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Salim Farhat @Gunnerysarge

Reviews

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Manhattan Missions (DOS)

Underrated gem of the TMNT franchise

The Good
As a kid in the late 80s and early 90s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were everywhere, and while their popularity has continued to persist to this day, nothing will truly match the turtlemania of that era. Or maybe the current popularity is greater as there is a sizable bunch of both children who love the newer stuff and adults who want to leave no stone unturned when it comes to the franchise.

That being said, the game surprisingly received almost no coverage among nostalgic gamers, and I’m not sure why. While this is an MS-DOS exclusive, there is still a sizable MS-DOS community that talks about the most obscure of games of the era. But this game gets surprisingly little coverage. As of 2022 there is only one video on YouTube that reviews it to any extent, and barely any written reviews, so I decided to give my own take on this underrated gem.

Be warned, there are extensive spoilers ahead.

The game begins with a very cinematic and captivating story showing the Turtle’s origins, with April O’Neil being attacked the Shredder’s minions, but the Turtles arrive in the nick of time and beat them up, and are aided by the timely appearance of Casey Jones (this is Casey’s first appearance in a TMNT video game) before they vanish without a trace. The game then explains their origins with the ooze that mutated both them and Splinter into the form that they are now. While also explaining how Splinter acquired his ninja skills by imitating his master’s movements when he was just a normal rat.

The absolute highlight of the introduction is the small sound byte that the Turtles give. When they speak their first word as ‘pizza’ the word is very audible and clear, which for 1991 was still a novelty and I remember being excited by it.

After the intro, you are thrust into the game with the four turtles dressed very casually (Mikey and Ralph don’t have their masks on, but Mikey has sunglasses with orange earpieces, while Ralph has the fedora that he wore in the first movie) and watching the news, where April gives you updates on your mission.

From that point on, you can either go directly to the missions, or you can train your ninjas. This is actually very good for newbies to the game because the enemies can be annoying to deal with if you don’t know what you’re up against. It also offers opportunities to grind your stats before actually starting the game. If you have an hour or two to burn, you can actually max out your Turtles’ stats before even starting the game, making everything much easier.

The game itself offers over 16 stages with a variety of enemies and scenery. The graphics are nice for the time, and the comic book style of the cut scenes offers some nice illustrations on the events unfolding before you. Some enemies you face make their debut here outside of the comics, such as the Triceratons. While the Triceratons would later feature more prominently in the 2003 series and later video games, they are actually absent from all TMNT media except for one single episode of the 1987 series… and this game. It is actually an interesting fact here since at the time I thought they were exclusive to this game.

The 16 missions are broken down into 5 sections: Triceratons, Extortion, Ivory Smugglers, Environment, and Arms Dealers.

The Triceratons start with you thwarting a bank robbery (come on, where are the police?) and then proceeding to beat up large Triceratop guys (who are, save for the final bosses, completely unarmed) and follow them through the city to figure out that they work for the Shredder and are responsible for his security. Which you use to shut off at the end.

Extortion is a set that features Baxter Stockman’s mousers trying to undermine the World Trade Center (this is both pre-9/11 and pre-1993 bombing) before you defeat them and Baxter’s mutant crocodile… thing. The following mission has you face off against the foot ninjas with Tatsu as the boss, followed by Rocksteady in the third and final mission, who blurts out that there is a secret entrance to the Shredder’s not-so-hidden base in the sewer (gee, how convenient!)

Ivory smugglers is… the least interesting, save for the fact that Beebop is the first boss and the final mission includes some unique enemies that look like they took their fashion advice out of Miami Vice (guys! It’s 1991, not 1985. Get on with the times!)

Actually, scratch that, Arms dealers is the least interesting, with the exception of the first two missions that feature mutant felines (which may or may not have originated in the comics of the time) there is not much to it. At least this set has the only regular enemies to be armed with firearms, but their bullets are so weak they might as well be airsoft pistols.

Environment has you prevent arson at first, which leads up to stopping toxic waste dumping and preventing an oil tanker from being blown up.

All of these culminate with you finding out that the Shredder is hiding in a skyscraper and all the bits and pieces you get from the mission sets allow you to enter.

The battle leading up to the Shredder confrontation is the most interesting part of the game. Before you face off, you have to fight four enemies, each one with the same weapon as the Turtles (I.E. Bo staff, nunchakus, sais, katanas) and I always like to pair them in order to prove the superiority of the turtles over their adversaries.

The final battle with the Shredder is… lackluster. I’m not going to lie. I should save this for the ‘what I didn’t like’ about the game, but I’ll say it here. The Shredder is actually one of the easier bosses in the game. Not the easiest… but easier.

With the plot out of the way, I’ll bring up the gameplay.

The gameplay in the game is very basic. But I mean that in a good way. Like the turtles have no less than 5 attacks, with the cool thing being that their attacks go double once you raise their stats enough (and you must also have enough health). This allows you to attack two enemies at once as they approach you and have a better chance at fending them off. The attack animation is very nice and it’s actually really fun to see them do their doubles once you’ve reached that level.

The controls are fairly decent, but the jump control is extremely fluid and one of the best controlled jumps I’ve seen in a video game. It is good that it is, for reasons I will mention later.

The game’s difficult is also not that high. I’ve heard of people complain that it is too difficult, but I really can’t say I know what they’re talking about. Once you understand the combat and a handful of simple tricks, the game becomes fairly simple. It isn’t so easy that you just get bored, but easy enough that you cannot get frustrated.

The Bad
The part where I mentioned that the final confrontation with the Shredder is too easy? Yeah, that’s not a joke. Also if you have a maxed out Turtle and a few shurikens, you can absolutely pull an Indiana Jones on him and hit him three times to create an anti-climactic ending. Many bosses are actually this way, with some having minor bugs that prevent them from being beaten (albeit they also cannot beat you).

In all fairness, the game doesn’t have that much to complain about. It is a fairly solid game for 1991. Though there are some things I wish were addressed.

Firstly, in the training section, you cannot fight the enemies that will give you the most trouble. I mentioned that the final Ivory Smugglers stage actually has some of the hardest enemies in the game. The tonfa fighters and chair swinging brawlers are a pain and deal a lot of damage, yet they are not included to be trained on. They do include the mousers and the jumping robot even though the jumping robots are so easy to bypass it isn’t funny, and the mousers just aren’t something to concern yourself with (even a starting turtle will have no problem going through the first Extortion stage, which is their only appearance).

The most singularly difficult enemy you have to fight is the spear-armed foot ninja. Even when fighting him 1-on-1 if you are using a short-range turtle like Mikey or Ralph, you’ll take a lot of damage from one before you take them out, which is why I honestly just stock up on shuriken and take them out that way instead of bothering.

Although the controls are good in general, there is one very irritating part that you don’t seem to have any control over… the ladders. Once you start climbing a ladder there is no consistent way you can get off the ladder in the direction you want. In Arms Dealers 1 this is an annoying problem since the first ladder you climb on that level will often have your back turned to an enemy, and you will absolutely take a LOT of damage before you turn around and draw your weapons and fight… shurikens won’t help here much since they’ll go past that short lynx clubber.

There is another flaw that I find more confusing than bad, but I wish it was addressed… Casey Jones. When you start the game, after the intro, you have the option of choosing whether you want Casey Jones on or off. So what’s the problem? He doesn’t seem to do anything. If you turn him on, and your turtle is defeated, there is a cool little animation where he picks up the turtle to rescue them… but that’s it.

If it is turned off, nothing happens. I originally thought that if Casey Jones was off and all your turtles got injured it was game over, while if it was on you can still rest your turtles before going back to fight. This isn’t the case. If your turtles are defeated you go back to the home menu and you can choose to rest your turtles regardless of whether or not Casey Jones rescued them or not.

There is even some animation of Casey Jones fighting in the intro cinematic. Did the developers originally intend him to be a playable character at one point? Or even have him show up randomly to help you with the enemies? That would have been handy in some stages that were loaded with foot ninja, but that isn’t the case. He does not show up at all.

I mentioned that it is good that the jump controls are so good? Because that brings me to the only really annoying part of the game. There are two jumping sections in the game where if you make a single mistake, your turtle gets injured right off the bat. That is on Environment 2 where you need to grab a rope that involves jumping on some pillars, and another one in the final mission. While the one in the final mission is easier, these jumping sections just don’t feel necessary. They feel annoying and if you fall you get knocked out and need to take time to rest your turtle. I suppose the one in the ending mission might be justified to add some tension, but it is unneeded tension, especially since that mission provides you with enough shuriken to take out all the foot ninjas without having to battle them.

Those are the flaws that I complain about. There are some things that I wish were better, but I understand that they may have been glossed over due to the limitations of 1991 technology and memory limitations. When you defeat some well-known enemies in the game, like Beebop and Baxter Stockman’s alligator mutant, Beebop and Baxter aren’t shown in the cutscene. We see Baxter standing in the background, but he isn’t interrogated or brought up at all in the cutscene after. Beebop, despite being a boss, also isn’t shown, though he is mentioned.

At least Rocksteady gives a rather hilarious accidental confession of the Shredder’s secret entrance! That honestly made my day when I saw it.

The Bottom Line
There have been countless new TMNT games since this game’s release. For home computers, consoles, arcades, what have you. And no shortage of fan games either. But this game is strangely absent from any of those, and from almost all discussion in regards to TMNT games and media in general.

In all honesty, this game needs a remake. Or at least an expansion. There is so much more that could be done with this game. Add more panels to the cutscenes, give more time to the villains being defeated. Smooth out the combat. While satisfactory and I won’t judge it (I said it many times before, it is good for a 1991 game) it could stand to be modernized and have combos added. The possibilities are endless.

But all in all, it is a rather solid game for the time. A relic of a bygone era. A time capsule of early 90s gaming that should not be so forgotten.

By Salim Farhat on August 29, 2022

Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (In Several Wrong Places) (DOS)

A hilarious but seriously flawed entry in the series

The Good
Leisure Suit Larry has always thrived on being a satire of the dating and sex obsessed society that we live in, and while in many ways that society has changed dramatically since those days (and especially in the past 10 years as of writing this review) many of the tropes and the jokes found in the game still ring true today. The game starts with Larry who thought he has found love in the previous game with Eve, who he made passionate love with in the previous game. Only he has (as the game title loves to remind us) sought love in the wrong place. As Eve considered the encounter a one-night stand and barely even remembers Larry and demands that he leaves or else.

Thus, Larry is all alone in Los Angeles, which is an interesting departure from the previous game, which took place in the fictional city of Lost Wages (a clear reference to Las Vegas). Through sheer luck and… dubious moral methods, Larry comes into a large amount of money by winning (what would be then) the biggest lottery in history, and ends up getting accidentally dragged to what is potentially the funniest parody of a dating show ever made.

The satirical display of even the simplest aspects of life like shopping at a convenience store or a pharmacy is taken to a ludicrous level. The full shallowness of many people in society taken to absurd levels (the restaurant section on the island resort is taken to such an extreme that I still consider it one of the finest examples of snobbery ever shown in a video game).

The jokes and incredibly poor attempts at flirting by Larry have only held up even more today as shown in the past few decades by the rise of dating sites and certain online communities that try (and fail hilariously) at dating. Even some of the jokes that might rub people the wrong way still hold up as it openly mocks such practices (spoilers! I’m referring to the airline joke where Larry is asked if he wants ‘stewardess groping privileges’ which only riles Larry up even more…)

But the jokes and the satire are really the only good points of the game, however…

The Bad
For all its satire of society and catchy zingers, the game unfortunately is the weakest of the Leisure Suit Larry games. The reason for this is the story. Not so much the story itself mind you, but how it is presented.

In 1990 Graham Nelson wrote ‘The Craft of Adventure’, a guide on making adventure games of the era. While dated it does still offer great advice to game developers today, notably where it lists the Bill of Player’s Rights (updated somewhat in 2013 by Laralyn McWilliams at her blog). Two of the rights listed are that the player should be able to win without knowledge of the future or the benefit of past lives.

You might say that Sierra is quite notorious for its dead-end situations and rather bizarre puzzles (I’m looking at you, Gold Rush!) but Leisure Suit Larry 2 is actually a far worse offender than any other Sierra game I have ever seen and I’m going to explain why (spoilers ahead).

While the game starts out normal enough, Larry wins the lottery because he lies about the number on his ticket and for some reason, the entirety of the studio doesn’t bother to check what number he actually has on his lottery ticket, they just let him win the million dollar a year for life without any questions. This is actually fine, both in-universe and from a story telling perspective, but that’s where it ends.

The story really starts when Larry, through a hilarious coincidence, gets an instrument containing a top-secret microfilm that the villain wants to hand over to the KGB. The KGB then notice this and decide to go after Larry and pretty much the entirety of the game is Larry trying to evade the KGB and Dr. Nontoonkee’s flunkies.

So where is the problem? Larry has absolutely no idea he is being chased by anyone. He does not understand the significance of the instrument he has due to the language barrier between him and the woman at the music store, and the game goes out of its way to say that he did not notice the KGB agent following him. Quite simply there is no reason for him to want to go on the various hijinks that he did in order to evade Dr. Nontoonkee’s flunkies or the KGB or even know they’re after him.

During multiple sections in the game, Larry is approached by multiple very beautiful women who express clear interest in him, and the only reason why he is not captured is because Larry doesn’t follow them. Since he has no way of knowing he is being pursued, this is actually very out of character for Larry, who frequently tries to get with women whom he has no chance at all with. Why would he just turn away women who seem like they really want him?

In one part of the game, there is a very elaborate disguise that Larry must obtain that he cannot know he needs unless Larry has been captured multiple times by the KGB at the beach. Again. Not only is it really not possible to know without dying, but there is no way Larry could possibly have known. Because there are no hints at all in the game about what he must do to evade them.

If you played the game without dying (usually by looking at a walkthrough and knowing exactly what to do), the flow of the plot almost seems that Larry just wants to run away from nothing in particular since he would not know who is after him. This is the major problem of the story. It only makes sense towards the absolute end when Larry wants to save the villagers because… well, he met the love of his life and wants to get married. It makes sense for him then and there to want to stop Dr. Nontoonkee, but before that he would have absolutely no idea who the guy is.

Moreover, what happened to the instrument, the microfilm, and the KGB pursuit is never resolved. This is a major plot hole since even though the evil doctor is defeated, the microfilm that the KGB wants is still intact. Why would it be a happy ending on the island when Larry is still being pursued by one of the most effective and dangerous intelligence agencies in the world?

The jokes were funny, but the game’s plot had many issues that needed resolving. Perhaps a fan remake might address them?

The Bottom Line
If you can get past the plot holes, the game is still really funny, and seeing Larry go through increasingly ludicrous situations just never gets old.

By Salim Farhat on May 31, 2021

Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded (Windows)

A worthy remake of a worthy game

The Good
Leisure Suit Larry was actually one of the first games I played, and certain the first adventure game and Sierra game I ever played. It was 1990, and I wasn't even 10 years old yet, and of all the Sierra games that I could have played first, the single least appropriate one had to be it! Granted we only got to play it for a precious few minutes before I had to quit, and my brother removed it for reasons that I didn't (then) understand, it stayed in my mind for years. We ended up playing other LSL games much later, but I never got the original until around 2000 to fully experience it in all its glory!

With the obligatory nostalgic rambling aside, how does this game compare to the original and the (first) remake? The game itself has very similar puzzles, but there's enough addition to it so that even old time fans will find it a challenge. But the puzzles aside, the game is hilarious on a scale that even the first incarnations couldn't even touch. The City of Lost Wages, while still consisting of the same locations, is far more hilarious and in tune with the humor that was developing during the early days of LSL.

The original game was extremely raunchy for the time. In 1987, there was simply nothing else like it. A nude painting in a bar? A flasher outside a cheap wedding chapel? And a game that kills you if you flush the toilet (which you can actually use for its purpose... on screen!), and most shockingly of all, allowing you have sex with a prostitute. Although it is extremely tame by today's standards, it was a shocker. The look and feel of Lost Wages was sleazy, but it could be sleazier. The 1991 kept most of the original dialogue with few additions, but it demolished just about all the sleaziness of Lost Wages. They turned the city into a pastiche of late 80s aesthetics and early 90s cartoon style characters. They had some additional options, including the sniff/taste and zipper, which did nothing for the vast majority of all objects in the game.

To say that LSL reloaded fixed this is an understatement. Gone is the flashiness of Lost Wages of the 1991 remake, and the sleaze of the original is back with a vengeance. Every single aspect of Lost Wages and its people just reeks of depravity and boy is it glorious. The prostitute in the original game was said to be not attractive, but it didn’t seem like that all, the 1991 remake made her only slightly scruffy, but otherwise OK. It was LSL Reloaded that finally got it right, the hooker there is so legitimately terrifying that it really does feel like you’re committing a sin by interacting with her. The interaction between Fawn and Larry makes him look even more naïve than he was in the first two remakes (seriously, marrying a woman you just met? How desperate do you have to be for that to happen?) since it not only pokes fun at the entire sham of a ceremony, but it transforms them, perhaps sounding even more like a broken record, into the biggest pairs of hilarious lowlifes that you wouldn’t approach even in a hazmat suit.

The humor of LSL has always been about social satire and sexual innuendo. The social satire is somewhat lacking in this game, due to it actually being based in 1987 and not 2013 (and thus most of the jokes would fly over most peoples’ heads). But whatever it lacks in social satire, it makes up for it in sex jokes. Almost everything has some hidden joke in it, and using the whole bodily function/sniff icon will give you a unique answer to just about everything, something that the 1991 remake could have done, but didn’t.

In short, it’s a spectacular example of what would happen if you let a dirty old man rewrite something he originally did decades prior with a mind full of stuff he had wished he did originally!

The Bad
Maybe I’m just a nostalgia laden guy and can’t really rip on the game, especially since it succeeded in making me laugh so hard, and reinvigorated my interest in adventure games, but there is one minor issue I wish they could have addressed. In the gambling mini-games located throughout Lost Wages, if you play them and lose, then restore your game, your bet resets to the lowest amount. Given how long it takes to get the bet back up to maximum, it’s extremely annoying and frustrating when you have to play and you want to max out your winnings (the game allows you go actually get more than 10K, but you’ll never need anywhere near that kind of money in the game). That’s basically the only thing that really irked me about the whole thing.

The Bottom Line
The game runs on nostalgia first, but it still holds quite well as an adventure game, and I would recommend it for newbies and veterans alike.

By Salim Farhat on May 1, 2014

Eye of Horus (DOS)

A nice attempt at platforming

The Good
This game was one of the first DOS games I've ever seen, but incidentally, not played. I remember as a young kid around 1990 or 1991, I remember visit a friend's apartment with my brother. On their computer, I saw my first set of DOS video games. Aargh, Airborne Ranger, some other games I don't remember, and Eye of Horus. I actually got and played all the other games EXCEPT for Eye of Horus, and while that didn't bother me very much, it did ingrain itself in my mind.

With that bit of personal history stated, let's get on to what I believed was good about the game. The graphics for the DOS version are OK, and the depiction of Hieroglyphs and the scenery are actually quite nice. Each part of the game has it's own pattern and it never gets monotonous at all. Though the graphics are inferior to the Amiga version, but that's understandable, since DOS-based graphics did not reach the same level until a few years later.

The game design is actually fairly interesting. Instead of jumping, you turned into a hawk (no surprise since you're Horus, the hawk headed god of myth and legend), and fly around, which makes for some interesting strategy, though you have to be in demi-human form in order to pick up anything. The story itself is actually pretty interesting and well written, though you would need the manual to get it, which is absolutely essential, since there's no in-game explanation as to what you need to do to finish it. The challenge level of the game can be pretty tricky, but is not entirely unfair, though it does have its moments. The last second of the game is the exception, and it would need a lot of practice to get through.

All in all, this game is fairly average for the time, and while it does have some interesting attempts at being original, such as having no 'levels' or stages per se, but only sections divided by color that can be reaccessed over and over again if you felt you missed something in them.

The Bad
The sound in the DOS version is really bad. In 1989 when this game came out, it was obviously going to be inferior to most everything else available at the time, like Amiga or Atari ST, but there were many games at the same time that were adlib or soundblaster compatible, which makes me wonder why it wasn't made at least compatible with that, it would have certainly made for much better sound and music.

That's the main issue, perhaps a second problem in the game, the most significant, is the fact the game does have it's unfair difficulty moments. By that I don't mean the occasional annoying enemies that you have to get hit to get past (if you use the in-game power ups wisely, you should be able to get past many, if not most, of them. No, the point I'm making is that there are some unfair dead end moments in the game. There is one incident, which I will partially spoil, in the use of the red colored keys to unlock the elevators. There are two elevators that need them, and one of them leads to a room with another red key, so if you figured to use your key on that one first, you can access the other side easily. If you choose to go the other way, you can actually still go throughout the entire game until you stop to think about something you missed... and then realize you used that key in the wrong order.

That is my main problem with the game. I am not a fan of dead end situations like this unless they have a very good reason to exist, and this game does not provide the player with such a reason at all.

The only other problem is fairly minor, such as the manual's description of the power-ups (called amulets) and what they do. They aren't 100% clear at certain times, but some of them do at least provide a good idea what they're supposed to do, which is why I plan on writing a guide for this game describing them to the best of my ability.

A final comment, more of a nitpick than anything else since I didn't really think it a negative point... but Set in the game assumes the form of a Chinese dragon? It doesn't make much sense to me, since I'm sure they would have been able to find some cool Ancient Egyptian creature to choose for him.

The Bottom Line
I... wouldn't really. This game is highly obscure to begin with, but I guess I'm being unfair.

I would describe as a platformer with an Ancient Egyptian theme going to it. If you're a fan of Ancient Egyptian mythology, you might be able to see the fact that it is based on the real myth of Osiris being cut into pieces and having to be pieced together again by Horus, as well as the fact that Set and Horus were mortal enemies and that Set really did take the form of various creatures to attack Horus.

By Salim Farhat on February 10, 2014

Alone in the Dark 2 (DOS)

Great game, but doesn't compare with the original

The Good
The game is a worthy, but very different, sequel to Alone in the Dark 1, the game that started the whole survival horror genre (and to this day, still remains one of the best).

The games features former Private Investigator now turned Paranormal Investigator Edward Carnby,who's friend has been killed trying to rescue a young girl, and now you have to try again to save her while at the same time taking down the cursed gang of pirates that have haunted the area.

The detail to the story and the characters and setting present are incredible. The designers put a tremendous amount of effort into the detail found in the various documents in the game that flesh out the world and the story so well. The enemies don't feel like random people to take out, but that they're there for a reason, and have a lot of detail behind them. Their motives, their methods, and who they are are told at great length, and there's never a dull moment in the texts you'd read.

The game has also quite a bit of action, and (SPOILERS) being able to play as Grace Saunders, the little girl in need of rescue, is a very nice touch.

It is also a very different game from the previous one. Edward is no longer some naive, cynical guy who laughs at magic and ghosts, but understands they're real. Although this takes the horror aspect out of the game, it does make you feel like you're playing a more no nonsense tough guy who's determined to succeed, or die trying.

The Bad
The combat in the game was fairly awkward. Although to be fair, the first game didn't have it that great either. I still found it almost like a glitch that, if you were up close and personal with a gun-armed enemy, he couldn't shoot you and the bullets just went past you harmlessly.

Beyond that, while I enjoyed the action and the story. The game itself had too little of the horror aspect. The first game had one of the most eerie atmospheres of any horror game, and it still holds up all this time. I still get shudders when playing it at night. Although I understand that the exact same thing simply could not be repeated again (due to the fact that in the first game, the protagonist had no idea what they were getting themselves into, and the set up was pretty terrifying. After that experience, Edward would not react that way ever again to any supernatural experience), the developers could have at least TRIED to create some kind of eerie or horror aspect to it.

Quite simply put, compared to the original, this game isn't scary at all. The enemies in the game don't feel like the damned souls they're made out to be, but just a bunch of gangsters that could have been simple bootleggers. Fighting them makes you feel more like a vigilante than a paranormal investigator.

The Bottom Line
I would describe this game as being a great sequel to a great game. If they found the original one a bit too over the top with the horror, this one takes the horror and replaces it with action. It's one of the earliest games to use a tommy gun as a regular weapon, and who doesn't want to mow down ghost pirates with a tommy!

By Salim Farhat on February 5, 2014

Freedom Force (Windows)

Best interactive comic game ever!

The Good
Let me be honest, I'm not a comic book fan. I might have bought a comic book or two back when I was a kid/teenager, but I honestly never cared much for comics of any kind, especially superhero comics. This game, however, made what was to me a rather silly medium (superhero comics) into something completely and utterly awesome.

From the start of the game with the 'secret origins' of various superheroes, to the finale, the game provides what is the single finest atmosphere of any game made in the early 2000's. You don't just feel like you're playing a superhero game, oh no, you really do feel like you've stepped into a world of Silver Age comics with all it's cheesy, over-the-top glory!

The dialogue is deliciously corny, the heroes's one-liners and motifs are so stereotypical of what they're supposed to be representing that it's just awesome. El Diablo is an ex-Mexican gang member who's imbued with fire based superpowers, and he never lets you forget that he’d Spanish. It reeks of typical 60s and 70s comics and cartoons that its hilarious. The action is riveting and the colorfully named super powers just reek of creativity and lets you feel like you’re wreaking some serious havok on the villain’s mooks as they come your way and attempt to prevent you from stopping their wickedly over-the-top plan to take over Patroit city.

The villains are very colorful and so is the city and environment, everything looks like it was ripped directly from those old marvel or DC comics of the past. I heard that there are a lot of jokes and easter eggs in the game that reference the Silver and Golden Age of comics, but seeing that I’m not much of a fan of comics, I unfortunately have not been able to spot much of them. The fact that I still enjoyed this game immensely is proof that you don’t need to be a comic fan to enjoy it.

The Bad
The only negative things I can think of about this game is that sometimes the combat can be very chaotic as you try to control your heroes and cycle through the somewhat power selection. Having to wait for their energy recharge mid-battle can be quite hectic at times. Other than that, I can’t think of anything else wrong with it.

The Bottom Line
This game is one of the best, most atmospheric superhero games ever created. It is really one of the most perfect interactive comics ever. For gamers who like riveting action in over-the-top settings and colorful characters/adversaries, or for comic book fans who love superheroes, there's something for everyone here.

By Salim Farhat on March 7, 2013

Inherit the Earth: Quest for the Orb (DOS)

What COULD have been.

The Good
Inherit the Earth is a point and click adventure game in a quasi medieval world full of walking talking animals wearing clothes. Not quite your usual suspects when it comes to adventure games and that’s what makes it stand out.

The setting of the game is very imaginative and original. It’s not a true medieval world at all, but what it appears to be is a chain of islands with various tribes of animals who have been specially created by humans to have intelligence, walk on two legs, and talk like people. The introduction makes it clear that they’re products of science through beautifully illustrated cave paintings showing how it was all done and how the humans were forced to leave due to a plague or epidemic of some sort (as symbolized by them being chased away by what appears to be a giant microbe), or maybe they were driven to extinction even, we don’t know.

One really great thing about the setting that this world takes place in is how bizarrely, yet perfectly logically, all makes senses. You have the various animal groups who live by the stereotypes of their species, but all with a twist. The elk are magnificent, but also decadent, the boars are messy and boorish, but also very stalwart and strong, the ferrets are very rigid in thinking, but industrious and hard working. Even the rats have a mythology that they assisted humans in scientific research, which is true, but with some horrific implications that they don’t realize they were tested on and millions of their ancestors died in experimentations. They’re stuck in this medieval system and have never advanced an inch technologically in hundreds of years, which is not even what happened in the Middle Ages… but it all makes perfect sense as to why they’re stuck in time.

There are these things in the games called the Orbs. The denizens of the world don’t really know what they really are, other than they serve some specific purpose. They really are portable voice- activated computers left behind by the humans. There is the Orb of storms, which is what this game revolves around, that has the ability to predict the weather with perfect accuracy, which is something that any farmer in the past or present would give their right arm for. What this allows, from a technological perspective, stagnation in a lot of areas because when they are able to get decent harvests every year, the need for technological innovation is considered by many. The second Orb in the game is the Orb of hands, which basically is a ‘how-to’ encyclopedia that can tell people how to make things. So why don’t they have cars, steamships, and guns? It’s because the Orb needs very, very specific statements in order to give the instructions, and those instructions are said in a very technical manner that is usually above the understanding of the people who hold the thing.

It is simple touches like this that add the brilliance of the setting. They don’t feel the need for more technology because A: They have no concepts of the things we take for granted and wouldn’t ask the Orb of hands on how to build them, and B: They have enough food and what they consider basic necessities, and as such don’t feel the need for more stuff, especially if they don’t have a concept of it.

The main character definitely plays the part of a cunning fox to a T and it’s always funny to see him outsmarting his adversaries, and the game has some legitimately funny moments peppered throughout. Some of the content is decidedly towards adults, such as a wolfess showering and showing slight signs of… umm, side boob, for the lack of a better term. At the beginning of the game there’s even a feline fortune teller who, in no indirect manner, tries to tempt the main character into staying for a little something… extra.

The graphics and the way the world is portrayed is very stylish and beautifully done, and the music is fantastic. I remember when I first saw this game in 1995, the music in the opening scene definitely sent chills down my spine. It really is a very beautiful game when it comes to graphics and music.

The Bad
The setting was very original and unique, and very inventive, but the plot… I regret to say this, is quite flawed, and some other parts of the game, such as the puzzles, just seems too easy and convoluted.

I want to make some things clear, the plot was obviously intended to be more mature and deeper originally, but because of the meddling by NWC, this would never have been realized. The plot is basically that someone stole the Orb of storms and ran off with it for reasons unknown, and our hero, the Fox is blamed for it because… because… well, because he’s a fox! Of course! All foxes are thieves. And he has to bring it back, or else his girlfriend will die.

The opening is highly contrived and frustrating, and the mentality of the people is just incomprehensible. They continue to blame the Fox even after it becomes painfully apparently that he’s completely innocent. By far the dumbest part of this whole ‘blame the fox’ is the ending of the game, when despite being proven beyond the shadow of a doubt innocent, and risking life and limb in the attempt to bring the Orb back, there was a single character in the background who claimed that ‘he must be punished’! What manner of bizarre logic were these people running on?

The setting was intended to be more mature, with murder sub-plot, a bit more sexuality and sensuality in the plot and characters, and even violent encounters. It was also intended that your character could die a la Sierra Adventure Game style as well. Every single one of these concepts was hacked up by the executives, who insisted that the game must be child friendly because they didn’t take seriously the concept of cartoon animals being used in a serious, mature story and setting.

The results are obvious, not only in the plot and remnants thereof (the ruins at the end of the game provide some very ominous clues as to the humans’ demise, as well as hints that the world would be engulfed in a deadly war), with the villain’s defeat being played for laughs while his motives were very sinister. The ending of the game is the biggest let down of them all, I won’t spoil it, because it is really, really dark and no one could possible consider it ‘child safe’. The game needed a sequel, but due to Executive meddling and a very poor marketing campaign, the sales never justified one, even though it was intended as a trilogy.

The main character’s sidekicks… let it be said that there has never been a more useless duo in all of gaming history. Although they’re supposed to be there to provide support to the hero (as well as ensure that he doesn’t escape, which would become needless as he proves his intent to recover the Orb very early on), they never do anything to prove the existence of their worth, the only puzzles they help with wouldn’t have required their aid if the game was intended to be more challenging. Speaking of which, the puzzles in this game aren’t really all that difficult, they’re just too easy even without a walkthrough or hint book at your side. That’s another downside to the game, the puzzles are a bit too easy and the logic behind them is not to try to think through what might work in a situation like that, but simply to try to guess what the developer wants the player to do.

One other negative part is a maze sequence in the game. My God do I hate needless mazes in the game. It isn’t actually that hard, but it is annoying enough that it makes you wonder why they put a maze in the game in the first place. I would be willing to tolerate a maze in an adventure game if A: There was a reason for it, and B: There was a way of figuring out where to go with an item or something to help show the way (that way, the puzzle is finding a guide or item as opposed to pure guesswork and manual mapping). This game has neither.

Most of these negative points wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for executive meddling, but sadly they had to destroy it and not allow for a good, mature story to be told with cartoon animals, which would have made it very unique in gaming and probably have made Furries more accepted in such circles.

The Bottom Line
This game has a very unique premise and had the potential to be a great trilogy if it wasn’t for the meddling by higher ups and poor marketing that sadly ruined it.

For all that however, this game still has a dedicated following, both from adventure gamers like myself, and a small part of the Furry Fandom. In fact, Furries would find this game especially interesting since this game was made by old-school furries and much of the artwork (both in game and conceptually) was done by Furry artists, many of which are still active and working in the fandom 19 years later.

By Salim Farhat on March 5, 2013

Ultima I (DOS)

A great start to a great series.

The Good

Ultima 1 is a product of the stone age of computer gaming, back in the day when your typical game developer was usually some kid or early 20-something who was writing a game for the fun of it and maybe to share it with a few friends. The industry was so primitive that when Richard Garriott finished this game, he sold them in ziplock bags and with a cheaply printed manual, in a computer store where he worked and was reliant entirely on word-of-mouth to boost his sales.

I don't think he expected it to be nearly as successful as it was, hence explaining the somewhat bizaare setting. Anyways, enough of this meandering! On to the review!

Sosaria is under the evil control of the wizard Mondain, a man so evil that no one in Sosaria can beat him, so they call forth some dude from Austin, Texas known only as the Weirdo in an attempt that maybe he might go Cowboy on his heiny. OK, so it wasn't exactly established at that time, but it laid some great foundation work so that the 'Stranger from another world' became the Avatar from Earth in later games. I always found concepts like that intriguing because it easly allowed the player to 'become' the hero and envision themselves as the ones who were called to this world to save it.

The game itself, like many games from the 80's, required a lot of imagination from the player. The isn't particularly long or demanding on the player, especially if they know how to to raise their statistics and get the most powerful weapons in the game... all of which can be done almost at the beginning of the game, allowing for a super powered player to plow through the enemies. Performing quests for the kings in the game in hopes of getting the important items to finish the game can range from the fairly silly to the mundane, and doesn't do much in terms of advancing the plot, but it does allow for some excuse to explore the dungeons in the world, which would otherwise be fairly unnecessary.

There is something else about this game that sets it apart from most other RPG series (save for perhaps the Might and Magic series) was it's combination of pure sci-fi and fantasy. While the world appears to be your standard fantasy setting, there are actually space shuttles and flying cars available, and the most powerful weapons in the game are blasters and phaser pistols! Also there's a part of the game that involves you going into outspace to shoot down TIE-fighters from Star Wars (though later retcon made it clear that they're actually Kilrathi from the Wing Commander series). You need to do this because a princess tells you she won't help you unless you're a space ace!

Just imagine if Ultima was a movie, and up to that point, it had been a generic fantasy movie... until someone says that you need to suit up, fly a space fighter, and blow up star destroyers. The sheer awesomeness of that would explode the heads of anyone in the auidence! The best part of it is, there's no segue between the fantasy and sci-fi, they just exist side to side as if there's nothing wrong or off with that. This fact does set Ultima apart from any other game even today, which you'd think had been surpassed by now, but hasn't, save for the Might and Magic series.

The Bad
So what's wrong with this game? Well, there is one minorly wrong thing with it... you're supposed to be a hero, but at the same time, you're required to do things that are very decidedly unheroic things, like murdering jesters for keys to liberate princesses, and then killing the guards who come after you at that point. While almost every RPG game today has a morality system, it just seems off that this game requires you to be decidedly evil when you're supposed to be a good guy.

The towns and castles could have used more interactivity with the ordinary people, but other than that, the game really didn't have much flaws as compared to the following game in the series

The Bottom Line
The Ultima series, along with Origin systems games and Sierra Online games, basically represent the birth and evolution of PC games, and for anyone who wants to see that history in action should play this game the other games in the series.

By Salim Farhat on March 4, 2013

Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress... (DOS)

More like Time Bandit fanfiction than Ultima

The Good
This game is… interesting, to say the least. The whole concept behind it is unique to this very day, and given this game came out in 1982, that’s saying a lot. Time travel combined with a villainess unleashing a horde of mythical monsters on the real world and throwing all the timelines of the world out of whack sounds like it has a lot of potential, and if this game were remade today it would probably kick ass.

On top of that, you’re not just restricted to our world, but can visit every single planet in our solar system, including the ex-planet Pluto and the mysterious planet X. Like I said, the concept behind this game is very imaginative, but that’s all that’s really good about it.

The Bad
The bad… Ok, this going to be a two parter, the first part being the first time I actually played and completed it, and the second time after I saw the movie that inspired it and the whole moongate concept: Time Bandits.

The game is very large, but also very confusing. There’s very little in terms of direction for the player, when I first played it way back in the day (back in 1998 when I first got the Ultima Collection CD), I had not the faintest idea what to do. Even after reading the manual (which was very, very well written and definitely thought provoking) I still found it very hard to navigate my way through the world and just survive, let alone follow the plot to complete the game.

Speaking of which, there just didn’t seem to be much of a plot as there was an objective to defeat Minax. The clues are far and few between amid the mindless one-liners of the denizens of the world, and most everything is based on luck instead of skill, such as the only person who can increase your stats, and he does this when given a large amount of gold. Speaking of gold, it seems that a majority of the game is focused on just that, getting money. Even the walkthrough on the Ultima collection CD outright says that 80% of the game is just gathering gold, so you’re going to spending a lot of time just attacking monsters to get some gold, and to try to get those items that you need in the game, which brings me to another negative point about it.

There’s no indication as to what the many items in the game are! And there’s a lot of them, coins, tassels, brass buttons, ankhs. Hell, I still don’t know what some of them do, and the manual doesn’t tell anything about them. I was a complete loss as to what they did until I went through the walkthrough on the CD and the guides online, and by then I was basically fed up with the game and on the verge of quitting, but being an Ultima fan, I felt the need to complete this game at least once.

The other problem is the massive dead space found in the game. It’s a big game, with many maps and many dungeons and towers, but most of them are useless. The only reason why they’re there is to provide the player with yet another way of gathering money, which can also be obtained in the outside world. It would have helped if perhaps some of those towers contained items at the end of them, like blue tassels or brass buttons or keys, but no, they’re just for decoration and needless busy work. The planets are also equally useless, as you only need to go on one planet in the entire game.

That’s the first part of my criticism, the game on its own. Now comes part 2. I heard that many concepts of this game were taken from the movie Time Bandits, a 1981 sci-fi movie. I watched it recently and it was a good movie, and it completely changed my perspective on Ultima 2. The game was always the odd one out since it involved such bizarre concepts as taking place on earth, landing on planets in our solar systems, and time travel to as far back as the dinosaur era.

I didn’t understand why, I don’t think anyone really would understand until you watch Time Bandits (seriously you should, if not only to put this game into context), and realize that this game was basically Time Bandit fanfiction with the whole Ultima angle tossed in because Richard Garriott wanted it to be a part of his game series. The game takes not only the concept of the time portals (which work the same in the movie as they do the game. Little black gates that pop in and out of existence and take people to a different time and place) but also the of the solar system map (featured prominently in the movie and in the game’s manual), and even the Time of Legends (where you defeat the evil Minax) is explicitly mentioned both in the movie and in the game. The game wasn’t so much Ultima as it was Time Bandits with a twist… you’re a time bandit running from a supreme being, but a time traveler using those moongates to defeat Evil… oops, I mean Minax (watch the movie, you’ll understand). The only thing that makes it from being a complete Time Bandits remix is that Lord British is in the game, and the manual explicitly states that Minax is Mondain’s ex-lover.

The Bottom Line
This game is the odd one out, it isn't the worst Ultima game (that dubious honor goes to Ultima 9) largely because because in 1982, the Ultima series had yet to find its direction and purpose (don't forget that Richard Garriott made Ultima 1 to 3 almost completely single handed, with Akalabeth programmed on a computer in Richard's high school for Pete's sake! This was the stone age of computer gaming and there was plenty of space of experimentation and trial and error.

That being said, should people play Ultima 2? I would say only if you consider yourself an Ultima fan, because there really isn't that much else to it, or if you've watched Time Bandits and you want to see how it might have been if it was turned into a game.

In fact, if you want to play this game, I would strongly recommend watching Time Bandits anyway, at least you'll be in the mindset as to where this game came from and the concept of the moongates which play such a vital role in the remainder of the series.

By Salim Farhat on March 4, 2013

Quest for Glory I: So You Want To Be A Hero (DOS)

Almost completely superior... almost

The Good
What's there not to like about the game? The hand painted graphics still hold up almost two decades after the game's original release, the claymation monsters and models would never really get old, and the overall story would be best dubbed a classic.

Compared to the EGA version, the land of Spielburg (contrary to popular myth, is not named after Steven Spielburg, but is a pun: Spielburg means 'game town' in German), is much more alive and easier to explore, with the added benefit of a few new easter eggs (such as finding Earl Sinclair from Dinosaurs) that were more from the early 90's than the late 80's. the level of detail and quality of the artwork is better than the original as well. This wasn't surprising, since Quest for Glory was the last major 'quest' series to be launched by Sierra (though not the very last, EcoQuest held that title, but it wasn't nearly as big as any of the rest), and when they got about to making the remakes, it was the very last game to be remade. For that, I'm wiling to assume that the artists had had enough experience with graphic design to make this game the best looking of the original EGA and VGA remakes.

The interface was also quite good, with the icons looking better than most early sierra VGA games actually. What really was improved dramatically I believe I was the combat. Beyond better graphics, I believe that the game play, while not perfect (The series was never that good on combat mechanics), was much better than the original EGA, which for the life of me, I never quite got. Also the tie-ins from other QFG games and sierra series never fail to put a smile on my face. The dialogue trees were also some of the best in the entire series, if overtly simplistic (but that could be excused by the fact that they are not tied to any in-game event, and as such are available in their entirety from the start). And in my own opinion, the inventory interface is still the best in the series.

The Bad
(Please note that these might contain some spoilers. You have been warned)

I mentioned in my title that I called it 'almost' completely superior. Are there problems? Yes there are, and sadly, many of them are so glaring that they seriously detract from the game play and immersion.

Firstly, in the bad old days of pre-DosBox, there was the Sword Master problem... in the game, as a fighter, you had to beat the sword master to get full points, and since the game ran on it's own clock, if you manage to get the game running without dosbox, it meant that he would move at lightening speed and defeat you before you were able to press the first attack button. Though this has been solved by DosBox, it still annoyed me for years on end before then, and I still resent it quite greatly (while other games had clock issues, none of them had problems of this magnitude).

The other big problems were the potions and goblins 'training' looting bugs. When buying potions of the from the healer, you had to open and close your inventory twice after every purchase to make sure you got it. What I mean is, if you buy two stamina potions in a row, but don't check your invention after every purchase, you will only end up with one potion. Same thing applies to looting the dead goblins you fight in the goblin training grounds screen. If you search one and don't double check your invention, you will only get the money from the latest one you searched. Though this isn't a gamebreaker, this issue makes it rather tedious to perform what is a routine game function.

Another bug (again solved by DosBox, but still annoying) is that Yorick does not leave the maze room even after you explain your purpose there, and unless you adjust the game cycles he would continue to throw things at you to hinder your progress through the maze. In the original game, after telling him/ why you were there, he would leave you alone. It was another notable error.

The graphics issue that almost everyone has experienced... well I suppose I could give it a notable mention, but to be honest I was never bothered by it as a kid, and as an adult, I just like to think it's the effect of the mushrooms that the hero would use to get his mind of the fact that every monster in the forest wants him dead.

But to me, the single biggest problem in the entire game is the dagger bug. In every iteration of QFG, before combat, you could throw daggers at your enemy, and then after combat you could pick them up. This includes QFG EGA, but in the VGA remake, if you throw a dagger at your enemy and then enter combat, that dagger is gone forever. You could avert it by throwing a dagger and then picking it up before combat, but that still does not excuse the original issue.

The Bottom Line
Have you ever wished you could leave the world and all it's problem and embark on a great adventure? Well this is it, and it gives a brilliant and colorful start to a great series of adventure games.

That being said, the game really was an overall great improvement and if it wasn't for the annoying bugs, it would have been a 100% improvement over the original in every way.

By Salim Farhat on November 26, 2011

Mad TV (DOS)

A nice, unique business simulation

The Good
Well... despite the quirky name, and silly graphics on some places (like those notable 'useless' rooms in the building) there is nothing 'mad' about this except for the fact that they're 'mad' about making it very realistic! The game is hard, challenging, yet very interesting game featuring a very good simulation of managing a TV station while at the same time giving it a nice touch by giving the main character (by the default name of Arnie) a love interest who is passionate about her shows... yet they bring no great deal of ratings, a dilemma that would make any lovestruck Real Life TV station manager smile... by putting her shows on, she'll like you more, but your station might take a financial hit since your ratings would drop and people might not want to air commercials on your station.

Other than that, one thing that is so good is handling the expansion of your station after you've gotten enough money. have either the option of getting satellite coverage, as well as setting up more stations with a smaller range... but might cover areas that even satellite would not cover, leaving you with a total of over... 291 million potential viewers! Of course since it's nearly impossible to get everyone to look over at your station, it's a challenge to put in the stuff that would be found likable by everyone and get enough ratings for every single business in the country to want to air their stuff on your channel.

Another great thing is the selection of the movies and series that you can put on your station... they're all real TV shows and real movies! How cool is that? I found myself playing the game and keeping the IMDB on another webpage in order to look up information on those shows. It's a nice touch, but not only do they include real movies, but much of news that you can put on in the air usually has some kind of relation to TV and sound strangely... relevant, even though the game was released over 18 years ago!

Also the other great thing you can do is to make your own shows if you find out that you don't like whatever other shows that up for sale... but there's a catch, miscast your actors and put in too small a budget, and your show could tank. There's even an equivalent of the Emmy's in it for various accomplishments.

The game is hard, since it does require some very real thinking as to what to put on, when to put it on, and able to still make enough money to pay back the loans you would take from your own boss, and get the girl to like you more than the other station managers who're competing both against you and for her affections. Making for a nice strategic challenge.

The Bad
The only bad thing I find about the game is simply that there aren't that many English Language TV management simulation games out there. I did manage to find another, more recent game, but it was in French. At any rate, games in this genre are rare and I think it is a shame that not more others like it exist.

The Bottom Line
Well... since you can change the name of the station to anything you want, you could change it to 'U62' pretend to be Weird Al Yankovic's character from the cult classic 'UHF' and run it accordingly. ;) It'll make the game that much more interesting.

By Salim Farhat on July 20, 2009

Blood Money (DOS)

Where's my money? Blood Money that is!

The Good
OK, let's give my own personal back story with this little game. It is 1990, I'm a small kid the family and our dad gets us a new computer to replace the aging C64 we once had and then instead of learning all the neat stuff that adults could do on a PC, we use it to play games.

Seriously, why is it that the strongest memories I ever had of games I played always seem to be the very first I ever got? Just playing Blood Money gives me that shot of nostalgia that makes me smile of those good times I had as a kid.

But I digress, enough of that, on to the actual game. So what's the story? Well the whole story of Blood Money is only apparently revealed at the very end... which you have to win for yourself to actually see. ;) It is an arcade shoot em' up featuring multiple environments and rather long stages with tons of challenges and surprises along the way as you take off in a helicopter, a submarine, rocketpack and a rocket ship. Just the typical run of the mill stuff actually, with the graphics actually being pretty darn good for a 1990 game, with much of the enemies and animation still being fairly impressive and superior to even semi-professionally made flash-based shooters of today. Also the challenge level, while difficult, won't really put off anyone from the game despite some annoying parts. The only power ups in the game come from shops (with very creative names based on each level) that you get money from that you pick up from nearly every single enemy killed. While it seems like cash might be abundant, the fact that you will die often means you will often lose everything every time.

So while it looks like a coffee break game, it would actually much longer to finish and due to the challenge, it would probably be a lot more satisfying in the end (and strangely enough, I found the finale to be amusing enough to make it worth it all for some reason). It's a nice arcade classic for the PC. The only other thing being so memorable was the very nice opening title screen. As a child, I once opened a book in the school library during a class there... and found the original painting by Peter Jones for the game there, leaving quite an impression at that time.

The Bad
Well there's nothing really bad or wrong about the game. It's very hard, but that's not really a negative point. It is intended to be a simple shoot em up that's enjoyable to play (and is very comparable to coin-op games that were extremely common at that time) and it accomplishes that task completely.

But if you're pushing it, there is one teeny tiny bit that might need some work... no music, and no soundblaster support for the PC version. However, the PC speaker beeps and bops are actually pretty tolerable and do have a charm to them anyways.

The Bottom Line
In 1990 I would have said 'hey look, this game is as good, if not better than some coin-ops at the arcade, except you don't need to waste your money on those'.

In 2009, I'm gonna have to say 'you can't call yourself a retro gamer without having Blood Money on your system. It's classic, it's fun, and it defines side-scrolling shooters of the era'.

By Salim Farhat on July 15, 2009

The King of Chicago (DOS)

An early example of interactive movies.

The Good
This game is a very interesting one. For one thing, despite having only 4-color CGA graphics, the art and characters of the game are extremely well-done. and given the DOS release date of 1988, it wasn't something easy to accomplish, though the graphics could have been done better, I think they were aiming to have more of an interactive movie than an actual game.

The other thing which makes it so interesting is that the style of game play, in which you choose from certain options and choices and just go with the action that occurs afterward is a style that greatly resembles the early CD-based games of the early 90's. During that era of CD games, those games were primarily about showcasing talking live-action characters in the game as opposed to the gameplay and story itself. They manage to accomplish this, and accomplish it well, with only 4-colors and two floppies.

The game also has a surprising depth to it. The description on the box brags over 1 billion (or million on the UK cover) combinations, and while I think it could be exaggerated, there ARE tons of ways you can play them time and time again and get mildly different results. This makes it interesting since a lot of things can turn out differently if you decide to experiment around every now and then.

The Bad
Nothing really struck me as wrong or bad in the game, but there was just one thing that I hated about the game was the 'bomb run' attack that you could launch on your enemies. This was extremely difficult and while there was a way to master it, it wasn't easy to figure exactly when to throw your bomb to blow up the building. Thankfully, there are no mandatory times when you need to do it, though the beginning part of the game could be slightly harder to finish if you don't go for it.

The Bottom Line
It's a quick, fun way to pass some time. Nothing ultra special save for an early example of early interactive movies, and a good example that 4-color graphics can be used to create some fairly impressive visuals.

By Salim Farhat on March 26, 2009

Ninja (DOS)

A nice classic

The Good
What was the recipe for a good ninja game back in the mid-80's? When ninjas in movies were all the rage? Well, all you needed was a ninja who kicked ass! That was all you needed and that is what this game delivered.

Again, this is a nice classic oldie featuring a stereotypical ninja going about recovering idols from some group of people (a rival ninja clan, perhaps?) and you need to search the whole game (with over 21 rooms if I'm not mistaken) to find them. They're at complete random, thus you can find more than have of them at the very beginning if you're lucky.

Actually, what this game really excels at is its short, easy to play and learn interface and to be able to have a nice 20 minute break (it won't take longer, trust me). If your first conscious memories were in the late 80's, like me, you'd would have probably played this game at some time or at least been interested in ninja games (with the all the TMNT craze on TV, who wouldn't?), and this did require you to use your imagination as you envisioned the CGA graphics transforming into a movie-like cinematic sequence of epic proportions... hey, we all had wild imaginations back then. Actually the graphics just seemed fine despite the primitive 4-colors used, and did create a rather charming atmosphere.

One of the interesting things about the game the sheer number of attacks that were available for you to use. You had 6 kinds of attack (minus the throwing weapons, which would bring it up to 8) at your disposal, even though you only need one of them technically, it was a very interesting touch for them to attempt to create a fairly interesting combat system, by 1986 standards.

The Bad
Well, let's see... this game really didn't have that many negative points. It was intended to be a very short, sweet ninja fighting game, and at that end, it succeeds, but there are somethings that I believe fell off the mark.

For one thing, the rather uneven difficulty in the game when fighting with enemies. Despite having no less than 6 melee attacks at your disposal, only one, the jumping kick, seems to be worth anything. The truth is, swinging your sword around or punching and kicking is nearly useless since the enemies in the game can reduce you to pulp very quickly if you try to fight that way. Use the jumping kick, and you will win the majority of the fights with only luck being the factor of them landing the lucky hits that will kill you. I really, really believe it could have been improved, even if it was a slight factor.

The other thing is there is something in the Amiga version that wasn't present in the Dos version... the evil villain. In the Amiga version, once you got all seven idols, you would be chased by Akuma, the demon lord of the castle, and when you get back to the start screen, you will have to fight and defeat him to win the game. In the Dos version, I don't believe any such character exists and the game ends as soon as you return back to the original. Having Akuma, or some kind of final boss to have to fight would have been a great improvement over just the 'get em and get out' idea.

The Bottom Line
Do you like ninjas? Do you like old games? Do you have 20 minutes to spare? Well, then! What are you waiting for?

By Salim Farhat on March 20, 2009

Sword of the Samurai (DOS)

One of the best Samurai games ever!

The Good
This game has the words 'awesome' written all over it, from the very start to the very finish, this game has challenges and features that even after playing it repeatedly for years on end I have yet to see everything it has!

The start of the game features you as a lowly samurai from a barely known family inheriting your father's fief to serve your clan. Which clan is that, you might ask? Well let me tell you something... this game has just about EVERY Japanese clan in every Japanese province of the feudal period! Seriously, each one with their own strengths and weaknesses and with their own terrain for virtually unlimited challenge and variety. The difficulty levels also have their own share of deviousness, but you have to ask yourself this one single question... are you tough enough to handle the No-dachi difficulty? Under that particular level, some of the mini-games become nearly impossible to finish and completing them consistently then would make you a god of this game and deserving of all the respect that that station has.

So how do you play the game? How do you get to number one? That's the really cool thing about it, you can practically do it in any way you want, from treachery and deceit, to being fair and honorable, to a mixture of the two in various degrees. You can roam the countryside fighting random challenges to increase your swordsmanship ability and honor, take on bold deeds whenever your lord calls you to it, or even have a go at attacking an enemy clan member in the same treacherous stuff that you do to your own annoying clan members except you get praise for it.

The mini-games include road, rice field, village, and castle skirmishes, duels, and battles, each one requiring a different tactic to complete successfully, and no matter how many times you've played them, you always feel that same great feeling of satisfaction when you hear the victory music coming on and see the beautifully made screen signifying that you've won.

So what kind of samurai are you? Are you the type who prefers honor and diplomacy, or are you the one who would rather cut throats and throw anyone that gets in your way out the hard way and make sure they never get up again? Or a combination of both. Some rival is above you, or below you, but constantly threatening you? Well you could do the 'honorable' thing of being upfront about it, insult them and hope they challenge you to a duel, where you could then kill them... or maybe your abilities as a swordsman are too good and theirs aren't, so they back down and are humiliated, thus making your status much higher. Or you could sneak into their homes and assassinate them secretly... or do something that would dishonor them (which could be a surprising number of things) or kidnap a relative of theirs that you can hold for ransom, or you attack them with your army, although you need a strong justification for that, and defeat them on the battlefield. But beware, if they hold your relatives hostage, they might kill them in retaliation. These are just some of the variety that you can find in the game just in dealing with SOME of the challenges.

Everything in the game depends on your samurai and how well you develop them, this adds an RPG element to the already expansive political, strategic, and action-based game play. How well would your army fight in battle? Its not just how well you use them or how big they are, but the most important factor is your generalship. Drilling your soldiers constantly (then testing them in real battle) to get your stat high is the key to winning the majority of battles with minimal causalities. There are also other stats, land management, honor, swordsmanship and the number of soldiers at your disposal. All could be reduced and increased accordingly depending on either your actions, or your character aging. That's right, your character gets older and as he does, his mental and physical skills decrease and you might even have to retire and let your heir (you did remember to get married and have kids, didntcha?) take over... and his skills are proportionate to your own, but if you let him have it too young, he won't be nearly as good if he was older, but then again, younger means more time to make up for it.

There's just so many of these little things and options that I could literally write all day about it. The dynamics between your own clan members can be very interesting. Just as you can assassinate, insult and dishonor your clan members and vice versa, they can do it to one another just as well! While some of the events are fairly rare in their occurrence, I have seen some of them happen and it is just interesting to see what goes on. Plus there comes the enemy clan member, he can attack you just as you attack him... and you can decide to go over and show him a thing or two in covert style kidnapping and murder. You want to be friends with your clan members? Well you can invite them for tea, intermarry, and if they're too stubborn for that, when they're attacked my marauders, you can send your own army to help, thus forcing a slightly better relationship with them.

The main goal of the game is to become Shogun of Japan, and in order to make it there, you need to be the Daimyo of your clan. When starting out, you're just the stooge of a lieutenant of a Daimyo, but as you rise up the ranks, you can wait for the lieutenant to die (in various ways) or you can expedite his demise by assassinating him, not the most honorable of actions, but to quote the old mafia saying 'you're only guilty if you're caught', thus leaving no witnesses means no one will ever know...

Playing as the lieutenant is fundamentally the same, except you're no longer dealing with other simply samurai, but all your opponents are lieutenants themselves. The biggest difference is the fact that you can have a larger army than before, and... well, the succession is mildly different. For one thing, if you don't want to wait for him to die, you don't need to be deceptive to bump him off, you can be overt about it! If your army is large enough, you can attack him directly, then go into the 'sneak' mode inside the castle and finish him off, and no one will argue with you that you are, in fact, the new ruler of the clan.

But if you don't do this, there will be an interest situation if you murder him or he dies normally... since he was the big boss of the clan with no one above him, how would the clan figure out who gets the position? You can make a claim 'I want to be the Daimyo' and if your stats are maxed out, no will argue with you, but if there's a strong competitor, you might have to fight a battle with him to get it... or if you aren't strong enough to have a say, and two different people are fighting for it (with the third guy being allied to one of them) you can vote for the underdog, thus making it two-against-two and you will fight a battle supporting that guy, and if you win, you will be rewarded by the winner.

Being shogun is even cooler. Not only is searching for 'random encounters' a ton easier (they come to you) but you need to start taking over independent clans or clans ruled by a named guy (your rivals), and everything else is just on a far larger scale as you claw, fight and deceive your way to victory... with a few different ways of doing it, too! Take over every province, or just get enough to declare yourself shogun, then bump off the rest in one big battle. Naturally, the former takes longer, but it will make for more finishing points.

Once you're done, you not only get a final scroll showing your statistics, but also how long your dynasty lasts... did you ever make it to having it last 300 years? I never did, but I came dangerously close...

The Bad
There isn't really anything bad to say about this game. Seriously, it's one of the best done I've ever seen in my life! I played it near religiously as a kid, and I continue to do so more than any other retro game. I must have finished it over a hundred times by now to some degree.

If I can say something bad, its the fact that this game was so criminally underrated and unknown that it wasn't funny. Just thinking of the old Pirates remake back in 2004 makes me think... dude, why didn't they remake THIS game! Even a near word-for-word remake would still be awesome. Or better yet, remade and updated, with a new battle system similar to the Total War series, a more streamlined political system (more than just tea with your friends and helping them out in battle), as well as more improved 'stealth' based fighting when you're sneaking around.

Other than that, I suppose I could nitpick some stuff, largely because the game has so much to it I was surprised that some features were not implemented. For one thing, why can't you hire ninjas to attack your enemies? There are Ninjas in the game and there is a skirmish battle when you need to deal with them in a village, as well as when an clan member is trying to kill/dishonor you or kidnap a relative. Double this point for when you're Daimyo.

Another thing I can nitpick is the enemy clan member... you can assassinate him or kidnap a relative of his, but for some reason, you can't dishonor him. Why? Seriously, the political system between clans could have been improved, making more use of deception, alliances, or at least something of that sort. If a remake was ever made, this is one of the parts that need to be dealt with the most.

The Bottom Line
Look at a Japanese portrait of a samurai, now imagine yourself playing as one. Nuff said. ;)

By Salim Farhat on March 13, 2009

Barbarian (DOS)

Nostalgia, but not much else.

The Good
To begin with, this is a little bit biased on my part, because this game, like other games like Airborne ranger, Eye of Horus, Aaargh, and the others, is one of the first I ever played, and naturally this would give a slight favor towards it from any person. I actually thought this game was pretty good when I was kid, hearing the really badly digitalized voice say 'barbarian' at the start was, from what I believe the very first voice I heard from a video game.

The game featured you as Hegor, the inevitable Conan the Barbarian clone, going on an adventure to kill the wizard Necron (who's easier to knock down than glass bottle with a machinegun) for some mysterious reason... seriously, what DO barbarians have against wizards? Maybe I should be hitting the old Conan the Barbarian novels to figure that one out.

The graphics were OK, and there's actually quite a variety of enemies for you to go at even if they're not exactly the hardest enemies in the history of video gaming. There are some death traps in the game that would require you to constantly be on guard making sure that you won't be finishing the game in the first run through. Some the animation is mildly amusing, too, such as the one to make your character run away, it never fails to put a smile on my face to see a supposedly 'tough' barbarian run away in a comically cartoonish manner.

Even the unusual control feature of the game, wild bewildering at first, isn't as bad as some people make it out to be. It's only if you've never seen it before or you haven't played the game in a long time does it get confusing. It's actually very easy to learn and does add a unique touch to the game.

The Bad
OK, with the minor good stuff that has been said about the game, here comes the negative... first of all, there's really no story given at all. In the manual of the game (the only place where you learn the barbarian and the wizard's names) they mention that you have to destroy the crystal that he drops... but make no mention as to why you're fighting him to begin with. Seriously, the story seemed more like a justification for existence than an actual story. They could have at least put something in like revenge or freeing the country from his tyranny or something like that in there to explain exactly what was going on.

Also the game itself is not too terribly hard to finish. Except for some parts about the old 'dropping stone' traps from the ceilings (which can be avoided easily once you know where they are), and the enemies are just too pathetic to really be of any threat. I was only killed once by them, and that was an accident on my part, too. Adding some kind of combat system in the game would have made for a great addition and made the game a lot more enjoyable than just 'don't let the enemy come too close and then thwack them with your sword!'. In fact, they were so easy to beat that they were more of an annoyance than a challenge.

To make matters worse, the final wizard in the end game was no stronger than a regular wizard enemy that you meet in the screen before him. Only difference is, he can't be killed with arrows, you have to be very clever with him... using the magic 'shield' to reflect his own magic upon him. It's a task so hard you might actually want to put your coffee cup down to make sure you concentrate enough and not on whatever music video you might have on the side from youtube.

The sound in the game is another problem. Other than Hegor's death cries, the sound in the game sounded suspiciously like that PC speaker tunes of Airborne ranger and a myriad of other games that were out at the time. They were really annoying and didn't add much atmosphere.

The Bottom Line
Well, are you very first conscious memories from the late 80's? Then you might have played this game and as such, you might have experienced some of it and just the nostalgia factor might want you to come back and play it every now and then for old times sake.

For all other people, however, this game doesn't hold much appeal. If you're a collector of old games, as I am, you might want to download it, test play it for a few minutes, then just quietly forget about it. It's a nice classic that few people know about, but maybe that's what makes it have that teeny tiny bit of charm.

By Salim Farhat on February 12, 2009

Jones in the Fast Lane (DOS)

One of the best computer board games!

The Good
Well, what did I like about this game? The actual should be, what do I NOT like about this game! It's fast paced, the digitalized pictures of actors were one of the first ones I've ever seen in a computer game and they were cool (Seriously, one of the female characters dressed in the 'dress' outfit reminded me of my elder sister at that time! Almost a word-for-word copy. How cool is that?), and the various options and routes that you can take in the game are also very amusing and fun to play out... why not allow yourself to go without clothes and money for a while, then have someone bail you out with a hilarious note! That was classic.

OK, so that was the general statement of why I liked it. Let me go on the specifics. First of all, at the start of the game, you're all equal, you have the same amount of money that you start out with in Monopoly (coincidence? I think not!) and you have no job, no education, and you live in a shabby apartment. I think that this would perfectly describe most people who move out of their parent's home immediately after high school, so I'm sure someone out there was smiling at this, After wards you need to find a job to make ends meet... and lo and behold! Other than the hilarious random greeting one-liner that the employment office guys give, the sheer amount of jobs available for you to choose is staggering! Some places only have three or four, but some places have nearly 10 or more! That's impressive in itself.

And not just the jobs, you need to eat to make sure you don't lose time or get sick, and as such waste a whole lot of time, then you need to pay rent, go to college... and speaking of the college, you have so many degrees that even to this day, while I can probably name them, I never counted how many! That, and when you have to furnish your home by buying appliances (pity you never see a real evolution of your home in the game. There are some visible aspects that would change, but nothing too radical) and you have to be careful what you buy at what point in the game, least the only criminal in the whole city come and rob you clean!

What other thing I like? The random, dynamic economy. It's not a set piece with set prices and wages, but the stuff can fluctuate radically depending on your actions, how much you buy, and some random effects. You could get a raise, a pay cut, lose your job, have your rent double or halve, you really can't tell.

Oh, and there's a stock market feature, too... I never did get quite too into it, but if you fancy pretending you're a Wall-street investor, this is it.

I could go on all day bringing up the aspects as to why this game is good and what I liked about it, but I think after this I'll let the people who read this go and play it to find out more on their own.

The Bad
For all it's nice graphics, dynamic game play, and humor, there are some things about the game that could have been improved. For one thing, the game's computer AI, Jones (made for people who like to play alone or have no one to play with), is not too particularly challenging, and while he can sometimes force you move faster than slack off, the decisions he makes are painfully slow, meaning he takes a few seconds to click a button to do an action and you have to wait double or triple the time you would normally spend on a turn. This does get very annoying at times and more often than not, I play alone to avoid it.

Also there aren't too many pitfalls in the game, either. Only a few jobs at first aren't available, and even if you lost your job later on due to an economy, you can always get it back instantly (albeit usually at a lower salary).

And if I can bring it up, the game's manual is not too descriptive either... there are some items in the game that don't seem to do anything, yet I've learned much later on that they have a temporary harm to your goal stats... there's no obvious indication of this in the game or the manual, meaning you could be playing for years, doing the same harmful actions to your character, yet have no idea what you were doing! This really isn't how a manual should be, and while I'm all for letting the players find out things on their own, there needs to be at least some kind of guideline to give you hints and description.

The final negative point is that the game is a surefire win thing... you can't lose this game, period, you can only delay going to the top. In the Sims, made much later, you could play living in a shabby house forever basically, never ever having enough money to make it to the big leagues or have anything more than a small house (which is why that game is given the cheat that makes it so famous).

They didn't have to have random catastrophic failures to kill the character or anything, but at least some course of action that would result in failure for the character and dropped out of the game... it would be fairly interesting to see it happen. I mean in Monopoly, if you had no assets left and you were in debt, you were ousted. In this game, no matter how bad your situation is, there's always a way out and into success.

The Bottom Line
First of all, as someone who played this game before I was 10 years old, I would have to say that I would first describe the sheer fun me and family had playing this game as kids, and how it still manages to retain that charm even to this day. It's a dynamic take on most board games, and even if the outcome is the same, the way how you get there is always, always different. If you're looking for a game that would definitely keep you entertained even if you've played it a million times, be sure to try this one out. It's a classic, and that's all it needs to be called...

By Salim Farhat on February 12, 2009

Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon (DOS)

Great game, but sadly falling short

The Good
Space Quest... part of the 'quest' series of games produced by Sierra, one of the most beloved and well-known video game companies of times past. When I was a kid whenever I heard 'Sierra' it simply meant a fantastic game, no matter what. They had that charm that just sucked you and in and all the cameos and in-jokes (still obvious to the player) made it look like the people who made it, from top to bottom, are just one fun-loving group who want to entertain as much as make a profit... and you knew them all, something not common today.

Space Quest 3 is sequel to everyone's favorite janitor after whatever mess he managed to clean up last time. It's actually a fairly interesting scenario that he's in, and most people don't even notice it. In the previous game, Roger Wilco (which in this game became his official name instead of the default if you didn't enter anything before) was forced to put himself into some kind of hibernation in order to survive since he had so little time left before the life support died. It was a nice ending, really, but it leaves you to wonder... just for HOW long has Roger Wilco been there? In the depths of space, easily decades, or even centuries. That's when the story comes in.

OK, now I'll really start discussing what's good about the game. First of all, the humor that's so common to a lot of Space Quest games is here and in full swing. Just the very first few screens probably reference over half a dozen sci-fi shows and movies of the past and they're very obvious about it. Some of the puzzles are actually quite interesting and do require some thinking and exploration, and not all of them are obvious, which is, in a way, a good thing and a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

The graphics and sound were a bit above average for a 1989, and a lot of the drum tunes were very well done in my opinion. Plus you can't help but laugh at the Microsoft and McDonald jokes found there, and let's not even get started on the 'tourist' spots parodied!

The Bad
All righty then, the bad. As much as I cherish every single Sierra game ever made (I own as many of them as I can, and I just wish I could get more memorabilia), I would have to criticize this game since it does have some short comings. Though in a way they could actually be excused if you saw it from a different angle.

First of all, the game itself is one of the shortest Sierra games I've ever played, and there's not much in way of risk if you know exactly what to do and when... the same cannot be said of most other adventure games. Also there are very few 'extra' points or alternate solutions in the game. This is very important because, as a sort of tradition, Sierra games frequently had a few dozen points that could be obtained by doing things that aren't obvious or finding stuff that most people overlook. In this game, there is only one real situation like that, with another one having two different solutions (one giving more points), but that's it. The game is very straight forward in that regard and the only really difficult part is just in the beginning before you take off in the Aluminum Mallard (an obvious play on 'Millennium Falcon'), the game becomes very simple after that, actually.

And it's simplicity was obvious in the fact that it was the FIRST sierra game me and my brother ever finished without having to look for a walkthrough (and that was in the pre-Internet, not an easy thing to pull off). The only thing that really surprised us was finding the message at the end of the Astro Chicken game... I can still remember my brother's expression and gasp when we saw that coming. But other than that, there's not much challenge in it.

Some parts of the game are completely illogical and glaringly underdone. For example, one vital part of the game involved you having to disable the force field generator. Yet you do this by just grabbing a grenade from a group of surveyors (why'd they need it to begin with?) after they leave the planet with all their equipment just lying there... you don't even do anything, just wait and they're gone! Then you waltz into the compound, climb a ladder that seems to serve no purpose other than getting you into a strategically placed position to destroy the whole generator with just one grenade! Wow, that was really weak.

I love Sierra games a lot and saying stuff like that is not easy for me to do. But in all other Space Quest games that involved sneaking around (i.e. all of them), they had sequences that were far more believable and better done than that. There was really no excuse for them to make something like this. Adding guards and alternate routes and puzzles along the way would have made the game a lot better.

Now that I'm done with the major problems, I want to mention a presumably major problem that I don't believe is worthy of much criticism... the lack of plot. I know that most people critiqued the game for its lack of plot, but I believable it can and should be forgiven. For one thing, the game takes place in an indeterminate period of time after Roger went into hibernation, and it's never given directly, but we could say it's a LLOOONNNGGG time when you hear the joke given by terminator robot. Seriously, in order for the price of a cheap toy to have interest that rose to that kind of money must take centuries at the very least. At that point in time, Roger Wilco had no home, no job, and (probably) no surviving friends or relatives... with the exception of the terminator and his employer. This leaves Wilco to have a reforge everything anew. The only real problem with this is that Wilco had no actual motivation to want to rescue the 2 guys from Andromeda to begin with, and they were only two guys, not a whole planet to save or anything. If they'd have included just a touch more plot about him tangling with scumsoft before all that to give him that motivation, it would have been a lot better.

The Bottom Line
This is a Sierra game! It's great, it's engaging, the main character is the type of guy that you will NEVER forget no matter how hard you try, and it has a staying power beyond words. I played and finished this game at age 8 and I never forgot how to do it. That's what it is. ;)

By Salim Farhat on December 30, 2008

AAARGH! (DOS)

One of the first games I played

The Good
Well, the single largest factor for me (and I have to admit, this is a bit biased) is the nostalgia factor. When I was a very young child, barely starting kindergarten, we had a computer at home and one of the earliest games I remember playing are Airborne ranger, Eye of Horus (which seemed like something out of this world to me at the time), and of course, Aaargh.

So other than simply the joy of remembering those old days, what else did this game have to offer? Well, to be frank, it's still a lot of fun! Even in today's world with huge, multimillion dollar games, computers and consoles that are 500 times more powerful than anything in existence at the time, this game fulfills the single most fundamental rule that any game should have... it's fun, and it's challenging in a way that you return to play it and beat the game from start to finish in one sitting, which isn't too particularly long, so it's a good way to relax your mind... and it achieves this even though it has a lack of a real save feature (there is one in the game, but I'm not spoiling it for anyone). Any game that pulls that off is OK in my book.

The second good thing about it is the simple fun of running around various villages and cities from varying points in history and laying them all to waste... I mean, you play a godzilla like dragon or a giant cyclops for crying out loud! Is there anything cooler than fighting giant rampaging monsters is BEING a rampaging monster wrecking havoc as the denizens try to flee, but end up being dinner for something a 100 times their size!

The other good thing is the settings. You're not restricted to any one kind, but throughout the game you rampage on everything from Ancient Egypt, Medieval China, some African village, Adobe Native American dweller, Old West American frontier towns/forts, And even a 17th or 18th century style port... all of these beauties are to be laid to waste by you. If bashing Tokyo or New York is getting old, this is the one for you.

The graphics and the gameplay are fine for the time, the details are well done on the scenery most of all, though the damage models are highly simplistic (the just show a few cracks after a few hits, then they collapse when you'd damaged them enough), and there is actually quite a variety of enemies, even if they are all fundamentally the same, you the have annoying buzzing insect thing, the catapult (or wagon, or cannon) that would keep harassing if you didn't put an end to it... and the dive bombing bird... you will HATE the dive bombing bird, I assure you! But it's the only real difficulty in the game, so I guess it's a good thing.

The Bad
Well, where do I begin on this one? Well for one thing is the uneven difficulty in the game... the truth be told, with the sole exception of the dive bombing bird that I mentioned earlier, there's not much else in way of difficulty and you'd probably breeze through the entire game barely getting hit (the catapult/wagon/cannon is so easy to destroy that in later stages they put you in a confined area directly in the line of fire, assuring at least one or two hits. That's how ineffectual it is), this is why, with only a little practice, anyone can defeat the game with relative ease... the challenge level is not too high at all.

The second problem with the game is apparent lack of story, origin, or motive for the two monsters. You're going around collecting these eggs... and there's no indication why they're doing it or even the whole point to the game. While you could argue that the game was an old school action/arcade and that none of the games of the era had any real plot, or that the main selling point of the game is simply to have two giant monsters going on a rampage (seriously, most Japanese movies feature giant monsters have little appeal other than seeing a monster or three duking it out), but in my own opinion, and finally is that the whole thing could have had a story, but it wasn't revealed save for the manual (which I never saw... or even think existed!) or an 'inside' deal where it wasn't too simple to figure out for the general public, like many of the games of the era (such as Double Dragon).

So other than being a fun way to spend a few hours, there's not really much else this game has to offer. The main reason why I remember it is due to the nostalgia factor.

The Bottom Line
Describing this game to others is simply saying that's a fun little game, with only a narrow learning curve and nothing else. It was a fun game like any other at the time and if those people born at around my time and had similar experience with computers at an early age, you'd remember it, like dozens of other games you played throughout the formative stages of your childhood simply because it was there. Though it does have that odd memorable quality to it, it isn't anything too spectacular that would make it worthy of anything other than a smile.

This game, if adapted for mobile phones, would make for a nice way to kill time. Nothing more, and nothing less.

By Salim Farhat on October 4, 2008

Hugo's House of Horrors (DOS)

A cult classic

The Good
What's there to like about this? This is actually a very good question. The 'production values' of this game (if they were called that at the time) are apparently fairly low, and pale in comparison to the many excellent adventure games released by Sierra, Lucasarts, and other, smaller companies. But for all this, Hugo's house of horrors has that certain charm to it. It's difficult to explain, but if you play the game for a short while, even for half an hour, you'll probably remember the game for life.

That's what it's got going for it. Not the puzzles (they're actually very easy, most of the time) or the dialogue (I think you can write every description or bit of dialogue in the game on two sheets of paper, really), or the graphics, which are fairly crude, even by 1990 standards. But it's these supposedly negative points, along with that little charm to it, that just makes it so appealing and memorable. That's all I can say, it's that abstract and that complex an issue, but there you have it.

The Bad
I can't say there's much I didn't like about the game since the negative points that I mentioned earlier all just give the game it's appeal. But if there is a point that I really didn't like (and has no redeeming value) is the trivia questions and riddles asked by a certain character at one point in the game. When I was a kid they were what stopped me from finishing it, and as an adult, I find them very annoying and meaningless, and they don't add a single bit to the game's value or fun factor at all.

The Bottom Line
Consider this game a sort of B-movie. It's sub-par compared to the other, more mainstream games of the era, but it just has that special something that makes you wanna play it and causes it to be a cult classic. Just like the many B-movies out there that have small, but dedicated followings (or people who view them ritualistically at certain times), this is the same thing for adventure games of the era.

One thumb up, just one one... and a wink.

By Salim Farhat on March 1, 2008

Might and Magic: Book One - Secret of the Inner Sanctum (DOS)

Insanely difficult, but good

The Good
Well, what's there to like about this game? Quite a bit actually, and let me begin.

First, the immense scope of the game. Back in 1986 there were titles like King's Quest 3 and Space Quest 1, along with the Ultima IV a year earlier, and though those games were pretty good, none of them matched the scope of the game and it's sheer size... a quick look at all the grids put together, along with the maps of the dungeons and towns and what could and could not be accomplished and when would definitely set the tone for the later games in the series, but yet for some reason, they don't seem to have as much of that 'epic adventure' to it. In this case, the technology limitations might actually help since you'll need to really stay focused on your quests and where you're going otherwise you'll veer off course and will waste too much time.

Secondly was the interesting twists to the game plot and, in fact, the game world and general overaching plot. Seriously, how many fantasy games do you mix in pure science fiction with a world of goblins and wizards and sword slashing knights? To top it all, one thing which boggled my mind is the fact that the world of VARN, which is an acronym standing for Vehicular Astropod Research Nacelle... and that basically means that it isn't a planet at all, but a giant research vessal going through the cosmos just like that. Just thinking about that boggles my mind, and this part would be the best of the game, and perhaps of the series as a whole.

The Bad
A lot of things that are good about this game can actually be annoying in some ways. For one thing, the game is not easy. I'm not talking about 'this is gonna need some extra hours' type. No. What I'm talking about is that this game is something you dedicate yourself to, perhaps for months, or even a year or so (assuming you use no help from the old, but still functioning websites on the internet) to complete successfully.

When I said the scope of the game is huge, I was serious, and while the freedom this provides is great, it also means that's all too easy to get lost. There's no auto-mapping feature in the game meaning that you will have to hand-draw everything as you move along, and taking into consideration that the in-game perspective has absolutely no indication of any objects you might run into (if you run into a place where a town is supposed to be, you see nothing, but instead just get a message), what this means is, unless you know all the maps by heart, which is no easy task, you'll be moving along the game with your eyes darting back and forth from the map you've drawn constantly. This seriously detracts from the game play and makes it less enjoyable.

And there are no less than twenty overland grids (just the overland... there are also over 35 maps of towns, caves, and castles out there) meaning that you'll be spending a LOT of time mapping out the places least you get lost (and it's not easy to find your way back, even with a map at times), plus finding quest-givers is no easy... and to make matters more difficult, you can only be on one quest at any given time. This problem becomes solvable later on after you've gotten some spells capable of removing your current quest, but the fact still remains that having only one quest at a time is a tad annoying.

The other issue the difficulty of the battles, and most especially the beginning of the game. The monsters are way too strong and your starting party has only a bunch of clubs and no money or gems and barely enough food for a few rest periods. Unless you're patient enough to save constantly and hope to run into monsters that you're capable of defeating at the beginning, you're going to be frustrated easily and you will give up.

Also, for the first time players, there's no sense of direction at all in the game, the person who gives you the quest which starts off the main plot seems fairly innocent and non-descript. While many games suffer from this defect, Might and Magic, is, unfortunately, extremely unforgiving in that regard.

The Bottom Line
As I mentioned, this game is for dedicated players and not for the casual gamer. You wanna play a nice classic game that you can finish relatively quickly and in a linear fashion, then you're gonna have to go elsewhere for that.

But if you've got the patience, dedication, and drive to finish a massive game (which I believe would be among the hardest of all in the M&M series) then you might have a shot at this one. It's insanely difficult, with the mapping work needed taking a great deal of time, mastering a lot of dangerous monsters, an d getting a party up to scale and not running into the countless pitfalls that await... and finally, the possibility that you might need to start over and over again with different character combinations and alignment to see what different results you might get.

The back of the game box mentions 'After you've played Might and Magic a few hundred times, you'll know all of this... but you might not know the secret'. There's a lot of truth in that quote, so consider yourself warned you enter the world of Might and Magic.

By Salim Farhat on January 29, 2008