Month: February 2017

A Day at Arcade Club!

This past weekend, I ended up in Bury of all places with some friends to spend the day at Arcade Club. I’d not heard of it before, but one of the friends used to live in the area and had discovered it a little while previous and suggested that we all go.

Arcade Club is stashed away on the top floor of Ela Mill, which is as you may guess from the name an old converted mill which also houses an escape room. We ran into one of the operators on our way in who was telling us that they’re planning to expand shortly onto another floor with a focus on LAN PC gaming. I believe the PCs have already been moved in preparation as there were none there, but that’s fine since they weren’t what I was there to play.

The great idea of Arcade Club is that all of the games are forever on free to play. You pay £10 to get in (or £5 for kids) and then you’re good to go for the whole day.

The entrance area has a couple of arcade cabinets, a sofa with a Nintendo 64 (running Goldeneye, naturally) and Xbox One setup and a small bar serving reasonably priced drinks (I had a beer that was £2, which I thought was perfectly acceptable) as well as some snacks and hot food.

When you pass through that into the main room, that’s where the fun begins. It’s a fairly large room, meaning there’s a lot of space for arcade cabinets and they certainly don’t disappoint in that regard. I’d guess at there being somewhere in the region of a hundred units in the room covering the whole spectrum of arcade gaming.

The first set of cabinets you get to contain a lot of classics primarily from the 80s. I spent some time here playing 1942, finished Golden Axe and tried out the original arcade Ninja Gaiden, which I don’t think I’d played before. After playing the first few levels of the original R-Type, I then found myself oddly obsessed with Pole Position, a game that’s older than me and that I’m not even sure I’d played before. Its been so long since I last played a game for the leaderboard but I was hooked at dragging my way up the day’s (or possibly more, I have no idea how often they reset the machines) scores. From my initial placing in the mid 40s and being unable to to qualify for the main race, I managed to get up to 11th and got as far as the first checkpoint on the race which I was pretty chuffed with.

There were a number of 4 player games available as well, including a couple of versions of Gauntlet, but one that we played all of was the infamous 90s X-Men game. Legend among fans for its dodgy dialogue and weird continuity it’s.. not really all that good, but I did find myself laughing quite a lot at Cyclops’ animation when kicking an enemy on the ground.

X-Men finished, we the turned our attention to the cabinet next to it, Smash TV. Still a lot of fun all these years later, if a little sluggish control wise by modern standards, but runs a bit too long and we decided to call it quits after the second boss. It’s semi-sequel Total Carnage was also present and plays a bit more fluidly.

By this point we’d ended up at the opposite end of the room to the entrance where most of the newer games and fighters were found. After being completely demolished at Street Fighter 2 and ridiculing the slow awfulness that is Virtua Fighter in 2017 and a few matches of Soul Calibur before seeing how far I could get through Ikaruga, a game that I’ve owned on several formats but never finished due to the extreme bullet hell.

There were also a great range of Star Wars games, with some of the original games from the 80s (I suck at the isometric Return of the Jedi) as well as a long time favourite of mine, Star Wars Trilogy Arcade. I always make the effort to play a level or two of Trilogy every time I’ve found it in an arcade since its release in the 90s and its definitely a cabinet I’d love to own.

We spent about five hours at Arcade Club in all and there were still a ton of games I didn’t get around to playing, but we had to get home for some vitally important beer drinking. A very enjoyable day though, and I’ll certainly be going again some day.

Games Backlog – 1993 Space Machine

The very next game on my Steam list ended up being the next game I played, last year’s 1993 Space Machine.

I’ve always been a fan of shoot ’em ups, playing many in arcades back in the 80’s and 90’s with the R-Type series being a particular favourite as I’m sure it is for many others. When I first saw 1993 Space Machine, I simply thought that it was designed to emulate the style of the classic games and didn’t realise that it had originally been designed for the Amiga before being abandoned close to completion and was only finished recently after the code was discovered in a box.

Judging by the interviews I’ve read it gathered quite a bit of interest back in the 90’s, and stood out among other similar games due to it’s four player mode which was much more of a rarity back then. This functionality has been preserved in the Steam release, though I’ve not had the opportunity to play it with anyone to see how well it works unfortunately.

The game starts giving you a selection of ships and additonal weapons, though these are very limited when you start out. Defeating enemies causes small shards to appear which give credits when collected and can then be used to upgrade or purchase new ships with different abilities and do the same for the additional weapon pods.

There are four main levels which can be replayed through the level select, and each level features an introductory stage with a boss at the end though sadly these can’t be revisited. While developing the Steam version the decision was made to give infinite lives, meaning that it’s not a terribly difficult game to actually finish as you can just keep going. I personally feel this was probably the right decision, classic arcade shoot ’em ups after all also had infinite lives as long as you were able to keep pumping coins into them. There’s also a hardcore mode that unlocks after you beat the first level that has a limit of three lives.

Each level ends in a boss with varying levels off difficulty, a couple killed me a bunch of times before I managed to get past them but I didn’t have any major problems. I also rather liked how the boss battles would have parts of the enemy ship be destroyed as you fight them, nicely illustrating the damage that you’re causing.

There are two secret levels hidden within the game, while I’ve managed to find one of them as it’s fairly well documented the second one is still eluding me and I’ll likely keep playing until I’ve found it.

If you’re only considering a single playthrough then it’s a little on the short side (the developer has said they wished they’d reused some of the art assets and made a couple of levels per planet instead of having everything new for each one) but there’s a decent amount of replay value for those who like to unlock everything such as achievements and ship upgrades. A few of the achievements are quite tricky and I managed to miss the one for dying 42 times in a single playthrough the first time around. Length aside though, it’s an enjoyable game and one I’m glad eventually saw the light of day.

Edit: Eventually found the second secret level thanks to some help in the Steam discussions (won’t spoil the secret here, but it’s easy enough to find if you wanted to since it’s hardly the busiest Steam forum) and it goes absolutely mental. Yikes.

Games Backlog – 140

Right, right, ‘regular’ updates. Ahem.

So, when I manage to tear myself away from World of Warcraft (lousy stupid addictive MMOs..) I’m wanting to work on trying to play some of the many, many games on my Steam and other accounts that I haven’t even fired up once. So, starting at the top of my library, I decided to play the first thing that caught my eye. I made it as far as the second game, 140

I suspect I acquired 140 through one of the many, many Humble Indie Bundles that I’ve picked up over the years. As each bundle typically has 8 or so games, I usually end up playing one or two and then the rest of the games just end up added to my library and gather digital dust.

140 is a deceptively simple little game. Like many other visually basic games, you have a single button which makes you jump and can move about. Your player sprite is a square that changes into a circle while moving, and a triangle while jumping. To progress through the levels, you need to pick up a number of small circles and return them to larger semi-circles on the floor (the game doesn’t use any terminology or indeed any language at all, so I have no idea if these things have names) which causes the colours to change and then alters the world around you to activate new puzzles.

As you progress, the puzzles become trickier and you’ll start to see blocks of static in various places. Contact with these, even just brushing up against them, brings instant death and sends you back to the last checkpoint. Towards the end you’ll be jumping over pits with blocks of static shifting all around you, I often got to an area and wondered how I’d manage to get past it leading to some nicely satisfying moments when I did.

This all happens to a constantly evolving soundtrack, with various things such as disappearing platforms timed to the beat. New level elements will appear with each colour change, and the movement of these then adds to the music. Somewhere towards the end of the first level it all just clicked for me and I was in the zone, doing everything to the beat.

Each level ends with a boss sequence, and these each have their own unique mechanics unlike the rest of the game. I was a little confused with the first boss at how different it was, but with each the game gives you a light tutorial without breaking the flow of gameplay to do so and they come together rather well.

After finishing all three levels you unlock the ability to play the next three which are basically the original levels in reverse but with a twist: there are no more checkpoints. This means that you need to finish the entire level in one go without dying, which is a rather daunting task considering how many times I died the first time around. While a younger me, with faster reflexes and tons more free time, would likely have taken the challenge and played the levels over and over until I was able to complete them, that’s sadly really not something I have the time for anymore and judging by the percentages on the Steam achievements, I’m far from the only one.

While short in terms of play time (unless you’re aiming to complete all the reverse levels that is, and hats off to you if you are) with a run of the three basic levels clocking in at about an hour, 140 is a fantastic little game. Games as experiences rather than lengthy titles seems to be all the rage these days, and 140 is certainly a memorable experience.

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