V-Tech Master Video Painter (V-Tech, 1994)

INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.

When I was nine years old (this was in 1994 for those who are curious), I had the coolest freaking thing ever. It was called the V-Tech Master Video Painter. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, neither did approximately 99% of the world’s population. I couldn’t even remember the name of the darn thing until just now, and it appears that a lot of other people looking for the name of the device can’t remember it either! Well, I hope that they end up finding this page.

Photo by Martin Kou.

Anyway, so what was this V-Tech Master Video Painter? Essentially it was a large drawing tablet (about 1×1.5 feet) that plugged directly into your TV and allowed you to do draw, paint, and much more. It was sort of like Mario Paint, only it was not dependent on a console and used a plastic pen and tablet in favour of a controller and mouse. Does this already sound more intuitive than Mario Paint? Well, it was. The V-Tech Master Video Painter was designed specifically for children (the design of the tablet is evidence of this), so it had to be pretty easy to use while still being able to be pretty flexible.

So, what could the Master Video Painter do? It had all of the drawing capabilities of Mario Paint and more since it was a drawing tool – not a drawing game. Since it has been so long since I had this device, I had to look up what it was capable of. Here’s what the V-Tech Master Video Painter could do, courtesy of Martin Kou (I’ll link to you friend, no worries).

  • 14 colour palette
  • 10 drawing functions (2 pencils, 2 spray modes, a transparency pen, paintbrush, stamps, geometric objects, eraser, text, background/clip art)
  • Animation capabilities (limited to 5 frames)
  • Music capabilities (5 built in background songs as well as a tool for users to make their own songs using 10 different notes)
Photo by Martin Kou.

Aside from being able to express yourself creatively, there’s also a “game” option. This brings up a jigsaw puzzle game, but the pieces are all square. Not very difficult, and this could not hold a candle to the fly swatting game in Mario Paint. I never really played the game too much since the Master Video Painter’s painting tools were far too engrossing and fun for a nine year old boy.

I spent most of time just drawing, which was a lot of fun. The draw/paint options were very similar to what one would find in MSPaint, the dinky little art program that comes with every version of Windows. Heck, it can even zoom into an image and allow you to edit pixel by pixel! I vaguely remember that being a little difficult since editing something pixel by pixel was no easy task when my tool of choice had to be a pen.

The music editing software in the Master Video Painter wasn’t too bad. As stated above, there were 10 different notes which were themed on animals and such (again, like Mario Paint). The music was midi-based, so you wouldn’t be able to make anything breathtaking. It was still fun to play around in though.

Photo by Martin Kou.

I remember being the only person I knew who owned one of these things. A boy who lived in my neighborhood stopped by, saw the device and what was on my TV, and wondered what the heck it was! So many had never even seen one of these things before, it was really incredible. I feel a little funny because I was usually the kid who had less than others my age growing up, so to have something that nobody else in the neighborhood had was really quite cool. I’ll always remember the Master Video Painter with fond memories. It was a very fun device to play with as a child!

I’ll finish this off with a link and two videos. Check out this page by Martin Kou for loads of information on the V-Tech Master Video Painter. He has the luxury of actually having one of these bad boys, so he gets to be a lot more descriptive than I could ever hope to be.

And secondly, here’s a video I found! Enjoy!

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Hunter Hunted (PC, 1996)

INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.

About twelve or thirteen years ago (or perhaps more), I remember having a Sierra game that came bundled with a few demos. One of the demos was for a game called Hunter Hunted. Ever hear of it? Back then, neither had I. Today, I look back on the game with very fond memories.

Hunter Hunted was a 2D platformer that contained a whopping 65 levels, a number that we never see in the current generation of gaming.

The missions were all pretty straight forward, and just involved completing miniscule objectives so that the player could reach the exit. Levels were full of all sorts of dangerous obstacles such as mechs and turrets.

The two playable characters, Jake the human and Garathe Den the alien-minotaur-thing, handled very differently. Jake, being a weak little man with guns, required a more conservative approach to clearing levels, while Garathe Den was all about just beating the hell out of everything in sight.

The singleplayer campaign was not the best part of this game and I won’t deny that I never finished the missions. Instead, I was drawn to the multiplayer aspect of the game.

Hunter Hunted was one of those rare PC games that had a split-screen two player mode of play, and along with a friend, I played the hell out of the multiplayer.

In multiplayer, you can either play co-op with a friend which, admittedly, kind of sucked… Or you could play, you guessed it, DEATHMATCH!

More 2D platformers need deathmatch, I say! In Hunter Hunted, one player played as Jake while the other was privileged enough to use Garathe Den. Now, I know what it sounds like, a little tiny man with guns versus a huge minotaur-alien that pulvervizes everything with frightening efficiency. Sounds uneven, yeah? Well, it surpisingly wasn’t.

Jake had a whole arsenal of guns at his disposal. His default guns were pretty crappy against Garathe Den, but there were some pretty awesome weapons littered throughout the levels such (like the rocket launcher) that could really punish Garathe Den. Garathe, on the other hand, didn’t get any power-ups that I can recall. He had everything he needed without having to get powered up, so as soon as a match began, Garathe would have a huge advantage over Jake. The player who would control Jake would then have to find sufficient tools to deal with the Garathe player, which was a lot of fun and really helped give this game it’s name – Hunter Hunted. Deathmatch was a huge cat and mouse game, where the roles of cat and mouse quickly alternated between Garathe and Jack. Lots of fun.

I can’t recall how many hours my friend and I sank into deathmatch, which really was awesome in it’s day. I don’t know how well this game would run today since it was released in 1996, so it might require a DOS emulator to even work properly. However, if this game sounds at all appealing to you, then definitely try to find a copy or a download, especially if you have a friend who wouldn’t mind checking out the deathmatch feature with you.

Hunter Hunted was, without a doubt, one of the coolest obscure games I have ever played on the PC. I have some very fond memories with this game, so thanks for giving them to me Sierra!

Click here to listen to a fantastic stage theme from Hunter Hunted!

Einhander (Retro Review)

“One of the absolute best games to ever grace the original Playstation.”

If, in 1997, I was told by someone that the makers of the Final Fantasy series would soon be releasing what would undoubtedly the best space shooter on the Playstation, I would’ve called them crazy. Well, in 1998, Squaresoft had done just that. Einhander is the best space shooter on the Playstation and perhaps even one of the best ever.

Einhander is a fantastic game that, in 1998, had it all. It looked awesome, had a stunning soundtrack, and had amazing gameplay. Twelve years later, and Einhander still plays and sounds like a gift from the heavens despite looking dated, though not at all ugly.

In Einhander, the player takes control of a ship belonging to the Moon’s military forces and must blast through several unforgivingly tough levels. Despite being an amazing game to play even by today’s standards, Einhander is not for the weak of heart. Don’t let the fact that it was made by Squaresoft, creators of the easiest RPGs ever, fool you. Einhander is tough as nails and doesn’t hold your hand at all.

As a space shooter, Einhander plays like many classic favourites such as Gradius or R-Type, but shakes the formula up a bit. The player is able to mount weapons onto their ship that drop off of enemies, and the position of mounting can be changed by the player at will. By default, weapons normally attach to the bottom of the ship. However, with the press of a button, the mounted weapon will swap to the top of the ship. This changes the firing arc of the weapon entirely. If the player’s ship has two mountings, then they can hold two weapons at once, which can also be fired simultaneously. It’s worth noting that no weapons that are picked up replace the default rapid fire gun that the ship comes with, with pretty much means that if you have two weapons at any given time, you can obliterate anything in your path by using all three weapons. Now that’s pretty badass.

Most enemies are pretty easy to get past. Lowly enemy ships and turrets are destoyed with ease, but the difficulty spikes dramatically upon encountering a mid-boss or level end boss. All bosses, regardless of whether or not they’re at the end of the level, are remorseless and will do everything they can possibly think of to destroy you. Most bosses have clever attacks that will catch you off-guard, while other bosses just rely on the old “spray the entire screen with dozens of bullets” routine. It’s worth noting that bosses can change their attack patterns as well if you destroy certain parts of them. That is one of the joys of Einhander, being able to destroy bosses in whatever way you wish since they are mostly all fully destructable. Few games offered this in 1998, so it was welcomed by many.

The graphics in Einhander were absolutely stunning in 1998, but today they are understandably outdated. Visually the game has stood the test of time fairly well. While most aspects of the game really don’t look impressive at all anymore, nothing stands out as being unpleasant to look at. As one of the original Playstation’s better looking games, Einhander simply looks “passable” in this day and age.

The music and sound effects have managed better than the game’s graphics and are just as good now as they were twelve years ago. Einhander’s soundtrack is mostly made up of “moody techno” sort of music tracks, which is really cool. For the most part, music takes a backseat and stays fairly quiet and in the background until players encounter a boss. It is at this time that the boss theme, which sounds freaking awesome, kicks in.

Click here to listen to Einhander’s boss theme.

Sound effects fit the mood just as well. Explosions sound gritty but muffled, and sounds given off by the heavy bodies of the game’s bosses are heavy and metallic. Most of the weapons sound pretty generic, but are anything but disappointing.

Overall Einhander is a truly awesome game that, despite not being a smash hit when it was first released in North America, has become one of the original Playstation’s most popular games over the past decade. If you’re a fan of space shooters, you should definitely get your hands on a copy of this game to enjoy on your PS3 or emulator.

Final Score

9/10

Destrega (Retro Review)


“A lost gem from the original Playstation’s era that more fighting game fans should be aware of.”

Back in 1998, I remember buying an official of the Official Playstation Magazine, the PS1 magazine that came with free demo discs. I remember skimming through the games on the demo disc, not finding a whole lot which I was interested in, but then I stumbled across a game on the rotating wheel of demos that had a peculiar name that stuck out like a sore thumb. Destrega. What an unusual name I thought at the time, but what’s truly unusual is how little known this gem is today.

Destrega is a fighting game by KOEI, a company that has never done anything truly remarkable for video games outside of Japan. I’ve always believed that KOEI usually had no idea what they’re usually doing, and Destrega is proof of that. The game is, as a whole, fairly competent and moderately enjoyable to play. However, the game received barely any marketing at all and, as a result, Destrega was released with pretty much nobody knowing it even existed and that’s a shame.

By 1998 standards, Destrega was a bit behind the competition in terms of roster size and rewards/unlockables. The game has a mere twelve characters and the only unlockables in the entire game are a few unlockable outfits. The available game modes are typical fare, such as arcade, versus, story, and practice. There is little to do in the game besides just fight or play the painful story mode. Still, I love this game an awful lot. How can a game that is apparently lacking in so many areas be loved by me? Well, it’s time for me to explain that now that I’ve mentioned what this game lacks.

Destrega has perhaps only one feature that is well above average, and that is the fighting system itself. The presentation is awful, the music is laughable at best, and the graphics are mostly just decent, but the core fighting system is enough to look past all of this game’s shortcomings. So how could a game with so many faults still be considered awesome solely for it’s fighting system? The answer is simple. Destrega’s fights are not just innovative, but they are also incredibly strategic. While a lot of fighting vets and tournament junkies will be obsessing over Street Fighter’s frame data and such, they are overlooking a game in which conventional fighting game logic and strategies are thrown out the window. This fighting game is, honestly, the video game version of chess.

Destrega is played on a 3D field that players can freely roam. This is usually hell in fighting games, but because of the strategy involved in Destrega, it works out well. You see, this game isn’t your typical hand-to-hand fighter and most of the actual “fighting” between characters will take place dozens of feet from one another. Destrega abandons movesets and special attacks and instead adopts a creative magic projectile attack system that operates using three buttons. To throw a quick projectile, the player simply presses square, while triangle is used for power attacks and circle executes ranged attacks. The X button? Why, that’s used for jumping! The shoulder buttons are also used. You’ve got a button for dashing and a button that functions as both a block for both physical attacks and magic projectiles. By pressing X to jump and then pressing the block button, a magic shield is erected around the player that repels any and all incoming projectiles.

The object of Destrega is to utilize the speed, power, and range projectile attacks, as well as the magic shield, in a way that will enable you to outsmart your opponent. Deciding what attack to perform is always the most important decision. Speed attacks will zip across the screen and hit the opponent almost instantly, power attacks travel relatively slowly but pack quite a bunch, and range attacks are a bit of a balance between power and speed but, as the name implies, only have a limited range. Below the player’s health bar is a stamina bar which ulimately decides what the player can do and when. You see, performing any attack will take a chunk of your stamina bar off. It regenerates automatically and rather quickly, but performing too many attacks and draining it completely will leave the player fairly helpless for a few seconds.

Adding even more strategy to the combat is a type of attack I haven’t mentioned yet, and that is the combo attack. Players can chain attacks together before they are thrown at the enemy, resulting in completely new attacks. Pressing the speed and then the power button will result in an attack that covers ground quickly and also hurts quite a bit, which automatically makes it more effective than the default range attack even though it is more costly to use. Players can also “power up” the default attacks by pressing the attack buttons three times in a row. Pressing square (speed attack) three times results in several fast moving projectiles while pressing triangle (power attack) three times will more often than not launch a huge wave of devastating projectiles at the opponent.

Each character also has what I like to call an “ultimate attack.” To perform one of these attacks, the player must simply wait until their stamina bar is full and then press square, triangle, and circle in any order. This will completely deplete the stamina bar, but it unleashes an attack that literally maximizes power, range, and speed. These devastating attacks will tear through any defense, forcing opposing players to run for cover.

There is so much potential and so many different attack combinations with each character that checking out each character becomes a lot of fun. Each character has their own element or attack type, which guarantees that no two characters feel the same. For example, the character named Gradd, who looks like Jin Kazama with a haircut, attacks with fireballs. Another character named Tieme, who appears to be a knight, shoots laser-like air attacks with his swords. Other characters attack with ice, rock, and shadows. A few others even use more obscure and unusual attacks. There is a ninja character who attacks exclusively with shurikens and large pinwheel-like “things” while a little girl character quite literally attacks with colourful neon shapes such as an X, a triangle, a circle, and a square. Hey, wait second… Those shapes seem awfully familiar!

Overall, the gameplay is incredibly solid and is very strategic. Out of all the fighting games I have ever played, reading your opponent was most important in Destrega. In fact, if you don’t read their movements and predict their attacks, you will most certainly lose.

So, while the presentation of the game isn’t the best and there are extremely few unlockables in the game, Destrega can still hold it’s own due to it’s fantastic fighting system that I fear was ahead of it’s time and went to waste. Had Capcom or Namco adopted a fighting system such as the one seen in Destrega, we would’ve seen the birth of a new famous franchise. I bet on it.

Destrega is available online from various retailers such as eBay, though I can’t always guarantee that you will find a copy. I was quite lucky to end up with a copy of this ultra rare game myself! So if you’re curious and want to check out this lost gem from the Playstation era, then I wish you happy hunting!

Final Score

8.5/10

Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge (SNES, 1993)

INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.

Remember the Super Scope? That clunky and oversized SNES gun that went through batteries faster than Homer Simpson does beers? It sure was a piece of garbage and most of the games that it supported were pretty much not worth any of your time. There was, however, one game that was incredibly epic. One game that I wish would get a proper sequel, or be re-released on the Nintendo’s WiiWare service. This game is none other than the sequel to Battle Clash, Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge. With a name like Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge, how could this game possibly suck? That’s easy to answer. It can’t suck. At all.

I first played Metal Combat in 1994, shortly after it was released in North America at the end of 1993. I would watch in awe as my brother fought through stage after stage with the Super Scope. When I got my hands on it, I found the gun controller to be very bulky and exceptionally hard to get used to. After I was able to adjust, I learned to love the game and played the hell out of it probably more than my brother did.

Metal Combat, the sequel to the drastically inferior Battle Clash, put players in control of the ST (Standing Tank, another name for mech) Falcon. The Falcon’s weapon systems were controlled by the player, which is where the Super Scope came into play. In many ways, this was one of the first and only SNES titles that felt like proper first person games. The game was played from a first person perspective and the Falcon’s cannon was, quite literally, the bulky plastic device that was resting on your shoulder. Metal Combat was a fiercely immersive game at the time, and it utilized the Super Scopre brilliantly. I can’t really say much about the controls because, well, it was the Super Scope! Point and shoot, we all know the drill. It was essentially just a very graphically advanced Duck Hunt.

The joy of playing Metal Combat came from the battles. Each stage was a one on one fight with an enemy ST that you had to destroy. The cool thing is that they were fully destructable and you could blow off their arms, legs, weapons, whatever. It was up to you to destroy your enemies in whatever way you wished, which was a very cool change of pace because back in 1993, most gamers were used to just pointing their characters at the enemy and shooting it until it died. Metal Combat moved the bar up substantially for SNES games, and the level of immersion that the destructable bosses provided was awesome.

I’ll always remember the bosses in the game very well. They were very memorable, except for a select few. Garam, Wong, Viscount, and Thanatos will always be remembered fondly by me. Three of those bosses (all except Wong) were featured in the original Battle Clash and were the only returning characters aside from the player’s ST Falcon. That says just how badass and cool they were at the time.

One aspect of Metal Combat that was loads of fun was the two player mode. Yes, this game had a freaking two player mode! The coolest thing about it was the fact that the second player actually played as the boss characters. Now how cool is that? At the time, it felt like the most amazing versus mode in the world to me and I loved playing as the boss characters while my brother or friends would play as one of the protagonist characters (Falcon or Tornado, the latter being unlockable). Viscount was always my favourite, because he seemed like a knight-like mech. He had a badass shield and, instead of a sword, had a powerful cannon that had one of the most devastating attacks in the entire game if it hit properly. I cannot even begin to describe how cool this versus mode was to me back in 1994. In recent years, I’ve played it with friends on emulators. While the challenge of the Super Scope isn’t present, we would still have some incredibly close battles.

There was also a time trial mode, which was pretty enjoyable. Essentially, the player had to play through the bosses and try to better their times on each boss. I eventually got most of the bosses down to being defeated in five to fifteen seconds each. In order to defeat them so quickly, you have to find their weak points. Some bosses make it really obvious, like ST Wong who just has to be hit in the middle once with your most powerful attack. Others, like Garam, often hide their weak points and force you to play a waiting game until they expose it for you, or you could just blast away whatever covers the weak point, which is fun too.

Overall, I have to say that this was by far the best Super Scope game ever developed, and I am shocked that Nintendo has never decided to resurrect the Battle Clash/Metal Combat franchise. The Wii is the perfect console for it, so the fact that this gem remains totally unknown to the newer generations of gamers is a damn shame, it really is. Especially since the developer of the game, Intelligent Systems, still makes games for Nintendo.

I demand a new game in this franchise! Nintendo, do us Metal Combat fans a favour and bring this awesome series back to life!

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Episode 1 (Review)

“A decent game, but a huge disappointment for Sonic fans.”

Before I get this review started, I feel the need to say that I’ve never been a huge Sonic fan. I’ve enjoyed the Sonic games, but I am anything but a nostalgic fan who looks back on the past with rose tinted glasses. I enjoyed the previous Sonic games and, oddly enough, Sonic 2 on the Game Gear was my favourite. All I want to say here is that my views on this game are not clouded by nostalgia. With that out of the way, let’s begin.

It’s been sixteen years since Sonic & Knuckles, which is an awfully long time for a series to go before getting a proper sequel. Sonic’s rival, Mario, even had a rocky return to 2D platform with New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, but the Wii version was significantly better and felt like a proper Mario game. It’s expected that Sonic 4 would be a little rough around the edges, just like Mario was on the DS, but that in no way justifies the quality of this hollow husk of a Sonic game. Sonic 4 suffers from many glaring problems that keep it from being a decent platformer. Pretty much all issues I have with this game are gameplay related, so let’s dive right into what’s wrong with it.

For starters, the graphics are not terribly impressive. I can tell that the graphic artists spent a fair amount of time on them, but the fact of the matter is that the graphics in Sonic 4 lack character, personality, and soul. The graphics look fine, but they evoke no emotions from me. They are remarkably generic looking, which isn’t good for a game that is supposed to be a triumphant return for Sonic the Hedgehog.

To accompany the fairly bland graphics are overly long levels that, honestly, go on longer than they should. I found several levels to be somewhat interesting at the start, but when they drag on for several minutes at a time with no interesting changes? Well, that just gets very dull and repetitive. Some levels made me want to turn the game off because they were so long and boring, but I forced myself to carry on.

What really makes these long levels unenjoyable is the poor level design. Everything just feels really uninspired and mashed together. There’s no coherent point or purpose to anything in every level, and the same obstacles are repeated over and over again. Poor pitfall placement hampers the levels even further, as it is difficult to tell when a hole will lead to another path or to Sonic’s death. There are far too many gigantic, open gaps. Once you are out of the tight corridors, the levels just feel really barren and lifeless.

The difficulty is a bit of an interesting subject. Overall, Sonic 4 is very easy most of the time. I would rack up tons of 1-UPs only to encounter one spot in almost every level (outside of the first zone) that made me lose several of the lives I had earned. I’ve breezed through a few levels only to get through about three quarters of each before I hit some kind of bizarrely difficult spot that kills me several times. It seems unusual to have these difficulty spikes.

Working hand in hand with the difficulty spikes are the game’s enemies. They enemy placement in Sonic 4 is positively dreadful. Many enemies are placed so that you will slam into them at high speeds and lose your rings. Taking into account how fast Sonic moves at times, it’s almost impossible to dodge a lot of enemies your first play through because they literally come out of nowhere. Sonic 4 does not make itself difficult by presenting you with legit challenges that require skill, no. Instead, Sonic 4 makes itself harder by placing enemies and obstacles in unfair locations. The fourth zone is the worst offender, constantly putting things in locations that makes Sonic getting hurt an inevitability.

A few other minor things bother me as well. First is the lack of Knuckles or Tails, which is very unusual. Tails, at the very least, should have been in this game. Instead, all we get is Sonic. Second, the non-linear level select makes Sonic 4 feel like an ordinary budget game by indie developers. You can essentially play any level whenever you want, rather than being forced to play through each level one at a time like in a regular platformer.

That’s a lot of strikes against Sonic 4, and it’s probably very evident that I don’t like this game much. There are a few good things worth mentioning, however!

Boss battles are very simplistic, but I found them to be pretty enjoyable. Last boss aside, they’re not horribly difficult and are somewhat based on older Sonic bosses, so you should have a basic idea as to how to defeat them.

Equally enjoyable are the Lost Labyrinth levels. I can’t say much against them and they were really quite fun, easily standing out against the rest of the zones. The second level of Lost Labyrinth was a little bit on the long side, but overall it was pretty well made. I enjoyed the wealth of puzzles, and it was nice being able to control Sonic more than 40% of the time, since in other zones it seems that Sonic is usually always being pushed, propelled, or shot in various directions. Lost Labyrinth gives the player lots of control and feels more like the classic Sonic games.

Several levels are very replayable for speed runners. In fact, it is encouraged since there is even an achievement that requires you beat the first level in under one minute. I’m not much of a speed runner, but the game has plenty for gamers of that sort to do. That’s definitely a plus for them.

Overall, I feel that this game suffers tremendously from several glaring issues, and I’m shocked at how few innovations there are between Sonic & Knuckles (1994) and Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (2010). If anything, it feels like Sonic 4 took a few steps back. However, there’s still a bit of fun to be hard here, and diehard Sonic fans from the 1990s should enjoy the game.

Final Score

6.6/10