Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars (MS): COMPLETED!

I’ve completed two Alex Kidd games before – Miracle World on the Master System, and The Enchanted Castle (which is essentially a remake) on the Mega Drive. Neither were anything special, but they were both reasonably good platformers. I’ve briefly played some other Alex Kidd titles, but never finished them. However, I’d never played The Lost Stars before today.

Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars
A couple of pointers

It’s a very simple platformer. Alex Kidd doesn’t have his big punch move, the collision detection is ropey and although the levels are varied none of them are particularly impressive. The graphics are big and chunky and very colourful, so I expect this was a decent show-off title to NES owners back in the day even though it’s nowhere near the same level as things like Super Mario Bros or Duck Tales gameplay-wise. It also suffers from flicker and slowdown a little, although not so much that it bothered me.

Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars
Bow Wow Wow Yippie Yo Yippie Yay

Alex runs and jumps through the levels (and swims, in one of them) from left to right mainly avoiding enemies although he can fire a limited number of whirlwinds at them with the right power-up. Other power-ups include a time-limited higher jump and an item that replenishes the health/time bar. Yes, just like Wonder Boy, The Lost Stars has a stupid combined bar which slowly depletes by itself, buy also loses a chunk when you get hit. It was rubbish in Wonder Boy and it’s rubbish here.

Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars
Bit garish

Speaking of Wonder Boy, at least one of the levels here appears to be a homage to it. Some of the other levels also seem to borrow from other Sega games – I’m pretty sure there’s a Zillion themed area for one, and there’s an Opa-Opa hiding one of the “miracle balls” you have to collect.

Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars
“Find the miracle ball!” says the speech sample

On the final level, which has very low gravity making all the jumps incredibly easy, there’s no miracle ball, but completing it throws you back at the start of the game again. Only, unlike Teddy Boy, the levels become harder and there’s a second set of miracle balls to collect. Only by running through all the levels again (which I did) do you get the True Ending: a black screen with the words “The End” on it. That’s it. Thanks, Sega!

Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars
Wow.

Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars is a mediocre game with very little in common with the other Alex Kidd games, it would seem. There are plenty of better Master System platformers (Miracle World, Sonic, Asterix, The Lucky Dime Caper, Castle of Illusion… the list goes on) so there’s very little here to recommend it. Still, it wasn’t terrible, so that’s something? Oh, and the FM sound is lovely, so make sure you use an emulator with that turned on if you do play it.

I’m still confused as to why it’s called The Lost Stars when it’s actually Miracle Balls you have to collect, though.

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Teddy Boy (MS): COMPLETED!

Teddy Boy
Shoot ALL the ninja

Teddy Boy was one of the first Master System games I owned, mainly because it was under ten quid new, but I actually quite liked it. I’d never completed it though, and in fact I didn’t think you could complete it – I just thought it went on forever like arcade games of this sort generally did. However, over on RetroCollect someone posted they’d just completed it and I asked how – and it turns out the levels just loop round after level 50. Technically beating that level would count (to me) as completing the game then.

Teddy Boy
Level 51 with some lives left!

Way back when, I think a level somewhere in the 40s was about as far as I ever reached, so imagine my surprise when I managed to reach – and finish – level 50 on just my second attempt. On the first attempt I only made it to level 12 or so, but I quickly learned to be slow and cautious where possible, keep an eye out for the crocodiles especially, and always collect the little token things that come out of the baddies when shot otherwise they gobble up the time after a while. And the yellow bread things? You can’t take on more than one at a time.

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I found Teddy Boy to still be fun game, much to my surprise. It’s very jolly and cute, even if very simple.

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Rainbow Islands (MS): COMPLETED!

I got very close to completing Rainbow Islands on the Spectrum once. I think I put a cheat mode on and made it to a high level but it crashed. Since then, although I’ve played many versions thoughout the years, I’ve never come close as it’s just too hard.

Rainbow Islands
Aw! Look at the cute little ladybirds! KILL THEM ALL.

Or so I thought. I read somewhere that the Master System version was, for whatever reason, quite a lot easier than other versions. Having played it, and (obviously) completed it today, I think whoever wrote that was right because it is. Sure, it’s not a walk in the park, but it was relatively straightforward.

I found that once you have the power-up that gives you a double rainbow (I presume the missing triple rainbow is due to technical issues – the game suffers greatly from flicker and slowdown as it is), providing you’re careful, almost every level is quite easy. All the bosses are pushovers with a double rainbow too, whereas when I’ve played before they were nigh on impossible. Of course, if you die you lose it, but another power-up to give it back tends to come along soon enough.

Rainbow Islands
I vant to suck your rainbow.

Another reason it’s so easy is that the water that forever chases you higher, and serves mainly to make you panic and die, takes much, much longer to make an appearance. I saw it just once in the entire game, and that was near the end when I fell about four screens downwards – I still outran it without difficulty though.

However, easiness aside: I didn’t get all the diamonds. That really is too hard. What I did do, though, is complete the seven worlds and then use the code that provides you with to unlock the eighth and final world, and then completed that. I may not have found all the diamonds but I did beat all the levels and bosses, so that’s good enough for me.

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Psycho Fox (MS): COMPLETED!

Psycho FoxI’d completely forgotten how easy the bosses were in Psycho Fox. In fact, I’d completely forgotten anything about the bosses at all, and I wasn’t even 100% sure there were any! Admittedly, much of the rest of the game is quite difficult (mainly because of so many leaps of faith or baddies that appear too quickly to react to), but the bosses? Complete walkovers.

That said, because I’m awesome and somehow managed to remember the locations of two warps despite not having played the game in probably 20 years or more, I actually skipped all bar two of them – the tigery one and the end of game boss.

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I’d also forgotten just how many lives there are to collect, finishing the game with more than twenty – and I didn’t even get any in the after level bonus game! One part of the final level actually has three lives in eggs right next to each other. It probably helped that I managed to take the highest routes in most of the levels as that’s where most of them lurk.

Psycho Fox
Winner!

It surprised me how good the game still is after all this time. The jumping takes a while to get used to (you jump very high, but not very far at all unless you take a run-up) and you’re a bit skiddy, but apart from that and the very old school rule of the game not scrolling left, it was still excellent and holds up well.

I think I’d like to give Kid Kool on the NES a go next. It’s a very similar game by the same team, and I’ve never played it.

Stairway to somewhere other than heaven You can't get through here with Fox But change to Hippo And he can smash through! A second warp! Bonus level

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Psycho Fox: completed!

I've heard many great things about Psycho Fox, and I'm sure that I've played it before, possibly at William Davis's house when we visited him after returning from Kenya, back in 1990.  I didn't remember much of it, though.


A predecessor to Decap Attack and Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure, Psycho Fox is known as one of the better Master System games.   It's easy to see why.  When you compare it to other games at the time, there's a great sense of momentum to the character, and the controls are perfect, so you feel that every death is your own fault.


It took me a couple of lives to get in my stride and work out what was happening.  Initially you have a single hit before you die, and you have to be pretty cautious when progressing through the levels.  However, by hitting the eggs (using a comic extending arm animation) you can sometimes find a black bird companion who not only gives you a projective weapon, but also acts as a second hit point.

So far, so Mario.  The two main differences are that first, when you throw your companion he lands on the floor and then returns to you, and second, all the time you're not holding on to the bird you are reduced to a single hit again.  So you have to be quite careful when you throw him.


As the bird returns to you, he continues to kill any enemies.  There are some parts of the game where this is used to good effect, where a row of enemies can be killed as long as you are standing on the same level as them.  Getting onto that level can be the hard bit.


Having mastered the basic mechanics, and without the need to play the whole game in one sitting (due to the wonders of emulation), I had little trouble with it.  Yes, I lost the occasional life, but by playing through relatively slowly and taking the top route where possible I was able to find treasure which allowed me to play the bonus game between levels, which often gave me extra lives.


In fact, by the end of the game I had 20 lives remaining, partially due to getting 5 bonus lives a couple of times, and partially due to finding eggs with lives inside.  The first time I found such an egg I ran away from the life - it appears as a flickering version of yourself, and you ave to catch it, but I didn't realise this until one ran into me.

The levels were slightly varied, between blue and black backgrounds and the floor sprites.  Some levels outside were set more in the sky, with clouds to jump on; others relied on collapsing platforms and ice floors (which caused their own problems with the momentum).


As well as collecting lives in the bonus game and in eggs, there were other items that could be collected - some sort of star, a stone staircase thing, and a green bottle marked 'S'.  Experimentation during the last set of levels showed that using the staircase thing enabled me to change character, to a hippo, monkey or tiger.  The monkey had a higher jump, the hippo a lower, and the tiger the same as the fox.  I saw no other difference between the characters, but recognise that the monkey may have been useful during some of the earlier stages where high jumps were required.  There were some areas blocked off by boulders, and I wonder if the hippo could have broken through them.


The star seemed to be some sort of smart bomb, and the potion might have been invincibility but I never quite worked it out.  The only time I tried it, the game corrupted itself into a glitchy wall (which I eventually jumped through to continue the level) so I never tried it again.


So, after a few sessions (with save states made between them) I completed the game, only learning half its secrets in round 7-2.  Maybe I'll go back to it one day to take a different route through some of the levels - especially in the later levels, there are many different routes to go and I suspect quite a few secret areas to find - but for now I'm happy to finally understand why this is considered to be such a good game.


Legend of Illusion (MS): COMPLETED!

And with that, the 8bit Mickey Mouse trilogy is complete! Well, I say it’s a trilogy, but apart from having Mickey and the name Illusion in it, Legend of Illusion isn’t really part of the series.

Legend of Illusion
Worst. Boss. Ever.

At first it seems like it is, but as well as how the story isn’t remotely linked, there are also a few things which set it apart. The main one of these is that Mickey can no longer bum-bump on baddies’ heads to defeat them. Instead, he throws soap (no, really) a feeble distance, a massive step back for the series and similar to one of the reasons I dislike the Mega Drive Castle of Illusion, where you throw apples. Further steps back include no more finding new routes through previous levels (like in Land of Illusion), no more power stars to find (you’re just handed the equivalent item instead), some rubbish bosses which require you to repeat the same attack some 10 times or so (in previous games it varied or was about 5-6 maximum, final boss Pete here was terrible), and the whole game is a complete walkover.

Legend of Illusion
The top and bottom of this screen are Portal-style portals. Portals!

There’s also an additional issue where it isn’t a proper Master System game. It’s a back-port of the Game Gear version, and suffers from a much smaller viewport than the earlier titles (it’s bigger then the Game Gear one, but is badly implimented), and some odd glitching in the top “block” of the screen which I’m pretty sure isn’t related to the emulator I’m using.

It’s not quite all bad though. There are some nice new platforming gimmicks (like north and south magnets that repel or attract other as you’d expect), but they’re underused as the levels are pretty short. The rainbow level is very, very pretty and appears to squeeze more colours than is possible out of the Sega system, but again, is short and actually very dull to play.

What a shame a pair of excellent games had such a mediocre followup.

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Land of Illusion (MS): COMPLETED!

Oh, spoilers I suppose. It was all a dream! Remember when seemingly half the games ever made were “all just a dream”? Land of Illusion is one of them.

Land of Illusion
She’s got herpes you know, pal.

It’s just like Castle of Illusion, only more! The levels are more varied and there are a lot more of them, for starters. You also have to return to earlier levels to find new routes once you’ve finished other levels: You gain various powers which allow access to previously unreachable areas, such as being able to climb walls, or shrink to get through narrow gaps.

It makes for an even better game than the original, although it isn’t really any harder (only longer). Legend of Illusion next? You knows it.

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Castle of Illusion (MS): COMPLETED!

Castle of Illusion.
Aww. What they don’t realise, is there’s a cat just outside. Waiting.

I have always maintained that 16bit Disney platformers (and, actually, most of the newer ones than that) are dire. Without exception. Yes, even Aladdin. Even World of Illusion. Even Quackshot. All of them. 8bit Disney platformers, however, are a different class. On both the Master System and NES, there’s a massive selection of quality Disney titles, and one of the best, is Castle of Illusion.

Castle of Illusion

It tells the same story as the Mega Drive game with the same name, and broadly visits the same worlds as you try to save Minnie from the evil witch Mizrabel. The Master System version obviously looks cut down and isn’t as pretty as the 16bit version, but it plays so much better. The levels have more platforming to them, the carrying items mechanic adds a bit more to the game, and Mickey doesn’t throw apples for no reason at all.

Castle of Illusion is fun from start to finish, with some excellent bosses (I’d never noticed before how the chocolate boss rips off a classic Mega Man mid-boss before though!) and clever level design. There’s a bit in the clock tower level where you have to use the same key twice via two different routes which I thought particularly ingenious. It takes a slight shortcut hiding two of the seven necessary Rainbow Gems in the levels rather than have seven levels (therefore having just five), but that’s hardly a big complaint.

Land of Illusion next? I think so…

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Sonic the Hedgehog (MS): COMPLETED!

Sonic the Hedgehog
Impossible.

Sonic the Hedgehog on the Master System was, at the time, quite an achievement. It may not have been as technically polished as the Mega Drive original, but it was a good approximation given the more limited hardware, and it steered away from simply being very, very fast by focussing more on the platforming. I quite enjoyed it at the time.

It has been quite a long time (read: over a decade, I expect) since I last played 8bit Sonic the Hedgehog, and several things surprised me: It was just as easy as I recall. It stands up better today than I expected. Mostly, I was amazed at how I still remembered where all of the hidden Chaos Emeralds were. Except for the one in Scrap Brain Zone which I stumbled across, luckily.

Those electricity pylons are really weedy compared to the Megadrive ones.

It’s a fun platformer with some excellent music (Jungle Zone was always my favourite, and still is) and one of the best games of its type on the Master System. When you compare it, technically, to earlier games like Psycho Fox and Alex Kidd (both still excellent) this does things unheard of on the console at the time.

And that’s it completed, with all the Chaos Emeralds in tow. Excellent.

Sonic-0227-220902 Sonic-0227-220558 Sonic-0227-215321 Sonic-0227-212850

 

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PLAY Margate 2015

This weekend I went to PLAY Margate, a games exhibition which is the little brother to equivalents in Manchester and Blackpool.  It was great; many different types of games all set up to be played with, random competitions, themed areas, and stalls selling stuff.  Obviously I didn't buy anything - cough - but I played plenty.

Chuckie Egg - BBC Model B

Justine's favourite game of all time, and it would have probably been great if I could find the key to go up ladders.  The joystick didn't work; I worked out that the keys V and N moved left and right, and the space bar jumped.  But standing in front of a ladder, I tried every key and none of them made me climb.   In desperation I tried every key on the keyboard, including the Break key which obviously quit the game.  I had to quickly search on the Internet how to restart it ...


Head over Heels - CPC 664

A game I've never given enough time to, but will certainly be doing so in the near future.  I started from the very beginning and realised that without graph paper I wasn't going to make a dent on the game.

Manic Miner - Spectrum

I've always found it overrated, but that might be because I didn't play it at the time and only experience it after being used to the platforming on consoles.  Fixed jumping paths and overly tight timing isn't a huge amount of fun.

Mine Storm - Vectrex

I've never played on a Vectrex, and was very pleasantly surprised with this.  Graphically it looks fantastic, and the way the game expands on the Asteroids template by introducing enemies that move towards you, fire back, or move quickly around the screen.  The controls were very tight indeed, and I managed to reach the fourth level before losing my first - and indeed my last - life.



PGR4 - Xbox 360

They had a competition for the best time around a certain circuit.  I only managed to get within 5 seconds of the winning time - I need more practice!

Hang On - Master System

Talking of competitions, there was a more formal competition where you had to record high scores for three different games.  Hang On was the first; I'd been playing the 3DS version a few days before so thought I would do OK but the Master System game just felt all wrong and as a result my scores weren't great.  I still got 28th highest score of the weekend, though!


Kung Fu Master - NES

Kung Fu Master was the second game, which I did rather better on despite never having played before - 6th highest of the weekend, and setting a high score on the machine I was using.  It's a relatively simplistic game, but I quickly worked out that punching an enemy gives 200 points while kicking gives only 100 - so I was able to work through levels building up points quickly.

Pop n Pop - PlayStation

Again, I'd never played this but quickly got the idea.  Challenge mode sees you working on two sides of the screen simultaneously, firing balloons upwards to form groups of three or more.  It took a little while but I soon worked out how to set up combos, which gave many more points and extended my playtime.  In the end I came 8th on the leaderboards.

Sonic the Hedgehog - Master System

I played through the Green Hill Zone mainly to amuse a couple of toddlers who were watching, managing to get through without dying.  Some people say that this game is better than the Mega Drive games; they are wrong.  It's still good though.



Sonic & Knuckles - Mega Drive

As part of the same display as the MS game, they had Sonic 2, Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic Adventure, Sonic and the Secret Rings, and Sonic Generations - representing the evolution of Sonic.   It's quite telling that the later games - other than Generations - were being less played.  I had a quick blast through the Sandopolis Zone, which is where the previous player had left off, and was reminded how much fun it was. I may need to go and play the Xbox 360 versions some more.

Street Fighter Alpha - Saturn

Similar to Sonic, there was a display showing the evolution of Street Fighter.  They didn't have a version of the original game on display, starting with SFII on the SNES, but I chose to try Alpha, a game I've not played before.  Initially I tried to play as Final Fight's Guy, before realising I didn't know any of his special moves and losing in the second fight.  I then tried Ken, and fought through four fights, before losing when the computer used the special gauge which is something I've never quite worked out.

Crazy Kong - C64

A hilarious rip-off on Donkey Kong, which basically changed the layout of some of the levels and made everything brown.  That latter bit may have been the C64 though.

Micro Machines 2 - Mega Drive

A couple of games against three random opponents in the multiplayer arena.  I won two and lost one, which felt like an achievement given that I had no idea of the courses before racing.

Defender - Arcade

I'm not sure I've played this before, actually - it was more complex than I was expecting. I'm sure I've played something very similar but without the humans to rescue, and given that that is a central mechanic, it must have been a different game.  Anyway, I played through a few levels of this before dying.

Crazy Taxi - Dreamcast

I got an A licence!  Mainly because I did a drift into a wall and sat there racking up points for 30 seconds, half way through my run.  It's amazing how much of the map I can remember, and despite the joypad having seen better days I managed a few limit cuts on the way down the hill.

Samba de Amigo - Wii

The music in the hall was too loud to be able to play this properly (or Donkey Konga, which kept hearing the clap sounds constantly), but I can't understand why they were showing the worst version of this.  Why not the arcade game, or the Dreamcast version?  And why has this never been released for Playstation Move?

Tomb Raider II - Playstation

A few minutes of exploring Venice, which took me back to the Christmas when I got my Playstation. I still prefer TRII to the first game, even if the rest of the world is the other way around.

Super Mario Kart - SNES

I still prefer later games to this.  Mario Kart 8 is just so much better.  They actually had quite a few of these in a display, but I've played the others to death and have them all at home anyway.


Random shooter game - 3DO

An illustration of how far first person shooters have become.  I have no idea what this game was, and searching for screenshots has turned up nothing. 


It was just a bit dull.

Pong - Binatone

A game against a random man.  We were both hopeless and unable to control the bat.


Arkanoid - Arcade

And another game I was hopeless at, having lost my ability to control with a paddle wheel.  After losing the first game very quickly, I lasted a bit longer on my second attempt and even got onto the high score table.  The last position, but still.