Ultra Vortek Published: 1995 by Atari Developed: Beyond Games
2D arcade fighting games were incredibly popular in the mid-90s and console gamers wanted that experience at home. Unfortunately, with the notable exception of Primal Rage for the Jaguar CD, Atari's 64-bit console lacked conversions of well known arcade titles like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter 2. Instead, Jaguar 2D fighter fans were treated to questionable ports of 16-bit console titles like Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and Double Dragon V and two Jaguar exclusives: Kasumi Ninja and Ultra Vortek.
Developed by Beyond Games of Lynx Battlewheels fame and released for the Jaguar by Atari in 1995, Ultra Vortek is a 2D fighter firmly in the mold of the Mortal Kombat series. The game is crammed with 90s fighter tropes, complete with all of the special moves, fatalities and attitude of the era. Ultra Vortek is considered by many Jaguar enthusiasts to be the system's best fighter.
Is Ultra Vortek the killer 2D fighter that the Jagauar sorely needed? Let's plug this totally extreme game in the big cat to find out. It's Annihilation Time!
Gameplay: Ultra Vortek offers two main game modes: Vs. and Tournament. There are four difficulty levels that range from "Training" to "Killer". This write-up will focus on the single-player game.
At its core, the single-player mode of Ultra Vortek is a rather generic tournament fighter with a standard best of 3 set-up. The player selects one of 7 playable characters, each representing one of three factions. Once selected, the player sets out to fight the others in a life or death contest to challenge "the Guardian" and take control of "the Ultra Vortek" - "the wellspring from which mankind draws its eternal energy." If you lose, the life force of your faction will be subsumed by the Ultra Vortek. Heavy stakes, indeed. The tournament itself is called "the Time of Testing" and there is a bit about a Vortek Tablet that is frankly lost on me.
Backstory aside, Ultra Vortek offers control using the standard Jaguar gamepad's three action buttons and d-pad. Special moves and fatalities - here called Annihilations - are pulled off through various combinations of the directional and action buttons. While the special moves are easier to pull than in other Jaguar fighters, I still found it difficult. It's strange that there is not a Pro Controller option for Ultra Vortek, as it was a relatively late release. While the 3 button control scheme is adequate, the game would have clearly benefited from the 6 button design of the Pro Controller.
In-game action is mostly fluid. The button response and hit detection are decent and the characters are fairly well balanced. That said, it is far too easy to beat the game in Normal mode by simply using a leg swipe. The difficulty ramps up tremendously in Hard mode, making for a much more enjoyable single-player game. Importantly, the game lacks a combo system which may put off some fighter fans.
Graphics: Graphically, Ultra Vortek shows off the Jaguar's 2D capabilities quite nicely. The stage levels are rather detailed, featuring a blend of post-apocalyptic and hellscape imagery that suits the theme of the game. From digitized onlookers, to subway trains, to roving eyeballs, to mirrored floor surfaces, it's clear that a lot of thought went into the presentation of each stage. That being said, the stages feel disconnected from the characters themselves. By that, I mean that the stages do not necessarily reflect the attributes or biography of the selected opponent. Instead, you'll find yourself fighting on any of the stages, regardless of the opponent/player character selected. This isn't a deal breaker by any means. It's just a bit odd considering all of the time the developers spent on the game's lore.
Character sprites are decent sized, though not as large or detailed as in Kasumi Ninja. The characters themselves are derived from a mix of digitized photos for the human faction and Buzzsaw, and stop motion and hand animation for the more fantastical characters. Character design is pretty generic cyberpunk/post-apocalyptic fare. They fit the game but are not terribly memorable. My favorite characters to play were the human Lucius and the robot Buzzsaw.
The standard hits, special moves and fatalities are well animated and many are humorous in their over-the-top nature. For example, the shape-shifting Mercury has a fatality where he turns into a meat grinder and subsequently grinds the body of his foe. Other moves send severed heads hurtling toward the screen. There is also a "poopality" which is everything you would imagine it to be. Oh and there are buckets of blood, acid and ... "mercury"...to be had on screen depending on the characters in play. Ah, the 90s - so extreme!
Other notes on graphics: 1) I really like the spiked swipe screen. It looks fantastic and is a nice added touch. 2) The player select screen is really cool with one small quibble: character names do not show onscreen until you're in the level. This is a really strange design choice. 3) I really love the eye in the center of the health meter. It follows the action and is so otherworldly.
Sound/Music: I generally like the near CD quality rock and metal tunes that serve as the soundtrack to the game. It's cheesy but it fits the tone of the game. The hit sounds, digitized voices and other sound effects are all admirably accomplished. I really enjoy some of the character specific sounds, like the short circuiting of defeated robot characters and the squishy noises made by Mercury.
Final Thoughts: Ultra Vortek is a competent 2D fighter that gets more right than it does wrong. The story is interesting, the gameplay works and the music is jamming. While it isn't quite up to the standards of contemporaries like MK3, it is a solid entry in the Jaguar's lackluster fighter line-up. Is it the best fighter on the Jaguar? For me, that honor goes to Primal Rage. That said, if you're a fan of this style of fighter, give it a try. If not, pass.
Thanks for reading and please share your memories and thoughts on Ultra Vortek in the comments below! Do you think it is the best fighter on the Jaguar?
Also, a special thank you to The Professor who recommended this game in the Readers' Choice post! I'll do another readers choice selection for Post 020. The next game comes courtesy of the randomizer. That game is: World Tour Racing!
Syndicate Published: 1994 by Ocean Developed: Bullfrog
Syndicate began life as a fairly popular overhead RTS on the PC and Amiga. The goal of Syndicate is to build the wealth, power and territory of your criminal enterprise through a combination of force, persuasion, taxation and research. The depth and novelty of the game led to a host of conversions. The last time I tried to play Syndicate was over 20 years ago and I was not at all impressed. In the intervening years, I've read that this game - including the Jaguar version - was generally well received and is thought by some to be a forebearer to the original GTA.
Is the Jaguar version of Syndicate a solid translation of the computer classic? Or would it have better been left to a keyboard and mouse? Read on to find out!
Gameplay: You start the game with a world map from which you select the territory you need to conquer. The more territory that you control, the more population and taxes collected. This leads to funds that you can use to buy intelligence during mission briefings, purchase equipment, or research enhancements for your agents. Once you select a territory, you are brought to a mission briefing. After accepting the mission, you get to select and equip a team of up to 4 agents, which you control in-game. "Control" in Syndicate is a relative term.
I'm primarily a console gamer. As such, I expect game controls to be fairly intuitive. I want to be able to jump right in and start playing without looking through a manual. If I do read the manual, it should be to clarify some nuance or quirk of the game's features. Syndicate is not that type of game. From menu options to in-game controls, Syndicate requires the player to not only read the manual, but to study it.
To make up for its lack of a keyboard, this computer conversion uses all of the buttons on the Jagpad. That's right, all three action buttons, plus the twelve buttons on the keypad. Because that's not enough for the actions in Syndicate, there are even button combinations that are required for certain actions. Want to zoom in? Press C+1. Need to deselect a weapon? That's C+9. All in all, I counted 26 possible actions available in-game. These are listed on pages 16-18 of the manual. Needless to say, I kept the manual handy so I had some idea what I needed to do. If that sounds tedious, that's because it is. The complexity literally stripped much of the joy and excitement out of playing this game.
Once in the game, I found the onscreen movement clunky. I've played a number of point and click RTS games and this just doesn't flow for me.
Graphics: The graphics in Syndicate are a bloody mess. The game world is presented in an isometric perspective that hampers navigation and can hide enemies and targets from view. The player's squad of agents, cops, enemies and targets are represented by blocky low-res sprites that look pretty bad no matter what your zoom. Some of the game maps are interesting from a distance, but lose detail and refinement when zoomed in. Scrolling across the play field is somewhat choppy and the onscreen action is anything but fluid. The in-game map is nearly useless as it's hard to differentiate between the different NPCs. There are some fun death animations, so that's something.
Sound/Music: The music in Syndicate consists of dark synthy chip tunes that I suppose are befitting the dystopian future of the game world. It isn't terrible but it also isn't memorable. The game's sound effects are pretty limited. In a word: average.
Overall: Syndicate on the Jaguar is a clunky RTS that is low on fun and high in tedium. It may have been highly regarded in its day, but there a far superior RTS experiences out there. Ultimately, the potential of the game's concept is undermined by the clunky control interface and lackluster graphics.
Final Verdict: If it's not yet clear, Syndicate was not my cup of tea. The overly complicated control scheme made playing the game a chore. Maybe it works well on a PC, but on the Jaguar I mark this one down for collectors only.
Thanks for reading and please share your memories and thoughts on Syndicate in the comments below! I'm particularly interested in hearing from those of you who enjoyed the game - either on the Jaguar or another platform.
The next game is from my recent Readers' Choice post and comes courtesy of The Professor: Ultra Vortek! Thanks to The Professor and RickR for the suggestions!
Those who have been following this blog might know that I use Excel to randomly select which Jaguar game that I'll review next. This approach basically forces me to reconnect with games that I may not otherwise choose to play. Overall, it's been a fun experiment and one that I intend to continue as I wind my way through my Jaguar collection.
That said, I'm just about finished with my Syndicate review (009) and I thought that I'd open up post number 010 to my fellow forum members. If there are any Jaguar games that you'd like to learn/read more about, let me know in the comments. I'll take the titles suggested and use Excel to randomly select one for post 010.
Please limit your suggestions to two titles. If you happen to suggest a game that I don't have, I'll let you know. I'll keep this open until next Friday and announce the selection in the post for Syndicate.
Zoop Published: 1995 by Viacom Designed by Hookstone, Ltd. Jaguar Version: Electric Spectacle Productions, Ltd.
Zoop is one of those games that no one seemed to ask for but was nonetheless pushed out to nearly every platform on the market. Billed as "America's Greatest Killer of Time!", this puzzler appeared on Gameboy, Game Gear, SNES, Genesis, PlayStation, Saturn, Macintosh, Windows, and our own beloved Jaguar. The ads were EVERYWHERE. This was a game that was scientifically proven to be so addictive that you would lose your mind. This was Viacom's Tetris and we were all going to be glued to the screen.
As I indicated in Post 000, one of the reasons that I'm doing this blog is to play some of the least played titles in my collection. Prior to this review, I had never played Zoop. I picked it up in a lot of sealed commons about six years ago and never even opened it. In fact, it is the only game in my Jaguar collection that I had never booted up. UNTIL NOW.
Is Zoop the addictive puzzler it was advertised to be? Did it drive me cuckoo bananas? Was it worth ripping off the cellophane? Read on to find out!
Gameplay: On the face of it, Zoop is a simple puzzler. The goal of the game is to eliminate colored shapes marching toward a square box in the center of the screen using a color matching game mechanic. You control a triangle that resides within this center square. The square itself is 4 rows tall by 4 columns wide. Blue, purple, green and orange shapes approach the center square from all four sides along sixteen different pathways. As new shapes appear, the earlier shapes will be pushed one space closer to the center square. If a shape gets to the center square, it's GAME OVER!
To stave off your inevitable demise, the player uses the d-pad to move the triangle within the center square, targeting the shapes. Pressing the action button sends your triangle hurtling at blurring speed into the shapes. If you hit a shape that is the same color as your triangle, you'll eliminate that shape. If multiple shapes of the same color are stacked together, you can eliminate the whole lot for a score multiplier. If you hit a shape that is a different color as the triangle, you will swap colors with that shape without eliminating it. This can be used strategically to build stacks and improve your score. There are also a few power ups which come in handy.
Control is tight and responsive. This is critical as you progress through each level. Speaking of levels, Zoop offers two game modes: Continual and Level. In Continual mode, the shapes on the board remain as you progress through each level without pause. In Level mode, the game field is cleared of shapes with each completed level. I preferred to play Level mode.
Graphics: The graphics in Zoop are unremarkable. The player sprite is a simple triangle. Likewise, the approaching shapes are rudimentary blobs of color. There is minimal animation. The play field changes with each level. For some levels, the color combination is more interesting than others. That said, it's clear that they were going for a certain vibe with this game and stuck to it. Could it have used a little more graphic flare? Probably. But that isn't really the point. As it is, the game is bright and colorful and does the job.
Sound/Music: The music in Zoop is sorta like "smooth jazz." It is calming and the tempo doesn't change as the pace of the game quickens. While competent, the music seems to be at odds with the gameplay. There are audio alerts if the shapes border the center square. Additionally, your triangle makes noise when moving or eliminating shapes.
Overall: Zoop is a decent puzzle game. The few hours that I spent with it were enjoyable. The simple graphics and gameplay mechanic works well and control was what it should be. Was it as addictive as Viacom claimed? Not in the least. While I could see myself picking it up again, it was very easy to put it down. No one is going to miss sleep or be late to work over this one. At least I still have a firm grip on reality!
Final Verdict: The Jaguar has few puzzlers and, in that way, Zoop fills a certain niche. If you like the genre, consider Zoop.
Thanks for reading and please share your memories and thoughts on Zoop in the comments below!
The next game is: Syndicate
Super Burnout Published: 1995 by Atari in association with Virtual Xperience Developed by Shen Technologies SARL
Super Burnout is 2D sprite-based motorcycle racer in the tradition of Sega's Hang-On. Published by Atari in 1995 and developed by first-time French developer Shen Technologies SARL, Super Burnout is viewed by many Jaguar gamers as one of the system's hidden gems. The silky smooth framerate, incredible sprite scaling, and tight controls stand in stark contrast to those of other Jaguar racers like Supercross 3D, Club Drive, and the infamous Checkered Flag. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see Super Burnout on the top ten lists of many Jaguar owners.
Does Super Burnout deserve its place in the pantheon of the big cat's best games? Let's take this turbo charged title out on the track and find out!
Gameplay: In Super Burnout, players race any one of six sport bikes along eight tracks against competing computer controlled bikes or a human competitor via split screen. From the main menu, players have a choice to either start the game or go into options. Starting the game will take you into the last setting used for the game, including game mode, computer AI and bike. Going into options will allow the player to select a bike, game mode, control and lap options and set enemy AI. The developers would have done well to open with the options menu but this is a small complaint.
There are multiple modes of play, including: Championship, Trainer, Record and two-player Versus mode. Championship mode is the main game and takes players to tracks in America, France, Germany, Hungary, Brazil, Australia, Canada and Japan. Unlike arcade-style racers, there is no time challenge, checkpoint or placing requirement for progression to the next race. You can finish last in each race and progress through the end of the game. Some players might appreciate that, but I like the challenge of unlocking tracks. In other modes, players can select their desired track. Trainer mode allows you to practice a track and improve your strategy; Record mode is a "time attack" against your best time; and, Versus mode is two-player, split screen action.
Each of the eight tracks has different characteristics; from long high speed runs, to gentle bends, to highly technical, hairpin turns. This makes your bike selection critical. You're stuck with the bike you chose at the outset, so choose wisely as each bike has different grip, acceleration and speed characteristics. It would have been cool to have some customization available or upgrading system, but alas...
Control is tight and responsive. Players use the d-pad left/right to steer the bike and control lean. The B button handles acceleration and A serves as the brake. If you opt to use the manual transmission, you'll need to use the C button and up/down on the d-pad to shift. I found this to be cumbersome and stuck to automatic gear selection.
Super Burnout does not reward pure speed. You cannot just put pedal to the metal and finish in the top 3. The game demands that you let up on the gas, time leans and apply the brake strategically. This requires that you spend time with each bike and each track to learn their nuances. Start a turn too late and you'll end up flying face first down the side of the road. These elements make Super Burnout easy to pick-up but difficult to master.
Graphics: Super Burnout has some beautifully rendered 2D sprites and runs at a rock solid 60 fps. Moving 2D sprites is what the Jaguar was meant to do and Super Burnout throws hundreds of sprites on the screen without breaking a sweat. Player sprites are huge and nicely done. Trees, barriers, buildings, and crowds look great and whiz by at a fast pace giving you a terrific sense of speed. Impressively, Versus mode maintains the graphic quality in split-screen, although at the cost of in-game music.
The look of the tracks are somewhat generic, with the exception of the type of tree used and some background graphics. For example, in Brazil you get palms and in Japan you get cherry blossoms. Similarly, the Sydney Opera House makes an appearance in the Australia track, while Hungary has a hillside castle - cause that's a thing unique to Hungary, I guess. These are nice touches but more could have been done to make each country more distinctive. A few of the tracks feature night racing, which is pretty cool. Otherwise, roadside barriers, crowds and buildings are reused or slightly modified from track to track. Objects on either side of the track are only one layer deep and are very repetitive.
Sound/Music: The music in Super Burnout is a high point. Each screen and race track has its own composition. The music style is hard to put a finger on, but most in-game music has a decent rhythm and funky bass. The quality is excellent and easily rivals CD audio. Sound FX are less impressive. The engine sounds are convincing but, other than the announcer and faint crowd roar, that's all you'll hear. There are no screeching tires, burnt rubber or crash sounds. More could have been done to flesh out the effects. That said, in sum sound and music are among the Jaguar's best .
Overall: Super Burnout is a solid if somewhat shallow racer. The game looks good, sounds good and controls well but it is otherwise very straightforward. Arcade-style time challenges, checkpoints and bike customization/upgrades may have done more to flesh out the game.
Final Verdict: As a technical achievement and an example of how the Jaguar handles 2D, Super Burnout is a showpiece. It's arguably the best racer on the system and is enjoyable in both single-player or versus mode. I hesitate to call it a "must-have" but if you like sport bikes and racing games, it's well worth your time.
Thanks for reading and please share your memories and thoughts on Super Burnout in the comments below! Do you think it's a "must have" for the Jaguar?
Next Up: Zoop
White Men Can't Jump Published 1995 by Atari Developed by High Voltage Software
White Men Can't Jump (WMCJ) is an Atari Jaguar exclusive developed by High Voltage Software and published by Atari in 1995. The game shipped with the Jaguar Team Tap peripheral for four player action. WMCJ is loosely based on the 1992 movie of the same name, which stars Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes as street basketball hustlers. As in the movie, players play pick-up basketball for cold hard cash on the mean streets of early-90s Los Angeles County. Otherwise, the license is wholly wasted as neither character is mentioned in the game. WMCJ is notorious as one of the worst games in the Jaguar library. For many Jaguar owners, it tops that list.
So, does WMCJ deserve the hate? Or is it, as the manual claims, "the most hyped up, monster jammin', bruisin' elbows, rebound snatchin', rim stuffin', skying over suckers, down your throat, money making game of street ball you never thought possible?" Let's plug WMCJ into the big cat and see what it's all about!
Gameplay: WMCJ is a two-on-two basketball game, in which players play half court ball in a semi-3D perspective. There are two game modes: Vs. mode and Tournament mode. In Vs. mode, up to four players can play using the Team Tap. In Tournament Mode, up to two players take on the best street ball duos in L.A. with the hope of making it to the Slam City Tournament at the Inglewood Forum. At the start of the game, you take out a loan from a couple of loan sharks for money to bet. You have to win enough to make the $5,000 entry fee and pay the sharks back - or else! Game progress is saved through the use of one of three save keys - represented by actual keys.
Playing the game is fairly straightforward. You use the d-pad to move, and the Jaguar controller's three main action buttons to pass/punch, jump/shoot, or for speed boost. The action triggered depends on whether or not you have control of the ball. The buttons are customizable from the options menu. Wait a minute, back up. Did I just write "pass/punch"? I sure did. This is street ball, so punching is front and center. Want to steal a ball or block a dunk? Just punch your opponent. It's perfectly acceptable. In addition to the violence, each character also has a "super dunk", which can be pulled off with a combination of movements. I have to say, pulling off a super dunk is pretty magical.
Action response seems a bit slow, with blocking jumps coming just after a shot, punches thrown late and shots taken a few steps after you intended. Also, the computer controlled characters pass like pros but - frustratingly - I could never quite get the hang of it. Additionally, due to the semi-3D perspective of the game, it can be hard to tell what's going on at times. All of this combines to make WMCJ less fluid and enjoyable than it could be.
Graphics: WMCJ uses an interesting art style to say the least. The game employs 2D sprites in a semi-3D perspective. The game uses sprite scaling to provide a sense of depth on the court. A dynamic camera follows the action. The camera movement is fast and can confuse the onscreen action. Words and phrases like "Bangin", "Take it back", "Airball", "Money" and "You gets none" appear on the screen in rapid succession. These use colorful fonts in full 90s glory. This can be a bit jarring and distracts somewhat from the gameplay. Fortunately, this feature can be switched off.
The player characters appear to be digitized from real photos like Kasumi Ninja, but unlike Kasumi, these digitizations are in fairly low resolution. It's an interesting look, if a bit muddy. The characters themselves are generic and their design doesn't show a lot of creativity. From a player's perspective, I really have no reason to pick the "Urban Angels" over the "Dunkin' Demons", or vice versa. They just aren't terribly memorable or distinctive. This may be unfair, as other games benefit from team/player licensing. That said, even if a lot of players feel the same, playing as your favorite NBA star does make you feel a bit more engaged.
The game environments are darker than they could be. To my mind, all the match-ups seem to be held at dusk. In sunny Los Angeles County, would it have killed them to make a really bright level? It was the 90s, so maybe they were trying to evoke smog. Also, no LBC? WTF. Otherwise, I generally like the look and feel of the courts.
Between the dynamic camera, digitized character models, sprite scaling, onscreen text and other effects, there is a lot going on here. Unfortunately, it's just a little too taxing and the framerate suffers for it. Action can seem stuttered and the animations are anything but fluid. This doesn't break WMCJ, it just makes it less fun than other two-on-two basketball titles.
Sound/Music: Sound and music are a strong point of WMCJ. Unlike some Jaguar games, WMCJ features full audio, including in-game music, decent sound effects and heavy voice sampling. The in game music is well done but some of it seems a bit out of place for the game setting. One would expect more of a late-80s to early-90s hiphop sounds. Instead, we get some weird jazz music. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think the "Dis Masters" are playing jazz on their boom box while taking on the "3pt. Kings" in Compton. The voice over sampling is quality, if somewhat repetitive. I would like to hear a little more varied trash talk. The sound effects are what you'd expect from a basketball game, with swooshes that are sufficiently swooshy.
Overall: WMCJ is a strange two-on-two basketball game. While its clear the developers were trying very hard, it is definitely a case of style over substance. I enjoyed some of the 90s quirkiness and it is truly unique. That said, there are better basketball games out there - even on the Jaguar. Sports games require a certain responsiveness and fluidity of action that WMCJ just doesn't have. This makes it a missed opportunity.
Note: While this write-up has focused on the single player game, I want to add that this is tremendously fun with four players. People just really can't believe what they're seeing and it makes for a lot of laughs. A few years ago, I had a "Dads' Day of Atari" and someone picked this out. It was the loudest we laughed all afternoon. WMCJ itself isn't great, but it definitely has a so bad it's good quality that's best enjoyed with friends.
Final Verdict: WMCJ is another odd edition to the Jaguar library. It is far from the worst game on the system but pales in comparison to the excellent Jaguar conversion of NBA Jam TE. If you find it cheap with the Team Tap, you might consider giving it a try. Four player Vs. mode is probably worth the price of admission. Besides, you can use the Team Tap on NBA Jam.
Thanks for reading and please share your memories and thoughts on WMCJ in the comments below! Do you think it ranks as the worst game on the Jaguar? Or do you agree with me that it can be so bad that it's good?
The next game is:Super Burnout
Robinson's Requiem Published 2011 by Songbird Productions Developed by Silmarils Sofware
Robinson's Requiem is a combination first person adventure and point and click survival game. The player is Trepliev1, a Robinson space explorer from Alien World Exploration (AWE) who becomes stranded on the planet Zarathustra. With minimal equipment, you set out to explore the planet and survive various hazards. These include other Robinsons, natives, and a generally hostile environment. Robinson's Requiem saw release in the mid-90s on a variety of computer platforms including the Atari ST, the Atari Falcon, the Commodore Amiga and the PC. The game was also released on the 3DO.
The Jaguar port of Robinson's Requiem was released by Songbird Productions in 2011. For those not familiar with Songbird, the company is run by Carl Forhan and specializes in the completion and release of "lost games" for the Atari Jaguar and Atari Lynx. Robinson's Requiem is one such title. Advertised on the back of the Jaguar CD packaging, the game was essentially complete when Atari ceased support of the Jaguar platform in 1996. Years later, Carl rescued the game and licensed it from the developers for release. Like all Songbird releases, the game has professional packaging on par with Atari's commercial Jaguar releases.
So, how does Robinson's Requiem stack up? Let's take a stroll on Zarathustra to find out!
Gameplay: The computer roots of Robinson's Requiem are clearly evident in the game's control scheme. The player uses the d-pad to move a cursor on the screen to search an area or body, pick up and use items, or access options from the ever present icon panel and "Sesame" screen. The Jaguar 9-key pad is used to move across Zarathustra's sprite-based landscape. The control scheme is anything but intuitive and would likely be better suited for a keyboard and mouse. That said, after an hour or so of roaming, I got the hang of it.
The game is light on action. I quickly encountered two other Robinsons and had to kill both of them. The first, a man by the name of Socrates19, warned me - via an FMV sequence - that it was "every man for himself", that I was in his sector and that I needed to get lost or else. He went down with a few awkward punches which were activated by clicking on the weapons icon, selecting the fist icon and pressing "B." If that sounds laborious, that's because it is. It's very clunky and unresponsive.
Searching Socrates' body revealed a treasure trove of equipment, including a survival knife, matches, battery and gourd. These can be used later in combination with other items to fight (knife), build a fire (matches) or get water. The second Robinson, a man named Darwin5, seemed pleasant enough at first but by the end of his FMV inexplicably turned into a werewolf.
Moving around the game's environment was less than thrilling. I found myself hitting dead ends and getting stuck in crevices of the world map. There is an overhead map but I didn't find it very helpful. As it is, Socrates and Darwin5 were the only souls that I encountered in my time with the game. Zarathustra, garden spot that it is, seems oddly devoid of life.
One of the more interesting gameplay mechanics is "manufacture". You can select items that you have scavenged and combine them to make a tool. For example, I used a branch and wire form the wreckage of my ship to make a noose. While crafting is commonplace in many of today's games, it is surprisingly deep for a 90s adventure. I have no doubt more useful tools are available but I didn't get that far into the game. In two hours I managed to kill the only two people I met, fill up my water gourd, boil said water, slice leaves and branches from trees, find some food and give myself food poisoning.
Speaking of food poisoning, another action is a medical scan. Activating medical scan will let you check your overall health and determine what is wrong, the seriousness of the illness and treatment options provided you have the medicine. Like the manufacture feature, I found the need to scan and treat illnesses to be a nice touch.
Graphics: Graphically, Robinson's Requiem is a mis-mash. Like other early CD-rom games, the developers were perhaps trying too hard to use all that the new medium had to offer. At start-up, the game treats the player to some classic 90s CG rendered video. The intro sequence is lengthy and sets up your mission and crash landing on Zarathustra. Once you take control, the game switches to a first person perspective. The game world is made of sprite-based textures. They are very muddy and do not look good at all. Pop-up is horrible and every few minutes there is a slight pause in the action to load a new area of the map. The landscape is dotted with trees that seem like paper cutouts and you are surrounded by mountains. When you do come upon another Robinson, they appear as a generic human shaped sprite. Upon approach, you'll be treated to grainy FMV typical of CD consoles of the day. Acting is sub-B movie level.
On the bright side, the fire animation was well done as is the icon panel and health status scan. I also quite enjoyed Darwin5's lupin transformation.
Sound/Music: The sound in Robinson's Requiem is ok. When there is music, it's well done. The in game sounds also set the tone for a hostile planet with gurgling water and animal noises. You also make noise when you're sick or fighting.
Overall: You can probably tell by now that I didn't much care for Robinson's Requiem. Anytime a player spends more than an hour walking around without encountering in-game action, it's a problem. Zarathustra was simply much too ugly and desolate to keep my interest.
Final Verdict: Robinson's Requiem strikes me as a game that is ambitious in concept but poor in execution. It strives to give the player a new kind of gaming experience but ultimately falls flat. This one is for the serious Jaguar collector only. If you're not a completionist, pass.
Thanks for reading and please share your memories and thoughts on Robinson's Requiem in the comments below! I'm particularly interested in hearing from anyone who enjoyed this or another version of the game.
The next game is: White Men Can't Jump
Cybermorph Published:1993 by Atari Corporation Developed by Attention To Detail (ATD)
"Good luck." These are the first words that the player hears when their morphing T-Griffon unfolds on a remote planet. And Atari needed all the luck it could get when the Jaguar launched to limited markets in the winter of 1993. The odds were stacked against the once-giant of the industry. Atari released the Jaguar to a crowded market where the SNES and Genesis dominated and other consoles from SNK, 3DO, Phillips and others competed for shelf space. Further, next generation consoles from Sega and Sony were looming on the horizon. More than luck, Atari needed something special to show the prowess of its new 64-bit machine. What they had was Cybermorph - the Jaguar's oft-derided pack-in. It is perhaps most famous for Skylar, the game's green-faced guide well known for the apparently meme-worthy phrase "Where did you learn to fly?"
When I first got my Jaguar I was quite pleased with Cybermorph. I thought the morphing ship, full 3D exploration and Skylar were all great. In '94, it was one of the more interesting and advanced games that I had ever played. So, how does it stack up today?
Graphics: The graphics in Cybermorph are quite bland. The planets have dull, oddly colored landscapes and dark skies. The landscapes are sparsely populated with pods, trees, mountains, roads and enemies. Everything in the game is made up of Gouraud shaded polygons. At the time of its release, the in-hardware use of Gouraud shading was a technological advance over the flat shaded polygons found in many computer and console games. It can be a really cool effect when implemented well. Unfortunately, the art-style in Cybermorph leaves a lot to be desired. Aside from Skylar and your ship, the aforementioned T-Griffon, it does not appear that much care or imagination went into Cybermorph's polygonal models. Enemies are not very exciting and the trees and buildings that dot the landscape look like they were designed by a first grader. Draw distances are quite limited and pop-up can be a real problem. If you're moving too quickly, it is very easy to run into a mountain or other obstacle. On the bright side, I've always liked Skylar and the shape-shifting T-Griffon is cool.
Sound/Music: Cybermorph lacks in the audio department. There is music at start-up that begins with a punch and devolves into a weird "smooth jazz" type thing. There is no in-game music at all. The fully voiced Skylar is impressive. Most impressive. The only people that will be annoyed by her haven't bothered to learn how to play the game. If you're hearing "Where did you learn to fly?" over and over again, you're doing it wrong! The ship sounds, weapons fire and crash noises are sufficiently "spacey" but aren't very imaginative. You've heard better whooshes and blasts in a hundred different games. Overall, the audio and sound effects feel underwhelming.
Gameplay: The most interesting aspect of Cybermorph's gameplay is that it offers the player full 3D exploration. This was novel in 1993. Unfortunately, the world design and missions don't leverage this very well. As mentioned above, the game's worlds are sparsely populated. While there is plenty to blow up, there are also slow periods of inactivity and exploration. This would be interesting if the landscape offered more than tiny trees, the occasional building and oddly colored mountains and canyons. As it is, it is a bit of a snooze fest. Game worlds are also pretty small; it is easy to traverse a level at speed within a few minutes. Game missions lack variety and mostly involve collecting yellow pods. If this doesn't sound exciting, that's because it isn't. The gameplay just doesn't have a lot of depth.
Control takes some getting used to, but I've always found it tight and responsive. In my view, Cybermorph is best played with a light touch and at slower speeds. Doing so helps to avoid Skylar's warnings and prevents overshooting targets and pods. Cybermorph also makes use of the overlay. Weapons selection is easily toggled using the top row (1-3) and multiple views are available using the rest of the pad.
Overall: Did I enjoy playing Cybermorph? Yes. Despite its many shortcomings, the game does offer some fun and a romp down memory lane. That said, the game just feels undercooked. The lack of music, rudimentary level design and boring landscapes leave a lot to be desired. It's hardly good enough to be a flagship title. Fortunately, the Jaguar CD sequel Battlemorph is superior in every way.
Final verdict: As the Jaguar's pack-in title, Cybermorph has earned a place in video game and Atari history. It is inextricably linked to the legacy of Atari's last console. As such, it's a must have for the Atari Jaguar collector. That said, the repetitive missions, lack of in-game music and bland graphics make the game hard to recommend from the player's perspective. There is fun here but the Jaguar has a host of tank-style 3D games and Cybermorph ranks pretty low on that list.
Thanks for reading and please share your opinions and memories of Cybermorph in the comments!
The next game is: Robinson's Requiem
Pinball Fantasies Published: 1995 by Twenty First Century Entertainment Developed by Spidersoft Limited
Released in 1995, Pinball Fantasies is a Jaguar conversion of the 1992 Commodore Amiga game of the same name. Billed as a “pinball simulator”, Pinball Fantasies features four tables and semi-realistic play. In addition to the Amiga and Jaguar versions, Pinball Fantasies saw release on the Amiga CD32, Super NES, DOS and Gameboy. The game has also appeared in compilations on platforms as varied as iOS and PS3.
The Jaguar version of Pinball Fantasies is notable as one of only a handful of Jaguar titles published by a third-party company; Twenty First Century Entertainment. In the Jaguar’s library, it competes against Atari’s own Ruiner Pinball for the system's coveted pinball crown.
Pinball Fantasies is a game that I have not spent a lot of time with over the years. Outside of a few highscore club matches, I rarely plug it in. So I was actually excited to see it pop up on The Gaming Notebook’s randomizer.
Graphics: The graphics in Pinball Fantasies are competent. The layout of the four tables is well designed and the art is colorful, if bland. The score and ball readout is at the top of the screen and attempts to replicate the dot-matrix score display of a real machine. The ball looks right and moves fluidly around the table on various ramps, rails and loops. On the other hand, aside from some light-up bonuses and bouncing bumpers, there isn’t a lot going on.
The art style on the game tables themselves are somewhat generic. “Partyland” has a carnival theme, “Speed Devils” has a racing theme, “Billion Dollar Game Show” has a game show theme, and “Stones & Bones” has a horror theme. There are no crazy bonuses that set off a myriad of lights. Nor are there any character animations, explosions or other effects that might have been done given the videogame format. It’s all very vanilla. One of the things that I love about actual pinball tables is the over-the-top table art, lights and sound. Those are meant to attract players. The tables here all feel a little sterile. If I were walking through an arcade, I definitely wouldn’t look twice at any of them.
I don’t have the game on any other platform but a quick review of gameplay videos on Youtube leads me to believe that the Jaguar version compares favorably with contemporary ports. Like many of the 16-bit games ported over to the system, the Jaguar versions are typically sharper, with greater color depth and smoother animations.
Sound/Music: The clicks, bumps, pings and rings of classic pinball is well represented in Pinball Fantasies. A true pinball aficionado might find a fault but to my ears, the pinball sounds ring true. In-game music is a mixed bag. I didn’t mind the music in “Speed Devils” or in “Stones & Bones”. In fact, the music in both of those tables is fairly enjoyable. The music on “Billion Dollar Game Show” was inoffensive. I found the music in “Partyland” intolerable. Keeping with the table’s carnival theme, it is music suited only to knife wielding psycho clowns.
Gameplay: In terms of gameplay, Pinball Fantasies is just fine. With the standard control layout, the d-pad is the left flipper and the “B” button is the right flipper. The “A” button can be used to nudge the table and the “C” button launches the ball. It’s pinball so there isn’t a lot to it in terms of control.Like a real table, the tables in Pinball Fantasies are pretty big – too big for a standard tv. In order to accommodate, the field of view is limited to half of a table at a time and scrolls with the ball. You can set the scroll setting to “hard” or “soft”. A “hard” setting makes the action much faster and the scrolling is more jarring. I enjoyed playing with the “soft” scroll although this seems to slow the action somewhat. The game offers two difficulty settings: easy or hard. For me, the combo setting that most felt like real pinball was “hard” with a “soft” scroll.
Game physics seem spot on. The ball doesn’t feel too floaty or too fast the way it can in other video pinball games. This is a high scoring game with generous multipliers and bonuses - typical in pinball. One thing that’s missing is multiple balls. This is likely due to the scrolling nature of the playfield.
Of the four tables, I like "Stones and Bones" the best. It's just interesting enough to make me want to keep playing. "Speed Devils" is also a fun table. The other two are pretty forgettable.
Overall: Pinball Fantasies is an above average video pinball game. It generally replicates the pinball experience at home and I think that was largely the intent for the original game designers. That said, I can’t help but feel that there was a missed opportunity here to leverage the media to not only recreate the pinball experience, but to bring something exciting and fresh to the table.
Final verdict: If you like realistic video pinball, you might enjoy Pinball Fantasies. It definitely lives up to its description as a pinball simulation. If you prefer your video pinball to be a little more fantastical, pass.
Thanks for reading and please share your opinions and memories of Pinball Fantasies in the comments!
The next game is: CYBERMORPH!
Iron Soldier 2 Published: 1997 by Telegames Developed by Eclipse Software Design
Iron Solidier 2 (IS2) is one of six completed Jaguar games that Telegames published under license from Atari following Atari Corporation's reverse merger with JTS. As the name implies, IS2 is the direct sequel to the 1994 Jaguar title Iron Soldier, a fan favorite among Jaguar owners. In fact, I believe IS2 is one of only two commercially released sequels to first gen Jaguar games to appear on the platform. Like the original, IS2 is a Jaguar exclusive in which the player operates a lumbering, giant mech from a first person perspective, free-roaming in a 3D polygonal world. Beyond that, IS2 improves on the original in nearly every way, including: more and deeper missions, more enemies, more weapons, improved graphics and full CD audio. Telegames released IS2 on both cartridge and CD format. The CD version is the subject of this post.
I actually pre-ordered IS2 from Telegames and received the gold CD-R version. As I recall, this was due to issues they were having with the glass masters. I sold that original copy a few years later along with most of my Jaguar games. When I set out to collect again in 2010, this was one of the first CD games I picked up.
Graphics: For anyone who has played Iron Soldier, IS2 will look very familiar. Stylistically, the sequel uses many of the same simple polygonal landscapes and structures found in the original - fuel depots, factories, skyscrapers, etc. The buildings are generally unimpressive but they do have texture mapped surfaces this time around. Enemy models on the other hand - particularly the tanks and helicopters - are very detailed and are much improved from the original. So too are the explosions. Already cool in Iron Soldier, the fiery polygonal explosions in IS2 are probably the best on the Jaguar. The CD version of IS2 also has an FMV intro and death scene. The FMV is not great but it's not bad. Unfortunately, there is no way to skip through the death sequence - which is a shame because, if you're like me, you'll be seeing it a lot.
Sound/Music: The CD audio in IS2 is used to its fullest. It features compelling explosions, rumbles, gunfire and whooshing rockets. By and large, the sound effects are great. The in-game music on the other hand is a bit of a mixed bag. When it's good, it's really good with atmospheric techno and rock that fits the battle at hand. However, sometimes the ingame music is at odds with the atmosphere. Soft, almost meditative tunes accompany the onscreen devastation. While I can appreciate the variety, the vibe on some of these softer tracks is just too weird. Eclipse and Atari should have stuck with darker themed, driving electronic and/or rock music that better matches the game's combative themes.
Gameplay: IS2 features gameplay that is nearly identical to the original. You pilot your lumbering, 42-foot mech - called an Iron Soldier - through various cityscapes on a mission to thwart the evil Penta Corporation. I say lumbering because the pace is a bit slow. Giant robot slow! There are 20 missions which range from convoy escort, to building protection to leveling entire cities! Missions are unlocked five at a time and while it seems like there is variety - you essentially spend the entire time destroying buildings, tanks, helicopters and enemy mechs. Health, ammo and weapons are available in crates found in the rubble of destroyed buildings.
Control takes some getting used to. You press the A button and up or down on the D-pad to move forward or in reverse. Once in motion, you can use the d-pad to aim in 180 degrees while continuing on your path. If you want to turn the mech, you'll need to hold down the C button while moving the D-pad. This sounds trickier than it is and once you get the hang of it, it seems a fittingly awkward way to steer a giant robot. Weapons fire/action is triggered with the B button.
Speaking of weapons, there are lots of them! You start the game with an assault rifle, grenades and a chainsaw selectable. New weapons, including, a Gatling gun, heavy shield and cruise missile, are added as you progress. Weapons selection is made using the Jaguar keypad. The game does not come with an overlay but the weapons selection is easy to pick up. According to the manual there are 13 weapons in all. Unfortunately, I didn't see them all in this go around. IS2 is a beast!
While the game plays almost exactly like the original, the difficulty level in IS2 is markedly higher. I have completed Iron Soldier multiple times but have yet to beat IS2. I put this down to a combination of factors. First, the missions are more challenging. The type of missions that you encounter at the start of IS2 were at the end of the original. Clearly the developers were trying to provide Iron Soldier veterans with more of the same but harder. Secondly, mission objectives aren't always clear. I often spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how to approach a mission, with my delay sometimes resulting in mission failure. This was particularly true of the protection missions. It can be frustrating.
Overall: Iron Soldier 2 is a solid update to the Jaguar original. Its more of the same, but when you're talking Iron Soldier, that's not a bad thing! Improving - albeit slightly - on the graphics, size and variety of its predecessor, IS2 is an example of Jaguar 3D gaming at its best.
Final verdict: If you were a fan of the original, I highly recommend IS2. It's a challenging game that will keep you coming back for more. If you didn't like the original, pass.
Thanks for reading and please share your Iron Soldier 2 opinions in the comments!
The next game is: Pinball Fantasies
Bubsy In: Fractured Furry Tales Published: 1994 by Atari Developed by Imagitec Design, Inc.
Bubsy In: Fractured Furry Tales is a Jaguar exclusive installment in the Bubsy series, published by Atari under license from Accolade. For the uninitiated, Bubsy is a wisecracking bobcat that runs, glides and bounces his way through hazard laden levels. The game departs from the main Bubsy franchise, which pits Bubsy against yarn obsessed space aliens, and instead places our orange hero in various fairy tale settings like Alice In Wonderland and Jack and the Beanstalk. For his Jaguar outing, Bubsy retains his trademark early 90s attitude from the Genesis and SNES titles. Play mechanics and death animations are also largely unchanged from the first Bubsy game.
Graphics: Bubsy comes to life in bright, colorful and sharp 2D style on the Jaguar. While it is certainly not a generational leap from its 16-bit predecessors, Fractured Furry Tales looks great. The colors seem somewhat richer and deeper than in the earlier games, likely due to the Jaguar's enhanced color palette. Bubsy himself looks fantastic and the design of the enemy character sprites is fittingly whimsical.
Sound: The sound effects and in-game music are good. In-game effects are typical platformer boings and pops. The music is competent and fits the levels. It's not memorable in the way that the very best platform music is but it does the job.
Gameplay: In Fractured Furry Tales, Bubsy runs through each level - called chapters - killing enemies and collecting brightly colored orbs until reaching an exit. To get through each board, Bubsy uses three main moves: jump, glide and look. These are mostly intuitive and largely work as you'd expect. You kill enemies by jumping on them with the B button. Hopping from surface to surface is generally easy. Run, jump and hold A to glide across water and other hazards. Look seems like an odd "move" but trust me, it's needed.
You start the game with nine lives and its not just because you're a bobcat. It's because you will die. A LOT. Bubsy limits you to one hit and it is unforgiving. Enemies can sometimes blend in with the scenery (I'm looking at you rattle snake) and/or are placed in such a way that they're easy to run into. Bubsy also tends to flop around a bit, making it easy to kill one enemy only to haphazardly bounce into another enemy, often just off screen. Because of this, it is necessary to take it slow and look before leaping. If you want to make it past Chapter One, you will find yourself stopping and holding the C button to check your surroundings before moving on. It really is the only way that I found to avoid frustratingly cheap deaths. Patience is rewarded.
The level design in Bubsy is non-linear and the levels are not particularly intuitive. It was not always clear where I needed to go to advance in the game. The levels are also pretty huge! It's easy to get turned around. I guess that I prefer a little more direction in my platform games.
Overall: Fractured Furry Tales is a great looking title with a lot of potential. The bright colors, fairy tale theme and whimsical characters work well. Unfortunately, the sprawling levels combine with the unforgiving one-hit death and poor enemy placement to make the game more frustrating than it needs to be. The challenge in Bubsy comes from design flaws, not from a need for precision and timing. Still, this is a game I dust off pretty regularly - at least a few times a year - just to see if I get any better. It's not a great game but, for me, it's oddly compelling. Maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment?
Final verdict: If the occasional cheap death is not your thing, pass. However, if you like quirky, colorful platformers and don't mind dying, give Fractured Furry Tales a try.
Thanks for reading and please share your Bubsy opinions in the comments!
The next games is: Iron Soldier II (CD)
Welcome to what I hope is the first of many entries in The Gaming Notebook. In this blog, I will share my thoughts and impressions on various games. The point of this exercise is to reacquaint myself with some of the lesser played titles in my collection.
The main focus of this blog will be Jaguar gaming. I have been playing Jaguar since late 1994 and have a complete retail collection, the majority of post-JTS releases and many homebrews. At last count, this equates to 82 Jaguar games! That said, from time to time I might throw in a non-Jaguar title.
A few notes:
1) I will not be playing the games in chronological order. Instead, games will be selected randomly using Excel.
2) I will play each game featured for at least two hours. I feel that this is sufficient to get a good impression of the game. I have no doubt that I'll play some of these for much longer.
3) I don't intend to get into the minutiae of a game's history, development and contemporary reviews. Other platforms do a fantastic job at that. This is just my personal take on these games from a player's perspective.
4) Feel free to comment and share your own gameplay impressions. I only ask that you've actually played the game on real hardware.
That's all for now. I hope that you check in from time to time!
The first game to be featured will be: Bubsy In Fractured Furry Tales