Alien Trilogy

Developer: Probe Entertainment
Publisher: Acclaim

Launched early in the Playstation's life cycle , most would probably dismiss Alien Trilogy as an attempt to cash in on both Doom's and Alien's popularity. Luckily none of that prevents it from being a damn fun game!

Don't let its name fool you though, despite having the moniker  'Trilogy' it does not attempt to follow either story or events in any of the three movies. You still play Ellen Ripley, a Lieutenant in the marines sent to planet LV426 to clear a colony that's been decimated by xenomorphs.

While parallels to the second movie can certainly be drawn, Alien Trilogy is its own story which involves clearing a prison similar to the third movie and an alien spacecraft similar to the one found in the original Alien. 

It's pretty clear this aims to appeal to fans of 'Aliens' first and foremost, between that and the critical acclaim Alien Vs. Predator received just two years earlier on the Atari Jaguar it's easy to imagine the thought process behind this game.

Upon starting the game, you're prompted to a short CGI video detailing what little story there is before being thrown right into the action. As with any Doom clone you have to navigate maze-like levels while gunning down hordes of enemies. The atmosphere is dark and moody, fitting the alien franchise like a glove. Xenomorphs and face huggers litter every level and will easily swarm you if not kept in check. This is made especially worse by the extremely stiff controls and the lack of Dual Analog compatibility.

The developers went out of their way to create as much enemy variety as they could within the established canon, going as far as to even include the dog-like xenomorphs from the third movie.  They all look menacing and terrifying given the hardware limitations, I especially like the facehuggers who can surprise you by jumping onto the screen, covering it almost completely. The effect looks pretty pixelated but I'd be lying if I said I didn't jump out of my seat when it happened.

Unfortunately there are only so many variations one can draw from the source material, as a result several human enemies have also been added. These are not nearly as interesting or menacing as the xenomorphs and only serve to cheapen the game, making it look more like a generic doom clone rather than the original title it aims to be.

Your weapon variety is also not as great as it could've been, handing you a mere handful to choose from. I honestly found there was little difference between them, save for damage output, and by the end of the game I barely ever used the pistol or shotgun as they simply required too many shots to dispose of a single foe. It also doesn't help that health and ammo is pretty scarce, so you'll have to keep an eye out for secret stockpiles. Thankfully, the gunplay never gets old, shooting your first xenomorph is as rewarding as your last kill. They even leave a pool of acid in their wake which should be avoided.

Graphically the game looks amazing for a Doom clone. While the levels are somewhat claustrophobic due to all the corridor mazes, they all look as they did in the movies. I especially loved the space ship which featured plenty of H.R. Giger inspired visuals. The music ranges from atmospheric to techno and it fitted the scenery really nicely with the dark brooding corridors adding to the tension and feeling of hopelessness.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Alien Trilogy. I expected it to be a run-of-the-mill Doom clone. Instead I found a love letter to the franchise's second movie. The stiff controls and human enemies may be a turn off for some, but if you love 'Aliens' and old school first-person shooters then this is the game for you!

Pros:
- Faithful to 'Aliens' gameplaywise
- Dark and moody atmosphere add to the tension
- Fun gunplay, killing xenomorphs never gets old

Cons:
- Human enemies cheapen the whole experience
- Limited weapon selection
- Stiff controls

Final Grade: B

That is one sexy cover! It lets you know it's an alien game and that it won't pull any punches. Unfortunately, both the title and tagline make it a bit misleading by promising the "complete alien trilogy". Yeah sure, the game itself is complete, but it's really got nothing to do with the movies.

Inside you'll find a below-average manual and an Acclaim Catalog.
The manual provides no background information plot-wise, at least it goes fairly deep on how to play the game, complementing the information with screenshots. It's just a shame the screens are so dark and blurry you'll be hard-pressed to make out anything in them.

Finally there's the catalog which is somewhat hit-or-miss. Half of its titles are sports or wrestling games which didn't make for interesting reading material. Oddly enough, the WWF Wrestlemania page features a promotional picture of three of the wrestlers that is way too stretched out. I'll admit I don't know what kind of image editing programs were used back then, but that does not look at all. Other games in the catalog include Alien Trilogy, D, X-Men Children of the Atom, Rise of the Robots 2(ergh) and Bad Mojo.

Overall the packaging isn't bad but it could have been so much more. At least the catalogue is worth a browse or two.

Packaging Grade: C+

Phantasy Star Online

Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega

As the first console MMO, Phantasy Star Online is an important piece of gaming history, sadly, these days it's treated as something of a footnote. Perhaps this is due to the fact few people played online on consoles or simply because PSO was released for the ill-fated Dreamcast. Whatever it would be a shame to see its historical merits forgotten.

Despite it being an mmo, Phantasy Star Online offers an offline mode, which is what I'll be playing for the purpose of this review.

Phantasy Star Online forfeits all connections with previous games and instead introduces players to a new cast and system. This may seem like a bait-and-switch maneuver on Sega's part but the game pays so little importance to story or characters one would barely notice it hardly matters. 

Luckily, the aesthetics fair much better in this regard, if you've played Phantasy Star 2 and/or 4 on the Sega Megadrive/Genesis you'll easily recognize the art-style employed here, it remains as true to its source material as it could have been.

As you create a new character, players are given a choice of several classes and races, these will generally boil down to your typical warrior, healer, magic and ranged builds. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Sega imposed a limitation in which you can only save one character per memory unit, this mean if you want to try every possible combination you'll need a total of nine VMUs. Why the developers imposed this restriction is beyond me!

Starting the game you're brought Pioneer 2, a colony ship sent to Planet Ragol for colonization purposes. You're told in second hand of how massive your craft is, but sadly you only get to explore a tiny section with a handful of shops, serving as the only town in the entire game. Instead, most of the game is spent taking on missions and traversing the same sections of the planet over and over again until you complete each objective. I am not exaggerating when I say you will be running through the same maps over 15 times just to unlock the next section, as if that weren't enough, you can't accept multiple missions, so you'll just have to go through each and everyone of them individually. 
Leveling up and farming for better gear is a mainstay of the genre that's very present in Phantasy Star Online, these are arguably the game's strongest points, though it's a shame very few items actually change the aesthetic look of your characters.

Combat, gear and items seems to have been inspired by the likes of Diablo, albeit much slower, clunkier and generally less interesting. You have an auto targeting system which works well against single enemies but quickly becomes cumbersome when fighting groups, moreover, your character turns very slowly, it doesn't quite reach Resident Evil tank controls, but it's still more of a hassle than it should be.
Skill, magical and items are all used in real time, unfortunately the Dreamcast controller doesn't allow for a lot of slots, so I often found myself restricted as to what I could use.

Music and sound effects are very minimalist, even large explosions don't create as much a noise as one would expect. While at first I didn't care for the sound design it eventually won me over.
Graphically the game is showing its age, particularly with the low-poly character models and muddy textures, though on the artistic side the game is feast for the eyes, the high-tech 'city' of Pioneer 2 and Ragol's lush green forests were a feast for the eyes. Occasionally NPCs will speak to you while invisible, I'm assuming this is a memory saving move by the developers and remnant of PSO's mmo origins. Between the sound design and this feature I found Phantasy Star to be a hypnotizing, almost dream-like experience.

Overall Phantasy Star Online is game that's definitely showing its age. The Diablo-like gameplay can be addicting and rewarding, but it's also prone to repetitiveness, especially considering players are forced to traverse the same maps over a dozen times before unlocking the next. If you're a fan of the classic 16-bit Phantasy Star games you might get a kick out of the updated graphical style, but be warned, lore-wise the game severed almost all ties with its ancestors.

Trivia: Did you know the Phantasy Star Online game disc contains a set of five 800x600 and 1280x1024 wallpapers? Just insert it into your PC and set them as your desktop background. Alternatively, if you don't own the game, you can download them here.

Trivia 2: Originally, the game was not going to be part of the Phantasy Star franchise, instead it was internally known as 'Third world' and was meant to be its own ip. However, when creating concept art for the title Sonic Team director, Yuji Naka felt it was very reminiscent of the Phanttasy Star games and so the change was made.

Pros:
- Good dungeon-crawling elements
- The art style is very faithful to its 16-bit predecessors
- A piece of gaming history

Cons:
- Very repetitive
- Characters are hard to control, auto-aim could use some tweaking
- Only one character per VMU

Final Grade: C+


The cover is an absolute waste! The artwork itself is fine, if a bit crowded but what's with the white border taking 50% of the cover? It makes it hard to tell what is even going on.

Inside you get a lot of awesome content, firstly, the disc features an alternate artwork which looks much better than the game's cover, why didn't they use this? You also get a fairly thick manual with a lot of information on how to play the game, all complemented rather nicely with screenshots. A shame it's printed in black and white and uses a low quality paper.

Finally you get a Sonic Adventure 2 demo disc which even comes with its own manual! This may not seem like much, but back in the day, a game coming with a demo was a pretty big deal. Finally you get a serial number which was used to play online. As you can expect, this code is useless these days, though it does make for an interesting piece of gaming memorabilia.

Overall, this is an excellent packaging, yes the cover sucks and the manual is printed on cheap paper, but all the extras more than make up for it.

Packaging Grade: B+

Phantasy Star Online Wallpapers

Phantasy Star Online for the dreamcast contains a set of five 800x600 and 1280x1024 wallpapers. I though I'd upload them here for those of you who don't own the game:

800x600







1280x1024







Bug Too!

Developer: Realtime Associates
Publisher: Sega

You may find this hard this hard to believe, but 'Bug!' was a critical success back in 1995! Critics would praise the innovative gameplay and superb 3D graphics. It must've sold pretty well too because a sequel was out a year later.

This time the story makes a lot more sense in a cartoony sort of way, after the success of the first Bug movie, you and your friends are enlisted for seven new feature films all of which are shot on location with little regard for the actor's safety. I'm glad Bug Too! took a few seconds to explain the story a little better this time around, the first game was really needlessly confusing.

The game starts out well enough as it prompts you to pick one of three characters, Bug from the first title, a 1970's style disco character and a talking dog that sort of sounds like Scooby-Doo. Unfortunately, as it turns out they all play the same, none of them have any exclusive abilities, stats or moves.

You're then brought to the first series of levels which  parody horror movies, they're not done as well as Gex, but I did get a chuckle at some of the monsters, namely the ghosts who chain you, call you 'loser' and then release you. I have no idea why that costs you health points but I don't care either, it's funny and that's all I need. The first three levels are much more interesting than any of the worlds in the first game with actual background, walls and a generally more interesting art style.

Unfortunately once you finish the first world disappointment sets in quickly as the game quickly returns to the bland look and style from the first game. Even the movie parodies are completely forgotten! How can you have a space world parody with no references to Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey or really anything at all? It's just a generic level set in space! The desert levels could have parodied Indiana Jones or Lawrence of Arabia, but again, none of that actually happens, it's just a group of generic stages featuring none of the original enemies, walls or decorations from the first three levels.

None the issues from 'Bug!' were addressed either, levels become frustratingly difficult not just because of the enemies and death pits but also due to their sheer size and maze-like design, it also suffers from the same repetitive design

Graphically there are little to no differences from the first game once you beat the first world (yes I know I sound like a broken record here), meaning you'll soon return to the boring featureless corridors which seem to do a good job at getting you lost. The music isn't bad, though I noticed Bug re-uses a lot of the same one-liners from the first game and the recording equipment sounds noticeably different than the newly added ones.

It almost feels like the developers wanted to create a game that parodies pop-culture but ran out of time, so you get a really fun first world followed by six boring, generic worlds that look like they were ripped from Bug! If you enjoyed the first game you might as well view Bug Too as a mission-pack, however, if it's a full-fledged sequel you're after, prepare for disappointment.

Pros:
- First few levels are fun and quirky
- Fun gameplay in short bursts
- Character models look pretty good and are nicely animated for the time

Cons:
- It's easy to get lost and the high difficulty can be frustrating
- Gameplay becomes somewhat repetitive after a while
- Visually the maps start out interesting but quickly become dull and boring

Final Grade: C+

The game may not be much of improvement over its prequel, but the cover sure is! Look at that, color, backgrounds, actual stuff going on! I love the box art's color balance and there's so much going on in the background that the cover always draws my eye onto it.

The manual isn't bad either, there describing the backstory and items with a few black and white screenshots here and there. Nothing ground breaking but it does its job well enough. A shame it still comes in an early Saturn packaging meaning it's too fragile for its own good. Regardless, the cover alone makes this packaging an improvement over the previous one

Packaging Grade: C+

Bug!

Developer: Realtime Associates
Publisher: Sega

Playing the Clockwork Knight games and 'Bug!' back-to-back really makes me appreciate not only what Mario 64 brought to the table. 3D was this new exciting technology and developers knew they wanted to implement it in their games, but weren't quite sure how it would apply to the platform genre.

Clockwork Knight was a 2D game a few 3D elements graphical elements thrown in, 'Bug!' however tries to take it a step further by creating a (almost) fully 3D game and as a result we got a very experimental game. In a way I do miss the experimentation period of this era, once Mario 64 became the standard it was pretty much expected of every game in the genre to draw some influence from it.

In 'Bug!' you play as well, a bug who is tasked with saving his family... in a movie he's shooting. Yeah it's never really clear if it's just a movie or if you're actually rescuing anyone, I mean if it's just a movie why do the enemies kill you? Maybe I'm just over-thinking this.

As previously mentioned, this is an early 3D platformer, meaning you can movie in any direction, however, much like Clockwork Knight, every character in the game is a pre-rendered sprite. The makes the characters seem very clean and nicely animated but has the downside of making it hard to judge depth and distances between characters. To reduce this issue, most of the levels consist of narrow corridors and walkways, which does help, but the occasional judgement error will still take place.

You might think this system makes the maps rather limited, but the developers actually did a really good job here! Yes, they consist mostly of corridors with the occasional wide room, but the stages are really quite expansive, twisting and turning you scale up or climb down between all the ledges, springs and moving platforms. It's really quite easy to get lost and some levels even place a map at random spots so you know where you need to go. Regardless, the game does become repetitive after a while and the high difficulty only exacerbates this issue.

Bug's actions are rather limited for the most part, he can walk, duck and jump on enemies. Thankfully there are a few power ups scattered about that add to his moves, you'll need them too because this game is HARD. At first it may seem like there's a shortage of checkpoints, but actually bug is kind of secretive in how they work. While there are some sparse checkpoints on most levels, you'll also occasionally run across some guy wearing sunglasses, if you give him a coin not only does it act as a checkpoint, it also sends you to a bonus mini-stage. Another strange design choice was the save option, your progress is saved automatically and it keeps track of your lives and continues, but you need to start each world from the beginning, so some degree of backtracking is involved.

Each stage has a few bonus mini-games as previously mentioned and if you finish three consecutive levels with over 100 gems you're also greeted to a flying stage similar to what you might find in Space Harrier (minus the shooting).

The character models are composed of pre-rendered sprites, similar to what you'd find on Donkey Kong Country or Clockwork Knight, though they are definitely much cleaner here. The environments however look rather dull as they're mostly composed of corridors and a static background screen. Even with the sparse graphics, there it still a degree of pop-in for any platform farther than 20 feet, it's not long before you get tired of watching the same corridors over and over again.

I found the music rather annoying and while bug's comments are fun at first they eventually repeat themselves a little too often.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised with 'Bug!', the gameplay and the graphics have aged a bit and repetitiveness does eventually. With that said, Bug's charm eventually grew on me somewhat.

Trivia: Despite being similar in theme and style to Pixar's 'A bug's life', Sega's game was actually launched 3 years before the movie. Between this and the Toy Story/Clockwork Knight scenario I'm starting to think someone at Pixar loved the Saturn.

Trivia 2: In one of the bonus levels, you get to race against Sonic the Hedgehog, it even uses Sonic 3's sprite and animations. It's kind of strange Sega would just let Realtime Associates use its mascot like that.

Pros:
- Interesting take on the 3D platformer
- Fun gameplay in short bursts
- Character models look pretty good and are nicely animated for the time
- Mini-games and interesting level design help spice up the gameplay


Cons:
- The Music can become rather grating
- It's easy to get lost and the high difficulty can be frustrating
- Gameplay becomes somewhat repetitive after a while
- Visually the maps look extremely dull and boring

Final Grade: C+


Mid-90s CGI cover with very little detail? Check! Blank featureless background? Check! Character(s) either staring blankly at the player or doing nothing that tells us what the game is about? Check! Yep! It's a mid-90s videogame cover with another one of those crappy early Saturn boxes no less.

At least the cover is a bit better than Clockwork Knight's though that's not saying much. The manual is pretty good though with backstory, character and enemy bios and a general description of every item and world.

Packaging Grade: D

Clockwork Knight 2

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

I guess Clockwork Knight must've turned a profit because the sequel came out only a year after the first title. Did they do a better job this time? Well actually, yes they did!

Taking place right after the events of the first game, it seems Princess Chelsea still needs Pepperouchau's help.

For the most part the sequel looks and plays exactly the same as Clockwork Knight, but there are a few subtle improvements. For starters, the graphics have improved slightly, now, the backgrounds are no longer comprised of a single static image, featuring instead moving objects or several images which move in parallax scrolling. Even the 3D polygon objects look a little better this time around as they're presented in greater detail and do not have any clipping issues.

The improvements don't stop on the technical level aspects though. While the gameplay itself is unchanged the levels are better designed this time around, providing several alternate paths and secrets. The maps are also much more interesting, while the first game was set in an ordinary house it seems the sequel takes place in a massive clocktower with allows for more interesting locales. Some stages require you to explore constantly change between the background and foreground similar to what you might find in games like 'Bug!', this can be a bit of a pain as sometimes you're forced to backtrack, but generally the feature never overstays its welcome.

Even the bosses are much more interesting now, these range from a karaoke singing snake comprised of building blocks to a rubber octopus-pirate. Now do you see what i mean by the 'toy' concept being underutilized in the first game? They took the concept and finally decided to have some fun with it and the game is better for it! There's even a few new forced-scrolling levels in which you get to ride a toy-horse, these are actually pretty fun and do a good job at spicing up the gameplay.

The game is also much harder this time around which brings up a new issue: the lack of checkpoints. Having to start a level from the beginning every time you die is really frustrating. A lot of the old issues do make a return as well, namely the game's length and the fact that at its heart, it's still a very basic platformer with no new moves or power-ups added to your character.

I thought the music was a bit more grating this time around with the exception of the intro theme, which was cheesy yet catchy salsa theme.For the rest of the game though, I would find myself turning down the sound on certain stages.

While by no means perfect Clockwork Knight 2 is a definite improvement over its predecessor, the overall difficulty, stage music and relatively basic gameplay boggle down the experience somewhat, but the interesting levels and original boss designs make up for it.

Pros:
- Slightly improved graphics
- Better level design with more variety
- Some pretty original boss designs
 
Cons:
- Gameplay is still too simple for its own good
- Music can get a little grating
- Lack of a checkpoint can lead to a frustrating experience

Final Grade: B-

Now this is a definite improvement! The cover is bright and colorful and it really draws you in with all the action going on. The manual is similar to that of the first game though it replaces the highscore page in favor of character bios. 

Being an early Saturn game it comes in a flimsy box that if not treated with care will eventually disintegrate.


Packaging Grade: C+

Clockwork Knight

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

Clockwork Knight was a Japanese launch title for the Sega Saturn that while upbeat and colorful, failed to make a splash.

Sporting a style similar to Nintendo's Donkey Kong Country, Clockwork Knight is a 2D platformer featuring pre-rendered graphics with the occasional 3D-polygon object thrown in.

The game boots up with an artifact ridden FMV which quickly establishes the mood, theme and plot. You play as Pepperouchau III (try saying that three times fast), a wind-up toy soldier on a quest to save Princess Chelsea. It's definitely a cute idea for a platformer, but unfortunately, it never quite reaches its full potential as most of the levels, backgrounds and enemies feel generic and uninspired.

The gameplay doesn't fare much better either, you can run, jump and attack. You're also given a throwing move, but I felt this rarely came into play save for one or two boss fights. The woes don't stop there though, the platforming sections are all very basic and there are absolutely no power-ups save for the stock temporary invincibility item, this coupled with an extremely forgiving difficulty level and you're left with a short, forgettable experience.

At the end of each room you can play a magic cup game for extra lives, it brings in a little variety, but I would've preferred if each zone had a specific game.

The boss fights at least are pretty interesting, I definitely enjoyed fighting the transformer knock-off (he even looked like Starscream) but many of them have the annoying habit of attacking from the background. These can be hard to dodge due to your character essentially being a 2D sprite, making it hard to judge distances.

Graphically the pre-rendered sprites were very impressive for the time, but look a little on the blocky side now. You also get some polygonal items here and there, however, due to the rest of the game being in 2D they tend to stick out like a sore thumb and on some cases even create clipping issues. The backgrounds are colorful but completely static and feature a generally unappealing art-style, I can only look at pink or blue wall for so long before I get tired, though thankfully the kitchen and attic levels do a look a bit more interesting.

The soundtrack is upbeat but and does a good job at keeping the tone light and cheerful... perhaps a bit too cheerful. The intro theme has jazzy feel to it, complete with synthesized trumpets but it's a little too cheesy for its own good. The sound effects all do a good job at reminding you that you are in fact fighting toys with overly exaggerated springing noises or hollow plastic sounds.

It may sound like I'm being harsh on Clockwork Knight, but really it's not a bad game. It's just an average title with a cool theme that was sadly, left underused.

Trivia: Did you know Clockwork Knight was actually launched a year before Toy Story? I bet you thought Sega was just copying Pixar didn't you?


Pros:
- Easy to pick up and play
- Fun in short bursts
- Bright and colorful

Cons:
- The gameplay is too simple for its own good
- Graphically it hasn't aged well
- You'll probably finish it on your first try

Final Grade: C-


We have yet again another 90s CGI cover. The models are clean enough and actually have quite a bit of detail when compared to Virtua Fighter's cover. Unfortunately, they're not really doing anything interesting, they're just standing in a blank background, resulting in a really boring cover.

Thankfully, the manual fares a little better. It fills you in on a little backstory, goes into great detail on how to play the game, provides tips and even has a page where you can write down your high-scores. As with all early Saturn titles released in Europe, Clockwork knight comes in a very flimsy case.

Packaging Grade: D-