Wednesday, May 13, 2009
At the other end of the technical spectrum from Adventure 2600 (but largely on par in the graphics department) is the 1987 classic NetHack. The latest version, 3.4.3. was released December 8, 2003, and it is still under development. There is a story about an amulet, but before you can even hope to win the game, you've got to learn how to play it. This is something like learning an instrument (perhaps a plastic one) and requires at least a week of constant playing to progress decently far.
NetHack is the ultimate randomized dungeon crawler. There are thousands of items, dungeon features, and possibilities all extremely impressive and complicated. It's basically Dungeons and Dragons boiled down to pure combat. You proceed floor by floor down into this hellish dungeon, with side dungeons, secrets, treasure, monsters, cities, priests, altars, dragons, kobolds, traps and overpowered monsters ready to kill you. The slightest misstep, walking in a seemingly harmless direction can easily spell instant doom.
Each level is generated completely randomly, but all are beatable provided you can take out the monsters. If you can't, you can run, or try to use one of your many items in a creative way. Maybe you get lucky and escape, maybe the monster kills you. The game constantly puts you in life or death situations with a difficult monster about to kill you in 1 or 2 hits, and it's far faster. As a last-ditch effort you can read a scroll and hope for some life-saving spell. Victories like that are very rewarding. Deaths are more common.
What I love about the graphics is that the game was created (and continues to be) developed in ASCII. That said, I prefer the tile version, which uses non-moving icon tiles and is much easier on the eye. Still, switching between modes in the Windows version is only a single button push to toggle between ASCII and tiles, making it easy to learn the ASCII code. You'll probably want to read the documentation first, here are the links you need to get started with NetHack.
First, read the guidebook. It's very long. I printed out most parts of it, but you'll be constantly referring to information when playing NetHack until you become very good. Eventually you won't need to do any fancy commands and you'll be able to play the game for a while without dying on your own. But the documentation hides many options and secrets that mean the difference between life and death.
Also check out the official page, nethack.org
Or go straight to the download page.
The same game of NetHack can never be played twice.
Friday, May 8, 2009
SlashX just released, earlier this week, Adventure 2600 ReBoot. The project team, composed of Slashx who did the coding, overworld art, and some animation, Khavall who wrote and recorded the Music, Delphinus who created each area's Ambient audio, and Halkun who "provided a great deal of insight from the original as well as Sprites and Collision Masks."
The result is amazing, and I encourage fans of Adventure and those who've never before traveled the hyperspace Kingdom to download the game immediately. Adventure was one of those classic that could never have received a proper remake save independently of fans. Under corporate guidance, the result couldn't possibly have resulted in other than a fantasy-themed clusterfuck of cutscenes and adolescent fantasy empowerment.
The feel of Adventure is perfectly recreated, the world just has a little more imagination peppered into it. The music, in particular, is fantastic and sets the mood perfectly. Strange, ponderous, fantastic.
The package currently up for download is version 1.0 and includes some extras, like alternate quests and a suspiciously named "D.Mode" which could mean Dragon Mode or Debug mode...
So go forth brave adventurer and explore the glory of ADVENTURE in 16 glorious bits of glory. Go, go Download Adventure 2600 Reboot!
For this history of the game Adventure 2600, see "The 2600 Adventure of Zelda," also there is plenty of info on SlashX's site.
Hell yes, Contra ReBirth (for the Wii) was announced recently. Following the release of Gradius ReBirth (which I've been meaning to review... so why wait? Great Game! Buy it!) and the prospective release of Life Force ReBirth it's no surprise Konami would keep the gravy train running.
What's surprising is that the screenshots went up yesterday... but I've received reports of the game launching next week in Japan.
It's nice to see so many old-school games still being released with old-school mechanics in tact. Slowly, but surely, we are leaving the land of cut-scenes.
If you read Japanese you can visit the Japanese website. I've uploaded all of the screenshots here. I'll keep you posted on Contra ReBirth news, as per usual with 8-Bit revivals.
Monday, May 4, 2009
UPDATED: June 1st, 2011
Adventure Island: The New Beginning is soon to be released on WiiWare in North America. It looks like a fun remake, and makes several changes to gameplay that could work out nicely. Master Higgins will have more skills than in previous games, like grabbing on to ledges and changing costume. The most exciting feature is an online leader board with apparently over 50 slots, which is much better than other (Mega Man 9) WiiWare titles. Takahashi Meijin, on whom Master Higgins is based (the Japanese character is explicitly Takahashi Meijin) claimed that the game should be released in May. With today as a disapointment, next week's chance looks brighter, but before the game is released in America (Europe, Japan, please post your thoughts on the game) or if you are currently playing it, let's take a look at some of the highlights of the Adventure Island Series.
First, here is a brief introduction into three game series: Adventure Island, Wonder Boy, and Monster Lair. These lists are roughly chronological within the respective series, the exact dates aren't important.
The Rough History of Wonder Boy / Adventure Island
Wonder Boy was released in arcades (made by Escape and Sega).
Wonder Boy ported to the Sega Master System (the best version of this game, IMO)
Adventure Island is released on the NES (made by Escape and Hudson, Escape didn't have the rights to the character Wonder Boy, but they did had the rights to everything else, they Used Takahashi Meijin as the main character, named Master Higgins in English-speaking countries).
Adventure Island 2, released on the NES, made by Hudson.
Super Adventure Island released for the SNES.
New Adventure Island released for the TG-16.
Adventure Island 3 and 4 released for the NES/Famicom.
Super Adventure Island 2 released on the SNES.
Then a PS2 / GameCube Japan-only exclusive game, Takahashi Meijin no Adventure Island, which looks similar too similar to Adventure Island: The Beginning.
Adventure Island: The Beginning is available for WiiWare. I've played it a little, but overall I keep coming back to the classic. Maybe that will change, one day. Hudson included many clothing and powerup items, so I'm still very excited about "The Beginning"'s potential.
Now, Wonder Boy spawned many games also, but they didn't go the caveman route. Instead, the went Fantasy starting with
Wonder Boy in Monster Land for the Arcade and SMS.
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair for TG16, Genesis (simply called "Monster Lair", and Arcade.
Then, a totally different game and the second best (behind The Dynastic Hero) in the Wonder Boy series.
Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap for SMS and Game Gear.
Ported the the TG-16 as Dragon's Curse (this is by far the best version of the game).
Wonder Boy in Monster World for the Genesis and
The Dynastic Hero for the TG-CD, which replaced the characters with insects, improved the music, and added other stuff. This is the best version of this game, IMO, but some really like the Genesis version.
Then Monster World 4 for the Genesis.
That sums it up, maybe I missed a game or two, but you get the general idea of how the two serieses are structured. To understand how they influence each other would require elaborate comparison between games, so I will only pick out a few to discuss that I think stand out.
The Caveman Genesis, An 8-Bit Odyssey
Adventure Island (1986) and Wonder Boy (1986) are clearly not the best in the series, but because they are the most primitive there is a certain charm and challenge involved with this game. As I said, I think Wonder Boy is by far the best version of the game, with less sprite flicker, smoother controls, brighter colors, better music, and infinite continues. That said, they are pretty damn close to the same game, and sometimes its nice to play both versions of the game, thinking of them as mutual arrangement modes of each other.
The True Trilogy
Adventure Island 2 (1991) is possibly the best in the series. It improved the controls, refined the weapon mechanic, and introduced a randomized level system that mixes up the order of the stages. Stage themes are varied, the challenge is immense in the final two islands, the music is very memorable, but like all of the games there were too few tracks. This is the cart that I had growing up, which I received when I was 6 years old, and which I played to death but never beat until high school. This represents almost perfect game design, with everything giving points that lead to extra lives, the time bar condensed into a life bar and the life bar, like Mario, replaced with power ups. Riding around on dinosaurs proved to be the most interesting concept in the series, but the designers refused to develop it on consoles other than the Game Boy and Nintendo.
Nintendo Power Tips!
1992 spawned 3 Adventure Island games, the second of which is Adventure Island 3. It introduced a new Dinosaur, the boomerang, and spiced up the graphics to look like Green Hill Zone. While a very enjoyable game, it functions as an "expansion pack" to Adventure Island 2 and fails to be as memorable or fun. That said, Adventure Island 3 would probably rank right below it. The new dinosaur, however, is just awful. The surfing ministage is awkward, but they keep the Adventure Island 2 formula intact adding just the bare minimum. This would later be seen as a fortunate choice, because the other games tended not to be as fun as the 3 great trilogy (2-4) on the NES. Also, the box art rivals Mega Man.
Adventure Island 4 was released later, 1994, and significantly changed the gameplay, quite successfully, into a metroidvania. I've played this game extensively and can easily say it is the best in the series, though Adventure Island 2 remains the best stage-based Adventure Island game. Start with the bone, gain stronger weapons and items, it's an epic 8-Bit quest reminiscent of Rygar and Metroid. It's one of the best games never released in America on the NES. I was sure Hudson would support the VC with this game, but they've failed to do so thus far. Hopefully, we can see this game released in the nest year if interests in Adventure Island: The New Beginning are high.
It rounds out the true Adventure Island trilogy and fulfills the myth of the NES trilogy. The presence of Adventure Island can be seen as somehwat of a seperate entity, though it continued to exert a very strong influence on the later games. The NES games, however, are some of the most radical, in the sense that they actually improve on the Wonder Boy formula without becoming slaves to it. The first game develops a formula, the second changes it mildly, and the third radically improves the game, creating the best of the bunch. We see this pattern in video games often, though like all myths it varies by usually no more than one degree. For example, Zelda 1, 2, and 3 function this way yet they vary in that Zelda 3 was released for a new system. Mario 1, 2, and 3 follow this pattern with the anomaly that they created 2 Super Mario Bros. 2 games. Strangely enough, I think the pattern holds either way. Adventure Island's deviance is equally slight; what matter if Adventure Island was made, it was a Wonder Boy game anyway.
And the 16-Bit Gameplay
If you take the entire series chronologically, Adventure Island II, Super Adventure Island, and New Adventure Island are actually the first three games in the series.
Super Adventure Island was the first to be released in 1992, and drastically hurt the mechanics, but had pretty graphics and still played like Adventure Island, though worse, and really nice music, and huge sprites, but somehow managed to be a fun game. It's a pretty sad attempt at Adventure Island. There are only about 6 enemies in the entire game, 5 bosses, and 15 levels. Fortunately, each level looks different than the others, but even though this game is fun, I think it's important to trash it for being a rushed piece of shit that has some of the worst mechanics in the series, the least amount of weapons and items in any game, the shortest of all of the Adventure Island games, and a huge disappointment.
Also in 1992, New Adventure Island was released for the TG-16. This is a much better game than Super Adventure Island. I actually played through the game today. It is also one of the hardest in the series, requiring the player to memorize the stages. There are only 25 stages, but they are quite varied and it makes for a fresh experience reminiscent of early Adventure Island and, of course, of Super Mario Bros. (1, for the NES).
Considering Super Adventure Island and this game, it's obvious they wanted to "Get back to the roots" of their franchise... Wonder Boy. But I guess they somehow didn't realize that Adventure Island 2 should have been the model for these two remakes, considering it was the first real Adventure Island game from design/conception to publishing. Maybe they started all of these games before Adventure Island 2 had a chance in the market? It's entirely possible, Adventure Island 2 was only released in February 1991. Possible, but I'm not convinced because Super Adventure Island was made in, what looks like, a weekend.
I'd like to stress that New Adventure Island is a pretty good game, unlike Super Adventure Island. Unlike its predecessor, it has multiple weapons, but it rarely forces you to loose the one you have if you like it. The Axe is the best weapon in this version, which flies like an axe should, also unlike Super Adventure Island. The worlds and stages are just as varied, except for the castles, but there are 25 stages (to Super Adventure Island's 15) and you will believe me when I say the levels are easily twice as long as Super Adventure Island stages.
Maybe they were just trying to avoid what they percieved as a problem with Adventure Island 2: that you repeated stages a lot in a 100+ stage game. But so what? I thought it was cool that all the island were linked under a single climate, it makes sense. But they did a really good job of it in Adventure Island 2, for example, the Dragon Flies only appear at sunset, similar to how dragonflies really act. Then, on Volcano Island, it's always bright sunset, as if there were volcano dust in the air. See, it's not that hard, and I wonder who's been driving the series into obscurity for the last 15 years.
Super Adventure Island 2 is a pseudo-metroidvania with a really weird random-stage system. I've never played this game because there are so many others, and damn it I'm just not there yet. It looks interesting, eventually Master Higgins gets a suit of armor and a sword.
This isn't event considering the Game Boy games. But that's an entirely new article. In the meantime, I'll be posting any news on Adventure Island: The Beginning.
Download the Adventure Island rom, get a few on the VC, or collect the carts from eBay, most of the Adventure Island games reward practice and prove to be rewarding gaming experiences. And if you like the series, support it by downloading Adventure Island: The New Beginning when it is released.