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Star Gladiator Episode 1: Final Crusade (PlayStation) 22/04/2017

Manga Star Wars

Star Gladiator Episode 1: Final Crusade (PlayStation) Stepping out of your comfort zone is a daunting thing for anyone, even the best, multinational, billion dollar, fairly famous companies can be put off by the unknown. This was the fate that befell Japanese developer Capcom in the mid-1990s. They had redefined the fighting game genre with the seminal Streetfighter 2, but as the SNES and the Megadrive gave way to the PlayStation and the Saturn and 2D to 3D respectively, they seemed to get cold feet somewhat. Indeed it wouldn’t be until 1996 when they finally decided to bring their expertise in the art of fighting games to three dimensions with the arcade release Star Gladiator, which would shortly make its way to the Sony PlayStation home console. Star Gladiator Episode 1: The Final Conflict, to give it the full title, is a moniker that is not only rather contradictory (if the first episode is the ‘final’ conflict where are following series entries going?) but also somewhat gives away the game’s biggest influence, a little series of movies you may have heard of called Star Wars. Now, it has been said that Plasma Sword was originally developed as a pitch to make a Star Wars game, and given that a year later such a thing materialised in the form of Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi this isn’t too hard to believe, although Capcom could probably have done a better job of covering it up. Mind you, given that Star Wars was itself a shame faced rip-off of a variety of Japanese movies, there is a degree of justice in getting to see ...

Dragon Ball Z Final Bout (Playstation) 15/04/2017

Final Insult

Dragon Ball Z Final Bout (Playstation) While it would be unfair to generalise an entire console’s software library in a sentence, I struggle to hide the fact that I feel a great deal of the PlayStation’s library is made up of sub-standard licensed games and average at best 3D fighters. Existing perhaps exclusively to encapsulate this we have Dragonball Final Bout, a fighting game originally released in the Japanese market in 1997, based upon the popular anime series Dragonball GT. At the time a very small run of the game was released in the USA with dubbed voice actors, but the at the time obscure status of the license saw it passed over by all but anime diehards. When Dragonball GT’s precursor series, Dragonball Z, was dubbed into English and shown by Cartoon Network on both sides of the Atlantic, interest in the series soared, and sensing a quick buck Bandai hastily reissued Final Bout in the US, and for the first time in Europe in 2002, just as the PlayStation was on its last legs. The game could be seen as somewhat interesting for a few points. Firstly it’s development by Bandai, who were probably much better known in the West for their action figures. While not many of them made it outwith their home in the land of the rising sun, Bandai had actually been churning out games, mostly of the licensed variety, dating back to the original NES. The properties these games drew their inspirations from were mostly cartoons and TV shows not shown outside of Japan, however on the odd case one made the breakthrough, ala ...

Ronaldo V-Football (PlayStation) 14/04/2017

V-Good Actually!

Ronaldo V-Football (PlayStation) If you were to go back in time to the turn of the Century and tell your average PlayStation owner that almost 20 years on there would only be 2 football titles to choose from when it came to videogames, chances are the best reaction you would get would be disbelief, and probably laughed at. Such was the glut of titles based upon the beautiful game in the heyday of Sony’s original PlayStation. Due to the relatively cheap nature of producing CD-ROMs, the enduring popularity of the sport worldwide and also the console’s userbase in the hitherto untapped ‘cool’ marketplace made titles based on football a quick and easy way to generate some sales. With EA Sports tying up the major license for players and teams with their FIFA series, other developers had to have their wits about them. Some opted for the cheap and cheerful route of fictional player names, others sought endorsement from professional players of the day. It’s down this route that PAM Development and Infogrames went with their 2000 release Ronaldo V-Football. Not to be confused with the Portuguese lad currently doing the rounds at Real Madrid, Ronaldo was the Brazilian striker every kid in the late 90s wanted to be. Never graced with the most slender of figures, Ronaldo had deceptively rapid pace, and incredible footwork that made him one of the most feared players of his generation. Unfairly maligned in the UK, which seems almost entirely based on the fact he never played in the Premier League, when a player’s career ...

Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins (PlayStation) 12/04/2017

Birth of the Lacklustre Sequel

Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins (PlayStation) Activision’s Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was almost the definition of a sleeper hit. I don’t recall anyone ever hyping it up pre-release, but post release it was the talk of everyone at my high school. The game’s great popularity meant that another entry into the series was almost inevitable, and in 2000 Activision delivered Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins to an eagerly awaiting audience, and it proved even more popular than the first game in my neck of the woods. Given that the title may be seen as somewhat contradictory, the subtitle is really what you should be paying attention to, as this is very much a prequel to the first game, following its stars Rikimaru and Ayame as they earn their ninja stripes under the tutelage of head ninja Tatsumaru. These 3 compose the strike force known as the Azuma Ninja, who serve the noble Lord Gohda, who is trying to quell a civil war as members of his own family are attempting a coup with the aid of the mysterious Lords of the Burning Dawn. It’s up to the ninja to stealthily dispatch of all Gohda’s enemies and end the rebellion before it starts. While I don’t normally care much for prequels, and it doesn’t sound much on paper, I actually really do quite enjoy Tenchu 2’s plot, which you need to play through with Rikimaru, Ayame and Tatsumaru to see in full. What I also applaud, and something also true of the original game, is that while you play through with the different characters it isn’t just differences in cutscenes you’ll be ...

Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000 Pro (PlayStation) 11/04/2017


Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000 Pro (PlayStation) The original Capcom Vs. SNK, released in Arcades and on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000, was very much the definition of the ‘dream match’ that fighting game fans thought they would never see. While not as popular in the West, SNK’s many series of 2D fighting games like Samurai Shodown, Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting and especially King of Fighters enjoyed a fanatical following in Japan, making for countless potential matchups between the 2 company’s pugilists being the type of comically over-the-top debate fodder than Internet forums were made for. While the game proved far from perfect, its sheer existence, backed up by the kind of solid engine you’d expect from a Capcom product, ensured that it proved popular enough with fans, and being produced by Capcom it didn’t take long before an ‘improved’ version was found in arcades and, only in Japan, on the Dreamcast, but Capcom Vs. SNK Pro would also make a belated appearance on Sony’s PlayStation in 2002. In many ways this was a rather strange development. The PlayStation was designed almost exclusively for 3D games, and as such Capcom’s 2D fighters going back to Streetfighter Alpha had struggled with conversions to the console. Frames of animation missing, chronic loading times and a controller that was just not designed for this type of game hamstrung pretty much every attempt to bring Capcom’s brand of battling to the system. When it came to Capcom’s previous ‘Vs.’ games, X-Men Vs. Streetfighter, Marvel Super Heroes Vs. ...

Dead or Alive (PlayStation) 10/04/2017

Alive & Kicking

Dead or Alive (PlayStation) Nothing sells quite like Sex and Violence. While that may not have been the official mantra behind Tecmo’s Dead or Alive series of videogames, it is what, at base level, the series has garnered most of its attention, and I daresay some of its fanbase from utilising. Despite great success during the 8-Bit era, Tecmo were on their last legs in the mid-90s when they turned to the rather eccentric developer Tomonobu Itagaki to deliver them a game to try and cash in on the popularity of Sega’s iconic 3D fighting game Virtua Fighter 2. Using the very same hardware from Sega, Itagaki delivered the game that would not only save Tecmo from financial ruin, but also manage to not only lead to one highly bankable new franchise for the company, but also lead to the return of a classic one in style. A 3D fighting game that follows a lot of the genre conventions; 1-on-1 fights contested in a Best of 3 Rounds format where you have to punch, kick or throw your foe to deplete their health bar before they do it you within a set time limit. Dead or Alive would become well known, perhaps even infamous for some of its stylistic choices, but its gameplay also offered a fairly fresh take on the genre. Utilising 3 attack buttons in the form of Punch, Kick and Hold, with variation of attacks brought about by pressing the D-Pad in a direction along with the corresponding attack button, Dead or Alive wore its Virtua Fighter influences on its sleeve, but also carved out an identity for itself thanks to ...

Power Rangers - Time Force (PlayStation) 09/04/2017

"Time Does Wonders" Sadly It Couldn't Here!

Power Rangers - Time Force (PlayStation) Despite enjoying it as a child, Power Rangers was never a series I looked back upon with all that much nostalgic fondness. Although the show definitely had the ‘feel’ of the Godzilla movies I also grew up enjoying, which have kept their charm for me, the truth is the TV show was always a bit daft, and realistically I was more into the toys, which were pretty awesome, than the show itself. Indeed, my feelings of familiarity with Godzilla and his kin wasn’t unfounded, given that Power Rangers was made by cannibalising a Japanese kids TV show called Go Ranger, which fell in the genre the Japanese refer to as ‘Sentai’. I’m not sure what Sentai actually translates to, but the shows are almost live action cartoons featuring full body-suited superheroes fighting monsters, often with the addition of giant robots. They started in the 1960s with Ultraman, which was basically an attempt to create a Godzilla style product for TV. For release in the West, the action footage was taken, with new footage shot of American actors and inserted in the non-costumed sections. Somehow Power Rangers managed to remain an active franchise where others failed, and still actually goes on to this day with footage being cannibalised from Japanese shows. There are consistent elements, a team of teenagers gain the ability to ‘morph’ into super-powered heroes who pilot giant robots called Zords and fight rubber monsters. I’ll be honest, I gave up after the original cast moved on and I got older, but in 2001 ...

Tekken 2 (PlayStation) 08/04/2017

Tekken A Step Forward

Tekken 2 (PlayStation) Being a fan of fighting games has its share of frustrations when it comes to talking to people. Trying to explain that most fighting games do have a story, actually do have quite a bit of depth as single player games and are one of the easiest genres to enjoy on multiplayer are recurring frustrations you’ll find yourself going over again and again. None of them are as bad as the assumption that you must like Tekken games though. While I don’t think I’ve ever played a Tekken title that was outright bad, it’s not a series that has ever done it for me. I’ve played most entries in the now long-running franchise, but there aren’t many that I’ve really enjoyed all that much. With this said, it may come as something of a surprise, given that I’m literally the only person I’ve known to have this view, that 1996’s Tekken 2 is actually my favourite of the series. Released a year after the original and quickly finding its way onto Sony’s PlayStation, Tekken 2 always seem to be overlooked by fans, who seem to fall either on the side of the first game or the third when talking about favourite entries into the series. Personally I wasn’t a huge fan of the first game, but it was a playable fighter at a time when the only competition it had on the console was the tragic Battle Arena Toshinden, so it proved a success, and became the PlayStation’s main fighting franchise. As with the predecessor, Tekken 2 is a One-on-One 3D fighting game where the goal is to win a Best of 3 Rounds fight by ...

Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes (PlayStation) 07/04/2017

The Babes Should Stay At Home

Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes (PlayStation) Getting a character to break into mainstream popularity is a tough ask, but keeping them popular in the public eye can prove even trickier, just ask 3D Realms, the company that had to try and keep their flagship character Duke Nukem relevant for over 10 years between main series instalments. Originally introduced in a series of platforming shooters released on the PC, Duke got his big break when reinvented in 1996 following the game changing success of ID Software’s Doom. While it may not have been the first, Doom was largely responsible for the popularity of the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre, noteworthy both for making the PC seem like a relevant games platform and at the same time enjoying crossover success onto consoles. Everyone wanted a FPS game, but you had to make yours stand out. What 3D Realms did for theirs was build it around a dose of knowing over-the-top machismo and humour, creating every 11-year-old boy’s dream come true: Duke Nukem 3D. Lifting one-liners from action movies, featuring pixelated nudity in strip clubs and exploding monstrous enemies, Duke Nukem 3D was a smash with gamers, particularly the aforementioned age group, for whom it carried that thrill of seeming so very risqué and adult when realistically its appeal to over 18s was actually its childish nature. Duke 3D was ported to all the major home systems of the day, received expansion packs, its own line of action figures and at one point a movie was heavily touted. Needless to say work began ...

WCW vs The World (PlayStation) 06/04/2017

Whoever Wins...Players Lose

WCW vs The World (PlayStation) World Championship Wrestling, or WCW as it was more commonly known, was one of the 2 major professional wrestling promotions when I was growing up in the 1980s and 90s. While it was incredibly popular in the USA, especially the Southern states, its success never truly translated across the Atlantic, so while the rival World Wrestling Federation were filling Wembley Stadium and regularly appeared in user-friendly tv slots on Sky Sports, WCW were only accessible to those whose Sky package included the German channels, and had parents willing to record it for them while running the risk of catching a blue movie afterwards. The only other way you could watch this promotion for most of the early 1990s was on VHS tapes. For a brief spell in my pre-teen days I was mad for anything wrestling related, but even then WCW never truly managed to capture my imagination. It may seem quite a conclusion to leap to, but personally I actually put a great deal of their failure to capture an audience here down to their marketing team as opposed to their actual product. While I had several of them, and made a fortune on eBay off them, their action figures were solid hunks of heavy plastic that stood in stark contrast to the colourful, action packed WWF ones. You could buy a WCW sticker book, but good luck finding anywhere that sold the stickers, WWF ones 25p a packet in every newsagents going. WWF had video games churned out on every system going, WCW had a SNES game that I’m not sure came out ...

Spider-Man (PlayStation) 05/04/2017

Does Whatever A Spider Can

Spider-Man (PlayStation) Comic book superheroes and videogames seem to be two mediums of entertainment that go hand in hand, and have done since the inception of the latter. Even on the earliest of home computers it wasn’t uncommon to find games loosely based on the exploits of your favourite Marvel and DC Comics heroes. While, as in seemingly every medium, Batman was DC’s big success story in games, a more varied roster of Marvel’s heroes made the change to digital entertainment. With that said, the 2 properties that fared better than any other for Marvel were X-Men and Spider-Man. Possibly because his superpowers, while fantastic, aren’t omnipotent or over the top and the fantastic rogues gallery of super-villains tied to the character, Spider-Man’s exploits seemed to make the transition from printed page to tv-screen better than a lot of his contemporaries. Clocking up no less than 7 games as a main character during the 16-Bit era of gaming, Spidey was every bit as successful when it came to games as he was in cartoon or action figure form in the 1990s. However, as the decade rolled on and the SNES and the Megadrive were replaced by the next generation of 32-Bit consoles and CD-ROM based medium, the webhead endured a relatively lean period, by his consistent standards anyway. His bow in the 32-Bit era would actually come on Sega’s questionable Megadrive add-on the 32X, with Web of Fire, an incredibly rare game that about 6 people have played upon its release in 1996. In the years following ...

Bloody Roar (PlayStation) 04/04/2017

Bloody Fun

Bloody Roar (PlayStation) While it’s a genre that’s somewhat faded from the limelight in recent years, it’s undisputable that the 1-on-1 fighting game was one of the most popular, and prolific, genres of videogame in the 1990s. Initially spurred on by the success of Capcom’s Streetfighter 2, which led to a slew of imitators in the 2D field in the arcades, SNES and Megadrive, Sega’s Virtua Fighter 2 had a similar effect on the 3D equivalent of the genre. While Sega’s title undoubtedly ruled the roost on their Saturn console, the title was up for grabs on the main rival, the Sony PlayStation. While Namco’s Tekken was one of the first to stake a claim for the crown, and while as a franchise it would ultimately prevail, for many years every company in the market would throw in their hat with an attempt to become top dog. One of the more interesting genre entries came from, of all companies, Hudson Soft. Renowned almost entirely for their work on the Bomberman series of multiplayer puzzle style games, Hudson entered the fighting fray with a 1997 game that went by the title of ‘Beastorizer’ when it debuted in arcades. While every gimmick in the book was being utilised to try and make each fighting game stand out from the next, Beastorizer pulled out one of the best yet. Each of the game’s characters was a ‘Zooanthrope’ ie they had the ability to morph into a humanoid animal at will. It was certainly an interesting idea, although plenty of 3D fighters had these and couldn’t capitalise. It was popular enough ...

FIFA 2000 (PlayStation) 04/04/2017

Let's All Meet Up In The Year 2000

FIFA 2000 (PlayStation) Every successful entertainment franchise takes a wobble at some stage, it’s almost an inevitability if you’re successful enough to warrant repeated sequels. Some of the latter day Pierce Brosnan-era James Bond films are more than a little questionable, Mortal Kombat has managed to clock up significant howlers in both the videogame and movie fields and the less said about the Star Wars prequels the better. The history of EA Sports’ FIFA series in terms of quality is one that divides players the World over, with FIFA fans and those who prefer Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series being the closest thing to a modern equivalent of the old Sega Vs. Nintendo childish arguments. The truth is, both series have their highlights and lowlights, but there is no denying FIFA 2000 is a game probably significant for all the wrong reasons when it comes to looking at the series retrospectively. Having grown up with the FIFA games, I was old enough to remember when they were the upstart on the block, and genuinely blew away a lot of the competition with fantastic graphics, sound and gameplay. Over the course of the first few sequels on the 16-Bit consoles subtle improvements were introduced like licensed players, clubs and tournaments, indoor 5-A-Side mode and even just subtle tweaks to the gameplay to refine a good engine. The game’s transition to the 3D era wasn’t as smooth as you might think, but starting with FIFA 96 on both the Saturn and the PlayStation EA Sports kept building until ...

X-Men vs. Street Fighter (PlayStation) 03/04/2017

X-Tremely Watered Down

X-Men vs. Street Fighter (PlayStation) When is a great game not a great game? It may sound like a silly riddle, but realistically it’s a question that’s possible to answer to a satisfactory degree by inserting the title of any of Capcom’s attempts to port their 2D fighters to Sony’s PlayStation console. While I don’t think it’s possible to class any of Capcom’s 2D fighting efforts released in the aftermath of Streetfighter 2 bad, they have been the subject of some questionable ports to home consoles over the years, none more infamous than today’s subject, 1998’s port of the 1996 arcade smash X-Men Vs. Streetfighter. So in what world does a game with a concept as silly as X-Men Vs. Streetfighter come to pass? Well, while it may not have been top of anyone’s list of potential ‘dream match’ fighting games during the early 1990s, a glance back at the history of Capcom’s fighting games reveals that not only was there precedent for it, but it was actually natural progression. In 1994 Capcom secured the rights for Marvel Comics’ popular title X-Men, about people born mutant, with superhuman abilities who fight for peace against those looking to use their powers to enslave mankind. X-Men had recently been the subject of a popular animated series, and Capcom wasted no time in bringing them to controllers the world over in the form of a rare SNES platform game and more notably the arcade release X-Men: Children of the Atom. Children of the Atom saw Capcom take this popular license and apply it to what they did best; the ...

Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (PlayStation) 02/04/2017

Lost some of it's Ninja Magic

Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (PlayStation) Ninja’s and videogames are a combination that seems to have went hand-in-hand ever since it was possible to clearly define the look of sprites. Largely popularised by Sega with their Shinobi series, the NES and Master System were littered with Ninja-themed games like Ninja Gaiden, Wrath of the Black Manta and The Ninja, which drew on the rather unusual success of ninja-themed movies in the 1980s to present Japan’s ancient assassins as almost invincible warriors capable of destroying armies single handed. Then something strange happened in the early 1990s. The ninja’s popularity seemed to wane with players, with only the aforementioned Shinobi franchise flying the flag outside of Midway’s Mortal Kombat series of 1-on-1 fighting games, whose over saturation of ninja fighters was probably responsible in part for the decline in popularity. That all changed in 1998 however, when Activision unleashed Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on an unsuspecting PlayStation audience. While Tenchu was based in feudal Japan and focused on 2 ninja protagonists it eschewed the popular depiction of the ‘Super Ninja’ and went down a slightly more historically accurate route of depicting ninjas as lethal shadows who would pounce and kill an unsuspecting enemy with a single strike. This was a big departure from the established character trope, a fairly unique gameplay experience and somewhat controversial at the same time. With regards to the latter point, Tenchu was one of the lesser targeted victims of ...
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