germany

And then you start the match and although you can’t see the teams’ names, it’s safe to assume that the white team is supposed to be Real Madrid but I have no idea who the red team is supposed to be. One could say it’s Real Madrid’s main rivals, Barcelona FC, but their jerseys are red AND blue. Was there a Spanish team using a full red kit back then? Anyway, just imagine a football team with traditional red kits, like Liverpool FC or something.

Because it’s a sports game, I highly recommend the use of a gamepad or joystick over the keyboard. The controls feel somewhat stiff, and because you can only control a player at a time, it’s easy to get confused which player you’re controlling, even with the flashing prompts. Also, there’s only 1 button for shooting and that’s what you’ll end up doing while in possession of the ball, since you can only shoot the ball high and nothing else. While not in possession of the ball, you can tackle other players for it, but be careful not to commit fouls (as you know, two yellow cards or one red card equals expulsion). Also apparently the match ends if any of teams scores 10 goals, but I haven’t seen it so far.

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GOOOOOOOAAAAALLL! Too bad it was from the other team

The CGA graphics leave a lot to be desired in comparison with the other versions (even the ZX Spectrum version with less colors looks better!), but the animations aren’t that bad. The bottom of the screen with the score, time and the overhead football pitch serve their purpose, but they could have been a bit smaller in order to make the top screen bigger. The sprites also serve their purpose, despite being seen through an overhead perspective.

And apart from the average sound effects, there’s no music whatsoever. Not even a title theme!

With the lack of choice between teams and just two difficulty levels, there isn’t a lot of replay value. It’s good for a quick match with a friend without the hassle of going between several options and menus, but little else.

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Corner kick.

However, because the game had the name of a very famous football player at the time, apparently it sold more then 100.000 copies, which encouraged Topo Soft to develop a sequel in 1989, which was only released for Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum and MSX.

I don’t recommend this game mainly because it was quickly overshadowed by a true classic of the genre, Kick-Off, from which all other football games built upon afterwards. But that’s a review for another day…

So, did you enjoy the review and/or the game? Like and leave your comments below and tell me what your favorite football games are.

Next time, we’ll go under the sea. Till then, keep on playing (football and otherwise)!

Dungeon Hack review

Confession time: I never really got into tabletop RPG. I’m not saying it’s bad or something. I simply stating that I’ve never had the patience for it. However, I do love RPG videogames, whether they’re western computer style or eastern console style.

And my introduction to computer RPGs was also my introduction to dungeon crawlers and to the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. I’m talking about Dungeon Hack.

Dungeon Hack was developed by DreamForge Intertainment and published by Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI). It was originally released in 1993 for DOS and re-released in 1995 for the PC-98.

Dungeon Hack is a Roguelike dungeon crawler made using the Eye of the Beholder 3 game engine, based in the Forgotten Realms campaign. This means that it creates random generated levels with each new gameplay with the option of a “real death” (in which if your character dies, all save files are automatically erased).

But let’s look at the cover:

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“The dark fire will not avail, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow. YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

This cover was made in the style of a D&D gamebook cover, with gorgeous artwork. It depicts a large beast in front of a typical fantasy adventurer. It looks like something made by the likes of Frank Frazetta, Luis Royo or Boris Vallejo.

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

As you can see, you play as an anonymous adventurer hired by a mysterious sorceress to find an orb in a dangerous dungeon. The intro is small but it serves its purpose as a backstory.

Then you go to the menu screen, where you can choose between several pre-made characters or create your own. Before you go into the character creation screen, I recommend reading the manual first because the character creation uses the Advanced D&D 2nd Edition rules and if you’re not familiar with those, then you need to read the manual to understand all the races, classes and spells available in the game.

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What? I can’t roleplay as a half-human, half-hobbit chimney cleaner? That’s racist!

After you choose your race, class (or classes), gender, alignment and properly reroll your stats, you can choose your character’s portrait from several options. Although the game doesn’t have a lot of character portraits (more male than female ones), it still has a basic range of portraits for simple characters.

And then you go to the dungeon customization screen and this is where the game really shines! Like I’ve said before, the game creates random generated levels, but you can customize your dungeon by choosing between several variables, like monsters’ difficulty level, how big you want the dungeon to be, magic traps, etc. The number of possible combinations is very large and quite impressive!

aesop_002

So, I can create a dungeon based on Disney World.

Each level has more or less the some basic layout (apart from some exceptions): usually with 2 different monster types with a third type acting as an end-level boss (which can be a normal monster type in the next level). The monsters are all varied and based on the Forgotten Realms campaign. There’s even a bestiary in the manual, however it’s incomplete…

During the gameplay, you have access to an auto-map, which is probably the most useful tool in your possession. It not only marks your already explored path but it’s also useful for backtracking and locating monsters out of sight.

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OUCH! Asshole, that hurt!

You also have a limited inventory space, so you need to manage carefully your inventory during later levels. You also need to eat during your adventure and collect better weapons, armor, potions and scrolls. Careful though! You can end up with cursed items (although there’s a way for lifting said curses or identify unknown items).

Luckily, you can rest (when not surrounded by monsters) and recover health. But it does however reduce your food bar.

Although apart from the title theme, there’s no other music in the game, but there’s a wide array of ambient sound effects ranging from the monsters’ noises to every time you open a door. It creates a proper atmosphere when you hear monsters all around you, but can’t detect any at first glance.

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When camping used to be good.

The graphics are all quite good for the time but the view screen is somewhat small. The designers could perfectly re-arrange the size of the other screens (character items, movement arrows, portrait, etc) in order to make the view screen bigger.

Depending on your choices, the smallest dungeon is still 10 levels deep, which can create properly long adventures. And the wide array of variables during dungeon customization, creates very good replay value.

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The main menu screen.

So, not only I recommend this game as an introduction to dungeon crawlers in general or to the D&D franchise, but I also recommend it as test drive of sorts for possible characters you can imagine.

And you can buy it here at GOG.com bundled together with another D&D RPG, Menzoberranzan.

So, what do you think of Dungeon Hack? Like and leave your comments below.

Next time, let’s look at the world’s most popular sport. Till then, keep on hacking away.

Test Drive review

Sometimes gamers ask where does certain game mechanics and aesthetics began at. A lot of them actually began as simple computer games that revolutionized the genre in such way that they became immediate classics. It’s always fun to look back and see the origin of a certain mechanic or genre.

This week, we’re going to revisit one of the games that revolutionized the racing/driving simulation genre and introduced a lot of the mechanics commonly found nowadays in this genre. I’m talking about Test Drive.

Test Drive was developed by Distinctive Software and published by Accolade. It was originally released in 1987 for Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and DOS. It was re-released a year later for the Apple II and in 1989 for the PC-98.

And the cover shows immediately the first reason why this game was successful:

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Gee, I wonder who made this game…

Yup, in this game you can drive five iconic sports car of the time and this cover shows them all. There’s also a car key to emphasize the driving aspect. One curious fact is that although this game wasn’t Accolade’s first success, they made sure everybody knew that it was their game. How? By slapping its name four times in the cover!

Also Accolade’s name is first thing you see on screen after booting it:

The intro is pretty simple as you can see, although I do like the animation of a guy smiling at the screen before taking off.

The story is also very simple: you choose between five sports cars and take one for a test drive from the bottom of a mountain pass to the top of it where there’s another car dealer.

The sports cars are: a Lamborghini Countach, a Ferrari Testarossa, a Porsche 911, a Lotus Esprit Turbo and a Chevrolet Corvette C4. You can even look at very detailed stats about each car before choosing one:

tdh_001

OK, I have to confess: I don’t understand half of these!

And although the inside of each car is different, they all drive more the less the same. As far as I know, I haven’t detected any difference between each individual car’s handling.

And the driving tries to be as realistic as possible, with a first person perspective behind the wheel (which was new at the time) and a manual gearbox. Yes, that’s right! Unlike most arcade racing games where the gear changes can be automatic, in Test Drive you have to change the gears yourself while accelerating. But be careful! If you rev up your engine too much, you end up breaking it (and the windshield too for some reason).

The game only has one course, the aforementioned mountain pass, with a cliff on the right and a sheer drop on the left. So, that’s all you see while driving apart from the rest of the cars on the road.

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Yup, this is pretty much what you’ll see in the game.

The game is divided in five stages and your objective is to avoid all the traffic and reach the gas stations at the end of each stage. Seems easy, right? Well, you have a time limit for each stage and you have to go beyond the speed limits to reach it. But the Highway Patrol is always on the lookout for speed infractions. Luckily, you have a radar detector in your top-left corner which will sound every time you pass a radar.

And then you have the option to either reduce your speed to avoid the radar (which might penalize you after you reach the gas station) or try to out run the patrol cars. But if the patrol car overtakes you, you’ll end up with a speed ticket and lost time. Too many tickets and/or crashes and it’s game over. Also the faster you drive, the more points you earn at the end.

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How much gas does a Lamborghini consume?

The controls could be better. Sometimes they’re a bit unresponsive and other times, they’re overly sensitive. It’s possible to turn too much while in a curve or not turn enough while avoiding other cars. Using a gamepad is slightly better than the keyboard, however.

Graphically speaking, the DOS version isn’t very colorful, despite using EGA graphics. The Amiga version’s graphics are a lot better.

Apart from the title theme, which isn’t bad, there no more music in the game, so get used to hearing the engine’s sound while playing. Which gets grating really fast!

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Not to be confused with that Marco!

But Test Drive was groundbreaking when released, because of the array of choice in cars and the behind-the-wheel POV, which were all new features at the time. It had an enormous success by being praised by critics and sold more than 100,000 copies. It solidified Accolade’s name in the computer game industry to the point of becoming synonymous with quality simulations.

And along with Sega’s Out Run, Test Drive would inspire other driving simulators like the Need for Speed series and The Crew, among many others.

Still, because of subsequent driving games building upon Test Drive, it was quickly surpassed by its own sequels and other driving games.

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If you want to experience the grand-daddy of all computer driving games, then go here to experience in your own browser. It even received a fan-made remake by Anton Gerdelen here, based on the CGA version.

Lastly, some parts of the Rocky Pass course in Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit were inspired by Test Drive’s course as a homage.

So, there it is. Did you enjoy this review? If so, like and comment below. Next week, we’ll take a look at a title among many, many others in a very big franchise that begun outside the videogaming realm and defined a very popular genre.

Till then, put the pedal on the metal and keep on playing!

Snoopy and Peanuts review

Sometimes making a game geared towards children might be harder than making one for teens and adults. Just because you don’t need to worry about complex gameplay mechanics or storylines, doesn’t mean you get to be lazy about it. Children are anything but stupid and they can see a bad game sometimes better than a grownup.

Snoopy and Peanuts (AKA Snoopy: The Cool Computer Game) is an adventure (-ish) game made by The Edge (no, not the guy from U2) and released originally in 1989 for Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum. It was ported to DOS in 1990 and re-released for the Commodore CDTV in 1991 under the title Snoopy: The Case of the Missing Blanket.

And the aforementioned laziness isn’t just in the game. Check out the cover:

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Cool, uh? Yeah, right

While I can respect simple and minimalist covers, I can’t deny that there’s an awful amount of white space in this cover, which uses Snoopy’s “cool” pose, with sunglasses and everything. Even the sub-title is trying to tell us how “cool” it is! You know that kid from school that tried too hard to be “cool”? This is what this cover reminds me of.

Anyway, let’s boot this “cool cat” and check it out:

You don’t see it because it only appears in a fraction of a second, but we get a title screen just like the box cover and then a 2nd weird title screen with the company logo going up and down. And then you start the game just like that.

And man, everything is just so slow! Apart from Woodstock (who is a bird and therefore CAN FLY), everyone just moves so slowly! A small advice: jump! Honestly, the jumping animation is faster than the walking animation. And you have a lot of walking in this game. This game might have been called “Snoopy Walking Simulator” or something.

And yes, there’s absolutely no music whatsoever in the game. Only some noises here and there. That’s it! The Amiga version has more sounds characteristic of the original cartoon.

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And there’s the plot. Right there!

There’s also very little animation. Apart from some characters, you hardly ever see anyone walking around. And the creepy part is that you’ll find characters throughout the game but you don’t actually see them walking. One moment they’re in one spot and the next, they’re magically transported to another spot. Which means that if you’re looking for a specific character, you need to look around almost everywhere to find them.

Luckily, the map is quite small. Just a couple of houses, the school and two more areas to the far right and left of the map.

But in a way of perhaps prolonging the game or just more laziness, Snoopy can’t carry more than one object at a time, which means you have to do a lot of backtracking in order to get an object, use it and then go back to get another object.

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And here’s Schroeder “sliding “across the street.

And the puzzles are simply get one object, find out where to use it (or with whom) to get another object and rinse and repeat. Even though there’s a time limit to finish the game, you finish it in half-hour and never touch it again. There are two ways to finish the game, but I doubt anyone will replay it to see it.

But at least the game looks nice. It was one the first DOS titles to feature VGA graphics and at least it looks as colorful as the cartoon itself.

The CDTV version had music (one track that loops continuously) and better animation and sound, even some voiceover from the cartoon, but it also has the same tedious and monotonous gameplay.

In other words, I don’t recommend it. Not even to Snoopy and Charlie Brown fans. This is probably the worst game in the Peanuts library.

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Good Grief! I simply deduce he’s playing Beethoven because there’s no music whatsoever!

Don’t believe me? The video above is of the entire gameplay! Still don’t believe me? Here, try it in your own browser!

Well, this is probably the most negative review I’ve written. But don’t worry, next week, we’ll take a look not only a better game, but also a highly influential one.

Till then, keep on playing!

Low Blow review

When designing a game heavily based in a classic title and it doesn’t have its own proper identity, it runs the risk of being considered a clone or rip-off. Today, we’ll take a look at one such game and decide if it’s a rip-off or not.

Low Blow is a boxing game developed by Synergistic Software and published in 1990 by Electronic Arts (before they became the Eldritch Abomination we know nowadays) for DOS.

And we’ll begin by looking at the cover:

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*bell sound*

I don’t mind using photos in covers as long it looks good and conveys the proper idea of what the game is all about. And in this particular case, it does! How? Well, a boxer being hit below the belt in the cover of a boxing game conveys the notion that this is not an ordinary boxing title.

Here, take a look for yourself:

The title screen is just a cartoon version of the box cover, reinforcing the idea of a non-realistic game and the title theme (composed by the legendary Rob Hubbard) is quite good.

The menu screen shows our 2 selectable boxers: Frankie (with the white shorts) and Hollywood (with the red shorts). Think of them as the Ken and Ryu of the boxing games!

You can either play against a friend 1-on-1 or choose either Frankie or Hollywood and challenge 7 other boxers for the World Championship belt.

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Something tells me he isn’t talking about hygiene.

The AI boxers are all cartoonish versions of famous boxers and each one harder than the former.

Before each match, you can see your opponents’ stats and profile and you’ll also have the choice to train, where you’ll learn the necessary combination to defeat your opponent.

All matches occur in the same boxing arena, called the EA Palace. The game’s graphics are quite colourful (despite being in EGA) and all the characters, ranging from the boxers to the announcer, the referee and even the audience, are all well detailed.

Although the keyboard controls are quite responsive, I recommend the use of a gamepad. The controls are quite simple: the directional pad (or keypad) for movement and defence and 2 buttons for punching; one for jabs, the other for crosses and both simultaneously for uppercuts.

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Is that Mikhail Gorbachev on the top right?

The game uses a 3rd person view but the controls feel kind of isometric. Still, they’re easy to learn and master. The hit detection, however, isn’t always perfect, especially if the boxers are very close to each other, but positioned in a weird angle.

In the bottom screen, you’ll see 2 bars for each boxer. The green bar is the health bar and once fully depleted, the boxer goes down for a possible KO. Every time a boxer gets up, his health bar gets smaller and after 3 recoveries, if a boxer goes down again, it’s an automatic KO.

The yellow bar is the stamina bar. It depletes with each punch and when fully depleted, the boxer can’t throw punches (but you can still move and defend yourself) until it replenishes in time.

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WMDs! Get your WMDs here!

And just like the title says, any boxer can throw low blows, which are hilarious to see if connected. However, since it’s an illegal move, if you are caught doing it 3 times, you’ll be automatically disqualified. You have to be patient and observant to know the perfect time to throw these and not be caught. However, your opponent can also throw low blows (each boxer has its own characteristic low blow) and they never get caught!

If you decide to play fair, the game can get somewhat hard during the later stages but if you decide to cheat combined with the lack of difficulty levels and the infinite continues, the game then becomes too easy.

With just 7 opponents, the game isn’t big and depending on your skill, you’ll finish it in no time.

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How come the newspaper is always of the same day? Are all the fights scheduled for one night?

Low Blow is obviously inspired by Punch Out, down to the cartoonish looks and humour, but it tries to be its own game with its own identity and to a certain degree, it succeeds. If you want to play a funny little boxing game and don’t have a Nintendo console, then try this one! You can even play it in your browser here.

Low Blow aged more or less well and although it’s eclipsed by better boxing games, it’s still fun to play every now and then. Give it a shot!

And that’s it for now! Join us next time when we’ll take a look at a game based on a famous franchise geared towards children. Till then, keep on playing.

Quest For Glory I/Hero’s Quest review

To end our Sierra retrospective, I decided to do something different. Instead of reviewing another typical graphic adventure, I decided to review the first of one of my favorite series: Quest for Glory (originally known as Hero’s Quest).

Corey and Lori Ann Cole were two designers at Sierra who are avid D&D fans and one day, they pitched the idea of creating a RPG game using the SCI0 engine. But as development went on, they ended up creating a hybrid graphic adventure/RPG game.

Hero’s Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero was originally released in 1989 for DOS, a year later for Atari ST and Amiga and in 1991 for the PC-98.

But a year after the original release, Sierra was forced to change its name to Quest for Glory to avoid confusion with the board game Hero Quest by Milton Bradley (which was adapted into a computer game later on).

Quest for Glory I was supposed to have more RPG elements, like a deeper character creation with multiple races and also the ability to play as a female, but due to time constrictions and difficulties with the engine, these and other options were cut from the original concept.

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

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Talk about a diet rich in iron!

The cover shows our hero-to-be fighting a Saurus Rex, one of the hardest monsters in the game. It’s a good cover with decent artwork and conveys exactly the tone of the game.

But let’s boot this sucker, shall we?

Despite the intro showing a dragon, unfortunately you won’t find any (living) dragons in the game. You’d have to wait further along down the series for that.

The game doesn’t have a lot of backstory; you’re just a recent graduate from the Famous Adventurer’s Correspondence School, recently arrived to the valley and town of Spielburg, who are in dire need of a hero.

The game starts with you creating your protagonist, first by choosing a class (Fighter, Magic User or Thief) and then relocating your points to your preferred stats and finally naming it. The character’s appearance however is always the same.

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The original title screen

The Fighter is an expert in combat and the most direct in his approach towards the puzzles and quests. The Magic User cast spells which you’ll have to look for, learn and use to solve the puzzles and the Thief has to use his abilities to solve said puzzles. Take a locked door for example: the Fighter would simply smash the door open while the Magic User would cast a spell to open the door and the Thief would simply pick the door’s lock. Because of the latter, the Thief class is my personal favorite due to its gameplay being closer to a traditional graphic adventure.

While it is possible to create hybrid characters by allocating points in different stats (like giving the Fighter the ability to cast spells), the game will always treat you as the class you’ve chosen. For example, you can still use a spell to open a locked door but you won’t get the points the Fighter would usually get for smashing said door.

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“Welcome to Spielburg. Don’t mind the goon with the yo-yo”

And those aren’t the only RPG elements in the game. Your character won’t level up like in most RPGs; instead you raise your stats by repeating the same action several times over. Fighting with your weapon raises your Strength and Weapon Use stats, throwing a dagger raises your Throwing and Weapon Use stats or casting a spell raises your Intelligence, Magic and that specific Spell proficiency stats and so on and so forth. You can raise your stats to a maximum of 100 points each (except for the Experience stat which always increases along with any other stat).

You also have Health and Stamina points that when depleted, it’s game over! These are linked to your Strength, Vitality and Agility stats and when these stats are increased, so are your Health and Stamina. Magic Users also have Mana points linked to your Intelligence and Magic stats, although if depleted, you’ll just lose the ability to cast spells.

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No, you can’t turn enemies into frogs, unfortunately

To avoid your Health and Stamina (and Mana) to drop drastically, you need to eat and sleep, so you’re always need a steady supply of food and potions. While there is a specific place in the game where you can get free food and rest, potions aren’t free and you need money to buy them, therefore you need to solve quests and kill monsters in order to make money (although the Thief has another alternative).

Also you can’t just sleep anywhere. There are a few safe spots to do it, like the inn or the castle stable for beginners, although there are also a few safe spots in the surrounding forest for you to find.

The game also has a day/night cycle in which some places (like the town and castle grounds) are close and inactive during the night, while other places become active.

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Where’s Thor when you need him?

Another RPG element is the ability to export your character to the next game of the series, maintaining all the stats, money and items you’ve collected.

You begin your game in the town of Spielburg, but shortly after, you need to explore the entire valley. The map is somewhat reminiscent of the one found in King’s Quest I (with the exception that it doesn’t revolve around itself) and you are free to travel anywhere inside said valley. This gives the game a non-linear aspect also reminiscent of King’s Quest I.

All the monster encounters (except in specific screens and locations) are random, and during the day, you’ll find the easiest ones to fight. The hardest ones come out at night, so be careful if you find yourself at night in the middle of the forest. Also the majority of the night monsters start to appear during the day after achieving 1000 points of experience.

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Not as easy as it looks and it doesn’t look easy!

All the fights are shown in an over-the-shoulder POV and are fought using the keypad arrows. The controls are tight and easy to master. You can even run away from a battle (except the main ones)!

But my favorite part of the game is the NPCs, which are all well written and fleshed out. It’s impossible to hate them. Almost all the characters and by extend, the fantasy elements themselves, are based in Germanic folklore.

While the game isn’t a parody, it still has a lot of comedy sprinkled out through it with lots of easter eggs. But the story isn’t afraid to get serious and somewhat dark when needed.

The game’s EGA graphics are very well detailed and colorful, with great animation throughout. The soundtrack is quite appropriate with certain main NPCs getting their own theme. The main title theme would later become the series’ main theme, with some differences in each entry.

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Does anyone wants to play Ghosts and Goblins?

But unfortunately, the game also presents some flaws. Because of the nature in raising stats, some grinding is inevitable, forcing you to develop a daily routine for your characters at the beginning before their stats are high enough to tackle the harder quests.

And while the Thief might be the hardest character to play in a graphic adventure perspective, the Magic User is the one that, for me, has the most grinding, due to the fact that you not only have to grind all the necessary stats linked to spell casting, but also have to repeatedly cast all the spells in order to increase the proficiency of each individual spell.

But spite these little flaws, the game not only has great replay value, but also due to the grinding, a considerable gameplay length.

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Then in 1992, to coincide with the rest of the VGA remakes Sierra was making, the Coles decided to remake Quest for Glory I using the SCI 1.1 engine, with VGA 256-color graphics and a point-and-click mouse interface.

Quest for Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero VGA was released in 1992 for DOS and in 1994 for Macintosh.

And with it, also a new cover:

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“Yummm! Hero fricassé”

While I like the stained glass type artwork, I don’t like the image’s content, which shows the Hero facing a dragon and scared after said dragon broke his sword. We’ve already established that there aren’t any dragons in the game. So why depict a dragon instead of any other monster that’s actually in the game? Because of this, I prefer the original cover.

Anyway, let’s boot this sucker:

The intro’s a bit better, using clay models and stop motion animation, which was also used in the rest of the monsters and characters.

But unfortunately, using said techniques made the animations look a little jerky sometimes, especially during the fights.

The remake not only has better graphics and resolution but the night/day cycle has been improved because this time, you can actually see getting darker at sunset and brighter at sunrise. However the remake uses a brownish palette, so even though it has 256 colors on screen, it looks less colorful than the original. There are even 1 or 2 locations that don’t look as detailed as in the original.

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Work, work, work

Because of the mouse interface, the dialogues now have a tree scheme, with topics to choose from a menu. This make the dialogues somewhat shorter, but more to the point.

The fights are now in a sort of isometric perspective, with icons in the corner for fighting, which makes the battles also easier.

The stats now rise faster, reducing the grinding and therefore the game’s length.

But story wise, the game remains the same. All the characters maintain their characterization and with the new graphics, they also sport new character portraits during dialogues (except for the Hero).

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These flowers don’t swallow

Both versions had a tremendous success, with the original version selling over 250,000 copies shortly after its release.

So, which version do I recommend? Both, actually! It depends on your personal preferences: if you prefer a more colorful game and don’t mind the text parser, then go for the original. However, if you prefer an easier experience, the mouse interface and a better resolution, then go for the remake.

Whichever version you play, I recommend this game as an entry point for the RPG genre, due to its intuitive and easy gameplay. And I also highly recommend the rest of series.

Quest For Glory I’s (and consequently, the rest of the series) influence was extremely important and it’s still observed nowadays because not only it popularized the crossing over of genres in future video games, but it also encouraged the use of RPG elements in other types of games and the use of adventure/action elements in RPGs.

You can buy both versions (along with the entire series) here at GOG.com or here at Steam.

And so it ends our Sierra retrospective. Did you like it? If so, leave your comments below and tell me which are your favorite Sierra games and moments. And while you’re at it, tell me if you’d like to see more Sierra games reviews or other retrospectives.

Join us again in March, where we’ll take a respite from graphic adventures and go back to our regular reviews.

Till then, keep on playing.