Saturday, February 28, 2004

Rugrats: Scavenger Hunt (Nintendo 64)

Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: Simple game, easy for small children to understand, and not violent
Cons: Awful graphics, little replay value, boring design


Rugrats Scavenger Hunt is not one of those games you sit down by yourself to keep you entertained when you are bored. In fact, you would probably never bother with the game, unless you have small children. It is based on the popular Rugrats cartoon, and thus contains characters children can relate to. Each game can have up to four players: Chucky, Tommy, Lil and Phil.

Rugrats Scavenger Hunt contains three games on one cart. They are really nothing more than board games - they even have a spinner to tell you how many spaces to move. You can choose from small, medium, or large sized game board, and you can also toggle hidden squares on or off. Hidden squares cover the square up so you do not know what it is you land on until you have already landed on it.

Control & Gameplay

The three games you can choose from are Angelica's Temple, Pirate Treasure Hunt, or Reptar Ralley. Each game contains a couple other characters, controlled by the computer, that may help or hurt your character. These characters include Grandpa, Suzie, and Angelica.

All right, so you spin the spinner, and move however many spaces the spinner says. Once you land, you follow the instructions on the square. You may end up receiving some cookies, taking a nap, or any number of things. Ideally, you want to land on spaces that allow you to search the room. When you land on these spaces, you get to pick one object from around the room and search it. They are placed obviously enough that even a toddler can tell which objects can or can not be searched. Searchable objects mostly include things such as paintings, plants, etc.

In Angelica's Temple, the objective is to find all of the pieces to the baby's statue before Angelica finds all the pieces to hers. You may also find it helpful to collect as many cookies as you can find. They can be exchanged for toy cards, or they can be used to let you rest. If Angelica runs into you though, she can take some of your cookies away. She can also steal a piece of your statue, or take one of her own statue pieces in the event that you found one of hers along the way. All four of the babies work together on this board.

Pirate Treasure Hunt is the second game. You and the other babies compete to see who can find all four pieces of pirate treasure first. Angelica is not in this one, but Suzy is. If you and Suzy bump into each other, she can help you find pieces of treasure.

In each of these first two games, there are a few objects that may help you win. The first of which is a screwdriver, which can help you enter the secret passageways. You can use these passageways to help you get into different rooms quicker. The second helpful object is the compass, which lets your character move backwards. The last item is the magnifying glass, which lets you search twice when you land on a search square instead of once. Also, bumping into Grandpa will be rewarded with four cookies, and landing on the dog will allow you to ride him for up to six spaces.

The third and final game is Reptar Ralley. The objective in this game is to collect three different kinds of candy. (There are four total, but each baby must collect only three - Licorice, Ice Cream, Chocolate Milk, or Pudding). You must collect Reptar Bars instead of cookies in this one, in order to go to where the candy is and collect the required amount.

Graphics, Sound & Video

The graphics in Rugrats Scavenger Hunt are just awful. Polygon counts that seem as though they number in the single digits, and disinteresting graphics all around make for a pretty low score here. Level design is bland, characters are blocky, what were the developers thinking? I've seen Super Nintendo games with a lot better graphics than this.

The video clips, or what there are of them, are a bit better than the graphics, but not by a whole lot. At the very least, the low polygon counts were a bit less pronounced, and the disinteresting graphics were replaced by an attempt to make the video look like a small segment of the television show.

The game is practically void of any music. What little bit of music there is, is so plain that you won't notice it being there anyway, so it really don't count for anything. The sound effects are at least mentionable, if only average. The best thing that can be said about the sound, is that the voice acting seems to have been done by the same actors who did the voices for the cartoon. If not, then they sure did one bang up job of finding voice doubles, because the characters sound exactly the same as the television show.


This game is rather bland in comparison to most other games on the market, but it is also one of the few I have seen that caters to the younger audience. While the game gets very low marks from me personally, I am sure it would be an excellent game for toddlers and younger children. If you have kids who are between two and ten, they may enjoy this game. If your kids are slightly older, I would pass on this and purchase Mario Party instead.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Starflight (Genesis)

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros:A fairly complex game, with great game play and tremendous replay value Cons:Sub-par graphics and horrible sound effects, this game hasn't aged well

The original version of Starflight was written by Greg Johnson back in 1986. Back then, it took him and four other people 15 man-years and a huge bankroll to complete the game. Greg also worked on Electronic Arts' humor award winning Caveman Ugh-Lympics. Starflight was converted for use on the Sega Genesis by BlueSky.

Starflight is mostly a space exploration game. There is some combat involved, especially later in the game, but it never tries to be one of those Wing Commander type games where you just shoot everything.

You start out with a ship, a terrain vehicle, and 50,000 MU (monitary units). You are not entirely sure what your whole purpose is, and instead get the rather trek-ish task of seeking out new life, new civilizations, and boldly going where no man has gone before. You will soon find out, however, that your solar system's star is going to explode soon, and you must try to find other inhabitable planets to transfer colonists to.

Starflight really has three distinct sections. The first section is the star port. The star port itself is rather ugly. It is a very small hallway, with a handful of doors in front of you. You simply walk to whichever door you want, and push up to enter. The second part is in space, and the third part is a planet's surface.

The first door in the space port is where you get your mission briefings. All mission briefings you get will be received at the star port as well. These briefings are like hints or ideas, pointing you in the direction you must go next. You should usually try to read all of these, as you will find it a tremendous help during your journey.

In the second door, you can (and must) hire some sort of crew at the star port. You can have between one and five crew members, and you get to choose between the different races. Humans are your average all around race, and score highly in science. Veloxi are insect-like creatures, they start with high marks in navigation and engineering.

Thrynn are large bipedal lizards, who score high in communication. Elowan are plant people, who also score highly in communication, but also in medicine. These two races are at war with each other, and while you can recruit one of each on board your ship, it may hamper your progress later on when you are trying to communicate with other members of their species.

Crew members also must be trained, and each species will increase skills at a different rate. If you choose a raise that starts with high marks (50 points) in a given skill, it's maximum skill level will be 250. This is not very expensive really, and you should have each person to their maximum for their specialty very quickly.

Each specialty is very important to your mission. The science officer is responsible for scanning and analysis of planets you come across. You receive rewards if you recommend an inhabitable planet, but you are penalized if you recommend a bad planet and make them waste their time. Scanning a planet is also a good way to see what types of minerals are on it before you land. The science officer also scans alien ships when you encounter them, to determine which alien race the ship belongs to.

The navigation officer is in charge of landing the ship, reading star maps, and controlling weapons and shields. Raising and lowering shields, and arming or disarming weapons will effect how aliens react towards you, so the navigator is very important. If your navigator is not very skilled, it will also take you longer to find your place on the star map.

The engineering officer is in charge of repairing ship damage, as well as cataloging the cargo hold's inventory. He can use cargo to repair certain areas, such as weapons or engines, while you are deep in space. If you can wait, it is usually more cost effective to wait until you dock at the star port though. He also keeps a running list of any alien artifacts you may have acquired during your trip.

The communications officer does just what he should, communicates. When you stumble across an enemy ship, you can make the communications officer hail them, or respond to their hail. There are three different postures to take with an alien: obsequious, friendly, or hostile. Different aliens respond in different ways, depending on which posture you use.

Lastly, we have the medical officer. When a crew member becomes injured, make sure to have the medical officer treat them. Wounds do not heal immediately, but instead slowly heal over time. The rate of healing depends on the medical officer's skill level.

In the next door, you can buy and sell minerals. The majority of your income will be from traveling to other planets and mining them, then coming back here to sell your cargo. You might also want to keep a little bit of a few key minerals on board, to repair your ship with if it becomes damaged. Endurium is one of the most expensive minerals, and it is used as fuel to power your ship.

The next door is where you can upgrade your ship. Armor, shields, and engines are all available here. You can also purchase a variety of weapons, ranging from the cheap little pulse cannon, all the way up to a monstrous phaser. Cargo pods are another thing sold here, which you should max out as soon as possible. Your ship can carry up to 16 of these, and the more you have, the more minerals you can carry back to the star port in a single trip.

This is also the place to upgrade your terrain vehicle. You will be spending a lot of time in the terrain vehicle, as it is what you use after you land on a planet. You drive around in the terrain vehicle, looking for minerals to mine and bring home. Perform a "mineral scan", which uses up 10 fuel, and you will have an overlay of the map with red and yellow spots on it. These spots indicate where you can dig and find minerals. When you fill up the terrain vehicle with minerals, drive back and embark upon your ship, and they will be transferred to the ship's cargo hold instead, and you can go fill up the terrain vehicle again.

Terrain vehicle upgrades are important. Pontoons allow you to drive on water, and ice runners allow you to travel on ice. Turbo chargers allow you to move faster, and extra cargo... well, lets you hold extra cargo. You can also get a wide angle stunner, allowing you to fire projectiles in front of you like normal, as well as diagonally in front of you in both directions.

Shoot projectiles at creatures to stun them, then store them in your cargo hold. You will receive money for them, just the same as minerals. You would be surprised how much money you can get for some of them at the star port. Artifacts are also pretty valuable. These can be found by searching through any ruins you find on planets.

The last door in the space port is just the exit. It leads back to your ship, so that you may leave. Always remember to make sure you have some Endurium for fuel before you take off. Also make sure your ship is in good shape. If your engines die, it will cost you a lot of money to get towed back to the space port if you send a distress call.

If your ship is destroyed in a fight with aliens, it's game over. If you get destroyed by a creature on a planet's surface, it's over. If you land on a planet with crushing gravity, it's over. Realizing this, remember to save often! You can always move away from creatures, and scan planets to check the gravity, but why take a chance? There are two save slots, and they are there for a reason.

The Starflight universe is extremely large. When you leave the star port, you will be in your solar system. If you fly to the edge of the map, you will be able to fly to other solar systems. See all those hundreds of dots on the map? Yep, each and every one is a solar system. Each solar system has a handful of planets in it. You got it, this game is huge.

Luckily for us, there are "flux" locations scattered about. These are basically worm holes, and when you enter one, you will be transported to another flux location somewhere else on the map. These never change, and always lead to the same place. After you have used a flux location, a line is drawn on your star map depicting where it leads to. Use these to conserve time and fuel, and explore a lot more of the map.

The planet's surfaces are pretty wide open as well. They are extremely varied, from earth-like planets to gas giants, from lava encrusted planets to ice balls in the sky. Scattered across the planets are varied minerals, creatures, ruins, etc. Sometimes you will see a hammer symbol on the surface. This means there is a mineral out-cropping sticking up above the ground, so run it over to collect the minerals.

I've mostly explained the graphics already through the review, but I will summarize here. The space port is a small 2D hallway with very ugly pictures. Your big blocky character walks slowly from one end to the other to get to the correct door that you wish to enter.

Space is a vast and wide open area. You control a little ship, which is actually not too ugly, and fly around in any direction you want. It's still 2D, but you have complete freedom to go wherever you want. Gravity from planets and stars affects the ship when you get near them, making it more realistic.

The planet's surface is also pretty nice looking. You can see ice, lava, water, forests, and deserts. When a storm blows across the planet, you can see the wind blowing really strong, and your terrain vehicle gets pushed in the direction the wind is blowing. You can dig down into the sand with your mineral digging arm to keep yourself from blowing too far away from where you want to be.

The sound effects are where I have to give this game low marks. The sound effects are so bad, you will find yourself turning the television down or muting it. They were probably pretty good sound effects for the original Starflight, but since it was made in 1986, that's not saying much. The music.. well, there really isn't that much music in the game, so I'm not quite sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. I guess it's a good thing, if it was going to be anything like the sound effects.

There is also a short story by Robert Silverberg, inspired by his experience with Starflight. This accounts for 33 pages of Starflight's 143 page instruction book!

Overall I think Starflight is a really great game. It is an often overlooked classic that I believe everyone should own. If you have a working Genesis, make sure to pick this one up. If you like Starflight, you also might enjoy Freelancer or Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor (PC)

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Richly detailed graphics, great movies
Cons: Horrible interface, too much hack and slash

Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor takes place in the Forgotten Realms universe, and features Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition rules. The rule set was released in the summer of 2000. It includes some neat new character classes such as a monk or barbarian, and lets you choose a half-orc as a character's race. The 3rd edition rules also allow characters to advance to the 16th experience level and cast 8th level spells.

Ruins of Myth Drannor is the second installment in the Pool of Radiance series, taking place ten years after the original left off. Deep under the city of New Phlan, the Pool of Radiance has been re-activated by some evil presence, causing it to spew forth an energy that turns anything it touches undead. This means you will certainly encounter a lot of undead monsters as you traverse the dungeons of Myth Drannor, where the evil seems to be coming from.

The grand wizard Elminster gathers a team of adventurers to travel through the portal to Myth Drannor, and find out what evil resides there. Unfortunately, they disappear without a trace. With Athan and his companions gone, it falls upon you to take up their slack and travel to Myth Drannor yourself. You step through the portal and see what remains of the previous expedition. Their corpses litter the ground just this side of the portal, and the orcs that put them there await you. By the time you finish laying the orcs to rest, the portal has disappeared and you are trapped there.

Unlike most traditional role playing games, raising levels takes a long time in Ruins of Myth Drannor. Having a maximum of 16 experience levels may not seem like much after playing the likes of Final Fantasy, but rest assured, it will take you a long time to reach that point. To reach the first level alone is 1000 experience points, and your lucky to earn a dozen for one battle. The main place you will end up gaining your experience is the story related experience given to you along the way.

This means the monsters you fight will be hard at first. That, I'm afraid, is often an understatement. There are no inns to rest at and replenish your health and magic power, you must make camp and rest along the way. There is nothing wrong with this, but the places that you can stop and rest are few and far between sometimes. You have a little tent icon in the bottom right corner of the screen. When it turns green, you can stop and rest. When it's yellow, you can stop and rest, but will most likely be interrupted by enemies and attacked. This is usually not a good thing, as your characters (unless they are immune) will start the battle asleep! If the tent is red, you can not even attempt to stop and rest.

You can start the game off with one character, or up to four characters. Along the way, you will also come across two more who will join you. After they join you, you have full control over them, and they no longer talk or have any other kind of interaction beyond the characters you started with. This is fine, except for when you are doing a quest which involves that character, and he just stands around like a bump on a log, not bothering to contribute his two cents to what's going on.

When you first make your characters, you should choose their stats wisely. Instead of re-rolling stats until you get some that look decent, characters start out with a set number that depends on their race and class. You then have a certain amount of points to apply to each stat as you see fit, so choose wisely, especially if you plan to multi-class your character later. Multi-classed characters have a much better variety of skills, but will not be quite as strong with those skills as a higher level single classed character.

The dungeons you must explore in Ruins of Myth Drannor are huge. They are full of twists and turns, and many rooms all look the same. This is really annoying sometimes, when you end up walking for 10 minutes in one direction, just to turn around and walk all the way back... just so that you can walk 10 minutes in that direction. It really makes no difference which direction you take either, because there is fork after fork after fork in the dungeon path, and each fork goes on for 10 minutes and forks off again.. argh. Suffice it to say you will spend countless hours wandering around in the first dungeon alone.

The map at least helps a little bit here. When you click it, you get a 3D map of every place you have walked before. Not only that, but it is actually helpful and easy to use! This is a big bonus, especially when doing an hour's worth of back-tracking to explore some obscure fork in a path you passed earlier. The map looks just like a miniature version of the screen, and can be scrolled in any direction. You can also set a little flag icon on the map, and type text into it. This is very useful for marking certain places that you do not want to forget about for a later time.

The battle mode is terrible. You spend more time hacking and slashing than you do exploring or solving quests. This game is a lot like Diablo or Darkstone in that aspect. It uses a hybrid battle system that features elements of both real-time and turn-based systems. It is turn-based overall, but each character has a set amount of time to perform an action. This time is represented by a green bar, that slowly empties. When it is gone, the character's turn is over. This presents a bit of a problem sometimes, as the interface does a lot to inhibit your ability to perform the actions you want. As you raise to higher levels and learning more spells and actions, you will find yourself missing your turn as you fumble through the pop-ups to select the correct action.

That's right, pop-ups. The entire interface consists of Windows-style pop ups. Right click on the screen to get a list. Select one of the options, and sub-commands pop up beside them. If you accidentally move the mouse off of a command that was under 10 pop-ups, you get to start over, and all the while that green bar is emptying away into oblivion. Great, I just lost another turn, and now the skeleton knight is going to kill my ranger.

Nope, I guess he missed. Again. Characters and enemies alike will miss nine times out of ten while they are fighting. They can be standing practically on top of one another, and still miss a half dozen times in a row. It is not at all fun to stand your characters toe to toe with the enemy, and proceed to exchange misses with them for twenty minutes. The characters and enemies both move extremely slow as well, so pray that they do not have any amount of distance to cover to reach one another once the battle starts.

The graphics are one of the better parts of this game. Everything is rendered with the beautiful 3D graphics engine, and richly detailed. You get a 3/4 view of your characters, but only one camera angle. This works though, as there is rarely an occasion that requires an alternate angle. When a character or an enemy's view is blocked by a wall, you can see a stick-figure of that character through the wall. The stick figure remains as the character moves or fights, and stays as long as the view is blocked. Little touches like these go a long way.

The only real problem I have with the graphics is the lack of originality and customization. Sure, your characters have a couple of different outfits to choose from, but they basically look the same anyway. Putting on armor changes your character's appearance, but every piece of armor is silver, so they all look the same anyway. The variety of weapons and armor is really lacking, and there is only one place to buy the stuff in the first place. Oh yea, speaking of buying things.. after you purchase the limited amount of decent things in the beginning of the game, there seems to be nothing to do with all the gold you earn during the last 95% of it. Go figure.

The movie sequences do a lot to set up the story line, and appear to be designed very well. They look sharp and crisp for the most part, with just a touch of grain to add to the dark effect. They sound even better than they look, with great background music and excellent speech by the voice actors.

The music in the game is appropriate, with a multitude of strange and eerie scores to keep the mood up. The sound effects are good for the most part, but you will easily tire of the "chink chink chink" sound of an armored character walking through the dungeon. There is a very limited amount of speech in the game, and while it sounds terrific, there just isn't enough of it to have bothered with. All of a sudden out of nowhere, you will hear one sentence of speech, and then the rest of what that character was saying will appear on the screen. Utterly pointless.

Ruins of Myth Drannor also features a Dungeon Master, who acts as a narrator, if you will. The DM explains a lot of important areas and key points in the game by making a text box pop up on your screen. Too bad he don't actually speak.

Ruins of Myth Drannor features a multiplayer mode via the GameSpy network. This allows you to chat and play with friends over the internet. There seems to be only one single player game, instead of multiple 'campaigns' or 'scenarios' like in other games. While some of the NPC interactions might change if you play through it again, depending on what you say to them, the overall game will be exactly the same.

There are four (yes four) patches available for this game from the manufacturer's website. These patches should really be installed, as they fix a multitude of bugs in the game. Most of the bugs are rather minor, but annoying none the less. The most notable is probably the horrible virtual memory management, which caused my computer to run like a crippled turtle.

Minimum system requirements: Windows 95/98/ME, Pentium II 400, 64 MB RAM, 3D video card with D3D support, DirectX compatible sound card, 8x CD-ROM, keyboard, and mouse. 56k modem or faster also required for multiplayer games.

I tested this game on an AMD Athlon XP 2200 with 512 MB RAM, GeForce 4 MX 440 with 64 MB of DDR VRAM, CMI 5.1 channel sound card, DirectX 9.0B, and a 48x CD-ROM under Windows 98 SE. My multiplayer gaming experience was less than stellar, but my 26.4kbps connection is only half of the recommended 56k minimum.

Overall, this is a fairly good game, though it could have been so much better. Don't grab this game expecting it to play like Baulder's Gate, when it will really play more like Diablo. I would only recommend this game to real AD&D fans, and people who have either played everything else or are extremely bored.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Tara's Adventure (GBC)

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Some fairly unique ideas, great gameplay, lots of replay value
Cons: Occasionally repetitive, barely average graphics and sound

During the bulk of this review, I will refer to Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Tara's Adventure as DWM2, even though two nearly identical games make up Dragon Warrior Monsters 2. The other game is Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Coby's Journey.

Whenever I refer to DWM2, I am specifically referring to Tara's Adventure, but it usually applies to both games. Tara and Coby are brother and sister in the first Dragon Warrior Monsters game, and you got to play as Coby, because Tara had been kidnapped.

DWM2 is the sequel to Enix's first attempt at cashing in on some of the success of the ever popular Pokemon games. DWM2 shares a lot of similarities with those games, but also brings some unique content of it's own. Most of this was present in the original Dragon Warrior Monsters game, but has been improved upon and given an over-haul for the second version.

You move to a magical island, which you previously visited in the first DWM game. After a little accident, the island's "plug" is removed, and it is in danger of sinking. A magical little critter hops in the hole to plug it temporarily, but it is up to you to find a more permanent fix.

You must travel far and wide to long distant lands looking for a suitable plug, and there are many dangerous monsters you must face along the way. Lucky for you, the monsters you control do all the fighting for you, similarly to Pokemon, and you just stand around like a lark.

You can have tons of different monsters, though only three can be with you at any given time. You must also give each of your monsters attention, or they will disobey you during battles. To make them like you and obey again, you must take them with you on some of your travels, and/or give them treats.

Monsters are fairly easy to catch. Sometimes a monster will join you after a battle, other times you must feed it treats during the battle to lower it's "wild" statistic first. In either case, only the last monster you have destroyed in a battle has any chance of joining you. So if you want a certain monster, make sure to kill it last, and consider feeding it treats before you kill it.

One of the absolute greatest features of DWM2 is the monster breeding system. This system was present in the first DWM game, and it is one of the things that got me hooked on it in the first place.

As your monsters fight battles, they will gain experience. After reaching level ten, they can be bred together at the Starry Shrine to create a new monster. When you breed two monsters together, they will disappear, but the new baby monster will usually be better than either of the parents.

This is the only way to get most of the rare monsters in the game, and one of the most fun things to experiment with. Also, since there are a few hundred monsters total in this game, it is something you can play with for quite a while without getting the same monster every time.

Tara's Adventure and Coby's Journey are nearly the same game, but there are a couple minor differences. If you are one of those people who has to find every secret and explore every part of the game, you will either need to find someone who has the other title, and a link cable.

Some monsters are only found in one game or the other, as well as some of the keys you will need to access different lands. They can be traded back and forth, much in the same way as Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow/Green.

There are a couple of other neat options for use with a link cable. You can battle head to head against a friend, trade monsters, or even breed monsters. When you breed a monster with a friend's monster, you both receive an egg with the new baby monster in it.

Gameplay is really fun, despite being a bit repetitive. There's a lot of walking through random maps and killing things, but the monster breeding portion helps you to maintain your sanity. With so many combinations of monsters to breed, this game will take a while, and sports some pretty good replay value to boot.

If you go straight through the game without exploring any of the bonus places or trying to breed ultimate monsters, it should take you between ten and twenty hours. If you aim for the stars, and try to explore the whole thing, you are looking at weeks or even months of gameplay.

Game controls are simple, with only a few buttons to use. Everything is done through a turn based menu interface, making it easy for even a young child to figure out.

The graphics are pretty good actually. The bulk of them are taken directly from the Dragon Warrior games for the NES. They look like it too, with the squished and deformed sprites on a 2D background; but what do you expect from a Gameboy Color game? It's a typical first person view in a typical role playing game setup.

Everything is well drawn and full of color. The distant lands you have to unlock and fight through are all randomly generated maps, and the few hundred monsters in the game boast mostly unique graphics rather than recycled graphics using a different color palette.

The sound is right on par with the Dragon Warrior games as well. If you have played any of those games, you will recognize most of the music and sounds in this game right away. Not all that great, but they certainly worked for me, as I loved those games. A bit catchy, but fairly standard RPG music. The battle theme is fast paced, while the town music is light and uplifting.

Overall, I would recommend this game to anyone. Especially if you like Pokemon or the original Dragon Warrior games. If you like Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Tara's Adventure, I would also recommend the above games, as well as the first Dragon Warrior Monsters game.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Seven Kingdoms: Ancient Adversaries (PC)

Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: Unique system of espionage, fun gameplay and replay value; great multiplayer fun
Cons: Sub-par graphics and sound, tries to hard to be like other games

Seven Kingdoms: Ancient Adversaries is a real-time strategy game from Enlight Software, and published by Interactive Magic. It was released in 1998, a year after the original Seven Kingdoms graced the shelves of your local video stores. The man responsible for the game is none other than Trevor Chan, whom you may recognize as the genius behind Capitalism.

Seven Kingdoms: Ancient Adversaries is little more than a small expansion pack for the original, sold as a stand-alone title. Owners of the original Seven Kingdoms can download a 15 MB patch from Interactive Magic's website to update their game. The patch can also be downloaded from major download centers such as ZDNet.

Seven Kingdoms tries to pass itself off as the love child of Warcraft and Capitalism. While this works to a certain extent, it is sorely lacking in too many areas to pull it off effectively. If you were expecting the hybrid game it was supposed to be, it will leave you feeling cheated.

None of the complexity and depth of Capitalism are present in Seven Kingdoms.. there isn't even a technology tree. While Seven Kingdoms was busy trying to dress itself up like these other games, it neglected to make sure that the dressing would fit.

While there are seven different civilizations to choose from, they all play basically the same. The only difference seems to be the background music and the character graphics. The military of each culture is equally diverse, having only one type of soldier to pick from.

If you want to train anything other than a basic soldier, you must build a war factory. Nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that each unit you build (cannons, ballistae, catapults, etc) takes forever to research, then forever to build.

The only other type of unit you can use is a supernatural being, and it is unbelievably hard to summon. You first destroy a layer of Frythans. They are evil creatures who live in layers scattered across the map. Upon defeating them you get a scroll of power, which you can use to build a temple.

Each scroll is made for a certain people, so if you play as the Normans and receive a Japanese scroll, then you will have to go take over a Japanese town so that you have some Japanese people to worship in your temple. Then, only after ages of worshiping, can you summon this ultimate of creatures, who will be at your beck and call for a limited time.

The controls are really easy, having only to use the two mouse buttons to do everything in the game. Drag a square around multiple units to select them. Click on a person, then click on a building to have them enter. Not that you actually get to do that much, because aside from your forts and markets, most buildings have very little interaction to them.

If a mine is close to a town, workers will automatically mine ore with no help from you. If a factory is near-by, more workers will refine the ore. Build a market near there, and they will stock the market, and the market will then sell the products to your people and make you some money.

The only interaction you have with your markets, is to hire trade caravans. These caravans can have up to three stops, the first obviously being the market at which you hired it. It can then traverse the map and stop at one or two other markets, picking up resources and bringing them back to your market for sale. These other stops can only be at markets belonging to a culture with which you have a trade treaty though, and their caravans will undoubtedly stop at your market as well.

Forts are the other main building that has some type of interaction. Each fort can have a general (or your king) and up to eight soldiers. Soldiers start out really weak in this game, and only gain skills by spending a long time in a fort with a general training. Forts should be built next to neutral towns, and the town's resistance will (slowly) decrease, and when it reaches zero the town will submit to your rule.

If you don't have the patience for that, there are other ways to gain new towns. If your army is large, you can simply wipe out any resistance. Or, if you have more money than Bill Gates, you can give some to the people of the town to decrease their resistance a bit. The latter should usually be used when the town's resistance is already low (10 or less) so that they can cheaply and quickly be put under your rule.

Inns are another building that has some kind of interaction, but not much. The only thing you can do at an inn is hire additional people. The people you can hire are from random cultures and random professions. They are usually trained better than your fresh-from-the-village peasants, but they cost a bit of money to hire. Useful if you, for example, are under attack and need more soldiers. Just hope there are some soldiers at the inn with good combat..

The music is rather bland. It don't get on your nerves or distract you from playing the game. The sound effects are the same way, average at best, but what can you expect from a game that is seven years old? The graphics are slightly below average as well, and after playing the game for a few hours, you will find yourself wishing this game looked more like Age of Empires.

There are trees and oceans and things in Seven Kingdoms, but they are mainly there for decorative purposes. Trees cannot be harvested and chopped into lumber, as that resource isn't needed apparently, nor are most others.

Oceans can eventually be traveled by water units, but you will find that you never end up having any before the game is over. Before you are able to even build water units, you must research too many other ground units at the tower of science. I suppose this is to make up for the fact that there is no technology tree.

The saving grace of Seven Kingdoms is the espionage. You can train spies to infiltrate enemy kingdoms. Once there, they can start lowering the loyalty of the townspeople, or work their way up the enemy's ranks, eventually earning a place next to an enemy general. They can bribe enemy soldiers, who then become spies themselves. They can even try to bribe the general, or assassinate him.

The artificial intelligence makes great use of this feature. Many times during a game, you will see four or five spies executed in a single minute. The AI is pretty well-rounded as well. It does a good job of setting up towns, establishing trade routes, destroying Frythan layers, and attacking.

I've found that if I leave the Frythan layers alone, and just build up my forces, it is easier to kill off an enemy. Just wait until he finishes wiping out a Frythan layer, when his forces have been slightly depleted, then strike with your full force to wipe out his.

There are a few campaigns to complete in Seven Kingdoms, as well as the usual random maps. The multi-player are one of the most fun parts of the game, with the spying and espionage developed so well. There is support for up to seven players via LAN, modem, internet, or serial connection.

Minimum system requirements are low:
> Pentium 90 MHz
> 16 MB RAM
> 4x CD-ROM drive, Keyboard, and Mouse
> 800x600 resolution, 256 color graphics
> 45 MB free Hard Drive space

Overall, I like this game. It is really fun, and when I start a game, I find myself playing for hours. Despite all the down-sides with this game, it is fun and has a lot of replay value.

I would recommend Seven Kingdoms to anyone who likes real-time strategy games, as long as you can find it for a reasonable price. I got my copy for $10 at Wal-Mart, so I'm not complaining. If you like Seven Kingdoms, you may also enjoy Warcraft II, Capitalism, Age of Empires, or Majesty.

Monday, February 9, 2004

MechWarrior (SNES)

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great graphics, fun gameplay
Cons: Little replay value, lacking in the sound department

In Mechwarrior, you play a character named Herras. He is a mercenary, who has been training his mech skills for years to take revenge upon the people who killed his family. You find clues scattered throughout the game, and following these clues will ultimately lead you to you to your goal: vengeance.

There are basically two parts to the game. In the city menu, you can do things such as upgrade your mech, buy a new one, or sell an old one. You can also buy or sell weapons for your mech, increase or decrease the armor your mech carries, add heat-sinks, jump jets, or your mech's engine. You can also reload your mech's ammunition.

Also in the city menu, you can choose new missions to undertake. You can haggle over payment for these missions, or go to the club and try to find some information. The club is where you get the majority of hints as to the location of your family's killers. Each of these locations you will become very familiar with.

The graphics in Mechwarrior are really good. Considering the fact that this is a Super Nintendo game, that makes them all the better. The city menu screens used between missions are simple and flat, and very easy to use. The battle graphics are where the game shines though.

During each mission, you fly down to a planet's surface, and walk around in 3D style. Mechwarrior then takes on a first-person perspective, and you can rotate the screen in any direction, and even use your jump jets to fly into the air. Let loose a barrage of missiles towards an enemy mech and watch them do damage. Take out an enemy's leg, and watch him stand there unable to move. Take out an arm, and some of his weapons may become unavailable to him.

The sound effects are pretty average. Missiles sound like missiles, lasers sound like lasers, nothing to get excited over though. The background music playing in the city menu screen is also average. It's nothing I would care to listen to for a long period of time, but it also never really got on my nerves enough to complain about.

Gameplay is easy, there are only a few different types of missions. Garrison duty is the easiest mission, you only have to destroy all the enemy mechs to win. Offensive campaigns and security detail missions are both protect the base type of missions. Recon raid and Objective raid are more like capture the flag missions, each requiring you to seek out and collect a certain item.

Controls are pretty basic, being a SNES game. Directional pad moves around, A fires up your jump jets. B fires your selected weapon, while holding it down cycles through firing all of your weapons. Y brings up cross hairs, and X toggles your radar viewer. L and R buttons change which weapon is currently selected.

Replay value suffers though. While there are lots of missions available, once you have beaten Mechwarrior, there is little else to warrant playing through the whole thing again. It's plenty fun the first time, but boring after that.

For those of you who don't mind cheating, there is an invincibility code for Mechwarrior. Pause the game in the battle screen, and spell out "ALLY ALLY ALLY" to become invincible for one battle. If you want to become invincible for the whole game, you will find yourself doing this many, many times.

Mechwarrior is a nice addition to any collection, and if your SNES still works, I suggest you give it a try. If you like Mechwarrior, you may also enjoy Front Mission, Battletech, or any of the other Mechwarrior games.

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

I Was An Atomic Mutant! (PC)

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Decent graphics, simple gameplay
Cons: No story, no replay value

I Was An Atomic Mutant! (henceforth referred to as IWAAM for short) was developed by Canopy Games, and published by ValuSoft.

This game was bought for my little brother for his 10th birthday. After I installed it on my computer for him, he played it for an hour or so, experimenting with all four of the different characters; the 50 foot woman, the mutant mind, the atomic lizard, and the alien attack robot.

That's right folks, this is a walking, talking, B movie from the 1950's. That's what it was intended to be though. Movies such as Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and Godzilla are the basis on which this game was created.

The brief opening movies are grainy black and white "film clips", and so are the movies showing each of the four monsters. The loading screens carry the same effect, boasting Batman-like text and similar sound effects. The words are in spiky circles, or wavy lettering, just like you would expect to see in one of these old movies.

So anyway, you pick one of these four killer monsters, and you go wreak havoc upon towns and cities. While the game is pretty much void of any story at all, it don't really seem to even need one.

Each of the four monsters has different attacks, but they are all pretty much equal, so that the gameplay is similar regardless of which one you choose. They can all squish, stomp, or smash things, or they can all shoot things from a distance. While your giant lizard may smack things with it's tail, the 50 foot woman will stomp on them. While the alien attack robot may shoot evil death rays at things, the mutant mind will use it's nuclear psychosis.

Sound like fun yet? All this is done in a 3rd person perspective, using 3D models (the game uses the Havok engine for this). One minor quirk with this, is that when you try to aim and shoot something straight in front of you, your aiming is blocked by your character. Not that it matters a whole lot with a game this simple.

You have a health bar. You have a destruction bar. Simple as that. The purpose of each level is to fill the destruction bar to the top, by destroying buildings, people, cars, tanks, and airplanes. To stop you, the tanks, planes, and military soldiers will shoot at you constantly. It is more of an irritant than a threat though, as you would almost have to purposely let them kill you in order to lose this way.

The sound score for IWAAM was also really good. The sound score was done by Michael Wandmacher, who also worked on the soundtrack for the hit movie Legend of the Drunken Master.

Controls are simple and straight-forward. Pushing W, S, A, and D will move you up, down, left, and right, respectively. Moving your mouse around the screen works to aim, and pushing the left button uses whatever attack you have selected. If you have a wheel mouse, the wheel provides a quick way to switch through the four different attacks.

There is a patch available from ValuSoft's website, to bring the game up to version 1.10. This fixes some render and playback issues on some graphics cards. It also enhances the AI of the "puny humans", and adds 3 new camera views, so make sure to download the patch.

Minimum system requirements are average:  
Pentium II 400 MHz processor
128 MB RAM
8x CD-ROM drive, Keyboard, Mouse
DirectX 3D graphics card with 8 MB of VRAM
200 MB free Hard Drive Space
DirectX 8.1
DirectX compatible sound card

I actually tried this game on two computers. It wouldn't play on my old computer, because the old built-in graphics card only had 4 MB of VRAM, and IWAAM wouldn't display any graphics in software mode. It does work fine on my main computer though: Athlon XP 2200 , 512 MB RAM, 52x CD-ROM, GeForce 4 MX 440, 64 MB VRAM.

Overall, this game was slightly better than I had expected, but not much. There is really no replay value at all. It may keep you occupied for a half hour or so, then a couple months from now you may play it for another half hour... but not enough to bother keeping it installed on your computer.

Keep in mind that this is a budget game though, so it was well worth the small price tag, even for an hour's worth of gameplay.

If you like 3rd person shooters, or if you feel in the mood to re-live a 1950's B movie, then you should try this game. If you like I Was An Atomic Mutant!, you also might want to try Godzilla or War of the Monsters.