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.

Speedball review

One of the most famous developer studios from the late 80s and early 90s was The Bitmap Brothers. If you had a Commodore Amiga, you know what I’m talking about. The Bitmap Brothers is one of those studios that started small but valued quality over quantity which resulted in fantastic games and a rockstar fame among video game companies. Perhaps one day I’ll write a retrospective about them. But today, we’re going to take a look at one of their earliest games: Speedball.

Speedball is a futuristic action/sports game developed by The Bitmap Brothers and published by Image Works. It was originally released in 1988 for the Amiga, DOS and Atari ST and re-released the next year for the Commodore 64. In 1990, it was ported to the Sega Master System and the following year to the NES (as KlashBall). And in 2013, the Amiga version was ported to the BlackBerry.

But as always, let’s first take a look at the covers:

52003-speedball-atari-st-front-coverThis is the European cover and it nails down the futuristic sports imagery perfectly, with the player’s gear full of spikes and the blood splatters all over the stadium field floor. It conveys perfectly what the game’s about, but the artwork could be better.

242973-speedball-dos-front-coverThis is the US cover and I think is a lot better. It conveys the brutal, futuristic sport part even better, but the spikes and the violence are definitely toned down. Still, the quality of the artwork is way better and more colorful.

194416-speedball-nes-front-coverThis is the NES cover and as you can see, they’ve put back some the spikes and a bit of the violence too. It’s also a pretty cool looking cover but I have no idea why they changed the title.

236442-speedball-sega-master-system-front-coverNow this one’s the Sega Master System cover and as you can see, it’s definitely the most brutal one. They’ve doubled the spikes and the blood on this one and it could perfectly be a death metal album cover.

But as always, it’s time to boot this sucker:

As you can see, Speedball features a pretty cool title screen, with the fist coming through the screen and then we have the main menu screen with a fist constantly pounding his own leg, just to reinforce how hardcore this game is. In the menu screen, you have several options: you can either play against a friend or against the AI. The single-player options are League and Knockout. League is your typical league gameplay where you face down against other ten teams for points and you can also choose its duration. The more matches you win, the more points you have. Knockout is more akin to a cup tournament, where you face the other teams in a best out of three matches against each team in direct elimination style (you need to win two matches against each team in order to move on to the next round).

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“Pounding it. Pounding it. Pounding it.” – Jim Sterling

After choosing which mode to play, you then have three teams to choose from along with the portraits of their respective captain and the stats below. There are only three major stats: Stamina, Power and Skill. Stamina is the energy each player has to tackle other players and to shoot the ball. It goes down everytime one of your players is tackled by an opponent; Power is the force each player employs when tackling an opponent, the stronger your player is, the more stamina the other player will lose when tackled; and Skill is used when performing any action, the higher it is, the more chances your player has in performing said action, whether it’s tackling other players or shooting the ball. Power seems to be the most important stat in the game because the AI tends to perform better when controlling teams with high power.

And then we finally get to the match. Speedball is sort of a no-holds-barred handball sport, played in a top down view, with teams of five players. The objective is, of course, to score goals, but you can tackle any other player to get the ball or to avoid them getting the ball (except for the goalies). There are also black bumps randomly distributed throughout the field where the ball can ricochet, as well as the field’s walls. There are even are two openings in the midfield that when the ball is shot through one, it comes out the other one in the opposite side of the wall (like in Pac-Man). With practice, you can make awesome trick shots that’ll dazzle your opponent (especially if you’re playing against a friend).

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There are also bonus items that appear randomly throughout the match that when touched by any player, it’ll have several different effects on the gameplay, from freezing the opponents for a short period of time to electrify the ball, turning it into a throwing weapon, among others. You can also collect coins during the matches and if enough are collected, you can have several choices at the end of each match that’ll affect the next match, from bribing the ref or the official to downgrade the opponents’ stats, among others. It would be better if we had this option at the start of each match, because it’s near impossible to predict if the next opponent will be strong or weak.

Now for the technical aspects, I have to say that the EGA graphics are quite good. Although the game isn’t very colorful, the sprites are however very detailed. The animation is okay, nothing spectacular, but quite serviceable for such a fast-paced game, but the game tends to slow down if there are many players on screen at once. And also the music themes are very good, despite having a PC-speaker quality (press F3 to enable the music), but the sound effects are mediocre. The control scheme is quite simple but it gets a bit used to, whether you’re playing with the keyboard or a joystick (I personally recommend the joystick), but after a while, I didn’t had much problems controlling the players. And like I said before, the AI performs better the stronger the team is, so the difficulty changes a lot from match to match.

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So in conclusion, Speedball is a fun game to play, whether alone or against a friend. Sure, it has its flaws (like the slowdowns or the random difficulty), but I had fun playing it. A difficulty select option would be much appreciated, among some other small tweaks. If you like fast-paced action sports games that are very easy to get into, then I recommend this one. If you want to try it for yourself, then go here to play it in your own browser.

Speedball, according to its devs, was based on the 1975 movie Rollerball (but it’s not an official adaptation of) and it shows, right down to the spikes (but not the roller skates nor the bikes). The Amiga version not only has better graphics but also digitized sound effects and music, although the controls remain the same and the AI’s more polished, resulting in a harder difficulty.

Speedball received critical acclaim and it was very successful among the public (as with almost every Bitmap Brothers’ title). But it was quickly surpassed by its vastly superior sequel (which we’ll review in a later date).

So, do you prefer Speedball or its sequel? Tell me in the comment section below or on our social media. Next time, we’re going to continue exploring the future. Until then, avoid any spikes in your clothes and keep on playing.

Commander Keen episodes 2 and 3 review

Blimey, it’s been a while hasn’t it? OK, first things first, I’d like to apologise for the absence, mostly due to personal stuff and some profesional stuff here and there. To make up for it, I’ll review two games in one go (well, more like two parts of one game). Time to protect the galaxy with Commander Keen!

Commander Keen: The Earth Explodes and Commander Keen: Keen Must Die! are action-platform games developed by id Software and published by Apogee. They were originally released in 1990 for DOS along with Commander Keen: Marooned on Mars. All three episodes would be re-released as a bundle called Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons in 1991, also for DOS.

Usually this is the part where we look at the cover art, but since both episodes were sold by mail (the first episode was distributed free, as per shareware practices), there isn’t any cover art per se.

So let’s jump right ahead and boot this intergalactic sucker:

Episode 2 starts right where Episode 1 ends, with the Vorticon Mothership around Earth’s orbit with its main guns pointed at eight of Earth’s main cities. Keen must infiltrate the ship and destroy those guns, one at a time. And just like Episode 1, you start in an overhead map where you take control of Keen and travel through the ship and access the levels to progress (hint: pay attention to the symbols above each level entrance).

And just like Episode 1, you don’t have to play through every level, you only need to play the ones that give you access to more areas of the ship and the ones where the guns are located. The other levels are optional. The extra levels have more enemies yes, but also more bonus items (also you can get helpful hints if you know where to look). You can pick up several items for points and gain extra lives when you reach a certain number of points (like in most retro platform games) and the keycards to unlock doors to progress.

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Take that, you filthy alien!

You also need to collect pistols as ammo to fight the enemies (at least those that can be destroyed). Your weapon even gets a new sprite (the backstory explains it as a Vorticon gun, more powerful than your previous raygun), which also explains how the last game’s final boss is now a regular enemy that can be killed with just one shot. You also start the game with the pogo stick you collected at the beginning of Episode 1, which doubles your jumping capability.

The enemies are all new (apart from the returning Vorticons), but there seems to be a less variety of enemies, although their difficulty range from easy to hard. However, unlike the previous game, there isn’t any bosses (although some of the later levels have an abundance of the harder enemies, but that’s about it). I particularly abhor the Vorticon Elite soldiers and Youths.

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In here you need to disable the weapon without activating it.

Also since Episode 2 happens inside a spaceship, all the level design is more of less the same, although their layout changes a bit. In fact, the majority of the levels look smaller in comparison with the levels of Episode 1 and also all look alike (again with the context of the game occurring inside a spaceship, which makes sense). But there isn’t any more labyrinth levels like in the previous episode and less doors to unlock (yet again, it makes sense for a spaceship layout to be simple to navigate through).

So let’s move to Episode 3. I’ll come back to Episode 2 later on the conclusion:

After destroying the Vorticon Mothership weapons, it returns defeated to the Vorticon home planet, Vorticon VI, where Keen must go to confront the Vorticons’ leader, The Grand Intellect, and stop the Vorticon invasion once and for all (needless to say that all the Vorticons are expecting him, hence the title Keen Must Die!)

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The first thing you’ll notice different from the other episodes, is the title screen, where it depicts Vorticon VI’s surface. That’s right, we’re back to exploring another planet, but this time, the level design and layout absolutely change to reflect that. Gone are the small and visually similar rooms from the last episode and back are the large and labyrinth levels, the secret level and a final boss battle like in the first episode. But we also get new stuff, like new and harder enemies, a bigger variety of such and new items (like separate ammo for your weapon and ankhs that give you temporary invincibility, represented by a shield around Keen).

The overhead map is somewhat similar to the one in Episode 1 with cities, towns and forts that serve as the game’s levels (including a secret, much harder level). And just like in the previous episodes, you don’t have to play every level, you can just play the ones that give you access to new areas where the final boss is located (although I recommend doing some of the extra levels in order to collect extra points and lives because the final boss battle is hard).

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A Vorticon city.

Now about the technical aspects and since all three episodes were made together, all the animation, graphics, sound, controls and gameplay are all the same throughout the three episodes and I’ve already review those back in my Episode 1 review. And again I recommend playing with a joystick or gamepad, although the keyboard controls are equally good.

Personally though, I think Episode 2 might be the weakest of all three episodes, due to the low variety of enemies and the small size and complexity of some of its levels, while Episode 3 might just be the best one due to the new features and visuals, although some of its later levels don’t have the best layout (I think they’re were rushed to meet the deadlines).

But I don’t recommend one episode in particular. Instead I highly recommend the entire trilogy as a very solid and fun platformer, despite its few flaws here and there. You can buy the entire trilogy here on Steam along with Episodes 4 and 5.

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Vorticon VI’s surface.

Now I would like to add some more links for you to explore in order to increase your Commander Keen experience:

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. Of course this isn’t our final Commander Keen review. We still have more games to play and review. Comment below or in any of my social media what is your favourite Commander Keen game. Until then, keep on playing and protecting the galaxy.