27 Dec

Review: Ninja Senki

A few days ago the indie game Ninja Senki was released after a year of development. In short, it’s a Ninja Gaiden inspired (a lot of pages say Mega Man but I don’t agree with that) retro platformer that looks very late 1980s and also has that late 1980s difficulty.

The game is hard. This is why it reminds me more of Ninja Gaiden (besides the theme) than Mega Man. The gameplay is very simple, in that you can only run, jump and throw shuriken. You can also double jump once while airborne and that skill is available and required from the beginning. Which is perfectly fine. The game chooses a gameplay style and sticks to it with no afterthoughts. The gameplay feels perfect and the high difficulty doesn’t feel unfair as it would with controls that were less than perfect. The game also supports gamepads.

Ninja Senki screenshot I really liked the music and sound effects, they’re pretty much 100-percent authentic (FamiTracker was used to create the sound effects which pretty much makes it sound exactly like a NES game with the chiptune background music). The graphics are simple, obviously, since they imitate the Gameboy resolution (160×144) and the NES palette limitations. In my opinion, some of the graphics could have benefited from some variation. Especially, the few first levels look very monotone and boring compared to the later levels with more colorful backgrounds. It still looks fine, though. But as far as first impressions go, I saw more interesting stuff in the trailer than in the first few minutes of the game.

There are multiple endings depending on how well you play which is great considering how hard the game is. It feels like the game knows it’s way too difficult for 2010 so it has some slack (as long as you play your eyes open, you’ll probably be able to buy a continue or two with your score) but still would like you to play a perfect game. There are no save games which I think is not too bad considering it adds to the feeling (you have to play from beginning to end in one sitting just like you did as a kid) but since people who love retro games are not children anymore and actually have stuff to do, the game should have at least some way to continue the game.

The game is free (I was a bit surprised of this) and feels great so anyone interested in challenging platformers should check it out.

10 Mar

Review: The Last Arcadian

The Last Arcadian is one of those games that in hindsight are pretty strange stuff for a public domain or shareware title. Considering even in the early 1990s a 3D shooter was automatically rather cool and thus profitable, The Last Arcadian makes you think why it wasn’t released commercially. It looks a bit dated even for a 1992 3D title but you have to keep in mind it is a one man show. A bit of money would have made it look much nicer. It could be compared to Epic but I’m not sure if that’s a compliment. I have seen worse — I have paid for worse.

(Another video below.)

The main idea is to go and destroy enemy bases while the enemy tries to do the same to you. The game is over if your base is destroyed. If you, flying a fighter, are killed, you will simply find yourself piloting a nearby fighter that was previously computer controlled. There are multiple wingmen flying around and if you watch the first video, they sometimes manage to win the game for you.

The enemy fighters are killed with lasers and homing rockets and the enemy base needs to be bombed. When you return to your base, you need to make sure nobody else is trying to dock at the same time; you have to request permission to land. You can also repair your fighter in the base and then return to the battle (to save the computer controlled fighters.) The bases can also fire cruise missiles that travel slowly and you need to escort them and also keep the enemy missiles away from your base.

Overall, the game is very nice. It is simple but has some quirky features and also some quite modern stuff like the zoom in your ship at the start of each level and the fact everything is three-dimensional. There is a feeling of immersion as the rest of the war goes on around you while you’re being resupplied — quite well done as I no longer have the imagination of a kid. If you’re a fan of the old 3D Star Wars shooters, you probably should check this out if you have an Atari ST lying around.

The game can be found on the ST Format 42 cover disk available on this page.

03 Mar

Review: Starball

I used to read ST Format back when I had an Atari ST. Later in its existence the magazine started to include better and more complete games and other software on its cover disk, probably because of the Atari was dying and publishers decided to give away their assets (or more like the actual developers were able to secure rights to the software from the publishers and then give it away so the work wouldn’t be in vain.) Also, back in the day shareware meant you got the full software to play with and only then you had to decide whether to pay or not to pay for it — it wasn’t uncommon for that to be actually profitable. Whatever the reason, I wouldn’t have probably ever heard of some pretty awesome games.

Starball was one of those games.

On the Amiga, there were a few excellent pinball games by Digital Illusions, including Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies. On the Atari ST, there were practically no modern pinball games apart from the STE title Obsession which was most likely created to cash in thanks to the surging interest in pinball games thanks to DI and also because the STE was capable to give the same smoothness as on the Amiga. But for the plain vanilla ST users, there still were none. At least until Starball, that is.

Starball is a modern pinball game — as in the screen scrolls and it was made in the 1990s — but it’s very different from the look and feel of the relatively realistic pinball games on the Amiga. The gameplay and the table is very similar to the Crush series on the PC Engine (Turbografx-16) which realized a pinball video game doesn’t have to simulate a real pinball table and added common elements from video games in general. While Pinball Dreams had very smooth gameplay based on getting accurate chains of ramp runs, in Starball the ball is used to smash flying spaceships, cultists and Jimmy Hill’s chin. In addition, Starball has three smaller areas with their own set of flippers and even graphical theme and when you miss and the ball will simply fall down, it will only move your one area down. Unless you are already in the bottom area.

In the middle area, you are building a space ship one part at a time and trying to stop turrets destroying the spaceship parts. On top level, you try to crush little guys walking in circles and there’s a slimy face in the center. And the face will get slimier each time you kill all the little guys. And the bottom area has a huge fly-eyed alien and more explosions. The fly alien thing also contributes to the game in that its mouth takes you to a bonus level. There are at least two different bonus levels, in general they are much like the small Mario level in NES Pinball keeping in the overall pinball theme.

While the game is very enjoyable at least as a nostalgy trip, there are some faults. First, the gameplay isn’t nearly as fluid as what the standard set by Dreams was at the time. The flippers feel sluggish and sometimes the ball bounces all weird. However, you can easily adapt to the slight delay in the flipper hit. The table area isn’t terribly interesting in that there are no huge ramps and other stuff the Amiga games did well but the grimy graphics and the self-awareness of the limitations makes the game stand out.

The game can be found on the ST Format 64 cover disk available on this page.

22 Sep

Introducing My Latest Projects

… Or, How to Procrastinate Productively.


I decided to make one of my current projects open source and post them on Google Code just for fun. The project is a tool chain that I’m using to remake Thrust. In reality, I decided to divide the project into two separate projects: the actual game engine (called klystron) and related tools, and a music editor that uses the engine.

Here are two videos I made a while ago that demonstrate the engine. The first is the music editor (called klystrack) — it’s much less ugly at the moment but the sound synthesis is the same, and that’s what matters:

The sound engine (“Cyd”) is basically a very simple software synthesizer with capabilities comparable to the SID or any 8-bit machine from the 80s. The editor is a fairly standard tracker, much like GoatTracker.

The graphics half of the engine is basically a wrapper around a quite fast collision detection system (pixel-accurate, or it wouldn’t be much good for a thrustlike) built on SDL. It also does background collisions and drawing as well. As you may have guessed, the whole point is to provide a limited but still helpful set of routines that are useful for creating 2D games not unlike what video games were in 1991.

And, here’s a proof I’m actually working on the actual game (the sound effects are created in real time by the sound engine):

A note on Google Code: it’s rather nice. It provides the standard open source development stuff like source control an such but I really like how clean and hassle-free it is. Adding a project takes a minute and after that it’s simply coding and some quick documentation on the project wiki. The project wiki is good example of how simple but elegant the system is: the wiki pages actually exists inside the source control as files, just like your source code.

Go check Google Code out and while you’re at it, contribute on my projects. :)