Christmas Carnage review

Well, I bet you all know what time of the year it is. Happy Winter Solstice for you all! What? I’m sure not all of my viewers celebrate Christmas like I do, but everybody deserves season greetings anyway. And talking about Christmas, I’ve decided to take a look at one of the weirdest Christmas-themed games I’ve ever played, Christmas Carnage!

Christmas Carnage (AKA Xmas Carnage) is a FPS made by German company Soft Enterprises and released in 1994 for DOS. Not to be confused with the freeware game with the same title, made by John Dondzila and released a year later.

Soft Enterprises made this game to showcase their new graphical engine,the VR-6 3D Engine, at the Computer 94 Fair at Cologne, Germany.

And it was released in a CD sleeve with this cover:

13256-xmas-carnage-dos-back-cover

Merry freaking Christmas, indeed.

I think everybody gets a good idea of what this game is about just by looking at the cover. And, as you’ll see, although the game doesn’t have this graphic quality, one can’t deny is kind of a cool looking image, albeit a gruesome one.

But it’s time to open this gift and boot it:

As you can see, the game is entirely in German. But since it’s an action game, you don’t actually need to read a lot of German to play it (unless you’re messing with the setup). And as one can also see, this is nothing more than a Doom clone (albeit with some weird and gruesome concepts). The story, as far as I can see, you’re playing as the Easter Bunny, who’s going through a Grinch phase and decides to ruin Christmas. But Santa Claus isn’t having it, so he dispatches his elves, snowmen and angels (among others) to try and stop him. Yes, this is one the earlier games where you actually play as the bad guy.

238694-xmas-carnage-dos-screenshot-main-menu
That’s one mean looking angel.

In order to survive, you start with an axe, but later on you can get better weapons, like pistols, M-16, grenades and a rocket launcher. The game is divided in five levels, which aren’t very big, but designed in such a way, that without the automap power-up (which I highly recommend getting at the beginning of the game), you’ll be easily lost.

This game is notoriously hard (even in the easiest setting) because of 2 factors: 1st, there’s quite a lack of health items throughout the levels and 2nd, the majority of the enemies are literal bullet sponges. They can take a lot of punishment before going down. And in the harder settings, you simply have more enemies to kill.

250344-xmas-carnage-dos-screenshot-so-i-say-to-the-other-snowman

Time to blast a cap at Frosty.

Graphically speaking, the VR-6 engine is superior to the Wolfenstein 3D engine, with lighting effects and the capability to view up and down. But it doesn’t measure up to Doom, which was released a year before. And while I do like the lighting effects (there are some levels with really good shadows), I hate the sprites of some of the later enemies.

Some of the MIDI themes aren’t bad, albeit grating after a while. And the sound effects are average at best. The animation isn’t bad either, but it could be better. I recommend playing it in a fast computer or in a fast-cycled Dosbox.

Like I said before, the gameplay is extremely hard and sometimes your hits don’t connect well with the enemies for some reason. Especially at long distances. The level design can be very labyrinthic and the later indoor levels look very similar between them, graphically-wise. But I must confess, there’s still a good variety of enemies and the game has a somewhat scary atmosphere for its holiday theme at how the lighting and the shadows are employed.

250345-xmas-carnage-dos-screenshot-come-on-i-ll-take-you-on

For those who hate Elf in a Shelf, this is your moment.

Apart from all this, it’s still your run-to-the-mill Doom clone, where you kill everyone on sight and collect keys to open doors. It’s not very good, but I’ve seen worse. I just wish it was easier to maintain the joke, because the harsh difficulty curtails the dark humour and fun this game might have brought. Still, if you’re looking for a weird Christmas experience and you’re a classic FPS fan who doesn’t mind the high difficulty, then you might want to give it a shot. You can even play it here, in your own browser.

Soft Enterprises then made one more game with this engine, The Hidden Below, which I might review for another day.

So, what’s your favourite Christmas game? Tell me below in the comments, in our Facebook page or on our Twitter feed.

Well, this is the last review of the year. I know that 2017 was a very busy year but I like to believe I wrote some great reviews here and there. I just hope that 2018 will be even better! So, have a great Christmas (even if you don’t celebrate it) with lot of presents, be it retro or modern, and a Happy New Year! Until then, watch out for the Easter Bunny and keep on playing! See you all in 2018!

California Games II review

Does anyone here knows what day is today? Yes, I know it’s Thursday, November 16th and also Tolerance Day in the US, but it’s also Retro Freak Reviews’ 1 YEAR ANNIVERSARY, BABY! Cue the balloons and the confetti! Well, this is a written article in a blog, but imagine me writing this surrounded by balloons and confetti, wearing a party hat. Perhaps. Likely.

Anyway, to celebrate this magnanimous  occasion, I decided to honor my first review, but then I couldn’t find any game similar to Alley Cat, so then I decided to honor my second review, California Games by reviewing its sequel, California Games II.

California Games II is a sports games made by Epyx and originally released in 1990 for DOS. It was ported in 1992 to the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST and the Super Nintendo/SNES. In 1993, it was ported to the Sega Master System.

After the enormous success of California Games, Epyx decided to capitalize on that success by making a sequel. But does it manage to live up to it? Let’s find out. But first let’s take a look at the covers, shall we?

10292-california-games-ii-dos-front-cover

This is the original cover and it’s in the same vein as the previous game’s cover, with a photo of some beach-goers standing in front of a beach, representing some of the events featured in the game. And just like the previous game’s cover, it also features a bikini-clad blond girl. But, this time it makes sense, because you can actually find a blonde bikini-clad girl in the main menu screen.

22987-california-games-ii-sega-master-system-front-cover

This is the Master System cover and for some reason it features (or at least, it looks like) a realistic drawing of the previous photo cover. Why a drawing (if it’s really a drawing) instead of an actual photo, I have no idea.

61004-california-games-ii-snes-front-cover

This is the Super Nintendo/SNES cover and again, I have no idea why it features a similar photo with different models, but at least it looks better than the original cover, albeit with the same poses and clothes. If you’re going to do something remotely different, why not go all the way and make it totally different?

Anyway, time to boot this gromet (whatever that is):

As you can see, the intro is very similar to the original with the return of the car license plate but the title theme isn’t as memorable. However, I have to give Epyx props for the main menu, which is entirely original and different from the traditional menu screens. How different it is, you ask? Why, instead of a row of options, it features our beach-goers on the beach surrounded by extreme sport equipment and a convertible VW Beetle (which isn’t featured in any event because this isn’t a driving game). You then control a seagull which hops around each person or equipment (to access the event it represents in practice mode), the Beetle’s license plate (to access the technical options, like sound and graphics) or two signs in each side of the lower screen (left to access the competition mode and right to exit back to DOS).

So, you use the seagull to choose which event you want to practice and right here, you can see the 1st problem this game has in comparison with the previous one: it only features 5 events, while the previous featured 6. And none of the previous events return. In this sequel, you compete in all new events, which I’ll proceed to analyze one by one:

glide_000

Hang-gliding: here you control a girl using a hang-glider and you have to first launch it, then try to stay on the air as much as possible while performing stunts and hit the targets available with water balloons, within the two minutes limit. The more stunts you make and the more targets you hit, the more points you get. This is the hardest event for me, because the hang-glider is very hard to control and you have to find the right thermal currents to stay in the air (which you can’t see, obviously).

7716-california-games-ii-dos-screenshot-try-and-stay-between-the

Jet Ski: This is perhaps the easiest event. You control another girl riding a jet ski through several courses. First, you choose which jet ski to ride, then your time limit and finally which course to compete. The objective is to ride your jet ski as fast as possible, while staying inside the course, until you reach the time limit. The faster you go, the more points you get, but only if you stay within the courses’ limits (the red and yellow buoys). The final course even has some ramps to jump and floating bottles to grab for extra points. I haven’t found any difference between the several jet skis available, except aesthetically. After trying all courses (and the ramp jumps), this event becomes quickly boring. It should have been made into a race instead of a time trial event (but then again, we would have ended with a game all on it’s own).

396827-california-games-ii-dos-screenshot-downhill-mcga-vga

Snowboarding: This is perhaps the most complete event in the game. First you control an helicopter and have to get to the mountain (and even land on top of it) and drop our snowboarder on the slope, who then proceeds to slide down the mountain slope avoiding obstacles and doing stunts. The mountain slope is divided in 3 sections: the snowy top, called the Black Diamond, is full of obstacles and cliffs to jump and avoid, a U-shaped rink called the Snowbowl, where you can perform all types of stunts (similar to the skateboard event from the previous game) and a grassy slope (snowboarding on the grass? Really?!) called the Obstacle Course, where there’s even more obstacles than the Black Diamond. After finishing the last section, you arrive at the starting beach and all the points will be added. That is, if you don’t fall more than 4 times in the 1st and last sections (there’s no penalty in the Snowbowl). The most interesting part, is that you can launch the snowboarder at whatever section you want to start, but you won’t get as many points if you skip any section.

7718-california-games-ii-dos-screenshot-do-some-tricks-in-the-tube

Bodyboarding: Another fun event, somewhat similar to the Surfing event from the 1st game. In this, you start on top of a pier and then fall to the water. Then you have to catch a wave and do all sort of stunts without wiping out. But the event continues after the wave breaks because then you have to ride the wave all the way to the beach by avoiding swimmers and other obstacles. And you can’t fail one single time because if you do, only your board arrives at the beach.

581838-california-games-ii-dos-screenshot-start-skate

Skateboarding: Unlike in the previous game, this time you skateboard inside an empty aqueduct which you have to complete by going inside the pipes and do all types of stunts. You can only fall on your face 4 times but if you hit face-first into a pipe wall or fall out of the aqueduct, it’s an automatic game-over (and quite a dramatic one, since you end up pushing up daisies).

The problem with reviewing a sequel is that, as much as you try, it’s almost impossible to avoid comparisons with the previous titles, but a sequel is suppose to, at least, have the same level of quality as the 1st game, especially if it was very popular. And California Games II pales in comparison with the 1st game. The 1st mistake was, as I said before, reducing the number of events available. And the 2nd mistake was not bring back the popular events from the previous game and improve them. Instead Epyx decided to use all-new events. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the snowboarding, the bodyboarding and the new skateboarding events, but the other two felt incomplete and boring.

snow_001

Aren’t these people cold on top of a snowy mountain?

The competition mode is just like in the previous game, which features a tournament up to eight players in hot-seat (one player at a time), in which you can choose to compete from one to all the events. But this time there aren’t any teams or sponsors. Each player competes on his/her own. And there is also a top score table in which only the best players’ names are shown.

The graphics and animation were definitely improved and I do like some of the screens (especially the menu screen). The music and the sound-effects were also good, but not as memorable. But the controls, this time around, weren’t as tight, either it was playing with a gamepad or with the keyboard. The humour is still present, including the “radical” speech, but not as often. There is, however, more dark humour moments (especially in the death scenes) that some sensitive players might not enjoy (and since I have a twisted sense of humour, I did enjoy).

skate_000

Major bummer, dude.

In general, California Games II gameplay and appeal isn’t as good as in the 1st game and even on its own, it’s a pretty mediocre game. If you enjoyed California Games, you’ll be quite disappointed by this sequel. This game had so little success that it killed any prospects of continuing the series. However, if you enjoy extreme sports in general, you might want to give it a shot by clicking here and enjoy it in your own browser.

So, do you like videogames depicting extreme sports? If so, what are your favorites (apart from the Tony Hawk series)? Tell me below in the comments, in our Facebook page or in our Twitter feed. Next time, we’ll take a look at a genre most common on consoles and arcade and how only recently has fared well on the PC. Until then, keep on shredding, dudes and dudettes!

Castle Wolfenstein review

One of the longest and most successful franchises in videogame history is without a doubt the Wolfenstein series, whose latest title, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has already met a lot of success, despite its recent “controversy” (since when killing Nazis is considered bad?!). But today, we’re going to take a look at the first game of the series which, believe it or not, IT ISN’T Wolfenstein 3D, but actually Castle Wolfenstein.

Castle Wolfenstein (also known as Wolfenstein 2D by the fans) is an action game made by Muse Software and it was originally released in 1981 for the Apple II computer. It was ported in 1983 for the Commodore 64 and Atari 8-bit computers and in 1984 for DOS.

But before we take a look at the game, let’s look at the covers first, shall we?

206172-castle-wolfenstein-apple-ii-front-cover

This is the original Apple II cover and it’s quite average, to say the least. Just some soldier running towards the screen with a castle in the back. Nothing special and quite monochromatic except for the background. The manual has an orange background with gives the impression of a sunset. It looks more like a paperback cover than a videogame cover.

167013-castle-wolfenstein-atari-8-bit-front-cover

This cover is a bit more colorful and while I enjoy the title and the art in the upper part, the soldier below has an awkward pose. A bit better than the previous cover but not by much. At least it looks like a proper videogame cover.

Well, it’s time to boot this kraut:

As you can see, the title screen is a pixelated reproduction of the second cover and actually, I think it looks better than the cover itself. Then you get to the main menu where it shows some options available and your rank in the corner.

According to the manual, you’re an unnamed Allied soldier that was captured by the Nazis during WWII and taken to the dungeons of the eponymous Castle Wolfenstein to be interrogated. There, a dying prisoner gives you a pistol with ten bullets in it and you’re able to escape your cell. The game starts just outside the cell, near some stairs to the next floor. You have two objectives: the first is to obviously escape the castle and the second is to recover the Nazi war plans hidden somewhere inside the castle.

cw_000

The better to blow you up!

You start with the rank of Private and have 7 more ranks, which corresponds to the difficulty levels. To advance in the first couple of ranks, you only need to escape the castle, but for the rest, you need to find the war plans before escaping or you won’t be promoted to the next rank. And if you die throughout the game, it’s back to rank of Private.

Every time you start a new game, the castle will be randomly generated, with 5 floors and a total of sixty rooms/screens. You start in one such screen, with usually two guards nearby and probably some chests. You also carry a pistol with ten bullets. If the guards aren’t in direct line of sight of you, they won’t see you, so you’ll need to move fast before they do. There two types of guards: the grunts, who have a swastika insignia and the SS Stormtroopers, who carry a green bulletproof vest with a SS insignia in them. The grunts usually take just one bullet to kill them and don’t follow you from screen to screen, while the Stormtroopers take a lot more bullets to kill (or in higher ranks, a grenade) and they’ll follow you from screen to screen.

cw_002

Surrounded by enemies

You can either avoid the soldiers, shoot them or run towards them with your gun pointed to them, to which they’ll surrender (by holding their hands up). If a soldier surrenders or is killed, you can search them for ammo, vests or keys. You automatically take the vests and keys, but you can only take the bullets if you happen to have less bullets than him. Afterwards, you can shoot him, which is recommended because the moment you stop pointing your gun at him, he’ll try to capture you. If any soldier touches you, you’ll be captured but you can also be killed if obviously shot by them. Whether you’re captured or killed, you’ll return to first screen, however any soldiers you’ll killed and every chest you’ve opened so far, will remain so.

There are several chests available and I highly recommend you open every one of them, because not only one of them contains the war plans, but they’ll also contain ammo, vests and uniforms, which will be invaluable to continue playing. But they can also be empty or contain alcoholic drinks (which if drunk, can mess with your aim), German sausages (which eaten, can counter the alcohol), medals, cannonballs and other red herrings that have no real purpose to the game. But what you can’t find in the chests are keys, which only the guards carry. And you do need the keys to open the several doors you’ll find in order to get access to other parts of the castle. Or you can always use grenades to blow up doors and walls, but those tend to do a lot of noise and draw unnecessary attention.

cw_004

Don’t be saur, kraut!

To open the chests, you only need to point your gun at them and press the spacebar (you force the chests open at gunpoint?!). The chests can take a few seconds up to three minutes to open, which can be boring after a while in an action game (hint: if you keep your space-bar pressed while waiting, the timer moves faster). You can always shoot the chests’ lock to open them instantly, but that can attract the attention of any guards around or if the chest contains explosives (grenades or cannonballs), you’ll end up blowing up the castle (and you). The most useful items you can find inside the chests are the bulletproof vests (which will make you harder to kill) and the uniforms, that can almost break the game.

Every time you put on a Nazi soldier uniform, the game gets a lot easier because every grunt you encounter afterwards, won’t bat an eye when you pass by them. You can walk around with any worries, opening every chest and even walk out the castle without any trouble. However, there’s a catch: your disguise can be blown if you point or fire your gun at a guard, throw a grenade or if a Stormtrooper sees you. It breaks the game at the lower ranks but in higher ranks (where Stormtroopers are more common), it becomes essential to finish the game.

cw_003

“I hate Illinois Nazis”

But what really shines throughout is the proto-stealth elements. The guards aren’t aware of you unless you’re in their direct line-of-sight or if you shoot your gun near them or throw a grenade, making noise and drawing their attention. So you can sneak behind them and point your gun (or shoot) at them. It isn’t real stealth mechanics, but Castle Wolfenstein (among others) helped develop and popularise these mechanics in later games.

The graphics and animation are on par with any other early-80s computer game (the original Apple II version has better graphics and more color). But the sound effects are superb. It even has digitised voices. On a PC-speaker! Although the voice samples aren’t the best (and in German), the fact that they exist in a game this old is remarkable! But alas, this game lacks any music whatsoever. There’s not even a title theme. I suggest listening to the Inglorious Basterds or Captain America: The First Avenger soundtracks while playing.

But for me, the only bad part of the game is the control scheme. I couldn’t play with my gamepad, so I was forced to play with the keyboard and although the controls themselves are responsive, the control scheme is quite awkward, using several keys, including two sets of directional keys: one to control the character in eight different directions and another to point your gun also in eight different directions, plus other keys for more miscellaneous actions. And you can’t remap them or use the arrow keys.

629640-castle-wolfenstein-dos-screenshot-hande-hoch

Hands up!

Castle Wolfenstein isn’t your typical action game because it requires a slower progression. You won’t win it by shooting at anything that moves (like in Wolfenstein 3D). You have to move slowly and pick your fights carefully, especially since you can only carry a maximum of ten bullets and three grenades. It has a surprisingly amount of depth for an early-80s action game, which might not be recommended for gamers who prefer fast paced action. But I do recommend it for gamers who like slow, methodical action.

Castle Wolfenstein had the necessary success for Muse Software to make a sequel and for Id Software to remake the series into the first FPS title, effectively creating the genre and making the series popular. If you want to give it a shot, then you can go here to play it in your own browser.

So, do you like WWII themed games? If so, what are your favorites? Also, what do you think of Wolfenstein II? Does it resemble more the Muse titles or the FPS games? Let me know by commenting below, in our Facebook page or in our Twitter feed. Next time, it’s our first anniversary! And we’ll celebrate it by looking at a sequel of one of the first games I reviewed here. Until then, go kill some more Nazis and keep on playing!