• magisterrex Retro Games


    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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    Got a game or product you want reviewed? Send me an email! Will review board games, PC games, video games and accessories (Xbox 360 or Wii, but also new releases for classic systems - you know who you are!)
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Retro Game of the Week – Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1990)

For those of us who remember well the 1980s, the phenomenally endowed Elvira – the campy TV persona of Cassandra Peterson – was and is much loved.  Dressed in gothic attire that tended to display her front-facing assets, Miss Peterson was a staple of the late night television viewing, and a highly recognizable advertising brand.  Many and diverse were her following, including myself…as I admit to being an Elvira acolyte.

Box art for Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

Accolade tapped into this cult following with the 1990 release of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, a horror-themed PC adventure game with RPG elements.  The developer was the aptly named HorrorSoft, which focused primarily on making games in the horror genre.  HorrorSoft was actually Adventure Soft, and was sub-branded to give the company the ability to explore both a new genre and a new gaming engine.  Elvira was HorrorSoft’s second game, their first being the somewhat enjoyable “Personal Nightmare”(featuring an appearance by Elvira), and they didn’t disappoint.  From the back of the box’s flavor text – “Can somebody help me find my chest?” – to the ending credits, Elvira was a fun game.

The amply-endowed Cassandra Peterson (Elvira)

You play a helpful adventurer in Elvira, brought in to rescue the lovely Mistress of the Dark from the dangers of her own castle.  It seems Elvira’s quite-dead grandmother wants to return to the Realm of the Living, and plans to unleash a horrific assault on her surroundings – and upon her errant granddaughter, too.  Poor Elvira wants nothing to do with her grandmother’s schemes, but she’s lacking her usual magical arsenal as all her potion ingredients and equipment is scattered throughout her castle, and she needs you to collect it all and return it to her, while dispatching the nasty creatures that her dear grandmother has prowling the corridors and rooms along the way.

The Castle in 1990's Elvira PC Game

Like many RPGs and adventure games, inventory management was a straightforward exercise.  As you explored your environment (all 800 locations of it), approximately 300 objects could be picked up and placed into your pack, which was represented by a grid at the bottom of the screen.  Some objects could interact with others to create more powerful items (such as potions ingredients combining into potions).  The combat mechanism was equally as simple, involving clicking on either the “thrust” or “parry” icons at the correct moments (not button-mashing them into a fine powder, a la Diablo).  Some of the magical potions and items improved your combat or defensive prowess, which was absolutely essential when facing some of the more terrifying castle denizens.

Typical combat screen in 1990's Elvira

Elvira was released on several gaming platforms, including MS-DOS, Amiga, Commodore 64, and Atari ST, and received favourable reviews.  Sales were sufficient to warrant a sequel, Elvira II: Jaws of Cerberus.  HorrorSoft would go on to make one more horror-themed PC game, Waxworks, before the company was abandoned to focus on the rebirth of its parent, Adventure Soft Publishing, and the release of their Simon the Sorcerer series.

Elvira gives you your marching orders...

If you are a retrogaming horror junkie, or a classic adventure game aficionado, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is a game well worth playing.  It has the right mix of humor and horror, action and exploration to warrant a place as my Retro Game of the Week, and is a worthy addition to any retro gaming collection!

The Best Classic Board Games – Escape From Atlantis (1986)

But at a later time there occurred portentous earthquakes and floods, and one grievous day and night befell them, when the whole body of your warriors was swallowed up by the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner was swallowed up by the sea and vanished; wherefore also the ocean at that spot has now become impassable and unsearchable, being blocked up by the shoal mud which the island created as it settled down.
– Plato, Timaeus

In 1982, Parker Brothers released Survive!, a board game depicting the struggle of a doomed island’s population to escape certain death as they fled the cataclysm overtaking their homeland.  It was a great game, but as Yoda said, “There is another.”  The best version of Survive! was never published by Parker Brothers at all, and came four years later.  That game was the 1986 classic, Escape From Atlantis, by Waddington-Saunders, the same folks who gave us Land Grab and Ratrace.

Box front for Escape From Atlantis

The rules of the two games were similar: each player has a number of Atlanteans (12 in Escape From Atlantis, 10 in Survive!) that they need to transport off the sinking island and onto one of the four safe haven corners of the game board.  The villagers can either walk to another island square, swim in the ocean, take a ride in a boat, or hop on the back of a friendly dolphin (cetacean rides available only in Escape From Atlantis, not in Survive!).  Unfortunately, each player can only move three spaces at a time, divided up among all the Atlanteans he or she controls.  Each turn one land piece is removed from the island, symbolizing the ongoing catastrophe; imbuing a certain level of time-related stress as soon there won’t be an Atlantean island to stand on at all!

Box front for Parker Brothers' Survive!

No Atlantean is safe, even if they’ve made it off the island. In Escape From Atlantis, here there be monsters.  Atlanteans in the water are prime fodder for sharks; boats are targets for giant octopi to capsize (but the occupants escape into the water); and sea serpents are a constant threat to destroy boats and anyone on board them.  Deadly whirlpools that appear unexpectedly increase the mortality rate further.  Only the presence of the ever-friendly dolphins bring solace to the poor Atlanteans amidst the ongoing calamity.

Box front for Escape From Atlantis (UK edition)

All these dangers come from two sources, one random, the other premeditated.  As each land piece is removed, a symbol of what replaces it can be found on it underside, which can be fortuitous (if a dolphin appears) or disastrous (everything else!).  The other source is from the other players’ roll of the two dice, one of which determines what kind of creature they can move, and the other die determining the distance, with the player determining which direction they can move in.  In other words, revenge is can be thine!

Survive! and Escape From Atlantis Pieces

The most telling difference between Survive! and Escape From Atlantis is the quality of the game components.  In Survive!, the island pieces are simple cardboard tokens (albeit with artwork); in Escape From Atlantis, they’re three-dimensional, hard plastic pieces.  The boats in Survive! are pieces of cardboard; the boats in Escape From Atlantis are molded plastic with detachable sails.  The creature tokens in Survive! are small, whereas those in Escape From Atlantis are larger and much more detailed.  (The best way to explain this is to simply examine the supplied image of the game pieces side by side.)

Escape From Atlantis was designed by Julian Courtland-Smith, and he has stated elsewhere that his original design was slightly different than what was eventually published, which included Weather Cards and everyone’s favorite, pirates (ninjas would have been just too odd).  What might have been can certainly lead to endless speculation, but of interest is that Mr. Courtland-Smith was consulted with for the game’s most recent incarnation, Survive: Escape From Atlantis, which has a 2010, fourth quarter, release schedule from Stronghold Games.  For fans of the original games, this is both an intriguing and classy move, and certainly heightens anticipation for what kind of game they will deliver.

(Incidentally, should anyone from Stronghold Games want to send me a copy of Survive: Escape From Atlantis for independent review– or any other game company reaching for that retro vibe, for that matter – my contact information can be found here.)

Stronghold Games Logo

Escape From Atlantis is an amazing game to play, and is suitable for 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up.  Parker Brothers’ Survive! is fun, but Waddingtons’s Escape From Atlantis is even more so, and is another highly recommended game to add to anyone’s collection of classics!

The Best Classic Board Games: This Game Is Bonkers!

By the time Bonkers! debuted in 1978, Parker Brothers had already released a veritable bonanza of board games, such as Masterpiece: The Art Auction Game, The Inventors, and Gambler.  True to form, Bonkers! would go on to be another classic childhood memory for many gamers.

Box front for the 1978 version of Bonkers!

Bonkers! was actually titled, “This Game Is Bonkers!” and it certainly was.  The game board consisted of a circular track with spaces designed to fit the small Track Cards beside them.  These cards were comprised of “Ahead” and “Back” cards, with two of each number from 1 to 6, 10, and 12, as well as 2 each of “Go to Nearest Score”, “Roll Again”, “Go to Start”, and “Exchange Cards”.  Players were dealt four of these and then given a special “Go to Lose” card before play began, rolled the dice, and moved their token accordingly.  When the player landed on a space with an empty Track Card slot, they placed a Track Card on it.  However, if the slot was already full, the player followed what the card said.  (For example, “Ahead 3” meant moving the token ahead three spaces.)  This process continued until the player either landed on another unmarked space or on one of the point total modifying spaces (“Score” to gain a point; “Lose” to deduct a point.)  The first player to get to 12 points won the game!  Sound chaotic? Why do you think they called it, “This Game Is Bonkers!”?

Box front for the 1990 version of Bonkers!

It truly was a rare game that jumped ship from one of the colossi of the board game industry to the other, but Bonkers! was the exception to the rule.  Between its original debut by Parker Brothers in 1978, the rights to Bonkers! were transferred to Milton Bradley, and they published an updated version in 1990.  Nothing changed in gameplay, but the overall graphic motif was altered from a disco-esque, “That 70’s Show” feel to a bright and bubbly, cartoon-like look.  This motif manifested in the box art and game pieces, and it’s really only a matter of taste for which version looks better than the other…or if you’re a Parker Brothers partisan or a myopic Milton Bradley enthusiast.

Bonkers! Game Parts. 1978:Left | 1990:Right.

In the end, the charm of playing Bonkers! lies in the random nature of its gameplay.  As the game box promised, “It’s never the same game twice!”…and it didn’t lie.  Between dice rolls and laying down the Track Cards, players could expect that the strategy that worked so well the last game they played simply wouldn’t the next.  For 2 to 4 players ages 8 and up, Bonkers! is yet another fun classic game well worth picking up and playing!

The Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 HuCard Games

When gamers look back at the heyday of the Genesis/NES wars, NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 is often overlooked.  That’s a darn shame – as big a shame today as it was back in the 1990s, as the TurboGrafx video game system had some quality games that are still fun to play today.  Just for kicks and giggles, here are what I consider the Top 10 huCard (in no particular order) games for this forgotten system.  One more caveat: the CD games aren’t on this list – they’re for another day!

Box front for Bonk's Adventure

Bonk’s Adventure / Bonk’s Revenge / Bonk 3
What can you say about this classic game of caveman versus his world.  How can you not like a character that gains enormous health and power from eating giant, meaty bones or who dispatches his enemies by smacking them with his granite-like head?  I’ll always like the first game the best simply due to its original charm, but the others in the series were gold, too, so they’ve been bunched together as some of the best games ever for the T-16 system!

Box front for Blazing Lazers

Blazing Lazers
How about a game that filled the screen with non-stop arcade action – alien ships coming in wave after wave of attack runs, but dropping just the right kind of power-ups to keep your thumbs mashing the pad until defeating each level boss and getting a breather?  Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.  Blazing Lazers was AWESOME.

Box front for Neutopia

Neutopia / Neutopia II
Wait a minute – is this game a Zelda game or not?  Well, it sure played like Zelda, even if it just “borrowed” elements of the classic NES series.  Jazeta strapped on his sword and shield and searched for the eight Medallions that would spell defeat for Dirth, the wizard with a bad attitude.  Charge up the Fire Wand and help Link Jazeta burn his way to success!

Box front for Military Madness

Military Madness
Tell me again why we’re fighting the Axis-Xenon scum for the right to control the Moon?  Who cares – this was a turn-based strategy wargame for a console system…and it didn’t suck!  The game’s victory music still pops unbidden into my thoughts (at mostly appropriate times).

Box front for Alien Crush

Alien Crush / Devil’s Crush
I never thought I’d sit in front of my television and play a pinball game for hours, but that was before Alien Crush showed me what a good pinball game looked like.  And Devil’s Crush upped the ante even more.  Great graphics, speed, table feel…these were some great pinball games.

Box front for Bomberman

Bomberman
Who wants to play a five-player TurboGrafx-16 game and blow up all your friends?  If you had a TurboTap and enough TurboPads, this game was the ultimate multi-player game for the T-16 system.  Of course, if you had NO friends, the game had a decent single-player mode, too, which, considering many gamers in the 90s didn’t see the sun until the Millennium Bug scared them into going outside to forage for supplies, was a good thing.  By the way, if you had two TurboExpress handheld systems you could link them and play head-to-head.

Box front for Splatterhouse

Splatterhouse
Did you ever want to put on a hockey mask, pick up a weapon, and lay a beating down on the hapless evil denizens of a haunted house?  Don’t worry about your psyche, so did everyone else.  Lots of gore (not as much as the Japanese version, though) made this a controversial game and gave it a cult following even before its release.

Box front for Cadash

Cadash
Another super RPG for the TurboGrafx-16, Cadash gave the player the opportunity to play a fighter (heavily armoured and packing a mean damage rating), a mage (with magical firepower), a priestess (a decent fighter who can heal herself), or a ninja (a FAST little guy with the ability to reign death by shuriken from afar or use a spread fire ability to burn enemies to ash).  The game had plenty of Zelda II elements (shades of Neutopia!), and remains a T16 collector favorite to this day.

Box front for Dungeon Explorer

Dungeon Explorer
Long before there were MORPGs letting gamers explore virtual fantasy worlds together, your choices for multiplayer RPG action were slim. Until Dungeon Explorer arrived, that is, with the ability to play with up to four more of your friends (using the TurboTap).  You could even save your progress with a password save game feature!

Box front for The Legendary Axe

The Legendary Axe
This game was hard.  And I know I wasn’t alone in thinking this when it came out.  It was also a visual/audio masterpiece that garnered a Video Game of the Year honor from VideoGames & Computer Entertainment.  A game that redefines an entire genre (the platform sidescroller) deserves to be on any TurboGrafx-16 Top Ten list!

Box front for J.J. & Jeff

Honorable mention: J.J. & Jeff
OK, I played Leisure Suit Larry when it came out, and loved the infantile humor, but up to J.J. & Jeff, I never saw a steaming pile of defecation in a video game before.  Although the North American version of this game was much tamer than the Japanese version (no public urination, for example), it still had some punch to shock and titillate the North American puritan audience.

Have a different Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 list?  Leave a comment with your favorites – and don’t forget to say why!

TurboGrafx-16 Failure Due to Box Art Disparity?

The following blog article gives such an interesting argument on why the TurboGrafx-16 failed that I needed to share it!


Back in the early 1990s, the Internet was barely born and hadn’t been commercialized yet, so you had to depend on good, old print media to inform you about the latest video games. This media always lagged substantially behind the new releases, so the box art for games represented a level of importance that seems foreign by today’s standards. In other words, when you walked into a store that sold video games, the box art held a strong influence over whether or not you bought it.… Read More

via Time Warp Gamer

More on NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 system can be found here:  Looking back at the TurboGrafx-16 Video Game System

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