The Single Button Joystick

Archive for February, 2014

Descent: A Decent Game.

by on Feb.25, 2014, under IBM and Compatibles, Modern, PC, Retro

IS_robots“You’ve got to listen to me. Elementary chaos theory tells us that all robots will eventually turn against their masters and run amok in an orgy of blood and kicking and the biting with the metal teeth and the hurting and shoving.”

-Dr. John Frink

It seems the old (?) doc was right about this one. In the future, the robots have rebelled. Fortunately for humanity, they aren’t in a popular tourist destination, but in remote mines and military bases throughout our solar system. Earth is safe, but these bases need to be cleansed and we are the only man… man enough to do it.

After a mission briefing,Stats! which hilariously includes your own sarcastic thoughts to what the corporate overlords are asking, it is straight to the action. Piloting your craft, you navigate the mines, destroying the infected and/or rebellious robots and rescuing the mine workers who have been imprisoned. I don’t know why these insane robots would bother imprisoning people. Maybe they are ransoming them for precious lug nuts? It isn’t really explained. Needless to say, the robots need destroying.

Being zippy!Each mine or base follows a sequence of finding the blue key, then the yellow key (which was behind the locked blue door), then the red key (which was behind the locked yellow door). The red door will lead to a section of the mine with a power generator which needs to be destroyed. It will take a while to destroy, even with powerful weapons, but it can’t move. It has to rely on its own modest (but constant) firepower and any remaining robots. When it is destroyed, the most intense part of Descent begins.


By destroying the reactor/power generator, the level will start shaking and begin to

Remember this place!

Remember this place!

explode around you, giving you forty seconds to escape. For some unknown reason the entrance door is sealed behind you so that cannot be used as a way out. Sealed emergency exits are encountered (hopefully) during your search for the reactor. They can’t be used for an early escape, but they do open when the base is about to blow. These are your only way out.

When it was new, what set Descent apart from most games of the day was its presentation. Unlike Doom, which was only a year old, Descent has the player flying around the world in an actual 3D environment. I’m not going to look up the terminology, but Doom used tricks to make the environments look like they had ups and downs. You could never walk under a platform, or over the top of anything, such were the limitations at the time.

I think I did okay...

I think I did okay…

Descent was only 14 months after Doom and already a major technical improvement had been made. Traveling over and under different areas not only made the level design far more complex than in Doom, it also gave the robots so many extra ways to come at you. Believe me, angry robots are just as scary as a Baron of Hell.

Descent was one of the early PC games that I really wanted but I was still making do with my aged (yet beloved) Amiga. I had a few friends who owned the Shareware version (those were the days) which runs for about 3-4 hours (a good game length in 2014). I was very happy that I could pay a few dollars just last week and grab a copy of this fantastic game and its sequel.

I’m up to the 11th level and there are 30… it’s already so very hard 🙁

Wish me luck!

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The Darkest of Lands.

by on Feb.18, 2014, under IBM and Compatibles, Retro

Darklands coverDarklands takes you to Germany in the year 1400.

It is a scary place.

I’m saying ‘is’ because I am currently walking a group of fine fellows through it. These ‘fellows’ (men or women) have decided to strike out as heroes and make their names known. On their way to riches and renown, they’ll be assaulted by bandits, solve mysteries and recover holy relics. Why else would they do this though? I mentioned heroics and bankroll, but there is a third, even more important reason.


In 1992, Microprose, the masters of depth and realism, intended Darklands to be a simulation of high adventure in fifteenth century Germany. However, the Germany you’re in is not real, but what people at the time believed. You’ll not only fight bandits, but gargoyles. The mysteries you solve are why the mine goblins aren’t letting the miners do their job anymore and the holy relics you recover are magical.Gargoyles in the intro

Darklands is controlled in many ways, the most common being a map screen. Similarities to 1998’s Baldur’s Gate are many, but with the travel mechanics reversed. Baldur’s Gate, which came six years after Darklands, has your heroes being directed manually through towns, where as the map view is almost a menu with no freedom to go anywhere, apart from the preset locations. Darklands has the town interaction menu driven, greatly speeding up the process of getting around. In the outside mode it allows full control over where the player can take his adventurers. It is this quick, menu driven interaction in towns that allows Darklands to still be playable and slick so later.

So much freedom

So much freedom!

Comparisons to Baldur’s Gate come again with the combat, which is in real time. Pausing the game lets you assess the situation and assign different tasks to your characters. Strategy and planning generally flies out the window about ten seconds after any fighting begins, particularly since you are outnumbered in almost every encounter. Generally, combat is a few seconds of throwing potions and spears, shooting arrows, or firing early handguns and then your opponents will close with mêlée weapons.

I mentioned God earlier for good reason. Religion is key of almost every part of Darklands. All characters that are in your team are practicing Catholics. There is no doubt in their hearts and minds who the one true god is. City ChurchesHowever, because this is set in a semi-fantasy world, praying to St. Clotilde will really improve your abilities in healing wounds for a few days and St. Christopher means your horses travel faster than ever before. In a time when even those who thought the Catholic Church was corrupt and failing, there were few who didn’t believe in a god, miracles and the power of prayer.

Perhaps more important than god is that other religion, money. Medieval Germany has three coins, pfennigs, groschen and florins,

Crappy Bandits

Crappy Bandits

which are roughly equal to our old pennies, shillings and pounds. Money is hard to come by and you’ll initially be shocked at how expensive anything good is (which I was). Do a few missions for the right people though, and you’ll be showered with riches. I daresay thirty florins is more money than most people would have ever seen in their life, and if you kill a robber baron for the Medici, you will receive that big money.

There is so much to cover in this game. The character generation is in-depth and fun, allowing a large variety of specialists. Whoever you decide to create, make sure everyone is strong and tough. Everyone will need to be able to stand toe to toe with soldiers, wolves or other horrors. Someone needs to be able to make potions and

I splatted them

I splatted them

another needs to be able to heal. Speaking Latin, reading and writing as well as using swords are important skills. Your characters can take a few weeks off from adventuring and earn money as smiths, clerks or even physicians!

This is a very ambitious game, where dealing with heresy is as serious and real as Sauron’s influence in Lord of the Rings. Do you help the merchants getting attacked by bandits or do you hide and let them be robbed and killed? Will you visit the university in Leipzig for training in Alchemy or will you plunder an ancient tomb to recover a lost family heirloom?

TerrorI have played Darklands for two long periods never stuck with it long enough to finish it. I did get close once. I am certain that even if I were to finish it a dozen times, I’d never have seen everything in it.

Darklands is vast, slick and twenty-two years old. It’s still a hell of a game.

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Sega’s Trap!

by on Feb.11, 2014, under 8-bit, Retro

Dragon's Trap BoxMy experiences with the Sega Master System are limited, but very positive. Researching the history of the Master System isn’t the point of this blog, but a few things are worth mentioning.

The Master System was the only serious challenge to Nintendo’s dominance from the mid ‘80s onwards. Due to Nintendo neglecting Europe/UK and Australasia (PAL regions, my friends) the Master System was able to defeat or at least achieve parity with the all-conquering NES. However, in North America and Japan, children would be beaten up and left for dead if they were found to have a Master System.

I owned neither an NES or Master System (now unfortunately abbreviated to SMS), but I did borrow a Master System in the early nineties. I think the friend who lent it to me even offered it, since he had the superior Mega Drive. Even though this console was obsolete by five or six years, I was very excited to try it out.Cursed!Cursed!

Alex Kidd in Miracle World was of course included, since this game comes built in to the console. It was an enjoyable game, as was Shinobi, although both I found to be very difficult. I’m sure there were other games that I borrowed, but the most important game that I played was Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap.

Wonder Boy III is a side scrolling, open world, role playing adventure game. You control Wonder Boy through his adventure by killing monsters, Advanced Save System!collecting money and upgrading your gear, the usual RPG tropes. The twist in this game begins with the prologue. Wonder Boy easily defeats the game’s first boss, Mecha Dragon, but Wonder Boy is cursed and transforms into a lizard! The journey to become human (or Hu-Man heh) again is on a grand scale, especially considering the limits of the Master System.

Each dragon that is defeated (at the end of a castle or other grand structure) allows you to change into a new form. Lizard, Mouse, Piranha, Lion and Bird. All with different abilities, they allow (or block) progress to certain parts of the world. After changing form, you can go back and change your form at will, allowing a return to otherwise restricted areas.What do arrows know!?

In scope, the game seems small and quaint but is actually a large world that will take completionist first time players around ten to fifteen hours to complete.

The colours, controls and sounds of this game all combine to create a wonderful experience. In my opinion this is the apex of the 8-bit era. Although it was greatly appreciated at the time, I feel that Wonder Boy III is underappreciated by most retro gamer enthusiasts.

If I ever try to do an all time top ten, this one gets in there. Somewhere below Total Annihilation, but above Dead Space.

Play this classic 😀

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