By Raven10 0 Comments
Infogrames (Atari SA). A failed French megapublisher which at one point was the largest in Europe. Their library? Mainly trash purchased from other failing developers and publishers. And now we get to experience that trash in a whole new way thanks to Steam publisher Classics Digital whose output I have been examining for six blogs now. And as we near the end of the road the time has come to look at the games developed or published by Infogrames themselves.
Our journey starts in 1987 with a little game called Bubble Ghost. And let me tell you it is bad. You play as a ghost who must blow a bubble to an exit. You can rotate your ghost to angle the bubble and then blow until the bubble makes it to the exit. Like who in the year 1987 would have spent their hard earned money on a premise that basic? This was only a year before the Genesis came out. We already had Zelda, Metroid, Mario, Ultima, Wizardry, Castlevania, and more. This is a game that wouldn't have been out of place on the Atari 2600 yet somehow it is being released a full decade later. And there were some positive reviews at the time. I don't really understand how but there were. The version included here is of course the DOS port which was in turn based on the updated Atari ST version. Not that you could tell. That nauseating shade of baby blue is still the primary color here and it still looks awful. The sound work is likewise terrible, but that is how DOS rolled back in the 80's. Now what would be really nice is if we could have gotten some of the Atari ST or even Amiga ports of these games. But that would have taken actual effort and these guys couldn't even be bothered to change the emulation to ega for this title that existed prior to the default svga. Anywho, moving on.
We next find ourselves in 1988 for Rescue: The Embassy Mission. Like with Bubble Ghost, the Amiga and Atari ST versions of this game received positive reviews upon release but we find ourselves stuck with the DOS version. And like with Bubble Ghost that means we get horrendous audio and visual work featuring the ega standard for DOS at the time. The actual game seems okay. You play as a SWAT team attempting to rescue the hostages in an embassy. To do this you have to avoid spotlights and other hazards to sneak into the building. There might be another element after that, but I would have had to play the game for more than 10 minutes to figure that out and my ears were already begging me to stop after thirty seconds. So two down and so far both have been God awful.
We remain in 1988 for our next entry, Drakkhen. Like with our previous two entries the Amiga and Atari ST versions of this game were not only well received, they are even fondly remembered. Find yourself a British RPG enthusiast of about 40 years of age and chances are he will be familiar with this title. But due to the legal issues surrounding the Amiga we are once again stuck with the DOS version. Of course there is no reason why we couldn't get the Atari ST version considering Infogrames is Atari. But that would require Classics Digital to do actual work which they of course won't. So as stated Drakkhen is an rpg. What that means is that I have no idea how to play it without an instruction manual, which is of course not included. I can tell you from half an hour worth of effort that you cast spells using a combination of runes, but without the list of spells included in the manual I have no way of knowing what spell does what. Luckily, this game supports VGA graphics meaning you get a full 256 colors. So this game actually looks remarkably better than the other two titles despite no time having passed. The game is party based and the player controls one party member at a time while the others are controlled by AI. Combat occurs in real time with monsters appearing at random on screen for you to battle. Beyond that I couldn't tell you as I couldn't figure out how to move my party from its starting location and so could not progress the story. The combat seemed mediocre and the spell casting an obvious ripoff of Ultima, but compared to the complete and utter shit that were the first two games of the day, this title looks like gold in comparison. Still not at all recommended unless you already know how to play.
Finishing out the 1980's we get Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess from 1989. Now I need to give credit where credit is due, this game is actually really neat. It's an adventure game of sorts. The goal is to complete five "ordeals" (read puzzles) in order to free yourself from imprisonment by lizard people. You need to do this in under one hour as well. When the game starts you are given one of five items that you can use to solve one of the five puzzles. Which item you get is random. When you solve one of the puzzles you are given a second item and so on. I wasn't able to make it through all five puzzles, but I did spend several hours playing this game. For an 80's adventure game, it was actually fairly easy to understand and I thought the visuals and setting were effectively evocative of the Z-Movie sci-fi that the game is obviously trying to emulate. Of all the games I have played for this blog series, this is the first one I can say without hesitation that I entirely recommend. Can't say I expected much, but, as I said, I have to give credit where it is due and no other game made this series get delayed by a week.
Next up is a game called Mystical, first released in 1990. The game resembles a vertically scrolling shooter just you play as a wizard shooting spells, not a ship shooting bullets. And that is basically my entire review of it. Feels fine. At the end of the first level there is a form of copyright protection that requires you to input a code based on a sheet included in the box for the game. And let me tell you what Classics Digital did not include with this game. That's right, the manual with the sheet containing the code. So this game is actually not playable. Like I know I've said other titles here are unplayable, but by that I meant obtuse to the point where you would never be able to figure them out. This game is quite literally unplayable. You simply cannot progress past the first level without material not included with the game. As such this title has been reported to Valve. Shame, as I did think the first level was perfectly fine.
We have just a couple games left. I was at first going to split these last three games into their own blog, but decided to do them in this one final entry. So we are now into the 1990's and the Windows era of DOS. Our first entry from 1992 is Eternam. It's an odd one that was compelling but not compelling enough to make me want to play too much of it. You play as a man in a futuristic sci-fi setting who is taking his vacation on a planet that is basically just one giant Ren fair. Or it might end up being more like a Westworld situation as the lady describing it claims that these are humanoid actors playing the roles, not simply just humans. Anyways, the gameplay seems to consist of two very distinct parts. The first is exterior exploration and combat, which functions like a very, very, primitive first person shooter. This was released the same year as Wolfenstein 3D mind you and the shooting is very basic. I can't say if you end up getting multiple weapons, or if enemies eventually more clearly attack you, but as it was I rarely saw an enemy before they were upon me and even then I couldn't have told you what they were beyond a blob of pixels. But, again, as a very early example of full 3D rotation from a first person perspective, it is at least a bit technically impressive. The main portion of the gameplay, though, takes place indoors where the game swaps into a point and click adventure game, except without mouse support. I'll let you think about that one for a moment. It's a really bad choice. You basically have to move your character into the exact right spot to interact with an object, and then depending on what action you want to take you have to hit a different key. Want to examine it? Hit L. Want to pick it up? Hit T. Want to talk to it? Hit S. And so on. It is a super clunky system that made the puzzles just not fun to solve. I will point out that Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess, a game from 1989, had mouse support. And that would have been before the release of Windows 3. So it was both possible, and something that Infogrames had done previously. But I could find no way to activate mouse support in this game, making it very difficult to play. Beyond that, there seems to be some sort of sinister happenings occurring at this planet sized resort and I have a feeling the thrust of the game is going to involve you figuring out what exactly is going on. But after an hour of effort I decided I was done with Eternam and so I'll never know. Not the worst game I've played for today's entry, but definitely not the best.
For our penultimate entry we have Marco Polo, originally for the CDi, but here we are of course getting the DOS port. Made by Phillips themselves and published by Infogrames, this is largely an educational title teaching you about merchant life in the days of Marco Polo. The gameplay comes from simple price management systems. Basically, buy low and sell high as you travel through Asia. There are occasional quests to complete as well as random encounters against thieves and such that you must prepare for by hiring escorts. You also need to make sure you have enough food to make it to the next town and enough beasts of burden to carry your goods. Overall it is a decent little sim that reminds me in a way of some of the space trucker sims of both that era and today such as Elite. But there is a heavy element of education to this title, with a lengthy glossary going over the historical details of the various town, items, and people you meet as well as FMV cutscenes featuring actors in period costumes trying to teach you about the era while also giving you gameplay tips. It's all fine and it was one of the better games on the CDi, but of course there were no good games on the CDi so that isn't saying much. If you are a fan of trading sims, though, you could do much worse (and much better) than this.
And we end our journey and this blog series with light gun game Chaos Control. Of course we get to use the DOS version which is near impossible due to not having light gun support. I can't imagine beating this game using a mid 90's rollerball mouse. I just don't think it would have been doable. Even with a modern day gaming mouse it took some serious concentration to hit the number of targets the game wanted you to hit in the time given. I'm not sure how the game is structured as I never could make it past a specific point in what I guess would be the first level. Anyways, in this game you are shooting alien bugs instead of people and the camera makes a lot of swooping motions as you fly through the air at a nauseating 25 frames per second. I was unable to get DOSBox to run this at higher than 27 frames per second regardless of settings. Dunno what that means but suffice to say, playing a light gun shooter at painfully slow framerates using a reticule tuned for DOS era mice is not the way to play this game. In fact I don't think there is any right way to play this game as it is incredibly simplistic and fairly dull. It has obviously high production values for the time, with prerendered cinemas, voice work, and what could be described best as a failed attempt at a 3D engine. But you just point and shoot as you do in many light gun games. Except here there is no reloading, no cover system, and limited environment interactivity. You literally just point and shoot. And yes, holding down fire does cause the weapon to auto-fire, so you don't even really have to time your shots all that carefully. If it was running at a playable framerate it would be laughably easy. As it is it is just frustrating and boring, a fitting finale to a series filled with boring and frustrating games.
Counting the 5+ games included in the Wisdom Tree Collection, I played over 25 games for this series. I paid $1 for those titles and I would say that the two or three good games included made that a worthwhile purchase. Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess was good fun. Pushover was a neat take on Dominoes. And Alien Rampage was a surprisingly competent shooter. That's three games out of 25 mind you. And reason enough not to pay much more than a dollar for these games. But if you are interested, I do think there is just enough quality content here to make this a worthwhile collection, even if like me you have never played any of these games before.