Time for our regular roundup of quick-fire reviews and impressions of everything under the spotlight at Retro Arcadia this week, old and new and a bit of both…
The very first game I played this week was Atari’s Batman arcade game from 1990. Side scrolling jumping and beating affair based on the wonderful movie from the year before, with 3D rail-shooting bits between levels in your Bat-vehicles… Sounds a bit like the best Batman game ever but unfortunately I didn’t really click with it like I did a very long time ago with the Atari ST game of the same movie! Its Hollywood presentation just didn’t compensate for some really shoddy platforming and combat, and no amount of fancy distractions are going to turn the main courses into Rolling Thunder in my eyes. Glad I got to finally spend a couple of hours with it after all this time though!
And that led to Batman: The Video Game for NES, first out in 1989, which I’d also never played before but had heard good things about the soundtrack, so that’s where we need to start! Skull Man’s level theme from Mega Man 4 is going to take some beating, but I reckon this now tops A Nightmare on Elm Street as my new favourite NES soundtrack – it’s absolutely sublime! Brilliantly composed, so much depth and the richness of sound they’re pulling out of this thing is insane! Apart from that, it’s a decent platformer with a choice of weapons, some cool wall jumps and a few well-known villains as you make your way through five stages to the Joker in his cathedral, like the aforementioned movie it’s also very loosely based on. And I’m even more glad I finally got to this one!
Let’s head back to Atari now, and my continuing adventures with Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection on Nintendo Switch, and we’ll begin there with a Jaguar game from 1995, Atari Karts. Bentley Bear from Crystal Castles might not be Mario but it’s not terrible…. Entirely! In motion everything is fine and dandy, and it controls pretty well, but the slightest hint of contact with another car could rocket you anywhere, while a stationary object will more often than not leave you stuck to it – generally on a jagged corner that you need to then try and manoeuvre back and forth off of. I’ve done a couple of full cups though, and it looks alright, with plenty of variety and decent pace. Fine enough, if you’re stuck with a Jaguar!
Unlike Fight For Life, on the same compilation for the same console, which plain old stinks! Not only the final fighting game to ever be released for the Jaguar, back in 1996, but also the last Jaguar game to be developed and published by Atari. Actually, the accompanying blurb as you fire up the game also tells us it was single-handedly developed by a French-sounding geezer who worked on Sega’s Virtua Fighter, and if that concept is now painting pictures in your mind then you’re pretty much spot on! It’s a 3D polygonal one-on-one fighter, and in solo play you’re one of eight dead people in a purgatory showdown for a second chance at life. And it’s awful! It’s just so slow – I’d rather stay dead than have to see off seven other fighters at this pace! The backgrounds are nice and the fighter animation isn’t terrible but just play Virtua Fighter instead…
Which is exactly what I did! After finally getting to Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown on Xbox ten years after the fact a few weeks ago, I also finally got to spend some time with Sarah Bryant, a far more predictable choice of first character after I mistakingly selected the big sumo guy first time around, even though we then totally clicked! Anyway, I’ve been working my way through the arcade mode again, this time getting to know this big-kicking blonde with some serious taste in skin-tight leather through that mode’s seven stages plus one bonus opponent. The move list is actually staggering but don’t let that put you off – this is really accessible as you gradually dig deeper into more complex moves and combos, and while I’ll never get much deeper than I am now, it’s a fast, fluid, good-looking bit of violence.
Space Harrier II on the Sega Mega Drive Mini 2 is a curious thing. It’s a full-on remaster for this new system by M2, but for everything it gains it seems to lose something too. What it adds, as far as I can tell, is enhanced music and an admirable attempt at sprite-scaling absent in the original port. However, the sound effects have taken a hit as a result, and a lot of the bigger sprites are now suffering from a load of flickering. The same seems to be the case with the original game’s conversion too, also included here as a bit of a bonus, but despite all of that I’ve had a really good time with both so far! This week was all about the sequel though, a 1988 launch title developed solely for this very system, and sees you running and flying and shooting at wild and gaudy enemies as you hurtle into the the endless distance of the endlessly overrun Fantasy Land. It’s effectively more of exactly the same third-person 3D shooting, maybe a bit easier than the original but just as fast and a bit bigger and bolder on top. I’ve never really played much of this before but for all the faults mentioned before, I think it’s great!
While Space Harrier II isn’t the hardest game you’ll ever play, it’s not even in the same league as Panzer Dragoon Mini on Sega Game Gear! We’re talking one credit clear on your very first go, even if you’re rubbish at games like I am! Guess I’m glad I never bought a copy back in 1996, though I think it was Japan-exclusive so would have been an unlikely mistake anyway. It’s actually a lot more like Space Harrier II to play than your typical Panzer Dragoon, with a third-person view as you rail-shoot your way through five incredibly sparse stages on your minimally cute dragon thing, though in reality you’re just holding down fire, painting any enemies with your crosshair then letting go. Bosses are weird and unimaginative in the main, and offer almost no challenge, even during the obnoxious boss-rush at the end (something else it has in common with Space Harrier II)! It has got some really nice music though, so was worth it just for that!
Last up this week, a wonderful horizontally scrolling shoot ‘em up for the Mega Drive by Technosoft in 1992 that goes by the name of Thunder Force IV, though I’ve been playing the Switch Sega Ages version, which was a paltry £1.79 on the eShop the last time I looked! Thunder Force AC, the arcade one, will always be my favourite in the series, but you can’t beat this for the soundtrack, especially its remarkable piece of space-thrash, Metal Squad, that also found its way into my top 25 gaming anthems countdown! Aside from how it sounds, this thing’s as beautiful as it can be brutal, with selectable paths offering a preferred route but only ever really delaying the inevitable! Cool weapon switching and upgrades, huge bosses and did I mention the music? Great game to finish on!
In case you missed it last Wednesday, be sure to check out a Retro Arcadia deep-dive into the fabulously unique dragon-in-a-maze arcade game Sylvalion on Taito Egret II Mini. With a proper trackball controller too! And next week we’ve got a couple of things to look out for… On Tuesday it’s part one of an epic roundup of some of the most wonderful sights from the history of gaming. According to me! Then Thursday is the start of the month, which means our regular look ahead to whatever’s left for release in the rest of 2022 this time, On The Retro Radar for December. See you then!