Tomleecee's Pad Reviews: Episode 3 - Atari Jaguar

I've started doing joypad/controller reviews on YouTube as something to pass the time, and episode 3 of my rather imaginatively titled 'Pad Reviews' series looks at the good old Jag behemoth.

You may think I'm a little biased towards the Jag, being the creator of this site and all, but you'd be wrong - I don't like the Jag pad because I'm a fanboy...I like the Jag pad because it's comfortable to hold and does it's job well. What more could anyone ask for? Here's the vid:

Unsolved Jaguar Mysteries

Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, That old lady off Murder She Wrote. All great detectives. Now I shall join their ranks. Actually, I probably won't, because these mysteries remain unsolved - hence the name...but you get the idea. You see, in the few months I've been collecting Jaguar stuff, I've become very familiar with the console, the games, the overall aesthetic appearance and stylised feel that Atari were trying to give to the machine. To this end, whenever something a little...inconsistent pops up, I instantly notice. I personally like to call it the 'Eye of the Jaguar.' Which is a bit like the Eye of the Tiger, but slightly different and doesn't involve boxing.

You may have already (but let's be honest, probably haven't) read my article on the second Jaguar controller I bought, and the strange differences it has to the one that comes bundled with the console (go here to have a gander); but I've noticed a few minor inconsistencies with other Jag stuff too. And here, I proudly serve them up for your reading pleasure:

Trevor McFur's Cartridge
OK, I did say these were minor inconsistencies, so don't start hating on me just yet. The issue here, is that the plastic used for the Trevor McFur cart is a totally different colour to all of the other carts I own (and I've got 31 games in total). True, I haven't got another copy of Trevor McFur to compare it with, just to see if it was just an oddly coloured batch of plastic...but look for yourself (apologies - the image doesn't give a true representation of the colour difference) :

The black cart in the centre is Trevor McFur...all the rest are a fairly consistent shade of charcoal grey.

I think this picture gives a better impression...but it's still not as if you were seeing them with your own peepers. You'll just have to take my word for it...but still, weird huh?! Maybe it's just black because the game is set in space (well some of it is), and Atari wanted to give the impression that the cartridge was fashioned out of cold, black space rock. But now we'll never know...and in space, no-one can hear you playing Trevor McFur.

Flip Out!'s Box Logo
Again, this is something most people probably wouldn't notice or give a toss about...but I found this one a bit odd. Most Jaguar boxes have a fairly standard design: black bar down the left, main art/game logo in the middle, screenshot in bottom left, Jaguar logo in the bottom right. Some games do deviate slightly - Val D'Isere has snow on the Jaguar logo just for shits and giggles...and because it's a skiing/snowboarding game:

But apart from the white stuff, it still looks like every other logo. Now check out the Jag logo on the Flip Out! box (with another box shot for comparison, just to clarify):

Flip Out!

Flip Out! (Bottom) and Dragon (Top)
What's with the odd white outline? And look at the yellow '64-Bit' circles - they're rounded and shaded like spheres (or balls, if you prefer. Quite). Also, the text at the bottom has a totally different colour and font to what is on pretty much every other box - it's more like the Spider Man / early PS3 typeface. I wonder what the story behind that is. I'm probably reading too much into it (usually the case), but interesting bullshit nonetheless I guess.

The 'Non-Atari' Cartridges
By 'Non-Atari,' I mean that on the back of the carts, there is no Atari logo pressed into the plastic. This may be something to do with licensing...but I find it odd that four of the carts I own do not have this imprint, yet the rest of them do. If all of these games were homebrews or from the same developer or publisher there could be some easy explanation for this...but the games are:

  • Theme Park - Ocean
  • Cannon Fodder - Sensible Software/Virgin
  • Power Drive Rally - Rage/Time Warner
  • Troy Aikman NFL Football - Williams

So they aren't connected at all. Here's a pic:

The two on the end are for comparison
So there we are. Three cold cases that I'm certain Mulder and Scully would just love to dive into. And if they weren't available on account of being totally fictional, then I'm sure Iron Man, Thor and the rest of the Avengers would be interested in solving these mind-bending mysteries for me.

In semi-related news, it's become apparent that I can't plug both my SCART adapter and Jag Link cable into the back of my Jag at the same time because both adapters are too wide to accommodate each other in the gap on the back of the console...but I only have the one Jag anyway so I'm not going to lose any sleep over that...yet!

The Cave Infomercial

Dear God. Witness the horror of The Cave: The Atari Jaguar ("Jagwaaaar") Infomercial. You have been warned. I wonder if any of these actors put this in their showreel...

Flip Out!

Oh boy. Where do I even begin to describe a game like Flip Out! - a puzzle game with one of the weirdest (and frankly unnecessary) plot lines you've most likely ever encountered. Here goes: there's this planet called the Cheese Planet (or Planet Phromaj, to it's indigenous peoples), and the inhabitants of the Cheese Planet/Phromaj - who incidentally resemble jelly babies that have been left on a sunny windowsill for too long - hold an annual 'tile flipping' contest...which you have been cordially invited to take part in. However, the contest takes place in different locations on both Phromaj and Earth...because the aliens like to vacation in places like Easter Island, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park. Quite why they chose to avoid inner city Birmingham is anyone's guess. So now we've got that out of the way, let me try to explain the point of Flip Out!

So, it's a puzzle game. Yes. You know those little plastic things you used to get as a kid whenever you went to a museum or something, that had a little picture on it and you could slide the pieces around and you only had one 'space' where you could slide an adjacent piece? Remember those? Where you'd spend about 10 minutes trying to get the image back together, get bored and then leave it in a drawer for the next decade until you found it during a clear out and then just threw it in the bin? Well, that's the best way to describe how Flip Out plays. That's not to say it's a bad game though - quite the contrary, it's just the best way i could summarise the gameplay without writing an essay. So with that in mind, imagine a 9x9 grid of tiles on the floor, each with a different colour. Now imagine 10 floating tiles (yes, there's an extra one to confuse you), all of corresponding colours...but mixed up. You select a tile, it flips up in the select another and the first tile replaces it. Land your selected tile on the correspondingly coloured base tile...and you've got it in the right place. Do this until all the tiles are in the right place and you win the stage...don't move quick enough and the tiles will fall, smash, and it's game over. Simple, right...?!

There are several variations on the same game type, which all play pretty much in the same way but just replace the graphics - so in one stage you're flipping different coloured plates around tables in a space diner (Restaurant at the End of the Universe?), in another you are rearranging the faces of the presidents on Mt. Rushmore, and in another you're moving coloured aliens around on top of different coloured geysers. There are lots of different characters who will try to mess up your chances of beating the stages by climbing onto the tiles or just generally getting in the way, but they don't pop up very often and once you've got the hang of Flip Out!, they don't do anything but add to the tension...which is good.

There aren't that many other puzzle games on the Jaguar (I can only think of Evolution: Dino Dudes and Zoop off the top of my head), and Tetrisphere (or Phear, as it was known then) was swallowed up by the N64 before it could ever surface on Atari's machine...but Flip Out! is a decent title in it's own right. The graphics are pretty good for a game of this type - there are lots of pre-rendered, well animated sprites onscreen, and the levels are very colourful. The music too, is quite catchy and the sound effects and voice samples are very fitting (if overly cutesy). It's actually quite hard to dislike Flip Out!, even if the story is a contrived mess. It does what it sets out to do very well, and is quite addictive once you've learnt how to play. A cool and unique puzzler, worth getting if spotted for a reasonable price. Oh, and it's worth flipping (no pun intended) through the manual just for a look at some truly shocking early 90s computer-generated character renders!

White Men Can't Jump

I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure white men can jump. Now that little issue is cleared up, here's White Men Can't Jump for the Atari Jaguar - a basketball game that shares a name with a film from the 1990s starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson...but has pretty much nothing else in common with it's namesake.

Other than basketball, naturally.

Wesley and Woody are nowhere to be seen, and no reference is even made to the movie, other's about basketball. Not normal, NBA style basketball though - street-style, 2 on 2 basketball, where teams play on one half of the court and score in the same hoop.

Also, there are no rules other than 'get the ball in the hoop,' so punching, pushing and generally being a thug are all actively encouraged. Think Road Rash, without the bikes. Or the racing. Or the fun. That's because White Men Can't Jump is a little bit...meh. The problem here is that the game just isn't much fun to play: initially it all looks like a confusing mess as the sprite-based players shamble around, knocking each over and repeating the same "ouch" and "oof" voice samples, but after a while it does start to make sense and you'll be body-checking the opposition with aplomb and scoring points with slam-dunks like a regular Micheal Jordan. The thing is, it gets very repetitive very quickly. And that's not good.

After a few games, you'll have seen pretty much all there is in WMCJ, and be reaching for Tempest 2000 again. There are several modes of play - a versus match and a tournament mode where you can place bets on the outcomes of matches in order to win cash and pay back a loan shark...but that's it. One of the most notable features of WMCJ is it's 4 player option, but this is only accessible if you have a Team Tap, 4 pads and 3 other players who actually want to play...and these days that's a rare combination of external variables. Aesthetically, the game looks OK - there's some fairly good animation and the 3D look of the courts is quite good, as is the sprite scaling and variation in the four different locations. Sound is also fairly decent, with (repetitive) sampled speech and catchy background music...but ultimately there isnt a lot to keep you playing once you've seen everything...which will take about 5 minutes.

The Jaguar Lives On Through TxK!

February 12th saw the release of Llamasoft's latest entry in the pantheon of the Tempest series, TxK for the PS Vita. I know this is a Jaguar site, but I just couldn't ignore this release especially since I'm such a big fan of Tempest 2000. I managed to get a go on both TxK and Tempest 3000 on Nuon at Play Expo 2013, and even had the privilege of having TxK's controls explained to me by Jeff Minter himself.

I knew back then, after only 10-15 minutes of gameplay that TxK was going to be special...and now it's here, I'm pleased to report that it delivers on every level. It retains the thumping music, psychedelic visual style and frantic gameplay of Tempest games gone by, but adds several new features and some pin-sharp HD graphics too. There are also online leaderboards which let you see how well (or how badly, in my case) you measure up against other TxK players from around the world. Actually, it can be a little humbling when you see people at the top of the leaderboard with scores in the millions when you're only just managing half a million...but that just makes me want to play more and improve my scores!

If you've played Tempest 2000 (and you should have if you've found this place!), you'll be instantly familiar with TxK. You simply move your little yellow ship thingy around the top of the space-web, shoot baddies who try to climb up, collect power ups...and just try to avoid being caught or shot (the jump (Right Trigger) and Super Zapper (tap the touchscreen) are also present and correct). Some aspects have been upgraded slightly since Tempest 2000 - the AI Droid has had a makeover (it's now a glowing ball of death, instead of a...erm...wireframe cuboid of death), and it can also 'rescue' you if you're caught by a meanie and dragged to potential doom at the bottom of the web.

The tranquil special stages are also back, and are pretty much identical to the ones in the Jaguar game - simply target your crosshair and fly through the rings to rack up mega point bonuses. A new addition is the motion-sensitive section between stages where you can guide a little spark of light through rings, again to earn bonus points...but to be honest I'm not overly enamoured with these stages. Not because they're bad or anything; more because the PS Vita's motion sensor isn't the best and it makes these mid-stage sections a bit cack. Top marks for trying something new with the hardware though.

That aside, TxK is an amazing title and one of the best available for the Vita. The soundtrack is as pulsing as it ever was (but this is definitely a game that should be played with headphones...and by headphones I mean big, powerful cans; not piddly in-ear buds). With all this praise in mind, I've taken the liberty of producing a little video comparing the graphics and sound of both Tempest 2000 and TxK:

Obviously, due to the lack of a video-out port on the PS Vita, I had to record the footage of TxK on my Fujifilm HS30EXR bridge camera so that's why the sound is a little tinny and the video a little washed out when compared to the Tempest 2000 footage which I recorded with a proper capture device. But if you can look past that, the video gives a good approximation of the similarities between the two. Is TxK a better game than Tempest 2000? That's a difficult question to answer simply because of the gulf in time between releases and also the differences in the harware each game is running on. I'm tempted to dodge the question by saying simply this: both games are epic showcases of genius, and TxK should be seen as less of a sequel and more of an evolution of what was already a pretty flawless arcade shooter.

Bubsy In: Fractured Furry Tales

There was a time when it was deemed a necessity for a console to have a mascot. Sure, Nintendo are still producing Mario titles of unparalleled quality to this very day, but none of the current gen systems have a synonymous character pushing sales. In the 1990s though, to not have a mascot was unheard of - Nintendo (as mentioned, mere seconds previous) had Mario, Sega had/have Sonic, and even the PlayStation and Xbox had pseudo mascots in Crash Bandicoot and Blinx. I suppose the closest the Jag ever came to having a true mascot was Rayman, but he quickly jumped ship and went multi-platform before the Jag was even in a bodybag. True, there was also Zool - but he was already an Amiga mainstay...and so we are left with Bubsy. Bubsy the Bobcat, to give his full title. And while it's true that Bubsy had already featured in his own Mega Drive game, it seems Atari were keen to steal the character and install him as a Jaguar icon. Why? Nobody can really be sure.

The problem with Bubsy is that he just isn't very likeable - he's full of 'tude and wisecracks, and well...he just doesn't really do anything for me. He's a super furry animal who can jump and glide, but can be killed by just about everything he touches...which is a bit oxymoronic if you ask me: who goes around making wise-ass comments and acting like the world's hardest bloke, but can be instantly killed if an errant leaf blows off a tree and lands on his head? That annoyance I will come back to, but first - the game itself.

Bubsy In: Fractured Furry Tales is a fairly standard 2D platformer where you guide Bubsy through a series of fairy tale-themed levels (Furry Tales? See?!), collecting coloured balls, avoiding enemies and getting to the exit before the timer runs out. Sounds fairly simple, and it really is. You can jump and glide through the air which allows you to traverse larger gaps in the scenery, and you can defeat most enemies simply by bouncing on their heads. The graphics for the most part are quite nice - well animated and impressively coloured, and the levels (which are further divided into chapters) are quite varied and all take place in different story worlds (Alice in Wonderland, Arabian Nights, Hansel and Gretel etc). There's a boss at the end of each level and then you move on to the next area. Like I said - it's all fairly standard platforming fayre.

The thing that completely and utterly destroys any kind of fun that may have been gleaned from this game though, is the outrageous difficulty level. And I don't mean it's tricky to find your way or there are tough parts in certain levels; I mean that Bubsy is one of the most brutally unfair games I've ever played. Every single enemy has the ability to kill Bubsy just by touching him - even if you weren't aware you were in touching distance. Stand on a table and let something walk past below you - uh oh! The thing's hair touched your foot: dead. Sometimes you can't even see enemies because they're the same colour as the background. Other times, if you haven't timed your jump to perfection and your backside touches them as they walk under you: instant death. And it's not just the enemies that are out for Bubsy's blood either - the levels themselves are chock full of innocent-looking items that will snuff you out if you so much as look at them: boxes that contain drawing pins, lifts that take you up into shafts that have spikes at the top and no way out, floating cookies that kill on sight...even stuff you thought was background decoration until you try to walk past it. See that cupcake in the background? Instant death. In places, it's almost laughable how many times you can die within about 5 seconds of starting a level. True, Bubsy is blessed with 9 lives, but trust me - they'll all be gone before you even reach the halfway point of level one. See those pictures down there? I got them all using level codes I found on the internet. There is absolutely no way in hell that anyone - anyone - could get through this game with the initial 9 lives and the absurd and unfair difficulty level. This could be down to poor level design, but come on - Bubsy is clearly aimed at the younger gamer (even if they wouldn't get any of his one liners or references to 90s pop culture), but I'm a 31-year -old fairly experienced gamer...and I found it impossible! Definitely a game to buy if you enjoy replacing joypads every 3 minutes.

Bubsy then. Looks OK, has some fairly standard music and sound effects...but is impossible to play due to the horrendous difficulty level. Can Zool 2 be more enjoyable than this? I guess there's only one way to find out...