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… Actually, it’s not all so quick-fire either so let’s get started!
And we’re starting this week with something brand new! Well, just about, because Graze Counter GM is, as far as I can tell, an enhanced retelling of the far more obscure original Graze Counter on PC in 2017. You don’t need to worry about that now this updated version has just launched on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch though, which is also where I’ve been playing. It’s a vertical bullet-hell shoot ‘em up with a typically nonsense set up, a choice of young Japanese girls to pilot various ship types and a graze mechanic that rewards getting to close to the enemy bullets by filling up a gauge that lets you unleash a huge beam of destruction once it’s full. Shoot stuff with this, collect the stars dropped as a result, and you’ll in turn fill up a break gauge, and once that’s full you can go even more intense for some big scores. There’s a choice of special boosts at the start, some simple power-ups to collect and tons to unlock, plus four difficulty levels that would also make this a genuinely welcoming experience for the genre newcomer and a bunch of game modes. The presentation is great, with a super-cool modern 16-bit art style, loads going on and an energetic synth-prog soundtrack. And the whole thing is really special! While everything above might have been done before, this just nails it all and it feels great to play. And keep playing! First game of the year contender right here!
When I reviewed the fabulous The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games from Bitmap Books a few weeks ago, I homed in on a couple of games I know, a couple I like the look of but have never played and one I decided I wanted to play next. That was Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet by Infogrames Europe in 1994, which I’m playing on DOSBox via Steam after buying it for the princely sum of 95p on there! Things started a bit buggy, where picking up a certain object which was necessary to get out of the first room seemed to cause the game to freeze, but a bit of perseverance and switching from mouse to keyboard controls temporarily seemed to do the trick, and it’s worked fine since! From there it’s Lovecraft-inspired cosmic horror, this time linked to Halley’s Comet, and as foreboding as the mystery becomes from the outset, the most horrifying thing about the game is the voice acting, which, by 2023 standards, is so bad it’s hilarious! Your first game day involves a bit of detective work, exploring, collecting items and talking to lots of people to establish the weirdness that’s afoot, but from there it’s more about using those items (and finding lots more) to solve increasingly weird puzzles. The soundtrack is suitably menacing, the environments mostly full of atmosphere and the close ups of the characters you meet almost as laughable as the voice acting, especially when they’re left with weird expressions on their face as the script catches up with some very functional animation! It’s not a bad script though, and the story overall unravels intriguingly. And I’ve enjoyed it enough so far that I will be doing a deep-dive here soon, as I promised I would in that review if it was any good, although I think there’s a way to go before I’m done with it yet!
My Sonic the Hedgehog journey continued this week with Sonic Chaos on the Game Gear from 1993. Hmmm… If Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is still the undisputed champion of the eight Sonics I’ve now seen the end of recently (to a greater or lesser extent), then unfortunately this is, er, Repo Man… Look him up and enjoy his ring prowess if you don’t know! Not that it’s terrible, given what it’s on, but playing so many 2D Sonics back to back as I’ve been doing naturally leads to comparison, and this just doesn’t compare well, especially when you consider that Sonic Advance 2 was my previous bottom of the list! Obviously, you can forgive it being a bit slow but the levels are also bland and there’s just not much to it, which extends to any real challenge. Not everything can be your favourite Sonic though, and if I’m playing in some kind of order I reckon we’re back on the Mega Drive with Sonic 3 next, so that can’t be bad!
I did have a bit more success with Samurai Shodown, released a year after Sonic Chaos in 1994, which I’ve been meaning to have a go at on the Game Gear for ages, so while I was on there I ended up being properly hooked for a couple of evenings, despite being a bit underwhelmed at the start! The characters just look a bit crap, with very little detail on the tiny sprites, meaning both limited personality and a bit of a struggle to see what’s going on, which isn’t helped by limited movement (and, therefore, combat) animation on top. Sounds a bit crap too, and I’m talking by Game Gear standards. But the backgrounds are often gorgeous and at worst are vibrant and interesting, and once you get a feel for the gameplay and adjust to what you’re controlling, it’s suddenly a very full-featured Samurai Showdown experience despite the two-button control. Moves at a decent pace too. Maybe there’s not a huge amount to it, with only nine characters plus one to unlock, but I had a really good time getting to know a handful of them and playing through their campaigns.
As we ran a bit long on a couple of those this week I think we’ll leave it there. Which is just as well because that’s all I’ve played! However, what I did also do was take my original collection of Computer & Video Games, which began in 1985, back a little bit further… These things are not 85p anymore, so I’m not going mad, but what I am now trying to do is extend backwards to 1984 (for starters!), and to that end I just picked up the February 1984 issue. These things are a joy to me, and when you’re presented with reviews of “new releases” like Atic Atac on ZX Spectrum or the outstanding Jetpac on the VIC-20, how can it not be? Also very timely was the arcade review of Elevator Action because I’m just finishing off a deep-dive into that which will appear here in a few weeks! Tons of type-ins in this issue too – and I do love a good type-in – as well as some really cool adverts for stuff like The Hobbit by Melbourne House for the Oric, 3D Space Wars from Hewson and the coming of the mighty Atari to your home computer. Great days!
Right, that’s your lot! If you do want more though, be sure to check out my deep-dive into the best version of Joust ever from last Wednesday when we rediscovered Balloon Fight on NES. And there’s even more to come next week when we have our regular look ahead to next month’s retro-related (and more) new releases, On the Retro Radar, and that’s coming on Tuesday. Then on Thursday we’ve got a review of the new Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection on Switch, including all twenty-one games on there. Insane! See you then!