TxK: The Killer App

TxK_topFormat: PS Vita
Year: 2014
Developer: Llamasoft
Cost: $10.35

I am going to go against the grain here and write about a current gen video game. It’s no ordinary game, it has it’s roots in the arcades dating back to 1981. The game I speak of is TxK. What praises can be written here that haven’t already been lavished on this beautiful game by the great Yak, Jeff Minter (Llamasoft).

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For starters, this is no ordinary update on Dave Theurer’s original arcade smash hit Tempest, or Jeff’s own Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar. TxK brings Tempest well and truly into the 21st century. This tube shooter captures your attention and gobbles up a lot of your free time, not just the PS Vita battery. Words like mesmerising, sublime, frantic, nail-biting and intense come to mind when describing TxK.

TxK_playfield

For those that have just arrived on this planet, TxK is a tube/web shooter, where your ship is attached to the top edge (rim) of a web playfield, shooting at enemies approaching from the background into the foreground. Your mission is to clear each of the 100 playfields and not allow the enemies to shoot you down or capture your ship. To assist you in getting further into the game, each level provides power-ups that can unleash screen-clearing bombs or provide you with an AI Droid which is handy in clearing enemies that have jumped up on the rim.

TxK_blast

Coupled with the gorgeous psychedelic visuals, Jeff Minter has also thrown in some catchy, rave-inspired soundtracks. With an ingenious save system and modes of play, TxK is clean, perfectly designed and bristling with high energy.

Verdict: If there is one game that will convince you to buy a PS Vita, it is TxK. It has ‘killer app’ written all over it.

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MOGA: The Mobile Game Changer

Is your new year’s resolution to become an accomplished mobile gamer? To become an accomplished mobile gamer, you’ll need some precision control. Well, I think the MOGA Pocket Controller (MOGA) might be your weapon of choice.

All work ceased when the MOGA arrived in the office. We all just gawked at this beautiful sleek package on the desk. Who would be the lucky sod to crack open the controller and put it through its paces? Well, being the editor, there are certain perks and privileges that come with the job –  I wasn’t going to let anyone else get their grubby fingers on the MOGA.

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Build Quality
The first thing that strikes you with the MOGA is its build quality – it is flawless! This little pocket rocket is one of the best looking controllers on the market. The piano black finish is gorgeous and the feel and control is akin to your PS3 and XBox 360 controllers, albeit a tad smaller for use on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets).

With dual analogue sticks, shoulder triggers and four action buttons, you will feel right at home when the MOGA is in your hands. The unit even has a ‘flip’ arm which secures your Android device up to 3.2in / 82mm in size – accommodating the market’s largest smartphones.

The MOGA draws power from two AAA (1.5V) batteries. You’ll get a fair few hours play on a pair of AAAs. We played with it for 6 hours and there was still lots of juice left in the batteries.

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Compatibility & Games
Let’s face it, what good is a controller if it can not be used on a myriad of games. Given the MOGA is for Android 2.3+ devices (we used it on a Samsung Galaxy S3), there are numerous games on Google Play that are ‘enhanced’ for the MOGA. Having said that, games that are compatible with the MOGA must run via its proprietary app, the MOGA Pivot App (don’t stress, it is a breeze to setup and use). Unfortunately, this means that your much loved retro gaming emulators can not utilise this controller. That aside, there are games being added to the library on a constant basis. You would be pretty hard pressed if you couldn’t find a swag of games that you could play using the MOGA.

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Verdict
If you are a control freak and yearn for precision, then the MOGA Pocket Controller is for you. If you tend to play MAME or other retro system emulators, then you will need to look elsewhere. This is one great little controller that we highly recommend. 

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Book Review: Ready Player One

BOOK

At the time I found Ready Player One, I was up for getting into a good, well, a great, journey book. Walking through the airport on my way home from an August conference in Vegas, this book somehow stood out as a perfect story to spend my trip being engrossed in. The description on the cover read, “Enchanting…Willy Wonka meets The Matrix”; which was exactly the perfect description to raise my interest.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is set in the year 2044 and tells the story of Wade, a young kid full of passion for the 80s, on a quest for his prize – the solution to a virtual reality game OASIS, left behind by a famous videogame designer and retro aficionado, James Halliday. Along the way were puzzles and various Easter eggs left within the game, and solving the game meant consequently inheriting Halliday’s hidden fortune.

After reading a few pages in the shop, I was hooked and had to buy the book. For me, it seemed to have just the right mix of all the best elements of honest geekiness, and lots of 80’s retro references. While the story is about a video game, the quest feels much more like an enchanting quest, closer to Journey to the Center of the Earth than say, Tron. Mix in with that feeling a ton of references to John Hughes’ movies and a sense of that “man against the machines” feel of films like Terminator 2, or The Matrix, and you’ll have a feel for what Ready Player One was like to read.

Something that really worked in the book, was the way Cline creates the feeling of a much bigger world than what is currently happening. There is a definite shared appreciation and understanding that emerges between Halliday and the young “Gunters” who are pursuing the final prize that he has hidden within his game. The book bounces between what is happening and flashbacks and quick historical explanations of why something is, and seeing the story of the quest unfold through the young eyes of Wade as he realises the full extent of evil in the corporation that pursues them so closely.

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Halliday presents the keys!
source: Ready Player One

Like the author, I grew up with arcade video games and all the referenced 80s films and music, so this book really struck a chord of familiarity and excitement with me. Even without that, the story still came across with a lot of heart and feeling. It isn’t overly technical or clinical, yet still was a great follow up to prolong the rush from the conference I’d just been to.

Without giving away too much of the story, there were also some great moments of triumph tempered nicely with the warm 80s backdrop. The pace varies throughout the book which adds some great dynamics of tension, elation, as well as calm moments of reflection in-between.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves 80s movies ranging from the science fiction of Back to the Future series to the teenage revelations of The Breakfast Club. There is an assumption that the reader is familiar with these. The geeky elements are also there to please old gamers too. Even after my flight landed, I was still glued to this book. It literally made me grin later when I realised that the author had actually followed up with running a competition and had given away a real customised DeLorean!

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Ready Player One author, Ernest Cline and the beloved DeLorean
source: Ready Player One

Reading this book was indeed a thoroughly enjoyable journey, which left me with a sense of nerdy excitement that makes you want to go and play old arcade games and hack away on a computer to 80s music. Read it now!

Ready Player One [by: Ernest Cline] is available paperback and for the Kindle.
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MARTdiaf23
Retro, science fiction, horror movie fan and breaker of things.

Follow diaf23 (dieinafire23) on Twitter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Arcadie

Arc_top

It is quite exciting receiving goodies in the mail. This time around, we received the cool looking Arcadie. On first impressions, the unit stands out – I love anything that looks like an arcade machine. Upon closer inspection, the packaging doesn’t give away too many details, just minimal information on the compatibility and the website of the manufacturer for more detailed specifications. I guess with finite real estate on packaging, you have to grab potential customers’ attention with colouring and buzz words.

Build Quality

The Arcadie feels quite sturdy and takes a bit of punishment. The joystick is nice and tight and centres itself, while the buttons have a nice click when depressed – no hint of sponginess. Can it withstand years of punishment? Well, having had the unit for a few weeks, that is difficult to determine. Only time will tell. Unless you wrench the stick and abuse the buttons beyond their normal use, then there should be no reason for the unit to breakdown any time soon. When playing games, we did find that we had to tilt the unit away from us so that we could get a better viewing angle of the screen.

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Arcadie Alien Invaders is a beefed up Space Invaders clone that plays quite well.

Compatibility & Games

Straight off the bat, the Arcadie is compatible with Apple’s iPod and iPhone devices up to and including the iPhone 4S and iPod Touch (3rd and 4th Generation). Unfortunately, if you have an iPhone 5 or above, you miss out. Not only is the Arcadie hampered by limited hardware compatibility, it is also limited to proprietary software. The good news is, Zeon are releasing games exclusive for the unit and the best bit is, they are totally free (via iTunes App store). Let’s hope they keep on releasing more games for the Arcadie, as it needs them. Before you ask, the games that are available are beefed up clones of well known retro classics like: arcadie Blasteroids (Asteroids), arcadie Alien Invaders (Space Invaders), arcade Ping (Pong), arcadie Tanks and arcadie Hop Along (Frogger) . The games are quite fun to play, but not for too long. The novelty of playing on an arcade stylised cabinet is still quite cool. If only the Arcadie was compatible with other retro released games on iTunes. It’s a case of, what might have been.

Arc_open

Pop open the rear, insert your device, close rear and you are set to play!

Verdict

For the price of the Arcadie (sub $25 AUD for the blue unit), it is worth having it as a cool item – either to show off on your shelf or act as a stand for your iPhone or iPod. Will you use it to play games or will the novelty factor wear off? These are valid questions that can only be answered on an individual basis. I do get caught up in the nostalgia that certain items provide and I can safely say that the Arcadie certainly does this, albeit in a limited fashion. If you have an iPhone 4S or an iPod Touch, this is well worth a look.

 

Cabal: Dare The Danger

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Ah yes, Cabal. This war themed arcade game throws you and a friend right into the thick of battle. Your mission is to maim, kill and blow up everything in sight on twenty (20) different screens (four screens per stage, with a total of five stages). Should you reach the end and defeat the evil dictator, you are free to relinquish your guerrilla fighting days and just become a run of the mill commando.

Cabal_screenshot

Ask any arcade gamer about Cabal, and you will notice a wry smile come over their face. Cabal had you ducking behind walls to escape enemy fire all the while you shoot back and destroy everything on screen, from buildings, tanks, helicopters, submarines, walls and trees to animals! Using your onscreen crosshair, you aim and fire. Your soldier starts with his trusty single-shot gun (with unlimited ammo), however, there are power-ups (shotguns, machine guns, grenades) hidden on each screen, hence the importance of shooting and destroying everything in sight. Once the screen has been leveled out, your soldier moves on to the next screen or stage.

Cabal set the blueprint for a number of shooting games, from its own successor, Blood Bros. to SNK’s NAM-1975. These games may be better (for some gamers), but you have to pay homage to where the inspiration came from – Cabal: Dare the Danger!

 

Graphics Nice large sprites. Items on screen blow up with great satisfaction (buildings collapse in dust when their foundations give in to your incessant fire)

88%

Sound Expected frenetic war machine noise

85%

Playability The screen does not scroll, but the gameplay is hectic. You will love blowing up everything on screen

85%

Lastability Still great to come back to and shoot everything in sight, including the pigs!

83%

Overall Using the trackball may get some getting used to, but once you do, Cabal will dare you to play it. Get ready to destroy everything

82%

 

 

 

 

Cabal_CabManufacturer: TAD Corporation
Year: 1988
Genre: Shooter
Number of Simultaneous Players: 2
Maximum number of Players: 2
Gameplay: Joint
Control Panel Layout: Multi-Player
Controls:
- Trackball: Optical
- Buttons: 2 (shoot and grenade)
Sound: Amplified Mono (single channel)

 

 

 

Review A Bad Game Day: Street Fighter

Welcome aboard the Crapsville Express. Last year, Hard Drivin’ was served up as a turd for Review A Bad Game Day - this year the gong goes to another coin-op conversion.

street_fighter__coverGame: Street Fighter
Genre:
Fighting
Format:
C64
Year: 1988
Publisher: GO!
Developer: Tiertex

 

Prior to the sublime ‘Street Fighter II: The World Warrior’ SNES home conversion, there was the abhorrent C64 fighting game’ Street Fighter’.

Where does one even start with this game? For those of you not familiar with the series, ‘Street Fighter’ made its debut in the arcades in 1987. On the back of its success, the home version quickly followed on all conceivable platforms of the time, including the C64.

Tiertex brought this foul stench of a fighting game to our trusty and much loved 8-bit home computer. I suspect the coding was done by a drunk programmer or their pet monkey. How this passed any quality assurance testing is beyond my comprehension. Anyway, on with the review…

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‘Street Fighter’, as you may have guessed, is based on Capcom’s 1987 arcade game. You enter the worldwide martial arts tournament as Ryu and fight opponents from across the globe in order to become the street fighting champion. Ryu’s fighting arsenal is made up of various punches and kicks – that’s it (no special attacks!). Each battle has timed rounds; the winner being the last fighter standing. After each battle, Ryu competes in bonus rounds, smashing bricks to earn extra points.

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If you manage to bribe a friend to play ‘Street Fighter’, you could have yourself a two-player grudge match – Ryu vs Ken. The winner proceeds to take on the computer-controlled fighters, while the loser is subjected to watching this dreadful game being played – even the CIA plays by fairer rules of torture!

The graphics are childish and messy – they do nothing to show off the C64’s abilities. The fighters tend to clash with the background. I reckon I could have drawn better sprites and backgrounds with crayons! ‘How about the sound?’ you may ask – let’s not even go there if you like your hearing the way it is. The effects and tunes are better suited for an Atari 2600 game, not a game that should be taking advantage of the C64’s SID chip. The clincher of this turdfest is the control – before there was button mashing, there was joystick and wrist breaking. The control is absolutely abysmal, by the time you attempt to pull off an attack; it is already too late, game over (which is probably a good thing!).

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The C64 had quite a few poor arcade conversions in its time, and sadly ‘Street Fighter’ makes this list. Had it not been for the stinker Hard Drivin’, this would have been number 1 in Crapsville. Play it at your peril!

Graphics Crappy sprites with even crappier backgrounds.

15%

Sound Turn down the volume on your TV, I am warning you!

10%

Playability Laughable. Apart from the terrible look and sound of this game, the controls let it down big time.

5%

Lastability It will last as fast as you can turn off your C64.

2%

Overall Stay away! This is another poor C64 arcade conversion. If you want to play a great fighting game on your C64, try International Karate!

9%

 

 

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Book Review: Atari Inc. – Business Is Fun

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source: Atari Book

Atari Inc. – Business Is Fun‘ documents Atari’s history from its humble beginnings in the early 70s, to its meteoric rise and then, its downward spiral in the 80s. Atari had a big hand in bringing video gaming to the masses, and then almost bringing the same industry to its knees. These events are all retold in exquisite detail.

From its very beginnings, Atari lacked (business) discipline and clear market direction. It is evident from this book, that Atari just wanted to be part of the video games action, no matter what. Co-founder Nolan Bushnell aggressively advanced the company and Atari’s market and popularity grew rapidly. It seemed that Atari could not put a foot wrong – everything they created, from coin operated machines to the Video Computer System (2600) console, turned to gold.

There was a culture of ‘anything goes’ inside Atari, from their weekly staff parties to casual drug taking – it was all about having fun while creating video gaming hardware and software!

Stripping back the myths and misconceptions, this book sets the record straight in what went on behind the scenes at Atari. It wasn’t all glamour and high-fives. The authors spoke to the ‘real’ people at Atari who gave first person accounts of their experiences in the once titan of the video games industry.

The content grips you like a vice and does not let go until you have read every page. There are a few dry chapters where the authors cover the technical details of Atari’s home computer range, but these could be deemed optional for the non-technical reader.

You will be in awe of the people behind Atari and their many creations – which have withstood the test of time (even outlasting the company!). You will also be shocked to read about the back-stabbings, the parties, the drugs, and the backroom wheeling and dealing. I would not be surprised if Hollywood comes knocking on Martin Goldberg and Curt Vendel’s door.

Verdict: With never before seen photos and content exclusively obtained from the people at Atari, this book is a must read for any video games fan, not just Atarians. Buy it now!

Atari Inc. – Business is Fun [by: Goldberg & Vendel] is available in Paperback and Kindle.