Friday, 15 September 2017

Demolish Fist (Arcade)

At some point in the mid-late 1990s, beat em ups as a genre entered something of a drought, from which the genre's never really recovered. While shooting games and 2D platformers have plenty of great representatives from both mainstream and independent developers, new beat em ups are few and far between, and a lot of the time, they're ruined by the kinds of stupid game-killing design choices I've complained about in many, many posts on this blog before: levelling up/skill shops, negative difficulty curves, and a new one I only discovered recently: there's a game available on PS4 and PC called Mother Russia Bleeds, and the lives/continue system is so broken as to make it impossible to get a game over (as far as I could tell), rendering the game completely pointless.

But anyway, that drought. It was still very much in effect in 2003, when Demolish Fist was released, and even among the few beat em ups released about that time, this one stands out by being more traditional. Though it's entirely in 3D and you can move and face in all eight directions, the camera sticks rigidly in one position (not counting cutscenes, obviously), making the game play like a regular, old-fashioned belt scroller. And it does a great job of it, too! You walk along, beat up crowds of bad guys, pick up weapons and power-ups and a good time is had by all.

Of course, every beat em up needs to have a gimmick to make it stand out, even if it has no contemporary competitors, and Demolish Fist actually has a few! Firstly, there's a block button. It's not a massive thing, but it's still something that a lot of beat em ups don't have. Secondly, the game takes an approach to weaponry akin to Two Crude Dudes or Dynamite Deka, having tons of stuff available to pick up and swing and/or throw: cattleprods, baseball bats with nails hammered into the end, swords, electrified gloves, fuel tanks, vending machines, motorcycles, cars and so on. The final, and most unique gimmick is the vertigo system. You get a power bar that fills up from attacking enemies, like in many other games. When it fills up, you can press all three buttons to enter vertigo mode, during which you're not only invincible, but you can also attack as fast as you're able to hammer the attack button. This lasts for ten seconds or until every enemy present has been defeated, and it never gets old or stops being satisfying.

I also want to talk about this game's setting and aesthetic, which I like as much as the game itself. It's a kind of look that was used in a lot of anime and Japanese videogames around the turn of the century that I'm going to call "sunset dystopia", a world where there hasn't been any kind of cataclysmic event, but it's just kind of lurching slowly towards an eventual apocalypse through societal entropy that's just on the horizon. I guess other examples of the look would be Daraku Tenshi, King of Fighters 99, and Crimson Tears.

So yeah, Demolish Fist is an excellent game. If you're able to play it (and most fairly modern computers should be able to emulate the Atomiswave at a decent speed by now. My pre-owned laptop can manage it, even!), then you definitely should.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Real Fighter (PC)

If you go back and play the original Virtua Fighter, you'll find a pretty fun game, and I'm you'll also agree that though the character models and textures are simple, there's a lot of life in them, and the animation in particular is more lifelike and realistic than any fighting game that had come before it. Back in the early-mid 1990s, however, I didn't live near any arcades, nor was I rich enough to have a 32X or a Saturn. So I'd see still screenshots of SEGA's fighting game, and wonder why all the writers were losing their minds over what looked like two piles of boxes engaging in combat.

I bring all this up to make something clear to you: you might look at the screenshots of Real Fighter in this review and assume that it's a similar scenario, that it looks bad in still pictures, but in motion it takes on a whole new life. You would be very wrong to assume this. In fact, Real Fighter actually looks worse in motion than it does in still screenshots. The characters look only very vaguely human at the best of times, their fighting stances look ridiculous and when they move, it's something akin to someone picking up an action figure and seeing how far in each direction every point of articulation goes, attempting to make the most impossible poses they can.

Actually playing the game isn't any better. Like Virtua Fighter, you have buttons for punch, kick and guard. Guard works exactly as you'd expect, punch will make a punch happen maybe one of every ten times you press it, and kick will usually produce something that's kind of like a kick or series of kicks. The two characters will sort of randomly flail at each other for a while, until one of them either runs out of health or falls off the stage. None of this is helped by the camera, that changes angles completely at random, presumably in an ill-fated attempt at being cinematic.

I might be being a little too harsh on Real Fighter, since it is, after all, Korea's first ever 3D fighting game (as far as I can tell, it might also be the only Korean 3D fighting game, as all the others I've seen, before and since, have been 2D), but it's just an ugly, boring waste of time. Don't bother playing it, except for reasons of historical curiosity.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Simple 2000 Series Vol. 112: The Tousou Highway 2 ~Road Warrior 2050~

You have to admit, just looking at the title, that this game has a lot of potential right from the start. Of course, it's a Simple Series title and it's yet another game on this blog by Tamsoft, so I still approached with some caution, knowing that the higher I raised my hopes for a cool Mad Max knockoff game, the more likely they'd be dashed, and the game would turn out to be some awful fiddly rubbish.

Luckily, my fears were unfounded, and though the game's low budget did result in some minor problems, like all the stages looking the same, The Tousou Highway 2 is easily one of the best the Simple 2000 Series has to offer. The premise, as far as I can tell, is that in the post-apocalyptic future, your wife/sister/friend/some random woman is dying in Nagoya, and you have to drive your precious cargo of medicine to her from Tokyo in under four hours. Obviously, between the two cities there are an endless amount of goons riding motorbikes and armoured cars who want to stop you, though I have no idea way.So you drive across a number of stages, shooting enemies as you go, and that four hour time limit is in real time, though it doesn't count time you spend in the pause menu or the shop/pitstop screen.

 A few months ago, I played through the 2015 Mad Max game on PS4, and while most of the game was a fairly standard (though very pretty) map-tidying open world dealy, the vehicular combat was probably the best I've ever seen, especially during the convoy chases. Tousou Highway 2, being a low-budget game from nearly a decade before Mad Max came out, obviously can't match up to the newer game in terms of sophistication, but the thing is, after I'd finished Mad Max, I said "I wish there was a game that was just the convoy battles from this", and Tousou Highway 2 is pretty close to that!

It's a very very simple version of that, but still: you get to hurtle down the highway in a cool-looking post-apocalyptic car, constantly killing bandits, either by gunfire or just by smashing through them with your car, and it all takes place in the crumbling ruins of the twenty-first century. It feels fast, killing bad guys is fun and satisfying and it's just great all-round. Well, that part of the game is,at least. Once every stage or so, you'll have to stop your car and get out, because the bad guys have built a barricade. You go in the barricade and fight a whole bunch of goons on foot, sometimes accompanied by a heavily-armed boss. Once they're all dead, the barricade explodes and you can get back in you car and be on your merry way. It's not exactly terrible, but it does break the flow a little bit.

The only other problem I have with the game is that it's incredibly easy. You hardly take any damage (which is represented by an image of the vial of medicine gradually cracking), and when you do, there are more healing items around for you to stockpile than you'll ever need. Furthermore, the time limit is no challenge, either, as on my first attempt I finished the game with over an hour and a half left over. But even taking those few small qualms into account, I definitely recommend seeking this game out and giving it a go. It's excellent.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Gangan Gan-chan (SNES)

It's odd how the SNES and Mega Drive have their own strong identities, both aesthetically and in terms of game mechanics and design. For example, I don't think I would be alone in saying that the SNES action game Hagane looks and feels like a Mega Drive game that somehow got released on the wrong console. GanGan Gan-chan, however, only goes half way: it looks very much like a typical Japanese SNES game, but in terms of how it plays, it feels a lot more like a Mega Drive game. This all makes sense, right?

Anyway, the most basic way of descibing the way it plays is that it's Flicky, but in a maze. You play as a thing that looks like Carbuncle from the Puyo Puyo games (or, through the use of a secret password, a giant bald man's head) and run around mazes collecting little coloured blob creatures, that follow behind you in a line. You take the creatures back to your home base, and the more you had following you, the more points you get. Obviously, though, there are a few complications. Firstly, the colours of the creatures actually matter: there are four keys sealed at certain points of the maze, and to complete a stage, you must collect four of each colour's creature to unseal the respective keys, then collect the keys and go home. Plus there's some kind of byzantine power-up system that revolves around the (surprisingly difficult) idea of picking up the creatures in the right order before bringing them home. I've only ever triggered this through luck, though, as there's always lots of the little guys running around haphazardly.

Of course there are also enemies roaming the mazes, who can kill you on contact, as well as break the chain of creatures following you, should they cross paths. You don't get any kind of attack to fight back against them, not even through power ups, though you do have a couple of defensive/evasive powers. You can hold down B to increase your movement speed, or Y to turn into a stationary pillar, that stuns enemies that crash into it. You also have a power meter that limits the use of both these powers, and when it runs down, not only are they taken away, but your default movement speed is reduced too, putting you at a massive disadvantage. All in all, the game is actually really difficult, though it never feels like it, and almost always you know that you died because of your own poor playing, rather than unfair design.

True to the SNES aesthetic, the game looks great: huge, very brightly coloured sprites, and backgrounds that manage to be both detailed and chunky-looking. The first set of stages looks best, by far, looking not unlike a zoomed-in version of the SNES Sim City port. It's actually a disappointment that after this and the lively beach stages, the China and Egypt stages that follow are so bland and lifeless. The production as a whole is pretty nice, though, which is a surprise, since as far as I can tell, it's one of only two games develoepd by the oddly-named Team Mental Care, and one of only a handful put out by publisher Magifact. Anyway, it's a fairly innofensive little game with a lot of character and charm, and I definitely wouldn't discourage the curious from giving it a go themselves.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Ottifants (Master System)

The Ottifants are apparently from a cartoon created by German comedian Otto Waalkes, and if the games magazines in the UK at the time of this game's release are to believed, they were intended to be as popular a merchandising juggernaut as The Simpsons. Obviously, that never happened, the cartoon never left germany, with this game's release across europe the only reason anyone else has ever heard of them (and even this is pretty much completely forgotten). I've never seen The Ottifants cartoon, but having played the game, I assume the reason they never went anywhere is because they're an unendearing bunch of disgusting-looking shrivelled elephants. But is their game any good?

No. In fact, it's terrible in several different ways. There's a common complaint with European-developed shooting games, that even the weakest enemies are bullet sponges, making the player feel weak, and the game unsatisfying. Though it's not a shooting game, the enemies in it are dispatched by shooting multi-coloured dots from the end of your nose, and the regular enemies will stand there and take several shots before disappearing. The bosses take this to a ludicrous degree, with the first boss alone taking eighty hits before it'll fall, all while you're avoiding its homing death spanners.

Other than that, the game is just aggressively mediocre. You go around boring stages collecting teddy bears and pieces of paper with bar charts on them, until you find the exit. Then you go to the next stage. The one thing I can say in its favour is that the sprites are all big, colourful, and detailed to an extent that's pretty impressive for an 8-bit consoles. But even taking that into account, The Ottifants is an awful, joyless game, and I don't recommend wasting any time on it.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Pastel Muses (Saturn)

There's a lot of iteration in the world of puzzle games: one game gets popular, and other developers try to replicate this success by taking the core mechanic of that game, and adding to it, or changing it in some way. Sometimes it might be the same developer, like how Taito tried to repeat the success of their Puzzle Bobble games by taking those games' ruleset and applying it to an Arkanoid-alike when they made Puchi Charat. Softoffice, developers of Pastel Muses and no other games before or since, took the "shooting coloured bubbles at each other" concept from Puzzle Bobble, and moved the target bubbles from the top of a well to the bottom of a small valley.

To clarify, like Puzzle Bobble, Pastel Muses has you control a cute character firing coloured bubbles from a device, with the aim of matching sets of three or more to make them disappear. The difference is that while PB has you at the bottom of the screen shooting bubbles upwards, PM has you on the left of the screen, shooting them to the right. That is a little unfair of a description, though, as there's a big difference in how the two games control, too. In Puzzle Bobble, the test of your skill in in precision aiming, like a sniper: your job is to point your gun in the exact right direction to make the bubble go where you want it to, and the bubble will travel in a straight line in whatever direction you shoot it. In Pastel Muses, however, the direction in which your gun is pointing is pretty much irrelevant, and instead, your task is to determine the power with which your bubbles are fired, determined by how long you hold down the fire button. Furthermore, Pastel Muses' bubbles don't travel in straight lines, but arcs, reliant on how much power you use to shoot them.

Another twist is that the playing field is on a hill, with the player at the top and the game ending when a bubble reaches them. So, if you pop bubbles near the bottom of the hill, those above will roll down to take their place, causing traditional puzzle game chain reactions. It all takes a bit of getting used to, but after a few plays, you'll pick up the knack of instinctively knowing just how long to hold the fire button down to get the bubbles to go where you want.

There's a few different modes of play based around the game's basic idea. There's a mode directly lifted from the Puzzle Bobble games where you play various sets of preset puzzle stages laid out in a branching alphabetical path, there's a kind of survival/time attack hybrid mode where you clear stages as fast as you can against the time limit, with a small amount of extra time being added after each stage, and there's a more traditional survival mode where the bubbles keep gradually advancing until you can't keep them back any more. The time attack is probably the best of the three, feeling more urgent and more arcadey, it's a shame there aren't more puzzle games with a similar mode.

Pastel Muses is an okay game. If you really like puzzle games and the satisfying feeling of slowly mastering a slightly unintuitive control method, then it's worth a shot. Bear in mind, though, how much I mentioned Puzzle Bobble in this review, since it's so incredibly derivative of it that it'd be a lot more difficult to describe without mentioning its inspiration. So if you're a stickler for originality, it might not be for you.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Space War Attack (PS2)

When I first started playing Space War Attack (also known as Simple 2000 Series Vol. 78: The Uchuu Taisensou), I had planned to liken it to a videogame version of an Asylum movie. But as I played it more, I realised how unfair that was: as much as I love The Asylum, the name conjures, in most people's minds, an image of incompetence and lack of imagination. Now I'd say that's unfair as a start, since The Asylum have made plenty of legitimately enjoyable movies and TV shows and it'd take a tedious snob to deny that. Actually, Space War Attack IS like an Asylum film in videogame form: it takes a simple concept and a low budget, and combines them with a shameless kind of creative enthusiasm to create something that's a ton of fun.

Anyway, it's a 3D action-oriented combat flight sim-type thing, in which you fly around, firing locked-on missiles at enemies and so on. The hook, though, is the enemies themselves: while most stages will have a squadron of enemy fighters getting in the way, which look a lot like organic fighter jets (kind of like the ones in Space Harrier II), your main target enemies are a bit more exciting. There's bigger fighter/bomber aliens, which look kind of like the Toho kaiju Battra, there's giant scorpions and snakes, meteors, enormous flying mechanical starfish, and so on. A lazier person would sum it up as being "Earth Defence Force in a fighter jet!", but though there's a lot of undeniable similarities, the atmosphere and feel is totally different, in some vague, hard to describe way.

I think special note should also be made of the settings for the stages. Though it does partake in the traditional Simple Series cost-saving trick of reusing maps at different times of the day, those few maps are really great-looking. In the stages I've played so far, I've seen, among others, a city in the middle of the desert, a series of super-futuristic solar/hydro power plant facilities in the ocean, and a bigger city that's built on a concentric series of artificial islands surrounding a huge volcano emerging from the sea. It's all very futuristic, and more importantly, with its gleaming cities, blue skies and apparent commitment to renewable energy, it is as the Overwatch slogan goes, a future worth saving.

In my review of Savage Skies, I compained that a common problem I've had playing this genre is that you often end up chasing a little arrow pointing to the nearest enemy off the edge of the screen. I don't know how the developers did it, but that's not something I've had much of a problem with in Space War Attack, and it's even better when you unlock long-range lock-on missiles a few stages in. It seems that the developers Bit-Town are responsible for a few other PS2 flight sims, and I may well seek them out at some point in the future, so high is this game's quality.

Space War Attack is a great game: a cool setting, and a ton of fun to play. The downside is that it's a good game from the Simple 2000 series that got a PAL release, which means that copies are hard to get hold of, and as such, there's currently none of them on Amazon, and the cheapest on Ebay is about £50. You might have better luck looking for the Japanese version, though.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Curiosities Vol. 13: CD Battle - Hikari no Yuushitachi (PC Engine)

I'm sure anyone reading this blog is probably aware of the Monster Rancher games, especially the first one on Playstation, that did some kind of scanning thing to music CDs you put in and turned them into monsters you could train to battle other monsters. CD Battle: Hikari no Yuushatachi is essentially a kind of primitive ancestor of that game. So primitive, in fact, that it's barely a game at all.

You load the game up, then insert two CDs, which are turned into RPG parties of three members each. The two parties then fight in front of a fantasy backdrop. There's not much in the way of balance, and some CDs will generate a party member with masses of HP that can just steamroll the entire other team solo. Also, though the boxart promises robots, dragons and other cool stuff, all I ever got were archers, fighters and (very rarely) magic users. I guess the point of it is that two players put their CDs up against each other, then pass the controller back and forth, commanding their parties, to determine through combat who has the best musical taste.

It's a shame there's no kind of single player content, like a quest to send your party on or something, but as I played a few times, I begun to realise why there wasn't much to the game (and also why a game with such simple graphics requires the Super CD Rom RAM card). I noticed that to change the backdrop for your battles, you had to reset the console and load the game up again, and that's when I realised it: once the game is loaded up, you never have to put the game disc back into the console. So clearly, the entire game is loaded into RAM before you start.

I haven't been able to find any information regarding this game's price on release, but I really hope it was a budget title, since there's really nothing to it at all beyond a few minutes' mild amusement. You can find copies online for only a few pounds now, though, if you're interested. (I haven't tried to play it on an emulator, but it seems like it'd be more hassle than its worth.)

And in case anyone's interested, the CDs I used in the making of this review were Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror, Cradle of Filth - Bitter Suites to Succubi, The Offspring - Americana, Rhapsody - Rain of a Thousand Flames, and Arch Enemy - War Eternal (which defeated every opponent put in front of it).

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Devil Zone (MSX)

Since I've recently been playing more Famicom games, I've grown a strong affection towards the single-plane beat em up, as a genre. The nice thing about the genre is that it's so simple at its base that developers only need to have one or two mechanical additions to make for an interesting and worthwhile entry. The one positive thing I can say about Devil Zone is that its developers definitely weren't short on ideas, and they were actually ahead of their time in some ways! Unfortuantely, not only are the ideas they had not particularly great, they weren't really very well executed, either.

So, as expected from the genre, you walk from left to right, kicking monsters in the head, until you reach the stage's boss. Now, I have to admit that I only had the patience to get as far as the second boss, but in my defence, this is a game that relies a lot more on luck and patience than it does skill. The main ideas that the developers added to the skeleton of the single-plane beat em up are magic items and a weapons shop. The magic items can be stored until needed, and have various different effects, like invincibility, killing all onscreen enemies, stopping time, and so on. The weapons shop itself has enough weird idiosyncracies surrounding it that it gets a paragraph all of its own.

Firstly, you can access the weapons shop at any time. Secondly, the currency you use (red stars) is, like the magic items mentioned above, randomly dropped by enemies. The third, and strangest point about the weapons shop is that there's another set of randomly dropped items that cause the prices to fluctuate when collected. There's three orbs than can appear: a green one that reduces the prices, a red one that increases them, and a blue one that returns the prices to their defaults. Such a strange idea! Anyway, the weapons are completely essential to defeating the bosses.  More specifically, the last three weapons are projectile weapons, and without one of these, you'll face extreme difficulty in fighting the bosses. The best one, oddly, is the second most expensive one, while the two cheapest weapons are melee weapons, and are so slow that they'll probably get you killed rather than help you in any way.

So, to sum things up, what Devil Zone brings to the table are two things you've seen me complain about many times before: skill/weapon shops, and an emphasis on luck over skill. Another thing that kills it for me is that if you do save up enough stars to buy a decent weapon to fight the boss with, and you die, you lose your bought weapon, and with no weapon and slim chance of building up a stock of stars to buy a new one before you get back to the boss, you've probably gotten as far as you're going to get on this run. Needless to say, Devil Zone is not a game I recommend seeking out and playing yourself.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Parasol Henbee (Game Boy)

So, this game is based on an anime I've never seen, and had never heard of before playing the game. And I wouldn't have even heard of the game itself had it not happened to be one of the 66 games built into some models of the excellent Game Boy Color clone, the KongFeng GB Boy Colour. So what kind of game is Parasol Henbee? It's a platform game with an incredibly sedate pace and feel, akin to going out for a leisurely stroll.

You play as the eponymous Henbee (or possibly Henbei, depending on the romanisation), and you literally just got from left to right on each stage, avoiding enemies and hazards until you reach the end. You do have an attack, but it's awkward to use, and it depletes your health almost as much as getting hit by an enemy does. You start out with pretty low health, though there is a reason for that: your walking speed and the height/length of your jumps has a correlation with the state of your health bar, and there's lots of little items floating around that increase your health a tiny amount. Of course, this means that in later stages, when the platforms start getting smaller, and the gaps between them bigger, if you take a few hits, finishing the stage becomes basically impossible. And there are points in those later stages that require military precision to avoid touching the enemies.

There's not much else to say about the game, mechanically speaking. There's no bosses, very little variety, and you can get through most of the game without feeling any sense of progress or achievement. There are some interesting things to say about it aesthetically and thematically, though! Firstly, Henbee looks like a Mr. Saturn from Earthbound, though this game and the series on which it's based is older than that game. Also, the first couple of stages, which are set in what's clearly supposed to be a friendly Japanese suburb look more like a feral city, left to rot by uncaring corrupt politicians, as the streets are lined with piles of uncollected rubbish and populated by packs of wild dogs and cats. Maybe I'm wrong, and the creator of Doraemon did make a series that was a biting social commentary that somehow got a licensed Gamy Boy game made out of it, but I'd be very surprised if that were the case.

I don't recommend Parasol Henbee. It's not interesting enough to bother hunting down, and even if you do have a GB Boy Colour and no actual cartridges to put in it, there's plenty of much, much better games on the built in list you can enjoy while waiting for your ebay-purchased carts to arrive.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Iblard Laputa no Kaeru Machi (Playstation)

It's another one of those ~aesthetic~ Playstation games, like previous Lunatic Obscurity entry Kaze no Notam, and while Kaze no Notam was vaguely inspired by the work of artist Hiroshi Nagai, Iblard Laputa no Kaeru Machi is explicity and specifically based on the work of artist Naohisa Inoue, right down to his paintings appearing in some stages as clues.

Besides being an artistic showcase, Iblard is also a first-person adventure game featuring simple puzzles, which are mainly solved by using the right item in the right place. It's actually a lot like a version of Yumemi Mystery Mansion, but set outside and with realtime 3D graphics instead of prerendered FMV fakery, and it is actually from the same developer as both Mystery Mansion games. There are seperate stages, and each one only includes a few items to use and a few items to work with, meaning that all the puzzles are very easy to solve: even if you somehow don't figure them out, it won't take long to get through with trial and error. Another nice thing is that though there's some text and spoken dialogue, there's very little, and you don't need to understand any of it to get anywhere (at least, not in the few stages I've played through).

A quick image search for "Naohisa Inoue" brings up lots of paintings of incredibly idyllic fairyland gardens overflowing with flowers, and those are the environments you'll be exploring in this game. Although there are some minor hazards, they're both easy to avoid and very unlikely to kill you, and they seem to be there simply as some kind of token gesture towards being a traditional videogame. The visuals and music and lack of real threats combine to make a very safe-feeling environment, and everything's very cosy and dreamlike. If you've ever been in either a very verdant garden or a very overgrown bit of forest on a sweltering hot summer afternoon, this game's got a similar feel, to the extent that you can almost feel the pollen going up your nose.  I think the low-poly models and low-resolution textures really help that feeling, and that this would be a very different game were it made at any other time in the advancement of videogame technology.

Iblard Laputa no Kaeru Machi is a game that's completely devoid of excitement, and isn't interesting mechanically, either. However, it is a perfect example of how a game can still be good and worthwhile while not being "good" in any kind of traditional sense. It perfectly creates an atmosphere and the simple puzzles are in there for two reasons: firstly, they give you a reason to fully explore each stage, as solving the puzzles will mean going to each part at least once. Secondly, they create a (very mild) feeling of being a little bit lost in a nice, though strange, place, a feeling which is helped by the fact that the map works like an actual map: there's not movie "you are here" dot, and instead you have to look at certain landmarks on the map and then look for them in the stage to get your bearings. Though it might not be the easiest game to track down, I strongly recommend that you do.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Wiz n Liz (Mega Drive)

Videogames magazines of the early to mid 1990s had something of a strange vendetta against platform games. Even unquestioned classics like Gunstar Heroes, Contra Hard Corps and Alien Soldier would get average-at-best reviews from a lot of magazines, simply for looking like platform games. Obviously, this meant that there were great games that fell by the wayside, and since they never had the series or developer associations that those games had, they never gained the renown they deserved. Wiz n Liz is one such game.

Though it's a UK-developed game that was only ever released on home systems, it could honestly stand up alongside the best single player arcade games, as it is purely about going fast and scoring points. I'd even go as far as to say that with a different aesthetic, the game's design could totally be used to make a perfect Sonic arcade game! The main meat of the game is running arond the stages, which are only a few screens across, rollercoaster-like in design and looping (kind of like the multiplayer stages in Sonic 3), where you collect rabbits, which turn into letters. The first task of each stage is to collect the letters to spell a word at the top of the screen, once that's done, you just have to collect the rest of the rabbits (who now turn into clocks, fruit, and stars, all of which I'll explain shortly) and go to the exit as fast as possible, you have to do two or three rounds of this per stage, depending on the difficulty level. There's no enemies, other than very easy bossfights that occur every eight stages, and your only threat is the time limit.

You start the game with two minutes, and your remaining time carries over from stage to stage. When it runs out, you lose a life, but there are various ways to claw back the seconds. The main two are the clocks that the rabbits drop during the stages, as each one will give you three seconds back at the end of the round, and a glowing time orb worth thirty seconds that appears in a random place on the stage whenever you get down to lesst than ten seconds left on the clock. Now that the clocks have been explained, I should do the other two items, right?

The stars don't really do anything on their own, other than give you points, but with the aid of certain fruits and vegetables, they can do a lot more! The fruits and veg, you see, are spell components, and between stages, you put two of the food items in your posession into a cauldron to get various different effects. This is where the game hides and almost Bubble Bobblian level of secret stuff: as well as item shops where you can spend you hard-won stars on more fruit, extra lives and a few more precious seconds, there's at least three mini-games that can be played for more points, level skips, a fake game over screen and various other weird things. Though obviously, a player who wanted to maximise their score would go online to look up a list of all the recipes for the most useful spells, I would honeslty advise against doing this, as there's a lot of fun to be had in getting a different surprise between every stage, and of course, the world seems a lot bigger when you don't know exactly how much there is in it, right?

Obviously, Wiz n Liz is a game I completely recommend you go and play as soon as possible. It really is a double shame that it never got an arcade release back when it came out, and that it doesn't have the cultural cache to ever get any kind of remake or rerelease on modern consoles. It's a game that excels in pretty much every department and deserves to be much more famous than it is.