The recent explosion of indie game development has produced a ton of amazing games and has revived several older game styles like the side-scrolling platformer (VVVVV and Braid being good examples). Unfortunately, those of us who were fans of arcade shooters like R-Type and Raiden have been left mostly in the cold.
Jamestown is a vertical scrolling shoot’ em up (“schmup”, if you’re fancy) which, according to Final Form’s website, is set on “17th-century British Colonial Mars”. The setting and narrative don’t make any sense, but they work as an excellent spoof on the horribly translated and often bizarre Japanese games in the genre.
Gameplay is simple: You are put in control of a ship. The ship has guns. There are enemy ships. They also have guns. Shoot the enemy. Don’t get shot.
Each level consists of waves of enemy ships followed up by a level boss. There are only a handful of levels available, but multiple difficulty settings, bonus challenges, and ship selections add variety to the game.
The brevity of a single play-through may not make much sense to someone new to the genre, but this is a game that’s meant to be re-played ad infinitum, building twitch skills and becoming in-humanly masterful at avoiding enemy fire.
The artwork, soundtrack, and gameplay are all excellent and fit together well. Pacing is perfect and it’s obvious a lot of work went into timing and designing each level.
The one piece that doesn’t quite work is the co-op mode. Huddling around a keyboard with three of your best bros, while true to the game’s arcade roots, just doesn’t sound like much fun (all of those bros take up quite a bit more space than they once did.). Even playing with two players on the same keyboard was a bit cramped.
An online co-op mode would take this game from “very good” to “almost perfect”. It’s possible that the high-speed, low-latency nature of the game may make this challenging from a technical perspective, but it would be an excellent addition.
If you know me, you know I’m a picky gamer. I don’t play a lot of games, but that’s not because I don’t like gaming — I just can never find a game that I enjoy long enough to stick with it. Hero Academy, a turn-based strategy game on iOS and Windows, just made its way to Steam, and it’s got me hooked. Let’s dive in together to see what makes this game so great.
Hero Academy is sort of like chess, in the sense that you have different “chess pieces” that do different things, and there’s a certain kind of strategy that you have to keep in mind that’s similar to how you would strategize in chess. Hero Academy consists of five different characters (or “units”) and a wealth of different items like shields, swords, and helmets that you can use to upgrade your units, as well as one-time-use items like health potions, fireballs, and boosts.
You get 25 of a mixture of units and items per game, but only have access to five at a time. When you use them up, you get new units/items to replace the ones you used until all 25 are used up. Look at it as a deck of cards with a five-card hand.
Each player gets five moves per turn, and you can use those moves however you like. You can do a mixture of moving and attacking, or spend a turn simply building up your army for a major attack later in the game. You can even spend a move swapping an item in your hand for something else that’s waiting in the queue, in case you’re dealt a crappy hand.
The goal of the game is to either destroy all of your opponents’ units or destroy their jewel — whichever comes first. The game board includes special squares that give you certain boosts when one of your units lands on them. These include different types of increased attack power and defense strength.
All users receive the Council “starter” team when they begin playing Hero Academy. You can buy different teams (Dark Elves, Dwarves, Tribe, and the Team Fortress 2 team) for a few bucks per team. All the teams are relatively balanced, so there’s no real big advantage to using the paid teams other than having different characters besides the default ones — every team has roughly the same type of units that do the same thing with the same amount of power. Some units on the paid teams do things that other teams can’t, but there’s usually a trade-off for those units.
Availability and pricing
Hero Academy is available on Steam for $4.99 and on iOS as a free, ad-supported download. When you buy the Steam version, you get the Team Fortress 2 team for free, along with the Council starter team. Sadly, the TF2 team isn’t available to purchase on iOS, but you can still buy the other teams for $1.99 each (removing the game’s ads while you do so) and get different avatar packs ($0.99 each) as well.
In a word, Hero Academy is addictive. Any game that allows you to play against your friends usually has a great lasting appeal, and Hero Academy has that and much more. The chess-like strategy mixed with the different attack items makes the game a unique title that a lot of casual gamers will enjoy.
Back in the early ’90s things were different and, in some ways, better. MC Hammer was lighting up MTV with inflatable pants, Compuserve 3.25″ diskettes were confusing households across the US, and my family’s 66 MHz Pentium PC was a $3500 fiery hellbeast that made the Pentagon as nervous as current-day Wikileaks.
And the video games…
Before the gaming behemoths swallowed up the industry during the console wars, many games were developed by small groups of programmers that emphasized gameplay and challenging puzzles over graphics. Heck, the original Prince of Persia (1989) was developed by a single guy, Jordan Mechner, who carefully crafted a game that required a keen sense of timing, problem-solving ability, and patience…because approximately 0% of this game was passable on the first attempt.
I miss those days, sitting in my basement with my brother playing our NES and SNES, trying to get past that ridiculous ‘speeder’ level in Battle Toads (seriously, I’ve never played a game that went from ‘easy’ to ‘impossible’ as quickly as Battle Toads). Final Fantasy, Tetris, SimTower, StarFox! I want them back!
There are a few ways you can once again enjoy these classic games, so dust off that Power Glove and your favorite Zubaz, things are about to get retro.
Retro Gaming Repositories
Praise the Lord for basement-dwelling nerds that love their retro gaming. Two of my favorite places on the internet are RGB Classic Games and Liberated Games, which are sites devoted to the free legal distribution of retro games from DOS, Windows, and even a few from OS/2. If you’re looking for titles including the original Grand Theft Auto, Wolfenstein 3D, Age of Empires (1 and 2), and Duke Nukem (1 through 3D), you’re in luck.
It’s not all fun and games though – this software isn’t always a piece of cake to get working on modern computers. With some titles you’ll have to install in Compatibility Mode to get them to work on Windows 7. When I was installing SimTower the other day, I had to ensure that it was running as “Windows XP compatible”. I guess you take the bad with the good.
To complicate things a bit more, some titles absolutely will not run on a 64-bit operating system. To help ease the stress of geeks around the world, Microsoft offers the freely downloadable Windows Virtual PC which can be run within the Windows 7 environment, and effectively emulates a 32-bit version of Windows XP. This can be a hefty download, but if you absolutely NEED to get in a round of the original Command & Conquer, a few hundred megabyte download won’t hold a candle to your turbo-nerd resolve.
Pro-tip: Before downloading your favorite classic titles, make sure that it is legal to download the game.
Console Emulators and ROMs
Remember that trick with the NES where you’d take out the cartridge, blow into it, blow into the console, and then suddenly it would work? First of all, who invented that trick, and how did everybody find out about it? Second, wasn’t that Blinking Gray Screen Of Failure (BGSOF) depressing?
NES enthusiasts have helped to turn the system into something more reliable (and less susceptible to stray popcorn seeds) that can be played within your Windows or OS X environment. It’s pretty simple–people have written programs that essentially act as the console, and you can download “ROMS” which are the cartridges, single files that can be played by the emulator.
What are some popular emulators? For Windows 7 I use Nestopia (NES emulator) and ZSNES (SNES emulator). I’ve had great success with these programs, and very few problems. Some nice features include a built-in Game Genie (remember? That thing that destroyed your console two decades ago?) and the ability to interface with pretty much any USB gamepad ($10-30, depending on quality).
Have a Mac? No problem. Nestopia was originally developed for OS X and I’ve heard good things about BSNES (SNES emulator for OS X).
Happy Days are here to stay
Modern games like Halo and Starcraft 2 are great, and a lot of fun because they offer fantastic multiplayer options that just weren’t available in years past. However, sometimes you just want to kick back and enjoy some 8-bit graphics and mono sound. If you’re compelled to indulge your inner child gamer, don’t fret…your options abound.
Attention gamers: The Steam client is now in beta for the new user interface. You can choose to use the beta client by going to settings and choosing UI Update under the Beta Participation section. You will be asked to restart Steam as the update is applied.
So far the new UI is looking nice and remains easy to navigate. The many new features allow you to better track your game progress, and see what games you play the most. The updated UI also has conveniences to help you stay on top of your favorite games by displaying a Recent News feed below your games. (Previously seen by right click -> View Update News)
The new interface includes both small and large improvements across the board, and is definitely worth checking out. (Don’t forget to send feedback by hitting the Beta sticker in the corner!)
Check out additional screenshots of the new UI below!
BioShock 2 releases in a couple of weeks, and from the way things are going it appears publisher 2K Games is doing everything in their power to keep people from buying it. Previous details about the game’s Digital Rights Management indicated a tight lockdown, but recent statements from 2K Games claim a so-called ‘scaling back’ of DRM measures. Here’s the full release from them:
Over the past two days, I’ve fielded a lot of questions and concerns about the DRM for both the retail and digital versions of BioShock 2. Because of this feedback, we are scaling back BioShock 2’s DRM.
There will be no SecuROM install limits for either the retail or digital editions of BioShock 2, and SecuROM will be used only to verify the game’s executable and check the date. Beyond that, we are only using standard Games for Windows Live non-SSA guidelines, which, per Microsoft, comes with 15 activations (after that, you can reset them with a call to Microsoft.)
What does that mean for your gameplay experience? This means that BioShock 2’s new DRM is now similar to many popular games you advised had better DRM through both digital and retail channels. Many of you have used Batman: Arkham Asylum as an example to me, which uses the exact same Games for Windows Live guidelines as us as well as SecuROM on retail discs, and now our SecuROM is less restrictive on Steam.
I know that the variables of PC gaming can be frustrating and confusing, and when you say there is a problem, we listen, and use your suggestions to make things better. Feedback like this does not go unheard, and while this might not be the ideal protection for everyone, we will continue to listen and work with you in the future when formulating our DRM plans.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but that still sounds pretty unappealing to me. If you purchase BioShock 2 through Steam, you’ll have to go through three layers of DRM before being allowed to play your game. First are the usual checks Steam does before launching a game. Next, checks by the notoriously unreliable SecuROM are run. Finally, once the game has launched, you are required to login to a Games for Windows Live account. This is done every time you want to play the game. Thankfully there won’t be any activation limits imposed by SecuROM, but that feels like a small victory when a ludicrous amount of DRM still remains.
Measures like these are taken to prevent pre-release and release day piracy, but what happens after that? Once the game is eventually cracked, these ridiculous measures still remain to pester legitimate consumers. Thousands of people who payed full price for the game will inevitably have trouble running it, while those who pirate gain the luxury of not having to put up with such restrictive measures.
When will publishers and developers learn that restrictive DRM does nothing but hurt the game industry and frustrate their paying customers? Independent developers like 2D Boy (World of Goo) and Positech Games (Gratuitous Space Battles) have found success with completely DRM free releases, but larger publishers still insist on driving away the consumer.
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