Spy Hunter

With its smart weapons, awesome cars, Spy Hunter was viewed as a very stylish game back in the arcades on the early 1980s. It was a title that playing into any boy's fantasies- secret agents, nasty weaponry, and a driving lincese. Make no mistake though, it was the action packed gameplay that kept people coming back for more again, again, and again...


The year that the war ground on may have been 1943, when rationing continued to bite down hard, construction work on the Pentagon was completed, and the Japanese forces were driven back from Guadalcanal, but it's a whole lot more enjoyable if you think of it as this wonderful little vertical-scrolling shooter from Capcom, released for the delight of the arcade-going populas in 1987...


The game isn't just a good looking isometric dungeon crawler, it is THE best dungeon crawler. A simple - almost brainless trek through caverns and catacombs filled with vile creatures, not to mention all the loot. Blizzard spent a lot of time working on the generation of the game's spaces, making items, enemies, and geography be different every single time you load up the game...

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

The Elder Scrolls games are best known for the fourth chapter in the series, Oblivion, released in 2006. In comparison,The Elder Scroll's Morrowind is altogether more of a curate's egg, neither as commercially successful nor critically applauded as it's successor. Perhaps because of that, however, it's also a much more interesting game...


Rogue first appeared on college Unix systems in 1980. It contains an infinite variety via a series of randomly generated, ASCII-rendered dungeons that must be explored in a bid to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor (Rodney spelled backwards) from somewhere behold the twenty-fifth level -- an unlikely achievement given the imposing difficulty of even the earliest dungeon layers.

09 October, 2012

Desert Commander

Release Date: 1989
Platform(s): NES
Developer: Kemco
Genre: Turn-based Strategy

Desert Commander is one of the more complex turn-based strategy games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Set in North Africa during World War II, the player chooses between commanding either the Allied Forces of George S. Patton and Bernard Montgomery, or the Axis Powers or Erwin Rommel. Similar to 1943, using this point in history informed the visual aesthetic of the game and simplified the vehicle design, a necessary compromise for the underpowered NES.

The game uses a top-down view for strategically placing vehicles and assets against the opponent, much like a board game. The player manages resources, helping to simulate the decisions that go into deployment of a military force. When an encounter between opposing sides ensues, the game switches to a close-up view of the battle. While it was a rudimentary view with limited animations, it created a design aesthetic that remains to this day, even with systems that are capable of sophisticated animation and photorealism. The abstracted landscape keeps a focus on the numbers engaged in combat instead of the surrounding visuals. Animated sequences were used to depict special actions, such as refuelling or the gathering of supplies.

Operating on a limited platform and dependent on utilitarian visuals, Desert Commander managed to build a sophisticated tactics game.

03 October, 2012


Release Date: 1991
Platform(s): Amiga, ST, PC, Other Ports
Developer: DMA Design
Genre: Puzzle

Few games other than Tetris can claim to have appeared on as many formats as this historic action puzzler. Dave Jones, the founder of DMA Design, claims to have lost count at twenty, and that was before the numerous PlayStation and mobile iterations were added to the list.

Famously, the idea was conceived almost by accident, when artist Mike Dailly was experimenting with the animation of tiny characters in an 8 x 8 pixel grid. Programmer Russel Kay saw the results and pronounced: "There's a game in that." And there certainly was.

At first glance, perhaps, Lemmings looks like a standard late-1980s platformer, its sparse yet neat visual style presenting teeny, teeming sprites.But it is, in fact, a masterpiece of sandbox design, allowing players endless ways to complete each level. Over a vast series of levels, the player must guide a set number of tiny lemming characters from the entrance to the exit, avoiding hazards such as lava pools and large falls. Instead of directly controlling the critters, however, there is a range of eight skills that can be designated to individuals via a point and click interface.

The builder skill, for example, allows a lemming to construct a staircase across a chasm, while bashers, miners, and diggers all create differently angled holes in platforms to create new routes. It is up to the player to decide how, the available skills should be used to solve each level.

Press coverage at launch was very enthusiastic, and 55,000 copies flew from shop shelves on day one (impressive at the time). The ensuing conveyor belt of sequels and conversions led to subsequent sales of more than fifteen million units. Alongside contemporaries such as Worms and Populous, it's a defining work in the British game design canon.

18 August, 2012

North & South

  • Release Date: 1989
  • Platform(s): Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX, NES
  • Developer: Infogrames
  • Genre: Action / Strategy

The American Civil War was surely not the most pleasant of wars. Wedged uncomfortably close to the nasty delights of industrialization, it was a muddle of shelling and gunpowder, in which people got their faces burned off, or were accidentally run through by their own side's sabres; it was a conflict in which troops were regularly trampled under horses, and that nice Kevin Costner almost had his leg lopped off and went to live with the Native Americans.

North & South tells a slightly cheerier story. A mixture of cold strategy and fast-paced battles, Infrogrames's classic is based on a Belgian comic called Les Tuniques Bleus. This means that verisimilitude was never going to be that high on the agenda. That said, beyond the chummy cartoon faces and quiky animated asides (you can tickle the photographer on the main menu screen by goosing him with your mouse pointer), it's still a smart tactical challenge all the same.

North & South operates in two modes. There's the overworld view, in which you move troops around a map of the United States, staking out territory and pincering your enemy. There's also a battle mode that allows you to race through enough stripped-down skirmishes more personally. pushing around a range of infantry, cavalry, and cannons.

The story moves at a pace while excellent audio and visual presentation give the whole thing a sheen of polish missing from many other games of the era. The ending sequence, in which weary troops march home, the war over, set new standards for animation at the time of its release. Taken as a whole, North & South, while not particularly deep, makes for a pleasant arcade strategy experience even today -- if you can track down an original copy and coax it back to life, that is.

15 August, 2012

Breath of Fire II

Release Date: 1994
Platform: SNES
Developer: Capcom
Genre: Role-Playing

Breath of Fire II is an RPG great on a console crammed full of them. Released on the SNES, it joins the likes of Secret of Mana, the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger, and the original Breath of Fire at the very top of its chosen genre. It takes place 500 years after the end of the original game to tell the story of Ryu Bateson, a blue-haired boy hero on a quest for justice, which is launched when his friend is framed for a crime he didn't commit.

The game picks up the day/night cycle from its predecessor, which sees the world and its inhabitants transform with every sunset, and it features the turn-based, random encounters that are a staple element of the Japanese RPG genre. Picking the right formation is a crucial part of combat strategy, while another key feature is each character's special ability, such as Ryu's dragon transformations or Bow's fusion form as a giant, cannonball-launching mech.

One of the best things about the game is the way the world is gradually opened up. Each party member has a unique skill that they can use outside of the normal course of play, so fishing and hunting skills, for example, unlock different mini-games. But the ability to swim or bridge chasms allows the party to access more of the increasingly vast game world, and it's the pacing of exploration is one of the game's greatest strengths. Another is the way the game prefigures the Dark Cloud series by giving you the ability to build your very own town, choosing its architectural style, and gradually filling it with non-player characters that can help you on the main mission -- a mission with multiple endings, depending on how effectively you steer Ryu and friends on one of the classic quests of 16-bit storytelling.

14 August, 2012

Wave Race 64

  • Release Date: 1996
  • Platform: N64
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Genre: Racing

Let's be honest, nobody ever fell in love with Wave Race 64. Despite hailing from the same stable as Super Mario and company, this Jet Ski racing game with its four identical riders just doesn't have the personality for that. The visuals don't help either. Superficially, Wave Race 64 is even a bit-- whisper it-- annoying.

Yet the game made a splash (I apologize deeply for the lame pun) on release and, unlike many other older games, it's still worth checking out on its own merits, irrespective of its historical value (which isn't much; the game spawn no great lineage of Jet Ski titles). It's all about the realistically modelled water, and the joy of steering your craft upon it. The N64's innovative control stick had already proved that analog was the future, thanks to the fin control it afforded Mario in his N64 debut, but Wave Race 64, itself a very early game for the console, was an even more convincing demonstration. As you steer your bouncing craft across the choppy surf or pull a hairpin turn, you can almost see the old two-dimensional, on or off era sinking beneath the waves.

The game is structured as a conventional racing game, albeit all at sea. In most races, you need to beat your fellow skiers around an island in various weather conditions, while also steering your craft past navigational buoys. Correctly passing a buoy boosts your speed, and at maximum power you really fly. Championship, Time Trial, and Stunt modes round out the package, and the mandatory two-player mode is also good  fun, despite the somewhat restricted view afforded by the split-screen implementation.

Wave Race 64 remains one of the best water-based games you can play -- although admittedly that's a genre with limited competition.