Back again 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…
It took me while but I finally got to the end of Alien isolation for the first time, and it was sensational! Its entire twenty hours or so is a masterclass in creating tension but there’s way more to its first-person, outer-space survival-horror than just the constant mortal dread! Without any spoilers (although it is nearly ten years old!), take one of the later missions, The Descent, for example, which begins with you feeling helpless, then overwhelmed, then it gets as tense as you can bear without deciding just to stay hidden in a filing cabinet forever, before veering to the frantic and then totally exhilarating… Everything great about the whole game in one half an hour mission! Apart from that, it made mechanics I generally actively despise – namely stealth, hacking and crafting – not only tolerable but positively enjoyable; there’s one regular timed tuning hack puzzle in particular that I thought was fantastic! The sound design is terrifying, some of the sights you come across are still mesmerising despite its last-gen credentials, and the end-game is as intense and exhausting as I’ve experienced since Journey. This game is undoubtedly going into my big all-time favourites list once the dust settles!
A change of pace from there, although still involving aliens… I’ve had Destroy All Humans sitting waiting to play on Xbox Game Pass for yonks, and having been stung by not starting Alien: Isolation until two days before it left the service then being compelled to buy it, I thought it time I gave this a go. It’s got a madcap, open-world fifties sci-fi b-movie vibe, where you play a little alien sent to gather his species’ DNA, locked away and forgotten in human brain stems since a bit of intergalactic how’s-your-father in ancient times and therefore still of the purest form, and also investigate what happened to his previous clone on Earth. It starts out great, with wanton destruction across rural America in 1959 and a load of puerile humour, but both soon become a bit repetitive and a few missions in I was bored. Which is often the case with open world games for me, so maybe that’s it, but it still looks great and was fun while it lasted.
Speaking of sitting on things, I got Tekken 7 on PlayStation 4 for my birthday in May 2019 and finally got around to firing that up this week too! I think it first came out on there a couple of years before that, and I also think it was received quite well, with tons of characters, modes and content to unlock as you play. A few new gameplay mechanics too, such as Rage Art, which go all cinematic when you trigger these critical hits, but it’s all built on top of some very familiar-feeling Tekken combat. I’ve had a real blast with this, and have played through the ludicrous but impressively-produced story mode, as well as arcade mode for a bunch a characters, and I’m nowhere near done yet! Back at the start of January when I looked at everything upcoming in the Retro Arcadia Game of the Year 2023 Predictions, I did say I’d probably go Street Fighter 6 over Tekken 8 day one but now I’m not so sure. Or at least I’m not so sure there’s not room in my life for two new fighters this year after all!
After playing a load of its arcade big brother last week, I fancied a return to Big Tournament Golf on NeoGeo Pocket Color from 1999, which is included on NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 on Nintendo Switch, so you’re also getting an almost authentic experience in your hands if you wish! It’s very much a cut-down version 1996’s Neo Turf Masters for full-fat NeoGeo, with a cuter, shrunken, cartoon-like presentation and slightly simplified gameplay, but it’s no less hopelessly addictive! Some equally fiendish course designs too! Couldn’t really ask for more of this one.
Shienryu means purple flame dragon in Japanese, more or less, and is a vertically scrolling, kind of bullet-hell, 2D arcade shoot ‘em up from 1999, and is better known here as Steel Dragon. Not Purple Flame Dragon! Anyway, it’s relatively unsophisticated to play, and enjoyably so, as you shoot everything and collect weapons and power-ups across eight stages (in two loops) of fantasy sci-fi environments that are similarly unsophisticated but pleasant enough, as are their boss battles; very cool psychedelic-prog soundtrack though! I’ve actually been playing the arcade version included in Steel Dragon EX on PlayStation 2, which was a 2004 collection of Steel Dragon and it’s 3D sequel-meets-remaster, Steel Dragon Evolution. Which is also alright, and probably more suited to the PS2 as the original just feels a little washed-out on there in comparison, say, to the older PS1 port, but while it’s all as average on paper as I’ve just made out, and my dodgy camera-work here doesn’t help, it’s really good fun! The levels are well-designed, with an almost Cave-like fluidity to them at times, and certainly that level of challenge. Good shooter, whatever I think!
We’ll finish up this week with The New Zealand Story, which I’ve been playing all over the place! While I did end up mostly on the Taito Egret II Mini, which remains such a special way to play this, I did also have a good old go on the superb Atari ST version, where I still think it’s one of the best-looking games on the system, and also ZX Spectrum, which might not the optimum way to play if you have a choice (which I didn’t for a while) but very-forced scrolling aside, it’s still the very cute and rapidly-brutal kidnapped-Kiwi platformer from 1988 you know and love! That said, I did have problems with both ports, which I’ve never experienced before on either… On the Spectrum I’d made it to stage 2-3 when I got into a pool of water with my magic spitting snorkel and couldn’t get out, like the platforms either side were a couple of pixels too high; then I think it was the next stage on the ST where suddenly I couldn’t interact with anything – enemies, power-ups or flying things – which admittedly made getting to the end of the level a bit easier but then I couldn’t trigger that either! They were both both good runs too! Back to the original on my little arcade cabinet then, where the gameplay is always as joyful as it is to look at, then there’s the music, and the effortless movement and the staggering depth for seasoned players. This will always be a beautiful game wherever you’re playing though.
To a lesser degree that’s also the case for Cannon Dancer, or Osman, the unofficial arcade follow-up to Strider from 1996 that remains unconverted to any home systems to this day, although the Arcade original is now out on everything, and in case you missed it, I reviewed it on Xbox Series X here last Thursday, the day it finally appeared! And next week, be sure to look out for a deep-dive into all things Metal Slug as we rediscover the game that started the iconic run and gun franchise on various systems, as well as a few of its spiritual predecessors and sequels. Really enjoyed putting that together so hopefully see you for that on Wednesday!