End of the year balance

Well, it looks like another year is finishing and a new one is starting. 2018 was without a doubt a busy year personally and although Retro Freak Reviews has grown in both quality and views, I confess I didn’t post as much reviews as in 2017. But I still think the reviews I posted this year were without a doubt better.

For 2019, I decided to plan ahead and I’m planning not only a new retrospective month for May (let’s see if you can guess the theme this year) but also new reviews of not only famous games that defined PC gaming but also of titles forgotten in the mists of time.

So from all of us here in Retro Freak Reviews, we would like to wish you all a Happy New Year full of happiness and joy.

Happy New Year and keep on playing!

Home Alone DOS review

Well, it’s that time of the year again (not that I’m complaining, mind you). Yuletide, Hanukkah (although that ended past December 10th, I think), Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, St. Nicholas Day, or more commonly known as Christmas, the Winter Solstice celebration is one of the most celebrated holidays of the year (and my personal favorite). And here in Retro Freak Reviews, we decided to review a game based on a movie whose plot just happened to occur during Christmas (which makes it a Christmas-themed game in my book). I’m talking about Home Alone for DOS.

Home Alone (based on the movie of the same title) is an action game developed by Manley & Associates and published by Capstone Software. It was released in 1991 for the Commodore Amiga and DOS.

But as always, let’s first look at the cover:

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And just like most games based on movies, it’s easier to simply put the now iconic movie poster in the box cover, although I do like the little detail “…comes to your computer” added to the sub-title.

But it’s time to boot this wet bandit:

And as you can see, the subtitle “A Family Comedy Without the Family” also appears in the title screen. Then we have a small recap of the game’s story using still images: the McCallister family travels to Florida for Christmas but due to all the rush to catch the flight, they end up forgetting and leaving 8-year-old Kevin behind (which I’m sure any Child Protection agent wouldn’t find funny). And now Kevin is the only line of defense against Harry and Marv, the Wet Bandits, who want to rob Kevin’s house.

The game starts during the movie’s final act, where Kevin must prepare all the traps and then face the bandits by himself. In the first half of the game, Kevin has one hour to prepare the traps (around 20 minutes in real time). To accomplish this, you need to explore the entire house, including the entrance and the basement for any objects that can be used for traps. You’ll know which objects you can grab because they’ll start blinking every time Kevin walks by. However Kevin can only carry up to three objects with him (because he’s only eight).

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The beginning of the game.

To grab objects you simple press F1 (if you’re playing with a keyboard, that is), although sometimes you need to jump to grab objects located above Kevin, then you scroll through the inventory with F2 and finally you use F3 to put the objects in specific places for a trap. When you’re scrolling through the inventory, some yellow crosshairs appear on screen and when Kevin goes near any of these, the crosshairs might turn to an “here” sign with an arrow (if you select the correct object) and then you can press F3 to use the object to create a trap.

You can create some of the traps seen in the movie, like the blowtorch above the door, but you can also create new traps, like using toys on the floor to slow down the bandits. When the clock reaches 9 PM (or when you press N), the bandits arrive, whether you’re ready or not. In the second half, you run around the house armed with your BB gun (if you grabbed it in the first half) thwarting the bandits as they fall for all the traps you’ve planted before. Both Harry and Marv need to reach 50 points of damage each to win the game, but if each of them grabs Kevin, then it’s game over and back to the start.

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Setting up a trap.

Luckily, the notepad located above the main screen informs us where in the house is each bandit located, although there’s no map available. But at least Kevin’s house isn’t too big and can be easily memorised. But when entering a room, if Harry or Marv are right at the door of said room, then they can grab Kevin before you have any time to react. And the BB gun only counts as damage the first time is used against any of the bandits, but it can still be used throughout the second half to temporarily paralyse the bandits, enabling Kevin to run past them. However, you still need to be careful when encountering your own traps, as Kevin can trigger them (although he doesn’t suffer any damage), nullifying the trap. So I suggest jumping over any traps laying around the floor to avoid them.

The game is quite easy to get into but hard to win as the time limit during the first half might not be enough to prepare all the traps you need. If that’s the case, you might as well restart the game. And after winning or losing the game, you can enter your initials in the scoreboard. The score is determined by the number of damage each bandit suffered and the time it took to stop them (if you’ve managed to do so).

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9 o’clock is here and Kevin’s ready to deal some punishment.

The graphics look nice and colourful with somewhat big sprites. The animation, however, could be better. The music isn’t bad, although I recommend playing the game with a Roland MT 32 soundcard (or emulated sound) over the PC Speaker, as the latter sounds horrible. The sound effects are also pretty average, but they get the job done. The keyboard controls are somewhat responsive, however. I’ve only encountered a slight delay when using the BB gun and jumping. Also the control scheme is a bit weird, since it uses the F1, F2 and F3 to manage the inventory during the first half.

So in conclusion, Home Alone for DOS isn’t a bad game and it has its positives, like how easy it is to understand the controls and the gameplay during a first playthrough, but the time limit in the first half and the lack of a map make the game unnecessarily hard. If you’re a fan of the movies or enjoyed the console versions, then you might want to give it a shot. And if you want to play the game on your own browser, then go here.

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Ufff, right in the “pescis”.

I’ve played the Amiga version a little, but from what I’ve seen and experienced, it’s just like the DOS version. The console games, however, were made by different companies and therefore are considered different games, although the majority share the same premise and some gameplay mechanics. But unfortunately I haven’t played those.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this special Christmas review and just to say that this’ll be the last review of the year. I might write a special message before the year ends, however. Until then, keep on playing and have a Happy Christmas, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or simply Happy Winter Holidays.

The Secret of Monkey Island review

Welcome one and welcome all to the second anniversary of Retro Freak Reviews! It’s hard to believe that two years have already passed since I started rumbling about retro computer games. And to celebrate such magnanimous occasion, let’s take a look of one the best graphic adventures ever made (and a personal favorite): The Secret of Monkey Island.

The Secret of Monkey Island is a graphic adventure made by Lucasfilm Games (before changing its name to Lucasarts). It was originally released in 1990 for the Amiga and DOS (both the EGA and the VGA versions). It was re-released the next year for the Atari ST and in 1992 it was ported to the FM Towns, Macintosh and the SEGA CD/MEGA CD. Also in 1992 it was re-released in CD-ROM format for DOS.

Both the FM Towns and the CD-ROM versions featured an updated interface and CD Audio quality music tracks but no speech whatsoever.

And as always, let’s first look at the cover:

43341-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-front-coverThis is probably one of the most famous video game covers of all times and I can see why. It’s colorful, full of great imagery (that actually appears in the game) and it could perfectly be a book cover or a movie poster. It’s that good! The only nitpick I might have is that someone might get the idea of this being a serious game. But a closer look at the use of bright colors at least give the impression of a light-hearted game, in my opinion.

But it’s time to boot this scallywag:

As you can see in the video, you take the role of Guybrush Threepwood (not the weirdest name you’ll find throughout the game), a wannabe pirate who travels to Mêlée Island (somewhere in Caribbean Sea) in order to become a full fledged pirate during the Golden Age of Piracy. And during that particular quest, he finds himself embroiled in a ghost story that will take him to the eponymous Monkey Island.

The gameplay is just like all the other Lucasarts’ SCUMM graphic adventures: the main screen where the action occurs and the bottom screen where you can find all the action commands and the inventory. To perform any action, you simply click in a command, then click in any object on the main screen and/or in your inventory. If you’re familiar with any point-and-click graphic adventure, this interface is quite intuitive and the mechanics are just like in any other such game: grab whatever object isn’t nailed down to the ground (or if it is, find a way to unnail it) and use the objects with people or other objects in order to solve the puzzles or to get more objects (to solve other puzzles).

The FM Towns and CD-ROM version feature a graphic inventory with icons instead of words that would later be used in the Special Edition of the game.

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The very first line in the game and our hero’s initial motivation.

The first thing you’ll notice when playing (apart from the graphics and the excellent music) is the tongue-in-cheek humour. From puns to anagrams to physical humour, The Secret of Monkey Island is widely famous for his irreverent comedy. And using a sea pirates theme, somehow makes it more funny (and no, this isn’t a parody of Sid Meier’s Pirates, although I understand the confusion since both games were inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean park ride). My favorite part of the game is the sword fighting, which instead of programming simple fighting mechanics, introduces a witty insult system where you have to not only learn insults but also the correct responses to each specific insult (I still remember most of the insults and respective replies to this day).

The puzzles can be slightly tricky (especially the ones involving puns) but with some trial and error, you shouldn’t have much trouble solving them because it’s impossible to get stuck in any situation where you can’t backtrack for a necessary object to progress. Everytime you start a new act, you should already have some of the objects needed and the rest are located in that specific act. Which brings us to next thing you’ll notice: there’s also virtually no game over! And apart from a very specific situation (in which you’ll have to actively pursuit it in order to happen), it’s impossible to kill Guybrush. Ron Gilbert (the game’s main designer) said that he wanted The Secret of Monkey Island to be more focused on the story, characters and exploration than in the gameplay or the puzzles. And although this practice was originally introduced in Loom, it become a common feature in most Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

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The SCUMM Bar.

Another feature that was originally introduced in this game is the ability to select several different responses (that range from common to funny) during dialogues. And each different response will elicit a different reply with whoever Guybrush is talking to (most of the time at least). It makes the game a bit more varied and replayable as most players tend to choose different responses in subsequent playthroughs just to see all the different reactions from the characters.

The humour, like I said, is the true highlight of the game. From the dialogue, to the physical humour, to the puns, to the references to other Lucasarts’ titles, to the zaniness; The Secret of Monkey Island oozes with comedy throughout and I challenge anyone to play this game with a serious face. It’s impossible, I tell you! The comedic gameplay is also another Lucasarts’ trademark since Maniac Mansion and most, if not all, Lucasarts’ graphic adventures would continue that tradition.

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Guybrush meeting some seemingly important-looking pirates.

Now with the technical aspects. The graphics, whether you’re playing in EGA or VGA, are gorgeous and very well detailed and the animation is extremely fluid. And the character sprites, especially during the closeups are incredible (although both me and Ron Gilbert prefer the original EGA closeups over the realistic VGA ones. They mesh better with the rest of the game). The first two acts might not look very colourful (that’s because they occur during nighttime) but the rest of the game (especially the second half of the game) it’s more colourful. The music is another great highlight of the game, whether you’re playing it with an Adlib or MT-32 soundcards, or even with a PC-Speaker, the music is simply memorable. My personal favorite tracks are the title theme and the SCUMM Bar theme. The sound effects are also quite good, especially if you’re playing the CD-ROM version with a Soundblaster soundcard.

Like I said before, the point-and-click mouse interface is very easy to use and intuitive. Even if you’ve never played a graphic adventure before, it’s extremely easy to pick it up and understand its mechanics and interface. With five acts, the game is more or less long (it depends on well you play it), although I personally think that the last two acts are a bit short by comparison.

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Sword fighting!

In conclusion, I’m going to join the masses and proclaim The Secret of Monkey Island one of the best graphic adventures af all times! From the humour, the memorable characters and dialogue lines (“Look behind you! A three-headed monkey!”), the graphics, the incredible music, the puzzles, etc. The Secret of Monkey Island is a true classic that is not only a great introduction to the genre but it’s still a very influential game. Lucasarts stroke pure gold with this one and cemented their position as a powerhouse among videogame developers. Needless to say that I highly recommend it.

The Amiga version has better music and sound effects, although it doesn’t look quite as colorful as the VGA DOS version and the Macintosh version adds a filter that smooths the rough edges around the sprites. Still I think the DOS CD-ROM version is the ultimate original version of the game (Monkey Island fans still argue to this day which is the best version).

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Finally arriving at Monkey Island.

The Secret of Monkey Island was remade in 2009 for Windows, iPhone and Xbox 360 and the following year for Playstation 3, iPad, Browser and Macintosh as a Special Edition. You can buy it here in Steam. It simply updates the interface and the graphics, adding speech and new sprites while maintaining the gameplay and everything else. Some fans don’t like the new art direction but I personally think that it meshes well with the game’s humour. And if you want to play with the original VGA graphics you can simply press F10 anytime during the game to switch to those graphics. Or you can go here to download a program that allows you to play the original VGA version with the speech from the Special Edition (A great shoutout to my friend Florin who told me about this).

This game spawned a quite popular series that peaked with the second title, Lechuck’s Revenge, despite a small controversy (which we’ll tackle on when we’ll review it).

So, what did you think of the anniversary so far? I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and please share your thoughts in the comment section below or on our social media. Until then, keep on buccaneering and playing!