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Old 06 February 2016, 04:00   #61
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I can't believe I didn't think of Rastan! You're totally right--that's exactly what this game was trying to be.
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Old 08 February 2016, 15:40   #62
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thank you for playing Mr Beanbag!

and we are glad you liked it!
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Old 19 February 2016, 00:20   #63
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I almost didn't have the energy to write this post; I've been working like a dog, when I should be sleeping like a log. Moonstone though, wow! When I get home to you I find the things that you do make me feel alriiiiiiight! ...I think I just broke the Cheeseometer (tm).

It's Barbarian all grown up, the cave peeps have evolved! This time round we can roam through the vertical as well as horizontal planes a la Golden Axe, and the guts are unprecedentedly bloody. I wonder if this is what we'd have ended up with if Palace had continued to release sequels to their decapitate-em-up romps.

Moonstone is a genre-bending anachronism, and therein lies its metier. It's a hacking-slashing beat-em-up for people who don't like mindless, button-mashing beat-em-ups, spliced together with an RPG for people who don't like character-leveling, grinding drudgery. Breaking with tradition, the battles require a degree of strategy and stealth, and the developmental aspects are light and frothy so as not to detract too much from the gritty, gore-laden action; more twerking than grinding really. While the premise and unadulterated slaying remain whimsical, Moonstone, remarkably, still manages to evoke a real sense of peril and urgency.

What set this apart from the competition of the era was that when you won a bout, it actually felt like an accomplishment, that your skill, ducking, diving and opportunistic swipes had brought about the defeat of your foe, rather than pure luck and joystick abuse. The enemies are tough and the fatalities they inflict often feel cheap and unfair, yet that only keeps you coming back for more, fuelling your determination to even up the score, and ultimately beat the game.

Incidentally it's ironic that your perseverance in reaching and slaying the dragon is rewarded with an unrecoverable crash due to the publisher's lax attitude towards quality control and bug-testing before release. This isn't the only point at which the game glitches or freezes entirely, just the sure-fire crucial one that will inevitably see you hurling your broadsword at the monitor. I've read that you can find a fixed version over at the Moonstone Tavern web site these days, though I've never tried it personally.

The decapitations were largely lifted from Barbarian so weren't new, yet they seemed so much more visceral and shocking here; there's no standing on ceremony, they're as casual as supping a cup of tea on a Sunday morning. The gore in general is unapologetically in-your-face, and all a couple of years before the furore Mortal Kombat engendered. Looking back now it seems tame, especially compared to some of the depravity I witnessed recently in a [ Show youtube player ] recently. I don't pay much attention to modern gaming so I was genuinely sickening by some of these examples.

Something else that strikes you as you progress through the game is the sheer scale of the sprites. Some of the adversaries tower above our diminutive knight, literally breaking the confines of the screen, and their weapons alone can dwarf them in some cases. As if that wasn't enough, the sense of unease imbued by this motley crew of unearthly beasts is perfectly complimented by wile graphical illusions such as the jolting screen-shake effect whenever, for instance, a troll delivers a crushing blow with its tree trunk.

At the time, games were hampered by graphical and processing limitations which brought about a gaping chasm between artists' imagination and what could feasibly be executed on screen. I like to think this game did its bit to close that gap, and it certainly blew me away at the time.
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Old 19 February 2016, 14:23   #64
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Dreamkatcha, you need to be writing these reviews in some kind of Amiga publication! Fantastic!
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Old 20 February 2016, 13:46   #65
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High praise indeed, thanks. If anyone wanted to include them in whatever I'd be up for that.

Did you spot the druid's Pacman necklace in the intro? Very prophetic!
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Old 22 February 2016, 23:05   #66
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I did see that! It's amazing how portentous those Druids were!
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Old 23 February 2016, 02:00   #67
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This week, join the Amigos as they play the top down shooter that's not in any way like Gauntlet, The Chaos Engine!

Listen here! http://www.amigospodcast.com/2016/02...os-engine.html

Watch us play it here! [ Show youtube player ]
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Old 23 February 2016, 21:00   #68
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The only thing more rock and roll than owning your own helicopter has to be having the business acumen and foresight to talk the boss of your publishing company into letting you have your photo taken standing in front of his as a publicity stunt. The lasting legacy of The Bitmap Brothers - the legendary developers behind The Chaos Engine - is as much wrapped up in their inspired PR shenanigans as the quality of their games.

By engaging with the media, The Bitmap Brothers succeeded in wrestling away the limelight from the likes of Mirrorsoft and Robert Maxwell to garner the recognition they clearly deserved. They laid the groundwork for the nerd uprising which led to gifted coders, artists and musicians becoming house-hold names, where previously they had only been anonymous drones shrouded by the names of their financial backers, promoters and distributors.

The Chaos Engine is one of those archetypal Marmite games... if you polled opinion solely from members of the Marmite fan club attending the annual MarmiteCon. It was universally eulogised by the magazines of the time across all platforms, accorded with numerous awards, and even named "11th best game of all time" by Amiga Power. Notably, the latter commendation was in part bestowed by Stuart Campbell who rated the game under the dark cloud of an ongoing spat with The Bitmap Brothers who had taken umbrage with his assessment of their prior releases. Clearly a triumph for impartial analysis during a time when buying positive PR wasn't uncommon.

As you might expect from an action-orientated run and gun game, the premise is rather anaemic. 'Charles Babbage' has commandeered a menagerie of futuristic technology from a time traveller stranded in the 19th century and reverse engineered it to fabricate the 'Chaos Engine' in a dastardly plot to tinker with matter, space and time.

Low and behold things have gone decidedly pear-shaped; the cheeky rascal has only gone and set in motion a rift in the space-time continuum, thereby unleashing seven shades of holy hell upon the natural order, not least of which entails spawning a plethora of genetically mutated monstrosities intent on wreaking havoc on the tranquil, sedate Victorian countryside. That Charlie, he's such a card! Ooh, I could go so far as to ruffle his hair playfully and let slip a tilty-headed bemused chortle.

This well-worn mutation trope has been used and abused for decades in comic books and superhero movies, largely because it gives creative minds carte blanche to let their imagination run riot, hatching all manner of bizarre adversaries and environmental furniture. In The Chaos Engine, examples include two varieties of 'Thing' parodies (the 'rockman' superhero from the Fantastic Four, and the disembodied, scuttling hand featured in The Addams Family), phallic exit-opening nodes, giant frogs, a human-sized Godzilla-esque lizard-man hybrid sporting a shoulder pad and a single glove (no doubt a Michael Jackson fan!), Cyclops-Slimers, a colour-drained Blanka and pulsating, swelled pustule zit-plants.

The biggest unanswered question is, where is the t-rex?

To kick this motley assemblage into touch and release the Baron from the slavery of his own now-sentient mechanical progeny, six mercenaries are drafted in. They all bear an uncanny resemblance to, well who?, is the question. Is Brigand modelled on Mel Gibson? The Gentlemen strikes me as a nod towards Jon 'Jops' Hare of Sensible Software fame, a perennial friend to Mike Montgomery, managing director of The Bitmap Brothers. Is the Navvie a homage to Cary Grant or a Robert Carlyle/Tom Selleck mash-up? The Preacher could pass for Robin Gibb without his wig. The Thug could easily be a riff on MasterChef host, Gregg Wallace, though I'm not sure he was under the media spotlight back then. Imagine the fun you could have Photoshopping the poster for the movie adaptation.

It's hard to imagine how the game could fail given the pedigree of the talented coders, musicians and artists involved. With no hint of exaggeration they are simply among the finest in the business. "So good even that bastard Stuart Campbell liked it", was the copy adorning one magazine advert for the title.

We learn from examining the early beta version and the magazine previews that The Chaos Engine was originally destined to be a three player co-op game, bringing it more in line with the mechanics of Gauntlet, the granddaddy of run and gun games of this ilk. Nevertheless, the decision to reduce this to just two was made at the 11th hour as it was felt the game would offer little challenge with this much fire power at the players' disposal.

Otherwise, its roots can clearly be traced back to Atari's classic dungeon crawler. Succeeding in the game requires a precise balancing act of cooperative and competitive play given that resources and screen real estate are limited. Hog all the food for yourself and your partner could become malnourished and peg it, leaving you to fend for yourself. You'll also need to synchronise your movements so you aren't lagging behind and hampering the scrolling of the screen, whilst at all times evenly distributing the kills to maximise the effectiveness of your precious, finite ammunition.

While The Chaos Engine is widely considered a cult classic in its own right, personally I found the primitive by comparison Gauntlet to be a more enjoyable game, possibly because it evokes a greater sense of dread. As with any accomplished zombie movie, the real threat emanates from the onslaught of marauding hoards of assailants, mindlessly rushing at you, not any one isolated foe. Couple this with the sense of urgency roused by your constant health drain and you have a recipe for a nervous breakdown... and somehow this is a good thing!

Plus, not many offline games of the era could boast four player game play. There's nothing quite like huddling around a Miggy with three friends, two wielding joysticks and another two playing finger-Twister on the keyboard mimicking a pair of arthritic grannies.

The game was ported for the SNES and Mega Drive, though because the publishers thought their American audience wouldn't be able to fathom the lofty nuances of such an esoteric plot, they insisted on changing the name to something much more generic, bland and does-what-it-says-on-the-tin; 'Soldiers of Fortune'. They may as well have called it 'Bang Bang Shooty Game' or 'Tooled-Up Buff Blokes Go On a Cash-Grab'. They must have had a very low opinion of their core demographic!

The meddling didn't stop there, however. Sega and Nintendo owing to their theologian mugwumpery decreed that we couldn't have a preacher running around gunning down god's forna and flora, no matter how gruesomely deformed it had become, so the character was switched with a scientist. I'd wager that far more religious leaders have been responsible for carrying out violent atrocities throughout the ages than scientists, but hey ho, it was a deal-breaker so who's going to argue?

The Gentleman's pipe was also 'air-brushed' out for the console releases so as not to encourage impressionable kids to take up smoking, and I suppose to placate the parents who would be buying these games for their delicate offspring.

It speaks volumes for the games' enduring appeal when you consider that some of its most ardent fans have gone so far as to construct a level editor which allows players to modify the existing maps or assemble entirely new ones. When I think of games that have been resuscitated endlessly over the years, artificially extending their lifespan for new generations to enjoy through the deployment of level editors, the first one to spring to mind is Doom. Does this equalize the playing field? Can it in any sense elevate The Chaos Engine to share the same pedestal? You decide.

In 2013 The Bitmap Brothers released an HD update of The Chaos Engine - appropriately - for the Steam platform. Over and above the original game it features two graphical filters to help smooth out the blocky, pixelated graphics, an online co-op mode, the capacity to fire in a 360 degree arc (before you were restricted to 8-way shooting), and well, little else really. The colour palette is taken from the inferior AGA version which looks garish compared to the fittingly drab Steampunk grey and brown hues of the OCS/ECS release. The reception was none too stellar with many critics dubbing it a 'lazy port'.

The Chaos Engine is drastically enriched by timeless hand-drawn graphics and immersive, dynamic sound making it an outstanding achievement both visually and sonically. It's tightly coded and adeptly optimised, has few bugs and the dexterity afforded by the controls is impressive, though for me, there's just something lacking in the game-play department. Once you've played through the first level, the subsequent ones fail to inspire or offer sufficient variety, and with no end of level bosses to contend with, there's little to keep you plugging away to reveal the anti-climactic twist which concludes the narrative. Sadly, the individual parts are greater than their sum.
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Old 24 February 2016, 17:04   #69
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Dreamkatcha, would you mind if I just copied and pasted these reviews to the Amigos blog? (Giving you credit, of course!) They're so good!
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Old 24 February 2016, 22:59   #70
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Not at all, be my guest. It would be an honour.
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Old 25 February 2016, 01:46   #71
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Your Chaos Engine review is up!
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Old 25 February 2016, 23:34   #72
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Cool! Thanks for the welcome.

I'm working on a proper Addams Family review now as I don't think I did it justice the first time round.

I'll probably sidestep any games that failed to strike a chord with me though. No doubt I'd have got the sack in five minutes if I'd worked for Amiga Power and refused to review any games I didn't like the look of.
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Old 26 February 2016, 15:11   #73
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Perfect! I can't wait to read your take on The Addams Family!
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Old 19 March 2016, 17:39   #74
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Amigos is still going strong! Some of our latest content...

Episode 33 - Winter Games

Episode 34 - Super Skidmarks

Episode 35 - Body Blows

Dreamkatcha is now writing for us full-time (mostly because of the free lunches in the Amigos canteen) and continues to craft the wittiest reviews this side of Retro Gamer (what side that is is up to you).

Dreamkatcha on:

James Pond 2

Lionheart

The Addams Family

Superfrog

We also are featuring listeners' Amiga rigs, so if you have some pics you'd like to share, send them on over to amigos@amigospodcast.com!
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Old 21 May 2016, 20:49   #75
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Amigos Episode 45 is The Last Ninja Remix! Apparently, the mark of a true ninja is to squat awkwardly to pick things up.

[ Show youtube player ]
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Old 03 June 2016, 15:12   #76
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Displaying our usual American grasp of the beautiful game, on Episode 46 we take a look at Sensible World of Soccer.

[ Show youtube player ]
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Old 07 June 2016, 19:30   #77
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It's time for the 2016 Amigos Listeners Poll! Please vote for your top 10 games the Amigos have covered this year.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9WMZYS6
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Old 12 June 2016, 02:14   #78
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Episode 48 - Flashback is now live! Check it out and the livestream here:
http://www.amigospodcast.com/2016/06...flashback.html

If you haven't yet, please vote for your top 10 games of the year for the 2016 Amigos Listener's Poll!
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9WMZYS6
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Old 17 June 2016, 22:39   #79
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Episode 49 of Amigos is the completely original Great Giana Sisters!
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Old 24 June 2016, 21:27   #80
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On Episode 50, we cover the "legendary" Rise of the Robots.
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