GAME REVIEW: Wolfchild

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There’s always a problem with adapting a game designed for the latest consoles to an earlier console and that is you are left with a shell of the original game. This does not necessarily translate in to a bad game however. I know a lot of Sonic fans out there don’t like the Master System version of that game largely because it was developed by a subcontractor and not the original design team but I quite liked it. Sure it wasn’t as fast as the Mega Drive version or as glitzy but it was certainly playable and was an apt substitute if you hadn’t saved up enough pocket money to buy a Mega Drive yet but had a Master System. The Master System adaption of Wolfchild however goes entirely the other way.

First some history. Wolfchild was developed by Core Design for the Amiga and the Atari ST. It was then ported on to other consoles including the SNES, Mega Drive and Sega Mega CD. The plot revolves around biotechnology researcher Kal Morrow and his son Saul. When his father is kidnapped by the evil Chimera organization, Saul uses one of his father’s inventions to turn himself into a wolf-human hybrid (so a werewolf then) to defeat the Chimera and rescue his father. Given how much of a debate there is amongst zombie fans over whether medically created zombies are “real” zombies I am sure that a few werewolf fans would be equally divided by Wolfchild’s approach. The game was launched in 1992 and by that time the Master System was well in to its death robes in the US and Europe so its surprising therefore that the game was developed for the ageing system. Development time meant that the more modern versions had been out a full year before the Master System’s European release of the game which arrived in 1993. So was this just a quick buck for Core Design and publisher, Virgin?

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First let’s talk about the good. My first impression looking at the case was that thank God the old clip art cases had gone the way of the dinosaurs by the 1990s. Check out the Sega Does boys’ pages who are currently working through the earlier Master System games and you will see just how uninspired some of them were. It has always been my biggest criticism of what is otherwise my favourite games console ever. This was a good looking cover that showed that the Master System’s appearance on the shelves at least had matured. At this point an Obi-Wan style voice over is reminding me not to judge a book by it’s cover. Starting the game up and it is still looking good although the developers really wanted to build you up with their one- or two-word title screens leading to the main menu.

Then from the moment you start the game things go downhill. The first thing that I noticed was that there was no music. What kind if game like this has no music? I was expecting to be thrown in to a world of horror and action but instead I have just little blip sounds as he walks and the usual paper crushing sound when a weapon is fired. I know the Master System wasn’t exactly known for its audio capabilities but there were far better sounding games out there well before 1993. I was so stunned by the lack of music that I thought the cartridge was broken (it is 19 years old after all) and so I took out my phone, went on YouTube and looked for videos and sure enough there is no music on the Master System version. This was a big let down and made the game feel flat.

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Playability-wise, things are a bit up and down. It’s a classic platforming game and in this respect it does have quite an extensive level design with which to traverse as well as a plethora of secret caverns to discover. I will admit that a few times I did get immersed in it but it never lasted and that was thanks largely to the terrible controls. I know he is supposed to be a werewolf/Wolfchild, an untamed creature of the night, but I swear sometimes the game decides to just keep him running even when you have taken your thumb off the D-pad. Naturally this can lead you to all kinds of problems and takes a bit of getting used to. You have to keep collecting power ups which allow him to transform in to the werewolf/Wolfchild and I can’t help but feel a bit of an Altered Beast vibe at times. There are a variety of bad guys that stand in your way but most of the time they don’t move. They just stand there firing the odd round in your direction like some kind of robotic sentry. Your biggest threat comes from things like exploding plants but even these are relatively ease to doge.

On the whole not a very good game but I can see the lost potential from the downgrading. I have checked out some more videos on YouTube of the versions for the newer consoles such as the Mega CD and it does look far better. Maybe this was too much for the Master System to adequately replicate or the publishers just wanted to make that quick buck in the final days of the Master System. Either way this felt like a step back to some of the 1980s era games of the Master System albeit with a slightly better look.

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REVIEW: Star Trek TOS “The Ultimate Computer”

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The Enterprise is summoned to a space station where Dr. Richard Daystrom installs his revolutionary computer M-5, to take control of all systems of the ship. The computer soon turns out to be superior to a human crew, in normal ship operations as well as in a simulated battle against another starship. Then, however, M-5 destroys an unmanned ore freighter, and a crewman is killed when he attempts to cut off the computer’s power. Unbeknownst of the situation on the Enterprise, as M-5 has disabled any communication, a task force of four starships under Commodore Wesley continues the simulated attacks. M-5 takes the battle seriously, cripples the fleet and kills hundreds of crewmen. Daystrom has programmed M-5 with his own engrams, and Kirk uses this knowledge to convince the computer that it is guilty of murder and has to shut down. Wesley is authorized by Starfleet to destroy the Enterprise but he breaks off the attack when he notices that the ship is dead in the water.

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This episode has largely been categorised as one of the better action episodes of the original series. This is thanks largely to the eye candy of seeing more than one Federation starship and the subsequent wargames. Indeed, back in the day it was one of the best looking episodes that helped finally give the series the genuine feeling that there was more than one ship in Starfleet. In the digitally remastered version we get even more eye candy in the form of the ore freighter that wasn’t seen properly in the original episode for budgetary reasons. Now we see none other than a recreation of the freighter we saw in the Animated Series. That alone is enough to make the most avid Trekkie’s heart beat just that little bit faster.

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However if you scratch away this glossy surface we have one of the most philosophical episodes of Star Trek ever; long before Star Trek: The Next Generation’s classic “Measure of a Man.” The question the episode asks is an old one; should machines do the work of man and if so what becomes of the man? This is Kirk’s question more than anyone else’s in the episode as the M-5 is aimed directly at replacing the decision making capability of a starship. Kirk feels useless in this episode in the face of the M-5 hence Commodore Wesley’s “Captain Dunsel” remark but alas we can’t have a TV show about a computer piloting a starship and so naturally the computer goes bad. One thing that does pop up briefly is that the ore freighter is unmanned which tells us already that some of the more mundane yet essential jobs in space are already entirely mechanised so it would appear starfleet has been heading toward an unmanned future for some time before the M-5.

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But the thought process behind Daystrom and his creation make us ask intriguing questions not just about this fictitious universe we like to sit and watch of an evening but also about our own future in space travel. Even if we discard the distances and time involved in space travel we are still left with an extremely hostile environment in which to go gallivanting around in cooped up inside a metal box. Is it wise therefore to say “What the Hell; we can go there so let’s go.” Science fiction is filled with examples of how this can be a bad idea not just for the crew of whatever ship we are travelling on this week but also for humanity itself. Death, disease, war, alien influences on human culture – it seems we don’t need to leave our planet to be affected by what goes on out there.

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This was touched upon briefly in Star Trek: Enterprise’s 4th season when there are Humans who believe that Starfleet’s exploration of space is advertising Earth’s presence to hostile aliens that didn’t seem bothered before warp flight. This is something Daystrom seems to have forgotten since he envisions a future where nobody dies in space exploration because machines are expendable.

Men no longer need die in space or on some alien world! Men can live and go on to achieve greater things than fact-finding and dying for galactic space, which is neither ours to give or to take!

– Daystrom, defending the need for the M-5

This leads him to fall in to the trap of many a scientist in science fiction who develop supercomputers or robots – he builds a machine that learns but still considers it expendable. Therefore surely there is the danger that this machine will learn that it is not expendable or, like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, it may judge its own importance in completing a given mission to be greater than the survival of a few humans in an unfortunate circumstance.

Ultimately, what this episode concludes is that the human spirit will always have a place. It was a foregone conclusion and is something that continues throughout all of Star Trek. As Captain Archer onboard the Enterprise NX-01 will later (or already said in canon);

“Starfleet could’ve sent a probe out here to make maps and take pictures, but they didn’t. They sent us so we could explore with our own senses.”

Reading Digest: RIP, Real Life Bumblebee Man

Dead Homer Society

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“Dos huevos, por favor.  Oh, que lastima.” – Bumblebee Man
“I gotta steal that bit.” – Krusty the Klown

Late last week, it was announced that Chesperito, a/k/a Roberto Gómez Bolaños, a/k/a the inspiration for Bumblebee Man had died at the age of 85.  Reader Alex from Chile, writes in:

He and his characters were loved in all Latin America and it’s easy to compare his shows rise and fall with the Simpsons, being the 70s the golden years of “El Chavo del Ocho” and “El Chapulin Colorado” and then from the 80s until now having nothing but the zombification of all his programs. Luckily in Chile we only have reruns of the best years of Chespirito’s career, but that’s another story.

We’ve got a couple of Chesperito links for you, along with some excellent usage, a giant tattoo, more fashionable clothing, quite a few .gifs, and the odd bit…

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