Activision’s Shanghai II – Review (Old Computer Game)

If there is a secret formula for success in creating an “ultimate” computer game for any given genre, Activision may have latched onto it. One can almost peer into the minds of the creative team which spawned Shanghai II. With the success in 30 different formats of their 1986 classic, Shanghai (with total sales of over 500,000 units), how could so successful a game ever be trumped?

This reviewer believes he has discovered the secret formula used by the creative team which created Shanghai II. There is no doubt that it all started with a meeting of the creative minds at Activision. Relax now and imagine them sitting around the conference table, brainstorming…. “Well, let’s include some new tile sets. Like the ones on all the BBS networks.” (They did. Beautiful VGA graphics  present tile sets which are both artful and amusing. Different sets include playing cards; fantasy with all of the men, monsters and armor; sports; “wooden block” letters and numbers just right for youngsters; flags of the world; animals; and the stylistic Hanfuda design. Each of these different sets of tiles has its own unique qualities which do not always directly translate to the suits of crak, barn, and coin (plus winds, season, flowers and dragons) of the original Mah Jongg tile set.
Fortunately, fully illustrated on-line tile set information is there to explain these nuances with but the click of the mouse, so as to assist players in determining matches. Unfortunately, there is no easy way for players to “create their own” tile sets, but that didn’t stop all of the players of the original Shanghai, now, did it?) “Wait, we can do better than just make more tile sets. Let’s animate them, too!” (They did. Remove a pair of cats and the claw marks slash across the tile. Remove the One of Coins and it drops down a swirling well. The seasons change, the winds blow, fans open and close, fish splash  about, the crowd cheers at football, and the dragons come to life. While not every tile is animated, enough are present to add true spice to the play of Shanghai II. The animations are mercifully short, dispersed enough to avoid becoming a nuisance and compelling enough to make onlookers stare on into the monitor well beyond their normal attention span. Shanghai II, like Wing Commander, has excellent “over the shoulder” draw to it.) ‘And sound. Don’t forget about sound support.

Some nice music, some ‘take away’ tile sounds, you know…?” (It’s got those, too. Unfortunately, we’ve heard complaints from others of, and ourselves experienced, a buzzing sound when playing on AdLib and Sound Blaster cards. Since sounds were one of the last things added to the game before its release, the rush work becomes apparent. Roland owners will be a trifle miffed to find out that only the music part of the sound support is available to them, while the tile removal sound effects can only be heard through their PC internal speaker. Still, if one can get past these glitches and programming limitations, there is some lovely music and clever tile removal sound effects. Admittedly, the music quickly becomes repetitive and might best be left set to play only at the end of the game, but a simple click of the mouse remedies all.

Tile sound effects include angelic harps, dragon’s roars, kitties meowing, bamboo clacking, winds blowing and more.) “Right, but I’m tired of the same old tile layout. Let’s do some new ones. The  Chinese calendar would give us a spiffy theme. You know, the twelve animals, one for each year.” (So now there are thirteen layouts. In addition to the original Shanghai “dragon” layout, there is one layout for each animal on the Chinese calendar. Interestingly, this includes another, different, dragon
layout. Some of these are easier, and some are harder than the original layout, and all of them  will take a bit of getting used to for veterans of the original Shanghai layout. Still, the core of Shanghai Ii’s success can be directly attributed to these multiple, layouts, as they inject new diversity into the  game, extending its replay value to unimaginable limits.) “Okay, there are twelve new layouts, but everybody likes playing with blocks. How about a ‘design  kit’ to make your own piles-o’-tiles?”
“Perfect.” (Gee, everyone liked building with blocks as a kid, didn’t they? Now with Shanghai II, players will find themselves playing with them all over again on their computer. This reviewer

designed two new layouts in about an hour, one a castle with a courtyard, the other in the shape of his initials, A. E. Of course, the real fun is not only in creating layouts using the 144 blank computer “tiles,” but also in tearing them apart through actual game play. Diversity piled upon diversity,  enjoyment in designing layouts and enjoyment in tearing them apart. Shanghai II touches that responsive chord where complex minds can embrace simple “toys” like building blocks/tiles and lend wonderful credence to the expression, “men will be boys.”) “But we’ve got another entire game design to add. We’ve been calling it ‘Dragon’s Eye’ and…” “Is it like Shanghai?” “Well, yes and no. One player tries to build a pile of tiles in the shape of a small dragon while the other tries to ‘slay’ it by removing matching tiles. Here, let me show you. I’ve got this Mah Jongg set right here….” (This new game was then developed and is what really puts the “II” in Shanghai II. After several playings, this reviewer still isn’t sure he’s got all of the subtleties to this interesting variation on Shanghai, but it is certainly easy enough to learn. The hard part, however, is to master Dragon’s Eye. That will take even those who enjoy such “mind” games as Mastermind or Host a Mystery some time to figure out. Admittedly, it has been more fun than frustrating, trying to learn all of the ins and outs of Dragon’s  Eye, and it seems a bit easier for beginners to commence as the Dragon Master, rather then the Dragon Slayer.)

“Oh, great! Can’t you see it now? A super-tournament game where players try to beat all the puzzles in the least amount of time. We can even add a ‘Hall of Fame…’ to give them something to shoot for.” (Sure enough, they did that, too. Tournament games are now “campaign games” consisting of  defeating each of the twelve new puzzles. In addition to these, between every three games comes an interlude playing Dragon’s Eye. Thus, there are sixteen games to complete to finish the tournament. To assist players who cannot finish a puzzle, the “Find a Match” and “Shuffle Remaining Tiles” help keys can be used, albeit with a time penalty (a very large one, in the case of reshuffling tiles). Like running a marathon, most players will be more rewarded by actually finishing a tournament, rather than setting their goal on winning it by setting the lowest time in the Hall of Fame. Still, the immediate goal of finishing even a single puzzle reminds one of a Chinese dinner. Both end with a fortune cookie, and it’s not long before you’re hungry for more.) “You know, all this sounds great, and I think we can do it. But the reference card is gonna be a nightmare.” (That’s the truth! At six “pages” long, it’s more like a complete rules summary than a quick reference card, and to make it worse, it’s all in small text devoid of useful illustrations. By contrast, the on-line support is superior to the reference card in most respects. The very length of this game aid almost entirely eliminates its  usefulness, but players are fortunate in that Shanghai II isn’t that complicated a game to begin with, so “muddling through” the first attempts at its many new features can be easily accomplished with
little reference to the documentation required). “Sounds like we’ve got our work cut out for us delivering the goods on this project. I wonder what marketing’s angle will be?” (A ball bag? Yep! Along with the 3.5″ and 5.25″ disks, Activision has included a little bag. Inside the bag are a couple of good-size marbles, one black and one white. Once players stop rolling them around in their hands like Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny, they usually read the little card included in the bag mentioning that these are “the eyes of the dragon.” What will those marketing types think of next?)
“Who cares? Hey, guys, ever have an idea so good you couldn’t wait to play it…?” (Ideas like that happen to garners all the time. This time, the garners are fortunate that the work is done and now they can relax enjoy playing Shanghai II either solitaire or with a friend. Even with some flaws in  execution, the concepts in scope and grandeur that sired Shanghai II are those worthy of the highest praise. Well done, Activision. Well done.)

Ikari Warriors Review (1987 NES)

SNK’s Ikari Warriors was a great game in 1986. This is one of the first games for the Nintendo NES that two players can simultaneously compete against the computerized enemies. This was a new and exciting innovation in two dimensional action games, and that is the crux of the enjoyment offered by Ikari Warriors.

Ikari Warriors is based on a popular American fantasy of the 1980’s. Vince and Paul are American soldiers of fortune who crash into the jungles of a fictional Latin American Nation. These two brave men walk forward through screens and screens of mindless enemy soldiers (or moving targets) and defensive barricades. Eventually and with a bit of sweat, these two heroes save the enslaved nation of Ikari and return its people to freedom.

The graphics look very nice in this game. The enemies and the heroes are well defined and shoot in eight directions. However, occasionally the NES can’t keep up with all of the bullets and moving characters. This mini-glitch results in a flicker and a slowdown that is a bit frustrating. The only other problem with Ikari Warriors is that Paul and Vince depend on each other to advance forward. For instance, if Vince is stuck behind an L-shaped wall and Paul scrolls the screen upwards, it is possible for Vince to be irreparably isolated. Because of the well-known cheat for unlimited continues, many games of Ikari Warriors end with a trapped hero.

If you like a blast from the past and you have a friend handy, then Ikari Warriors is a classic well worth your effort. From a historical perspective, it is a real joy to view that state of the art 1986, and then to compare it with your favorite top down shooter of today.

Graphics

Looks nice, but can’t always keep up with the action.

Sound

Ho-hum.

Enjoyment

Great two player simultaneous action.

Replay Value

A long game with infinite continues.

Documentation

Standard.

Airborne Ranger Review

Airborne Ranger is a great game. It supplies a good mix of action and strategy. Although some missions are simply search and destroy, others will require you to plot out a strategy in order to avoid enemies. Some missions also have strict time limits which require players to act very quickly. Each mission type is a lot of fun to play.

One of the best missions is the liberation of a P.O.W. camp. In order to rescue the prisoners you will have to be very quiet. If the enemy realizes that you are nearby they are likely to move the prisoners and the mission will be a failure. However, this does not mean that you cannot take out the enemy troops. You can quietly sneak up on soldiers and stab them with a knife. What makes the mission even better is that you can rescue yourself. If you were captured in a previous mission as a different ranger, your previous character will be set free if this mission is successfully completed.

Using a save disk allows for many rangers to be created and moved through the ranks. Having a high ranked soldier who can choose his own mission will enable you to rescue other rangers at any time. When you first begin, you have a campaign that randomly arranges the missions. Only when the campaign is complete can you select your own missions.

Controlling a ranger is very simple. A keyboard overlay is included with the game that makes switching between weapons very easy. On the battlefield a crosshair appears in front of your gun to help with aiming. Making use of the backgrounds, the ranger can do more than simply walk, run, and shoot. Crawling through ditches is a great way to avoid enemies. If the battlefield contains water, the ranger can go underwater to hide from the enemy. Don’t stay under too long, though, or you will begin to drown.

Graphically, Airborne Ranger looks quite good. Every mission scrolls vertically at your own pace. Backgrounds are detailed and represent each mission well. Every sound is also good. Gunfire and explosions complement the overall gameplay.

Airborne Ranger could benefit from some more missions. While 12 is a fair number, they can be completed in a short amount of time. However, you will want to replay them in order to move up the ranks. With creative missions, well-designed controls, and interesting gameplay Airborne Ranger is a highly enjoyable game.

Graphics

Some more colors would result in a perfect score.

Sound

Fit the game perfectly.

Enjoyment

Great mission objectives.

Replay Value

You can continuously gain more points and medals for your ranger even after completing every mission.

Documentation

Details each mission and provides tips.

Gain Ground Overview (1991 Sega)

In the not so distant future, “Gain Ground” is a popular training game designed to prepare players for battle. Participants must make their way through five rounds reflecting different time periods in history, with each round consisting of ten stages. Of course, players are required to wear authentic battle clothing as they engage the Gain Ground androids trying to defeat them.

The goal is not only to survive long enough to reach each stage’s exit, but ultimately defeat the five “Superdroids” marking the end of each round. While the game was certainly fun for the participants, something went wrong with the central computer controlling it. The Brain, as it was called, suddenly malfunctioned and shut down the simulation, trapping those still left inside. There was also one small change: the androids were now bent on destroying all of the competitors!

Three fighters have vowed to rescue their comrades and eliminate the Brain: James, Siren and Tonga. All characters have both normal and special weapons, each possessing specific strengths and weaknesses. For instance, some weapons are only effective for reaching high places, low places or certain angles. During the course of the game, you’ll be able to rescue 17 different hostages to add to your team.

Each of these characters will offer new weapons (such as fireballs, spears, grenades, etc.) to help you progress through the stages. The five rounds are as follows: the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Golden Age, Present Day, and the Near Future. Having trouble with some areas? Bring along a second player for simultaneous action! Gain Ground is based on Sega’s 1989 arcade game of the same name.

Features
Work your way through such stages as the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Golden Age, and Present Day
Navigate characters that include James, Siren and Tonga through each level to defeat the Brain
Based on the 1989 arcade game developed by Sega

1942 Arcade Game(1984) Review

Designed by Yoshiki Okamoto, who would go on to architect the Street Fighter and Final Fight franchises, 1942 is a fondly remembered vertically scrolling shooter in which players control a WWII-era plane through 32 levels of enemy-filled sea and landscapes. The first game in the “194x” series, 1942 features a special roll button that allows players to avoid dangerous situations by temporarily looping out of the 2D playfield. This, in addition to perfectly balanced gameplay, colorfully detailed graphics, and some nifty power-ups make the game a true classic.