Shadow Warrior Review – You Didn’t Buy It?
To say that video games have become much more politically correct over the years is no bold claim. One inappropriate joke or passing comment could result in unwanted criticism from countless people, just the kind of thing game developers want to avoid entirely. It wasn’t always like this, however. Sometimes, developers pushed games beyond the boundaries of tastefulness.
3D Realms’ iconic shooter Duke Nukem 3D, was offensive, challenging, and oh so fun. Its satirical and tongue-in-cheek content was enough to upset more than a few people after its release in 1996. After that, the company released an Eastern-themed spiritual successor Shadow Warrior. Looking past the cheesy one-liners, parodies of bad kung-fu movies and racial humour, Shadow Warrior really pushed its engine to its limits, helping the poorly-selling title achieve a cult-classic status over time. A title well-deserved, too.
Once you start the game, you’re attacked within the first three seconds. No other game has dared following in Shadow Warrior‘s footsteps!
If you’ve played Duke Nukem 3D, you may be disappointed to hear that Shadow Warrior is not as lengthy or balanced. You’ll come across quite a few irritating enemies across its 22 levels. The worst of the bunch are the uzi-wielding ninjas that jump, climb, and even perform special attacks, like fire homing missiles or cast spells (depending on the colour of their trousers). If that wasn’t annoying enough, there are suicide-bombers that usually turn into hard-to-hit ghosts on death, and killer hornets that attack in swarms.
A ninja’s never ready for a fight without his mighty katana or a handful of shurikens, but these are quickly outclassed by weapons like uzis, a slow-firing railgun, a grenade launcher, and a fire-breathing monster head. Many of these weapons actually have alternate-fire modes, like the riot shotgun. Normally it’s quite accurate, but its alt-fire lets you unload four shells in rapid-succession before automatically reloading, making it an excellent choice for close-encounters. Another example would be the ability to launch a mini-nuke from your rocket launcher. Just be sure to take cover if you do. Big arsenal, big fun.
In both single and multiplayer modes, you can use turrets, tanks, half-tracks, and more. Plus, they’re fitted with gib-tastic cannons.
Much like Duke Nukem 3D, you can carry items in your inventory, like portable health kits, smoke bombs to turn you invisible, and repair kits. The rest aren’t as useful as ol’ Duke’s gear, though, so you probably won’t be using them as much. Health kits and fortune cookies will give you health, and while body armour can be collected to protect you from enemy attacks, it gets chewed up far too quickly. Somehow, falling from a six-foot drop will damage our supposedly-agile hero, and will inexplicably dent your armour points, too.
Lo Wang is after his former-employer, Master Zilla, who unleashed hordes of demons across the land. His hunt for Zilla will take you across various well-designed and creative locations like a bath house, an underwater facility, a subpen, among many others. You’ll need to search for keys to advance. Of course, there are plenty of secrets to explore, and the occasional bit of scenery to interact with. Some of the enemy placements and traps can be a bit cheap at times; some areas contain far too many bad guys who can pick you off in seconds.
Say hello to the first ever sticky bomb in video gaming. Eat your heart out (at Duke Burger), Halo.
The level design is more complex compared to that of Duke Nukem 3D, thanks to the updated Build engine. Players can climb ladders, fire turrets, and even drive vehicles. Getting ahold of a machine gun turret or tank makes you feel like death on wheels, even if the steering feels a little clunky. Snooty reviewers at the time scoffed Shadow Warrior for not being a fully-3D title like Quake, though it does have 3D items, detailed sprites and some varicolored visuals throughout.
Numerous oriental-themed songs await within Shadow Warrior, courtesy of Lee Jackson (creator of Duke Nukem 3D’s iconic main theme, and composer for more than half of the songs in that game). Songs like “Attention”, with its twanging strings, are a brilliant listen, while ambient tracks like “Thunder Winds” will give you chills. Plus, those who beat the game are treated to the hilarious “Lo Wang’s Rap” at the end.
One of the bosses attacks you with explosive farts, because reasons.
John William Galt’s performance as Lo Wang will tickle you pink with all sorts of over-the-top, cheesy one-liners. Make no mistake, the awkwardly-named protagonist is a badass, and while he does love to make corny puns about his surname, you can’t avoid laughing when he splatters an enemy and exclaims “eat this, pencil-d**k!”
It may be in bad taste, and can be pretty irritating at times, but Shadow Warrior is still a worthwhile shooter. Excellent level design, a superb soundtrack, silly jokes and some great gunplay make it a great addition to 3D Realms’ repertoire of shooters. It may be technologically advanced than its predecessor, Duke Nukem 3D, yet ol’ Duke had more levels and polish to its gameplay. Regardless, the best thing is that this one’s free to download from online game retailers, so if you’re hungering for a tricky title from yesteryear, then pick up your katana and slice yourself some wang in this gem of a FPS. Grasshoppers and wannabe-ninjas need not apply.
Balls of Steel – You Didn’t Buy It?
No matter how advanced video games have become over the years, pinball has never really been forgotten about in its entirety. In fact, there have been countless digital recreations of the arcade classic. Making a stand-out, memorable pinball title is no easy feat. Some are tied in with franchises like Pokemon or Marvel, while others offer a single table and not a lot of other reasons to keep playing. What Wildfire Studios decided to do with their late-1997 pinball-title Balls of Steel was to pump it full of content, and polish it to perfection.
The usual rules of pinball apply: hit the ball around with the paddles, tilt the table left and right, and rack up some major points. Four difficulty modes are available, which offer more or less leeway. For instance, anyone after a fun time will likely want to play on Regular mode with five-ball play and a chance to earn an extra ball at the end. On the other end of the spectrum, Tournament mode is there for anyone after a no-frills pinball experience with only three balls. Feels a bit pointless, having an option that limits content, but regardless, casual players or veterans will be in for a treat.
This isn’t an accurate respresentation of how to defuse explosives.
The whole thing looks nice and detailed. Each table is bright and colourful, and the animations that play on the dot-matrix display at the bottom look lovely, too. Playing full-screen is an option, but since it zooms out and glues the table to only half of the screen, it doesn’t look quite as impressive, visually. Alternatively, you can let the camera follow the ball, meaning you’ll usually have more than enough reaction time to swat it away if it reaches too close to the bottom, unless it’s travelling at terminal velocity.
Balls of Steel offers five different pinball tables to play on. One table has you battling alien invaders, while another focuses on the police trying to stop a diabolical, stereotypical British villain. The most eye-catching addition has to be the Duke Nukem table, based off 3D Realms’ classic first-person shooter Duke Nukem 3D. Duke’s table features brand new one-liners from the alien ass-kicker himself, too. The music is a bit generic, save for the awesome remixes of Duke’s soundtrack, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker.
Those alien maggots are invading Duke’s pinball table – squish ’em!
But the variety does not stop there. Each table has unique features that really set them apart from one another. For example, Duke Nukem’s table has special items to collect that unlock secret areas, or offer neat twists like destroyable blockades that block the bonuses. Meanwhile, the Mutation table will let lucky players coat their ball with slime for extra-speed, or even create duplicates for some truly hectic gameplay.
What sweetens the experience are the aforementioned minigames. You might have to squish some butt-ugly aliens crawling across the stage, or try and defuse bombs inside the bonuses, in order to earn some big rewards. A few mini-games are played exclusively on the dot-matrix display where the score is usually shown, and merely require pressing the paddle buttons and the launch key in order to play. Very few pinball titles go so far as to include more invigorating ways to earn a mighty jackpot, meaning Balls of Steel truly is a stand-out title in its field.
Few pinball games are as varied and addictive as this one.
It’s no wonder why Wildfire Studios smugly described their own product as “pinball on steroids”. Put simply, it ticks so many boxes. Colourful visuals? Check. Addicting gameplay? Mh-hm. Variety? Hoo, yes. Sounds good? Yep… well, aside from its mostly-forgettable soundtrack. It might not keep you hooked for hours upon hours per sitting, but it’s packed with so much content and polish that it makes it a top-priority choice for any PC gamer on the hunt for a pumped-up version of the unforgettable coin-op arcade game we all know. This is easily one of the finest titles to come out of 3D Realms’ repertoire of classic nineties titles.
Q!Zone for Quake – You Didn’t Buy It?
Fans loved to create levels for the likes of ultra-popular games, such as DOOM & Duke Nukem 3D. Meanwhile, companies enjoyed compiling them onto discs and selling them back for easy profits and scathing reviews. Q!Zone For Quake was an authorized add-on for id Software’s revolutionary first-person shooter Quake. Unlike previous entries in the !Zone series, this one had original levels made from scratch. Fans of Quake have seldom talked about this one, though the few that have very few good things to say about it.
No need to worry about any semblance of a plot – this isn’t 2011, after all. Apparently, it’s said to take place after the events of the original game. The bad guys are back, and you need to wipe them out a second time. The expansion offers 25 new levels, and 8 deathmatch maps, spread across four chapters. On top of that, there are three new enemies, an exclusive weapon, and even new textures. So far, it sounds like quite the hamper. That is, until you crack open the box and take a whiff of the putrid contents held inside.
This is the entire map, right here within this screenshot. You can beat it within about a minute.
Near-enough all of the maps are unimaginative in design. Rooms feel samey, often with overused or misaligned textures, and shadows seem to be smeared across walls with no rhyme or reason. Enemies are packed in large quantities, but the generous amounts of pick-ups and power-ups makes wiping them out all too easy, even on Nightmare mode. Some of the doors don’t even open on the first try, lest you headbutt them a few times. Even the underwater segments are littered with fish who seem to swim through teleporters and in the air. Chances are you won’t notice most of the new textures, either, unless they’re scrawled around in big, ugly chunks of level geometry.
Q!Zone must’ve been made with a tight deadline in mind, since a hefty chunk of its levels are symmetrical, box-shaped maps that couldn’t have taken longer than a day to create. It’s such a cliché in amateur video game level design, since it’s incredibly easy to draw a big box with four pillars and a small stronghold or platform in the center. In fact, most of these levels will take no more than five minutes to beat. A bundle of them can be nailed in less than a minute!
Boring, symmetric maps are in abundance here.
Like fishing for coins in a muddy, filthy fountain full of dead carp, digging for the best maps is a big challenge. Funnily, two of the best maps – “Jailbreak” and “No Trespassing” – arereconstructions of levels from the fantastic, unofficial DOOM II expansion pack Hell 2 Pay by Wraith Corporation. One of the deathmatch maps is based inside an aeroplane, and quite a detailed one at that. Regardless, each chapter will take you no more than an hour to beat. And to think, you could be doing more fun activities in comparison, like sorting out taxes or cutting lawns with a pair of scissors.
The new weapon that Q!Zone offers is the Slicer, which replaces the nailgun. It fires shurikens that bounces off walls, and while it doesn’t have a quick rate of fire, it does at least add some variety to the game’s armory. After all, there was little use for the nailgun once you bagged its super-powered variant in the original game. The new enemies – a headless cyborg, a damage-absorbing plant, and a green goblin with a poo-flinging cannon – aren’t all that special and don’t really feel like much of a challenge.
Watch out, it’s The Incredible Hulk’s anorexic cousin!
While Q!Zone might have had a few half-decent inclusions, like its expanded roster of enemies and the extra weapon tossed into the mix, in the end it’s just another fine example of how even great games had some trashy accessories to go alongside. We are lucky enough to live in a time where quality assurance exists, even if a few stinkers are known to slip through. Authorization from id Software was all that the company needed to crank out a steaming puddle of ghastly maps that sucked back then and still suck now. In other words, it’s worse than things like the dreaded Horse Armour DLC for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Drop it in the bin where it belongs, Quake-fans.
Bust-a-Move 2: Arcade Edition (PlayStation) – You Didn’t Buy It?!
We’ve all been fooled by a game that looked pretty childish or silly at first glance, only to discover that we were wrong in so many ways. Released in arcades in 1995 and ported to consoles a year later, Taito’s puzzle game Bust-a-Move 2: Arcade Edition (AKA Puzzle Bobble 2 to those who hail from the land of cheeseburgers) took many PlayStation players by surprise with its luscious visuals and addicting gameplay. Beneath its quirky exterior is a deviously tricky game that helped popularize the tile-matching genre, and inspired countless sequels and rip-offs for years to come.
Bust-a-Move 2: Arcade Edition has some colourful visuals, a cute cast of characters, and some sweet 16-bit graphics have a retro-charm to them. Each level has realistic photos in the background, which was a smart move as it helps the gameplay stand out visually. A coherent plot is not too prevalent in this one, but there are plenty of quirky cutscenes that will put a grin on anyone’s face.
Bub’s expression is priceless.
It looks like a piece of cake – all you need to do is stick color-matching bubbles in chains to pop them for points and to clear the stage entirely to win – though it’s no secret how tricky it is to master this one. You’ll need to learn how to ricochet shots, shoot through small gaps, and play while the stage gets smaller and smaller. As time goes on, the brightly-coloured spheres will be pushed closer and closer to the cut-off point at the bottom. If they cross it, then then it’s game over.
There are no power-ups to help, aside from a special star ball that will remove remove all bubbles of a certain colour from the stage, depending on which one you hit it with. Perhaps some additional power-ups would’ve spiced up Bust-a-Move 2: Arcade Edition further, like a snowball to freeze the opponent’s progress, or a bomb that removes large clusters. In spite of this, in its raw form, the gameplay is still tense and will keep you hooked.
Earn yourself a bajillion points, and pretend that actually matters.
There are quite a few modes to try out. Story mode puts you against the AI against the aforementioned cast of weirdos. To win, you need to fill up your opponent’s screen completely, which can be done by dropping large clusters of balls that’ll be hurtled to the other player’s side. The difficulty will somewhat-spike after the second stage considerably, which feels a bit cruel. Otherwise it’s more or less the same, only with a limited number of credits to keep you going.
Beyond that, you can rack up high-scores while battling against the clock in time attack mode. Puzzle mode is a gauntlet of different stages, only with branching paths and multiple endings (which are pretty simplistic). Finishing that will be a challenge on account of how challenging, yet samey, it gets after playing for a few hours in one sitting. A lack of a save feature is a bit of a bummer, as that would let you dive into the trickier stuff without having to go through all of the easy stages first. Two-player split-screen mode is also available, and, providing you’re up against someone who’s as good as you, it’s exciting stuff, and arguably the best aspect of the game.
You get to meet all sorts of characters who’ll become your worst enemies soon enough.
Composer Kono Shin did a fantastic job with the game’s soundtrack. There are many catchy tunes that makes everything feel whimsical or frantic, though they may not be the greatest things to listen to then you’re angry as hell and are knee-deep into the game. Still, you’ll more than likely be whistling along to these tunes after a few hours of gameplay. The sound effects are suitably satisfying, too, from the popping noises to the excited announcements of Japanese children shouting in unison – odd, but fitting enough.
Easily one of the top choices for the PlayStation, Bust-a-Move 2: Arcade Edition has a sweet exterior with an unexpectedly-crunchy core. Thanks to its simplistic controls and gameplay, pretty much anyone can still get the hang of this color-matching puzzle game after a couple of minutes playing, while wannabe-purists will have to sink plenty of hours into it in order to come out on top each time. This one can feel samey after a while, due to a lack of variety or twists in its gameplay. Regardless, the amount of content offered in this brightly-coloured package is hefty and full of joy.
Wolfenstein 3D: The Lost Episodes – You Didn’t Buy It?
Before DOOM shook up the gaming world in 1993, id Software stunned players with its World War II-shooter Wolfenstein 3D. For the time, this was a technological breakthrough – smooth-running gameplay, ultra-violent combat, and mazes filled with mysterious secret areas. This 1991 first-person shooter popularized its genre for decades to come.
After the release of the Spear of Destiny expansion pack in 1992, the game’s publishers – FormGen Entertainment – released a duo of ‘accessory packs’ two years later. Basically, they were expansion packs for the pre-existing expansion pack. It sounds like a sleazy cash-grab (something that EA pulled off in modern-times with their Sims Pets DLC), but, surely there is some lingering essence of fun to be had here in the Lost Episodes?
Hitler has been feeding the attack dogs blue paint. Bastard.
Return to Danger takes place after the events of Spear of Destiny, where our all-American hero B.J. Blazkowicz acquired the aforementioned holy relic that pierced the flesh of Christ in a raffle after a series of hilarious–oh, you know what really happened. Well, it looks like the Nazis stole the spear a second time, and you need to retrieve it again. In Ultimate Challenge, the damned Jerry’s swiped the artifact yet again (which makes you wonder whether the US Army basically placed it within an unguarded tent with a ‘do not steal’ sign stuck to it), only this time Hitler has called for some help from another realm, and has even obtained information on futuristic weapons development as a result
Both accessory packs contain 21 new levels each, with new appearances for items, weapons, enemies, and much more thrown into the mix. Most of the levels are ludicrously complex and bloated, with some keys being hidden within secret areas along with enemies who seem perfectly chilled about being trapped behind a wall. One boss level even contains a maze filled with tables, blocking off almost-every corridor. Thought navigation was tough enough in the original game, no thanks to a lack of an in-game map? These ones will make you cry.
According to the Wolfenstein 3D Wiki, most levels look like this
Also, a side note. Keeping up with the Nazis’ obsession for absurd, flamboyant interior decorations, the Lost Episodes is also decorated with an abundance of blue walls. This begs the question: why? You’ll be stumbling across pictures of Hitler pulling silly faces (see previous question) quite a lot in this, too.
Expect a lot of sprite-swaps that do not actually change the gameplay. Weapons are painted blue, which makes them look like cheap plastic toy guns. Enemies are given a makeover, but otherwise act the same as before – they run, they shoot, and will still react to noise if nearby. Some of them look pretty good, with a few exceptions, like the blue dogs and the bats which hold guns with their feet holding guns. Bosses act the same as they did in Spear of Destiny, despite their new appearances, and the final level will always teleport our hero to Hell for the final battle. Been there, done that.
Our hero goes mental with a chaingun, which looks like some sort of souped-up Super Soaker.
Collecting items, killing bad guys, beating levels with top-marks – all of these will contribute to your score, if you really care about that. Items can still be collected for points now look like collecting radios, swastika-labelled rockets and time bombs for points, if you actually care about that (why are there time-bombs scattered across the Nazi bases? And, more importantly, why is Blazkowicz collecting 300 metric-tonnes of them?) At least you still get an extra life and health refill when you reach a certain amount, then again saving and loading eliminates the need for the archaic life system. Not like any of this is new.
The new sounds are OK, at best. While the audio quality for enemies is much clearer than in the original game – providing you have a basic understanding of German, you won’t need to argue whether the SS troopers are exclaiming “Achtung!” or “Hot dog!” like fans did in the nineties – some of these death screams go on for too long. Other sounds, like wall-pushing noises, are pretty loud and annoying. At least the guns have a meatier sound to them.
Final level tries to be like DOOM – fails badly.
No new music is to be found here. Bobby Prince’s mix of ambient, funk and orchestral-inspired MIDI tunes are still appropriately-moody and enjoyable, but the music tracklist remains the same as Spear of Destiny in both episodes, e.g. level 1 in both Return to Danger and Ultimate Challenge will always play the song “Tiptoeing Around”. It just feels lazy.
The Lost Episodes feel like an unnecessary addition in more ways than one. Both of the packs were released in May 1994, about six months after DOOM was released. Wolfenstein 3D’s game engine was already showing its age, and nothing in either of these packs could prevent the game from feeling stale. The new levels were more irritating than fun. The sprite-swaps are a mixed bag. The lack of new music is disappointing. To summarise, FormGen’s attempts to make the game look and feel fresh with a new coat of (blue) paint was slapdash at best. Advice to Wolfenstein fans: just avoid these like they were full-priced copies of Wolfenstein II: The Colossus.
Twisted Metal 4 (PlayStation) – You Didn’t Buy It?
There were plenty of big-name game franchises in the nineties, and one of them was SingleTrac’s Twisted Metal. Essentially, it was like a deathmatch in cars – driving around spacious environments and blowing up baddies with bombs was so much fun. Naturally, it had some dark undertones, as to be expected from a game all about committing genocide in trucks, sports cars, and even a demonic ice cream van. While the first two entries were best-sellers and scored rave reviews – even more so with the sequel – 989 Studios created the third and fourth entries from scratch, only these were released exclusively in the United States. Too bad that the third one was a sloppy, unpolished mess that many felt was not a true Twisted Metal title. The question remains: can the same be said about the 1999 entry Twisted Metal 4?
While the plot has been tweaked in areas, the general gist of the Twisted Metal tournament remains intact: a squad of crazy racers want to battle one another to the death in hopes of getting a single wish from its new leader, the killer clown Sweet Tooth. Compared to the third game, the cutscenes are, shockingly enough, watchable! Sure, they may seem a bit too ‘cartoony’ compared to the gritty atmosphere of the comic-style movies seen in the second game, but at least it comes with some good voice acting alongside.
No, you can’t literally nuke an oil rig.
The core gameplay is basically the same as before: just kill the other drivers to win the level. Weapons can be found across each level, including some new toys, like a freeze-bomb, and numerous different types of ballistic missiles. While your vehicle’s standard machineguns can chip away at opponents’ health bars, each driver has a nifty special move to deal extra-damage with. It’s carnage, devastation, and all-out fun. Visually, the game has not changed much, and the same can be said about the physics engine (which will have you inexplicably flipping or bouncing around at times – only, not as much as in the previous game).
Twisted Metal 4 has some quality maps full of secret passages, devious traps, and intricate layouts. You can take a ride on a monorail in a futuristic city, drop enemies to their doom with the crane in the construction yard, or ride the roller coaster tracks in the carnival. Each stage has a boss enemy that appears at the end of each match in tournament mode. Annoyingly, Sweet Tooth is a very unfair final boss as he spams you relentlessly with a plethora of rockets and MIRVs, chewing away at your health within seconds. In any case, secret levels can also be unlocked. Some of them are really simple and pretty uninspiring, but have some cool gimmicks to spice up any deathmatch, like breakable floors and.bounce pads. These make up for the lack of extra game modes… almost.
It’s like Toy Story, but with more explosions.
Long-time fans will likely scoff, and with good reason, at the cast of characters. An intergalactic bounty-hunting robot and a Drag Queen feel too out-of-place to be in a Twisted Metal game. Weirdly, Heavy Metal icon Rob Zombie is a playable character, too (this can only be a plus-point). Calypso, the main villain of the series, can be chosen for the first time, at the cost of significantly-less screen time.
There are plenty of cars to choose from, which vary in speed, armour, steering and the strength of their unique special weapon. These include a wind-up toy car, a hovercraft and a nuke truck. Most of them are pretty fun to play, while others feel really under-powered; there are quite a few rubbish small cars with such poor armour that you could probably blow it up by tossing a few handfuls of stale popcorn at it. Regardless, there are even unlockable boss vehicles, and a nifty create-a-car mode with plenty of different appearances to choose from. You can even save up to a whopping thirty-six creations all at once.
Twisted Metal: VR Version
Do you love aggressive, upbeat songs to blow up people to? You’ll be in for a treat. Music by Rob Zombie, One Minute Silence, Ghoulspoon, and many other bands can be heard across each level. Nothing beats the grinding guitars of “Grease Paint and Monkey Brains” by White Zombie, or the breakbeat-delight that is Cirrus’ “Time is Running Out”.
Overall, Twisted Metal 4 pummels the third game into the dirt with ease, and even gives Twisted Metal 2 a run for its money… mostly. Sure, the reworked story, goofy characters, dated visuals and floppy physics engine will turn away any hardcore-fans of the series. Nevertheless, it has a sizeable selection of levels with mostly-great designs, a big bunch of vehicles, a large armoury, some sweet tunes, and quality gameplay to top off the package. Making it a US-exclusive title was a big mistake on 989 Studios’ part, because Twisted Metal 4 was a killer and a thriller.