Category Archives: Sega Master System

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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Don’t Worry – His Sega-Phaser was set to stun!

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Every Sega fanboy knows that outside of Japan the one country where the Sega Master System was loved the most was Brazil. This country kept their beloved 8-bit system alive until 1997 long after other countries had not only moved on from it but the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive too and were now on the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation. One of the accessories of the Sega Master System was the Light Phaser.

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The Light Phaser was intended to compete with Nintendo’s Zapper and there was even a similar game to Duck Hunt, the most iconic Zapper game ever, for Sega’s rival. Known as Safari Hunt (well imitation is the highest form of flattery), the game had the player shooting at all kinds of animals such as ducks, monkeys and endangered species such as the Jaguar (perhaps someone had a premonition about Atari on that one). At the end of the game there is a message that would never appear in a game today (see image on the right).

Classic Japanese-English translation spelling mistakes aside; the game actually says that the player is ready to go hunting with a real gun now. Can you imagine the response this would get today? Anyway, moving back to Brazil a minute the message must have lost a little more in the translation into Brazilian and came out as “the light phaser is now a real gun” because in 2009 armed Police went rushing to a 60 year old woman’s house after she had been taken hostage by a man brandishing a “long barrelled gun”. The Police tactical response teams sealed off the house and began negotiations by which time they had realized that the “gun” was in fact a Sega Light Phaser with the cable cut off. At this point however he had ditched his Light Phaser and was now brandishing genuinely lethal knives he had taken from the woman’s house. Fortunately after a 10 hour stand off he gave himself up.

Thank God he was a Sega fanboy however. Imagine how the Brazilian Police would have responded if he was a Nintendo fan and used one of these…

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Time Travelling Games for the Master System

Its no secret that I am something of a fan of the Sega Master System. Its the console I have the fondest memories of from growing up and its the console that I like to prioritise when it comes to getting games for my retro gaming collection. However if there is one thing about the Master System I am not overly keen on it was their early case designs. Often they were comical when the game was meant to be serious but above all they were quite bland. Fortunately they only went this route for a short time and to encourage sales they started making their cases far more interesting.

However just for fun I thought I would take three iconic games of the more recent era and make an early style Sega Master System case for them (I had a spare hour). This is what I came up with.

GAME REVIEW: Assault City

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Assault City holds a unique place in my gaming history in that it was the first cartridge I ever had for my Master System. Up until getting this for Christmas ’91 I was stuck playing Hang-On and Safari Hunt; the two built in games for the Master System Plus. After having pretty much burned out my console playing those games I was eager to try something new. Putting in that cartridge felt like I was loading a 30-round magazine in to an M-16 assault rifle and I was about to go on the rampage destroying the robot monsters that were poised to wipe out humanity (bare in mind I was 7 at the time). So playing it again over two decades later how does this game hold up?

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First thing you should know is that this game is very story oriented with cut screens between levels full of story. Is that a good thing? If you like reading and you like a recycled Terminator plot then yes. In the latter half of the 21st century, robots have been our servants doing all the tasks we humans don’t like doing and then one day the control system used to function these robots rise up to annihilate their human oppressors. You play as Joe, one of the last of the humans remaining and he is hell-bent on destroying, Skynet…uh…I mean the control system which forces the robots to kill.

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As a game this is a side scrolling shooter. You have no control over the speed at which the screen scrolls and this can be frustrating as it forces you to battle everything that comes at you. There are two versions of this game; the controller version and the Light Phaser version. Now I have never played the Light Phaser version as I am told the game is quite rare here in the UK. What I will say though is that the Light Phaser (if it was feeling accurate) would probably be the better version as I am sure you could shoot the hordes of robots a lot faster. Again though this was depending on whether it had the right conditions since playing Safari Hunt with the gun was often problematic. The controller version has the problem of the targeting reticle feeling slower than a bus at times. It can be an extremely frustrating aspect of playing this game as you seem to spend time sending it across the screen to attack a target that will have already fired at you by the time you get there and then another enemy will appear on the other side of the screen and the same happens again. All is not lost however because once you master how to best use the targeting reticle such as accepting a hit off the one guy on the left in order to destroy the four on the right you have pretty much mastered the game.

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What this game really has going for it however is the look and the sound. Firstly; it has one of the best looking covers of any Master System game in my humble opinion and I remember when I first saw it how excited I was by the picture of those two tripod robots. The look of the game itself for the most part is very good with some interesting robot designs. My only criticism of the robots is that some of the animation of their movements could be a bit smoother as there seems to be little in the way of transitions e.g. one of the bosses is this floating head thing that fires energy bolts from its mouth. The movement of this mouth is open then closed; there’s no opening of the mouth. Also the backdrops rarely change as you progress through the levels making the game feel reptitive at times. Some levels are more interesting to look at than others such as the junkyard but then you have scenes like the one in the picture below where its just blue bricks/lockers/whatever they are supposed to be. The music that accompanies the game is great and really makes you feel like you are in an action movie from the late 1980s.

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I still enjoy this game although I can’t figure out how much of that is nostalgia. I understand when people say that some parts of it is quite repetitive because in places, it is. It’s also a tough game with some segments feeling like the entire robot army is pouring on to the screen then at other times you might just get one little droid to destroy before a few seconds of nothing before the hordes attack again. I do like that they included a hefty amount of story which makes it feel more than mindless shooting. If you are a fan of shooter games I would say this would appeal to you.

GAME REVIEW: Pacmania

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Ok, I was born in 1984 and didn’t get my hands on a home games console, a Master System, until I was about six years old in 1990. As a result I missed out on the true classic games such as Gallaga, Space Invaders and of course Pac-Man. I can vaguely recollect a friend of mine having an old games console with a wooden front called an “Atari” (of course in my wiser years I now know this was the classic Atari 2600 that I would kill to get my hands on). He would occasionally get it out and we’d play it but never for long and we ended up on the SMS or the NES which was what was hot back then. Therefore I had no nostalgic investment or loyalty in Pac-Man clouding my judgement when I recently found myself in possession of Pacmania for the SMS as I went looking for the next instalment of my growing SMS library of games. It was in fact my wife who suggested I give it a go as she had the game and the original on an Atari 2600 when she was a kid. So what did I think?

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First off, you should know that this not exactly the original Pac-Man. It is a reboot of the classic game featuring an isometric viewpoint to give the illusion of it being in 3D. The goal remains the same; to eat as many of the little blobs on the screen as possible and fruit for extra points while avoiding the ghosts. The first level has a Lego look to it in that Pac-Man is travelling between giant Lego bricks. I have to say that this is one of the best looking levels I have ever seen on a Master System game. It is colourful with a lot of detail. Sadly however, except for one or two other levels, this quality doesn’t continue throughout the game and most of the levels are rather bland looking in comparison. Can’t help but feel they started off too high in terms of the quality of the levels.

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The controls on this game are extremely frustrating at times and getting Pac-Man to change directions sometimes becomes a feat only witchcraft can accomplish. On occasion it feels like he downright refuses to change direction and just strolls past the turning. That’s annoying enough but if you are being cornered by ghosts and he refuses to take the escape route you are directing him to it becomes a hair ripping experience. It’s been a long time since I have shouted at a video game but that’s what I found myself doing as though Pac-Man was going to hear me and go, “Oh you want me to go that way!” You can jump over the ghosts but that is like playing the lottery. It’s here the disadvantages of the isometric view come in to play because I suspect the programmers made it so that if Pac-Man’s pixels pass over a ghost’s in anyway you lose a life. This means that you seem to be able to jump further over them with more success going sideways than when going down the screen.

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With all these faults then why is it I keep going back to this game? Why is it I have developed a furious obsession with defeating this game? There’s just some charm about it and when you finish a level there is a real sense of achieving something and to me that is one of the most important features in any game. I don’t think this is going to make my top 10 but I have a sneaky suspicion that Pacmania will be a game I will be returning to time and time again. Maybe I am just a sadist. Who knows?

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Thanks for reading…

GAME REVIEW: Putt & Putter

File:Putt and putter cover.jpgPutt & Putter was released on the Sega Master System in 1992 having been developed by SIMS Co. Put simply this game is a hybrid of both miniature golf and pinball and this is winning mash-up.The controls are relatively straight forward and it only takes a few moments to acclimatize to the game’s engine. For each hole you have to aim the ball to dodge certain obstacles that have been put in your path and then select an appropriate strength with which to send it on its way. Pretty standard stuff for a golfing game even today.

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That’s where the golfing side of the game ends however and the pinball part begins. EVERYTHING makes your ball bounce off, even the sides of the map you are playing, and each bounce gives it a little more energy so even the gentlest touch sends the ball flying. As you progress through the game you start to encounter maps where you have to actually use this ricochet feature to get the ball as close to the hole as possible in order to reach it in as few a moves as possible (the fewer moves it takes to pot the ball the higher you score). Some of these maps are intensely frustrating to play having hills that form valleys sending your ball in all sorts of directions. When the hole is located on a raised level there are always problems if you don’t get it straight in. Here in lies the fun of this game. Mastering the power bar and the angle at which you send the ball is a hugely entertaining undertaking.

pp0001I first had this game when I was eight years old and the Master System and NES were the X-Box 360 and Playstation 3s of their day. This was the game that was always brought out at parties and attracted the fiercest competition among friends and family. Like Team 17’s famous Worms series this is really is one of those games that is infinitely better when played with someone else so you can all enjoy each others success and misfortune. Putt & Putter is really a game/format that would be well worth an update for a modern console. That being said I have recently found out that follow up was launched on the Mega Drive (Genesis) and having tried it I wasn’t sold on it. Maybe my nostalgic memories have got in the way on this one. Either way this was one of the first games I got hold of again once I started retrogaming and I regularly play it now with my brother-in-law keeping the old competition alive.

Thanks for reading…

GAME REVIEW: Teddy Boy

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Teddy Boy was one of the very first games to make it on to the Sega Master System and just like Hang On came initially on one of the very short lived Sega cards. The game title came from a popular Japanese song released by a Japanese pop star called Yohko Ishino who was hitting the Japanese charts hard in 1985. The original Japanese version had the full title of Teddy Boy Blues and actually featured an 8-bit instrumental version of Ishino’s song. However because Ishino was not known outside of her home country when the game was exported all references to her were dropped including the music and the name shortened to Teddy Boy.

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The game is simple enough in its premise; you are Teddy Boy (I presume that’s his name) and you have to go around a series of some 50 mazes with a small gun shooting bugs, guppies, snails and the dice in which they hide. Shoot any of these things with your gun and the creatures turn in to small immobile versions which you have to then collect. Failure to do so will eventually see it zip down to your time bar and take a chunk out of it thus reducing your point scoring ability. If you plan on hiding and waiting for the bad guys to come to you be warned – stand still for too long and the ground starts to break away before you fall through.

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This is a simple enough game but boy is it tough. The enemies are relentless as they swarm all over you and it becomes a real button bashing affair as you try to take out all of them. It is a challenge therefore but to be honest it is not a very entertaining one. It is very repetitive and the most important factor of any challenging game, the feeling of progression, is missing. Although I personally am not good enough to see it myself I have learned off the internet that the levels go on forever. After the 50 mazes are completed the game goes back to the first and continues through it again for another 49 since the counter only goes up to 99 and stays there. This game never ends!

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It is very early Master System in it’s appearance in that while it is an improvement over Atari 2600/5200 and Sega SG-1000 games it is still quite primitive looking. The colours are very bright looking like an early Simpsons episode at time. Teddy Boy looks like the happiest little monster hunter in town even when death is near as he runs around with his machine gun and a green cap that looks like a Jewish yamaka. When he gets killed he totally emulates Alex Kidd as he becomes an angel and flies up the screen to heaven.

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I am sure in 1985 this looked good and if you were Japanese and a fan of Ishino then it would appeal to you. As a retro gamer this lacks any of the charm earlier games had like Space Invaders which lets be honest has many similar traits to Teddy Boy when we break it down except your gun platform has more freedom of movement. Unlike Hang On this was not a good launch title for the Master System because it was too simple in premise and to produce but just so tough and unexciting in any way.

Not recommended by me I am afraid.

GAME REVIEW: Home Alone

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The early 90s were an innocent time with the end of the Cold War, a new era of prosperity and (if you believe the world of the Home Alone franchise) being able to leave your child unattended for several days while you are in France without getting prosecuted for neglect. Regardless of just how far you had to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy it the movie Home Alone is a classic comedy. It remains as funny today as it was back in 1990 when Macaulay Culkin was still the loveable scamp with a penchant for creating comical traps for unsuspecting bad guys and not drugged up to the eyeballs as he has been recently.

Games based on the franchise however have not been as memorable. This is nothing new since Ghostbusters (one of my favorite movies of all time) had to wait over 25 years before it got a decent game. Now apparently the Master System game of Home Alone is one of the rarest titles on the console and is highly sought after by collectors despite the mixed reviews that have accompanied it.

As in the movie the game follows Kevin McCallister who has been left home alone while his parents took the rest of the family to France for Christmas. Meanwhile the wicked ‘Wet Bandits’, Harry and Marv, are intent on stealing all the family’s possessions. Each level involves Kevin trying to get to the valuables first and hiding them in a safe before the timer runs out or he is caught by the ‘Wet Bandits’. To help him Kevin has Buzz’s BB gun from the film which he can find ammunition for to slow down Harry and Marv or get back any valuables they have taken. Bizarrely there is a dog in the house (don’t remember that from the movie) that trips up both Kevin and the ‘Wet Bandits’.

Sadly, that’s all there is to it. There are no traps with which to beat Harry and Marv senseless with which was the whole fun of the film. Instead it plays more like an action/shooter adventure but set to the light hearted  backdrop of the Home Alone movie. Controlling Kevin isn’t particularly difficult with him being able to leap over the bandits with ease but problems arise when trying to go upstairs. You maybe aiming up with the D-pad but a lot of the time he will go right passed the stairs which can be a real headache with that insanely quick timer. The timer is your biggest problem in this game with Harry and Marv a close second. You can try to hide from them in crawl spaces but everytime I did they found me. Also it wastes valuable time that you don’t have. You do get three tries for each level and you will use them up quickly. The biggest pain in the rear however is that there are no continues so when those tries are up its back to the beginning.

I will not say this is the worst game based on a movie or TV franchise but certainly isn’t that memorable. I will not lie; at first I was enjoying this game but it quickly became repetitive and frustrating with there being little to hold your interest. Shame really. Feels like yet another missed opportunity for a game based on a movie.

GAME REVIEW: Road Rash

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Remember the opening sequence to the anime Akira where the biker gangs are razzling with one another on the streets of Neo-Tokyo? Ever watched that and thought Hey that would make a great game. Well that’s how I have always thought Road Rash was conceived. Road Rash was launched in 1991 and was aimed at the growing Mega Drive market but someone at Electronic Arts knew there was still a market for the Master System and so a “dumbed down” version was produced for the older console. At it’s core Road Rash is a racing game similar to the earlier Hang On series but adds violence in to the mix with the ability to attack other riders either by throwing punches or kicks as well as using weapons such as a club.

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Despite this attack ability your primary aim is still to avoid obstacles in your path such as oncoming cars, other riders and the occasional cow! You will spend more time avoiding things rather than scrapping with other riders. The attacks are primarily there to help you get that podium finish rather than be the main focus of the game. Focusing too much on attacking others actually slows you down so it is best to chose carefully when to attack and when to just ride by. Another obstacle to your success in this world of violent illegal street racing is the law in the form of Officer O’Leary who pursues you in an effort to knock you off and arrest you.

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California is the setting for these races and as the player you can choose which order you want to do the races on each level. You have to finish at least 4th in all the races to progress to the next level. Each level is the same series of courses but with increased difficulty as the bikers get more aggressive. Gameplay wise the controls are quite sensitive but easy to master. You can hit the throttle button and more or less hold it down the entire race. The attack button selects which direction the attack is launched for you and is aimed at the nearest rider be it on the left or right. One unique feature the game has over similar racing games is that if you come off the bike you have to guide your rider back to the bike rather than you just appear back on it. This can prove a nightmare if another rider decides to run you down sending you even further back making your remount time even longer. It’s all part of the fun.

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A great aspect of this game is that each rider gets a name rather than them be just another anonymous sprite on the screen. This makes it all the more personal when someone hits you and you end up targeting that person in every race after. This adds so much depth to the game even though its a rather subtle touch.

This is a hugely fun game and while I know that Mega Drive fans will be screaming that the 16-bit version is better, for the Master System’s 8-bit this is still a brilliant title. Its fun and addictive offering enough of a challenge to keep you hooked.

 

GAME REVIEW: Virtua Fighter Animation

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While the Master System died out in North America by 1992 it continued to sell well in Europe and Latin America and as late as 1997 new games were still being produced for it. One of the Master System’s last games released in that year was Virtua Fighter Animation. This was the only Virtua Fighter game released on the console and even then it was ported to the Master System from the Game Gear by Brazilian producer TecToy which is unique since most games the two systems shared originated on the Master System.

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The game is a pretty standard beat’em up utilizing a 2D format. Victory in each match comes from either reducing your opponent’s life bar down to zero, having your opponent’s life bar lower than yours when the timer runs out or forcing them out of the ring. Each round has a 30 second time limit with which to defeat your opponent and most of the time this is more than enough. You must win two rounds win the match and move on to the next opponent.

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The feel of this game is quite clunky even for a Master System beat’em up although it does look quite smooth. Special moves are sparse and have only a marginally better impact on the other guy than your standard punch and kick. You can get your guy in close and unleash a barrage of attacks which will either throw them out of the ring or wear them down before they can respond. I managed to win a few rounds without receiving any hits back.

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As a fight title then there is little here to keep you going if I was honest but the feather in this particular hat is the fact that it plays out in a story. This game is based on the Virtua Fighter anime series and in between fights you get to read caption screens that lead up to why you are in your next fight. This is something seen on few beat’em up games of the 8-bit era and indeed even many of the later Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat games just had you fighting for the sake of it. What I will say is that some people will get fed up with these screens as they take a long time to scroll through. In fact half the game time in total is taken up reading them. I personally think they are a nice touch and set the game apart.

In conclusion, hardly a groundbreaking game but it was uncomplicated and held my interest enough to work through the clunky feel of the controls.