Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Wiz n Liz (Mega Drive)

Videogames magazines of the early to mid 1990s had something of a strange vendetta against platform games. Even unquestioned classics like Gunstar Heroes, Contra Hard Corps and Alien Soldier would get average-at-best reviews from a lot of magazines, simply for looking like platform games. Obviously, this meant that there were great games that fell by the wayside, and since they never had the series or developer associations that those games had, they never gained the renown they deserved. Wiz n Liz is one such game.

Though it's a UK-developed game that was only ever released on home systems, it could honestly stand up alongside the best single player arcade games, as it is purely about going fast and scoring points. I'd even go as far as to say that with a different aesthetic, the game's design could totally be used to make a perfect Sonic arcade game! The main meat of the game is running arond the stages, which are only a few screens across, rollercoaster-like in design and looping (kind of like the multiplayer stages in Sonic 3), where you collect rabbits, which turn into letters. The first task of each stage is to collect the letters to spell a word at the top of the screen, once that's done, you just have to collect the rest of the rabbits (who now turn into clocks, fruit, and stars, all of which I'll explain shortly) and go to the exit as fast as possible, you have to do two or three rounds of this per stage, depending on the difficulty level. There's no enemies, other than very easy bossfights that occur every eight stages, and your only threat is the time limit.

You start the game with two minutes, and your remaining time carries over from stage to stage. When it runs out, you lose a life, but there are various ways to claw back the seconds. The main two are the clocks that the rabbits drop during the stages, as each one will give you three seconds back at the end of the round, and a glowing time orb worth thirty seconds that appears in a random place on the stage whenever you get down to lesst than ten seconds left on the clock. Now that the clocks have been explained, I should do the other two items, right?

The stars don't really do anything on their own, other than give you points, but with the aid of certain fruits and vegetables, they can do a lot more! The fruits and veg, you see, are spell components, and between stages, you put two of the food items in your posession into a cauldron to get various different effects. This is where the game hides and almost Bubble Bobblian level of secret stuff: as well as item shops where you can spend you hard-won stars on more fruit, extra lives and a few more precious seconds, there's at least three mini-games that can be played for more points, level skips, a fake game over screen and various other weird things. Though obviously, a player who wanted to maximise their score would go online to look up a list of all the recipes for the most useful spells, I would honeslty advise against doing this, as there's a lot of fun to be had in getting a different surprise between every stage, and of course, the world seems a lot bigger when you don't know exactly how much there is in it, right?

Obviously, Wiz n Liz is a game I completely recommend you go and play as soon as possible. It really is a double shame that it never got an arcade release back when it came out, and that it doesn't have the cultural cache to ever get any kind of remake or rerelease on modern consoles. It's a game that excels in pretty much every department and deserves to be much more famous than it is.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Heated Barrel (Arcade)

Heated Barrel is a pretty unfortunate case, as it marks the first time (as far as I can remember) that a game excels in almost all respects, but I can't really recommend it for one particular reason that represents a stupid and unfortunate set of decisions on the part of the developers.

It's a wild west-themed horizontally-scrolling shooting game, presented in a belt scrolly fashion that works really well. You play as a generic cowboy, and you go from right to left shooting crowds of various kinds of bad guys, as well as the occasional bear, bull, ghost or demon. It's very fast and smooth, and feels great to control and play in general. To an extent, it looks great, too. All the sprites are detailed, well animated, and full of personality.

There's not many power-ups or gimmicks to speak of, but the aforementioned smooth speed more than makes up for the lack of mechanical complexity. Repetition isn't really a problem, either, as each stage introduces a whole bunch of new foes to gun down, alongside the ever-present generic enemies. All in all, Heated Barrel is pretty close to being an excellent game, and I wish I was introducing you all to a forgotten, hidden arcade gem. But it's time to get onto that downer I've been alluding to.

The fact is, this game is super racist. From the first stage, a lot of the enemies are racist caricatures: Native American "savages", running around near-naked, throwing stone axes and so on, lazy, corpulent, hairy Mexican bandits with gatling guns and sombreros, and the midboss you fight in the middle of the third stage is a huge, grotesquely muscled black prisoner with a ball and chain and a face that looks like it was drawn by infamous neo-nazi cartoonist A. Wyatt Mann. The style of all the graphics shows that they were clearly trying to emulate the look of classic American animated shorts, the difference being that those shorts are from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, whereas this game was made in 1992. It sucks, but as good as this game is, I don't think that cancels out how awful it is thematically.