19/02/2017

ACTION REPLAY COVER ART

Back in the days before they generally became easy enough for the idea to become pointless, videogames used to have these things called cheats. Sometimes there were secret passwords or sequences of button presses, but if you needed a little extra help getting infinite lives or giving Megaman the ability to leap right off the top of the screen, you could turn to a cheat device. You plugged them into your console, entered various arcane phrases and they magically fiddled with the game’s code to produce useful, empowering effects or, if you were anything like me, you could enter rude words and reduce your NES games to unplayable screens of graphical garbage. You might be familiar with some of the famous names in this field: products such as the Game Genie, the Game Shark or perhaps even Datel’s Action Replay.


Seen here in its NES incarnation, the Action Replay had a long shelf life, with iterations being released all the way up to the Nintendo 3DS era. Of course, as games became bigger and more complex over the years, the codes required started to become far too cumbersome to be input by the player, so Datel hit upon a solution: they released discs full of the codes for specific games. Of course, the Action Replay is not an official, licensed product. That means that when they were designing the covers for these cheat discs, they couldn’t use official art. They had to draw their own art. I think you all know where this is going. Would you like to see some of that art?

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City


Oh yeah, that’s the stuff. Close enough to the original that you could be momentarily confused if you saw it from the corner of your eye, yet it completely falls apart under any kind of scrutiny. Vector graphics, apparently run through a filter that makes they look like they’re composed from scrunched-up toilet paper. Interesting that the designer went with a grey block of flats for the central picture, an image that truly sums up the neon-tinged 80s hedonism of Vice City. The bottom-middle picture appears to be a killer whale trying to make love to a tyre, and two of the pictures are of the same woman, only flipped and cropped. Then there’s the real star: the bloke at the bottom-right with the expression of weary contempt. I can only image he was the person in charge of approving this cover, and that’s the face he pulled when he saw the finished article.
There are a couple of other nice things on this cover, too: I like “This Is Not A Game” label at the top, because it’s fun to imagine it’s an exhortation to take this cover art really seriously. I also like the promise of “No Police AI.” Having played a lot of Vice City over the years and witnessed hundreds of police cars driving over cliffs and running down their fellow officers, I suspect “No Police AI” is simply an intrinsic part of the game.


Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas


If you prefer your GTA games more Californian, then worry not because the Action Replay has you covered with a San Andreas disc. First things first, that car’s not bad. Recognisably a sports car, and sports cars appear in the game, so that’s perfectly acceptable. Then you get over to the poor lady on the right and it all falls apart. The middle of her body isn’t too bad, I suppose: strangely oily-looking and her right boob appears to have deflated entirely, but not awful. However, when you move away from the centre things start getting worse, so here’s my theory: the artist starting drawing the bit they were most interested in – the breasts – and once those were finished their attention began to wander somewhat. You look up to the face and immediately wish you hadn’t. It’s hard explain exactly what’s so wrong about it without either resorting to complex diagrams or just saying “everything”, but I think the worst thing about it is that half-constructed ski jump of a nose. It looks like something I would draw, and that’s a damning indictment indeed.
Then you look down and get to the hands. “Hands” is a very generous term. “Flesh Mittens” might be more apt. They’re not human hands, I know that much.

Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II


Here’s the magical Dungeons and Dragons fantasy world of Baldur’s Gate, as represented by a woman holding two kitchen knives. Sure, why not? They must have kitchen knives in Baldur’s Gate.  It can’t all be dragon-stabbing, sometimes you need to julienne a carrot.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess


Huh, I didn’t know Picasso went through a Zelda period. Link’s trying to take a moody selfie in front of a temple, complete with pout. An interesting concept, but unfortunately you’re then forced to look at it and try to figure out the bizarre geometry of Link’s arm and shoulder. Is that supposed to be his shield on his back, or a turtle shell? Have his hair and ears fused into one felt-tipped nightmare of biology? Mysteries about, but none so perplexing as just what’s going on with his eyes. Maybe it’s a perspective: Link’s face is ten feet wide and his left eye isn’t really tiny but is actually really far away.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater


I give my life, not for honour, but for… helicopters? What, you had to come up with a Metal Gear-themed cover and the best thing you could think of to represent the franchise was helicopters? Not even, I dunno, a snake? I bet those helicopters don’t even feed on tree frogs. I am extremely reluctant to use the phrase “I could do better than that” in any situation, because I am painfully aware of my own limitations in almost every field, but in this case I’m convinced I could have found a stock photo of a snake and slapped a vector filter over it. Damn, I’ve just realised what my dream job is.

Final Fantasy X / Kingdom Hearts


The tragedy of this cover is that whatever terrible thing this doofus is wearing, it’s still better than Tidus’ actual outfit from Final Fantasy X. Yes, even with the stainless steel abdominal lattice and the bedspread knotted around his shoulders to act as a cape.

Final Fantasy X-2


Still, it could have been worse: a character from Final Fantasy X’s direct sequel (Yuna, I guess?) is represented as a human(?) head riding a wave of motion blur, a look that gives the impression of an incredibly fast slug. Don’t let the idea of a flying head distract you from that truly awful haircut, though. Just looking at those straggly bits at the bottom is making my neck itch.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker


That’s a bit more like it. A large part of Wind Waker does indeed involve Link sailing around on a boat. Not a Roman warship, granted, but it’s a more fitting symbol for the game than helicopters were for Metal Gear Solid 3. Still, that doesn’t explain why Link is sailing across a sea of milk. Unless… oh, I get it, Link and his boat are made of Weetabix. That explains the colour scheme, you see. We’re actually looking at the exciting adventures of a bowl of cereal.

God of War II



Hang on, what? I would never have seen this cover and thought “oh yeah, that’s God of War.” “Muscular bald man” and “monsters” are definitely applicable phrases for the God of War games, so for this cover to include both of those things but still be utterly unrecognisable is kind of impressive. This bloke looks more like the God of Hernias than the God of War, a supervillain whose origin story involves him falling into a vat of synthol. Could the artist have not at least slapped some red tattoos on this Kratos-wannabe rather than just painting his torso black? Oh, I know, you think he’s wearing a vest but take a closer look and you’ll soon realise that there’s no way that’s clothing. I think he was laying in the road and got run over by an asphalt spreader.

Various Super Mario Games


It’s-a me, [Name Redacted]! You can try hiding behind the steering wheel of your kart all you like, Mario, but we still know it’s you, with your (genuinely) iconic cap and your Mickey Mouse gloves. Of course, something has gone horribly wrong with Mario’s body, which might throw you off a little. I know everyone’s favourite plumber is supposed to be a little portly, but here he’s little more than an egg with arms and a head haphazardly bolted on near the top. Perhaps that’s why hiding, he’s overcome with shame. Or he’s worried Sonic’s going to see him and mistake him for Dr. Robotnik.
There is a strange amount of variety in how close these covers get to representing the game they’re intended to work with: this is clearly Mario, and the Twilight Princess cover was a straight-up picture of Link, but the God of War one bears far more similarity to any given 1980 boy’s toy line than, you know, God of War. I wonder why that is? Perhaps some companies were known to be more actively litigious than others, although I doubt it. I think the real answer is simply that no-one making these discs and their cover art really gave a toss.

Nintendo DS / 3DS


It’s a little difficult to see the “artwork” on this one due to the shape of the packaging, but I think you’ll all agree it’s worth the effort just to see what Bowser would look like with a combover. That’s a proper bootleg Bowser, that is: a piece of official art that has been modified just enough to be legally distinct, and in one way it’s even an improvement of the original: Bowser should definitely wear a cape more often. As a bonus, you can see from the right-hand side of the picture that the artists were still having trouble keeping Link’s eyes even roughly the same size, and as a result he looks like he’s having a stroke while trying to do a Dreamworks face.
However, the very best thing about this cover is that it promises cheats for Brain Age. I’m not usually one to tell people how to enjoy the media they consume, but if you’re cheating at a brain training game then surely the only thing you’re cheating is yourself.

Guitar Hero


Don’t get me wrong, I love the Guitar Hero games, but playing along to a rock song with a plastic guitar does take the concept of being in a band and make it look very uncool. It is appropriate, then, that this cover makes playing Guitar Hero look uncool.

Pokemon


Ah, bootleg Pokemon. Now there’s a venerable tradition, bootleg Pokemon have been keeping Chinese knock-off merchants in business for twenty years now. Did I take advantage of Pokemania during my high school years by printing out fake Pokemon cards and selling them to kids at school? Of course not, what kind of terrible person would that make me? Also, its not very financial viable when you consider the costs of printer ink and other materials. Erm, I imagine.
This cover gives us a classic example of some non-official Pokemon, of the kind you’d see adorning market stall goods and news reports about the Pokemon craze that couldn’t get hold of official artwork – slightly altered, enough so that any Pokemon fan would immediately know they’re a) Pokemon and b) not legit Pokemon. So, you’ve got a Piplup with a head so shaggy it looks like it’s attached to a Van der Graaff generator, a Chimchar whose fiery backside won’t prevent it from reading the list of exclusive game codes, a Charizard that’s two levels away from evolving into Pete’s Dragon and a Bulbasaur that’s spent way too long huffing its own spores, if you catch my drift. All in all, some A+ fake Pokemon work.

Metroid Prime


This is my absolute favourite of the bunch, for a variety of reasons. There’s the bizarre proportions, for starters, with a shoulder that attaches directly to the neck and an arm cannon that would reach down to the floor if not-Samus here stood up. There’s the overall look of the thing, a look that screams “Half-Life knock-off” rather than anything to do with Metroid. If you told me there was an early version of Gordon Freeman in that suit, I’d have no trouble believing you. Assuming the early concepts for Freeman stated he was an only vaguely humanoid mass of protoplasmic tissue who didn’t have to worry about bones or joints, that is. The very best component of this image, however, is not-Samus’ pose, the kind of hand-on-thigh, leaning-in pose that makes it look like they’re about to “rap” with the kids about some “heavy issues.” If they made chairs to accommodate such freaks of anatomy, you can bet not-Samus would be sitting in it backwards and saying “hey kids, I know baby Metroids are ‘totes adorbz,’ but there’s nothing adorable about them when they’re siphoning away the life essence of you and your loved ones.”

That’s about it for these Action Replay covers, which is kind of a shame. I’m sure there are yet more wonderful examples out there, but from some unfathomable reason people seem to be reluctant to take pictures of them. Before I go, though, I should point out that these rip-off covers aren’t exclusive to the Action Replay’s later years.


This is the artwork for the Megadrive Action Replay, starring the Techno Kid. I’m guessing the responsible person’s design process was “this product is for massive dorks, so what if we took a massive dork and tried to make him look cool?” They failed, and thus Techno Kid was born. You know how some things are so bad they become good? Well, Techno Kid’s shorts are like that, except they start at bad, go past good and loop right back around to being awful again. Anyway, Techno Kid’s shoes might have clued you in to his secret origin:


He’s copied from this piece of artwork from the first Sonic the Hedgehog. It was the beginning of a proud tradition.

14/02/2017

MAGIC LAND OF LANDLORDS (ZX SPECTRUM)

oday’s article is one of those where I started writing it and then thought “is anybody going to be interested in this? Am I even interested in this?” In the end I decided that I am interested in it, just about, but a more important motivational factor was that I’d already played the game and I wasn’t about to let that ordeal go to waste. So here it is – the 1986 ZX Spectrum game Magic Land of Landlords!


I’ll be honest, I picked this game because of that title. Magic Land of Landlords? It offers so many possibilities. Is it a Valhalla for property owners, where they all sit around drinking mead and exchanging tales of how it took them six months to fix their tenants’ faulty boiler? I’m going to assume it is, a fantastical realm where the rent cheques are never late and you always get to keep the security deposit. But what type of game could hide behind that title? A Monopoly-style property acquisition game, perhaps, although I’m not sure you can, like, own magic land, maaan. Or maybe it’ll be a block-stacking puzzle game, where you have to figure out how many bedrooms you can cram into a student housing property before environmental health come around for a chat.


Sadly, there’s so such imagination on display and MLOLL is a flick-screen side-scrolling platformer starring a wizard. A wizard that looks a lot like a Black Mage from a Final Fantasy game, actually (although this game predates Final Fantasy). A Black Mage with spinal problems and pillow shoved up the front of his robe, sure, but the resemblance is definitely there.
The wizard must reach the other side of the screen to progress, naturally, but barring his path are a floating skull and a blue thing on the ground that I think is supposed to be a hole. Possibly it’s a discarded pizza. It’s deadly to the touch, whatever it is. So is the skull. I’m not sure why contact with the skull is lethal. After all, we’re all touching a skull all the time and it doesn’t kill us, and the skull’s not flying at a high enough speed for it to be death by bludgeoning. I know wizards are supposed to be physically weaker than other classes, but this is taking it too far. We’ll just have to assume it’s a magic skull, what with it flying and being in Magic Land and all.


To get past the hole I’m going to have to jump over it, which is unfortunate because MLOLL's jumping physics are… not good. I’ve had to wrestle with worse when playing other Spectrum games, but MLOLL suffers from that common Spectrum problem of the jumping feeling very choppy, as though you’re moving upwards in a series of small increments rather than along a smooth curve. Couple that with the amount of precise jumps you need to make to get anywhere in this game, and the fact that it’s hard to judge exactly how far you’re going to leap, and you’ve got a recipe for a frustrating (if not atypical for a Spectrum platformer) landlording experience.
I did, eventually and at the cost of two of the wizard’s three lives, make it past the skull and over the hole, rushing headlong into the exciting mystery of screen two…


...where I let the edge of my robe brush up against a hole and promptly died. Good job, wizard, if you even are a wizard and not a collection of easily-startled goldfish with weak hearts who have all crammed into a wizard’s robes in an attempt to explore the surface world.


I persevered, and made it between the holes, basking in the safety of the screen's perineum. Yes, the thing on the right is another hole, but it’s one you can fall through to reach another screen rather than being instant death. I wish the developer had made the distinction clearer. You know, made it look like a hole that leads somewhere rather than a depression in the floor or perhaps a very large coin. Then I might not have spent so much time avoiding these holes and thus missing out on the caves below.


There are also balloons that can carry the wizard up to the clouds. Of all the ways for a wizard to fly, a balloon seems disappointingly prosaic. Could he not have hopped on a dragon or a giant eagle? Or, I dunno, used magic? Okay, so we can scratch that last one. Despite being dressed as a wizard, your character appears to possess no magical skills whatsoever. All you can do – or at least, all I figured out how to do – in MLOLL is jump. I tried everything I could think of, but the wizard resolutely refused to do anything but jump, walk left and right and die the moment anything so much as caused his robe to flutter slightly.


Here we are, wandering around in the clouds. Maybe the wizard does have some magic, then. I don’t think you can walk on clouds otherwise. The first thing that happened when I got up here was an attack by a crawling speech bubble. He looks a lot happier to see me than I am to see him, possibly because the speech bubble knows he doesn't have to contend with the game's jumping controls.


More clouds, more balloons and a blue… thing. A disembodied head wearing a balaclava. Or perhaps, judging by the curvature of its back, another wizard who was bashed so hard on the noggin that his head retracted into his chest cavity. Whatever it is, I’d like to jump over it and move on to the right, but unfortunately every bloody time I tried to do this I ended up accidentally touching the balloon and travelling upwards. MLOLL has a real problem with the cramped and cluttered positions of items, enemies and hazards. I suppose it was aiming for a “pixel-perfect jumping required” kind of feel, but it ends up being a right pain in the arse. Making it difficult to avoid enemies is fine, but making it difficult to move between screens in the direction you want is just bad.


A little further in, the floating head of a witch attacks by dropping squares on the wizard. You might notice that this has bugger all to do with landlords. Magical Land of the Ineffectual Wizard would be a better title for this game, I’m sure you’ll agree.
I did manage to pick up this Omega symbol while I was over here, however. I’m not entirely sure what it does, mind you. I think it might have something to do with the candle on the right, which acts as a time limit as it slowly melts away while you play. I found a few other things while I was exploring, too. There’s a mushroom to pick up on the first screen, for instance, extra lives and even a key here or there. The thing is, I have no idea what they do, either. Okay, apart from the extra lives, even I managed to figure that one out. I certainly didn’t find any doors that looked as though they needed a key, though, and that mushroom remained thrust deep inside my wizard robes for the duration of my adventure, never to be used. Maybe the game ends when the wizard cooks a nice risotto for the final boss or something, but I never managed to get that far.


Into the caves now, where the wizard must negotiate the dangling spiders (fairly adorable) to reach that one-up (also adorable). So, MLOLL gets some points for having that occasional sprite that made me think “aww, that’s kinda nice.” I'm sure those spiders would be blushing if they weren't made of eight monochrome pixels.


These bats do not contribute to the cuteness. I’m not even sure they’re bats. They look more like a set of lungs connected by a trachea. That explains why they’re blue, they can’t get any air into themselves without a diaphragm.


At this point, I’m just wandering around without a clue what’s going on. I picked up a key! I jumped over some monsters! I died a lot, but I’d started using a cheat for infinite lives so that was less of an issue than it used to be – although you get moved back to the entrance of the screen when you die, so it’s still entirely possible to get completely stuck.


Like here, for example. I dropped into this cave, and I couldn’t get out. The only exit is to the right, but as far as I can tell there is simply no way you can jump over the spikes and avoid the spiders and the floating lungs. There’s just physically not enough room for you to get through – the wizard is kind of a chunky sort – without touching something, and touching something means death, and death means re-appearing back on the left of the screen so you can’t force your way through. If I’m on this screen, I ain’t getting out. Now, I tried a lot of things to escape, various key combinations and jumping angles and what have you. I feel satisfied that I exhausted all the possibilities available to me. However, I will also admit that there’s a chance I’m missing something, maybe even something very obvious. A way to use some goddamn magic powers you absolute shit-wizard, even. If you do know of a way to do anything in this game besides jump, please let me know. Feel free to really come at me with it, too. Be as harsh as you like as you explain the very basic concepts of this game that I was unable to grasp. Don’t worry, I just spent several hours trying to play MLOLL, you’re not going to make me feel any more stupid than I already do.


Having been forced to start the whole game again, I avoided the inescapable cave and made my way over to the right where some kind of castle awaits. Finally, a building! There’s got to be a landlord around here somewhere, right? That part of the game’s title has been sorely lacking thus far. I’ve got a key and everything, I’ll just hop over those spikes and run for the door! Well, I’ll jump over the spikes eventually, once I’ve had five or six failed attempts where the spider lightly brushed my hat.


You! Over there! The indistinct lump of blue pixels! Are you a landlord? Who owns this castle? What are they charging for rent? Whatever it is, it’s too much. There are monsters trying to kill me, the floor is an unpleasant shade of yellow and there doesn’t appear to be a toilet. Oh, I get it now. It’s the magic land of the landlords because it’s a land without any kind of rights for tenants, a fabulous world where you can charge whatever rent you like without having to provide indoor plumbing or a roof. Maybe there’s a Magic Land of Builders out there, where every customer is a confused pensioner, or a Magic Land of Astrologers where the populace are just super gullible.


Then I reached a dead end in the castle and that was that. I’m completely out of ideas here. I did manage to find a map of the game, and it seems to imply that you can travel to different sections of the castle when you go beyond that screen with the door on it. I suspect the path you’re placed upon might depend on what keys you’re carrying, but because collecting one of the keys requires you to travel through Bullshit Cavern I never managed to test that theory out.


Supposedly if you do make it onto the correct path in the castle, you’re confronted with this thing. Close inspection has revealed that it’s a face with horns, an upturned nose and a yellow, fanged mouth beneath. However, this knowledge does not prevent me from seeing that mouth as a pig’s snout every time I look at it. Combine this with the stumpy little protuberances at the bottom, and I think the best way to read this sprite is as a front view of a pig. A pig with two snouts, maybe, but a pig none-the-less. Let’s pretend it’s Ganon, taking some time off from failing to defeat a young boy who lives in the woods. There's no Triforce in this magical land, but there are also no battles that turn into sorcerous games of ping-pong, either, so maybe Ganon can find his true level of competence here.
Obviously I never reached this part of the game, so I can’t tell you what happens here. Maybe the wizard finally pulls his wand out of his arse and does some actual wizarding, but I highly doubt it. Judging by the presence of four separate enemies appearing on this final screen, the wizard wouldn’t have survived for longer than half a second anyway, so the game presumably ends as soon as you reach this screen.


“Bravo, you have defeated the terrible landlord,” it says. I mean, I didn’t because I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on, but somebody did. So the landlord was a pig monster all along, huh? I guess we know the programmer’s feelings on their rental situation at the time, if nothing else. Quite what the defeat of the landlord means for the common people of the Magic Land remains unclear, but I suspect the answer is “Communism.” That’s why the wizard’s wearing red.


Magic Land of Landlords is pretty crappy game in which you do little besides wander about and die a lot, and it definitely doesn’t live up to the weirdness promised by its title, but I find myself unable to be too hard on it. I certainly don’t hate it. It’s not, well, hateful enough for that. It’s like watching your kid’s terrible school play, where the performance itself is bad but that’s not really the point anyway. MLOLL was programmed by one person named Carlo Altieri as part of a “magazine-on-a-cassette-tape” compilation called Load ‘n’ Run, and under those circumstances there’s only so much you can expect from it. And hey, it might not be the best ZX Spectrum game featuring floating skulls, but it has floating skulls and therefore I’m incapable of truly hating it.

08/02/2017

FULL THROTTLE / TOP SPEED (ARCADE)

It’s no secret that I absolutely love OutRun and consider it about as close to a “perfect” videogame as you’re ever likely to get. Well, it looks like someone at Taito felt the same, because in 1987 they released their very own game about a red sports car driving across America as quickly as possible: it’s the 1987 arcade not-quite-a-Magical-Sound-Shower-em-up Full Throttle, also known as Top Speed!



Seems like it’s called Full Throttle in Japan and Top Speed elsewhere – presumably the name was changed thanks to the existence of the ZX Spectrum / MSX motorcycle racer Full Throttle – but either name is perfectly appropriate for this, a racing game with no brake button. Not that you’d want to use a brake button. If you need to slow down, you can just let go of the accelerator or, if you’re me, crash into every god-damned car on the road.


With very little preamble, Full Throttle chucks the player head-first into the thrilling world of driving like an absolute maniac. Let’s be clear about this right from the get-go: Full Throttle is very much a copy of OutRun. There is no subtlety about it. You race your sports car (a red car, naturally) along various streets, trying to reach the checkpoints before your time runs out. Traffic gets in your way. The 3-D effect of the graphics are handled with sprite-scaling technology. At the end of each stage, the road splits into two routes, left or right, and you can choose which way you want to go. So, it’s OutRun, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Far from it. What could be better than more OutRun? We’ll just have to hope that Full Throttle manages to capture the essence of OutRun’s gameplay.


Here’s one thing Full Throttle has that OutRun doesn’t: nitrous oxide. Three times per stage, you can press a button for a speed boost. During the first stage, the game works very hard to make sure you don’t forget this. “USE NITRO” is a bit blunt, though. Couldn’t you have gone with “NITRO O.K!” or something? It's coming across as rather bossy.


Look, Full Throttle, am I driving this car or are you? If OutRun had nitro boosts, it would never have badgered me to use them. Yes, I know you’re only trying to help. You’re right, the road is nice and straight here and is thus a suitable place to use my nitro. Okay, fine, I will use my nitro.


I feel betrayed.
The nitro boost is a welcome addition, though, It helps differentiate Full Throttle from OutRun at least a little, and if I’m going to be crashing anyway I might as well do it at two hundred miles per hour rather than one hundred.


After a short and simple first stage spent rushing though the city streets, our driver finds himself only 72 miles away from Los Angeles. Los Angels, sorry. Now comes the time to make a decision about which route to take, although honestly there didn’t seem to be much difference between them. Neither path felt more or less difficult than the other, and there’s no branching tree of routes: you pick left or right at the start of each stage, but they merge together at the end rather than fanning out. This means you’re always heading towards the same goal, rather than the five different goals of a certain Sega-developed arcade driving game.


As you can see from the map screen, several of the stages also have a left / right choice within the stage, which adds some replayability – although honestly, I always seemed to end up taking whatever side of the split I happened to be nearest to as I weaved my way through the traffic. Like I say, there’s not much to choose between the routes. If you look at stage five, for instance, you can see that your choice is between “desert” and “desert with a couple of trees.”


None of Full Throttle’s quirks and foibles matter much if the actual racing part is good, and I’m happy to report that it is. It’s definitely fast, I’ll give it that, particularly when you’re nitro boosting. Roadside obstacles and other vehicles are smoothly scaled, and they fly by quickly enough to provide a real sensation of speed. Your car’s handling is pretty good for the most part, too. When you’re moving left or right but not going around a corner – when you’re jinking to avoid traffic, that kind of movement – your car can feel a little floaty, like it’s simply sliding from side-to-side rather than actually turning. That lack of resistance takes a little getting used to, but once you are used to it Full Throttle offers an uncomplicated, high-speed, obstacle-dodging driving experience that feels about as much like the platonic ideal of an “arcade racer” as you’re likely to find.


The course designs don’t feature anything especially innovative or unexpected, but they do provide plenty of twisty-turny roads for you to slide around on like a madman and really, that’s all you need: simply staying on the road and out of a multi-car pile-up is enough to keep you engaged. Speaking of the other cars, they feel bit more like other regular road users than in OutRun, where the CPU vehicles always gave the impression they were trying to get in your way on purpose so they could claim on their insurance. I’d say Full Throttle isn’t as difficult as OutRun, overall. OutRun can still be quite challenging even if you turn the difficulty down, but on lower levels Full Throttle is easy enough to finish even for a relative novice.


There are a couple of things in the environment that give Full Throttle a little more spark, too. I’m very fond of the various billboards that line the roads: while the billboards in 1980s arcade games are almost always fun to look at – and almost always either advertising another of the company’s games or being hastily-altered versions of the Marlboro and Coke logos – there are some particularly good ones in Full Throttle. The roadside trees make a rustling noise if you drive right underneath their branches, which is a pleasing little touch which also helps sell the idea that you’re driving really fast. I like the tunnels, too: a fun visual change that forces you to make sure you’re actually on the road rather than skidding around on the hard shoulder when you reach the entrance, but short enough that they don’t overstay their welcome. I especially enjoy the tunnels because I once managed to completely miss the entrance and slam into the wall with such force that the game momentarily had no idea what the hell was going on, its programming unequipped to deal with someone being so bad at the game. My car eventually vanished and then reappeared on the road, so happily it all worked out.


It’s not all good news for Full Throttle, though, and despite its little flourishes it still feels just a touch bland when compared to OutRun. Yes, I know I’ve done nothing but compare this game to OutRun but if Taito didn’t want those comparison to be made then they shouldn’t have copied OutRun so thoroughly. Anyway, compare this beachside scene to the opening stage of OutRun. It’s technically fine, and the sunset sky is nice, but it feels ever so slightly barren next to OutRun. Maybe part of that is down to having seen it before – racing a red sports car along a beach is something that’s already been done, even if this one is set at sunset.


The most striking example of this blandness comes up when you reach the goal. No adoring crowds, no celebrations, no fun – just the same old metal scaffolding you’ve been driving under for the whole game, only it’s standing in a muddy brown field and there’s a “GOAL” banner draped over it. It hardly feels like a reward, does it? In fact, what is feels like is that there was a circus here recently and they forgot to take the goal sign with them when they packed up and moved on. Seriously, I’m looking at this screenshot and hearing Nick Cave’s “The Carny” in my head. Maybe it’s because the yellow sky and baked earth make it look like Australia.


Before we get to the goal, let’s head back and look at a few of those billboards I mentioned earlier. First up is this advertisement for “Manhattan Vice,” which I assume is a CSI: NY-style spin-off of Miami Vice. It’s an appropriate image, because in 1988 Taito fused the high-octane buddy-cop action of Miami Vice with the equally high-octane arcade driving of Full Throttle to create Chase HQ, a game that’s markedly more fun than Full Throttle itself. This is due in no small part to Chase HQ feeling far less like a shameless rip-off of OutRun.


There’s also an ad for Operation Wolf, Taito’s own military-themed shoot-em-up. Nothing much to say about this one, it’s just the Operation Wolf title screen on a billboard. Seeing it does take me back to a time a) when arcades still existed in Britain, and b) when Operation Wolf was seemingly to be found in every arcade. I can’t think of many games you’d see more often in arcades / leisure centres / at the seaside than Operation Wolf. Not until Street Fighter II came out anyway. And hey, you know what gun you use in Operation Wolf?


Why, that enduring icon of the 1980s, the Uzi, of course! I’m British, so the idea of just being able to buy a machine gun is completely baffling and thus this billboard seemed a bit weird, but then I noticed it says “air soft gun” and that just makes it more weird. Who spends the money to erect a series of billboards, spaced ten feet apart along an entire highway, just to advertise a toy gun?


Here’s another advert, this time for Taito’s trampoline-bouncing arcade game Plump Pop. It’s pretty cute, sure, but I only really mention it because I want to believe that Plump Pop’s working title was Fat Dad.


When you finally do reach the goal, your driver exits his car and lights up a cigarette. Remember, kids: smoking isn’t cool, it’s totally for fools, etc, etc. Mind you, if I’d been blasting through cross-country traffic at these ridiculous speeds, I’d need the warm, relaxing embrace of nicotine too.


“Bravest” might be giving my actions a gravitas they do not deserve. “Driver least concerned with the safety of themselves and others” would be a better bet.
As the credits roll, the rather good ending theme plays and Full Throttle / Top Speed comes to a close, I’m left to reflect on the game that was Taito’s answer to OutRun. Of course, the question was “can we improve on OutRun” and sadly the answer was “no, not really.” It’s a little less interesting, a little less precise and the soundtrack is good but nearly as good as OutRun’s (although few game soundtracks are). That certainly doesn’t make it a bad game, though. You can enjoy a tasty burger even after eating a steak, and that’s what Full Throttle is: a real hamburger of a game. Fast, uncomplicated, not the most nutritious but enjoyable while it lasts – but unlike some burgers I’ve had (late night, post-pub ones, usually) I didn’t regret the experience. Full Throttle is a fun game that’s not quite as good as OutRun. Personal bias? No, I’m stating that as a fact. A man’s got to take a stand somewhere, you know?

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