I don’t know that I’d call Growl a good game, but man is it great.
Originally released into arcades in 1990 courtesy of Taito, a friend and I happened upon it last weekend while dabbling with AtGames’ Legends Gamer Pro. A classic beat ‘em up with middling gameplay, Growl would fit right in amongst a police lineup (or an identity parade, as I just learned it was called across the pond) of contemporaries. Nonetheless, we plowed through it in about a half-hour, won over by the numerous absurdities.
My Atari 2600 has been getting some love this week! Now that I’m done with Vanguard, I’ve returned to Phoenix, which I was playing beforehand. In fact, it’s the reason I’m playing these games at all; my recent acquisition prompted me to hook up the console and try it out. Like Vanguard, it’s a space-themed shoot ‘em up (you want me to stop there, right?) although being a fixed shooter, it has more in common with its contemporaries, such as Space Invaders and Galaxian. I enjoyed this game’s fast-pace and responsive controls, the most important factors causing my return to it.
As was the case with Vanguard, Phoenix was originally released in the arcades courtesy of Centuri. At least, in the United States; elsewhere it was published by Taito. It was introduced in 1980 and as best I can tell, was the sole output of developer Amstar Electronics. After obtaining the rights to produce a home console version, Atari outsourced development to General Computer Corporation and the final product was released in 1982. A little research reveals Michael Feinstein to be one of the port’s programmers and likely, the project lead.
The objective of Phoenix is to destroy the adversarial mothership. To reach it, players must defeat four waves of birdlike enemies. The first two waves are host to rudimentary foes that could easily be mistaken for Space Invaders fodder. The next two waves feature enemies that move faster along less predictable paths. These foes are larger and have wings that can be destroyed, but they regrow if the core of the creature isn’t shot. Finally, the penultimate stage hosts a large alien vessel that has to be whittled away until the player can eventually strike its alien pilot. With the leader destroyed, the game recycles these stages in perpetuity.
At this point, the game becomes about setting a high score. I wasn’t drawn into playing the game for so long because of this element per se, but having a competitive nature didn’t hurt! I found this to be a challenging game and I believe I’ve only been able to make it past two full sets of stages thus far. Each time I die, I feel like it was totally on me. Because the player’s spaceship moves quickly and is so responsive to input, I’m always left feeling as though I could’ve evaded the shot that killed me. This draws me in and makes me want to continue improving in an effort to get just a little farther. So even though it’s challenging, it feels like the scales are evenly tipped between the player and computer.
Phoenix is a stellar shoot ‘em up and as described is a challenging, fast-paced, responsive game that I wanted to continue playing in spite of the constant death. There’s more to it then my brief descriptions highlight, such as reaping more points for destroying closer enemies, but this tactical element didn’t factor into my sessions. That’s the sort of element that I foresee giving the game a longer tail once I move beyond just trying to see new waves and convert over to strictly score chasing. Until that point, I’m content to continue enjoying the game and my Atari 2600 as I have been.
My interest in the Arkanoid series piqued after reading a Retro Gamer article chronicling the series. I’d never played a game in the series, although like most everyone else, had played a game like it. So, when the Oklahoma Video Game Exhibition came around and I found what I believed to be a reasonably-priced complete copy of Arkanoid: Doh It Again, I snagged it. Since then, I’ve played the game a great deal, enough to beat it, even. There were interesting touches to differentiate it from other similar games, although I eventually grew bored of it. The bulk of my time was enjoyable, but the times that weren’t, were tortuous.
The game consisted of 99 rounds with each one featuring a unique arrangement of blocks. Most were easy, usually requiring no more than a handful of attempts. However, there were a few, particularly rounds 95 and 99 that took me upwards of fifty attempts; seriously, like fifty attempts. These were awful and truly tested my determination to see the end. Generally, the tougher rounds were made so due to the inclusion of gray and gold blocks. Gray ones took multiple hits to destroy while gold ones were unbreakable. When these were used in combination, and arranged in specific ways, my success was based on persistence and a lot of luck.
Breaking up the formula were boss fights. These took place every eleven rounds and featured one of three bosses. If you’ve done the math, you know that means I fought each boss three times! This was a letdown, especially when I reached round 99 and sure enough, just a repeated boss. To be fair, they grew tougher with each appearance, although nothing else changed about them. I simply had to hit them more times. And, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the final round ate up my time and patience. Eventually though, I overcame, able to walk away with the satisfaction of beating the game, and little else.
Two-player modes (competitive and cooperative) round out the game and enhance the replayability. Honestly, this is where the game shines, too. Playing solo, the game represents a near-perfect podcast game, which is to say it can be a little boring. Throwing another person into the mix livens the atmosphere and makes for a fun experience – specifically cooperatively. There is a level editor mode as well, but that’s not my cup of tea; and the game also supports the SNES mouse which seems like an odd bullet point, but it probably has its perks in level creation.
Arkanoid: Doh It Again doesn’t have a lot going for it. Persisting through the game’s 99 rounds yields some good times, but eventually, those are overshadowed by the hours spent beating a select few stages. I’m still interested in playing other games in the series, but won’t necessarily seek them out. Perhaps the biggest personal revelation, however, was the fact that this game came out on the Super Nintendo in November 1997. That’s so late in the SNES’ lifecycle! I mean, November 1997. NOVEMBER. 1997.
Watch the splendor of Street Racer for the PlayStation and Super Bust-a-Move for the Playstation 2 in low-fidelity splendor! Played by none other than JohnTheGamer and Tridrakious, courtesy of just1morelevel.com!
Jupiter Strike is just another shoot ‘em up set in space. It was released for the PlayStation in 1995, very early in the console’s lifecycle and the game shows its age. It was developed by Taito, no stranger to space shooters and brought to North American shores courtesy of Acclaim.
Jupiter Strike opened with an extraordinarily long cutscene that was extraordinarily boring. Comprised of shots of spaceships in space, it didn’t convey any information that I couldn’t already scrape together on my own – thanks to the genre’s typically limited scope. All I needed to know is that I’m fighting for one side in a confrontation and my spaceship is special. But it really isn’t.
In my mind, it’s a foregone conclusion that all spaceships – especially those found in shoot ‘em ups – are agile. The one I controlled in Jupiter Strike was sluggish and whenever I’d steer it, it appeared that the screen was moving along with it, giving me the impression that I was controlling the camera rather than the ship itself. Now this is akin to similar games like Star Fox but I don’t remember it bugging me as it does when I play Jupiter Strike. Perhaps this is because of the ship’s poor animation.
Also, rather than incorporating many different weapons and have them be obtainable through many means, Taito opted to include just two. My ship naturally had a basic attack which fired shots repeatedly consistent to my button presses. It also had a special laser that homed in on enemies. To target enemies I’d have to “paint them” with my cursor while holding down a button. When I released the button, lasers would target individual enemies. Both of my attacks had infinite uses, although the laser had to be charged. This lack of weapon diversity (also the lack of pick-ups) led to monotony.
I didn’t play the game offensively. I never felt like I was doing a good job at hitting enemies, although in truth I was. Instead, I opted to play defensively. My tactic was to fly around the edges of the screen avoiding enemy fire and wailing away with my trigger fingers. Playing like this, I was more concerned with avoiding enemy fire rather than shooting them down. This worked well too, up until stage four (of eight?).
A boss battle occurred at the end of each even numbered stage. The first boss was tough. It took a few tries, but I was able to learn/avoid his attacks and use my opportunities to strike back. He just had a lot of health. I didn’t fare as well against the second boss and it’s probably due to my inability to adapt.
The second boss was basically in a tunnel. During the stage I was flying into and out of large space ships until my encounter with the boss. It had octopus-like appendages that it used to crawl through this tunnel. Worst of all it was equipped with very strong weapons that were hard to avoid. I of course stuck to riding the edges of the screen but I wasn’t able to avoid his attacks. They depleted my health fast and after a few attempts I decided that the time I’d need to invest to beat Jupiter Strike wasn’t worth it.
Jupiter Strike was uninteresting. It’s a bare bones game that doesn’t do anything to set it apart from similar games. On top of that, the audio mixing was awful! If I fired I could not hear the soundtrack. Then again the soundtrack was so basic that sounded like a game from the previous generation.
In short, Jupiter Strike is just another shoot ‘em up set in space, and like the initial cutscene, it’s boring.