Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Elder Scrolls Chapter One: Arena

 The first of the Elder Scrolls series, developed in 1994 by everybody's favorite, Bethesda Softworks, Arena is an open-world first-person RPG similar to it's early predecessor, Ultima Underworld, only much more immense. This game still strikes me as one of the most difficult of all time, mainly due to it's overwhelming capacity and lack of navigation. It's still not bad, and it is very similar to a more recent game, Skyrim.

Getting the game to work/Understanding it: 4/10
Simply put, this game runs like crap under the default settings in DOSBox. The user is going to need to press CTRL+F12 a bunch until they reach about 20000 cycles. Once you've found your speed niche, it becomes much more playable. You're going to start off in a moist dungeon filled with rats and goblins. Move around with the arrow keys, or by clicking the direction with your mouse. You can find your inventory by clicking your face and hitting next. Later, this becomes a giant pain in the ass, but for right now you should just equip your weapon. Press the swords button to draw your weapon, then hold right-click and move your mouse around to attack. One more thing, you're going to be asked some questions from the manual in true oldgame anti-piracy fashion, so here's the list to those. Now, we can begin.

Gameplay: 7½/10
The first dungeon might prove to be too hard for many beginning players, especially with the awkward scheme they've implemented. Moving around is pretty tough, and you are prone to being attacked from behind quite often. You'll have to rest and save frequently, because dying is taken quite literally. Once you get the hang of things, the game becomes a lot of fun as you move around the world, gathering information and doing jobs and the like. Still, you have to listen very carefully some times, as the journal doesn't provide you with much of anything, and the map you have to tag all by yourself. Sometimes you'll get attacked at random in a town, so always be prepared. At this point, you can see that it is definitely the first Elder Scrolls game, but where in the hell does the title "Arena" come in? I'll get back to that, for now, -2½ points for not telling me what to do very well.

Graphics: 6/10
Understandably, this game is very large, and it's only 1994, so it's not going to exactly "excel" in the graphics department. While it's perfectly playable as a game, it's almost impossible to tell where you're going sometimes, as there's a thick fog covering anything within 20 feet of you. There's a multitude of 2D sprites like trees, fountains and people, never changing their plane of existence, always stuck in their limited dimension. However, the cutscenes are pretty good, the textures are pretty nice, and there's a lot of other things that strike my interest like how it changes from day to night. Pretty cool stuff. -4 points overall, though.

Sound: 7/10
Very atmospheric, the game really helps get you along with nice music and lots of sound effects. I wish that sometimes there was some talking though, -3 points for me being dissatisfied.

Overall: 7¼/10 
 Why is this game called Arena, anyway, I haven't come across any sort of gladiator-fighting or coliseums or nothing. Oh, it's because they rebuilt this game from an old project, adding in RPG elements and the like, only to scrap the original Arena gameplay, and still to leave the title. That doesn't make any sense. Either way, if you're a Skyrim fan, you should be checking this out, Bethesda graciously gives it out for free from their website. You'll probably spend a good moment on it, and experience gaming history as it once was.

Links: - Download Elder Scrolls Chapter One: Arena - Arena Player's Guide

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Caves of Thor

 There's been some games that annoy me. Some are new, some are old, but they usually have one thing in common, and that's me saying "I'm never playing this game again". Caves of Thor, though, man, it's on a whole different level of that phrase. Caves of Thor is like, almost the meaning of it. The epitome of my catchphrase, "I'm never playing this game again". It makes you think that if you ever went back to 1990, all there would be is Caves of Thor and we'd all be playing horrible PC games, but luckily that's not the case. This game was invented by Todd Replogle, who later became one of Duke Nukem 3D's lead programmers, and this is also the first title Apogee picked up that wasn't created by one of them. Let me explain this abomination a little bit more.

 Sound: 0/10
The first thing you will do is press the S key to turn off the sound, unless you were like me (who didn't see that to begin with) and just sat there listening to the worst-ever PC speaker orchestra. I'm serious, something is wrong with this game's music, it's absolutely nervewracking. All the points, gone.

Graphics: 1/10
Some miserable attempt at anything that resembles a crap is what you get with this one. You're going to need to decypher the games cryptic code of ASCII objects that are supposed to either be items, enemies, or doorways. There's a lot of nothing spectacular, -9 fat ones.

Gameplay: 1/10
The controls can be summed up to the equivalent of running a marathon in molasses. They're just that sticky. The screen can't even catch up with your smiley warrior when he's moving. Make sure that you're aiming in the correct direction, then press space to attack enemies with your exploding spear or something. If you try to throw more than one, your current one will disappear in mid-flight, so don't do that. You're going to need to find shields, potions, and keys to get to the next area. I got extremely frustrated in what I guess was a river, trying to fight my way against the current because I couldn't see anywhere else to go. -9 and don't whine.

Overall: 1/10
Basically, this game gets one point overall because it's a game. Other than that, it's a pretty horrible creation that probably should have never seen the light of day. Some people may like it, and my rebuttal is this: PLAY ZZT INSTEAD if you're looking for ASCII graphics and top-down gameplay. When I was playing this game, I noticed that you say "Oops" if you shoot a wall. This leads me to believe that, possibly, this is where Duke Nukem's "Where is it?" was created. It's even more credible when you consider who made the game. I could probably ramble on and on about how bad this game is, maybe so that you don't have to play it, or maybe so that we can learn from some of the fatal flaws of gaming. Give it a shot, it's free, but in the menu it says the source code is available for $199.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

DOSBox: A Quick Tutorial

DOSBox is an x86 based DOS emulator that will allow you to play many of the games I've posted. The majority of these games came around when DOS was still being used, and it's difficult to get some of them to run on a newer computer, say Windows XP or Windows 7. Using this program you'll effectively be able to run DOS applications on a Windows, MacOS, or Linux based computer.

Step 1: Save your games in the same place, say, c:\dosgames. This way, it's much easier to navigate your folder with DOSBox, especially when you're not used to running DOS.

Step 2: Open DOSBox. You should end up with a Z:\ prompt. Type "mount c c:\dosgames". Doing this allows the program to recognize your games folder as a valid hard disk. Now you can switch to the mounted drive by typing "c:\". DOSBox will switch to the new base directory, which is your games folder.

Step 3: Type "dir" or "dir/w". You'll see your list of folders that the games are stored in. Pick one you like, and type "cd foldername". Remember to replace foldername with the actual name of the folder. Quick tip, you can usually just type the first few letters of the folder and hit TAB, like "cd foldTAB", for quick access. Nicely done.

Step 4: Find the executable file, or .exe, to start the game. You'll need to use "dir/w" again to find it. Once you do, just type "gamename.exe". Whatever you're running should boot up in an instant and you'll be flying high in the DOS sky. Pressing ALT+Enter will fullscreen the program. Play your game for a while, when you exit you should return to the prompt.

Step 5: Insert the command "cd.." to go back to the last folder. CD means Change Directory, so you use that to hop around folders. The DIR command, as you've probably figured out, shows the contents of a directory. Note that these are very basic instructions and some things might require a little tweaking to get running properly. You should consult the DOSBox manual for more information on increasing framerates and such.

Edit 01-21-2012: Expert Excrement Expeditor recently informed me that you can drag and drop the .exe file straight to the shortcut in Windows. It will automatically mount the drive as the folder the game is in. If you type "exit" you can get out and drag another shortcut when you want to play another game. Thanks
Have fun guys!

Xenophage: Alien Bloodsport

 Apogee and Argo games threw this game on the market in December of 1995, following the wake and popularity of Mortal Kombat II in the arcades. As we all know, DOS wasn't the best platform to create a fighting game, but many did it anyways, despite the facts: Arcades/consoles owned the fighting genre, PC gaming just wasn't as popular. Xenophage, taken literally, is like eating aliens, or something. I guess it's a pretty fitting title then, let's see how this game holds up!
 Gameplay: 7/10
Wow. It's fast, easy to control, and pretty fun. I even got some combos down and learned some special moves, which are things like lame projectiles of acid from your weird, alien mouth. You whoop ass and it looks like you're given the opportunity to "finish" your opponent, but I didn't get around to any of that. Played through the game on easy mode, which is saying a lot, because usually with a PC fighting game I just get pissed and rage quit. I even went and hooked up my gamepad for when I played normal mode, which was just dandy. Still, there isn't really any story progression or character involvement, such as in One Must Fall: 2097. I'm going to take away 3 points because of that, but otherwise, this game gets a good rating.

Graphics: 8/10
The best thing about this game is how the camera moves around so much, zooming in and out depending on how close or far away your opponent is. Sometimes the characters look like they're the size of the screen, and it's pretty cool, because they're well detailed and generally fun to look at. I mean, geez, look at these odd alien creations, chewing on eachother and stabbing one another. The two human characters are out of place, in my opinion. The scrolling backgrounds have multiple levels of animation to them, and it adds a nice overall effect. I just don't like the menu screens, character selection screens, or the prefight screens. They could have done better there, -2 points.

 Sound: 5/10
Some annoying synth music will keep you occupied as you hear some digital punches and bites. The announcer does speak a lot, which is good, but it's missing the wailing and screaming of some other notable fighting games. -5 points for disinterest.

Overall: 7/10
 Now, before you go and play this game, I suggest you get this FAQ ready, it will help you learn some moves and save a buttload of time as you're character surfing. Despite the story mode lacking depth, it's still a pretty good fighting game engine, and it looks great to boot. Mashing the default keys got tiresome to me, so I'd recommend using a gamepad for optimum oldgaming experience. The game was generously released as freeware in 2006, and it provides quite a bit of entertainment. Give it a go!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Commander Keen Maps

All of the overhead maps from the Commander Keen series!

You can get all of the level maps from here. You're welcome.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dark Ages

Dark Ages is a bit like the creepy game with a dunce-cap, banished forever to its corner to think about what it has done, only to return and immediately be shunned again. Apogee released this game in 1991, alongside some of their more popular releases. First thing you notice, you're Fabio or something, and you were exiled from your heirloom city by an evil wizard, so you have to learn how to fight and make your way through a bunch of caves and stuff finding random objects like apples to give to a wizard so he can show you the way to the next area. Sound repetitive? There's three episodes of this nonsense.

Gameplay: 4/10
So we're off to see the wizard, gotta cross this river, fall in a hole and die. Get attacked by bats and spiders, die. Touch a cobweb, die. Eventually you're going to learn to not touch a damn thing in this game, and this is one of the only times some extremely stiff controls are actually going to help you to be precise as a laser surgery. They're still stuck on the kick that all video games are pinball machines, so they keep a score tally and high score list. You have eight health points, you regain one when you've collected 10 coins, and if you die, you're given the option to save and restart from your current level, with the same amount of health and everything, liable to die again very easily. Your character (Fabio) can shoot this sonicboom-esque wave thing that barely does any damage at all, and until you pick up the powerups, you're going to need to furiously tap the ALT key if you want to get anything to die. I'm on easy mode and this game is still hard, but just for kicks I tried the third episode, and it's more of the same, except no wizard. The game is much more difficult here and you can't seem to shoot fast enough. Between all this madness, the level hazards whooping your butt, and the terrible game premise, I've taken away 6 points. When you play this game, do yourself a favor and hit F10 followed by =, it'll engage rapid fire mode and you can save yourself an ALT key.

 Graphics: 5/10
Although being pretty lame as far as creativity in the game world goes, they do a good job on the environments. Problem is, I still don't know what half of the enemies or terrain are, and they're the same thing throughout the entire length of the game. -5 points for no noticeable variety.

Sound: 4.5/10
It's the first shareware game to feature Adlib music and sound card support. The noise you make when you attack is much like an old Atari game, and it gets very annoying. The music was good, until I realized the tracks were quite sparse, but they segue nicely. A nice swish would have been a better attack sound, but the music is good. -5.5 points.

Overall: 4.25/10
It's a good thing that most people missed this one. I gave it a good try, mainly because it was super challenging, but I soon realized it was mostly impossible to play. I assume it gave Apogee a pretty sour taste in their mouths, but they didn't choose to remove it from distribution until 2009. For now, take a little bite out of Apogee's history, and download this game from the link below.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sango Fighter

 I had this game on a shareware disc, I remember playing it with only two characters, and not particularly enjoying it very much. Originally released in 1993 by a Taiwanese group, Panda Entertainment, this game was about to be released under Apogee's name but wasn't. Instead it went through an independent release and suffered miserably through every step of its life as a PC fighting game. Think about this: It's Street Fighter meets Romance of the Three Kingdoms (modern day equivalent; Dynasty Warriors) minus the strategy element.
 Gameplay: 2/10
Barely playable as a fighting game, I sat there for a little while trying to figure out what buttons to press. Figured out some hadoken style moves but couldn't really get the grasp of it, ass handed to me every time. This game feels more like a Tiger Electronics handheld LCD game, only those can be fun. There's a story mode and stuff here, but who gives a crap about all this historical stuff? -8 points for bad gaming experience.

 Graphics: 5/10
So they're vivid, the characters and backgrounds look fantastic, and the screenshots make this game look like a gem hidden in the sand. Good job, now if it could only run itself, we'd be in business. Seriously, it's so slow, so unresponsive, and always has been, -5 points on that.

Sound: 3/10
Hooray for Adlib music and digital sound, you get three points. -7 points for it all being really hard to listen to. 

Overall: 2/10
This game was released freeware style in just 2009 when a North American company picked up the rights to the game. I assume that means they purchased them, and I can tell you right now, if you choose to listen, as there are bones in your body, it was a bad idea. Unless they just go around, acquiring abandoned titles and giving them away, that's some abandonware rouge shit. All I know is that nobody bought this game back in 1993, thank god, and nobody needs to play it now, because I just wrote this review. For real, when it comes to fighting games on your PC, it might be a better plan to just go to the arcade, and the fact that I chose to do this tonight makes me cringe. Don't waste your time with Sango Fighter, unless your time consists of playing horrible games to feel better about yourself, like me.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

One Must Fall: 2097

There's been lots of great fighting games in my time, and looking back on them, not a single one was released native to the PC. This hasn't changed now, as arcades and consoles are the preferred method of playing a head-to-head fighter. OMF2097 is the second installment in the One Must Fall series, the first coming out years before this one did, in 1994. Players control humans that control robots with their minds. Sounds cool, but wait 'till you get a handful of this crap.

Gameplay: 7/10
In the single player mode, you'll pick from one of the 10 humans who all have individual piloting stats, then pick your bot. Each robot has certain special attacks, most of which are done in good fighting game fashion, down forward punch. At first, you'll clumsily bash your way through the first few fights, but eventually you'll learn your attack combos and start getting stuff done. Some of the arenas have hazards that will come out of the background and knock you around a bunch, which is neat. Apparently, you can destroy your opponent "fatality" style, but I didn't get none of that. You'll fight your way to the top, then it's over. There's also a tournament mode, which allows you to gradually increase the human and robots stats based on the credits you've earned from fights. You have to buy parts, train your skills, and trade robots. A small amount of customization is included here, you can change your colors. As for the game itself, the control just feels too unresponsive. You'll be able to get a certain distance just mashing buttons, but eventually you're going to need those controls to be there, and they aren't. I can't begin to explain the amount of times I was trying to block but to no avail. -3 points for sluggish business.

Graphics: 8/10
They're relatively good, nice animations on the fighters and smooth, easy textures. The robots all have something pretty neat about them, and it's easy to see that. There's little pre-fight scenes where the characters insult eachother, and after the fight a reporter goes through some highlights. It adds quite a bit to the overall presentation of the game, but I would have liked to see more robot destruction. -2 points for not enough robo violence.

Sound: 6/10
Some neat techno plays while you hear the usual "Round one" from the announcer. A good amount of robot clanking going on as they use stuff like fire or blades. It just feels to me like something is missing, and I think they could have added more character voices or robot squeals. -4 points for the lack of effort in the sound department.

Overall: 7/10
If you like fighting games, it'll float your boat. There's enough replayability in this game to last you a long, long while. Even though it doesn't stack up to say, Killer Instinct, it holds its place as one of the better 2-D fighters for the PC. Perhaps even the best. It was also made freeware only five or six years after its release. Give it a shot, it's cool!

Also, please let me know if you like my new format! Thanks a ton!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bio Menace

Bio Menace Episode Two
Lately, I've been playing a lot of games from 1993. It must have been a really good year for gaming, because companies like Apogee were cutting them out like no other. Bio Menace is a 2D sidescroller similar to the original Duke Nukem which came out in 1991, only with several updates. It uses the Commander Keen engine, which was also released in '91, but plays with much more aggressiveness than the retarded kid with a helmet. You're Snake Logan, and you've been sent to check out the mutants invading the city. That's right, Pliskin's not the only Snake in town. This guy sporting a V-neck and mullet has been here a long time.

Gameplay: 7/10
Okay, here's what sucks. You can't move while you shoot, and you can't point upward. -1 point for each of those. Otherwise, the jumping controls feel pretty nice, and the action never really stops. There's lots of platforming going on in this game, hopping around through cities and forests, also there's lots of shooting going on. At least they were decent enough to allow you to duck and shoot, which you're going to be doing frequently, because 50% of the enemies are too short to hit while you're standing up. Every now and then you have to find a crystal or key to open the door, which is amazingly cliche, but what's a sidescroller like this without it? Of course, you're going to be picking up some powerups, which will do stuff like increase your fire rate or bullet damage. There's also a few types of grenades to use. Additionally, you have a few "secret" combinations that allow you to use the plasma shot, shield, and some others. The levels are usually self-explanatory enough to let you just blast through it on your first try, and not have to run around trying to discover your way, but sometimes you have to open up a bunch of doors to find the crystal you need to proceed, and those require keys, so you get what's gonna happen. -1 point for that.

Skull Man in Episode One
Graphics: 7/10
Hey man, they're good, and the game runs pretty smooth to boot. The level graphics are great and the game portrays itself very well. There's some things that bother me, like why all the monsters are so cute. Blobs, smiley dinosaurs, robots and such. -3 points for that but hey, at least they blow up with a satisfying gib.

Sound: 8/10
Lots of high quality digitized sound and sweet adlib tunes keeps your ears entertained. There's lots of explosions and gunfire, but the music sounds a bit random, so I bit off 2 points.

Overall: 9/10
The secret Apogee room, portrait of a hero
It's really a great game, despite the fact that you're some creepo with a mustache. Wait... a... minute, isn't that Carlos Santana? What are you doin' disguising yourself as Snake Logan trying to shoot a bunch of cute monsters? Did you take mescaline again? Oh look, you've wandered into the secret Apogee room, where they were keeping all the spare Duke Nukem and Commander Keen items! Looks like they're working on a game that's going to blow you out of the water in the near future and everyone's gonna forget about you! It's alright, Bio Menace, you had a good run, and it was fun to see you again. Have a good one.

Major Stryker

Back in the shareware days, I used to have a few 2-D shooters like this. Raptor, Zone 66, and of course the one I'm writing about, Major Stryker. It arrived in early 1993 from everyone's favorite producers, Apogee Software. It featured this neat 3-D triple background scrolling thing, some sweet EGA graphics, and awesome digitized sound for us folks with the soundblaster. It starts after World War III, humanity is in turmoil, and some aliens come through a wormhole to take out your civilization. Expect mass frustration, broken keyboards, and everybody in your neighborhood hearing you yell "I'm never playing this game again!"

Gameplay: 8/10
Furiously hard. You control Major Stryker, I guess he's a  remaining member of some elite strike force or something, on a mission to blow up a few alien planets. You can move up, down, left and right on your little 2-D plane of existence, tap ALT to rapidly shoot some missles, hit space to drop a bomb, and more. The powerups do stuff like raise your fire rate, increase the number you can shoot, and shield you. The ship will go down in one hit, unless you have a powerup, which at that point you'll just lose all your neat stuff. There's an angering amount of enemies that are constantly barraging you with their flashy red things, and you're supposed to be able to dodge all this and destroy them all at the same time.  If you don't pick up the first chain of powerups by destroying the first and second wave of enemies in the level, it's going to be pretty tough to get it going from there. That's my experience with it, at least, if you die you might as well restart. In actuality, this sort of challenge is what keeps me playing this game, but -2 points for making me tap ALT so much.

Graphics: 7/10
The game plays pretty well, the levels are pretty cool looking, my only problem is there's just too much stuff going on at once. Extremely hard to concentrate when so much stuff is happening. I had to take away 3 points for that, but otherwise it's colorful, fast, and fun.

Sound: 8/10
The digitized sound is one of the best parts of this game, hearing those explosions and bumpin' the music just fits so well. The tunes are a little lame though, so -2 points. Could have done better but still great.

Overall: 8/10
Major Stryker rocks. It's a really good example of how games of the time had new innovations that we take for granted today. It was 2006 when Apogee made the bold decision to call the game freeware. Come to think of it, I knew this game was ultra hard when I was a kid, but it seems even more difficult now. Maybe you can get somewhere I didn't? Link below secures the download.

Friday, January 13, 2012


It's 1993, the height of the shareware trend, and online bulletin boards are distributing the content to personal computers via 56k more than any time before. One of those games was Xargon, developed by Epic Megagames using the Jill of the Jungle engine. You're this super-tan blond dude named Malvineous Havershim that finds himself knocked out by some putrid gas while performing an archaeological dig. When you wake up, you're in some sort of dream world, complete with strange vegetation, oddly defunct creatures, and a talking eagle that's telling you where to go. It's "beyond reality".

Gameplay: 6/10
The game has that classic arcade-action feel, racking up points while you try to jump around platforms and enemies to reach the end. You collect these emeralds, which the game tells you are "very valuable", so you can buy stuff from the shop that Malvineous keeps in his back pocket or something. You see, he can access it anywhere in the game by pressing B, and he's going to need it to buy health and weapons. This guy can only take 5 hits before he's out. Sometimes you're in the top-down map view, running around reading your notebook looking for new areas to explore, other times you're shooting enemies in a sidescroller. You start with this wimpy laser thing that you can guide into going a certain direction, but eventually graduate to better stuff to help slay the creatures. Still, the character movement is pretty rugged on this one. It just isn't as responsive as you need or desire. It feels like it needs some tightening up, so there's a loss of 4 points.

Graphics: 7/10
They are indeed pretty swell. It's a really nice environment going on here. You also find yourself in other areas like the Robot Factory. I like all the plants and just plain weird stuff that's going on here.
The scrolling action feels a bit messed up, so I had to -3 points.

Sound: 5/10
The digitized sound is raunchy and annoying, playing weird guitar sounds every couple seconds. The music is nothing to talk about, either. It's really not that great. -5 points.

Overall: 6/10
It gets an honorable mention amongst the Epic Megagames sidescrollers. Sometimes the game becomes a little egotistical, as seen above, or just plain ruthless, seen right. They're saying that they can't be held responsible for the fact that I had an anxiety attack from playing Xargon. However, if I happen to experience any of the aforementioned symptoms,  I should probably call Epic Megagames. For what, I don't know, hopefully not to order Xargon. One good thing about this game is that it was announced as freeware in 2008, and even the source code was released, and that's something a lot more companies should be doing with their old games!