Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Closer Look at Private Eye

A Closer Look at Private Eye for the Atari 2600

Activision’s Private Eye for the Atari 2600 is already a known classic; that is a given and non-negotiable. The problem lies in the fact that the game is moderately rare and far too often overlooked in favor of the flashier, ga-ga titles in the company’s extensive and impressive catalog. Therefore, I feel a closer look is in order at a game that really stretches the VCS to its limits and presents a unique gaming experience on a classic gaming platform.

Private Eye
is a game based on solving crimes by the simple process of acquiring evidence, recovering stolen items and apprehending the Master Criminal Henri LeFiend! You are ace detective Pierre Touche (play along would you, it will make it more fun) and you must solve four mind-bending cases that are testimony to LeFiend’s true skill as a thief! (Or if you are really brave, you can tackle all four cases at once, but not so fast, we’ll get there in due time) The basic game play consists of cruising around the city in your comical 1935 Model A motorized carriage (to call this jalopy a car would be an insult automobiles everywhere) searching for two specific items that are crucial to the case as well as LeFiend himself. You must obtain the two pieces of evidence first, or LeFiend will elude you no matter how many times you drive by his hiding place. Once an item is acquired, you must return it to its point of origin (i.e. return the money to the bank), before you can pick up a new item or LeFiend. After doing this for both items, you must pick up LeFiend and drop him off at Police Headquarters. Simple, right? Did I mention that each case has a time limit? Furthermore, did I mention that each time limit leaves only the slightest room for screwing up? Yeah, then there’s that.

Private Eye is tough. The first few cases are pretty simple and you’ll be solving them in no time at all, but the last two are real doozies and the final case, the Big Sweep, will keep you up nights. The real charm of this game, however, lies in the exploration of the city. The place is replete with secret passages, one-way alleys and dead-ends. “Maze” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Plus, there are lots and lots of obstacles like birds, bricks, and road blocks impeding your progress at every turn. You’ll have to search every city block nabbing questionable characters who may or may not hold the vital evidence you need if you are to succeed. Mapping is essential in the later cases and in the interest of helping you out, I’ll be providing complete city maps in the Tips and Tricks section of this missive a bit down the page.

Despite the occasional sleepless night, Private Eye is a lot of fun. The action is fast-paced, but not frantic, the mazes are tough without being hopeless, and the replay value is very high as you try to see if you can solve each case with more points and faster times. Getting the most out of this game takes patience, strategy and good old fashioned luck. For the remainder of this Closer Look, I’d like to provide some general tips for success and then take each case one-by-one and provide maps and analysis for the best ways to solve them. So if you are ready, let’s put on our sleuthing caps and dig into the dossiers. (oh and you can forget that half-assed map Activision printed on the back of the manual, it’s neat, but otherwise fairly useless)

An in-depth case-by-case guide follows after the jump!

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Closer Look at Beauty and the Beast

A Closer Look at…
Beauty and the Beast games for the SEGA Genesis.

Megan Fox is extremely hot. Football season starts in two months. Would you care for a nice juicy steak?

Ok, now that I have safely secured your manhood, we can get on with the business at hand.

Whether you can allow yourself to admit it or not, SUNSOFT created two very good, although somewhat simple, games for the SEGA Genesis based on the popular 1991 Disney animated feature Beauty and the Beast. (Megan Fox, stay with me here). Two games were released for the Genesis under the Beauty and the Beast banner. One game, Belle’s Quest, is obviously marketed predominately to young girls. The other, Roar of the Beast, is slightly more ambiguously geared toward the middle ground between boys and girls. I say this because Beauty and the Beast is arguably a film that appeals to girls more so than boys, but the game Roar of the Beast features the Beast as the main character and the game play is more akin to what is found in standard side-scrolling platforming games which suggests that the game is more geared for boys. Gender studies aside, these two games have long been overlooked and perhaps even disregarded due to their subject matter tie-in and perceived niche appeal. In short, boys don’t play games for girls. But they should.

Keeping that in mind, and let us first take a Closer Look at the Belle’s Quest game. This rather charming (yes I said “charming,” remember: football) game is a collection of platforming/exploration levels punctuated by exceptionally well executed mini-games. The premise of the game appropriately follows the film’s female protagonist, Belle, the daughter of a local tinkerer, throughout the events of the film as they happened to her. Thus there is a level where you are bidden to explore the town and fend off the advances of the local braggart warrior, Gaston, while you seek to solve the mystery of the town’s water shortage (which surprise surprise will require you to use your feminine whiles to enlist Gaston’s help). You will also work your way through the tangled forest that leads to the Beast’s enchanted castle. You’ll explore the castle itself in order to uncover the secret of the Beast. Finally, you’ll have to ride your horse Philippe through the treacherous frozen forest in an attempt to save your father.

These four uniquely designed levels feature platforming and exploring elements in a simple, yet engaging way. For instance, in the Beast’s castle you’ll have to explore and find keys, the magic mirror and the master key in order to gain access to the west wing of the castle where the secrets of the Beast are hidden. The level, once solved, is very simple, but it is a lot of fun poking about the nooks and crannies of the castle seeking out the various items and meeting up with the other characters that inhabit the castle. The final level, wherein you ride Philippe, is particularly fun even though it is a standard obstacle course platform level.

In addition to the main levels, Belle’s Quest also features a handful of fun mini-games interspersed between and within the main parts of the game. Sometimes it is sorting books at the bookstore, others it is dodging the wildly playful enchanted utensils in the kitchen. There are even two levels in which you and the Beast dance in the ballroom, a classic scene from the film, and must catch falling petals from the enchanted rose (can you smell that steak on the grill?). All of these levels are optional with regards to progressing the game, but are fun breaks from the main adventure.

All in all, Belle’s Quest is not a terribly huge challenge (although figuring out the enchanted forest is a bugger at first), but it is a lot of fun to play through.

Next, take a look at Roar of the Beast, following the jump!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Closer Look at Back to the Future

A Closer Look at
Back to the Future (NES)

As long as you forget that this is a game based on a movie, and a very cool movie, Back to the Future for the NES isn’t that bad of a game.

Back to the Future for the NES is a vertical scrolling shooting game with four mini-game “boss” levels. The main part of the game features you as “Marty McFly” trapped in 1955. (I put the name in () because I do not recall Marty wearing a black muscle shirt in the movie, so I am only guessing that you are supposed to be Marty…) Your goal is to reach four distinct points in your parents’ history and make sure that they fall in love and get married, and that you get back to 1985. To reach each of these four clutch points, you’ll have to survive four danger filled city blocks rife with open manholes, “bullies,” and bees. Lots of bees.

Doesn’t sound much like the Hill Valley you remember from the movie? Me either. As a matter of fact, apart from the four mini-game boss levels, there is very little here that would even hint that the game is representative of the movie. I’ll get to the mini-game levels in a minute, but first let’s focus on the main game.

The main game has you navigating the increasingly active streets of Hill Valley where hula hoop girls throw small blue wads of something at you, Guido-esque bullies menace you, and bees are everywhere. I repeat, bees are everywhere. Initially you have to maneuver yourself so that you avoid these dangers. Eventually you will have the opportunity to pick up a bowling ball power-up that allows you to throw infinite bowling balls at your enemies, yes even the bees! If you are successful enough to avoid getting touched by anything on the screen, and I mean anything even a park bench or fence, you will get the opportunity to mount a skateboard and race to the finish of the block, still avoiding bees.

Now I don’t know about you, but my favorite part of Back to the Future , the movie, is the part where Marty rides a skateboard four city blocks chucking bowling balls at Italian ruffians and endless hordes of bees. I realize that the makers of the game were trying to take a science fiction comedy and turn it into a video game, but some of the liberties taken here are just absurd. The only part of the main game that even suggests that this is a Back to the Future tie-in is the “health meter/timer.” At the bottom of the screen is a very loose interpretation of the photo Marty has in his wallet of his brother and sister (pretty mediocre photographic fakery—ELB). As you work your way through the level, the picture fades out (as if it has been erased from existence…). Run into enough delays and the picture fades, and so do you. To help stave off the impending erasure, you can pick up hundreds of clocks that litter the Hill Valley streets. Each clock restores a bit of the picture. However, there is also an additional timer for each block that cannot be slowed. Run out of time on that counter and you’ll fade out no matter what.

If the people at LJN wanted to make a great Back to the Future game, they really should have spent more time developing the mini-game levels or, you know, watching the film. The mini-games are where the game really shines. Each level is reached once four city blocks have been completed. Shockingly, the levels are actually based on scenes in the movie. The first scene takes place in Lou’s Coffee Shop. Marty must fend off Biff’s cronies by throwing milkshakes at them. In the second game, Marty must fend off his mother Lorraine’s amorous advances at Hill Valley High. Third, you must make sure your parents kiss at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. You’ll have to catch all the notes you can on your guitar before the picture fades away to set the mood for this fateful smooch. Finally, you’ll have to drive the Delorean down the street and across the wire at the exact moment the lightning bolt strikes the clock tower or you’ll be stuck in 1955 forever. These levels are the real meat and potatoes of the game and you really only tolerate the monotonous street levels so that you can have a crack at these babies.

As a whole, this game isn’t terribly put together or executed. The street levels increase in difficulty between mini-game levels at a reasonable rate and evaluated simply as a vertical shooter, the game succeeds in presenting a reasonable challenge. The mini-games are equally challenging and take some practice to master, but are not impossible to beat. The punishment for failing the mini-game levels however, is another round of street levels, so I recommend you get competent quickly. Graphically, the game is sound if not impressive. Again, the mini-game levels look heads above the average graphics of the street levels. The soundtrack is probably the biggest letdown in the game. The music is casio-keyboard simple and extremely repetitive. I suggest you listen to the music for one street level and then put in a Huey Lewis CD (tape if you’ve got it). Thus far I have been able to clear the Dance stage and have made it halfway to the Clock Tower, but the later street levels are so hard they demand an almost perfect run. With so many swarming bees that isn’t likely. That said I do feel that with a few more games under my belt I can make it to the Clock Tower and eventually back to 1985. The game doesn’t feel unbeatable.

In the final estimation, Back to the Future for the NES is closer to classic than crap. I realize that statement is a bit scandalous, but the only real failure of BttF is in its attempt to be a movie adaptation. If you called this game “Skateboardin’ Adventures” the disappointment level would drop ten points. Ultimately what we have here is an average scrolling shooter with some better than average mini-games. The game is playable and the controls are simple enough that you’ll be at Lou’s in no time. Just don’t come here looking for classic Back to the Future action and you’ll be fine.


If you are really determined to see this thing to its natural conclusion here are some tips that might help you along:

On the street levels: The bowling ball and the skateboard are essential to success here, especially in the levels between the Dance and the Clock Tower. Practice hitting the bees early on, because in later levels they will swarm en masse and your skills will need to be sharp if you are to survive. The skateboard can be dangerous if you do not master jumping with it, but once you do it makes the whole experience much more tolerable. Not only will you zoom through levels (again a must in later levels) but you’ll pick up clocks faster and keep your picture intact longer. Do not pass these two items up. Note: The skateboard only appears if you already have the bowling ball.

Lou’s CafĂ©: Do not forget about the super shake that clears all on-screen bullies at once. Use it in a pinch or if you mis-throw a regular shake. You don’t often get a second chance to correct an ill aimed toss. After about 25 bullies, the waitress will bring you another super shake, so use it with confidence.

School: This level is pretty easy. Marty’s book is pretty wide and can usually block hearts on two levels at once giving you a little flexibility on your positioning. I find that more often than not the hearts sneak by underneath my position rather than behind. Just sail along, Kaboom! style and things should be fine.

The Dance: This is the easiest mini-game I encountered once you learn the secret pattern of the notes. Sharps are always high, flats are always low, and the other notes are always in the middle. As long as you remember that, you should clear this level perfect every time.
88 miles per hour: Once I get to this level, I will update this section and tell you how I managed to get back to 1985.

Your Friend in Time

My next Closer Look will be at the two Beauty and the Beast games for the SEGA Genesis.