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Ninja: Shadow of Darkness (PlayStation) 24/05/2017

Leave It In The Shadows

Ninja: Shadow of Darkness (PlayStation) While they were a staple videogame character in the 1980s, as the 1990s rolled on the humble stereotype of the ninja had faded from popularity with developers, possibly caused by the over-saturation of masked martial artists Midway flooded consoles with in their Mortal Kombat series of fighting games. This all changed as the turn of the century edged closer and Activision gave the videogaming career of these ancient Japanese assassins a shot in the arm with their sleeper hit Tenchu: Stealth Assassins. Enter Eidos and Core development, the ‘dream team’ that had found international success with the Tomb Raider series of videogames. Seeking to follow this up with another big hit and potential franchise, they had originally tried their hand at bringing the humble Beat ‘em Up to the 3D era with Fighting Force, which was met with a decidedly mixed response. Still chasing another hit, they slipped out Ninja: Shadow of Darkness on gamers in the run-up to Christmas 1998. While the game was obviously in development for quite a while, and its gameplay is drastically different, it’s hard not to see Ninja as an attempt to cash in on the minor hysteria Tenchu had managed to generate. Certainly I remember at the time a friend at school saying he was asking for ‘Ninja on the PlayStation’ for his Christmas and me dismissively thinking he was an idiot and actually talking about Tenchu. This would be the first, and last, time I’d ever hear anyone discuss this game. While I don’t doubt its ...

SpiderMan 2 Enter Electro (Playstation) 22/05/2017

Enter Electro, Exit Production Values

SpiderMan 2 Enter Electro (Playstation) There are few superheroes who can claim to have had as successful a career in videogames as Marvel’s venerable wall-crawler Spider-Man. While there have been the odd mis-step, by large old webhead has clocked up quite a library of titles across the ages that in most cases at least qualify as ‘passable’ with quite a few actually legitimate stepping into ‘genuinely good’ territory, a record matched only by rival DC’s Batman. One of the most successful was 2000’s Spider-Man by Neversoft and published by Activision, which brought Spidey to a new generation of gamers and was met by both critical acclaim and positive sales. As such, Activision wasted no time in getting a sequel in the works, however this time it would be Vicarious Visions at the helm. By this time Sony were in the process of bringing Spider-Man to the big screen in the form of the first of Sam Raimi’s Tobey Maguire fronted trilogy, so while the character hadn’t quite rocketed into the public conscious to the degree he would, there was still enough buzz generated by the success of the first game to ensure that this was eagerly awaited by a lot of gamers. I didn’t actually own a PlayStation at the time, but I do recall quite a bit of hype surrounding the first game, and a fairly substantial build-up to the release of Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro and then…nothing. The prequel saw ports to the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Dreamcast, whereas this only appeared on the PlayStation. While there’s no denying those two machines ...

Tekken 3 (PlayStation) 20/05/2017

Tekken It Too Far

Tekken 3 (PlayStation) While originally crafted as an answer to Sega’s incredibly popular Virtua Fighter series of 3D fighting games, Namco’s Tekken managed to gain a mainstream popularity that would eventually dwarf its inspiration, mainly down to the success of the Sony PlayStation and Tekken’s status as one of its flagship titles. While the first two games in the series were popular, it was Tekken 3 that really sent the series popularity through the roof, with the PlayStation having firmly established itself as the undisputed market leader by the time this game dropped made its transition from the arcades to the little grey box in 1998. It’s testament to how big a deal Tekken 3 was that during its release I was one of those ‘PC Gamers’ but the buzz generated at my high school was impossible to ignore. I hadn’t seen such a buzz regarding a fighting game since Mortal Kombat 3 years earlier. The funny thing is that while I was secretly green with envy at a lot of the games my PlayStation mates were buzzing over, Tekken 3 wasn’t actually one that generated much in the way of jealousy from me. While fighting games were very much my passion, which I can assure you made my PC gaming years a particularly barren spell, Tekken had never really registered with me. It undeniably had its qualities, but I had always found it very button-bashy with less emphasis on skill than its contemporaries, and I also found its middle-of-the-road approach to realism somewhat uninspiring. Of the qualities I refer to, one ...

Soul Blade (PlayStation) 18/05/2017

I'm Soul'd

Soul Blade (PlayStation) Given that they were the company behind the PlayStation’s most successful fighting game franchise in the form of Tekken, it’s little wonder that Namco decided to try and spread their wings and cement their place at the top table of the genre, which is what 1996’s Soul Blade was designed to do. Released in arcades a year prior as ‘Soul Edge’, the re-titled and expanded game would stand out from Namco’s established franchise due to its historical setting and weapon-based combat. At the core of it, Soul Blade follows the same principle to the myriad of other 3D combat titles released on Sony’s 32-Bit console in the mid-to-late 1990s. You select a character, and the goal is to defeat an enemy in a timed duel where you must use a variety of attacks to deplete their health in a best of 3 rounds battle. To spice things up, and differentiate from Namco’s bread and butter Tekken setup the fights take place in defined ringed arenas so you can also win rounds by forcing your opponent out of the defined ring. Delving further into the specifics of Soul Blade, it plays using the 4 face buttons on the standard PlayStation controller with Vertical & Horizonal Slashes being your main attacks with an additional Kick and Block command being assigned to the remaining two. It’s a system that’s pretty easy to pick up and get used to, and I don’t have any complaints with regards to the responsiveness of the buttons either. I’m not the biggest fan of the PlayStation D-Pad for fighting games, but ...

WCW Mayhem (PlayStation) 15/05/2017

Mayhem that this ever saw release

WCW Mayhem (PlayStation) In 1999 pro wrestling was everywhere. Enjoying a second boom period that may even have eclipsed the one it enjoyed as an ‘artform’ in the early 1990s, wrestling stormed popular culture in a big way with its stars crossing over into movies, music and naturally videogames. While never as popular on these shores as its rival World Wrestling Federation, World Championship Wrestling had its fair share of fans across the globe, living off a fantastic storyline in the mid-90s and the creation of a star in the form of all-conquering Goldberg. WCW tried its hardest, but could never really generate the same crossover appeal as WWF, with the forgettable movie Ready To Rumble being their main attempt. WCW had always struggled when it came to marketing their product, even when it was actually better. Their toys were always rubbish, and the few videogames they released paled in comparison to their WWF counterparts. This all changed with the release of 1998’s WCW/nWo: Revenge on the Nintendo 64. Produced by THQ/AKI, Revenge was fantastic, a genuine wrestling game with a unique and intuitive play system that absolutely smoked its WWF rival Attitude. Revenge was the first time I became acutely aware that the right license didn’t necessarily mean a better game, as I had only a passing interest in WCW, but would have taken Revenge over Attitude any day of the week. However, following the release of Revenge wrestling game developers started jumping ship in a similar manner to the stars of the ...

Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha (PlayStation) 09/05/2017

Ridiculous Title, Passable Game

Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha (PlayStation) When any form of media, be it videogame, movie or record, proves a runaway, genre-defining, Worldwide smash in the way Capcom’s Streetfighter 2 stormed the gaming world upon release in 1992 its normally the done thing to try and cash in upon this success while it lasts and get a sequel out as quickly as possible, taking advantage of whatever new fancy-dan technology is available. For one reason or another, this wasn’t actually the case with the 2D fighting juggernaut, as the years rolled on and Capcom released update after update followed by prequel after prequel with an apparent phobia of both the number 3 and the new-fangled sensation of 3D visuals when it came to their trademark fighting game. They would somewhat address the latter fear in 1996 with the publishing of arcade title Streetfighter EX in Arcades. Playing very much within two dimensions, EX featured characters rendered in full 3D polygon models for the first time in their history, and would prove successful enough to warrant one of Capcom’s trademark upgrades in the form of Streetfighter EX Plus. There was but one catch to this whole story, and probably the reason the game never generated the publicity that a 3D Streetfighter title in the 1990s probably should have, and there’s a clue to it in the first sentence of this paragraph: EX, while published by Capcom, and featuring the Streetfighter name and characters, was actually developed by a third party company called Arika. This wasn’t quite the sacrilege it ...

International Superstar Soccer Pro (PlayStation) 09/05/2017

Professional, if not Superstar

International Superstar Soccer Pro (PlayStation) While it may not have been the first game in the series, or even the game that struck the blow that saw Konami become one of the ‘big two’ when it comes to football games, International Superstar Soccer Pro was a very significant title with regards to the Japanese developer building themselves up to that stage. While the series had enjoyed moderate success with very under-rated outings on the Megadrive and Super Nintendo consoles in the 16-Bit era, it was the series of 3D titles released for both the Sony PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 that saw the franchise really make a name for itself as one of the more reliable titles amidst the sea of genre entries at the time. As the title may imply, ISS Pro is a game based on the ever popular sport of soccer, or football if you will. Your task is to take your team of 11 players and beat the opposing 11 by putting the ball inbetween your opponent’s goals more than they do to you over a set period of time. Visibly inspired by Sega’s World Wide Soccer series that was doing the rounds on the Saturn at the time, ISS Pro takes the rather wise decision to present the beautiful game in a fast, furious arcade-styled format. I say wisely because attempts to try and portray the sport as a simulation in 1997, when this game saw release, were often weighed down by trying too much with technology that just wasn’t capable. It’s worth noting that while I saw the gameplay is arcade-inspired, it is still set in the realms of reality, it just puts more ...

Dynasty Warriors (PlayStation) 07/05/2017

The Dynasty Starts Here

Dynasty Warriors (PlayStation) Dynasty Warriors on the PlayStation is something of a rarity when it comes to 3D fighting games on Sony’s debut games console in that if you were to boot it up without looking at the back of the box or reading the instruction manual, you’d probably be somewhat taken aback by the fact it occupies this genre. Why is this shocking, given that every 2nd release for the console was a 3D Fighter? Well because in the years subsequently Dynasty Warriors would be reinvented as one of the few 3D Beat ‘em Up games to actually enjoy what could be classed as success spawning countless sequels and spin-offs across a variety of console generations. As such, it’s actually quite interesting to see where the series took its first steps, as there can’t be many long-running games franchises that began life in a completely different genre to where they ended up. Yes both genres the series has fallen into put weapon-based combat at the fore, but latter games saw you swathe through literally hundreds of enemy footsoldiers to take control of castles and battlefields – this game settles things the old fashioned way; 1-on-1 fighting where the goal is to deplete your opponents health before they do likewise in a Best of 3 Rounds timed contest. While Dynasty Warriors couldn’t be accused of doing anything drastic or revolutionary within the confines of the genre, it may come as quite a surprise that it’s actually a pretty solid little fighting game. It clearly drew some inspiration from Namco’s Soul ...

Kickboxing Knockout (PlayStation) 28/04/2017

Far From Knockout Quality

Kickboxing Knockout (PlayStation) Given its status as the home of modern videogaming, it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of games that never see release outside of Japan. Games based on obscure Japanese television properties, bizarre dating simulators, culturally specific reworkings of traditional games – there is a lot of stuff that there just wouldn’t be the market for were they to be released in the West. One rather unusual case is that of the budget game that reared its head on the Sony PlayStation. Due to the console’s immense popularity, coupled with the cheap and cheery nature of its CD-ROM software format, in addition to the many blockbuster titles released for the machine a popular header of games cropped up in Japan that would become known as the ‘Simple’ series. These were designed to be low cost, quick and cheap titles released at a fraction of the cost of a major title. A wide array of developers worked on games released under the Simple banner, with most being generic, unlicensed sports titles with names like ‘The Boxing’, ‘The Tennis’ or ‘The Wrestling’ – which unintentionally provides a laugh due to it sounding exactly how your grandad tends to refer to sports. The majority of the Simple games never made it outside of Japan, however certain titles were cherry picked by publishers in the USA or European territories, retitled and found a home on the shelves of stores that didn’t tend to stock games traditionally; service stations, Co-Ops and Supermarkets (in many ways this ...

Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring (PlayStation) 26/04/2017

Err Guys?

Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring (PlayStation) Two of the big sellers for the Sony PlayStation during its heyday were Japanese developer Squaresoft’s incredibly successful Role-Playing-Game Final Fantasy VII and the genre of 3D fighting games. In hindsight it probably shouldn’t come as that big a surprise that in the thick of the PlayStation’s success Squaresoft looked to combine the two to really cash in, with today’s subject Ehrgeiz: God Bless The Ring being the product of this. Now I’ll openly confess, I’ve never liked Final Fantasy VII, or the turn-based-RPG genre of games it would very much become the poster-title for. I didn’t mind the concept of turn based combat on a handheld system, but on a home console I just found it…lazy and skill-less. The plots of these types of games often felt a bit overly melodramatic for my liking too. As such, I was perhaps something of a unique case when it came to playing Ehrgeiz, in that its main selling point was lost on me, yet at the same time it inhabited the genre of games that had very much become my passion, so it was something that I approached with a mixture of intrigue and enthusiasm. Now, at base level, Ehrgeiz is a fighting game of the standard setup – Best of 3 Rounds contest where the goal is to deplete your opponent’s energy utilising all the attacks at your character’s disposal before they do likewise to you. This respect is probably the last in which it resembles a standard fighting game however, with it embracing the ‘3D’ aspect of a 3D fighter moreso than many ...

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. ...
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