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Column: Parallax Memories

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – History of Video Games

May 16, 2006 5:41 PM |

History of Games.jpg['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's 'special edition' column takes a look at the Classic Gaming Expo's History of Video Games exhibit at last week's E3 Expo.]

While at E3 I was almost completely absent from the internet last week, but I still don't think there's been much coverage of the The History of Videogames "booth" in Kentia Hall. There were little displays all over the show floor—usually containing mini-arcade cabinets of Frogger, or old PC games in good condition boxes—but when I found the full exhibit, there was much more than I expected. Enjoying older games as I do I was happy to get the opportunity to take a break from the overwhelming amount of new ones.

Friday was the shortest day of E3, and I still had to conduct a few interviews and check out far too many booths . But I had to get a good look around the display. I had to spend more time there than was healthy; I was compelled. At what could only be the center of the labyrinth that is Kentia Hall, I gazed eagerly upon row after row of arcade cabinets ranging from Asteroids to R-Type.

Cabinets.jpgAt a first look, the arcade cabinets ranged from good to excellent condition, but upon closer inspection there were noticeable blemishes. The buttons were all original and so not always in the best shape. The monitors ranged from blurry and unwatchable to clean and burn-free. But overall, the cabinet artwork was in wonderful shape; the original painted side art was intact, as were all stickers and instruction cards.

There were more games than I can list here, and all were on free play. The games ranged from all eras of the arcade up to the early '90s. I could only take the time to play a few games of Tempest and Centipede (two games that are fairly difficult to in the arcade "wild").

handhelds.jpgBehind the rows of arcade cabinets there were hundreds of stacked boxes of handheld electronic and LCD games. They ranged from mini-arcade mock-up cabinets to obscure Japanese handhelds. It was stirring to see this massive collection laid out on the floor. I saw games from Japan that I never knew existed, including one based on Dr. Slump (a manga from Akira Toriyama of Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball fame) and a two player Hokotu No Ken game(released as Fist of the North Star in the United States).

Even further back in the exhibit, I found some rare and older videogame systems on display. The systems featured most often in this column (the Genesis and SNES) were represented, but they were only showing very common domestic games—nothing of real note. However, there were a couple Vectrex machines that were still in amazing shape for their age; it's always astounding to see those super-sharp vector monitors in action. And I grabbed the opportunity to play the Atari Jaguar's port of Raiden (which was, unfortunately, quite poor).

Keith.jpg
I skimmed parts of the display; there really was just too much to take in at once. Seeing a classic Apple II monochrome monitor really warmed my heart, and the Coleco Vision reminded me of long-past weekends with my uncle. As I headed back to “the future of gaming,” I spied Keith Robinson (co-founder of Intellivision) playing a skillful game of Jumpman Junior on a Commodore SX-64. With so much talk about moving ahead in games right now with the “HD era” upon us, it is comforting to know that some people are making note of the past.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer's Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first-person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Ristar

May 9, 2006 12:27 AM |

Image from the Mega Drive Version
['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Sega's platforming game: Ristar, released in 1995 for the Genesis.]

The Shooting Star

Pretty late in the Genesis' lifespan—after the Sega CD and 32X, and just before Saturn was released—a little-publicized game was released: Ristar. The concept for Ristar came from Yuji Naka's leftover ideas for Sonic the Hedgehog. Originally, Sonic was to be a rabbit that could reach out and grab things with his ears, but as the speed of the game increased, a new animal was needed in its place.

While Naka was not part of the team itself, lead designer Mitake Takumi—a designer previously for Sonic CD and later for NiGHTS into Dreams—stared to create Feel. The game didn't have a rabbit, but it did have a black blob wearing a star-like mask with two predominately ear-shaped points. Feel was never released, and most of the ideas and designs carried over to Ristar with only a small makeover.

Use those arms little star
Greedy Galaxy

Ristar is woken to save the galaxy from Greedy, who has corrupted all its leaders—no subtleties of symbolism there. Most of the gameplay in Ristar involves either grabbing something, headbutting it, or using it as a handle. When grabbing, Ristar will stretch his arms out like rubber bands and grab hold of pretty much anything on screen. As a result, jumping is only mildly helpful, and moving Ristar can be somewhat complicated. The first two levels are just a warm-up, but you need them to get use to the controls.

After becoming familiar with the way Ristar works, its ingenuity begins to show. Before climbing ladders, you have to grab them. To attack enemies you need to grab them first, then headbutt them. But after spending some time just running into or bumping off of enemies and the environment, you start swinging around on them.

The more you master the controls the deeper the game becomes. Testing your skill on a cliff, using your arms to get higher and higher, will usually reward you with hidden items or areas. New paths become clear after you learn how best to interact with the environment. The pace of the game becomes more organic and less linear; you feel like Tarzan swinging freely around in space.

Notice anything similar?
Unexplored Space

Place a new mechanic in something very familiar, and the game is completely different. Most areas and elements of the game don't fall too far from the tree of Sonic the Hedgehog. The artistic aesthetic is almost identical in the designs of environments and backgrounds. The game also has play mechanics similar to Dynamite Headdy. Yet as similar as these things are, they feel original when navigating them with Ristar's spandextrous arms.

From the music to level design, everything is high quality, which is expected in a game that arrived late in the system's history. The best thing about it is that even if you don't feel like pulling out your Genesis—or, god forbid, purchasing another system—the game was hidden in the Sonic Mega Collection, available for all 3 current generation systems. You may already have this classic sitting on your shelf.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer's Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]*blink*blink*

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Darius Twin

May 2, 2006 3:53 PM |

Cover for the Japanese Version of Darius Twin['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Taito’s side-scrolling shooter: Darius Twin]

Warning! Giant Ship Approaching!

Darius, as a series, is usually the odd man out when the topic of horizontal shooters comes up. R-Type and Gradius are the names that get thrown around, and occasionally Darius will be mentioned as a side-bar. But a patron of '80s and '90s arcades couldn't ignore the gigantic three-screen arcade cabinets that held Darius and Sagaia (Darius II outside the United States).

The first game in the series released for the SNES was Darius Twin in 1991. When every other console release was a port of either Darius or Sagaia, Twin aimed to be something new. Most changes were aesthetic, but the flow of the game was altered heavily. The original branching triangular path was changed to twin diamonds, separating, converging, then separating again. At the point of convergence is a level that scrolls in all directions, most prominently diagonally. Stationary obstacles come at you at all times from all directions, forcing tight maneuvering and unique puzzles.

Nice diagonal scrollingTuna Sashimi

Giant fish are probably the last thing you expect to see in a shooter, but one of the many charms of the series is its collection of aquatic bosses: coelacanths, mackerel, squid, nautilus, lobsters, sea horses, sea turtles, and a huge anglerfish the size of four screens. These are mechanical fish that attack with lasers, arms, glowing orbs, and occasionally other fish.

These intergalactic ichthyoids, in addition to having planets to lord over, all have distinct names and code numbers (which carried over from Sagaia). The sea turtle is MX04: Full Metal Shell, the squid is BD4Z: Demon Sword, and the mackerel is HH02: Killer Higia. Bizarre, but not at all uncommon in this series.

Like the fish, the music was composed in the tradition of the series by Taito in-house band Zuntata, who wrote some of the most memorable soundtracks for games of the '80s and '90s. The score is creepy and eclectic; it stands out from the from the first stage and haunts you to the last. And even though the Darius music is overlooked by many, it sure got a large and expensive soundtrack release.

The King is dead, long live the KingZone Is Over

This game departs in many ways from the previous games in the series, presumably to make it more palatable to console gamers. Twin is nowhere near as difficult as Darius and Sagaia. But to balance this, there is never an option to continue; the player is forced to single-credit the game. Usually in the Darius series, death spells defeat as the levels have get more difficult and the upgrades rarer. In Twin, the ship retains its power-ups post-mortem, sweetening the bitter taste of defeat. The game is accessible to those unwilling to spend the many hours required to master the other Darius games, but not so easy that everyone can beat it on their first try.

Twin added marvelous little touches to this epic series. It named most of the planets in Darius' galaxy. It resurrected and upgraded some of the series' best bosses, including a deadly duet of Emperor and Queen Fossil. And the pace and tone are never so serious that you feel the need to take notes. Even with its unorthodox (and unorthogonal) scrolling, it's a relaxing break from its own series and from other, more technical, shooters.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Gunstar Heroes

April 25, 2006 1:01 PM |

Treasure Box['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Treasure's run-and-gun action game: Gunstar Heroes for the Genesis.]

Lunatic Heroes

I first played Gunstar Heroes was with a friendly rival (he had a Genesis before I did, and more NES games). One day, after school, he came over to my house with a game box in hand and said this new game was better than Contra, which we had to play. It was the last game I played with him before I moved away. I don't know if I agree that it was better than Contra.

The game was originally conceived with the title "Lunatic Gunstar," but Sega of America recommended "heroes, since it's cool," to the then-unknown development company. The game was programmed in their spare time, and after a few bumps, Gunstar Heroes was released in the US and Japan in September 1993, on the ninth and tenth respectively. The game's success on both sides of the Pacific established a name for the small company, who were called Treasure.

Seven Force Level
Freedom of Choice

Gunstar Heroes is hard to describe - to say it is similar to Contra doesn't do it justice. I usually play using the homing-laser, which makes it fairly easy to beat the game using only a few continues. I have a friend who told me that he found the game damn hard and used far more continues. We got together last month to play though the the Treasure Box release. I realized it was his choice of weapon--the double flamethrower--that made the game so difficult for him.

Gunstar Heroes was built on choices, and not just in weaponry--the main stage order is selectable. I tend to go left to right out of habit, and the game seemed foreign when my friend took a different route. The bosses (and there are many) can be taken down in many different ways. This game is the epitome of Treasure's early don't-leave-anything-out design process.

GOLD DUST!
Fan Fare

Even with all the variations, the many levels, and bosses, Gunstar Heroes still produces a tight package of action. There are so many extremely original ideas crammed into this game. Every boss fight is memorable, and even the music and sound effects are overachievers.

Treasure is almost synonymous with hardest-of-the-hardcore fans, and their fan-base was practically built on this game alone. For years, devotees despaired that there would never be a sequel (though they ultimately had mixed feelings when it finally arrived in the form of Gunstar Super Heroes). There is a reason why fans are so zealous; Gunstar Heroes is a masterpiece of the Genesis library.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer's Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first-person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Harvest Moon

April 18, 2006 3:45 PM |

My wife does preorder the games obsessively['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Natsume’s farm simulator: Harvest Moon for the SNES.]

Moo-ving to the Country

This week is my wife’s birthday. Being a sentimental man I decided to take this week to talk about her favorite series of videogames. The first Harvest Moon she played was a later version, for the Nintendo 64. She got it on recommendation from me as a rental. Shortly thereafter, she had sunk more time into it than I had spent on any game in a long time.

Harvest Moon for the Super Nintendo, the first in the now long-running series, was released in Japan in August 1996 under the title Bokujou Monogatari (The Meadow Story). Natsume, an U.S. publishing company focused on family-oriented titles; released, translated, and published the game under the title Harvest Moon (which was named by Terry Munson, one of the editors of Nintendo Power at the time). It was later brought to Europe, in January 1998, by Nintendo.

Riceball of a HeroBarnyard Basics

As a young lad, Jack acquires his late grandfather’s farm. Now with the farm in disrepair, Jack must make a name for himself and become a successful and productive part of the community. The game is fairly simple (much more so than later Harvest Moons). Crop and livestock management consume most of the daily routine. Both are limited and easily managed.

Harvest Moon has a time cycle that represents hours, days, months, and seasons. Unlike other life simulators which attempt to match real world time, HM has a fast clock where days go by quickly. Pick some crops, put them in the bin to be sold. Feed your chickens and raise some eggs in the incubator. Train and race your horse. Chop some wood and store it for building. Go to town and buy some items for your farm. All these things you will do for many of these days, months, and seasons.

At certain times, events will happen in town. This is when Jack gets to show off his skills and pick up on some of the women. The five ladies in waiting will grow to like Jack more or less based on how he answers questions, or what types of items and gifts he gives them. When the relationship has properly bloomed then a marriage can be arranged, and from this marriage, a child can grow. The circle of life is complete.

A farm of disrepair
Love and Marriage

It is pretty funny for me to read in Volume 94 of Nintendo Power: “The courtship element of the game reflects the disproportionate percentage of video gamers who are male.” I have seen my wife play many games in the series - she favors the courtship elements in the male versions over the versions that feature a female lead. It allows a certain amount of role-playing not normally allowed in games. And like in real life, marriage and children are not the end. The game keeps going and you can continue to build up your farm and skills with your wife and child. It does not seem to progress past a certain point, but the illusion never has to end.

Getting lost in the simple world of Harvest Moon is pretty easy. With the most recent games, my wife has dedicated a Palm Pilot to tracking and managing crops, livestock, market, relationships and dates. It started on more simple terms, though, with fewer variables. She frequently goes all the way back to play the SNES game to revisit simpler times.

Main CharacterSacred Cows

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Ninja Masters

April 11, 2006 2:09 PM |

NMasterTop.jpg['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles SNK and ADK’s 2D fighter for the Neo Geo: Ninja Masters]

Master to No One

In and out of arcades before anyone noticed, Ninja Masters is one of ADK's best games for the Neo Geo. Released on home cartridge in late June '96, and for the Neo CD in late September ‘96, this historical-fiction based weapons fighter can easily be viewed as the predecessor to the Last Blade series.

I first encountered the game through chance. I was trying to get a copy of Samurai Shodown 2 for the Neo Geo, and the cheapest way was buying in quantity. So along with the deal came 3 Count Bout and Ninja Masters. Although not my intent, I ended up playing more than a healthy amount of Ninja Masters. After asking around I found I was not alone in my ignorance of the game.

ninjamasshot5.pngA Rag-Tag Bunch

Set in Japan’s Sengoku period, this game’s plot demonizes the ruler Oda Nobunaga. Making a pact with a demon, Nobunaga and his assistant--the feminine teenage male Ranmaru--attempt to achieve their ambition of ruling Japan. 10 warriors are tied by fate to the evil ruler as he tries to overtake Japan.

As set forth by Street Fighter, a rivalry between main characters is demanded for 2D fighters to be successful: at least that seems to be the common misperception. Sasuke and Kamui--the main characters--came from the same clan and attended the same ninja school. Upon their return from school Sasuke leaves the clan in an attempt to stop Nobunaga, and Kamui is sent after him to give him an "honorable death." The other characters are involved with the plot for various reason: dreams, riches, spirits, alcoholism, or just a bounty.

nm4.jpgThe Smell of Blood

The game suffers from what are known as dial-a-combos. Precision and skill take a back seat to the pre-determined amount of possible combos (one character has a 24 hit attack in only 5 button presses). So for tournaments, this game is right out.

But as for messing around with a few friends, this game is perfect. Most characters have stances with and without weapons and a variety of moves for both. Each character is highly varied from the others, barring the main characters of course.

The fighters all have smaller than average sprites (similar to King of Fighters) and they are all well animated. Nice little touches are hidden in all the characters moves, like Karasu who uses his Japanese namesake (“crow”) as a weapon. The backgrounds and music, while not very detailed, work fittingly together to set the desolate and bleak atmosphere.

Standing next to its kin--Samurai Shodown and Last Blade--Ninja Masters pales. This is not so much a fault of the game as it is a credit to the other series named. Compared to its contemporaries in the arcades, this game stood above many wanna-be knock offs.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories'- El Viento

April 4, 2006 6:34 PM |

El_Viento_GEN_ScreenShot1.jpg
['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Wolfteam’s action platformer: El Viento, released for the Sega Genesis in late 1991 in the U.S. and Japan.]


A Tale of a Wind Gypsy

What happens when an anime-themed development team decides to create a game after reading some H.P. Lovecraft? Apparently El Viento. Annet, a blood descendant of Hastur, is shouldered with the responsibility of saving all humanity using the power of nature magic.

Developed in 1991 by Wolfteam for the Sega Genesis, and released by Renovation in the United States, El Viento follows the mold of outrageously sexy late 80’s anime. Much like other efforts of the development team (Valis), style is emphasized over control and design.

viento-octo.gifTerrors of the Deep

This game is outright, silly in retrospect. While it may have been taken more seriously at one point, fighting a horde of New York gangsters in the 1920s who are controlled by a mob boss being paid to stop Annet from preventing the resurrection of Hastur is just the start of this train wreck. However, the plot is not the only problem. The background scrolls horribly, seemingly with no connection to the foreground. The building designs, while they are modern apartments, feel very similar to some of the later Castlevania action games, and the style is even further replicated in the Grand Canyon level.

The music is fairly bland and forgettable, and the sound effects are outright inappropriate. While I normally enjoy playing games with headphones to appreciate the subtleties of sound, this game has no need for any special attention. That is, unless you have some over-taking urge to make your ears bleed in terror. Then comes the terrible sprite scaling: the worst offenders being explosions and a certain octopus-squid thing.

After New York, things get even stranger. Hastur's followers need to be destroyed, and not only in New York, but; Mt. Rushmore, The Grand Canyon, caves under New York, and even on a blimp. In these locations are: piles of logs that explode for no reason when you step on them, cacti that float in the air and used as platforms, prehistoric cave men and giant caterpillars under the streets of New York--and these are just a few of the more ridiculous items.

elvie-1.gifCthulhu fhtagn!

I can’t tell if the designers wanted to throw in homages to H.P. Lovecraft of just ran out of ideas, but I am hoping for the former. The first sign of Cthulhu Mythos turns up with the mention of the evil god Hastur. Then the game goes on to make more subtle references in the forms of a Byakhee as the helper of Restiana (your misguided nemesis), and the boss of a later level is a Mi-Go. Because of the appearance of the Mi-Go as a metaphorical ball-under-the-cup sleight-of-hand trick, I am leaning towards the Wolfteam running out of idea options.

Overall the game is a little wacky, has floaty controls, head-scratching level design, and insane locations with no relation to the time period. The animation for the main character is pretty nice, and some of the enemies have nice touches to them. The game did not age well at all though. It spawned the sequel, Ernest Evans, which is (believe it or not) even worse than El Viento. All is not completely lost, as it is definitely good for a few laughs.

untitled1.bmpuntitled2.bmpuntitled3.bmpuntitled.bmp

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer's Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. He has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories'- Secret of Mana

March 28, 2006 3:11 PM |

SoMhead.jpg['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Squaresoft’s action RPG: Secret of Mana, released for the Super Nintendo in late 1993 in the U.S. and Japan, and debuting later in 1994 in Europe.]

Turned into a Moogle!

Secret of Mana is a game that started its heritage as a Final Fantasy title in the U.S. Released stateside as Final Fantasy Adventure, Seiken Densetsu for the Game Boy is the first title in the “Mana” series of games. While it never felt like a Final Fantasy game, I did enjoy it. Little did I know that it was part of its own series until my discovery on the internet years later.

Released in late 1993 for the SNES, Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2) is one of Squaresoft’s most colorful and aesthetically pleasing games. The music, created by Hiroki Kikuta, is extremely well implemented and memorable. It ranges from haunting and unsettling to exhilarating and fun, yet is always fitting for the mood and setting of each well crafted area.

1.pngA Boy, a Girl, and a Sprite

The game starts with you and your friends on a treasure hunt over a river, next to a waterfall. The sun is out and you’re without a care in the world. One wrong move and you find yourself in the river, only able to return home by taking the sword in a nearby stone and chopping your way through the forest. Unbeknown to you, these actions result in the return of all evil to the land and the leaching of Mana energy from the world.

After finding that the sword is the Sword of Mana and being exiled from your town, you decide to stop the evil forces that have arisen. On your quest you pick up a sprite that has lost its memory and a girl who is trying to find her true love.

Like a good team, even after you’ve helped them solve their problems they will stay with you. Unfortunately, the story was poorly translated, and at times is somewhat confusing, but it’s not the focus of the game anyway.

2.jpgLaunched From a Cannon

The game takes you over many different beautifully designed locations, each filled with unique enemies and tons of boss battles. The story is just a tool to make you a tourist in this lovely world.

The real joy comes from playing the game itself: mastering the use of three characters if you are playing by yourself, or learning to play well other people controlling each character in the team.

The action element lends itself quite well to the strategy of RPGs in Secret of Mana. The ability to play with more than one person is just icing on the cake. The overall package--gameplay, music, graphics and story--is not one to be missed; even if the story is a weak link.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer's Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: ‘Parallax Memories’ - Metal Slug: Super Vehicle SV-001

March 21, 2006 9:45 PM |

MS1.jpg['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles SNK and Nazca Corporation’s run-and-gun action platformer: Metal Slug]

Marco Rossi, Reporting for Duty

In a pizza parlor somewhere outside Appleton, WI there is a Neo-Geo machine with a monitor in heavy need of repair. One of the available four games was Metal Slug. Although just there to pick up a pizza pie for carry-out, I decided to play one credit. 20 minutes later I returned to the car with a cold pizza and a smile.

Aside from the Contra series, I mainly return to one other place for my gun toting action: Metal Slug. This slap-stick action game was developed by Nazca; which is comprised of ex-Irem employees (look to Gunforce and In The Hunt for influences on the series). What they created is a perfect blend of action and humor inside one of the most detailed and rich games for the arcade scene, and because of that the team was absorbed by SNK.

MS2.jpgRegular Army Recruit

You start by picking either Marco or Tarma of the Regular Army Peregrine Falcon special-forces unit. The Regular Armie's tanks have been seized by the Rebels and the Peregrine Falcon special-forces unit uses their back up plan: the Super Vehicle-001 “Metal Slug.” Thrown into midst of a fight against the Rebels army, you must shoot, slice, and bomb your way through them.

Initially all you have is a trusty pistol or knife, but throughout your mission you can pick up a selection of different weapons from enemies and recaptured prisoners of war. As a member of the special-forces you’re also trained in the operation of the Metal Slug, which the Regular Army has placed in strategic locations. With a huge cannon on the front and a Vulcan cannon you can take out most anything in this tank. If not you can always launch the tank at the enemy as a last ditch effort.

MS3.JPGDown With The General

Your main goal is to defeat and capture General Morden, the leader of the Rebel Army. On your path to victory there are six levels, all of varying location. Each boss is unique and challenging to fight. Levels contain many humorous and deadly surprises such as; old bearded POWs, man-eating fish, and rocket-launching scuba divers. All the levels are masterfully detailed with good upbeat music to keep pace.

After getting a Neo Geo this was one of the first games I tracked down. Everything in this game is balanced and well executed leading to many repeat plays through. While I could only get to General Morden—never beat him—with one credit, I’ve seen it done. My last attempt, after not playing the game in over a year, was in that pizza parlor: I was glad to know I still had a little bit of skill.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer's Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Lords of Thunder

March 14, 2006 2:28 PM |

LoT.jpg['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal early '90s systems. This week's column profiles Hudsonsoft and Red's stunning, oft-forgotten Sega CD horizontal shooter Lords Of Thunder.]

A Whim, And A Score

Sometimes you do things that you can’t explain. You make purchases on a whim while in a used game store that is more than just a little shady. That was how I came to own what I can only describe as one of the best looking systems that Sega ever put out, the CDX. But what the hell was I going to play on it? Sewer Shark and Night Trap are not my idea of a good time.

armors.pngEager for something worthwhile I acquired a box of old and heavily scratched Sega CD games in a trade. While most were ports of Genesis games with added red book audio one game stood out: Lords of Thunder.

All About Heavy Metal Rock

The initial test of the game to find out if it was even playable led to three straight hours of ear pleasing horizontal shooting. Lords of Thunder is set in a fantasy era of giant flying bugs, sorcerers, magic suits of armor, and heavy metal rock. It was developed by Hudson Soft and Red in 1993 for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM2 as Winds of Thunder, and simultaneously as one of the flag ship games for the doomed Turbo Duo (in the U.S., the Duo version was also called Lords of Thunder). Red also worked with Hudson to create the spiritual brother of the game, Gate of Thunder, and the RPG series Tengai Makyou.

loth.jpgOpening on a stormy night, the soundtrack filled with electric guitars wailing, you hear the story of evil gods planning to plunge the world into darkness. Duran, the hero, is the last of the blood line of the hero-knights and the world’s final hope. Not very original for a development team that also creates RPGs.

Earth, Wind, And Fire?

Classic heavy metal tunes play as you shoot your way through 7 themed levels with huge bosses and hordes of enemies. You start out by picking your level; select one of four armor types (wind, fire, water, and earth) for different attacks, and then proceed to the shop. The woman behind the counter is certainly a curiosity. While her sultry voice acting was included in the Japanese PCE CD release and the Sega CD release of the game, it was not included in Turbo Duo release. Perhaps it was just too damned sexy for kids at the time.

lot-shop.pngUltimately the game is fairly easy. It is generous with health (one hit kills and lives are replaced by a life meter) and power ups. Completing it with one life should be an obtainable task for even the poorest of gamers, although the default difficulty is the lowest of three. The hell with it though, every ounce of this game is pure awesome, and a joy to listen to.

I heavily reconsidered my negative opinions on the Sega CD after this game, and found a few other gems because of it.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer's Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]