Category Archives: LBoG: Retrospectives

GamesMaster: A Retrospective – Series 2, Part 1

Well, after a lot of research and re-watching GamesMaster, I have finally managed to complete series 2. Now, series 1 only had 10 episodes, but the episode count was upped to 26 for this series (and others after this)… so as I have a lot more to cover, I’ve decided to split this series into 2 parts.

Series 2

Originally airing on the 1st of October, 1992. This series gets of to a very cheeky start. Kicking off with the same opening titles as series 1 and even the beginning moments of an episode, with the same set as series 1 and Dominick Diamond still as he was in the same costume too… but the footage begins to glitch and a message pops up on screen telling the viewer not to adjust their TV set. The opening continues and the glitches get worse and worse as Dominick introduces the first challenge. Eventually, the footage just completely craps out and breaks down. A picture of a heard of sheep with some calming stock music plays until the system ‘reboots’ and series 2 starts proper.

A wire-frame helicopter flies out to an oil-rig, the setting for this series (filmed at the Sunbury Pumphouse, London and also used for the Red Dwarf episode Justice). More (good for the time) CGI builds GamesMaster once more, ready to dish out his challenges and gaming help. Celebrities this time include Vinnie Jones, Vic Reeves, Take That, Ulrika Jonsson and even Jet from Gladiators, who becomes directly connected to the GamesMaster family later.

Dominick Diamond

Then of course Dominick Diamond is back (so are his endless double entendres) and he’s wearing probably in his most iconic look for the entire show, that sharp red blazer attire that anyone who ever watched GamesMaster growing up will instantly recognise. The cloaked monk from series 1 is gone and replaced with a female scuba diver simply known as The Diver. Also introduced to series 2 was a place just called The Pit and whenever a challenger failed… badly, they would be taken to said Pit as punishment. Plus there was the addition of Auntie Marisha who would occasionally appear and serve food to the contestants and Dominic himself, always ending each episode with one of her freshly cooked specials. Despite a few changes and additions to the show, it’s format remained the same. First challenge,  game reviews and feature, celebrity challenge, followed by the GamesMaster tips. Then finishing with the final challenge. So with that out of the way, let’s get into the first episode of series 2.

Episode 1

Straight into the action with the first challenge on all time classic beat ’em up, Street Fighter II (SNES). Henry Coleman Jr. and Peter Deetz have to punch and kick each other until only one remains standing, in a best of 3 rounds bout. Henry chooses to play as sumo supremo Edmond Honda while Peter favours Hadoken throwing Ken Masters. The first round goes to Henry when he Hundred Hand Slaps Peter to a KO, the second round goes to Peter who lands some hefty hits and finishes Henry off with an uppercut. It’s one round each as the fight resumes and Henry takes a pasting from Peter and it looks like he’s going to lose this one without putting up much of a fight… but after a well timed slap-fest and back breaking bear hug, Henry takes E. Honda to victory and wins the first golden joystick of series 2.

The game reviews are brain game themed (whatever that means?). Platforming puzzler, Krusty’s Fun House (Mega Drive) gets an 87%. Troddlers (Amiga) is given a mediocre 46%. Then a preview (and TV first) of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Mega Drive). Sticking with the tried and tested GamesMaster formula, it’s celebrity challenge time next. Comedian Tony Slattery has to take on Who Shot Johnny Rock? (Arcade). A laserdisc light-gun shooter set in the 1930’s mob era. Tony has to survive a shoot out in a pool hall and one in a casino, kill the bad guys and avoid shooting civilians, you know the drill if you’ve ever played a light-gun game. So Tony gets off to a fairly bad start (he did state he hates games) and loses 2 of his 3 lives in less than a minute. But he soon gets into it and blasts away mobsters with his roscoe, finishing the first level and making it to the casino… but he shoots one of those annoying civilians who needlessly pop up in the middle of a gunfight in these games, losing his last life and fails the challenge.

Tony Slattery

GamesMaster helps out some less fortunate people with his hints & tips for the first time this series. Super Mario World (SNES), Tennis (Game Boy) and Zool (Amiga) all get covered. Then it’s onto the final challenge of the first episode. Dragon’s Lair 2: Time Warp (Arcade) is GamesMaster’s title of choice and Dougie Johns has to make his way through the first level of the game without losing a life. Having to dodge a giant snake, falling rocks and a very angry mother-in-law, Dougie’s lighting fast reactions serve him well for a while until he misses a cue and gets eaten by said giant snake, failing the challenge and ending the first episode. As Dominick goes off to enjoy the Catfish & Almond Bake that Auntie Marisha has made for him.

Golden joysticks won – 1

Episode 2

No fake title shenanigans this time around as episode 2 gets right into it. The first challenge is on Chuck Rock (Mega Drive). George Denifontos is the challenger who has to finish a whole level, including defeating the end of level Triceratops boss in just 1 minute 45 seconds in this prehistoric platformer. Taking a few hits making his way though the level, some strategic to save time, others not at all intentional, George makes it to the boss with only a little bit of health and time left. With just 1 second on the clock, George takes a hit from the boss which kills him, failing the challenge.

Reviews this week are platformers and include Dragon’s Lair (SNES) which gets 57%. The New Zealand Story (Master System) is awarded 87%. And Hook (SNES) is given 76%. The feature this episode covers music being made using game samples. Then a quick plug for GamesMaster Live follows. This episode’s celebrity challenge sees a return from the last series. Back is the game, Sonic Blast Man (Arcade) from episode 2 of series 1. Back too is that game’s challenger,  Paul Turner who last time beat professionally trained and experienced boxer, Garry Mason. This time, Paul takes on the legendary, the only man to fight Mike Tyson twice, former WBC heavyweight champion, Frank Bruno. Frank demolishes Paul in this test of strength punching challenge to take home the golden joystick.

Of course it’s tips time again as GamesMaster shares his knowledge. Faxanadu (NES), Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (Amiga) and Fighting Masters (Mega Drive) are given a little help. Yes, next it’s the last challenge. Mother and son, Mavis and Matthew John-Myner both take on Zool (Amiga). The challenge is that whoever can finish a specially designed GamesMaster level the fastest wins. Mother Mavis goes first and finishes the level with a very respectable time of 54 seconds. But Son Matthew manages an impressive 43 seconds and all with having his left arm in plaster after breaking a bone. Auntie Marisha turns up with her homemade Cockles En Croute with Codswallop Dip as this episode ends.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode 3

And so, here we go again. The first challenge is on Super Mario World (SNES) where Catherine Allen has to collect 200 coins on Donut Plains 1 and finish the level in 1 minute 15 seconds. Given the fact there are less than 200 coins on the main level and finding secrets is the only way to win this challenge, this is a tough one. Catherine manages to find a nice cache of hidden coins and nabs herself 201, but still needs to finish the level to win and now with only 20 seconds left. She goes for it, dodging enemies and projectiles to get to the end of the level with just 2 seconds left on the clock, taking home that golden joystick.

SMB Challenge

More reviews and they are all RPGs this time around. First up, Drakkhen (SNES) gets an understandable 46%. Darklands (PC) scores a 84%. Then Legends of Valour (PC) lands itself a nice 87%. Controller reviews follow as the Capcom Street Fighter 2 Joystick (SNES), the U-Force (NES), the Logic3 Free Wheel (Home Computers) and various Cheetah Characteristicks (Home Computers) all get looked at. Then another plug for GamesMaster Live. Yes it’s celebrity challenge time again as Vinnie Jones (when he was known for football not acting) takes on Callum Green at Soccer Brawl (Neo Geo), a futuristic soccer game with OTT power-ups and a smidgen of violence. With Vinnie playing as Korea while Callum favours Japan. Vinnie scores a very early goal thanks to a power-shot and follows that up with another goal via a header. Callum puts up a fight as the first half ends with Vinnie winning 2-0. Despite several decent shots, the second half doesn’t bring any more goals and Vinnie Jones wins the challenge and the golden joystick.

GamesMaster does his thing again and offers hints & tips next. Super Mario World (SNES), Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender (PC) and The Adventures of Rad Gravity (NES) get some much needed assistance. Then there’s something special for the final challenge. Returning from series 1, episode 9 is Sega European games-playing champ, Danny Curley. This starts what becomes a weekly challenge where Danny takes on open requests to play and try to win any Sega game. This first challenge sees Danny take on John Morrison who is plucked from the audience. The game of choice is Sonic the Hedgehog (Mega Drive) and a speed challenge to finish the Spring Yard Zone Act 2 level in the fastest time. John goes first and finishes the level in 49 seconds. But Danny smashes through the level to finish in 40 seconds and wins the golden joystick… or does he? No golden joystick is given out as Dominick explains that Danny is far too good. But there is another reason why Danny didn’t win the golden joystick, I’m saving that for another article in this retrospective. But as previously mentioned, this all kick-starts a weekly challenge where Danny goes up against audience members at Sega games, so more from him later in the series. This episode ends as Dominick Diamond goes off to enjoy Auntie Marisha’s relatively normal sounding Salmon & Broccoli Quiche.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode 4

Well this episode gets off to an interesting start as the much mentioned Auntie Marisha is actually seen for the first time. She appears up on one of the balconies handing out her interesting food to audience members. They’ll be more from Auntie Marisha as the series continues too.

Auntie M

But of course, first up it’s challenge time as always. Fire & Ice (Amiga) is GamesMaster’s game of choice here and taking up the challenge is Coolwinder Rye (which I think could be a great porn name). Coolwinder has to finish a level of the game in under 2 minutes, he even brings his own homemade joystick just for the challenge. After only 30 seconds, he loses a life and things begin to look bleak, especially when he soon loses another life leaving him with only one more chance. Then with just 10 seconds left on the clock, he gets taken out by one of the games many enemies and fails.

Beat ’em ups are the games under the spotlight this time around. Street Gangs (AKA  River City Ransom (NES) gets a unbelievable 32%, I mean , it’s one of the most loved and revered games on the NES. Fighting Masters (Mega Drive) scores 65%. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (SNES) gets a deserved 80%. But still, River City Ransom 32%… seriously? The feature this episode takes an interesting look at the design and programming of System 3’s Putty (Amiga). Yes there’s another plug for GamesMaster Live… I’ll stop mentioning these from now on cos they just keep coming every episode. As is the tradition, it’s celebrity challenge time next. Navy Helicopter Flight Simulator (Amiga) is the game here and Matthew Frary goes up against English rugby union player Rory Underwood. The challenge is to land a helicopter on a carrier and the payers are scored on speed, accuracy and smoothness of the landing. Matthew’s landing scores him a 61% while Rory struggles with a 56% as Matthew Frary takes home the golden joystick.

Super Castlevania IV (SNES), Psycho Fox (Master System) and Prince of Persia (Game Boy) get the GamesMaster tips treatment this time. Then carrying on from the previous episode and Danny Curley is back as he is challenged to a game of Mario Lemieux Hockey (Mega Drive). Taking on Danny is Warren Brasier at a 1 minute 30 second period of ice hockey. It’s a frantic match with Danny scoring and early goal in 15 seconds, but Warren does not give up and manages to put a goal away himself with 22 seconds of the match left. The challenge ends in a 1-1 draw, though Danny does put another away after the time is up, it doesn’t count. This marks the first ever GamesMaster draw and seeing as Danny Curley technically didn’t lose, he still remains undefeated. Sprat Thermador with Rice Pilaf is Auntie Marisha’s meal for this episode.

Hockey challnge

Golden joysticks won – 1

Episode 5

It’s the brother and sister duo of Michael and Emily Gleeve who take up GamesMaster’s challenge on Pilotwings (SNES). Being given the sky-diving stage, whoever manages the highest score by falling through five rings and then making a landing wins. Emily makes her anti-game feelings clear when she says that girls have more sense than to waste money on gaming… so I guess she’s not a fan then? Turning this into  not just a battle of siblings, but also one of the sexes too. Emily takes up the challenge first and manages to go through all the rings and even makes a decent landing for 70 points, a good score but certainly beatable. Michael goes through the first three rings with ease… but then balls it up when he misses the final two, leaving him well behind on points and now needing a top-notch-landing for a higher score to beat his sister. Michael goes way past the big points for his landing and manages a mediocre 59 points. The anti-gamer Emily Gleeve wins the golden joystick.

This episode’s reviews are all scary, gory games. First up is Splatterhouse Part 2 (Mega Drive) which gets an understandable 57%. The Legacy: Realm of Terror (PC) manages a 87%. Then perhaps one of the scariest games ever made, Barbie Game Girl (Game Boy) is awarded 51%. Feature time and some add-on peripherals for the handheld consoles take the spotlight. The Solar Boy for Game Boy, The Master Gear Converter for Game Gear, The Joyplus Handyboy for Game Boy, The TV Tuner for Game Gear and The Workboy for Game Boy get looked at. This episode’s celebrity challenge involves the biggest boy band at the time, Take That. Dyna Blaster (Amiga) is the game here and the five TT lads have to blow each other up until only one remains standing. Gary Barlow blows himself up early on in the game, Howard Donald gets taken out by Robbie Williams, Mark Owen gets caught in a chain explosion and bows out, leaving just Robbie and Jason Orange… until he (Jason) manages to trap himself between one of his own bombs and one of Robbie’s. Dummy sucking, dungaree wearing prick Robbie Williams manages to win the golden joystick.

Robbie Williams

GamesMaster dishes out more of his hints & tips. Thunder Force III (Mega Drive), The Addams Family (SNES) and James Pond II: Codename RoboCod (Mega Drive) are all given that GamesMaster love. Then finally it’s the weekly Curley Challenge where Sega European champ, Danny Curley goes up against Jeff Gallies on basketball game Arch Rivals (Mega Drive). Danny scores and early 3 points, leaving Jeff to play catch up. More tight rim-shots and slam dunks follow as Jeff manages to beat Danny 20-17, ending Danny Curley’s unbeaten run. As Jeff takes home the golden joystick, Dominick enjoys some of Auntie Marisha’s Red Snapper.

Golden joysticks won – 3

Episode 6

The light-gun game Mole Patrol (SNES) is the first challenge and Adam Freeman has to shoot 17 blue moles in 1 minute while avoiding shooting the pink ones. Adam gets of to a flying start and manages to get 10 moles down in 30 seconds, leaving him just 7 more to do at the halfway mark… but then he shoots a pink mole which speeds things up and he loses momentum. The clock ticks away and Adam fails with just 2 moles left to shoot.

Yes it’s review time again and (supposedly) historical simulations are the theme this time. SimCity (SNES) gets 94%. KGB (PC) is given 84%. Just the two reviews this episode as up next is a GamesMaster competition. Using AMOS (Amiga), the game programming software, the competition is for members of the public to submit game ideas and even go on to have the winning game become a real product available in shops. Then WWF superstar, ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan takes on Hayden Croft at WWF Super WrestleMania (SNES). With this celebrity challenge being introduced by ‘The British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith instead of GamesMaster himself. With Jim Duggan playing as ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage while Hayden Croft chooses The Undertaker. There are body slams and suplexes a plenty as Hayden manages to win the match via a pin for the 3 count and gets his hands on the golden joystick.

This time it’s Super Mario World (SNES), The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants (NES) and Super Tennis (SNES) that all have their secrets revealed via GamesMaster’s tips. The final challenge offers something a bit different as Auntie Marisha herself takes on bitter rival Lettie Edwards at King of the Monsters 2: The Next Thing (Neo Geo) in a best of 3 smack-down. The gargantuan creatures punch, kick and throw each other into buildings as Auntie Marisha wins the first round. But Lettie isn’t the kind of old-gal to take that and she goes on to win the next 2 rounds after giving Auntie Marisha a pasting, poor Auntie M. So Lettie Edwards wins the golden joystick as Dominick goes off to enjoy some of Auntie Marisha’s Winkles in Whale Sputum Sauce, yummy.

Auntie M challenge

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode 7

Straight into the action as Tim Cant tests his gaming skills at Myth: History in the Making (Amiga). Tim is given just 1 minute and 30 seconds to finish a level, including defeating the end of level boss, the Hydra. Tim comes prepared with his own, custom made joystick and even manages to give Dominick the giggles by cracking his own double entendres. Making great progress and even decapitating Medusa along the way, Tim makes this challenge look easy. With 45 seconds left, he comes face to face with the Hydra and that golden joystick is very much in sight. Tim takes out one of the heads from the Hydra leaving only 2 left… but then misses a jump to a platform and falls to his death, failing the challenge.

Reviews this week are sport games. Starting out with Speedball 2 (Master System) which rightfully gets a well deserved 91%. George Foreman’s KO Boxing (NES) is given a 54%. Then World Class Leader Board Golf (Mega Drive) lands an 84%, but no feature this time. Two celebrities for the price of one on this episode as Shadow and Jet from the hit TV show Gladiators go up against each other on American Gladiators (Mega Drive). Playing the assault course level of the game, Jet manages to take a bit of a lead early on but soon falls behind at the first obstacle. Shadow begins to pull away and makes easy work of this challenge. Jet is left way, way behind as Shadow breezes to victory and finishes the challenge, winning that golden joystick, while Jet only just starts the second obstacle of the course. Jet may have lost this challenge, but she’ll be back in both GamesMaster and another show I aim to cover later.

Gladiators

GamesMaster is back dishing put his helpful hints once more. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES), Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Master System) and Fire & Ice (Amiga) are all given some tips. It’s final challenge time and Tristan Grove takes on Jason Pickford at Super Tennis (SNES) in a best of 5 games match. Jason takes the first and second games with relative ease. Then Tristan takes the third and begins a comeback, quickly followed by winning the forth game making a 2 – 2 draw, with only 1 game left to play. Tristan loses the first 2 points and it looks like Jason will be winning this one, but then Jason has 2 outs making it 30 – 30 in this very tight last game. Tristan manages to score another point, making it now 40 – 30 in his favour and now with match point in hand… but he soon fluffs up and Jason scores a point making it deuce. Jason hits another out giving Tristan the advantage and match point once more. Then after a very nice across the court shot, Tristan scores the point making him the victor and winner of the golden joystick in this (quite honestly) pretty exciting game of tennis. Auntie Marisha serves up some Shark Fin Thermador for Dominick.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode 8

The Addams Family (SNES) is the first game challenge of this episode. GamesMaster gives Lisa (just Lisa) 2 minutes to collect 50 dollar symbols and finish the level. I’d like to say how Lisa turned in a great effort and ploughed through the level, smashing the challenge… I’d like to say that. Instead, Lisa looses all but one of her energy in only 8 seconds and things begin to look very bleak. She manages to hold on for 18 more seconds and lasts just 26 seconds of her 2 minute time limit before jumping into an enemy and failing the challenge. Lisa is taken away to The Pit for punishment. Very poor indeed and I think, the fastest ever failing of a challenge on GamesMaster so far. But perhaps there was a reason for that…

Gaming version of board games are up for review this time. Scrabble (Home Computers) gets 80%. King’s Table – The Legend of Ragnarok (PC) is given 84%. While Trivial Pursuit (CD-TV) gets 68%. The feature this episode takes a look at the age old (pointless) fight of the console wars. Pitching Sega’s Mega Drive up against Nintendo’s SNES to see which one is best as gaming journalists offer their professional opinions on each machine. Kristian Schmid, some actor from Aussie daytime soap Neighbours, is the celebrity for this episode. GamesMaster gives him the laserdisc, light-gun game Space Pirates (Arcade) and Kristian has to shoot intergalactic bad guys and rescue hostages. Getting off to a great start, Kristian makes his way through the first few sections without missing a bad guy or losing any health, he’s looking like he’ll win this with ease. But he takes too many hits trying to save the hostages at the end and fails.

It’s that time again where GamesMaster throws out morsels of help to those struggling with games. The Immortal (Mega Drive), James Pond II – Codename Robocod (Amiga) and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (Amiga) get some assistance. Agony (Amiga) is the final challenge this time. Jack, Angela, & Rashpal are plucked from the audience have to take turns in trying to get through the first level without dying. Going first is Jack who gets a little complacent and dies when he finds himself in a corner of the screen and is hit by an enemy. Next up is Angela who somehow manages to die in the exact same spot, the exact same way as Jack despite the fact she saw what happened before. So finally, it’s up to Rashpal to win a golden joystick. Rashpal does stay alive a little bit longer, he gets past the spot the previous two failed… but he doesn’t last that long and dies soon afterwards. Yeah they all failed the challenge… but all still lasted longer than Lisa did in her challenge. Meaning no golden joysticks at all for the first time ever. So Dominick consoles himself with some of Auntie Marisha’s Gefilte Fish Balls.

Golden joysticks won – 0

Episode 9

This first challenge has a bit of a surprise to it. Playing Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja (SNES) is Wolf Wood. Being tasked by GamesMaster to finish the first level in under 1 minute and 30 seconds. Wolf makes it to the end of the level with 30 seconds to spare, but he than has to defeat the end of level T-Rex. With just 2 seconds left on the clock, Wolf does indeed finish off the pesky prehistoric pest and wins the golden joystick. Now about that surprise, it turns out that Wolf is in fact the boyfriend of Lisa who failed so badly at The Addams Family (SNES) in the previous episode. Wolf winning this challenge not only got him a golden joystick, but he also earned Lisa’s freedom from The Pit… in a not at all scripted challenge. Especially suspicious seeing as the Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja level ends with the hero recusing his girlfriend…

Joe Mac

Anyway, it’s review time again and it’s arcade adventure games this episode. Another World (SNES) is given 76%. Prince of Persia (Master System) earns itself 80%. Flashback (Amiga & Mega Drive) is awarded a very much justified 94%. The episode’s feature looks at the Miracle Piano Teaching System (Various Systems) which teaches you how to play the piano via a blending of gaming and actual piano lessons. Then there’s a phone interview with Paul Reed who claims to have finished the then newly released Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Mega Drive) on the day of release in the fastest time of 2 hours and 4 minutes while managing to collect all 7 Chaos Emeralds… and on his first attempt too. He then says that he wrapped the game up and gave it to a friend as a Christmas gift. All with no actual evidence… of course you did Paul, of course you did. Then Adam Whisker takes on professional snooker player John Parrott in this episode’s celebrity challenge. Archer MacLean’s Pool (Amiga) is the game of choice here and the man himself, Archer Maclean also provides commentary. Both Adam and John are given 1 minute and 30 seconds to get the highest score by sinking a many balls as they can. Adam goes first and scores 29 points, then it’s John’s turn next and he gets 23 points, he then misses a fairly easy shot that would’ve given him the lead. Adam takes home the golden joystick.

Yes it’s hints & tips time again. Super Mario World (SNES) and Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Mega Drive)… that’s it for this episode, just the 2 games helped via GamesMaster’s big tips. Matthew Sleet then takes on his father, Ian Sleet on beat ’em up  Fatal Fury (Neo Geo). Matthew playing as Joe Higashi beats the crap out of Ian playing as Andy Bogard. Neither one of them really seem to know what they were doing outside of some manic button mashing and they do take a round each in the best of 3 bouts fight, but it is Matthew who takes the golden joystick. Auntie Marisha serves up a very tasty sounding King Prawn & Oyster in Black Bean Sauce.

Golden joysticks won – 3

Episode 10

GamesMaster breaks out the classic Super Mario Kart (SNES) for this episode’s first challenge. Peter Walters playing as a Koopa Troopa has to come first in a race on Mario Circuit 1 of Mushroom Cup 100cc. Not the hardest track in the game, but playing it on a harder, 100cc difficulty setting (though 150cc is the hardest). Peter gets off to a shaky start and goes off track more than once during the first lap. By the start of lap 3, he’s got things under control and is in 2nd but struggles to maintain that place. Starting his 5th and final lap, he’s still in 2nd with just 1st place Luigi to beat. Peter wastes a red shell that would mot definitely got him up to 1st if he hadn’t used it on a star protected Luigi and coming up to the last corner, Peter actually takes the number 1 spot, but only for a moment or so as Luigi manages to win with Peter less than half a second behind. Peter fails by literal milliseconds.

Driving games are under review this episode. Test Drive II: The Duel (SNES) is given 61%. Super Off Road (Game Gear) gets 84%. Jeep Jamboree: Off Road Adventure (Game Boy) scores an 84%. No feature this episode, so its straight to the celebrity challenge. GamesMaster has something a bit special up his sleeve for this one in a simple game of Catch the Flag, you know this. Two people, one on each side of a map and the aim is to grab your opponent’s flag and take it back to your base, gain a point for ever flag captured and the most points win. But what makes this one a bit special is the fact it’s played in a then, cutting edge virtual reality machine. These VR units were not like the more streamlined Oculus VR/PlayStation VR units we have today. Oh no, these things were huge pod things the player had to stand inside, 1992 was a wonderful time. And clambering into these David Cronenberg/Seth Brundle/The Fly type pods are Andy Thomson and Aussie soap star Richard Norton. It’s a very close game with both Andy and Richard being evenly matched… however, they’re not interested in capturing the flag in this game of capture the flag and just end up shooting each other instead, which also scores them points. Anyway, in a very rare and never happened before GamesMaster challenge, both of them score 3 points each when Richard gets the final kill in the last second, leading to a draw. That means that 2 golden joysticks are awarded for one challenge in this GamesMaster first.

More hints & tips are abound as GamesMaster does what he does best. QuackShot Starring Donald Duck (Mega Drive), Super Mario Land (Game Boy) and finally, F-Zero (SNES) have their secrets revealed. Of course we end with the final challenge and this one involves a bit of sibling rivalry as the Goddiano, identical triples of Nino, Angelo and Martino take on Pinball Fantasies (Amiga). Playing the Party Land table on this pinball classic, the aim is simple, whoever has the highest score using only one ball wins. Nino beats his brothers with a score of 338,150 over Angelo’s and Martino’s respective 195,630 and 191,880 points. Nino takes the golden joystick. Sadly, no Auntie Marisha’s delicious food this episode as Dominick has to dash off to host GamesMaster Live… at least all the annoying plugging for the event every episode can stop now.

Golden joysticks won – 3

Episode 11

Back from his hosting duties at GamesMaster Live, Dominic Diamond wastes no time getting things started in this episode. The first challenge is on ABC Sports Presents: The Palm Spring Open (CD-I). Paying the game on one of the worst home consoles ever is Aidan Smith who has to finish the first three holes of the back nine on the Jack Nicklaus Resort course without going over par. Hole 1 is a 450 yard, par 4 with a huge bunker and a large body of water to negotiate, Aidan finishes the hole 1 over par. Hole 2 is a 132 yard, par 3, a smaller hole with fewer hazards and a good chance for Aidan to get back under par on… which he doesn’t and goes 1 over par again. Now 2 over par, Aidan needs a pretty much impossible 2 stoke win on the final 135 yard, par 4 hole. Of course he doesn’t do it, his first shot sends him into the trees and makes the impossibility of sinking the ball in 2 shots even more impossible. Aidan fails. Despite playing a game with lots of balls, holes and strokes, Dominick shows great restraint with the double entendres.

This episode’s games for review are all sports titles. John Madden Football ’93 (Mega Drive) scores 87%. David Crane’s Amazing Tennis (SNES) gets 80%. Sensible Soccer, Version 1.1 (Amiga) is given a very worthy 97%. The feature looks at the endlessly mentioned GamesMaster Live event. Then of course, it’s celebrity challenge time again. British Formula 1 ace, Johnny Herbert plays the awesome Lotus 3: The Ultimate Challenge (Amiga). GamesMaster tasks Johnny into finishing a specially designed GamesMaster track in 1 minute and 30 seconds. Getting off to a pretty bad start and bumping into roadside obstacles and losing valuable time, Johnny struggles in the first half of the race. The second half fares much better and he does make up a lot of lost time, but it’s just not enough as he runs out of time seconds away from the finish-line, no golden joystick here. Respect to Dominick for getting in a very cheeky Ayrton Senna jibe at the expense of Johnny, F1 fans would get it.

Lotus

Less fortunate peeps seek out GamesMaster for some help once more. Bart Simpson’s Escape from Camp Deadly (Game Boy), Asterix (Master System) and Another World (SNES) get some much needed attention. The final challenge starts something a bit special. The first round of the GamesMaster: Magazine Challenge where journalists from some of the most popular gaming magazines go up against each other in a knockout style tournament. This first round sees Paul Laken (Game Zone) take on Duncan McDonald (Zero) at the mighty Street Fighter II (SNES). With Paul playing as Dhalsim, while Duncan goes for Chun-Li. Duncan takes the first round with ease, the second round times-out and Paul wins due to having (very slightly) more health. The third and final round goes to Paul, but he doesn’t win a golden joystick as this is a knockout tournament, but he does get through to the next round. As a side note, I just want to say how, for so-called gaming experts who play games for a living, that was some of the worst, most boring Street Fighter II gameplay I’ve ever seen. No finesse, no using the character’s strengths or special moves, just pure button mashing and hope for the best fighting. Anyway, Auntie Marisha serves up some Fillet of Anchovy.

Golden joysticks won – 0

Episode 12

Kelly Sumnar, the managing director of Commodore UK, starts off this episode with a challenge on Humans (Amiga). Being given the classic 1 minute and 30 seconds to guide 5 cavemen to save a baby dinosaur trapped on a platform in this tricky but amusing puzzle game. Each of the cavemen has a special ability and Kelly will have to utilise all 5 of them to get this one done. Despite being the MD of one of the biggest computer companies in the world at the time, Kelly admits to never playing games before… so this one looks like it’s over before it even begins. But he does do it, Kelly manages to get his cavemen to save the baby dinosaur… even if I’m more than a little suspicious seeing as the clock ran out and was on 0 seconds for over a second, yet he still won?

Anyway, of course it’s review time again. Movie tie-ins are the subject this episode. James Bond 007: The Duel (Mega Drive) is given 73%. RoboCop 3 (SNES) has 61% rewarded to it.
Universal Soldier (Game Boy) lands 80%. The feature this episode looks as some bad games. Road Fighter (NES), Altered Beast (Mega Drive), Space Ace (Amiga), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Amiga) and Goal! (NES) all get mentioned. Then a quick update on the GamesMaster design a game competition using AMOS (Amiga). Todd Carty of Grange Hill and EastEnders fame is this episode’s celebrity and he takes on Jamie Brown at Baseball Stars 2 (Neo Geo). Each player is given a single innings to score as many runs as they can. Jamie steps up to bat first and scores a decent 5 runs. Todd is up next and doesn’t do quite as well, failing to score a single run. Jamie wins 5 – 0 and also gets himself a nice golden joystick to boot.

Super Mario World (SNES), Star Wars (NES) and Dungeon Master (Amiga) are given some relief thanks to GamesMaster. Then the continuation of the GamesMaster: Magazine Challenge errr… continues. Gary Harrod (Mean Machines) takes on Greg Watson (C&VG) at Street Fighter II (SNES). Gary plays as Guile while Greg plumps for the classic Ryu. Gary demolishes Greg in the first round, it’s not even close. The second round it a little closer, but not by much as Greg wins again and gets through to the final of the challenge. As another side note, this fight was much better than the one from the last episode. At least these guys looked like they actually knew how to play. Braised Calamari is what Dominick has to look forward for supper tonight thanks to Auntie Marisha.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode 13

Well I’ve made it, I’m halfway though this 26 episode long series 2 and quite nicely, this one is a GamesMaster Christmas special as this episode originally aired on the 24th of December, 1992. I expect lots of Dominick Diamond trademark Christmas themed double entendres here. Keeping with the Yuletide festivities is the first challenge, Santa’s Xmas Caper (Amiga). Paul Tucker is given only 1 life and 1 minute to collect 20 Christmas presents in this platforming game. Despite Paul admitting he doesn’t like platformer games, he makes this challenge look easy and nabs all 20 gifts with 10 seconds on the clock and wins the golden joystick… not even a nice Christmas one tarted up with a bit of tinsel. At least GamesMaster himself made some effort…

GamesMaster

Review time again and given the fact this is a Christmas episode and that the reviews are always themed, can you guess what the theme is this episode? That’s right, helicopter games. Super SWIV (SNES) gets a very nice 87%. Steel Talons (Mega Drive) lands an understandable 57%. Comanche: Maximum Overkill (PC) is awarded a 94%… even Auntie Marisha likes it. The feature takes a look at those cheat code carts, the Datel Pro Action Replay (Amiga & SNES) and the Galoob Game Genie (NES, SNES & Mega Drive). It’s the final celebrity challenge of this first part of series 2 and they only went and landed a genuine legend. Playing Volfied (Amiga), a simple action/puzzle, Qix-like game that requires some quick thinking and reactions. Each challenger is given 1 minute to fill in as much of the screen as they can, whoever fills in the most wins. Oliver Gibson is the mere mortal taking on the quiz show maestro, former James Bond and grandfather of Oliver, Bob Holness. So it’s a grandson v grandfather challenge. Oliver struggles and loses 2 of his lives, but manages to pick up a time stop power-up which freezes all the enemies on screen and scores himself a very reasonable 48.8%. Bob gets off to a much better start, but soon finds himself in trouble and loses all of his lives, only managing a score of 14.7%. Oliver takes home the golden joystick.

Bob Holness

Straight into the hints & tips from GamesMaster once more. Super Soccer (SNES), James Pond 2: Codename: Robocod (Mega Drive) and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES) all get a extra helping of Christmas cheer. Then it’s the final of the GamesMaster: Magazine Challenge as Gary Harrod (Mean Machines) has to go up against Paul Laken (Game Zone) at Street Fighter II (SNES) once more. Gary plays as Blanka while Paul Laken chooses Zangief. Given the previous rounds of this tournament and witnessing how badly Paul played compared to how well Gary did… I wonder who will win this one? Gary pummels Paul in round 1, winning with a perfect KO. Round 2 also goes to Gary (no surprise), though it’s quite obvious he was just playing with Paul before deciding to finish him off. Gary Harrod wins the golden joystick. Well that wraps up this Christmas episode… with a severe lack of festive games. Dominick leads the audience in a sing-a-long of O Come, All Ye Faithful before enjoying some of Auntie Marisha’s Sausage wrapped in Bacon. Very festive.

Golden joysticks won – 3


 

And so that’s it, halfway through this 26 episode marathon of series 2 of GamesMaster. Still plenty more to cover as this gargantuan retrospective continues. See you in part 2… when I get around to it.

Total golden joysticks won – 24

“Let’s say ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’ to the man with the biggest sack of all, the GamesMaster.”

–  Dominick Diamond

GamesMaster: A Retrospective – Series 1

So here we are, at the start of the very, very long retrospective looking back at the greatest gaming TV show ever, GamesMaster. Just before I get into this, you’ll have to excuse the rather average/grainy quality images throughout this whole retrospective. GamesMaster has never been given a home release or a clean up, so I’m having to use old VHS recordings and almost 30 year old footage to get these pics. It’s the best I can do.

Series 1

Originally aired on the 7th of January, 1992, kicking off with a (for the time) very nice CGI opening title of, who I assume, is the GamesMaster himself sitting on a throne. Series 1 was set and filmed in an abandoned church (St Paul’s Church, Dock Street, London). Presented by the foppish and very cheeky Dominik Diamond who wastes no time in tossing off and slipping in as many double entendre and sly sexual references as he can.

Series 1 Dominik

Series 1 consisted of 10 episodes and featured celebrities such as Jimmy White, Annabel Croft, Barry McGuigan, Eric Bristow and others, all trying their gaming skills at some of the newest games on the market.

A mysterious and cloaked monk would bring the golden joysticks to the winners of the challenges in this series and was played by gaming media pioneer Dave Perry, who would become an integral part of GamesMaster and part of one of the show’s most infamous moments… but I’m getting ahead of myself here. First up, every episode from series 1.

Episode 1

Kicking off with the first challenge is Daniel from Edgware, who has to finish the first level of Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) and collect 50 coins all in just 2 minutes. Despite Daniel messing up and initially missing a pipe housing some hidden coins, he does manage to complete the challenge with 14 seconds to spare, winning the very first GamesMaster golden joystick.

Games reviewed are movie themed, The Terminator (Mega Drive) which scores a 87%. The Addams Family (NES) gets a 63%. And finally, the greatest point n’ click adventure game ever made, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis which receives a very worthy 93%. Then next up is a feature on customising the Nintendo Game Boy. Moving onto the first celebrity challenge. A game of footie on Manchester United Europe (Amiga) where Simon from Bishop’s Stortford takes on then Wimbledon F.C. and England striker, John Fashanu. Simon playing as Liverpool beats John playing as Manchester 2-0 to take home that golden joystick.

Then it’s the turn of the GamesMaster to deliver his hints & tips on Sonic the Hedgehog (Mega Drive), Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (Amiga) and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (NES) with that infamous and annoying whirlwind thing. Episode 1 ends with the final challenge, a shootout on Mad Dog McCree (Arcade), the first ever live action laserdisc game. Tony from North Wales is the man who has to shoot the varmints in this Wild West light-gun game. Tony finishes the challenge with ease to win the golden joystick and ends the first ever episode of GamesMaster.

Golden joysticks won – 3

Episode 2

First up is a challenge on Sonic the Hedgehog (Mega Drive). Being given 2 minutes to collect 150 rings and finish the first level, Alex from Stanmore, decides to show his cocky side. Thinking that 150 rings is too easy, he asks for the challenge to be upped to 160 rings. Seeing as the level only has 163 rings in total, collecting 160 in 2 minutes is no mean feat. Of course he does it because this is Alex Verrey here, who would soon become known to many British gamers as ‘Big Boy Barry’ (more on that later).

Big Boy Barry

Reviews this time are all beat em’ ups. Starting with The First Samurai (Amiga) which gets a very respectable 90%. Pit-Fighter (Amiga) doesn’t do so well getting a 59%, which I think is about 59% too much. Then Double Dragon II (Game Boy) receives 70%. The feature this time looks at gaming peripherals such as the Power Glove, Quickjoy Footpedal and the Sega Action Chair… all utter pants. The celebrity challenge is next and Paul goes up against former British heavyweight boxing champ, Garry Mason at Sonic Blast Man (Arcade). A game where all you have to do is punch a pad as hard as you can to score the hardest hits. Of course the professionally trained and experienced boxer loses (how/why? I don’t know) and Paul wins his golden joystick.

GamesMaster shares his help on games such as Strider (Mega Drive), Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) and Robocop (NES). Then onto a challenge on one of my all time favourite games, Lemmings (Amiga). Given 2 minutes to save 91% of his lemmings, Robert from Leicester is the guy for the job… oh, he also has to do this on one of the hardest levels in the game and he was only told this 5 minutes before filming began too. After a slightly mistimed exploding lemming, Robert loses a few rodents and only manages to save 87%, Robert is the first non-celeb to fail a GamesMaster challenge.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode 3

The first challenge of this episode is on Mega Man 2 (NES), an already tricky game made even harder here, Nick from Muswell Hill has to finish one of the most difficult levels in the game without losing a life and in under 3 minutes, including defeating the end of level boss. But Nick misjudges a tricky jump midway through and plunges to his death, failing the challenge.

Racing games get the review treatment this time around. Starting with Lotus Turbo Challenge 2 (Amiga) which gets a stupidly low 68%. Formula One Grand Prix (Amiga) receives a very deserving 89%. Then OutRun Europa (Master System) is handed a 52%. A sneak peek at a then up and coming movie tie-in game, Dune (PC & Amiga) is next and is highly praised too. The formula continues as next up is the celebrity challenge. Sahid from Mile End takes on former British ladies number 1 Annabel Croft at tennis. Pro Tennis Tour 2 (Amiga) is the game of choice, which Annabel wins, making her the first celeb winner of a GamesMaster golden joystick. But who wouldn’t enjoy getting beaten off by Annabel Croft?

Annabel Croft

More hints & tips follow with Alex Kidd (Master System), Cadaver (Amiga) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES) all made a little bit easier. Zoom! (Mega Drive) is the final challenge and to mix things up a bit, three members of the audience are selected to play and finish the first level in 1 minute. Scott, George and Dorla (I think, the sound wasn’t very good) are randomly chosen from the audience… all three of them fail, bringing the end of episode 3.

Golden joysticks won – 1

Episode 4

Classic beat/bike em’ up, Road Rash (Mega Drive) is the first challenge of this episode. Richard from Dartford is tasked to complete and win a race on the Redwood Forest stage on the game, punching, kicking and riding his way to victory. After smashing into a car at a crossroads, Richard falls behind and only manages to finish second, failing the challenge… might have had something to do with the stupid way he held the controller too.

Reviews this episode are fantasy games. First up is the gorgeous Psygnosis classic, Shadow of the Beast (Mega Drive) which gets an understandable 59%. Then Populous II (Amiga) is given a much more worthy 94% because it’s one of the greatest game sequels ever made. Finally, Kings Quest V (PC) is handed a 62%. The feature looks at SEGA’s marketing ideas for the Mega Drive. Then onto the celebrity challenge. World Champion darts legend, Eric Bristow is given the game Heimdall (Amiga) where he has to throw axes at a tied in place maiden to cut her hair and free her from her captives in 2 minutes… he fails. Also worth noting that this challenge is the first ‘proper’ appearance of Dave Perry as co-commentator not hidden by the monk outfit… and so it begins…

GamesMaster once more shares his wisdom in the form of hints & tips. Folks having trouble with Duck Tales (NES), Altered Beast (Mega Drive) and Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES) all get a helping hand. Then to the final challenge of the episode. Panza Kick Boxing (Amiga) is the game of choice here and siblings, Jason and Lisa have to fight it out. Despite Lisa being knocked down early in round 1, she manages to knock her brother out in round 2 to win the challenge.

Golden joysticks won – 1

Episode 5

Straight into the action with the first challenge. Duck Tails (NES) is GamesMaster’s game of choice here and it’s Scott from Manchester who has to make his way though and finish the icy Himalayas level in 2.5 minutes. Scott claims to be very confident he’ll beat the challenge with ease… and he does, finishing the level with 39 seconds to spare.

Duck Tails Challenge

Review time once more, this time the games are linked by the word “funk”. ToeJam & Earl (Mega Drive) manages a 70%. Top Banana (Amiga) is given 65%, while Bart Simpson’s Escape from Camp Deadly (Game Boy) gets 89%. Up next is a preview of the then latest Bitmap Brothers game, The Chaos Engine (Amiga). Which shows an early 3-player version, the final release was only 2-player. Then a quick intro to the GamesMaster Golden Goal competition on Kick Off 2 (Amiga), before the obligatory celebrity challenge. Legendary game designer Archer MacLean has to tackle his very own game with Jimmy White’s ‘Whirlwind’ Snooker (Amiga). Archer goes up against Christian from Nottingham while the man himself, Jimmy White offers commentary with Dominick. Each player is given just 90 seconds score as many points as they can only using the coloured balls. Christian scores 31 points but Archer manages 37 points and wins the golden joystick. Then Jimmy White has to pull off a trick-shot designed by Archer MacLean on the game, just for fun, no golden joystick reward here.

It’s tip time again as people seek help from the main man. Spider-Man (Mega Drive), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES) and Shadow of the Beast II (Amiga) all get covered. Then onto the final challenge. Neighbours (Amiga) based on the popular Aussie soap is the game of choice and the aim is to race around Ramsay Street against other residents and win. Taking on the challenge is another celeb (I guess?), Ashley Paske who was on the show itself. The game is terrible, but even so, Ashley is extremely bad at it and fails spectacularly.

And with that, we’re halfway through the first series.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode 6

After perhaps the most double entendre fuelled intro by Dominick, up to this point anyway, the first challenge tees off. Top Player’s Golf (Neo Geo) is the game of choice as Mark from Ross-on-Wye (with a handicap of 4) takes up this challenge and has to finish the first 3 holes of the course in level par or below. After a couple of rough shots and landing in the bunker, Mark fails the challenge.

Reviews next and futuristic games are the theme this time around. First up is Alien Breed (Amiga) which scores an understandable 70%. Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe (Mega Drive) earns a very reasonable 85%. Then Wing Commander II (PC) nabs an underwhelming 59%. The feature this time around looks at the overtly expensive Neo Geo console. Yes, it’s the celebrity challenge next as Capital Radio DJs Pat Sharp and Mick Brown take on Ski or Die (Amiga) and have to battle for the best score on the aerial skiing section and pull of impressive tricks. Mick scores a total of 54.5 for his aerial antics, while Pat after some very shoddy jumps, only manages 40.6. Making Mick the winner of the golden joystick.

Time once more for the GamesMaster tips. Gamers having trouble with The Legend of Zelda (NES), Forgotten Worlds (Mega Drive) and Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll (NES) are all given a helping hand. Then, of course, it’s the final challenge of this episode. Isometric puzzler Brat (Amiga) is the game of choice this time. Michael is the man who thinks he can guide the leather jacket wearing toddler to the end of the level. Getting off to a flying start and looking very much like a winner, he manages to make it near to the end of the level, but a slightly misplaced bit of direction causes him to fail.

Golden joysticks won – 1

Episode 7

It’s a James Pond 2: Codename: Robocod (Amiga) challenge that kicks off this episode. Having to finish the first level in less than 1 minute and amass 50,000 points along the way too are 3 members of the audience. Mark, Julie and Claire all take turns in tackling this challenge. After falling on some spikes… several times, Claire dies and fails early doors. Next up is Mark who doesn’t fair much better, again, falling on spikes… several times before being killed by a snake. Finally, it’s Julie’s turn who also manages to fall on some spikes… several times, yet she does last a little longer than the others before death via snake occurs. No winners on this one.

Time for a few reviews and this time, adventure games are up for scoring. The Immortal (NES) nabs 80%. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (PC) earns itself a very deserving 94%. With Heroes of the Lance (Master System) getting 65%. Then it’s time for a preview of Alien 3 (Mega Drive), based on the movie of the same name. Finishing with a feature looking at gaming music soundtracks in a Top of the Pops style countdown… Xenon 2 Megablast (Amiga) is number 1. Celebrity challenge time next and British wrestler, Kendo Nagasaki (real name: Peter Thornley) takes on David from Hertfordshire at WWF WrestleMania Challenge (NES) with the first person to win via a pinfall. David completely destroys Kendo to win the golden joystick.

GamesMaster Moore 2

Hints & tips next as GamesMaster offers his help for The Legend of Zelda (NES), Strider (Mega Drive) and Mega Man (NES). But before I move on, does anyone know why a wire-frame butt-plug always used to float near the GamesMaster’s head during his segments? This episode’s final challenge is on Thunder Force III (Mega Drive) as Jeremy has to finish the underwater level of Seiren on the game’s hardest difficulty setting. Due to a typhoon of bullets, Jeremy fails the challenge spectacularly.

Golden joysticks won – 1

Episode 8

Strider (Mega Drive) is the game for the first challenge and Chevron from Harrow has to make his way through the first level and finish off the boss in 3 minutes. Some very confident playing, a few minor niggles aside and Chevron destroys this challenge with 45 seconds to spare.

Flight sims are put up for review this time. Birds of Prey (Amiga) lands itself 80%. F-22 Interceptor (Mega Drive) gets 72%. While Knights of the Sky (Amiga) receives a 80%. A preview of ATAC: The Secret War Against Drugs (PC), a flight sim come anti-drug themed shooter is shown. Then onto the celebrity challenge. 1987 Wimbledon champ, Pat Cash takes on his wife, Emily at Baseball Stars Professional (Neo Geo). Simple enough rules, 1 innings each and whoever gets the most runs wins. Pat manages a respectable 5 runs, while Emily a grand total of 0. Pat Cash wins the golden joystick with ease.

The GamesMaster helps out more of the less fortunate with his hints. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES), Alex Kid (Master System) and Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters (Amiga) all shown a little love. Then of course, the inevitable final challenge. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Amiga) is the game of choice and it’s that annoying sliding puzzle thing from this very poor game that makes for this challenge. This is another audience challenge as Dominick selects someone from the crowd to tackle this one. Martin from Stanwell is the man for the job… maybe? No, he fails and only manages to complete 25% of the puzzle before the timer runs out.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode 9

Challenge number one from this penultimate show comes from Zany Golf (Amiga). Father and son, Nigel and Adam have to complete as many holes on this crazy golf game as they can without running out of shots. The person who finishes the most holes wins. The opening windmill hole causes a few problems for Nigel, but they both manage to sink their balls with shots to spare. The second hole is an issue for Adam who runs out of shots, while his father manages to putt his way to victory and win the golden joystick. However, a rather funny ‘judge’s decision’ rules that Nigel is too old to be playing games, so the golden joystick is given to son Adam instead.

This review round-up looks at sports games. John Madden Football ’92 (Mega Drive) scores 95%. NBA All-Star Challenge (Game Boy) gets 69%. With Graham Gooch World Class Cricket (Amiga) manages a 60%. The winner of the previously mentioned GamesMaster Golden Goal competition on Kick Off 2 (Amiga) is announced… it was Robert Moss from Hertfordshire if you were wondering. This episode’s celebrity challenge involves former British featherweight boxing champ, Barry McGuigan who goes up against Gary from Aldershot. They fight it out on Final Blow (Amiga) with the winner being the last man standing after being punched a few dozen times… you know, boxing. In the first round, Barry comes out fists flying and manages to knock down Garry with 30 seconds of the round left. Recovering from his beating, Gary comes back strong and puts Barry on the canvas with 15 seconds left and again in the final second of the first round. Being saved by the bell, the fight goes onto the second round. A flurry of punches and an uppercut from Gary puts Barry McGuigan down only 13 seconds into the second round and out for the count. Making Gary the winner of the golden joystick.

Barry McGuigan

It’s tip time again as GamesMaster hands out his help. Metal Gear (NES), Mega Man 2 (NES) and The Revenge of Shinobi (Mega Drive) are all looked at. Final challenge time and it’s Sega European games-playing champ, Danny Curley who takes on this one. To make things a bit harder for the champ, he has to play a brand new game he’s never seen before. Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi (Mega Drive) is the game and Danny has to finish the second and third levels, rescue all 11 the hostages, kill the boss, not lose a life… and all in 2.5 minutes. Danny completely demolishes this challenge with 1:09 still on the clock. Well he was Sega European games-playing champ.

Golden joysticks won – 3

Episode 10

So here we are, the final episode of series 1 of GamesMaster. Kicking off, as always with the first challenge. Classic light-gun game Duck Hunt (NES) is the game of choice and having to shoot his way to victory is a name a lot of older British gaming/YouTube fans should recognise… a young Paul Gannon (though it sounds like Dominick introduces him as Paul Gammon). Getting off to a very strong start Paul scores an impressive 9 out of 10 on the first level, needing another 9 out of 10 on the second to win the prize. Early on, he misses a target, meaning he can not afford to miss any more… Paul misses the very last one and fails the challenge. No golden joystick here.

And just to try and embarrass Paul a bit, here he is on GamesMaster not winning a golden joystick and I have no idea why he’s wearing his watch near his elbow…

Paul Gannon

As is the norm, it’s review time and adult games are looked at. Deluxe Strip Poker 2 (Amiga) is dealt 60%. Geisha (Amiga) is given 41%. And finally, Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work (Amiga) gets an unbelievable 89%. The feature this time around takes a look at the then soon to be released, latest 16-bit console the Super Nintendo Entertainment System… I could’ve just written SNES there couldn’t I? If you’ve been following the format so far, then you know it’s celebrity challenge time. GamesMaster has chosen Emlyn Hughes International Soccer (Amiga) for a game of footie. Playing is Suni from Ealing going up against the man himself, former Liverpool FC and England captain Emlyn Hughes. With Suni playing as Brazil while Emlyn favours England. Suni makes short work of this challenge and completely decimates Emlyn 5-0 to win the golden joystick.

The last batch of hints & tips for this series as people struggling with The Legend of Zelda (NES), Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi (Mega Drive) and The Adventures of Rad Gravity (NES) are all helped. Then onto the final challenge of the final episode with Decap Attack (Mega Drive). Having to finish the first 2 levels of the game in under 2 minutes is John from Hastings. Managing to fly through the first level with ease, it’s onto the second level with 1:07 still on the clock to finish this challenge. John messes up on a jump and takes a hit from an enemy, leaving him short on time and vulnerable as he can only take one more hit before dying and failing the challenge. But he finishes the second level with 12 seconds left to win the final golden joystick of this series.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Overall

As welcome as the first series of GamesMaster was, compared to latter series, this was a little uneven and not quite there yet. Dominik Diamond’s cheeky persona is here, but doesn’t really come alive until later series. The lighting is very drab and dank with a few lasers shooting around and smoke machines making the set look like a really bad early 90s rave venue. I never really liked the original set. The show evolves (for the most part) later on and as the budget increases, so does the quality. The first series is a little ropy and rough around the edges, but for the first dedicated gaming TV show, GamesMaster did well indeed.

And with that out of the way, it’s time to don the smoking jacket and enjoy a nice hot cup of jasmine tea.

Series 1 End

Total golden joysticks won this series – 18

Much more to come in series 2… when I get round to it.

“You may be wondering why I’m playing with my organ in a crowded church? Well, this is GamesMaster, television’s only video game magazine show. Coming to you from the only church in the country where Harry Secombe is too fat to fit through the door. But nevertheless, we’ve managed to squeeze and ample portion into tonight’s slot.”

– Dominick Diamond

 

 

GamesMaster: A Retrospective – Introduction

When it comes to worthy and quality gaming TV shows, there aren’t that many worth remembering. They usually lacked substance or even a basic understanding of the gaming world. Here in the UK, we had a few gaming shows through the 90s and most of them were complete pants. But one stood out in the rather small crowd. A show that had humour (often both very adult, near the knuckle and childish), gaming news & reviews, challenges, celebrity guests, hints & cheats and above all… it had respect for games and the gaming community.

GamesMaster ran for 7 series (seasons for my American readers) between 1992 – 1998. With a total of 126 episodes. It was massively popular among British gamers such as myself and the millions of viewers who tuned in week after week to watch, what was, at the time, the UK’s first and only dedicated gaming TV show.

At first, I thought about doing a short-ish article just looking at how GamesMaster began, grew and ultimately ended. But after reading what I had written, it felt unworthy and disrespectful to what was, quite easily the greatest gaming TV show ever made. So I decided to do something more in-depth. A proper intro (this that you’re reading right now), a look at every series, every single episode and right up to the end of GamesMaster and it’s influence and impact.

There a hell of a lot to cover here and this is just the beginning. So here we go. My in-depth retrospective look at GamesMaster, from it’s origins to it’s end including every episode and as many interesting tit-bits I can find and cram in along the way.

Just a quick aside. When I do these large retrospectives, I usually pre-write the whole thing in advance and publish each part one after the other. Due to a lack of time, other writing projects and more than several other distractions. I’m writing and publishing this gargantuan retrospective as and when each part is done. As I aim to cover every series and every episode (and a few bonuses along the way), so this will take a while. So please do bear with me as there will be gaps of days, even weeks as I write this epic, multi-part retrospective.

So with that out of the way, onto GamesMaster… all of it.

Origins And Format

GamesMaster was the brainchild of Jane Hewland, who founded TV production company Hewland International. While watching her young son playing video games, she began to wonder why this increasingly popular form of entertainment is not represented much on TV. Jane put together a pitch for a new TV show that would not just cover new games, but also work in an element of competition via gaming challenges. Channel 4 caught wind of the pitch and offered to push ahead with the production and so GamesMaster was born.

Interestingly enough, because the show had a competitive angle, it fell under the jurisdiction of the sports department of programmes. So I guess GamesMaster could be considered the first foray into what we now call e-sports.

The format of GamesMaster took ideas from popular gaming magazines of the day. It would feature news and reviews, but the main thrust of the show would be the challenges where members of the public (and sometimes celebrities) would go up against the latest games and compete to win the coveted golden joystick trophy, which was just a cheap computer joystick spray painted gold.

GamesMaster Golden Joystick

The show would have a main presenter who introduced the games, challenges and spoke with the contestants and often joined by a co-commentator, who would be an industry insider or gaming journalist, comically talking about the games being played. Then there was the titular GamesMaster himself. Played by the legendary Sir Patrick Moore, who would introduce the game challenges as well as offer his endless wisdom as the GamesMaster to provide hints, tips and cheats for the latest titles.

GamesMaster Moore

Each series had a theme/location and even a continuity linked story for the presenter as the series “story” evolved… more of which I’ll cover with each series write-up.

GamesMaster’s format was structured but also felt very fresh and exciting too, with a little anarchy thrown in. This was the first time games and the gaming world had a dedicated TV show. Aimed at older children/teens, but with some more than risqué adult humour. GamesMaster aired at 6:30 pm, before the watershed, how they got away with some of the sexual innuendos, references and jokes was hilarious and it was that blending of gaming and near the knuckle humour that made the show such a hit.

First airing in 1992, during the 16-bit generation of gaming with the Mega Drive and SNES and being the first dedicated gaming TV show had developers and publishers eager to show off their latest games. The GamesMaster production team built up a very friendly and close relationship with many gaming studios at the time which was beneficial to all involved. GamesMaster got their millions of viewers watching for the latest games and the developers/publishers got their games in front of the millions of avid viewing gamers with parent’s money to spend on their software. Due to this close working partnership with developers and publishers, on occasion, GamesMaster could show off titles well in advance of their release date and often getting the edge over popular gaming magazines at the time.

During it’s run, GamesMaster was THE TV show to watch at a time before the internet took off proper and gaming culture was everywhere.

GamesMaster Title 2

So with the intro out of the way, I’ll kick things off with a look at the very first series and every episode of GamesMaster.

 

 

The Ghosts ‘n Goblins Saga

I’ve not done any big articles this year as I’ve been busy writing my books. But it’s Halloween time again and I do love me some Halloween. I’m a big horror fan so this time of year is a great excuse to sit around and watch some classic horror films or play some scary games… oh and write some Halloween special articles.

I’ve done some belting Halloween articles over the years, even if I do say so myself. Normally I tend to stick with horror movies for my Halloween specials and rarely give games a mention. This year I’m doing both, I originally had four articles planned, two gaming ones and two film ones (though the same film)… but then something Halloween related came to my attention a few weeks back and so I wrote another one, which ended up becoming very large and I had to split it into two. Anyway, that means I have six Halloween articles coming over the next few days.

So all being told, I have several other Halloween articles coming this week, both film and gaming too but before I get to them, I’m going to kick off my Halloween celebration by covering every game in Capcom’s and Sir Arthur’s ghoulish adventures spanning twenty five years…

Ghosts ‘n Goblins

Released in the arcade in 1985 before being ported to every popular gaming machine at the time. The original Ghosts ‘n Goblins features a simple and classic story. Girl (Princess Prin Prin) get’s kidnapped (by a flying demon) and you (Sir Arthur) have to save her. It’s story is simple, however, Ghosts ‘n Goblins gameplay is anything but. This game’s difficulty is legendary, but before I get to that, a quick look at it’s gameplay.

Ghost N Goblins Poster.jpg

So Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a scrolling action/platformer/shooter. Playing as Sir Arthur, you make your way through graveyards, forests, ghost towns, an underground demon realm and a multi-level castle. All you have to do is make your way from the graveyard at the start and reach the castle at the end. Taking on various enemies like zombies, ravens, mini-devils, skeletons and other spooky foes. Along the way you’ll find various pick-ups from treasure to boost your score and even weapons that can help or even hinder your progress.

Sir Arthur has no health bar, this was the days of real gaming. No health, no save states, no checkpoints. You payed the game from start to end (if you could) with limited lives, lose all your lives and it was game over. Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a legendarily tough challenge, while there is no health bar, Arthur could take two hits before dying. One hit removes his armour and leaves him running around in his undercrackers but another hit after that and you were brown bread.

Ghost N Goblins Death

But the lack of health and limited lives are the least of your worries. This game is old school hard, but one of those where the more you play, the more you learn, so you make little advancements each time you play. But it gets worse… see, even if you do manage to get to the castle at the end and battle you way to the top and come face to face with the mastermind behind the kidnapping of your lass… even  if you do manage to beat the big boss man, Astaroth. You have to go back to the start and finish the whole game again and on a harder difficulty setting too. Ghosts ‘n Goblins is legendarily cruel but also one of the most playable games of the 80s and still is today too. Got it on my Xbox, play it quite often when I feel like punishing myself.

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

After the success of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, of course there was a sequel. Released in 1988 for the arcades before (again) being ported to every popular system at the time. This time around, Princess Prin Prin isn’t kidnapped, she’s killed and her soul taken, along with all the souls of the citizens of the kingdom by Lucifer himself. Arthur sets out once more to take on the big red bastard and get back all those stolen souls.

Ghouls N Ghosts Magic.jpg

The baisc gameplay for the original is back with a few tweaks. Arthur can now shoot in more directions, up and down instead of just left and right. The levels themselves are much more varied and exploreable. The weapons have been improved and there is now the addition of golden armour which adds another power level to your weapon and magic attacks. Then there are the hidden secrets when you jump is specific spots and uncover a hidden chest that could contain a nice bonus or a not so nice booby prize. You still have to make your way through various spooky levels battling demons and the undead. It’s essentially the same basic game, but with many, many refinements.

Oh and there is something else carried over for the original too, the difficulty. Now I personally didn’t find Ghouls ‘n Ghosts as hard as the first game, but it’s still bloody hard. And yes, that damn fake ending and having to back to the beginning and play through the entire game again on a harder difficulty setting. A fine sequel to a classic game but for me, it just doesn’t hold that same ‘classic’ status as the original.

Gargoyle’s Quest

Next up in the franchise wasn’t a direct sequel, but a spin off. Gargoyle’s Quest was released in 1990 for the Nintendo Game Boy. This time you play as the gargoyle Firebrand, who was actually an enemy in Ghosts ‘n Goblins. You have to battle King Breager in order to bring piece to the Demon Realm, the world the first game takes place in.

The gameplay in this one shifts slightly from the classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins template. That side scrolling action is still there with the platforming and so on. But there is the addition of overhead Zelda-like exploration and light RPG elements. Firebrand had a basic skill set that can improve over time, jump higher, stronger firepower, hover, etc. Each side scrolling level ends with a boss fight, classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins style.

Gargoyle's Quest Screen.jpg

Overall, Gargoyle’s Quest is really good. It’s heart is still Ghosts ‘n Goblins but it manages to do it’s own thing at the same time too. A nice little action/adventure game that stands out as one of the better ones of it’s time.

Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

Now and again, a sequel game comes along that is just sublime. They don’t happen often, but when they do, they’re pure genius. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is one of those very few. Released in 1991 for the SNES, this is the third ‘proper’ game in the series. With you playing as Arthur once more and having to save a kidnapped Princess Prin Prin again, this time from Emperor Sardius. Arthur also has to find the Goddess’s Bracelet, the only weapon capable of destroying the evil Emperor.

Super Ghouls N Ghosts Title.jpg

There’s a very good reason why this is called Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts… aside from it being on the Super Nintendo and a lot of the console’s games had the prefix of ‘super’. The main reason is the fact the game is exactly that, it’s super. It takes everything great about the first two games, then fine tunes and refines everything. The multiple directional shooting is back, as is the golden armour and magic, etc from the last sequel all return. But then there is the truly amazing level design, the shifting land of The Dead Place level, the Mode-7 twisting and turning of The Ghoul’s Stomach stage and the general creepiness of The Rotting Sea ghost ship area. The whole game oozes atmosphere and a beautifully dark and scary art style. The levels in this game are some of the finest ever seen on the SNES and definitely the best in the entire franchise. One of the finest action/platformers ever made and still highly playable today.

Super Ghouls N Ghosts Screen

Oh yes, that punishing difficulty is also back… and yes, so is all that being forced to play through the game twice, the second time on a harder difficulty too. Yeah this is classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins and for me, the best game in the series.

Gargoyle’s Quest II

Next up is the sequel to the spin off with Gargoyle’s Quest II. Released for the NES in 1992, you play as Firebrand again with a basic plot of having to save the Ghoul Realm once more. I guess I should point out that this sequel is actually a prequel set before the events of the first game.

Gargoyle's Quest II Screen

Gargoyle’s Quest II is pretty much more of the same, which is not necessarily a bad thing at all as the first game was pretty good. It once more brings back that overhead action/light RPG thing and mixes it with more traditional side scrolling, Ghosts ‘n Goblins platforming action. A more refined version of the first game and one that is still very playable today.

Demon’s Crest

The main games in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise took a bit of a break for a while as next up was Demon’s Crest. This was the third game in the Gargoyle’s Quest spin off series released in 1994 for the SNES. Yup, Firebrand is back as he has to find six magical stones… or crests which he uses to rule the Demon Realm, only for a rival demon, Phalanx who tires to stop our anti-hero from finishing his task.

Demon's Crest Screen.png

Yup, this is again, pretty much more of the same. Basic RPG, exploration with side scrolling action. But this time around, the game features more depth and variety. Firebrand’s skills set has been improved, the world map is much bigger with more places to visit and explore and the game even feature multiple endings plus a secret final ending. With each crest you find, Firebrand earns a new skill that will allow him to explore an area even more, so the levels have some replayability. The graphics are wonderfully bleak and very Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts-like, giving off a very nice and spooky horror vibe.

Demon’s Crest is a great title and one that is often overlooked, the best of the Gargoyle’s Quest spin off series. If you have a SNES (or emulator) you really should play this one.

Makaimura for WonderSwan

So this one is a bit of an oddity. First I think I’d better quickly cover what the title means. So the WonderSwan was a black & white handheld console from Bandai that was meant to rival Nintendo’s Game Boy… it didn’t, it pretty much failed. As for Makaimura? Well that was the original Japanese title for the very first Ghosts ‘n Goblins game, with Makaimura basically translating to Demon World Village… which does pretty much sum up the first game. Oh and by the way, I didn’t add the name of the game console to the title of the game… that is the official title. Anyway, on with the game itself.

So you play as Arthur again as he battles the evil Azrael who has gone and kidnapped Princess Prin Prin (of course and why not, everyone else has). So Arthur sets out to battle hordes of demons and the undead to get his girl back.

As I said before, this is a bit of an oddity. I believe it was only ever released in Japan and in 1999. Now as far as I can tell, it’s not a sequel or a prequel, but more of a reimagining of the first game. There’s no multi-directional shooting here, this is pure Ghosts ‘n Goblins simplicity, left to right shooting only. But it does seem to borrow from the sequels in terms of it’s graphics. Much more simplified for the handheld limitations and black & white graphics, but the game definitely uses assets from the earlier sequels. Plus there’s a branching paths idea on some of the levels where you chose different ways to go. Then some levels require you to turn the console itself 90 degrees as the gameplay shifts from horizontal play to vertical.

Makaimura for WonderSwan Screen.jpg

You know what? Makaimura for WonderSwan (full title) is a great little title. It’s plays more like the original game with is simplicity, but it also throws in some Ghouls ‘n Ghosts/Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts tweaks to keep things fresh and exciting. Oh and yes like previous games in the series, you have to finish it twice to see the proper ending. If you get chance, give this one a go.

Maximo: Ghosts to Glory

So I guess this is the start of the second spin off series within the main franchise. Released in 2001 for the PlayStation 2, this one has you playing as King Maximo who has to save the kidnapped (of course he does) Queen Sophia from the evil Achille, who uses the power if the undead to try and take over the world… with the help from the Grim Reaper himself.

Maximo Ghosts to Glory Screen.png

So this one is not a direct sequel to the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise but more of it’s close cousin. It does play pretty much the same but with some big changes. The biggest departure from the main series is the viewpoint. Gone are the 2D, sprite based graphics and gone too is the side scrolling action. Maximo: Ghosts to Glory is fully 3D and set in a semi-open world environment. It’s also more ‘hack ‘n slash’ style gameplay over the arcade shooting and platforming of the previous games. The game is split into five main worlds with each world made up from four levels and a boss fight. You can go and explore each level at will as you hack down numerous ghoulish enemies. Find weapons and power ups, end Achille’s evil plans and rescue Queen Sophia, job’s a good ‘un.

Maximo: Ghosts to Glory’s roots are most definitely in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise, but it’s also it’s own thing. Even the loss of your armour and running around in your boxer shorts from the main games in the series makes it’s way into this one, along with other nods and references to the original games. It’s a cracking action game and a nice addition and evolution of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise.

Maximo vs. Army of Zin

Yup, Maximo is back in this 2003 sequel to the second Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise spin off. Picking up directly after the events of the previous game, (SPOILERS) Maximo didn’t quite save Sophia and has to team up with the Grim Reaper again to save the love of his life. Only this time, the village is attacked by the titular Army of Zin who are powered by lost souls under the direction of Lord Bane. So yeah, Maximo sets out to try and save Queen Sophia (again) and stop Lord Bane.

Maximo vs. Army of Zin Screen.jpg

Still maintaining that hack ‘n slash gameplay from the previous title, the levels are bigger and more varied but still have that semi-open world concept that you can explore at will. There’s also interaction with the villagers and other NPCs who offer advice and even various bonuses in a very lose RPG style. Maximo vs. Army of Zin is another solid title. Nothing too taxing gameplay wise, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s simple but fun hack ‘n slash, with a bit of platforming action game. Both Maximo games are worth checking out.

There hadn’t been a ‘proper’ Ghosts ‘n Goblins game since the release of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts back in 1991. Spin offs and interesting oddities yes, but not a real Ghosts ‘n Goblins game for over a decade, until…

Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins

Finally, after fifteen years and released in 2006 for the PlayStation Portable, Arthur is back. Guess what? He has to rescue the kidnapped Princess Prin Prin. I’ll not bother with the predicable and banal story. Arthur has to battle the undead to rescue princess.. again. That’s it. It’s the gameplay that’s worth looking at here.

Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins Screen

Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a wonderful melding of classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins with more than a generous pinch of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts/Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts thrown in. Using that basic but effective 2D scrolling that the franchise is famed for, only with lovely 3D graphics. The game features three different play modes, Novice, Standard and Ultimate. Novice is pretty self-explanatory, it’s an easy mode. Standard is the intermediate setting and with both of these modes, you get a much easier go at the game with fewer enemies, more generous bonuses and overall simpler gameplay. But it is the Ultimate mode where the game really comes to life. This is old school Ghosts ‘n Goblins level of difficulty. Fewer lives, two hit deaths, no checkpoints, etc.

The older weapons are back as well as a few new ones, golden armour and magic from the sequels also returns along with a slew of bells and whistles. Unlike previous games in the franchise, you can go back and replay levels at will, which you will have to do if you want to finish the game proper. Gong back on previously completed levels can uncover various secrets. It’s actually impossible to see the true ending unless you do go back and explore previously competed levels.

Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins Screen 2.png

Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins is amazing. I still have a major weak spot for Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts which, for me is still the best in the franchise. But this one is a very close second and a very welcome return to form for Sir Arthur. The graphics are very moody, atmospheric and really bring back memories of playing the original games. The levels are wonderfully designed and feature some classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins enemies as well as a slew of new ones. Then there are the huge and impressive end of level bosses. Plus playing it the hardest setting is the only real why to enjoy Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins.

And that is pretty much it for the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise. Arthur himself has had a few notable appearances outside of the games. There was a manga series called Hisshō Tekunikku Kan Peki-ban in which he appeared. He also showed up in a crossover Archie Comics series called Worlds Unite where he crossed paths with other gaming icons like Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. Arthur has also showed up in other games such as Cannon Spike, Namco x Capcom and Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes to name a few. His famous costume can even be found in We Love Golf, Dead Rising 2 and Monster Hunter Generations.

Okay, okay. So there’s a handful of other oddities I guess I should look at before I bring this one to an end. There were ‘technically’ two other Ghosts ‘n Goblins games. I’ll cover both of these as one because, well there not really worth going into in depth and they’re pretty much the same game anyway.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Gold Knights I & II

So Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Gold Knights are two ‘games’ released on iOS in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Yes that’s right iOS, mobile games. They’re okay at best. Not really true Ghosts ‘n Goblins games though. Full of the cancer of gaming, the microtransaction, so you can pay your way to win.

Video game image #98184

The gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect. Run around shooting enemies, Ghosts ‘n Goblins style… but it all feels very ’empty’. The controls were very ‘woolly’ and felt unresponsive for the most part. You could play as characters other than Arthur for the first time in the (main) franchise, that was an interesting addition as each character had their own strengths and weaknesses. The gameplay itself was just okay. I guess they are not terrible games, but they’re not really worth shouting about either. Not that it really matters as both games were pulled from the Apple App store in 2016.

So there is one final thing I just want to quickly look at, an unofficial ‘sequel’ to Ghosts ‘n Goblins.

Beyond the Ice Palace

So this tit-bit is slightly lesser known I guess. A quick bit of gaming history to explain the backstory to this one I feel. The home computer versions of the original Ghosts ‘n Goblins were published by British gaming studio, Elite Systems. Now the home ports of Ghosts ‘n Goblins were a big hit. So understandably, Elite wanted to capitalise on this, they wanted a sequel and fast. Not wanting to wait for Capcom to make their next game, Elite decided to make their own unofficial ‘sequel’.

They took the idea to Capcom who told them to stop work on the game because they were already working on Ghouls ‘N Ghosts at the time. Elite had all this work done in the game, it was even originally called Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Beyond the Ice Palace too and also featured Sir Arthur. So Elite had this sequel made, but couldn’t sell it as Capcom wouldn’t allow it. Eventually, Elite just dropped the Ghosts ‘n Goblins prefix, gave the main character a makeover, tweaked the plot and released the game as Beyond the Ice Palace for home computers in 1988 instead.

Beyond the Ice Palace Screen.png

Now if you play Beyond the Ice Palace, you will see a lot of  similarities in the gameplay between it and Ghosts ‘n Goblins. The platforming/shooting action is there, many of the enemies are variants on those found in Ghosts ‘n Goblins, a lot of the weapon pick ups are also the same. In fact, the entire setting for this game is based on stages 4 and 5 (Entrance of the Demon Realm Castle and the castle itself) of Ghosts ‘n Goblins.

So yeah, the little known Beyond the Ice Palace was originally a sequel to the home computer ports of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Another little tit-bit about this game is that when Elite lost the rights to use the Ghosts ‘n Goblins name, they tried to sell the game as a Thundercats tie-in. The deal also fell through so just released the game as is… also note how the main character looks a bit like Lion-O from Thundercats but with a different colour scheme?


 

There have been some heavy rumours that Capcom are looking at reviving some of their older IPs after the success of the Resident Evil II remake and Devil May Cry V from earlier this year. Fingers crossed they are looking at Ghosts ‘n Goblins. I’d love to see a complete  Ghosts ‘n Goblins collection with all the games in the main series and spin offs remastered with new features. But an all new Ghosts ‘n Goblins game for the modern audience still using that classic gameplay would be amazing. Some kind of remake/reboot.

Well that’s finally it for my look at the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise for Halloween. But I have several more articles coming up this week to celebrate Halloween. Next up, the story of an arcade game that is said to have killed people in real life… or did it?

Best Of British Game Developers Publishers – An Introduction

Okay so before I get into this one, I need to explain my big plan here. I want to write an insightful book covering some of the best of British game developers and publishers of the 8, 16 and 32 bit bit era of gaming and some of their games. How they started, the games they released and where they are today. This article right here is a small prototype of what I want to book to be, the final book will be a much bigger idea. This is just a quick-ish look at one of many British game developers and publishers I aim to cover. I already have three of these written up, this is only one of them (an abridged version at that too) and there is a lot more to cover.

This article will be a look at Imagine Software just to whet the appetite. I also have write-ups of Psygnosis and Ocean already done too. But those are just the tip of the iceberg as I’m planning on covering Elite, U.S. Gold (despite the name they were British), Gremlin Graphics, The Bitmap Brothers, Ultimate Play The Game (who later became Rare), DMA Design (who became Rockstar) and also cover the great Peter Molynuex’s companies including Bullfrog and Lionhead. Quite possibly more will be added to the list as I continue to write more and more…Codemasters?

I have been researching this for the last 12 months or so, watching documentaries, reading articles, digging up old gaming magazines and of course mining my own memories of growing up playing the games of these companies myself. I have a tonne of information all ready to go, thousands upon thousands of notes and facts that just need re-typing and formatting into readable content. Seeing as retro gaming is pretty big right now, I think a book like this could do very well. Plus I feel it will be an insightful education for non-British gamers who didn’t realise just how strong the British game industry was in the 80s and 90s. You see, while North America was feeling the fallout from the infamous ‘video game crash of 1983’, back in Blighty – we were just not affected at all. Nintendo didn’t save us or the game’s industry the same way its been perceived as doing in America simply because the U.K already had an established gaming industry that was growing stronger and stronger each year. More on my overall plan at the end of this article.

Allow me to introduce you to one of the most popular British game companies of the early 80s –  Imagine Software.

Imagine Logo

Back the the early 80s the ‘bedroom coders’ were on the rise. These were often very small teams of two or three people – sometimes only one, who would sit there in their bedrooms inputting hundreds and hundreds of lines of code into their ZX Spectrums or Commodore Vic-20s creating their own games. The Indie game industry we have today owes a lot to the originators of this modern trend.

It was in 1982 when Imagine Software was founded in Liverpool, England. But we need to go back a couple more years to another software company also based in Liverpool, Bug-Byte Software Ltd in 1980 who became famous for publishing the massively popular game Manic Miner developed by Matthew Smith. Manic Miner is one of British gaming’s all time classics and often cited as one of the games that made the platforming genre what it is today.

Manic Miner

It was sometime in 1982 when several Bug-Byte employees left the company and decided to go it alone including; Mark Butler, David Lawson and Eugene Evans. Staying in Liverpool, they set up Imagine Software which has been suggested was named after the most famous song from Liverpool’s most famous son – John Lennon. Imagine quickly made a name for themselves by employing some of the very best coders of the early 80s. Butler and Lawson were very close friends and had previously worked together at one of the countries first ever (if not THE first) microcomputer shops, Microdigital. Which was in the heart of Liverpool city centre.

MicroDigital

When they formed Imagine Software, Butler and Lawson invited their old boss and owner of Microdigital – Bruce Everiss to join them and after selling Microdigital, he agreed. Everiss took on the role of Public Relations and everyday operations within Imagine. Mark Butler became the company director while David Lawson and Eugene Evans were lead programmers. But there was one more member of the team that was hired at the request of Lawson – Ian Hetherington who came on-board as the company’s financial adviser.

Unusual for a game company at the time Imagine loved being in-front of the cameras, they would hold interviews and try to get their name in print as much as they could. There is one major example of this with the utterly engrossing BBC documentary Commercial Breaks originally broadcast in 1984 which followed both Imagine and Ocean that was also a huge help in compiling research for this whole project. One thing the guys at Imagine loved to do was show off their success. You would often find articles written about the company founders where they would gloat about once being lonely bedroom coders to showing off their millions of pounds they were making at the time. Imagine were PR experts lead by Everiss and never turned down the chance to get their names in the press. Yes, Imagine became huge in the early 80s but I feel I’m jumping ahead slightly here and need to go back to how they became successful to begin with as no matter how great your PR is, a game company is nothing if you don’t have the games to sell.

David Lawson had an idea for a title back when he was still working for Bug-Byte Software before Imagine existed. However, he felt that Bug-Byte were too small to sell his game so he sat on it for a while and when he co-formed Imagine, he realised he was now in the right position to get his game sold. That game was Arcadia.

Arcadia

Released in 1982 for the ZX Spectrum, Arcadia was the first game from Imagine Software. It was a pretty good arcade style shoot em’ up that received very favourable reviews in the gaming magazines back in the day. Arcadia was one of the very early games that helped to forge a path for microcomputer gaming as a whole and laid the foundations of what was to come over the next few years. For its time of release, it sold very well indeed and could be credited with setting up Imagine financially and giving them the leg up they needed which allowed them to become one of the most popular developer/publishers of the day.

The money Arcadia brought in allowed Imagine to grow as they hired more programmers who would go on to produce some of the best games of the early 80s and push the ZX Spectrum to its limits. 1982 was their introduction year, but it was 1983 where Imagine would go from strength to strength as they released game after game after game. Titles such as AlchemistAh DiddumsZzoom and Stonkers – just to name a few, all from 1983. It was as if the stars had aligned as everything just fell into place. Bedroom coders were booming meaning Imagine could pick and choose from the best young talent. The ZX Spectrum, which was Imagine’s main computer of choice for their games was fast becoming the gaming computer of choice and was selling well in England and Imagine were right at the forefront with front row seats to what many consider the birth of the microcomputer gaming industry.

Bedroom coders where becoming a hot property, you could pick up a well known newspaper in 1983 and find interviews featuring these (often) teenagers who had knocked up a game at home and managed to sell it to a publisher making plenty of money in royalties along the way. 1983 was most definitely the best year Imagine could wish for…but 1984 would be the year where Imagine would fall.

Once the money started coming in throughout 1983, Imagine would spend it just as quickly as they earned it. They upgraded to state of the art offices and computers, hired more and more staff to a point where they had around 100 employees – which for a game company in the early 80s was stupidly big. Still, improving your work-space and employees is pretty standard stuff but Imagine tried to grow too big, too quickly. Money was not just being spent on improving the office as huge chucks of their profits were going towards lavish parties and sports cars. The founders drove around in Ferraris, Porches and BMWs, even the mid and lower-level employees drove expensive cars including the cleaners. Imagine’s company director Mark Butler owned a custom built Harris motorbike and at some point in 1983, they even planned to get a helipad built on top of their office – just because they could afford to. Oh and let’s not forget the bike racing team…yes Imagine had their own racing team. Most probably set up just so Butler could enjoy riding his bike(s) at high speed.

Imagine racing

Imagine loved flaunting all they had, telling their success story to the press as they were becoming the face of the home computer gaming boom. David Lawson gave their programmes complete freedom to create whatever they wanted with no disruption. Which sounds like an amazing job – but with little direction or discipline, it meant many of the employed coders would just sit around doing nothing and getting paid very well for it too. Though all of this with all the money they made in 1983 and all they were spending, Imagine never bothered to hire a professional accountant. By the end of 1983, the cracks had already began to appear at Imagine as the four heads of the company split down the middle with David Lawson and Ian Hetherington one one side while Mark Butler and Bruce Everiss were on the other side. They couldn’t agree on the direction the company should be heading in and while the disagreements continued – so did the spending of money. The slowly forming cracks became more widened and more fractured. Their games stared to suffer too and what were once well developed and polished titles at the start of 1983 became lazy and messy games be the time Christmas rolled around.

But there was one major factor that would be the end of Imagine…well technically two factors. Psyclapse and Bandersnatch – two games that Imagine had planned that would be truly groundbreaking.  Two games that Imagine heavily advertised and two games that they were calling ‘megagames’.

Psyclapse and Bandersnatch.jpg

If things at Imagine were starting to look bad before, then they were only going to get much, much worse with these titles. These two megagames that were only two of an intended six – were envisioned to push the ZX Spectrum way beyond its limits. Imagine did all they could to hype up these games to boiling point. Publishers Marshal Cavendish supposedly made a deal for the games that was worth around £11 million…in 1983s money. Which was, back then an obscene amount of cash, especially for just two pieces of software. When the deal was signed, Imagine celebrated by spending even more money. More parties, more sports cars, more racing bikes and the like.

In order for these games to work on the ZX Spectrum, they would have to be sold with some kind of expansion cartridge which drove the cost price of the games up through the roof. These megagames were estimated to have been sold for around £40, which by today’s standards is about normal. But back in late 1983/early 84, Imagine’s games typically sold for around £5-£7, just to put things into perspective.

David Lawson threw himself into developing these games and did something he previously refused to do – oversee and manage the programmers. The ads for the games were already running in the numerous gaming magazines at the time, deals had been made for not only the publishing rights but also the cover art, which was commissioned to be done by the legendary Roger Dean who created the artwork for many rock albums, book covers and even other video games. It was Bandersnatch in particular that took up most of Lawson’s time. There were problems…big problems as the game was no where near complete despite all the hype and advertising Imagine had carried out. The programmers just could not get it to work at all and while all of this was going on, Imagine’s company director, Mark Butler was more interested and invested most of his time in the bike racing team than the development of the software. Butler’s apparent lack of interest in the company meant that Bruce Everiss stepped up as unofficial boss – even if he never wanted to be. Everiss fought hard to keep Imagine from going under.

It was Christmas of 1983 and Imagine wanted to take as much advantage of the silly season as they could. Using an aggressive tactic to try and gain a monopoly of Christmas sales, they hired out the entirety of one of the biggest duplicating factories to produce their games. This meant that their competitors would find it more difficult to get games into shops while Imagine would have an abundance of software all ready to go on sale for Christmas. But the plan backfired for one major reason and one very similar to what bought about the game crash of North America, they over produced. Yes Imagine had plenty of games on the shelves for Christmas, hundreds of thousands of them in fact, but after Christmas the sales dropped as they normally do after the festive season and yet there were still thousands and thousands of Imagine software sitting on the shelves that no one was buying. While we here in Blighty didn’t have anything anywhere near as severe as the 1983 video game crash, sales did slow down. With the tonnes of games still on the shelves in early 1984 and sales figures dropping everywhere, Imagine had no other option but to sell of their games dirt cheap to try and reclaim some of that cash that went into producing them in the first place. Once more, Imagine were spending more money than they were making.

This all tied into the previously mentioned megagames, if they struggled to sell their current games at discounted prices after Christmas then how were they going to sell the these megagames at £40? Seeing development for these games had ground to a halt, publisher Marshal Cavendish began to get very cold feet over the £11 million deal and eventually pulled out. They also demanded any revenue back…money that Imagine had already been spending. To save hemorrhaging money, Imagine could have cut back on staff, downsized if you will – but no as the company began to crumble in early 1984 they held onto their 100 strong employees refusing to let anyone go. There was a plan put in place where Imagine would sell their non-working megagame Bandersnatch to Sinclair Research who in turn could then sell the game for the Sinclair QL computer. For those not in the know, the Sinclair QL computer is one of the biggest microcomputer failures. So obviously that didn’t pan out either.

It was around Christmas of 83 time when director Paul Anderson was making his previously mentioned BBC documentary Commercial Breaks. Filming both Imagine and Ocean with the idea that he would capture an amazing part of history where young entrepreneurs were riding the wave of the video game revolution selling thousands of games over the Christmas period of 1983. Yet what he actually captured on film was the fall of Imagine. It was now the summer of 1984 and after several months of mismanagement, deals falling through and excessive spending of money the roof finally caved in on Imagine and it was all caught on camera thanks to Anderson’s documentary. There is one part in particular from Commercial Breaks where the bailiffs turn up at Imagine’s office to reclaim anything of value. The bailiffs were reclaiming so much equipment from the Imagine office they there even tired to take the cameras from the crew filming Paul Anderson’s documentary thinking it all belonged to Imagine.

News Clipping

On the 9th of July 1984, Imagine were no more, forced to close and declare bankruptcy.  They only lasted around 18 months or so – but what a year and a half it was. Imagine were very young and very stupid. They made their fortune, changed the British gaming industry forever and paved the way for many other companies after them. They were trailblazers in many ways but they also managed to destroy everything they worked to build. Many of the head honchos and staff of Imagine went onto other careers within the games industry, some massively successfully so too…

Now I know what some of you older gamers may be thinking right now – that you remember playing Imagine games long after 1984 and yes, you’d be right. So if they closed in 84 then how were you playing their games right up to 1989? Well this is where Ocean Software stepped in as they brought the Imagine name and released some of their games through the the name even if the company itself was dead…but that is a story for the next chapter of this book.

Oh and about those megagames too? Well information on Psyclapse is nonexistent. As far as I can tell, the game never even begun development at all. Imagine just had a name, a few ideas and a several ads running in gaming magazines to hype it up. But Bandersnatch is a very different story. That one was most definitely being worked on and you can even see as much in the Commercial Breaks documentary where footage is shown of the game being developed. Oh yeah, and it was even eventually released too. Given a name change but it was the first game developed and published by Psygnosis – the company set up by Ian Hetherington after the collapse of Imagine and a game developer/publisher that became one of the best, most loved of the 80s and 90s and again, this is something I’ll cover in another chapter…


My Dream…

So there you have it, just an example of what I want this book to be about. The final write ups will be more in-depth and take a closer look at some of the games. This is just meant as a taster. I also found it really interesting how many of the companies I’m going to cover intertwine with each other over the years, there’s a really fascinating tapestry of British game development/publishing that emerges once everything comes together. Then there are the starts of some of the biggest names working in games today that got their breaks with companies like DICE (not British themselves, but started via a British publisher), Rare and even the mighty Rockstar Games all cutting their teeth in the 80s and 90s British game revolution. Really interesting stories I aim to cover.

As I said before, I have around ten developers and publishers to cover (possibly more added later) so this will be quite a big book when finished and I really want to make it a hardcover, glossy thing of beauty all professionally finished. And here is where I need help. Putting something like this together takes money. I’ve done all the research for the companies I will cover, already have three of the chapters written up in the first draft (this is one of them) and the book with be finished within the next 6 moths or less. But I know nothing about actually designing a book like this – I can write them no problem but putting the whole thing together in one package with a real professional look and feel is something I know nothing about. Plus it being in hardback, then there is the printing and distribution, etc all of this costs coin that I just do not have. So I’ve set up a Go Fund Me where I hope people will chip in to help me make this book a reality.

My Go Fund Me link. Please share.

Even if you don’t feel like donating (I won’t hold it against you), if you could just share this article and/or the Go Fund Me to help me drum up some interest, I’ll be eternally grateful. If I raise the money, I will make the book as professionally as I can – I’ll hire a design artist to help me with the look of the book. I’ll go to the best printers I can find to deliver the best possible finished product in glorious hardback and glossy pages and so on. I’ll even put any and all people who donate into the book as personal thanks.

Even if I don’t manage to raise the cash, I’m still going to write the book but it just won’t be as grandiose as I want it to be and most probably just be an all text (no picture) simple paperback instead. So the more money I can rise the bigger and better the book will be.

I think with the popularity of retro gaming right now that this could be a great book. A really interesting look at the British side of game development and publishing, a window into an important piece of gaming history that many people overlook or just do not know about.

Update: I’m currently letting people read the first three chapters. More info right here.

007: Licensed to Game – James Bond In Gaming

I think it can be said without too much argument that James Bond is a giant cinematic icon. Since his first big screen appearance in Dr. No from 1962 right up to today with Daniel Craig announcing he’s agreed to do one more Bond film which would be the actor’s fifth outing as James Bond and the twenty fifth film in the mega successful franchise. Yup, the Bond name is a big draw for film nuts like myself.

But what about the character’s gaming career – how has James Bond fared up in the world of video games? Well that is exactly why I’ve written this article, to take a look back at James Bond in gaming. I’ll be quickly covering every known James Bond game released over the last four decades as well as taking a look at some unreleased games and a few other Bond related games too. [Insert your own James Bond pun here] and lets get cracking…

The 1980s

The very first James Bond game was released in 1982. Developed by Richard Shepherd for the ZX Spectrum called Shaken but Not Stirred. The game was one of those early text-based adventure games, so graphically – it was lacking…

Shaken But Not Stirred

You play as James Bond and asked by M to track down the nefarious Dr. Death who is threatening to destroy London with a nuclear weapon. The gameplay was pretty basic stuff  as you travel the world gathering clues and solving puzzles to help you locate Dr. Death’s secret lair.

For an early Bond game it played pretty well and it was highly praised at the time by reviewers.

In 1983, the game James Bond 007 was released by Parker Brothers for the Atari 2600, 5200 as well as the Commodore 64 and ColecoVision.  This James Bond game is set over four different levels all based on various James Bond moives. Diamonds are Forever – you have to rescue Tiffany Case from an oil rig. The Spy Who Loved Me – you destroy an underwater laboratory. Moonraker – where Bond needs to destroy satellites. For Your Eyes Only – you need to retrieve some radio equipment from a sunken boat.

James Bond 007

The fourteenth James Bond movie, A View to a Kill was released in 1985 – and so were two games based on the movie. The first game was James Bond 007: A View to a Kill, this one was another of those text-based adventure games by Angelsoft Inc released for  DOS, Macintosh and Apple II computers. You really don’t want a screenshot of another text-based game do you?

So moving on, the second game was titled A View to a Kill: The Computer Game. This one was more action orientated and came out for the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.

A View to a Kill C64

This one was from Domark and split into three different action sections based on the movie. The first section has you driving around Paris in a taxi trying to catch May Day who has parachuted from the Eiffel Tower. The next one features Bond trying to escape San Francisco City Hall which is set on fire. The final level is set in a mine where Bond must find the code to disarm Zorin’s bomb.

Then in 1986, Angelsoft Inc released a follow up to their previous text-based game based on the Bond movie Goldfinger.

James Bond 007 Goldfinger

Developed by Melbourne House in 1987 and released for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum (plus others) – The Living Daylights was the next James Bond game. An all action, side scrolling shooter inspired by the film of the same name. Simple and basic stuff, but pretty good fun for the time.

The Living Daylights

The vehicle became the star of the next Bond game with Live and Let Die in 1988. This one was a combo of racing and shooting inspired by the speedboat sequence from the movie. Developed by Elite Systems International for the Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.

Live and let Die

Though not originally developed as a James Bond game – this one started out as an original IP called Aquablast, but the development team realised how the game felt and looked like the speedboat chase from the movie and so re-branded the game with the 007 licence. This one was a fast-paced racing game where you had to dodge numerous obstacles as well as shoot at other boats that got in your way.

The final game of the 80s was based on the sixteenth Bond flick – Licence to Kill. Released in 1989 and developed by Quixel for the Amiga, DOS, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum platforms. This one was a top-down shooter with you controlling various vehicles as well as Bond on foot.

License to Kill

Set over six levels all based on scenes from the film. I always remember this one being quite tough with a fiddly control scheme – but still an enjoyable game once you got used to its difficulty.

Well that’s about it for the 80s, the 90s brought many more Bond games – including what many consider not only the best James Bond game ever, but one of the finest games of the decade.

The 1990s

It was a new decade and in terms of the films, the James Bond franchise had halted production. Long story short, there were all sorts of behind the scenes shenanigans preventing any new Bond films being made. In fact we wouldn’t see a new Bond film for six years from 1989 with License to Kill until 1995’s GoldenEye. But while the film series was in serious doubt (it almost never came back at all) the James Bond games were still being made. We even got two Bond games in 1990.

The first Bond game of the new decade was based on the 1977 picture The Spy Who Loved Me. Developed by The Kremlin (game development team, not the Russian fortified complex at the heart of Moscow).

The Spy Who Loved Me

The majority of the game was a Spy Hunter style top-down racer/shooter with you in control of the infamous modified Lotus Espirt from the film. You pick up tokens to spend on upgrading the Lotus by driving onto the back of a moving truck. While fending off bad guys and pulling off stunts. There were other levels inspired by scenes from the movie – but I found them a bit dull and just kept replaying the awesome Louts level over and over.

Also from 1990 was a point n’ click adventure developed by Delphine Software called Operation Stealth. Now I know what you are thinking if you played this game outside of the U.S – this had nothing to do with James Bond, and you’d be right. However in the U.S the game was released using the James Bond license as James Bond 007: The Stealth Affair.

Operation Stealth

You play as John Glames (James Bond in the U.S.) a CIA secret agent (though Bond works for MI6) who is tasked to finding a stolen, high-tech stealth plane. Typical point n’ click adventure fare that was massively popular in the late 80s/ealry 90s.

In 1991, an animated TV show inspired by the spin-off novel The Adventures of James Bond Junior 003½ was made that featured James Bond’s nephew – titled James Bond Jr. The series became quite successful spawning a toy line, novels, even a series of Marvel comics and of course a game – well two in fact. Okay so they really are the same game, first was the NES version in 1991 and then an updated SNES version in 1992.

James Bond Jr

These were simple action/platformers and to be honest, not very good either. With you playing as Bond Jr. having to find some missing scientists.

James Bond 007: The Duel was the next game released in 1993 for the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis, Master System and Game Gear platforms. The game featured Timothy Dalton as Bond for the marketing and in-game introduction. So technically, this was the last time T-Dalts was (officially) Bond.

James Bond The Duel.jpg

If you ever played the arcade classic Rolling Thunder –  then this game was similar… only not as good. You run trough levels shooting bad guys and rescuing girls while crossing paths with familiar Bond baddies like Jaws and Oddjob. With your main goal being to place a bomb to destroy the enemy’s secret base.

It was in 1997 when THE James Bond game was finally released. Based on the movie of the same name and developed by Rare for the Nintendo 64 – GoldenEye 007. Often cited as the best Bond game ever as well as being one of the defining FPS games of the 90s. This really was one of the all time great games that not only did the film justice, but it also managed to become the 3rd best selling N64 game ever only beaten by Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64… yes GoldenEye 007 even outsold The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

GoldenEye

Chock full of content from unlock-able cheats that added so much fun to the game to hidden levels based on other Bond films and even the trailblazing 4-player split-screen mode that offered endless fun. I really should do a more in-depth look at this game at some point – but now is not the place as we have many more Bond games to cover. But in short, GoldenEye 007 was awesome!

Next up was James Bond 007 released for the Game Boy in 1988 and developed by Saffire Corporation. This was a top-down action game that incorporated enemies and locales from numerous Bond films. Bond has to explore the world to track down a secret weapon cache. Set over eleven levels and also includes gambling minigames like Blackjack.

James Bond 007 Game Boy

And here we are, at the end of another decade. 1999 saw the release of Tomorrow Never Dies for the PlayStation based on the movie of the same name. This one was a third person shooter as Bond teams up with Wai Lin to take down maniacal media mogul – Elliot Carver.

Tomorrow Never Dies

A somewhat awkward game that lacked the depth and fun set by GoldenEye 007 previously. The game became more infamous for its terrible controls and short length.

And so the 90s ended with a quiet whimper from a silenced Walther PPK instead of a shark-inflating pellet style bang when it came to James Bond games. GoldenEye 007 had set the bar so high that we would never see another Bond game even get close to its quality and high praise.

That’s two decades of Bond games down, lets move onto the 2000s.

The 2000s

Okay, time to get a little confused. We have two games that are both based on the same movie – 007: The World Is Not Enough. Both are FPS titles and both released around the same time in 2000 – but they were developed by different companies and are in fact two very different games. One for the PlayStation and the other for the Nintendo 64.

007 The World Is Not Enough N64

While both games follow the plot of the movie, the N64 version featured more levels and to be honest – was the best of the two by far. Smoother controls and better gameplay. The N64 version also featured a great multiplayer mode that was missing from the PlayStation.

Also in 2000 saw the release of 007 Racing. Developed by Eutechnyx for the PlayStation. This game was a vehicle based racing game (in case the title didn’t give it away) where you drive the numerous cars made famous by the moives such as the Aston Martin DB5 (Goldfinger), Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me) and the BMW Z8 (The World is not Enough) plus others. There is an original story that sees the return of some of Bond’s most famous adversaries. Despite some really great mission ideas, the game is rather flat and dull with terrible controls.

007 Racing

Just when you thought it was safe, yet another 007: The World Is Not Enough game was released in 2001 – yes, that’s three games in total all based off the same movie. This one was for the Gameboy Color and again is yet different from the other two games. A top-down action game set over eight missions based on the film.

The World Is Not Enough GBC

Also in 2001 was a James Bond game not based on any movie but in fact its own unique story.  James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire sees Bond rescuing CIA agent Zoe Nightshade and investigates a botanical research firm which is a possible front for a weapons-smuggling ring. The story eventually leads to Bond discovering a plot involving world leaders and cloning.

Agent Under Fire

This one was okay, a blending of FPS and vehicle based missions. A little short to be honest but a half-decent Bond game non the less.

A direct sequel to the previous James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire was released the following year in 2002 titled; James Bond 007: Nightfire. Bond teams up with agent Zoe Nightshade once more. James Bond goes up against industrialist Raphael Drake and sees Bond travel the globe and even venture into space as he tries to stop the villainous Drake. Much like the previous game, this one is also a melding of FPS and vehicle action. An improvement over the last game, but still just okay and mediocre.

NightFire

James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing is the next game in the Jame Bond timeline. Moving away from the FPS games  and instead opts for a third person view. It also features the likeness and voice talents of (then) Bond actors; Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, John Cleese playing James Bond, M and Q respectively.

Everythin or Nothing

One of the better Bond games of that era and really does feel very Bond-like. Released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube consoles – there was another version released for the Gameboy Advance…

Everythin or Nothing GBA

This one was an isometric action/shooter that suffered from terrible controls and gameplay mechanics. The bigger console versions were good, but this GBA one was terrible.

The Bond games were coming thick and fast in the early-mid 2000s and next up was a ‘sequel’ to the best Bond game ever.  2004’s GoldenEye: Rogue Agent tried to cash-in on the success of GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 by tricking people into thinking the two games were related. In truth, they shared nothing outside of using the name GoldenEye. You see, this was not really a sequel despite what developer/publisher EA Games wanted you to think.

Rogue Agent.png

Going back to the tried and tested FPS genre – this game’s deceptions don’t end with the title as you don’t even play as James Bond. Instead you are an agent known only as GoldenEye after losing his real eye and having it replaced with a gold one. Though 007 himself does make an appearance along with other familiar Bond faces like; Goldfinger, Dr. No, Blofeld, Scaramanga, Odd Job, Pussy Galore and others. Some of the levels are also based on scenes from previous Bond films. As for the gameplay itself? Its just another one of those distinctly ‘okay’ games.

2005 saw the release of a blast from the past. James Bond 007: From Russia with Love based on the Sean Connery starring 1963 James Bond picture – they even utilised the likeness of Connery himself for the game along with other actors from the film like; Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Robert Shaw and Desmond Llewelyn. This one was pretty good actually going for a third person view (probably to make the most of the Sean Connery licence). Not only did Connery lend his likeness, he also recorded all new dialogue for the game too – so this marks the final time he played James Bond. The game hits all the main scenes from the movie, yes even the jet-pack scene.

From Russia With Love

From 1963 to 2008. The final game of the 2000s was based on the then newest film 007: Quantum of Solace was released the same year as the movie. Using Daniel Craig’s James Bond along with the rest of the main cast from the film. Like with some of the previous Bond games in this list, there were different versions developed for different consoles. The Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 3 versions were FPS games – but the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS versions were third person games.

Quantum of Solice

No matter which version you played, this was another ‘middle of the road’ very average games. Hitting all the major scenes from the movie and doing them justice – but the gameplay itself was just very stale and boring… just like the film itself.

So that’s another ten years covered. Next up is the fourth and final decade and the James Bond games started to slow down… a lot. I mean, there’s only three to cover! And we get off to an almost blasphemous start…

The 2010s

GoldenEye 007 was released in 2010. Yes you read that right the best James Bond game ever was remade! Originally for Nintendo’s Wii and DS platforms – the game was re-released in 2011 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and re-titled GoldenEye 007: Reloaded. They had the sheer brass-balls to remake the all time classic GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64, but was it any good? Well gone are original developers Rare and replaced with Eurocom. Then Daniel Craig was used as Bond – replacing Pierce Brosnan… just like real life. The game also re-works the film’s story and updates it so it now takes place after the events of Quantum of Solace. This was more then just a simple remaster that we see everywhere in games today, this was completely rebuilt from the ground up.

GoldenEye reloaded

Not as classic as the N64 original, but this version was still pretty damn good. The main game follows the film pretty damn well (like the original) and still manages to keep things fresh at the same time to by adding new content. Plus the awesome multiplayer mode form the original returns complete with hidden secrets to find. A good remake and a good Bond game.

James Bond 007: Blood Stone was also released in 2010 even on the exact same day as the previous GoldenEye 007. So if you wanted James Bond games in 2010 on the same day, you had your choice. James Bond 007: Blood Stone once more featured Daniel Craig as Bond but was not based on any movie or book – an all new story set sometime after Quantum of Solace, the story was written by James Bond screenwriter Bruce Feirstein. The game ends on a cliffhanger which some fans have connected to Ernst Stavro Blofeld from the movie Spectre. A third person cover/shooter game with a few vehicle sections. This is an above average game better than some of the latter Bond game efforts – but still lacking in substance and gameplay.

Bloodstone

And we get to the last James Bond game released so far, 2012s 007 Legends. Released to celebrate the 50th year celebration of the Jame Bond film franchise. The game starts using the opening of the film Skyfall when Eve Moneypenny accidentally shoots Bond and he falls into a river. This kick-starts a series of flashbacks were Bond recalls some of his most dangerous missions. Basically, this is a ‘Bond’s greatest hits’ game as all the missions are based on scenes from previous films.

007 Legends

Much like the previous GoldenEye 007 remake – this game modernises and re-tells classic James Bond stories – updating them for toady’s audience. It takes one mission based on one film from each of the James Bond actors on the big screen: Goldfinger (Sean Connery), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (George Lazenby), Moonraker (Roger Moore), Licence to Kill (Timothy Dalton), Die Another Day (Pierce Brosnan) and Skyfall (Daniel Craig) with each Bond now played by Craig.

This one was pretty bad. What was meant to be a grand celebration to James Bond turning 50 ended up coming across as a cheap cash-in, lazily and haphazardly thrown together. A great idea but poorly executed – a very bellow average game.

So there you have it, the entire James Bond game catalogue (aside from a few iOS/Android games and fan-made remakes) and it ended badly. Overall, James Bond has been a mixed bag when it comes to his gaming life. For every all time great game like GoldenEye 007 – there’s been more then a few average games and more then a couple of just outright terrible games.

There have been no Bond games since 2012s 007 Legends and that was a bad one. There have been no new Bond games announced either, is this the end of James Bond in gaming? I hope not as the franchise has a lot of legs.

8bit Bond

But there’s still more Bond games that I just quickly want to cover as there were a handful of unreleased/cancelled titles.

Cancelled Games

Not long after 1983s James Bond 007 was released – a game based on the movie Octopussy was announced. There have been rumours that the game was completed – some have even said they played it at the Electronic Fun Expo in 1983. Rumour also says that the Octopussy game originally started out as a level in the James Bond 007 game from 1983 before the decision to turn it into its own separate game came about. There was even an Atari brochure from 1983 that showed a screen shot of the train sequence as part of the James Bond 007 game. Parker Brothers also released a poster to advertise the game in 1983.

Octopussy poster

But the game was never released. Why it never saw the light of day is unknown.

GoldenEye 007 Racing was set to be released for Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. Very little is known about this one other than it was set to be released to coincide with the release of GoldenEye for the SNES… yes originally the GoldenEye game was being developed for the SNES before it was shifted over to the N64. I did manage to find a blurb from a publicity brochure for the Virtual Boy which read:

“If you thought rush-hour traffic was a nightmare, wait ’til you get behind the wheel of 007’s car. Avoid obstacles and blow the other cars away. Buckle up for safety because, in this game, you never know what’s gonna happen.”

Along with two screen shots, one is a bury mess which looks like it may be the title screen and the other…

GoldenEye VB

A slightly less bury image of what looks like a racing game on the Virtual Boy, quite possibly GoldenEye 007 Racing? The game was cancelled due to the infamous and huge failure that was the Virtual Boy console.

At the end of the original VHS release of the flick Tomorrow Never Dies –  there was a trailer introduced by legendary Q actor Desmond Llewelyn. This trailer was for a game titled: Tomorrow Never Dies: The Mission Continues and was said to “start where the film ends”. You can see the trailer right here. The footage shows a mix of first and third person shooting as well as scuba diving, driving and skiing sections and to be released for the PC and PlayStation in 1998. Now, of course we did get a game based on Tomorrow Never Dies but this one followed the plot of the movie – the unreleased game was meant to be a direct sequel that follows on where the film ends.

It was also being published by MGM Interactive and not Electronic Arts who released the 1999 Tomorrow Never Dies game. So this was definitely a completely separate game. Why it was never released is unknown, but most probably has to do with EA obtaining the rights to the James Bond licence in November of 1998 and them wanting to make their own game based on the movie.

There was going to be an updated version of the PlayStation game of The World Is Not Enough released for the PlayStation 2 – set to be out for 2001. It was going to feature improved graphics, gameplay mechanics and new levels. But EA who held the James Bond license felt that too much time had passed and no one would be interested in a Bond game in 2001 based on a film from 1999 (side note: the best Bond game ever – GoldenEye 007 was released 2 years after the movie). The improvements to this updated version could have put it more inline with the far superior N64 game, but EA dropped the idea in favour of releasing Agent Under Fire instead.

The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were set to have a game based on Casino Royale. Daniel Craig was on-board to lend his likeness and voice to the game. EA had access to the filming  locations and script as the film was being shot, so they could make the game as authentic as possible. It was scrapped after only around 15% complete. A few early screens of 3D models for the game were later found.

Casino Royale game.jpg

Thanks to MI6-HQ.com and you can read more about why the game was never finished right here.

It was 2012, January of 2012 when it was announced there would be a game based on Skyfall. A full game was never released, but a mission based on Skyfall was made available for 007 Legends via DLC. I’m not sure of this is a case of crossed wires and the announcement was just for the 007 Legends DLC or if it was for a full game.

Bond 6 was the working title for a new game from EA. To be released in 2005 and starring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. The game was dropped when Brosnan announced that he would be stepping down as Bond – so the From Russia With Love game was quickly put into development instead. But interestingly enough – CGI work for the game was used for the advertising of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent.

In 2010 some early screen shots of a new Bond game began to appear online. There was never any official statement as to what game it was – but it was widely believed to be a possible Blood Stone sequel developed by Raven Software. The images have since been removed (at least I can’t find them) and we never did get that Blood Stone sequel.

There was also a rumour of a sequel to 007 Racing for the PlayStation 2, but I couldn’t find any info at all on this.

There you go, as much Bond gaming as anyone could wish for. I think I covered everything and I’ve taken up way too much of your time with this lengthy article – there’s really only one more thing for me to do…

Bond Gif

Double Dragon Is 30 Years Old

Released into arcades in June 1987 – Double Dragon became a big hit for publisher/developer Technōs. It was the first arcade game I ever completed and today, the game still sparks off fond memories growing up as a gamer in the 80s.

Right here – I’m going to take a look at the entire Double Dragon franchise over the last 30 years as well as some of the more infamous ports and spin-offs the series has offered us for three decades.

Double Dragon

Double Dragon

Telling the story of brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee. Double Dragon was a simple beat em’ up with a simple plot. Bad guys called The Black Warrior Gang turn up, punch Billy’s girlfriend -Marian in the stomach and kidnap her. Playing as Billy or Jimmy… or both with a friend – you had to fight your way through four stages of various enemies and bosses. You’d even find numerous weapons to use in your fight to save the girl. The final stage is the gang’s hideout where you eventually come up against the gang’s leader, Willy. Take out Willy, save Marian and you are a winner… except if you played 2-player where an unexpected twist has brother fight against brother.

Double Dragon was a smash hit and was soon ported to pretty much every game’s machine in the late 80s and early 90s. The NES, Master System, Game Boy, Atari Lynx Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC all had their own versions of the game. There was even a port on an unlicensed cartridge for the Mega Drive released in 1992. But the cream of the crop, top of the heap was the Atari 2600 port – it was… interesting.

Double Dragon 2600

The success of Double Dragon meant a sequel was inevitable, but who would know the franchise would still be alive 30 years later?

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

Double Dragon II

The sequel, Double Dragon II: The Revenge was released in 1988 and to be quite frank – it was more of the same with a few bells and whistles. This time around The Black Warriors Gang and their leader, Willy don’t kidnap Marian. Willy outright murders her in cold blood. So of course Billy and Jimmy set out for revenge. Double Dragon II: The Revenge really is little more than just a graphical upgrade. The gameplay itself remained the same, save for a few minor tweaks and improvements. The game even re-uses a lot of the same enemies from the previous game.

Once again, the game was ported to pretty much every popular games machine at the time but sadly, no Atari 2600 port.

Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone

Double Dragon 3

1990 saw Billy and Jimmy Lee return and this time – they are joined by Sonny (whoever that is). Yup, this sequel brings with it several new ideas to the Double Dragon franchise. Not only is it simultaneous three player but the graphics have been given a complete overhaul and several new moves have been introduced. The plot this time involves the Lee brothers and Sonny (still no idea who he is) having to travel the globe in search of the titular Rosetta Stones. Starting in the United States before heading to China, Japan, Italy and finally – Egypt.

The game also featured a very unwelcome addition. You know how modern games have those dreaded ‘micro transactions’ – those things developers include to milk every last penny out of the player? Well Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone had this feature long before they became the norm today. This game featured item shops on the levels where you could buy new weapons, items, power-ups and even new characters… only you had to use real money to buy these and each item would be the same cost as a single credit. So if you wanted to make any progress in the game, you’d have to spend some serious real cash. This feature was removed from the later Japnese version due to negative feedback.

And yes, there were ports to the numerous gaming machines at the time too. Plus there was an alternate game called Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones released for the NES in 1991. This was not a port of the arcade game, but instead a whole new game made just for the NES and yes – this is where the whole ‘Bimmy’ thing started too.

Super Double Dragon

Super Double Dragon

This one was an exclusive for the SNES and fourth game in the franchise… though not actually Double Dragon IV – that explanation is coming up later…

The plot of this one is – well, there is no plot. Lead programmer; Muneki Ebinuma revealed in 2004 that this game was never finished before it was released. Super Double Dragon was supposed to feature cut-scenes telling a story. The story involved Billy and Jimmy investigating a criminal organisation known as the Shadow Warriors. The gang has been kidnapping various martial artists. Billy and Jimmy were tasked with fighting their way through seven stages as they rescue the missing martial artists before facing the gang’s main boss – Duke who was to have been revealed as being a childhood friend of the Lee brothers… but the story a lot of the game mechanics were never included in the final product due to time constraints.

Super Double Dragon is a very impressive beat em’ up in many ways. The fighting mechanics are pretty awesome as not only can you punch and kick, but you now have a block button and if you block just as you’re being attacked, you’ll grab your enemy in an arm/leg lock and continue to beat the crap out of them too. The weapons have been improved and updated over previous games too and some of the scenery is interactive. But you can also tell that the game is unfinished and lacking in so many areas – plus its painfully slow and sluggish. Its a shame because you can tell there is a great game here. The Japanese version (Return of Double Dragon) differs slightly and is ‘better’ than the Western version and I’d recommend playing that one instead if you can find it.

Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls

Double Dragon V

By the mid 90s – any and everyone was trying to cash in on the massive success of Capcom’s Street Fighter II. There were suddenly one on one, tournament fighting games everywhere and Double Dragon wanted in on the action too. Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls was released in 1994 and based on the animated Double Dragon TV series that aired around the same time. It was pretty standard stuff, Street Fighter II only not as good.

Double Dragon

Double Dragon Neo Geo

Yup, its just called Double Dragon and no its not a remake of the original. This 1995 released game is yet another Street Fighter II wanna-be. Inspired by the movie version of the game (so a game turned into a movie which is then turned into a game) as it takes plot elements, characters and locales used in the movie. This was also the last Double Dragon game made by original developers – Technōs before they went bust.

Released for the arcades, Neo Geo CD and Play Station. This Double Dragon ended up being a disappointment as it just didn’t measure up to the sea of similar (and better) fighting games around at the time. Plus, Double Dragon fans were thirsty for a proper Double Dragon game – not another Street Fighter II clone.

Double Dragon Advance

Double Dragon Advance

The franchise lay dormant from 1995 until 2003 when Double Dragon Advance was released for the Game Boy Advance. This one was a remake of the original arcade game, only given a graphical overhaul as well as update the move set to include fighting mechanics taken from some of the series’ sequels over the years. The plot is the same as it was in the original with you taking on the gang that kidnapped Marian. Four new stages have also been added to the original ones as well as several new enemies to punch and kick. This was the kind of game fans of the series had yearned after for several years and Double Dragon Advance is a pretty damn good Double Dragon game – well worthy of the name.

Double Dragon Neon

Double Dragon Neon

A modern retelling/reboot of Double Dragon released in 2012. This game is very tongue in cheek as it really plays up to its 80s setting and uses self-parody as its main source of humour. Yet it still manages to retain that classic 80s arcade feel and this one is definitely a must for any old school Double Dragon fan. Not an easy game to get on with at first – but once you unlock a few upgrades and get used to the fighting mechanics, this game is a pure blast full of retro goodness and gameplay.

Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons

Double Dragon II Wander

A remake of the original arcade game Double Dragon II: The Revenge – Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons is awful. I made the mistake of thinking this was a sequel to Double Dragon Neon… its not. This game is a clunky, unresponsive, and just an absolute mess. Its ugly to look at and even uglier to play. Not worth your time at all and is an insult to the Double Dragon name.

Double Dragon IV

Double Dragon IV

Okay – so now things are going to get confusing. This game released in 2017 is the official fourth game in the Double Dragon franchise. Released twenty seven years AFTER Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone and twenty three years AFTER Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls. But it gets worse as Double Dragon IV is not even a sequel to Double Dragon 3 (either version) but in fact a direct sequel to the NES port of Double Dragon II instead. Confused yet?

As you can see for the screen shot, Double Dragon IV goes for a retro style and look based on the NES versions of the original games. The plot is pretty simple – The Black Warriors Gang from the original two games team up with an all new gang called The Renegades to finish off Billy and Jimmy Lee once and for all. In typical Double Dragon fashion, you punch and kick enemies in the face and take out bosses spread over several different stages. A distinctly average Double Dragon game that leans too much on nostalgia and not enough on gameplay.

1987 – 2017

So there you have it – three decades of face punching action from Double Dragon.

Double Dragon Logo

But before I end this retrospective, there are a few other Double Dragon games and spin-offs I want to give quick mention to.

1989s U.S. Championship V’Ball (aka; Super Spike V’Ball) for the NES featured both Billy and Jimmy Lee as playable characters. Arcade game WWF Superstars from 1989 had Billy appear in a cameo role. Battletoads & Double Dragon which was released in 1993 was a crossover game featuring characters from both titular franchises. 2002s Rage of the Dragons released for the Neo Geo is a one on one fighter that features Billy and Jimmy Lee as playable characters. And in 2013, Double Dragon Trilogy was released for  iOS, Android and Steam – a collection of the first three arcade games with a few minor tweaks added.

Well that’s me done then. Thanks to Billy and Jimmy Lee for the gaming memories. – I’m off to play some Double Dragon Neon.

Double Dragon Neon Characters.jpg