Posts Tagged ‘1990s’

The Time Warp of Dr. Brain Review

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The Time Warp of Dr. Brain Boxart

Developer: Sierra On-Line
Publisher: Sierra On-Line
Platform: PC – Windows 3.0, Mac

Once upon a time I played games purchased from the Scholastic Book Club. One of these was The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain. At the time I believed it to be the only one of its type out there, only to later learn “Dr. Brain” was an entire series. Unfortunately, it looks like by the time The Time Warp of Dr. Brain came around that the developers had all but run out of good ideas for puzzling minigames.

There are ten minigames this time around and little else. You’ll find absolutely no story wrapping any of it together. Each puzzle comes with three difficulty options and an unknown (to me, anyway) amount of levels per game. The big issue is that some games are given too much instructions while others receive no instructions at all. Oh, and the fact that it’s just not any fun to play the vast majority of them.

The Time Warp of Dr. Brain Featured

A few of the included puzzles are simply rehashes of existing mental games people play. It’s in these modes based on well-known logic exercises that are at all enjoyable. The rest, such as one which simply requires players to swim without running out of air, aren’t even worth the edutainment moniker. This is disappointing because both The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain and Castle of Dr. Brain were fairly interesting to fuss with.

The graphics and audio are just fine and certainly appropriate for the mid 90s gaming scene. Outside of one or two stand out minigames, however, the game is a total flop. Even Dr. Brain himself acts like he doesn’t care one bit about the player and their success/failures. Anyone looking for a good edutainment title should steer clear.


Score: 1

1 out of 5 alpacas


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Who Killed Sam Rupert: Virtual Murder 1 Review

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Who Killed Sam Rupert Virtual Murder 1 Boxart

Developer: Creative Multimedia Corporation
Publisher: Creative Multimedia Corporation
Platform: PC – Macintosh, Windows 3.0

It’s pretty obvious that people love a good murder mystery. Why else would we have copious literature, TV shows, and an unfortunate obsession with real life unsolved crimes? That’s why it makes total sense when the earliest FMV-enabled PC games focused on murder scenarios. Who Killed Sam Rupert – Virtual Murder 1 was just the start of an entire four game series by Creative Multimedia Corporation.

As you might guess, Who Killed Sam Rupert – Virtual Murder 1 focuses on the murder of a Mr. Rupert. This restaurant owner was well-liked by some and, unfortunately enough, detested by multiple people close to him. It’s up to you to determine who exactly killed the man and why. The game throws a tremendous amount of red herrings at you. However, it’s laid on so thick that most should pick up on avoiding the “obvious” path.

Who Killed Sam Rupert Virtual Murder 1 Featured

In some ways, the game is an early 90’s version of Her Story. However, instead of just getting the FMV stories of eight key suspects, you’re also free to dig through police-collected records as needed. That includes terse interviews with restaurant patrons on the night of the murder, lab details, and more. Many found this utterly dull (according to reviews of the era) but it was enjoyable enough to me.

The key failing point for all this searching to unearth clues is that Who Killed Sam Rupert – Virtual Murder 1 is timed. There are only six in-game hours to learn about the case and successfully peg a murderer. Because of the arbitrary restriction, you’ll need to play through multiple times. Despite very clearly showing its age with postage stamp sized videos and relatively simple murder/motive, Who Killed Sam Rupert – Virtual Murder 1 is a neat way to spend an hour or two.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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The Residents: Freak Show Review

The Residents: Freak Show Featured

The Residents: Freak Show Boxart

Developer: The Cryptic Corporation
Publisher: The Voyager Company
Platform: PC

The Residents are a band which have been around since the 70s crafting seriously unique music and mixed media experiences. As a fan, I’ve hungered for years to pick up the multimedia CDs they produced in the early 90s. The Residents: Freak Show is the very first of these experiments and came out alongside a music CD of the same name.

At first, I feared this would be a seriously lackluster product. The adventure title certainly seems that way at first. You simply click between a few screens which take place inside a, well, “freak show” and get a little CG representation of a performance. The graphics definitely look a bit lumpy and weird, but somehow that enhances the charm over 20 years later. Search a little deeper and you’ll uncover a whole other, and far longer, segment of gameplay beyond the easily accessible exhibits.

The Residents: Freak Show Featured

Hidden behind the Mole Man’s exhibit, as well as behind a “no admittance” sign you’ll find hours of extra content. For the Mole Man in particular, you actually get to hear (and watch) the story of how he became a member of the troupe. Unfortunately, it seems the other characters don’t get the same treatment. With that said, every main character has basically a music video which includes their entire song from the Freak Show album. It also feels like each character is given a believable edge which wasn’t present through the song lyrics alone.

Seeing one of my favorite The Residents albums in action was a stunning event. This CD-ROM absolutely exceeded my expectations with the huge amount of care given to each character’s video as well as the level of interactivity. It could have easily been a slideshow, but Easter eggs and additional story content make it an enjoyable exploration of an album. If you’re a fan of The Residents then at some point you need to play The Residents: Freak Show.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Outlaws Review

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Outlaws Boxart

Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts
Platform: PC – GOG*

So, westerns have never really been my “thing.” With that said, I’m surprised at how few video games have ventured into that territory considering how perfect a setup the film genre provides for games. Outlaws plants you in the shoes of James, a retired marshal and family man. As is so painfully typical of these storylines, he returns from a routine trip to find his partner, Anna, dying. He also finds the farmhouse aflame and their daughter kidnapped. James must find where she has been taken and enact revenge along the way.

Once you get over how routinely ham-fisted the storyline is, the gameplay proves quite fun. It’s a FPS based off the same game engine used for Star Wars: Dark Forces. Gameplay is super fast and enemies are everywhere. There’s also a bunch of keys strewn about stages to unlock other parts of each. Outlaws definitely feels like an older style FPS, but the setting is what really captured my interest. And, despite the obvious storytelling, the animated cutscenes sell it effectively.

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My biggest issue with Outlaws has nothing to do with the game itself, but with my inability to play more than one stage in a single sitting. It causes my motion sickness to flare up immensely (even with head bobbing turned off). There’s just something about this engine. So, take heed if you suffer from motion sickness as well. It’s a shame, really, because I’ve immensely enjoyed the experience otherwise.

Sometimes it does get a bit tedious. You migh happen to forget where the specific locked door you need is. Other times, cruel cowboys will shoot you from areas you’d never even think to check. But in all, Outlaws is a pretty darn refreshing gameplay experience. That’s really weird to say for a title nearly 20 years old, but apparently it holds up just fine!


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Toonstruck Review

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Toonstruck Boxart

Developer: Burst Studios
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Platform: PC – DOS, GOG*

Toonstruck is one of those games that, despite being a fan of adventure games, flew totally under my radar until recently. For whatever reason I kept confusing it for the Cool World video game which doesn’t seem too great. In Toonstruck you play as a cartoon animator named Drew Blanc who is just another cog in the machine. He’s been dreaming of creating a new cartoon for years but the powers that be simply want him to produce more of the same.

On the night of a big assignment things get weird – Drew is magically drawn into a TV set which leads directly to the world of cartoons. There he immediately runs into that dream character of his, Flux, and is tasked with saving Cutopia before being allowed back to the human world. As it turns out, you’ll have to collect 12 different mystery items in order to save anyone. Just like any other point and click adventure this involves chatting up locals, solving puzzles, and doing lots of weird stuff.

Toonstruck Featured

In regards to other puzzle games of the time Toonstruck actually starts out quite easily. Puzzles ramp up in difficulty, but not exclusively. Only puzzles related to combining items stumped me thanks to their fairly rare appearance. The most enjoyable aspect is simply wandering around this cartoon realm and seeing the juxtaposition between cuteness and “reality.” Characters in Cutopia are sweet to a fault, but some still manage to make hilariously pointed insults. Despite the necessary cartoony visuals, this is a game meant primarily for teens/adults.

Some of Toonstruck’s jokes don’t work anymore as they might have in the 90s. A few jabs at types of people fell particularly flat, but most of the time I was in awe of how hilarious the game manages to be. Humor is hard in games, especially if you’ve got slapstick cartoon sensibilities in the mix. Even if it were lacking the star power of Christopher Lloyd (and many esteemed voice actors) Toonstruck would still prove a hit.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Gex Review

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Gex Boxart

Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: 3DO, PC – GOG*, PlayStation, Saturn

Gex is one of those games that seems lost to time. As a child I really dug Gex: Enter the Gecko because of its bright worlds themed off real media (cartoons, horror movies, etc). But never before had I played the original Gex. As it turns out, the entire series seems predicated on the notion of jumping into film/television media parody worlds. It’s a fun concept, although the execution is lacking.

One night while Gex is simply watching TV he gets transported to the TV dimension by some evil being named Rez. Once in the world he traipses though increasingly challenging levels all based around genres and locations for films (horror, kung fu, futuristic). Every 2D stage features copious enemies, collectible golden bugs, and lots of ways to die. Like many early 90s platformers it is far more challenging than it seems! The best aspect is how playing as a gecko lets you do things like climb ceilings and walls with ease.

Gex Featured

The biggest issue with Gex is not the inherent challenge but how out of place it feels now. Gex routinely shouts out “witty” one liners in reference to pop culture from around 1994 (when the game first launched on 3DO). Although some of the jokes and references make sense to me, none are particularly funny regardless. Then there are ones that seem completely nonsensical such as Gex grumpily complaining, “when is Grace Jones gonna retire?” What, pray tell, is wrong with Grace Jones?! Weirdly, many of the same lines were reused for 1998’s Enter the Gecko, and they were probably already stale then.

In all, the framing of Gex proves its most interesting aspect. Having a real reason to adventure through thematically different worlds is kind of neat, and each boss proves cool. Gex himself though is grating and his dialogue is a lazy excuse for actual characterization. The platforming is inspired, but the negatives balance out the positives. Instead of being iconic, Gex is just average.


Score: 2.5

2 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo’s Curse Review

Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo's Curse

Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo's Curse Boxart

Developer: Viacom New Media
Publisher: Viacom New Media
Platform: PC – DOS, Macintosh

Are You Afraid of the Dark? was one show on Nickelodeon that both enticed and frightened me during its run. Until recently I’d never realized any games existed for the series. Yet, a lone point and click adventure was released! Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo’s Curse places you in the shoes of the newest storyteller hoping to join the Midnight Society. Depending on how you “tell” the tale determines whether they let you in or not.

It’s actually a really cool framing for a digital episode of the show. Of course, you can only tell “The Tale of Orpheo’s Curse” but it changes depending how you play. Screw up and the other kids become excited or disappointed over the turn of events and give you hints on how to get things back on track. Of course, this framing is at the sidelines and most of your time is spent with the stars of this story: Terry and Alex.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo's Curse

These two siblings have somehow found themselves at Orpheo’s Palace – a run down theater which used to show magic performances. Of course, somehow they get in and discover that Orpheo is apparently alive and well and wants to use them in his sinister trick. As you explore you’ll discover hidden rooms, a variety of different, but mostly simplistic puzzles, and a surprising amount of danger. With that said, as a game targeted to Nickelodeon’s audience it’s not tremendously challenging.

What impressed me most about The Tale of Orpheo’s Curse was not its mix of FMV and CG animation (as that was suddenly quite hip at the time) but simply how user-friendly it is. Whenever you lose the game offers an immediate return to where you had just been. In fact, if you complete it in one sitting you’d never have to save once. This surprising convenience helped lessen the pain of a final chase sequence and other little flubs. If you like Are You Afraid of the Dark? or even just the early era of 3D adventure games then definitely find a copy of Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo’s Curse.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Blood: One Unit Whole Blood Review

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Blood: One Unit Whole Blood Boxart

Developer: Monolith Productions, 3D Realms
Publisher: GT Interactive, Atari
Platform: PC – GOG*, Steam

Blood: One Unit Whole Blood might just be a game with the most redundant title around. It also happens to be a classic FPS from the 90s. Well, classic to some. I’d always heard murmurings of Blood alongside Doom and Quake but never got around to playing it myself – until now. I’ll tell you one thing, it certainly lives up to its name.

Of course a game called Blood is full of bloodstained nastiness but is there more to it than that? There’s a storyline, although it doesn’t seem to convey very much of interest. The scenes instead seem focused on showcasing awesome 3D models and lighting (awesome for the time, that is). Once you get beyond that it basically devolves into your standard older-style FPS.

Blood: One Unit Whole Blood Featured

Areas are all enclosed, although some are much larger than others. Movement is incredibly fast, almost as if the protagonist is wearing roller blades while decimating enemies. Said weapons are brutal although so are enemies. Even on the easiest difficulty the pace of Blood is fast and never lets up. If you can survive then there are a good deal of “episodes” to play. This is further enhanced by both the GOG and Steam versions including the Plasma Pak and Cryptic Passage expansion packs.

When compared to other games of the time period I feel that Blood was attempting to thematically outdo other games while maintaining a classic aesthetic. It has a neat Gothic feel at times, sure, but otherwise fails to stand out. Blood: One Unit Whole Blood is one of the many average shooters that have graced PCs over the years.


Score: 2.5

2 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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Waxworks Review

Waxworks Featured

Waxworks Boxart

Developer: Horrorsoft
Publisher: Accolade, Adventure Soft
Platform: PC – Amiga, DOS, GOG*

The early 90s were a scary time for adventure game developers. Horrorsoft, who began with text parser games, created Waxworks as an attempt to bridge that gaming gap. Instead of being a dull adventure game it utilized dungeon-crawler elements to offer copious fights. Of course, it still maintained that classic adventure core by requiring players to lug a heft inventory around.

Unfortunately, the implementation of action elements in Waxworks leaves much to be desired. The game does start off creepily enough, at least. You enter into a wax museum after being ushered there by your Uncle. According to him there’s a curse on your family and your brother will be lost forever if it isn’t removed. Destroying said curse requires entering different wax exhibits which transport players to different planes of existence.

Waxworks Featured

It sounds fine until you realize that every ounce of gameplay is a pain. The adventure trope of clicking on and collecting everything is in full force. Alongside that are constant swarms of enemies to slow progress and chip away at the health meter. Then there are maze-like areas that are far more frustrating than they are fun (especially as more enemies spawn as you try to find a proper path). It’s terribly un-fun.

Waxworks does have some grotesquely detailed artwork and a suitably creepy soundtrack. Had gameplay actually passed muster such aspects would be icing on the cake. As is, these are the only high points most players are likely to find. Only the most determined of horror connoisseurs should seek out this game.


Score: 1

1 out of 5 alpacas


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Realms of the Haunting Review

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Realms of the Haunting Boxart

Developer: Gremlin Interactive
Publisher: Interplay, KISS ltd
Platform: PC – GOG*, Steam

Realms of the Haunting was a game trying its best to straddle two worlds. First, it most certainly wanted to tell a good, creepy story like a classic point and click adventure. However, by 1996 that was a tricky proposition. As such, the title is a first-person shooter although it still maintains many hallmarks of the adventure genre. Everything begins when the protagonist’s father dies.

After this death, his son then seeks to discover what exactly might have been going on before his father’s untimely demise. This leads him to a mansion where the father’s spirit is apparently trapped. You must help to free this spirit by, basically, taking on the great many evil powers which have taken up residence there. Of course you do this with a liberal dose of puzzle solving – and shooting demons.

Puzzles aren’t particularly tough on their own. What makes them a challenge is that players require keen observation skills while exploring. Oh hey, see that slightly discolored tile in the corner of a room? Click it! Players must also pay attention to the fact they can tilt the camera up and down as well. Often, items are hidden below the “forward” line of sight. As long as you’ve got a keen eye it’s possible to make it through most chapters.

Realms of the Haunting Featured

Of course, Realms of the Haunting also has a variety of FPS segments shoved in for good measure. These aren’t usually difficult, especially with large caches of ammo hidden around. It’s worth noting enemies are weak against certain weapons over others. So if one takes a zillion blasts with one weapon try switching to another. Despite all this shooting business, I still feel that the game is primarily steeped in adventure game concepts. This is furthered by the copious FMV cutscenes and dialogue present throughout.

FMV games are often laughed off but in this case the sequences are actually fairly compelling. The story is simplistic but the acting isn’t bad at all. I found myself even looking forward to seeing what would occur next. With that said, it does drag on as it’ll take somewhere around 8 to 10 hours to complete. Realms of the Haunting feels very antiquated with its tank-style control scheme but there’s a pretty intriguing game lurking underneath the surface.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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