Friday, May 25, 2012


Next on my list of Breakout clones is a game that has had a lot of ports and adaptions over the years, and that game is called Circus.  I have never played any of the "Circus" games, and the arcade original was my first.  I know the Atari 2600 version is pretty famous, but does the arcade version compare favorably?  I have not played the 2600 version either, although I will very soon, but I will try my best to sum up this arcade original. 

Let me just say, this game is tough.  I don't know how the 2600 version compares in terms of difficulty, but the arcade game is really hard.  The game starts with a clown veering off a platform and the other clown must catch him by moving his seesaw.  Upon the first clown hitting the seesaw, the other clown will veer into the air and pop balloons, and then land back on the seesaw, sending the other clown into the air, and so forth.  Hitting the balloons will translate into points for you.  The yellow is on the bottom (20 points), green is in the middle (50) and blue is at the top (100 points). 

That is pretty much the objective of the game.  Where the difficulty comes in, is that the game is really fast, and in some cases, it's impossible for the clown to hit the seesaw.  Often, the clown must hit towards the end of the side of the board that is empty.  Otherwise, the clown will usually die.  And missing the clown altogether is very common too, as the game is fast. 

As I've noted in those days, the monitors used were monochrome, so color overlays had to be used on the monitors.  The graphics and the sound, therefore, are very simple.  In some cases, the gameplay can overshadow the primitive nature of the technology involved.  Unfortunately, this isn't the case here.  Although it seems that the gameplay improved in later ports of the game, this arcade version is simply too tough and fast to recommend. 


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pinball Spectacular

Although I have seen how obscure the "Bee" series of games were upon taking a look at them, thanks to Wikipedia, I saw that a copycat game was made for the Commodore 64.  It's called "Pinball Spectacular". 

I have very, very fond memories of the Commodore 64.  Although PCs are commonplace, and have been for a long time, the Commodore 64 was the first personal computer to really pave the way in the American marketplace.  During its lifespan, it's said to have sold up to 17.5 million units, making it the best selling PC ever.  Like a PC today, you can use the C64 for a lot of different things.  However, a lot of people, myself included, used them to play games.  Most kids had a Nintendo in their home; I had a Commodore 64.  It was the system I remember cutting my teeth on; my brothers also had an Atari 2600, but I don't really remember playing that as much. 

What I find mesmorizing upon looking back at the C64 is its massive library of games.  I remember playing a lot of games as a kid (due to the system being relatively easy to pirate, I remember owning many floppies with both sides filled with games).  However, after looking at various websites and their catalogs of C64 games, I have barely even scratched the surface as far as experiencing even a modicum of Commodore games. 

So, even while booting it up for the first time, I was very eager to try this game out.  What I find very noteworthy is that Pinball Spectacular was designed by HAL Laboratory.  They have been making games for many years, most significantly for Nintendo.  The Kirby series, the Smash Brothers series, and Earthbound were all developed by HAL.  This was one of their first games. 

Pinball Spectacular is indeed a hybrid of Breakout and pinball, just like the "Bee" games were.  Like "Cutie Q", there are only blocks on the top of the screen, and not on the sides (like the other two games).  There are no "ghosts" in the game, and there are "COMMODORE" lights in the center of the screen, rather than "NAMCO" lights.  You hit a letter corresponding to the lights, and you'll score big points as well as light up the sign.  A nice feature is that if you hit the Commodore symbol at the top-center of the screen, you get a temporary shield at the bottom.  So, even if both your paddles miss the ball, the shield picks it back up.   

As in the other games, there is really nothing to write home about in terms of graphics and sound.  Although, like Bomb Bee, there is more going on in terms of sound than in the other two games, which sound barren by contrast.  While good, I felt the controls were a little too loose, and could have been tightened a bit more.  I often ended up moving my paddles faster than I'd wished to. 

But honestly, I enjoyed playing this game more than the ones that it imitated.  It just seemed to have a quality that after I lost, I would want to play just one more game.  In simpler terms, it was more addicting, and I usually don't feel that way about the classics, although I love them just the same.  Perhaps I'm just biased towards Commodore software, I always seem to get a certain nostalgic twinge when I fire up a Commodore 64 game, whether I'd played it before or not. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cutie Q

Cutie Q is the last in a trilogy of breakout/pinball games from Namco and the creator of Pac-Man, Toru Iwatani.  These games were pretty obscure and didn't set the gaming scene afire, but they were decent enough, particularly the 2nd entry, Bomb Bee.  Can Cutie Q improve on this formula?  Well, let's find out. 

One notable thing about Cutie Q is that it's the only one of the three games to be released in a format other than the arcade.  This did not come about until 2008, when it was included in the Wii's Namco Museum Remix (I played NM Megamix, which is basically the same game with 6 new arcade classics).  There are three ways to play this game, either the Wii remote, the Wii nunchuk, or the Classic Controller.  I much preferred the classic controller, as it's just a much more traditional way to play games, and it really comes in handy for those Wii games which don't utilize its control features. 

As for the game itself, there really isn't much new to report.  It plays pretty much the same as the first two.  You have the dual paddles, as in Super Breakout.  You have the spinner and rollovers, as you would in pinball games.  However, there are a few things to note.  First, there are no side blocks, as in the first two games.  I felt that this was a good thing, as it makes the game more straightforward and less complicated.  The pinball hook is enough to make a clear distinction between this and Breakout.  Also, and I have not seen this mentioned in my research for the game, the blocks have a "ghost image" and the center area can have up to four ghosts that you can hit with the ball.  The ghosts only come in one color (pink), but I found a similarity to the ghosts in the Pac-Man games.  This makes sense, as the guy behind Pac-Man designed this game as well.  So, in my mind, this can serve as a sorta-prequel to Pac-Man. 

Since Cutie Q was released in the dawn of gaming, there isn't a noticeable upgrade in graphics and sound from the last game.  And, like the other Breakout games of the period, the ball will inexplicably go from a manageable speed to a blazing-fast speed.  However, it is possible to speed up your paddle with the press of a button.  This is a very handy feature, and I'm not sure if it's always been there or was just designed for the Wii port. 

Cutie Q isn't a significant upgrade from Bomb Bee, but it doesn't detract in terms of quality and gameplay either.  It was enjoyable enough, and speeding up the paddle in response to the faster speed of the ball was a very good design decision.  It's definitely worth a play, if nothing else than as a look into history (as Cutie Q is the first Namco game to be playable in a format other than arcade).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bomb Bee

I recently wrote about Namco's first video game "Gee Bee", which was a combination of Breakout and pinball that really didn't work very well.  "Bomb Bee" is the first of two sequels to "Gee Bee".  Like the first, "Bomb Bee" is relatively obscure, which is surprising because these are Namco's first two games.  Namco, as I pointed out, is one of the best video game developers in history and is still going strong today. 

Anyway, when first booting it up, I noticed that the layout was a slight improvement on "Gee Bee".  Things are a little more spread out in this one.  There are also more blocks and obstacles.  The graphics themselves are slightly more advanced, but not really. 

When I first started playing, I noticed that there was a lot more going on with the sound.  Not only is it better than in "Gee Bee", there are more sound effects and they're utilized more often.  "Gee Bee", like most video games of that period, was relatively sparse and quiet in terms of sound.  "Bomb Bee" is more sonically active, and you'd almost feel like you were at an actual pinball table if you didn't know any better.  I'm speaking, of course, in comparsion to "Gee Bee". 

As for gameplay, I had a much better time playing this than I did "Gee Bee".  It's basically the same game, but I think the layout changes of the "table" made all the difference.  The two bumpers, rather than being below the upper blocks like in "Gee Bee", are on the top right and left in "Bomb Bee".  This makes it much easier to score points, and seems to be more in line in what a real pinball table might actually be designed.  The gamemakers obviously saw that "Gee Bee" fell a little flat and made some changes that improved on the formula and made "Bomb Bee" a much better realized game. 

There are still some problems I had with the game that were present in the original.  At times, not when you lose a ball, one segment of blocks (right below the top) will reappear after you knocked them out.  I don't know how this happens, but it does at times.  At least it isn't the whole set of blocks like in "Gee Bee".  Also, and this seems to be present in every "Breakout"-style game up until "Arkanoid", the ball will inexplicably range from slow to lightning fast.  It very well might be because I suck, but I think overall a slightly faster general speed would be preferable to such a dramatic shift in speed from one extreme to another.  As a result, I'm never able to clear all the blocks. 

To sum things up, I had a very good time playing "Bomb Bee".  I wouldn't list it in with the classics, but am somewhat surprised at how little-known and obscure it is.  It's one of the first games that I have played that may not be a classic in its own right, but does add an interesting twist to a classic.