Category Archives: Video Games

MULTI-GAME REVIEW: Breaking in to the Atari 2600

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Well, it’s been a nearly a year now since my mid-life crisis kicked in and I got hold of a Sega Mega Drive to relive my more innocent youth. While I have spent most of my efforts in getting hold of the games I used to own I have also started getting hold of the games I wanted but never got and this in turn has opened me up to the world of retrogaming at large. YouTube has been the key to this with channels such as the Angry Video Game Nerd and Classic Game Room being among my favourite things to sit down and watch while the wife indulges in her soaps on TV.

One thing that has cropped up repeatedly though is this belief that the retro gaming console is Atari’s 2600. Now, I was born on a rainy day in November 1984 and by then the Atari 2600 had already been around a little while. Now as far as I am aware the Atari 2600 was not nearly as successful over here in the UK as it was in the US. I vaguely remember playing a friend’s Atari 2600 when I was about 8 that his parent’s had got him for next to nothing at a car boot sale but at that time the Sega Master System and NES were the dominant consoles and we were never bothered with it. It just sat there gathering dust in the corner of his bedroom while Sonic and Shinobi battled the forces of evil in 8-bit glory (we were both Sega boys).

Now that I am more aware of the retrogaming culture I have been forced to ask myself; having not really played the Atari 2600 can I really consider myself a retrogamer?

Well this week I got a call from my brother-in-law and guess what? He’s got a hold of this classic console and a box load of game cartridges (no boxes though so putting in the games was a bit like playing Russian roulette). Now one thing you need to know about me and my brother-in-law is we are both extremely competitive with one another. I think it’s a primal thing. When I got in to RC helicopter flying a few years ago he had to go and get his own helicopter (click here to find out how well that ended for him). Retrogaming is another field with which we duel it out and we have had many a night where we have got a few drinks in and battled it out on Paperboy or Sonic. So to have the chance to do the same on this classic console required little persuasion.

My first impression of the console before I even switched it on was how retro it looked. It looks like a lot of old record players with that wooden panel at the front and has a rather friendly feel to it. It seems like ever since the Mega Drive nearly all serious consoles have had to be black, aggressive looking boxes while this one almost seduced me to play it. One of the things that is almost always mentioned in any Atari 2600 review is how you can plug the Sega Mega Drive’s controller in to it but I didn’t put this to the test as I wanted that original experience.

So we started playing. Thinking of writing reviews for these games I decided to do a review in bulk and give them a score out of five. So here are the six games I played in my first Atari 2600 session.


Beamrider

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It’s the closest thing to Tron I have ever played. This then is the game that catapulted me in to the world of Atari 2600 and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a vertical shooter although it’s arranged so it has a 3D effect with your ship at the bottom firing at alien ships charging at you. The gameplay is smooth and it feels like its running on rails. Each level increases what’s on the screen including objects you have to avoid and at the end of each level is a boss who hurls scores of stuff at you. It’s simple unadulterated fun. A good start then.

4/5


Sea Hawk

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The world is at war and it’s down to Lieutenant Tony Wilkins of the United Good Guys Navy to take his Korean War vintage MiG-15 (wait…a MiG? Well that’s what it looks like to me. Am I really the good guys then?) and battle air/sea forces for control of the oceans. The MiG has at its disposal an arsenal of guns (bricks) that shoot forward and torpedoes (long bricks) that drop forward at an angle. While it’s nice to be in a more traditional setting rather than just in space fighting aliens the biggest problem this game has is the Atari’s lack of a second button on the controller. In order to fire the gun you have to push the stick right then hit the button but this also sends you shooting across the screen and if you miss this will often send you hurtling in to a kamikaze-style attack. You kill the bad guy but you die too. It’s a big problem and I didn’t like the game as a result.

2/5

This wasn’t actually the second game I put in to the console. I put several games in but none of them seemed to work. I thought they were all crashing. As it turns out a lot of these games require you to hit RESET to start the game and I found this out purely by chance. Anyway back to it.


Karate

3

Daniel-san…Avoid this game. Now I am not going to harp on about the bad graphics. Being a retrogamer bad graphic design holds a certain charm for me. What I hated about this game was it was almost totally unplayable. I nearly smashed the controller trying to get my guy to kick or punch the other guy but all that happened was a feeble arm movement before I got my arse handed to me. Also why is my guy on the right? Almost every beat’em up I have ever played starts with your guy on the left.

1/5


Defender

4

Aliens have invaded Earth and it’s up to Lieutenant Tony Wilkins of the Earth Defence Forces to protect you all. Boy are you in trouble! Defender is one of the more well known Atari 2600 games and my justification for that is its one I have heard of. It’s a side scrolling shooter where you pilot your Viper from Battlestar Galactica over a cityscape against flying saucers that look like they are from the Adamski sighting (look it up). It’s pretty run-of-the-mill but what really endeared me to it was that gun you fire. The bolts are long and fast and make you feel like anything that gets in its way is going to be vaporised – not like those little “bricks” you shoot in Space Invaders.

4/5


Seaquest

5

The 21st century: mankind has colonized the last unexplored region on Earth; the ocean. As captain of the seaQuest and its crew, we are its guardians. For beneath the surface lies the future…So goes the forgotten 90s science fiction show of the same name. Obviously this has nothing to do with that show but it does feature a submarine and hostile sea creatures. The best way to describe this game is an underwater version of Choplifter. You have to take your submarine under the water and rescue divers all the while defending yourself against hordes of enemy submarines who are ably supported by Jaws’ extended family. When you rescue six divers you have to surface for them to disembark and then you progress to the next level. Every so often you have to surface to replenish your oxygen or your crew suffocates and at first this is quite safe but as the game progresses surface vessels attack you as well. It’s simple. It’s challenging. It is enjoyable but it’s also quite forgettable. Just like the tv show.

3/5


Bomb on Pixel City

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Little known fact; since World War II the Royal Canadian Air Force has lost more planes to birds than accidents or combat. Just saying. This game holds the distinction of being the one that brought out that competitive spirit in me and my brother-in-law. The premise is simple; you are flying a bomber over a city and have to drop bombs on the buildings to demolish them. As you progress the buildings get higher and tougher to destroy and eventually you have to contend with anti-aircraft fire. The first couple of goes I thought I had no control over the bomber and I kept getting blasted out of the sky until I realized I did have a zoom capability that hurtled the plane forward to evade incoming fire. You also have to dodge pesky birds that probably have a number of Canadian kill markings tattooed on their wings. The bomber is also constantly descending so you can’t miss the buildings too many times or you will go smashing in to the side of them. Once you get the hang of it this is surprisingly enjoyable. In the ensuing competition I did lose to my brother-in-law however who is gloating even as I write this. Probably the most fun I’ve had so far but I can’t really give it a full 5 yet because it’s only the 6th game I’ve played so far.

4/5


So there you have it. My first impressions of gaming on the Atari 2600. Am I about to give up my beloved Sega and become an Atari fanboy? Not yet but what I will say is I have had such a great time playing these games (and there are plenty more in that box) that I don’t think I will turn my back on the 2600 yet.

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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: 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…

East vs. West – whose consoles looked better?

In the late 1980s Japan well and truly conquered the video game market but no doubt they were quite fearful of a repeat of the 1983 North American video game crash (click here for my article on that event) because they must have felt that their console, the Famicom, was too Japanese for Americans. As such they redesigned its look and this was a fashion that Nintendo followed up with the Super Famicom and indeed so did their main rival Sega. In this article I am going to compare the looks of the Japanese versions of consoles to their western counterparts and then offer an opinion as to which looked better. Please bare in mind this is MY opinion only.

So let’s go…

Famicom vs. Nintendo Entertainment System 

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The Famicom (Family Computer) was launched a full two years before the NES but let’s be honest for a minute it certainly looked better. The NES’ design is Nintendo clearly playing it safe again most likely as a result of the 1983 crash. Three tones of grey (see, I managed to avoid a 50 Shades of Grey reference) gave the NES  rather bland look compared to its Japanese brother and it is for that reason that Japan wins this round. It seems as I am not alone here in thinking the NES could have done with a splash of colour. Just click here to view my article on custom NES consoles.

WINNER – Famicom


Sega Mark III vs. Sega Master System

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Nintendo’s biggest rival, Sega, also felt their 8-bit answer to the Famicom, the Mark III, needed to be westernized. They too must have thought their console was too bright for North American and European eyes because the Master System emerged in a rather menacing black and red colour with a front cover designed to emulate the trend in VCR designs. In fact the Master System wouldn’t look too out of place on a TV cabinet with the VHS or Betamax player alongside it and that was probably the intention. In choosing a winner I have to say the Master System looked the better of the two designs. It was meaner looking than either the Mark III, Famicom or the NES.

WINNER – Master System


Super Famicom vs. Super Nintendo (US)

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This is an American-only affair. Somehow Nintendo North felt only North Americans needed a redesigned Super Famicom. Everyone else such as Europe had the same design of Super Famicom (rebranded as the Super Nintendo or SNES) as the Japanese did. Instead of the rounded and smooth design of the Japanese/European model, American consumers got a clunkier looking machine with hard straight surfaces. In this instance its kind of like comparing a Toyota Supra with an American muscle car. The winner here is obvious.

WINNER – Super Famicom


By this point Sega had decided on adopting a universal design for its answer to the Super Famicom/SNES. The 16-bit Mega Drive did have to change one thing however and that is it was rebranded as the Sega Genesis. As far as I can tell even in the States a large number of people refer to the console as the Mega Drive so was it really necessary? Who knows?

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Thanks for reading…

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.

GAME REVIEW: Star Trek DS9 – Crossroads of Time

Mark Berryman and Tony Wilkins finally find a retro Star Trek game that doesn’t make them want to go on a Klingon-style rampage.


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Anyone who has read our Star Trek Generations – Beyond the Nexus review will know that when it comes to Star Trek and retro games that rarely do the two crossover in a good way. The aforementioned game was a painfully dull affair being a mix of confusing and slow space action, a puzzle game and a shooter. So when we found ourselves with a little known game based on the Deep Space Nine incarnation of the show we were understandably skeptical.

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We knew nothing of this game before playing it. As we have come to expect from a Star Trek game there was the need to read a Captain’s Log but fortunately this one was quite short. The game begins with the player as Benjamin Sisko in his office when he receives a call from Odo asking him to go to his security office after an engineer has been attacked. Thus begins the story about political double dealings, mystical revelations and (surprisingly for a 16-bit era Star Trek game) a fair amount of action. DS9 – Crossroads of Time has several things in its favor that makes it stand apart from its brethren. Firstly the pacing is a lot faster keeping it interesting and the player is given a great deal of freedom to explore the beautifully rendered station. Action is defintiely the order of the day in this game with Benjamin Sisko grabbing a phaser within the first few minutes of gameplay and having to fend off Bajorans or Cardassians trying to blow up the station.

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While some of the other Trek games of the era claim to tie in with the franchise this is one of the few that genuinely does. The game was produced during the early seasons of the show where the story of Cardassian-supported Bajoran separatists was a major plot point. This game builds on that storyline giving the player a feel of being involved. Perhaps the level every Trekkie wants to play however is the orb-generated Battle of Wolf 359 level where Sisko is back aboard his old ship, the USS Saratoga, fighting the Borg. Although sadly the level differs little from any of the others with the same gameplay it is still fun.

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Gamewise it is a blend of action/adventure with some RPG elements. Many of the action segments where you run around with a phaser and have a specific goal such as diffusing bombs or fending off Cardassian troops play like several sci-fi inspired games of the time such as Batman Forever and Demolition Man. It is very much a 2D affair with no real way to outflank attacking enemies. Instead you have to duck or hide behind barrels, etc to avoid enemy fire before jumping up to attack. There are also some unique levels such as piloting a Runabout through the wormhole but again it is a 2d side scrolling affair albeit a beautifully depicted one.

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Easily one of the better games of the Star Trek franchise to make it on to a 16-bit console we have to say from an objective viewpoint it is a game that will only really appeal to Trekkies so its a good thing we are. There’s just so much to give to the fans that it would really be lost on anyone else.

Thanks for reading…