Review: Western Press

Taking you back to an era when the duel abided, Western Press is a fast-paced duelling simulator best enjoyed with a bunch of friends, or by people with super-human reflexes.

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When I was growing up, one of the Commodore 64 games my circle of friends used to like playing as a group was Law of the West. A single-player only game, you were tasked with attempting to Sheriff a lawless town, but gave you the chance to start a gun duel in order to settle a discussion. We’d often sit there as a group taking turns to insult people, then try to get the draw on them to shoot first, only to suffer through a long load time when we failed for the next person to have their go. That’s probably as close as the similarities go, but for me Western Press’ pixel-art graphics and gun duelling invoked memories of this nearly forgotten retro-title.

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The first release from Melbourne-based indie studio Bandit-1, Western Press calls itself “the most historically accurate frontier duelling game ever (probably)”. And to be honest? While I’m unsure if the gunslingers of the wild west needed to press 10 random buttons in order to shoot, I’m more than happy to accept this claim. Featuring 12 unique characters, several different local and online multiplayer modes for up to 16 players, Steam Workshop support (for creating your own duellists or stages), and a single player Skill Tester mode, there’s a reasonable amount of content on offer here.

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Matches in Western Press play out in a fairly straightforward fashion: pick your character, select what input method you want to use, then get set to reel off 10 commands as fast as humanly possible.  First person to complete their key combination in the fastest time, or with the least amount of mistakes wins. While it sounds deceptively simple, you’ll need insanely good reflexes to beat your opponent – press first, think later! One thing that is surprising is the different variety of controllers Bandit-1 have included support for. Allowing you to choose from keyboard input to XBox or Playstation joypads, and even Dance Mats (but sadly no steering wheels or Power Glove), the game will even automatically change the on-screen icons depending on what you’re using!

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As with similar games in this genre, I found the most fun I had with Western Press was against other people, and not trying to outsmart the AI. My attempts to best the skill tester left me angry and frustrated, as my poor old reflexes just aren’t up to the task of beating a perfect, immortal machine! If you’re someone who digs local co-op competitive multiplayer games and wants something else to add into the catalogue of games to play with mates, you won’t go too far wrong with giving Western Press a shot.


trailer source: Bandit-1

Western Press is available now from Steam for Mac and PC. Review copy provided by Surprise Attack Games.

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blahjediAaron Clement
Tassie based retro gaming guy. Father of 3 and married to the very tolerant Kellie Clement. Coffee powered!

Follow Aaron Clement on Twitter and Instagram

 

 

 

 

Film Review: Wizard Mode

WizardMode_DMDThere is something enticing about pinball – the flashing lights, pop bumpers, drop targets and the challenge of playing better in each game seems to draw people from all walks of life. Among the top tier pinball players in North America, there is one name that constantly stands out, Robert Emilio Gagno. Through his dedication to pinball, Robert has won many a tournaments and competitions and now strives for the ultimate pinball reward, Wizard Mode. Oh, and Robert happens to have autism.

Wizard Mode is a candid personal perspective on autism through the life of the current world champion of pinball. The film follows Robert as he seeks to balance his quest to become a world pinball champion and his growing real world responsibilities, culminating in the largest pinball tournament at the world, Pinburgh, in Pittsburgh, PA.

We laughed, we cried, we cheered, we applauded, and most importantly, we were inspired by Robert Gagno’s story to become (spoiler alert), the pinball champion and a champion in life! Robert has definitely achieved Wizard Mode and the filmmakers from Vimeo and Salazar Film have hit the Super Jackpot!

Currently available on Vimeo in the U.S. and Canada. Wizard Mode will be available worldwide later this year.

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Wizard Mode

WizardMode_Postersource: Wizard Mode Film

 

Man Vs Snake – The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler

Man Vs Snake – The Long and Twisted Tale of NibblerWhat the heck is Nibbler? Oh, the Rock-ola arcade game from 1982 which is a mash-up of Pac-Man and Snake? Nah, doesn’t ring any bells. Anyway, Man Vs Snake – The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler tells the story of high scoring Nibbler players’ quest to become the undisputed world champion.

Just like Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe competing to become The King Of Kong, Man vs Snake (MvS) introduces the main protagonist, Tim McVey (no, not that Oklahoma City bomber bad guy), the dude whom in 1984 was the first video gamer to clock Nibbler with a billion point high score, earning him the Rock-Ola arcade machine in the process. Then enters the dark horse, one Italian named Enrico Zanetti, whom had held the unofficial high score for Nibbler (not recognised by Twin Galaxies) and the main contenders to Tim’s high score, Canadian video game champion Dwayne Richard and “The Machine”, Rick Carter.

With a cast reading like a who’s who from the US arcade world including Walter Day, the theme is set – so what’s a high-score challenge documentary without some controversy aye? Just like The King Of Kong, it seems as this is the genre du jour. Not wanting to spoil it for anyone, an unfair advantage is uncovered which leads to accusations of, well let’s just say it, cheating! Balance could have been given here by allowing the accused to elaborate on their side of the story, but that may have spoiled the narrative of the documentary.

The film fulfils its primary objective by capturing the essence of not just the players wanting to beat one another, but showing the tension, determination and sacrifices they go through to conquer the mountain that is the Nibbler high score. In the end, the real battle in Man Vs Snake, just as the title eludes too, is between man and machine. If you were a fan of The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters, then Man Vs Snake – The Long and Twisted Tale Of Nibbler is compelling viewing!

Man Vs Snake – The Long and Twister Take Of Nibbler will be available from June 24 on all major streaming platforms. Visit the Man Vs Snake site for more details.

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Man Vs Snake

Nibblerimage source: Man Vs Snake

 

Film Review: The Amiga Years

TheAmigaYears_TitleAnthony and Nicola Caulfield, the writers and directors of the critically acclaimed crowdfunded feature length documentary From Bedrooms to Billions, which charts the history of the British Video games Industry, have just released a follow up film called From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years

From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years is a 150 minute feature documentary exploring the influence of the Commodore Amiga and how it took video game development, music and publishing to a whole new level and played a key, defining role in the rapidly evolving video games industry!

As with the original From Bedrooms to Billions, the film-makers balance The Amiga Years with nostalgic archive footage, stills and music with newly shot interviews with some of the original Amiga design team as well as with some of the biggest names in video game development, publishing, music and journalism from the last 30 years!

BlahjediAaron Clement: I’m ashamed to admit it, but outside of games, my knowledge of the Amiga’s history is pretty poor. As a Commodore 64 boy growing up, my exposure to its 16-bit big brother was limited to seeing screenshots in Zzap! and C&VG, or going around to my best friend’s place to fire up his Amiga 500 whenever we could. After having watched The Amiga Years, I can say that the detail presented here far and away fills the gaps in my knowledge, as well as providing a positive and entertaining story to boot. Delivering it’s narrative through a series of interviews with a veritable “who’s who” from the Amiga’s history, creators Nicola and Anthony Caulfield have done a solid job weaving this documentary together.

Featuring industry veterans like Trip Hawkins, RJ Mical, Larry Kaplan, Chris Huelsbeck and more, there’s an incredible variety of stories on offer from all sides of the Amiga’s past. Spliced in among this is archival footage from the 70s and 80s, ranging from Ralph Baer introducing his original PONG machine, to Andy Warhol at the Amiga Launch event, right through to the super-daggy “Only Amiga” video clip (Seriously – what is it with Commodore and their theme songs?). With that said, I did find that some of the earlier parts covering Atari’s history and later discussions around the demo scene dragged on a little too much. Given how massive the demo scene was in Europe however, I can definitely understand why it gets the attention it does!

So what did I think overall? I thought The Amiga Years was an enjoyable, in-depth retrospective featuring a whole lot of incredibly passionate people who clearly love the system. The positivity is great (Molyneux’s cheap shot at the ST aside), and there’s not really any negativity or spite on display – even Jack Tramiel gets presented and talked about in a respectful manner. If you’ve got a spare couple of hours and even a passing interest in vintage computers or gaming, The Amiga Years is well worth checking out.

alex bozAlex BozWith The Amiga Years, Anthony and Nicola have literally picked up where they left off with their first film, From Bedroom To Billions – which is actually a really GOOD thing! Their pedigree in documentary film making is second to none, and The Amiga Years is no exception. With the subject matter at the centre of this film, Anthony and Nicola have lovingly pieced together countless hours of interviews and archival footage into a 2.5hr tour de force on the Amiga.

The historical context of the film is set perfectly with a background on the industry from the 70s, with the Atari vs Commodore war to how it all lead to the genesis of the Amiga. Discussing the Amiga with all the important people that had a role in its creation, including the late Dave Needle, the film’s authenticity on the subject matter is unparalleled. The Amiga Years managed to surprise with the inclusion of the ever so pervasive Amiga demo scene, which includes interviews with demo group members and their ever so eye-catching cracktros – this, in my opinion completes the Amiga story beautifully.

With their highly lauded first feature film, From Bedrooms To Billions, The Amiga Years is another triumph for Anthony and Nicola Caulfield (and their production team) – they have yet again set the bar (very) high to what a historical documentary on our computing past should be. You need to watch The Amiga Years (and its additional special footage) right now! Even as an Atari ST fan (and there are plenty of references to the ST in the film), I was absolutely absorbed from start to finish!

From Bedrooms To Billions: The Amiga Years and its awesome special features set are available now to watch on Vimeo.

The Amiga Yearsimage source: From Bedrooms To Billions: The Amiga Years

 

Review: Shadow Of The Beast

Coming some 27 years after Shadow of the Beast first graced the Commodore Amiga, Heavy Spectrum’s Playstation 4 remake turns out to be a surprisingly enjoyable release that doesn’t rely solely on the nostalgia card to succeed.

The original Amiga Shadow of the Beast started life as a graphical tech demo to see what the system was capable of. Eventually this demo ended up being developed into a full game and released by publisher Psygnosis in 1989 to much fanfare. Beast’s detailed sprites, multi-layered parallax backgrounds and sublime soundtrack gave Amiga owners something to brag about to their 8-bit micro or Atari ST owning friends. The game would go on to spawn two sequels, and eventually be ported to a number of different systems creating quite a legacy in the process.

Shadow Of The Beast

When it was announced in 2013 that British-based newcomers Heavy Spectrum would be developing a remake for the Playstation 4, the initial reaction was mixed. A studio comprised of 7 members, Heavy Spectrum all identified as fans of the original Psygnosis release, and wanted to bring it into the current generation to ensure the game’s legacy would continue to live on. As someone who loved the art, but never particularly liked playing the original games, I went into this unsure how I’d find it. Would it prove to be a game capable of standing on it’s own, or another release that relied on nostalgia to drive the experience? I can say that Heavy Spectrum have done a good job of bringing Shadow of the Beast into the modern era, although it’s not without a few rough spots on the way.

Shadow Of The Beast

Shadow of the Beast  is a 2D action adventure with a heavy focus on combat and exploration, along with a handful of puzzles spread throughout the game’s world. Set on the world of Karamoon, it tells of Aarbron’s quest for revenge after being kidnapped as a baby by the tyrant Maletoth, then turned into the titular beast. On the surface the story doesn’t evolve much beyond “find things, fight them, get revenge”, instead the mystery behind the Beast’s story is left in the player’s hands by way of finding hidden Prophecy Orbs. These orbs are spread across the stages as a part of the game’s item hunt, and are crucial towards getting 100% completion on each level.

Shadow Of The Beast

Given the combat focus, Heavy Spectrum have given Aarbron a number of new tricks to go along with his upgraded appearance. In addition to his basic attack, he can stun or throw enemies, as well as block, dodge or parry incoming attacks. Once found, you can also equip your Beast with a number of Talisman that offer enhanced abilities, although sometimes with added drawbacks. Rounding out the toolset are a number of attacks that use the game’s Blood mechanic. Blood is a resource earned by killing enemies, and can then be spent for a variety of benefits, like healing or recharging Aarbron’s Wraith. Accumulate enough blood and it allows the usage of Rage Chains, which triggers a frenzy mode that give you quick-time prompts on either side of the screen to help quickly dispatch his foes.The higher the combo multiplier gets, the better your score, and with it ways to further upgrade the Beast’s abilities or unlock other special features.

Shadow Of The Beast

While the blood resource is central to the game mechanics, it feels like there’s a touch too much emphasis on the bloodletting side of things. While not as up close and visceral as say Mortal Kombat, there are times where Aarbron ends combat bathed in blood, or finding it splattered over the screen. And it’s this last part that feels the most jarring, as I encountered several situations where this splatter effect caused distraction, or worse, rendered me unable to see an incoming enemy leading to Aarbron getting hit (and resetting my multiplier). There’s some stunning environments to explore, however there were times where I felt the overt blood thirst was a little too out of place.

Shadow Of The Beast

The visuals have a familiar feel to them, from the opening on the Grass Plains of Karamoon, to the desert area outside the Hydrath’s Castle. During my playthrough, I spotted several nods to the original games, as well as denizens and environments inspired directly by Roger Dean’s box art. Adding to this is usage of parallax scrolling to help bring depth to the world, although there were times when it caused me some headaches. In some occasions where it ended in a mistimed jump, or other situations where moving to one side of the screen resulted in foreground objects obscuring big chunks of the playfield (and enemies!). With that said, the game moves incredibly smoothly and I never encountered a single moment of slowdown across the entire playthrough, even during some of the more hectic encounters!

Shadow Of The Beast

Those dedicated to blowing through a game as quickly as possible will find themselves hitting the end after a couple of hours on normal difficulty, although you’ll land the worst ending in the process. On top of the different difficulties, every area has leaderboards for speed running, time to complete with 100% collection rate, and high score. There’s also a number of secret encounters in the game that need to be unlocked by performing better in combat, and completing these is key to earning gold or platinum for the stage, and in turn unlock some of the better endings.

Shadow Of The Beast

As a bonus, Heavy Spectrum have included an emulated version of the Amiga Shadow of the Beast as an unlockable extra. Given the difficulty, they’ve kindly added an infinite lives cheat, but also a video runthrough for those who would rather watch someone else do the playing. Along with this, you’re also able to unlock David Whittaker’s soundtrack from the 1989 release to replace the modern in-game music. I have to admit that while the default music suits the game well, I found myself leaning more towards the original soundtrack the moment I could access it.

Shadow Of The Beast

So overall, despite finding the violence a little too much at times, and wanting to see more areas like the Hydrath’s castle with an emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving, I enjoyed my time with Shadow of the Beast. Heavy Spectrum have put together a solid package that has appeal for both fans of the original, and those new to the game. Considering it’s priced less than a movie ticket and popcorn, it’s well worth taking a look at.

Shadow of the Beast is available now on the Playstation Store for $22.95. Review copy provided by Sony Entertainment. Played to completion on Normal difficulty for the purpose of the review.

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blahjediAaron Clement
Tassie based retro gaming guy. Father of 3 and married to the very tolerant Kellie Clement. Coffee powered!

Follow Aaron Clement on Twitter and Instagram

 

 

 

Ghostbusting At Zax Amusements

Zax_HDRIt is not every day we get an invitation to check out and play a newly released pinball game. We were lucky enough last year to experience Game Of Thrones before its official release, and it seems that we got lucky once again! This time, Zax Amusements were kind enough to open their doors and allow us to have a bump and tilt on Stern’s new pinball machine, Ghostbusters.

Before we could get to grips on the new Ghostbusters Pro pinball table, Zax’s Business Manager, Phil Boniwell gave us a grand tour of Zax Amusements – let’s just say that we were like kids in a candy store! There were 1980s and 1990s JAMMA boards carefully stacked on shelves, a myriad of gun peripherals, control panels, Neo Geo MVS carts and an amazing array of arcade machines from all eras! We honestly didn’t know where to look – it was a 360 degree visual onslaught of the amusement kind! You can take a peek at the photos further down below to see why we went all gaga.

Once we wiped our drool and returned to Zax’s business showroom, it was time to put Ghostbusters Pro through its paces. So what did we think? Having played the pinball machine a few times, our first impressions were very positive indeed. Like with any new product, it was the visual and aural beauty of the machine that captured our immediate attention. Based on the original Ghostbusters movie, the colours, set scenery and characters on the playfield were an instant trip down memory lane. Not to be outdone in the sensory game, the sound effects, Ernie Hudson’s speech guiding you through the game and Ray Parker Jr’s Ghostbusters soundtrack were literally music to our ears. Stern have really captured the feel of the original Ghostbusters movie to a T! We reckon Stern has created another winner!

Thank you to the team at Zax Amusements for their hospitality (Scott Kellett rocks!). You can read more about Zax Amusements over here.

Z marks the spot!
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Zak (Zax final boss) and yours truly!
Zax_Zak and Alex

Oh wow, OutRun 2 SP and Sega Racing Classic (aka: Daytona USA Mk II)!
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THIS is still our all-time fave arcade driving game!
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Kick it to Homer!
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Now this is a reasonable price for a twin seat Daytona USA!
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The great wall of PCBs!
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You need guns? Zax has you covered!
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Guitar riffin’
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Dayyyyyytona!
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You don’t control me!
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A view to a thrill!
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Silverball classics waiting for some TLC
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15K out! That is perfect vision!
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Time to flip some balls!
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Oh wow, what to play next?
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Our spidey sensors are tingling!
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Who you gonna call?
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I ain’t afraid of no ghost
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Ecto-1 in glorious colour!
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Let’s play Slimer!
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Busting ghosts has never been this much fun!
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Aim well and true!
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This machine is flippin’ magic!
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Ball Saved! Lucky break!
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Keep your eye on the target(s)!
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What has spooked Slimer?Zax_Ghostbusters12

Mmm, marshmallows!
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The outlanes can be brutal – be ready to bump!
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A row of beauties! It’s very hard to leave Zax Amusements!
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Growing The 8-Bit Generation


source: 8bit generation

We initially backed Growing The 8-Bit Generation Kickstarter campaign not knowing its troubled past. We were drawn to it because of it’s proposed subject matter – a documentary about the start of the home computer industry, which was right up our alley. Rather than getting bogged down in the windy road of how this documentary came to be, we thought we would concentrate on what the 8-Bit Generation / Junk Food team have delivered, and boy is it good!

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Like any documentary that delves into the history of a particular industry, it is the people that were there, recounting their experiences first-hand that is paramount to the success of telling such a story. Growing The 8-Bit Generation nails this part by featuring a roster of interviewees that reads like a computing and video gaming hall of fame, from Chuck Peddle, Al Charpentier, Bil Herd, Michael Tomczyk, Dave Rolfe, Richard Garriot, Jeff Minter, Andy Finkel, Lord British, Steve Wozniak, Nigel Searle, Chris Curry, John Grant, Nolan Bushnell, Al Alcorn to Joe Decuir and Leonard Tramiel among others. However, the biggest interviewee coup for the documentary was having the late and great, Jack Tramiel recount his days as the head of Commodore and his somewhat ruthless pursuit to build computers for the masses, not the classes – which he certainly did. It is staggering to think that the production team actually interviewed 64 key industry figures, not all appearing in this film, which means there will be future documentaries with the additional footage!

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Grow8Bit_Title

The best way to describe Growing The 8-Bit Generation is that it is a visual and aural representation of Brian Bagnell’s book, Commodore: A Company on the Edge. If you have read this book, you will recognise the interviewees and know the subject matter quite well. Having said that, if you haven’t read Brain’s book, you will learn how Commodore battled it out with Atari, Sinclair, Texas Instruments, Apple and Tandy to reign supreme in the home computer hardware market.

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The documentary is given a sense of authority by having Bil Heard (former Commodore engineer) lending his voice as the narrator. There is also subtle chiptune background music which adds to the aural spectacle. If we were to be nitpicking (Ed: and we would hate to be!), we would have loved to have seen Bob Yannes (SID chip inventor) appear and perhaps someone from Amstrad, like Lord Sugar. Purists may argue that the documentary is too Commodore-centric, but you have to remember it was their MOS6502 microprocessor that gave birth to the home computing industry and it also had a profound impact on the video games console market.

What From Bedrooms To Billions documentary was to the history of home computer games development, Growing The 8-Bit Generation is to the history and evolution of home computer hardware – it is certainly compelling viewing!

NOTE: Retail availability of the documentary is yet to be confirmed. Keep an eye on the 8-Bit Generation site for more details.

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Grow8Bit_Michael

Grow8Bit_ZXSpecimage source: 8-Bit Generation