Atari 2DS

This just came to me while I was looking at an advert for the new Nintendo 2DS on a bus shelter this morning:

You've got to admit there's a passing resemblance...right? Or maybe I just need more coffee than usual this morning!

Special Needs

Electronic Arts never supported the Jag, but allegedly there was a version of The Need For Speed planned for the Jaguar CD. We Jaguar appreciators can only imagine what it would have looked and played like, but my best guess is that it would more than likely have been a port of the brilliant 3DO game. The Jaguar with the CD unit could almost certainly have handled a conversion of some kind judging by the other texture-mapped games available (mainly Hover Strike Unconquered Lands), and even then if the hardware hadn't been able to cope with a direct port, maybe a cut-down one could have been produced. Obviously, this is all pie in the sky now but it's interesting to speculate about these things...right?! For no reason other than my own lamentable entertainment requirements, I've done a fairly crap mock-up of what the Jaguar (hypothetical, impossible to achieve cart version's) box would possibly have looked like:

A cart version would probably have looked more like Club Drive and had static screens with text instead of cool videos, so the Jaguar CD would have been the more popular choice of hardware for obvious reasons...but it's make believe so it doesn't really matter. Now excuse me while I go shoot some flying pigs.

Kasumi Ninja

The Jaguar's selection of fighting games is often described as 'lacklustre.' Actually, scratch that - they're often described as 'shit.' Mortal Kombat 3 was planned for the system, and by all accounts the deal had been done between Midway and Atari to port the game...sadly it never came to fruition. Instead, Jaguar owners had to make do with imitations of Midway's killer-app in the form of Ultra Vortek and Kasumi Ninja. There was also the Virtua Fighter clone Fight For Life, but that is one game I've never actually had the pleasure of playing personally.

Kasumi Ninja is a 2D fighter that features digitised actors' sprites kicking the crap out of each other in a bid to become the ultimate warrior, or some such guff. There's a back-story to Kasumi Ninja, but to be honest it goes on for so long that you'll find yourself pressing Start long before all the text has scrolled up the screen, and really...does a fighting game need a story?! Most people have heard of Kasumi for two reasons - first because it features horrifically stereotypical characters; and second because it features a Scottish character called Angus who fires balls of flame from under his kilt. A third reason you may of heard of it is that this game is described as one of the worst fighting games ever released...which isn't totally true, but people sure like to pile on the hate when it comes to Jaguar games.

There are some novel ideas in Kasumi Ninja. For example, the character select screen is set in a 3D first person chamber where you walk around and select a fighter by standing in front of their statue before pressing A or B to choose them, or C to view a simple biography. At first, only two Sub Zero style ninja characters are available (who incidentally turn out to be the best two characters in the game), but as you defeat other fighters, they too become available in the chamber. It's a fairly unorthodox way of doing things, and the 3D engine is a little slow, but full marks for originality.

Unfortunately, the rest of the game is somewhat less impressive. The stage backgrounds are fantastic - they look like photographs in some places - and the character sprites are well done and are quite detailed (even if they are, as mentioned, horribly stereotypical), but once the game starts to move the whole thing falls apart. The animation is choppy and the responsiveness of the fighters is almost laughable; the delay between pressing a button and anything happening is ridiculous, and the fighters only seem capable of about 5 basic punches and kicks. There are some special moves to be be performed (such as the hitherto mentioned flaming cock/kilt combo), but actually unleashing them is very difficult. That said, Kasumi Ninja can be some fun if you stick at it and go for constant cheap shots against your idiotic AI opponents, just to kill half an hour or so. You'll probably want to turn the volume down during that half an hour though, as the sound is fairly dull - generic grunts and punch/kick effects blended with some bog-standard stage-specific muzak (beating drums in the jungle, bad pipes in the Highlands etc etc).

I really love the Jaguar and I think most of the games get unfair treatment on the internet - reviews are very damning and almost every average game is quickly labelled a disaster just for laughs...and Kasumi Ninja is no different. Sure, it's a pretty poor fighting game but it's nowhere near as bad as Clay Fighter 63 '/3 or Shaq Fu and there is some enjoyment to be had just trying out the different characters. Overall though, it's below what you'd expect on a system that was marketed as the next generation to what the MegaDrive and Super Nintendo were offering at the time (erm...Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat!). In summary, Kasumi Ninja is a somewhat dodgy 2D fighter that has some good ideas but ultimately falls flat due to some shoddy animation and laggy controls. But it has nice backgrounds. Did I mention the backgrounds?

DOOM: Jaguar Vs 3DO

With the Jaguar CD added to it, the Jaguar was probably a more capable machine than the 3DO, but without it I have my doubts. The 3DO had a lot of fully textured 3D games while the Jag's 3D efforts were a little on the basic side and that more than likely had something to do with limited cartridge size. Hey, I never professed to be an expert on these things! That being said, there are some exceptions to the rule, and DOOM is one such exception. That it was obviously more to do with poor programming than technical specs that made 3DO DOOM such a shocking travesty is irrelevant - the Jaguar port wipes the floor with it in almost every respect apart from the soundtrack...and here's the proof in the form of a little video I knocked up:

Again, the lack of music in the Jaguar port is my only criticism, and the reasons for it are often cited as either a lack of space on the cart, lack of development time, or that the Jaguar couldn't handle the processing of both music and visuals concurrently due to the clock speed of the processors. The music is in there - you can hear it during the mission results screens - but for whatever reasons it doesn't play during the main game. You could do what I do and plug one of the sound cables into the 3DO and play the Jag version with the 3DO as an audioslave, but I digress. The difference between the two versions is clear as night and day - Jag DOOM is full screen, smooth, fast and fluid. The 3DO port is windowed, jerky and virtually unplayable in places due to the frame rate. My advice: play Jag DOOM. Use the 3DO for something else like The Need For Speed!

Virtual Insanity

Interestingly, Atari were planning on releasing a virtual reality headset for the Jaguar. I remember reading about this contraption in Games Master Magazine and was really interested to see how the whole plan would pan out. Sadly, as we now know, Atari pulled the plug - quite literally - on the project when testers of the hardware reported becoming 'woozy' whilst playing with the headset. The company hauled in to design the peripheral, Virtuality, were reportedly instructed to redesign the VR unit and came back with a better, higher resolution model but by this time the writing was on the wall and Atari cancelled the project.

I find the sheer scope of such a project fascinating, and it demonstrates the faith Atari were willing to put into the Jaguar. The great appeal of the Jag for me probably lies in all of these unanswered 'what ifs' and untapped potential that seems to permeate every aspect of the console - the team-tap that only got one compatible game, the console link-up option, the proposed modem...all in a time when this kind of thing was unheard of in the console market. Maybe the VR headset was a step too far in an era that wasn't ready for it, but we'll never know if it could have caught on because of Atari's inability to handle more important and urgent aspects of the Jaguar's business model: getting high profile games and developers onboard.

According to Wikipedia, only two prototype VR headsets are known to still exist and only one game (Missile Command 3D) was shipped with compatibility built in. Here are some images I found on Google of the VR headset:

It's funny that now, in 2013, the Oculus Rift is getting all the media coverage yet Atari had similar plans way back in the early 1990s for a home-based virtual reality experience. Looking at the comparative videos of contemporary dedicated VR machines, the quality would probably have been questionable, but again, you have to admire Atari for even attempting something so audacious with the technology of the time.

There's a much more in-depth look at the Jaguar VR and the functions of the various components of the device here at JagCube

Super Burnout

A few weeks ago I looked at the Jaguar's only motocross title, SuperCross 3D, and came to the conclusion that it is a flawed gem of a game. It's got massive frame rate issues and they taint what could and should have been a cracking dirt bike sim. Enter the 'other' Jaguar motorcycling title: Super Burnout...and boy, what a parallel! Super Burnout is everything Supercross 3D isn't: smooth, fast, and unashamedly a 2D, sprite-based arcade racer. Taking cues from Sega's Hang On, Super Burnout is a super-fast circuit racer that throws the polygons out of the window in favour of solid 60 frames per second undulating, silky smooth goodness...and by God does it succeed where others have failed. I read somewhere that Super Burnout was actually programmed by a couple of guys who rented out a Jaguar development kit on weekends, and when Atari saw what they had achieved with an early build of the game, a dev kit was bequeathed unto them full-time just so they could finish it and release it as a full-blown retail title. That kind of thing just doesn't happen in this day and age, and it gives Super Burnout an extra air of 'special' because of the way it came into being. You would expect a major development studio to be able to pull off a game as fast and smooth as this...but a couple of young hobbyists? Mind: blown. I admit that I don't know how much factual basis there is in that tale...but if it's even half true, then I doff my cap to Shen Technologies, and to Atari for a rare (in the Jaguar's case) glimpse of sound talent spotting.

Onto the game itself though. Super Burnout, as I said earlier, is a circuit-based Moto GP style game in which you get the chance to race a full championship against 6 other riders across 8 tracks around the globe. There are the standard 2-player, practice and single race modes too. There isn't an official license, so the tracks (which are easily recognisable by their layouts) aren't named by anything but their country (and there's a glaring omission when it comes to UK tracks...), and the bikes all have bizarre names like Sliding Thunder and Killing Turtle (eh?!). All the bikes have different attributes and are suited to different tracks (which are also divided into either 'speed' or 'technical' classes), so it makes sense to carefully choose your bike before heading onto specific tracks. You can't actually change your bike after you've chosen one in Championship mode, meaning that for at least 50% of the races your bike will be woefully unsuited...but hey, no game is perfect (well, except for Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time...but that's for another blog on another day).

Once you actually start racing though, you'll realise that Super Burnout is a special game. It all moves so damn quickly, and the steering of the bikes - even if they are just 'sliding' across the track - feels so satisfying. The frame-rate, as I mentioned above, is pretty jaw-dropping even in this age of Xbox 360s and PS3s, simply because of the sheer number of sprites being thrown around on screen. I read (again, I forget where) that Super Burnout regularly displays over 1000 sprites on screen at once, and it never, ever slows down or judders. Bear in mind that this is triple (yes, triple) the number of sprites the Neo Geo could handle on screen at once and you start to see where Atari went wrong when marketing the Jaguar. If they'd positioned it as a 2D sprite-whoring beast (which it evidently is) instead of a 3D machine, maybe we'd be playing Jaguar 3s now instead. Ho hum.

Super Burnout doesn't just impress with it's visuals and gameplay - the music too is of extremely high quality. The tunes are very well suited and they, and the sound effects/voice overs are crystal clear and easily as good as any contemporary CD-based sounds or music.

I knew that Super Burnout was going to be decent before I even played it, but having now done so, I can honestly say that it is without doubt one of the best 2D racers I've ever played. The Jag never got the chance to host a Hang On or Road Rash port...but with hindsight it didn't really need either: Super Burnout, with its blistering speed and sublime handling more than holds its own against the big boys.

You can probably see by the blurry pictures that Super Burnout moves at a fair old pace. Highly recommended if you want to see what a turbo-charged Neo Geo would look like in an alternative universe!

Cannon Fodder

In the back of the manual for Cannon Fodder, there's a little passage that reads:

"And on a more serious note: don't try this at home, kids, because real war is not a game; real war, as Cannon Fodder demonstrates in its own quirky little way, is a senseless waste of human resources and lives. We hope that you never have to find out the hard way."

Which, I'm sure you'll agree, is a little poignant for a game that oozes as much charm and fun as this one does. Cannon Fodder is a strategic shooter that, to me at least, looks and feels like a hybrid of Command & Conquer (sans base building and resource management) and Metal Gear. The premise is deceptively simple: you start a mission (which is usually made up of several different stages, or 'phases') with a certain number of tiny troops and must complete the objectives (usually destroying all enemy buildings and killing all the enemy troops on a map) without losing all the members of your squad.

You control your squad by means of a pointer and tell the team where to go by moving the pointer to their destination and pressing the 'move' button. Whenever an enemy comes into view, you hold down the fire button (which turns your cursor into a cross-hair) and your troops will fire in the direction that your curser is pointed. Sounds a bit confusing, I know, but in practice, the system is very, very simple. You can split your team into different groups and control them independently using the numeric keypad (up to 3 squads can be formed), and this can help create strategies when confronted with large enemy numbers, and vehicles such as tanks (which the game calls 'tanx' for some reason), jeeps and helicopters (which the game, again, insists on referring to as 'choppas.').

There are 24 main missions in the game, and the terrain changes depending on your mission, with each theatre type coming with it's own hazards - crossing rivers means your troops can't fire as they're swimming, and quicksand will slow your men down leaving them open to enemy attack - as well as a labyrinthine layout concealing numerous enemy units and installations who are all intent on wiping you out.

On first glance you'd be forgiven for writing Cannon Fodder off as a pretty shoddy looking shooter, but look past the slightly dodgy Sensible Soccer-esque graphical style (well, it is made by the same developer) and there's a highly playable game here that has a real sense of humour. A mention must also go to the music in Cannon Fodder - the title music is fantastic, as is the menu music: it totally fits the feel of the game, and this must also be one of the only war games that places an emphasis on the seriousness of the subject matter while still trying to make it a fun and enjoyable experience.

This Jaguar port is, as far as I can tell, a perfect replication of the Amiga version (and is possibly the only Jaguar game to offer a Hi-res and Lo-res option - see bottom two screen grabs below) and the only other difference between it and the 3DO version I also own is the omission of the rendered videos. But no-one watches rendered videos more than once, so you're not missing much if you only get to play this version! Cannon Fodder: top fun and highly recommended.

Jaguar Hunting at Play Expo 2013

This weekend I attended the annual Play Expo gaming event at Event City in Trafford, Manchester. I arrived fairly early in an attempt to beat the anticipated crowds (at about 8.30am, to be precise), but found that I was a bit over-eager - there was absolutely nobody there at that ridiculous time! To kill a few hours before the doors opened at 11am, I went for a bit of a wander around a spookily empty Trafford Centre. For those who don't know, the Trafford Centre is a humongous out-of-town shopping mall and walking around the cavernous halls of consumerism with only the odd cleaner or security guard for company was a slightly surreal experience - every other time I've been there, it was virtually impossible to move without bumping into another bag-clad shopper. On the plus side, I got a coffee at Costa without even having to queue, and I also found a tenner on the floor that the cleaners must have missed! I did note that the Apple Store had a queue outside it at that ungodly hour, and when I asked a security guard why people were lined up outside, he just barked "iPhone" at me. So, I guess there must also have been yet another iPhone launched this weekend. Which is nice, if that's your bag.

At 10am, I made my way back to Event City and joined the back of the queue that had started to form. The hour-long wait for the doors to open went by fairly quickly as I played with my mobile and listened to the other gamers in the queue talk shop. Upon entering the event, I spotted a bank of PS4s being readied, and a massive queue already forming...but I had bigger and better things to be thinking about: whether or not there'd be any Jaguar stuff on display or to buy. Was I disappointed? Fuck no - the very first exhibitor I came across was none other than Llamasoft!

Yes, the Llamasoft - creators of Tempest 2000. And guess who showed me the latest version of Tempest (titled TxK) for the PS Vita? Only Jeff Minter...the guy who is credited with creating not only Tempest 2000, but also Defender 2000 and the Jaguar CD's Virtual Light Machine. I also had a bit of a play on the Jaguar console they had set up to display Tempest 2000 and the Nuon that was running the incredibly rare Tempest 3000. After chatting to Mr Minter and his colleague for a while about Tempest and my love for all things Jaguar (that was fucking surreal, by the way), I went off in search of other Jag-based goodies. I must stress that I also took a great deal of interest in all the other retro-related stuff on show (like the Amiga CD32s, the NeoGeos, and the Vectrexes but for the sake of this site, I'm going to focus on the Jag clobber I spotted).

The next things I found were some traders selling games for a multitude of different consoles. The first had only one unboxed Jaguar game - Evolution Dino Dudes, which I paid £10 for. The next one had Zool 2 on sale for £15, so I bought that too. The third one I came across that had Jaguar games mainly had titles I already own, but also had a boxed copy of Cannon Fodder for £20...and after standing there for about 15 minutes deliberating about it, I handed over the asking price. So, in total I got 3 lesser spotted Jag games for £45...which isn't bad when you consider how much these games fetch on eBay.

After that, I decided to hit the Re:Play section of the expo, and I happened to spot some more Jaguars in the wild. The first was this one:

Yep, a white dental-machine case Jag that was hooked up to a rotary joystick contraption and had a homebrew cart called 'Roids sticking out of it. I sat down and gave it a play...and discovered a fairly interesting (and fun) Asteroids clone. There was no indication of who had created it or anything else about the game...but it was a nice little title nonetheless. Edit: Thanks to a comment by sh3-rg below, I now know this Jaguar belongs to Reboot and the game in question is Rebooteroids.

Next, I came across a few more regular Jaguars (one with a Jaguar CD stuck on top), and I had a play on Iron Soldier 2 and Aliens Vs Predator. One thing I did note about Iron Soldier 2 was that the graphics are quite a lot better than those in the cartridge-based prequel, and certainly on a par with PlayStation games from the same era. There was a third Jaguar console in this cluster that had no game inserted, and i thought about plugging my purchased carts in to see if they worked...but I was a bit wary of then unplugging them and putting them back in my bag incase it looked like I was stealing them!

The only other Jaguars I saw were the boxed consoles another trader was flogging for £60 each...which isn't actually that bad, and I almost bought one...but to be fair, I don't need another one and thought the money could be better spent on beer in the evening:

So that was my Jaguar-spotting at Play Expo 2013. It was pretty successful what with meeting a living legend and getting my hands on a real-life Jaguar CD. Overall, even without all of that, I thought the expo was amazing and it was great seeing all the retro consoles being played with alongside the newer machines, and also seeing the effort that the cosplayers had put in. Events like this really show that a love of all things gaming can transcend all kinds of social barriers and I'll definitely be attending more gaming events after getting a taste of Play Expo.