Tag Archives: Little bits of gaming

The Beginning Of The End For Rockstar Games?

I am, what you may call, an older gamer. I’ve been around a few years and seen my fair share of games and gaming studios over the years.

Back in 1988, I played a rather simple but pretty good arcade style shooter on the Amiga called Menace. Okay, it never blew me away but it was pretty decent none the less. The follow up, Blood Money was, and in my opinion, still is a fine shooter well worth playing today. It was around this time in 1989 when I really began to follow the team behind these 2 games. They were called DMA Design and I fast became a fan. Other top quality games followed like the impressively violent shooter, Walker. The sued by Pixar, Unirally and of course, they were the same team behind the greatest puzzle game ever made… Lemmings.

Lemmings Art

DMA Design were amazing in that late 80s – mid 90s period. But it was certain game they created in 1997 that literally changed the world of gaming forever. Grand Theft Auto. I don’t really need to go into detail over how DMA Design became Rockstar North and kickstarted the whole Rockstar Games empire… I already did that in my book, MICROBRITS, buy a copy now! But needless to say, Rockstar Games became one of the biggest and most popular gaming studios in the world and I’ve been a fan for decades, going right back to that game Menace from 88.

As a fan, as someone who has followed this company and loved their games for so long, it pains me to see what they have become in recent years. The staggering success of Grand Theft Auto V has been both a blessing and a curse for them. From my point of view, I think the cash cow that is GTA V had made the company lazy and complacent. Now before I get all the hate, hear me out. Let’s just look at their gaming output over a 5 year period…

Between 2008 – 2013:

Grand Theft Auto IV
Bully: Scholarship Edition
Midnight Club: Los Angeles
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony
Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
L.A. Noire
Max Payne 3
Grand Theft Auto V

I think you’ll agree that’s an impressive list of games and DLCs right there. In fact, I’d like to go on record as saying that the DLCs made for GTA IV and RDR are the finest pieces of DLC I have ever played and was more than happy to have paid for them, and I detest DLC in games. And that list doesn’t include ports and remasters, with the exception of Bully. And yes, they only published L.A. Noire and didn’t develop it, though some work was done by Rockstar given the troubles the developer, Team Bondi were having at the time.

Anyway, the point is that there isn’t a bad game in that list up there. Some arguably better than others sure, but an all outright bad game? Nope. Proof that even with a multi-game production run, Rockstar can do quality and quantity in equal measure. Even before those years, Rockstar continually made/published high quality games and released them frequently too.

Rockstar Titles

Now let’s look at the following 5 years…

Between 2013 – 2018:

Red Dead Redemption II

Okay so to be fair, they also re-released GTA V with a few new bells and whistles for the current generation. But just look at that drop off in production there. No impressive DLCs for GTA V (despite voice actors and Rockstar themselves claiming DLC was coming) and only 1 game?

Just very quickly want to bring up this bit of news that is still on the official Rockstar Games site

Coming in 2014
Expect big things in both Grand Theft Auto Online and Grand Theft Auto V next year including:
GTA Online Heists. We know many of you in the GTA Online community are super excited for the debut of co-operative Heists. Heists are currently in development and we are working very hard to get them as polished and as fun as they can be. Stay tuned for much more detail in the New Year.
GTAV Story Mode Updates. For those ready to jump back into the story of Grand Theft Auto V, we have big plans for substantial additions in 2014 continuing Michael, Franklin and Trevor’s action, mayhem and unexpected adventures in Southern San Andreas.

Something is not right here. Yes I know games get more advanced and take longer to develop and produce, so I guess some kind of drop off is to be expected. But just look at those 2 lists again. That’s not “some drop off”, that’s a complete lack of production.

Then look at Rockstar Games themselves. It’s not 1 studio making games, they have studios all over the world. Rockstar India, Rockstar Leeds, Rockstar Lincoln, Rockstar London, Rockstar New England, Rockstar North, Rockstar San Diego, Rockstar Toronto. That’s the list of current Rockstar game studios working today. That doesn’t include Rockstar International, their main publishing HQ or Rockstar Games HQ itself in New York.

Rockstar Games Logos

Now to be fair some of those studios listed up there are not dedicated development studios. Some work on localisations for the games, some work on ports, etc. But still, they have a lot of studios under the Rockstar Games umbrella. So with all of those resources, all of those talented staff… how do they go from 10+ games and DLCs between 2008 – 2013 to just 1 game and no DLCs between 2013 – 2018?

One such reason for the drop off in game production is the blessing and a curse that is GTA V that I previously touched upon. The fact that GTA V sold a staggering amount, the fact it went on to become the best selling piece of entertainment ever (making 1 billion dollars in it’s first three days alone), the fact that as of December 2019 GTA V has sold 120 million copies worldwide and still sells today… almost 7 years since it’s original release in 2013. The fact it continues to make a hell of a lot of money for Rockstar Games and their parent company Take-Two, both via sales and shark cards for the online portion of the game. Just the fact that 1 game has made so much money means they have rested on their laurels, it means they don’t have to make games to keep the company alive. All they have to do is keep updating GTA: Online with an overly expensive in-game new cars, a new hat every few months and idiots will continue to pay for shark cards and put money into Rockstar and Take-Two’s bank accounts as they have been for the last 7 years. Why would they spend money on expensive game production when they can just release a new update with a handful of new items and let the fans fork-out real world cash for in-game currency to buy said items making millions in profit each year from very little output?

Shark Cards

Then of course, I have to address the whole Leslie Benzies incident. I’ll not go into detail here, you can look it up for yourself, but suffice it to say that Leslie “leaving” Rockstar Games in 2016 has had an impact. For those who do not know, Leslie Benzies (for me) was the rock in Rockstar. He started out as a programmer in 1995 working on the DMA Design game Space Station Silicon Valley. In 1998, he was the one who put together the team that would create Grand Theft Auto III… to then go on to change the world of gaming from that point onward and help transform DMA Design into Rockstar North and then expand into Rockstar Games. Leslie became producer/development director/game designer for pretty much every Rockstar Games hit from that point on. He eventually became executive producer for the company. Then go read about all the troubles in developing Red Dead Redemption and how it was Leslie, as executive producer and lead designer who got the project under control and finished. For me RDR is the best game Rockstar have ever made, even it’s sequel (prequel) could not match it. My main problems with RDR II was that it was over produced and over bloated with a lot of filler… it was missing Leslie Benzies’ touch, his direction.

I don’t care what anyone else says, a Leslie Benzies-less Rockstar Games is a major downturn and has had an impact on their games and the company on the whole.

Leslie and Dan

Which brings me bang up to date with the very soon departure of Dan Houser, who is set to leave Rockstar Games in March this year. Again, just a brief history on who Dan is/was. Along with his brother Sam, Dan Houser co-founded Rockstar Games. Dan has written/co-written pretty much every GTA game from GTA 2 onward as well as penning other games like Smuggler’s Run 2: Hostile Territory, Bully, Midnight Club: Los Angeles, Red Dead Redemption and it’s sequel (prequel). Dan has also been executive producer on many Rockstar titles. In short, Dan is/was a major player in Rockstar Games, the company and many of it’s games wouldn’t have existed without him. Even Take-Two’s share price dropped after the announcement that Dan was leaving. So with Dan’s soon approaching exit in a few weeks on top of Leslie’s departure, 2 of the main 3 at Rockstar are no more, leaving Sam Houser as the only original (main) member left… I wonder how long before he leaves too?

Now Take-Two have very recently put out a statement saying that Rockstar Games are stronger and better then ever (one of the founders and main writers is leaving… and things are better than ever? That’s unbelievably arrogant and disrespectful ) and that Sam has no intention of leaving. But let’s be honest, Take-Two are hardly going to put out a statement that Rockstar Games are in trouble and slowly sinking, of course they’re going to put on a brave face even if whatever is going in behind the scenes is seriously hitting the fan.

Shit Fan

And that’s just the big boys at Rockstar who’ve left, what about the lower level staff, the ones in the front line doing all the work? We know several employees left with Leslie and setup a new studioHow many more have left since Leslie’s departure that we don’t know about and how many will leave when Dan finally goes? 

Yeah I know, due to GTA V that Rockstar and Take-Two have made shit-loads of money and they have more than enough to keep afloat, but money isn’t everything. Just how much of a toll, from a creativity point of view, has milking GTA: Online (and now RDR: Online) had on the staff who crave to make new games? There’s got to be a point where staff members have had enough and want to do more than update a game over and over for 7 years, the morale and drive must be low. They must want to do what they want to do… make games, be creative again like they used to be pre-GTA V. Fans have been crying out for new Rockstar games for years now. As good (but flawed) as RDR II was… it’s still only 1 game and as covered, a huge drop off in production from before. If the talented staff at Rockstar Games hadn’t spent all that time and resources at continually making updates, adding new vehicles, clothing and game modes to GTA: Online, could they instead have made amazing DLCs like before and even new games like Bully II, GTA VI and even new IPs already?

Bully II

Rockstar Games are slowly dying, maybe not profit making wise, but creativity wise, most definitely so. The downturn of the company can be traced back to the success of GTA V and the absence of Leslie Benzies. Dan leaving soon is a far bigger blow than Take-Two are willing to admit (publicly anyway). Staff must be getting bored of not making games and readying themselves to leave if they haven’t already. We’ve seen this many, many times in the past too. A small game studio makes it big to the point where they become over inflated and burst. It’s happened a lot in the past and it will happen again.

I honestly think that Rockstar Games is slowly rotting away from the inside out. I truly believe this is the beginning of the end for the company. I’m not saying you’ll wake up tomorrow with the news that Take-Two have closed Rockstar down, this will be a gradual process as the company slowly dissolves away. Everyone waiting for GTA VI or Bully II had better not hold their breath.

RDR Grave

 

 

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.

 

 

Have You Stayed With Atari Today?

I tend not to cover news on this blog, I usually stick with opinion pieces, histories and sharing memories, etc. But a slice of news has surfaced today that made me chuckle a little that I felt I had to quickly cover.

When it comes to big names in gaming, Atari were one of the biggest. The grandfather of gaming to most people and the company the defined home gaming with their brand of consoles, going back to 1977’s iconic Atari 2600. I think it would be fair to say that Atari as a company have had a very chequered past. I mean, they were central in the infamous video game crash of 1983.

The company has died, been reborn and swapped hands so many times over the years that I’m really not sure who own the name anymore. A new console, the Atari VCS is said to be released this year, but that’s not what I want to cover here. I’m going to look at the Atari hotels… yes Atari hotels.

Atari Logo 2

It’s very recently been announced that Atari (whoever owns the name now) has teamed up with real estate developer True North Studio and GSD group to build eight Atari hotels around the U.S. The first is set to begin building in mid-2020 in Phoenix, Arizona… which given Atari’s rather ‘interesting’ connection to that particular place is kind of ironically amusing (see the previously mentioned video game crash of 1983).

The hotels will obviously be gaming related. They will be used to house the ever increasing in popularity e-sport events. Guests can expect VR experiences, interactions and games. Gaming related rooms utilising famed Atari IPs. All along with standard hotel facilities such as restaurants, bars, gyms and all the other stuff a hotel usually offers.

More sites for hotels are planned outside of the Phoenix one with Austin, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle all set to have their own Atari hotels built over the next few years.

Honestly, I love the sound of them, I’d love to stay in an Atari hotel and revisit my childhood as well as experience (what I hope will be) cutting edge gaming interactions and experiences. But there is serious doubt over of they will ever happen. I mean, there have been numerous stories of troubles in getting the new console made and ready for release. So if that’s been a bit of trouble, how will multiple, cutting edge gaming hotels work out?

I just hope they do happen and that they will have guest capacities of 2600, 2700, 5200 and 7800.

You can check out the official website right here. Plus here’s a few renders of what the hotels could look like…

The Xbox Series X

So the new Xbox console has finally been revealed. There’s really very, very little to go on other than pure cosmetic appearance at the moment, so this article isn’t going to be in-depth or anything, just me offering my very first impressions on Microsoft’s new console.

I don’t like it. Told you this wasn’t going to be in-depth.

Xbox Series X Console

Honestly, I think it’s lazy and ugly. For me, when a new generation of console is released, I want it to be new. Just sticking with Microsoft for this rant, take a look at all their machines up to this point. The Xbox 360 looked radically different to the previous Xbox and the same could be said about the Xbox One/X over the 360. They all had their own unique look, style and identity, they represented a whole new generation of gaming. But this Xbox Series X just looks like an overweight Xbox One X. All they have done it take the previous console and make it look like a fridge…

Xbox Fridge

Given the fact that the Xbox One has suffered relatively poor sales, The PlayStation 4 has sold around 91 million units this generation with the Xbox One selling closer to 43 million… oh dear. Things have been pretty bleak for Microsoft this generation and I’m a proud owner of an Xbox One X. I think they came up with the design for the Series X because they had loads of left over plastic from the One/X they had to use up. It’s just ugly.

Then there is the name itself. The Xbox Series X? It just does not sound right. Remember when Nintendo released the Wii U after the success of the Wii and it sold poorly? A lot of that was because the name made the new console sound like a slight upgrade to the old one and it seems to me that Microsoft are just repeating Nintendo’s fatal mistake. This does not look or sound like a whole new console and I think people will assume it’s just another upgrade to the Xbox One X.

Project Scarlet was the name for this console while it was being developed and that sounded pretty great, just drop the Project bit and call it the Xbox Scarlet, sounds much better and like a whole new machine.

There really is very little shown of the new console other than a few pics and this video…

No games are shown other than some pre-rendered videos. A bit of what may be a Forza game, a spot of footie (so either FIFA or PES) and a taste of Halo. Again, these are not actual games or gameplay footage, just videos. So until we see what this console can actually do, there’s really not much to talk about. But at least one game was shown with Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 which was said to have been running in real-time on the new Series X. But to me, it still just looked like video and not actual gameplay.

But I do want to say how the Xbox One launch was a total disaster, what with Microsoft forcing the useless peripheral no one wanted with the Kinect onto people, the talk of having to always being connected to the internet, DRM and all the other gubbins they mentioned. It made a lot of people angry and this was where Microsoft lost the sales. Then after launch and the exclusive games were just not there and are still lacking now. If Microsoft really want to get the upper hand this new generation, they really need to have much better 3rd party support, better exclusives and a better launch price over Sony’s PlayStation 5. We can only wait and see what both Microsoft and Sony have planned for the full launches of their new consoles next year (more to see at E3), but for me just looking at this Xbox Series X… I’ll not be rushing out to buy one.

But this whole thing does remind me that I need a new fridge…

Black Fridge

Berzerk: The Killer Arcade Game?

So apparently, the classic 80s arcade game, Berzerk can kill people. It’s an urban legend that has been going on for a good few years now. It’s one of many urban legends related to gaming, a bit like the whole Polybius thing, the main difference being that there is no proof that Polybius even existed (it didn’t, it really didn’t). But Berzerk? Yeah it most definitely existed, people played it, lots of people, me included. But has it ever really killed anyone or been the basis for any deaths? Well that is the aim of this article, to explore the urban legend and get to the truth. But before I do get to that, perhaps an explanation as to what Berzerk is and the killer urban legend behind it.

The Game & Urban Legend

Released in 1980, designed and published by Stern Electronics and Atari. Berzerk has you playing as an unnamed human fighting his way though randomly generated mazes overrun with killer robots. The aim is to destroy all robots and move onto the next maze. It was simple enough gameplay, they all were back then. You can’t touch the walls of the maze or you’ll die you can’t touch the robots or you’ll die, you can’t get shot by the robots or you’ll die. The game featured early examples of synthesizer speech during gameplay… oh and it also featured Evil Otto, the source of the urban myth that the game could kill you.

Berzerk Screen

So here we go. Evil Otto is a character in Berzerk who appears when you spend too much time on one maze, deigned to keep you the player moving and the pace of the game high. Evil Otto is the only character in the game who is invincible, so you can’t kill him. He can also move through the walls of the maze, making avoiding him difficult. If you touch him, or more accurately, him you… you die. I mean you die in the game, not in real life. Now the thing about Evil Otto is how cheerful he is. He’s a bright yellow smiley face that bounces around the screen. He’s not scary, he’s a happy chappy. Yet the whole urban legend of Berzerk centres around him. It had been suggested that if you get a high enough score and then get killed in-game by Evil Otto, then you die in real life.

Evil Otto

But is it true? No, of course it’s not. It’s an arcade game, it can’t kill you. But researching this subject has led me down a very interesting path and one I aim to take you down too. I think I’ll need to cover this in three sub-chapters. So here we go, the birth of the Berzerk urban legend and first, it’s most (in)famous kill…

Jeff Daily

Now it has been said that Jeff was the first victim of Berzerk. Often called the ‘666 death’ (here’s a Reddit that covers the death along with mentioning another I’ll cover next). Aged 19, Jeff of Virginia is said to have played the game in his local arcade for many hours where he achieved the high score of 16,660 on the 12th of January of 1981. After playing and getting his high score, it has been reported that Jeff suffered a major heart attack and died right there in the arcade. Several places reported on the Jeff’s now infamous Berzerk death at the time and still mention it today as the first video game known to have been involved in the death of someone. It’s a story that has spread over the years and had been reported on several times by many, many people.

Berzerk Screen 2

But there’s a few things that just don’t add up here. A high score of 16,660 is possible in the game… but it’s not really that high to be honest. Even an average gamer could get a score close to that, a better one could easily obliterate it. So for Jeff Daily to get that score after playing Berzerk (as reported) for many hours and on only one credit too seems unlikely as you could get that kind of score in a few minutes. Plus the 666 in the middle of the score is awfully convenient, not impossible as each robot destroyed in the game gives you 50 points with a bonus of 10 points per robot if all are destroyed in one maze. So with a scoring system like that, a nice round score of 16,660 is mathematically possible, but it’s just very convenient and unlikely to have 666 in the middle when talking about a death related to it.

Then there is another thing I uncovered while researching this story. A Jeff Daily from Virginia did indeed die aged 19 in 1981, that’s true I even looked into it. Using familysearch.org (you need a membership) I found this information…

First Name: Jeffrey
Middle Name: NA
Last Name: Dailey
Name Suffix: NA
Birth Date: 16 January 1962
Social Security Number: 225-94-5973
Place Of Issuance: Virginia
Last Residence: NA
Zip Code Of Last Residence: NA
Death Date: May 1981
Estimated Age At Death: 19

So yeah, there was a Jeff Daily or at least a Jeffrey Dailey aged 19 who died in Virginia just as the urban legend has said for decades now.  But the death date doesn’t match up as Berzerk Jeff Daily was said to have died on the 12th of January, 1981. This Jeffrey Dailey died in May 1981… and this is the only Jeff/Jeffrey Daily/ Dailey from Virginia to die in 1981, I checked and double checked. Oh and Jeffrey Dailey was nowhere near an arcade or Berzerk when he died either, he died in a car crash and is buried in Holly Lawn Cemetery in Suffolk City, Virginia. Again, I checked.

So there is zero evidence to suggest that anyone called Jeff Daily, aged 19 from Virginia died after playing Berzerk. Zero, zilch, nadda, nowt, nothing. I can find nothing to prove the story is true, not even a mention in a local newspaper. So that’s it then, the end of the urban legend with it’s most famous story shot down… only it’s not because at least two people did actually die after playing Berzerk, not fictional made up people with similar names to someone else who died. But real people.

Peter Bukowski

The 3rd of April, 1982, Peter Bukowski aged 18 of South Holland, Illinois went into Friar Tuck’s Game Room to play some video games. Just like most teens caught up in those early days of video games, Peter quickly became a fan. He was instantly drawn to Berzerk and dropped a few coins into the machine. He played a couple of games and got himself a high score too, he put his initials into the game and decided to play another game. Once more, he got a high score and once more he put his initials in. Proud of his gaming achievement, he stepped away from the game, turned around and took a few more steps before collapsing. One of the workers at the arcade rushed over and began to preform CPR while an ambulance was called. Peter was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. It was later revealed that Peter Bukowski suffered from a previously undiagnosed heart condition called Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia and he had even suffered a mild, unnoticed heart attack a few weeks previously.

Peter had walked to the arcade after visiting both a couple friends and his girlfriend, a round trip of just over four miles. It had also been snowing which made the walk more difficult. All this excursion is thought to have aggravated his then unknown heart condition. Even friends he was with at the time noticed he was short of breath by the time they all arrived at the arcade. So yeah, that is one death after paying Berzerk, but it wasn’t Evil Otto that killed Peter, it was his unknown heart condition.

Here are a few clippings from various sources who, at time, reported on Peter’s death…

Berzerk Death

Berzerk Death 2

Gaming mag

Edward Clark Jr

Then six years later another Berzerk linked death occurred with a very strange coincidence. It was the 20th of March, 1988 when Edward Clark Jr aged 17 walked into Friar Tuck’s Game Room… the very same arcade that Peter Bukowski was in when he died in 1982. Edward and his friends walked around the arcade looking to find some games to play. They spotted the Berzerk arcade machine… the exact same one that Peter Bukowski played just before he died. Sitting on the cabinet were a few coins that someone seemingly had left there. So Edward took one of the coins and put it into the Berzerk game and played. This was when Pedro Roberts, 16 stepped forward and claimed that the money was his and that Edward now owed him for the coin he had just spent.

Threats were made between the two teens and an argument began before a fight broke out. A staff member had to separate the brawling teenagers and decided to kick them both out to avoid any more trouble. Knowing kicking them both out at the same time would be a bad idea, the staff member told Pedro Roberts to leave first and then waited around ten minuted or so before ordering Edward Clark to leave and telling him to walk the opposite way that Pedro had gone earlier… advice Edward didn’t take.

Edward and his friends walked along the street and though a car park, but they didn’t know that Pedro had been hiding in an alley waiting. As Edward and his friends strolled past, Pedro jumped out from his hiding spot rushed toward his victim and plunged a knife into his chest. Edward Clark was bundled into the back of his friend’s car and driven to the hospital but he died shorty after arrival. Pedro Roberts was convicted of the murder in 1990 and was sentenced to an eleven year prison sentence. I apologise in advance for the poor quality image coming up, it’s the best I could find…

Clark Murder.jpg


Berzerk TShirt

So there you have it, the truth about Berzerk: The Killer Arcade Game. Truth is the game never killed anyone directly. The most famous related death, the one that kick started the whole urban legend didn’t even happen. The other two indirect deaths were linked to a heart condition and a petty fight over a coin. It’s more than safe to play Berzerk, I have many times.

Next in my Halloween special. A look at a supposed film curse

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?