Time for our regular quick-fire reviews and impressions of what’s been under the spotlight at Retro Arcadia this week, old and new and a bit of both… I have been I a bit under the weather with my second dose of Covid this week, so a bit quieter than usual, but there is a bunch of brand new swanky stuff to look at here to make up for it!

GRID Legends came to Xbox Game Pass a couple of weeks ago, and this time around it seems to have clicked a lot more than when I tried the 10-hour EA Play trial a while back. The original Race Driver GRID on PS3 will always be a favourite, but I fell off the series after its sequel despite having a shot at all of them since. Won’t look a gift horse in the mouth though, especially a second time, and I think picking up where I left off from when it first released might have made the difference this time – in control of my own destiny from the outset, rather than having the game’s histrionics shoved down my throat before I could enjoy the racing. Ignore all that crap though and you’ve got a total thrill ride with insane variety and some of the best-lit rain effects from behind the safety of your windscreen wipers that you’ll ever see! There’s a ton of real-life tracks and cities, loads of cars and plenty of unnecessary story to skip if you just want to race. I expect that will get in the way of my enjoyment again sooner or later, but until then this thing is a great-looking arcade racer with plenty of fun on offer.

Now here was a nice unexpected surprise! Regular listeners might recall we had a preview of Moonscars in our regular On the Retro Radar feature for September, but I had no idea at the time it was coming to Game Pass as well as everywhere else! As we did discover though, Moonscars is a very dark, very cool-looking 2D hack and slash platformer with a lot of the Dark Souls about it. It’s heavy on the combat and heavy on the brutality, as you push the limits of your very sanity as well as your controller abilities through a bleak, non-linear world, where every death is a bitter lesson learnt! Reminds me of a more gothic take on Dead Souls too, but even more unforgiving. Literal hell of a game, and it’s still proving as hard to put down as it is to make any progress whatsoever at times! By the way, there’s a link to the new On the Retro Radar for October at the bottom down below…

Unfortunately I’ve also had a few misfires among the recently added to Game Pass that I’ll quickly mention too! I guess the highest profile is Deathloop, the first-person shooter just arrived on Xbox with a time-looping story gimmick and clever art style to keep you hooked. Maybe… Its Tarantino does Dishonored gameplay just did nothing for me (much like either of those things), and nor did the onset of motion-sickness an hour or so in. Then there’s Immortality, by the well-regarded Her Story devs, and it’s more of their trademark high-brow mystery solving as you sift through footage from an admittedly impressively put together film trilogy. It’s no Night Trap though, and I’m afraid none of it appealed to my unrefined sensibilities. No idea what I was doing even firing up Train Sim World 3 – being forced to walk 600m down a platform to just climb into my cab while some bloke with the worst German accent since ‘Allo ‘Allo told me I should repair a poster display before I eventually entered it was as exciting as it ever got! And what the heck is Spiderheck? It’s a kind of Super Smash Bros. with spiders with laser swords but it controls like crap (also its gimmick) and I had less than one online game of fun with it! I’ve still got Commandos 3 and Hard Space Shipbreaker to try, but I think we’ll save those for another time.

Back to last time now though, because when we were here last week I completely forgot to mention Cyvern, the 1998 vertically scrolling shoot ‘em up by Kaneko. This has been on my radar for a while, but from the little I’d played before I had a good feeling about it, so put it aside until I could give it some serious time, and that’s what I’ve been doing for a couple of weeks and will be for some time yet. It looks and feels very CAVE to me, exhilarating and full of variety, but with a cool charge-shot mechanic that’s topped-up by regular shots to aerial targets, but when used on ground targets will leave a medal in their ashes, and those rapidly increase in points value as long as you don’t miss picking any up. All easier said than done in the chaos of regular gameplay, especially when you’re trying to work out the bullet patterns and where you need to be. Of course, you’re better off ignoring all of that at this stage, but it’s just so compelling, a bit like the scoring in Bubble Bobble that you often wish you could forget you know but can’t!

We’ve got a deep dive into one of my top ten games of all-time, Gauntlet on the ZX Spectrum, coming up at Retro Arcadia in a few weeks time, and in the quest for a couple of screenshots for that, I ended up playing the original on Midway Arcade Origins via Xbox Series X backwards compatibility, and far more than originally intended! While it was never the arcade show-stopper that its 1986 contemporaries like Space Harrier were, over time that’s worked in its favour, leaving us with the timeless, overwhelming, claustrophobic fantasy dungeon crawling that spawned its own genre in the late eighties (albeit one it lifted from Dandy and more before it). Solo play is a very different experience to the one I remember, but it’s got its own rhythm, and once you find it turns out it’s just as hard to put down. You really couldn’t have hoped for more from a Spectrum conversion than Gauntlet’s, but what makes it really special is just how special its source material still is today. And I’ve still got the sequel to get to on there too!

Finally this week, all that talk of the new Monkey Island inevitably led me back to the original, but this time on the Amiga A500 Mini with not a disk-swap in sight! The last time I played The Secret of Monkey Island was the Special Edition remake by LucasArts for iPhone back in 2009, playing in my car every lunchtime in a car park around the corner from work for several weeks, but there’s nothing like the 1990 original! The visuals remain beautiful and atmospheric, as does the music, and the writing and puzzles and general gameplay are forever outstanding. I’d forgotten quite how hard to put down it is too – amazing what not competing with eating a sandwich can do for a game! It has got me properly off the fence about the new game too, though I’ll definitely be squeezing in the sequel again before I walk the plank and take that plunge!

In case you missed it, last week we covered our first ever text adventure at Retro Arcadia when we discovered Dick Turpin on ZX Spectrum. There was also our regular look ahead to the retro-interest game releases for October in On the Retro Radar, which was a big one this month, as always with a trailer included for every game covered. And then next week we’re going even more off-piste, and deeper than you ever thought possible for a handheld from 1983, when we look at my life with the stunning BMX Flyer by Grandstand, as well as a bit on handheld collecting and eBay holy grails in general. See you for that on Wednesday!