Disk 11, Side 2
There are games based in space. There are games based around adventurous heroes. There are games based on sports. There are games based on abstract concepts like yellow blobs eating dots and chasing ghosts. But nowhere was there a game based on fish in heat until the release of Salmon Run. (Wait, “fish in heat?” Is that the term? My sense of propriety forces me to keep from searching the Internet for an answer, lest I come across fetish sites too disturbing to contemplate.)
You are a rather intrepid fish who has just spent one to five years (depending on your species) hangin’ out in the ocean with your salmon buddies, eating a lot of plankton or whatever and generally having a good time. Suddenly, your instincts kick in, and you remember that hot salmon chick (salmon chick?) from the sac of eggs next door where you grew up somewhere in Alaska. It’s time to settle down, take out a salmon mortgage, and maybe search for some good salmon grad schools. But first you’ve got to get back to your old spawning grounds, so off you go. You race along the jaggedy stream, occasionally jumping over waterfalls and/or rapids. These waterfalls, if hit, will bounce you back and freeze you for a second, which doesn’t seem so bad, right? I mean, this thing isn’t timed, right? Well, be careful, because the streams are being patrolled by bears! These godless killing machines will stop at nothing to devour their next helpless salmon delight, which, sadly, happens to be you. They are also really fast! One of these bears will zoom across the screen, pursuing your fast-swimming tailfin at nearly the same speed (and even faster on later levels). Also, during later levels they turn pink. Sunburned? Embarrased? Some new form of salmon-fed Alaskan pink grizzly?
Once you jump enough waterfalls and avoid a sufficient amount of bears, you finally meet your sweetie and give her a nice fish kiss (complete with a nice, Atari-like kissing sound that is actually either really sweet or disturbing, considering the noise is coming out of a fish), where hearts float around you both and thankfully we are spared the ensuing biology lesson about salmon spawning. Then the level begins again, where everything goes faster!
Salmon Run is a reflex game, with the added challenge of those blasted bears, who charge at you from out of nowhere, move faster than you do, take up a big chunk of the screen, and are nearly impossible to avoid, thanks to the narrowing stream. It’s not my favorite, but it can be fun if you want to test your reflex skills. As for me, now I’m hungry for trout. Oddly enough, not for salmon.
Move over, Indiana Jones! Or in this case, turn blue, Indiana Jones! You play as a little cyan guy with a fedora, collecting the treasures of the ancient Pharaoh Whoever: treasures as beautiful and strange as a golden cat, a golden trophy, a golden cane, a golden, uh, fir tree, and other golden objects too crudely drawn to accurately make out. Also, there are gold keys, but they just open doors (not golden) and don’t count toward your treasure total. There are sixteen rooms in all, each containing one treasure, and when you have collected all sixteen you must make your way triumphantly back to…the title screen! Which is where you started, but for some reason is located in both the bottom and the top of the tomb! (The tomb, of course, wraps around, so you can fall out of the bottom of the tomb and arrive in a screen at the top.)
But this tomb raiding isn’t all gold-grabbing and door-opening. It is also filled with ancient and mystical traps! Sometimes a bird-like thing will appear and grab you, whisking you away a few screens. I have no idea what it’s supposed to be. Sometimes a treasure seems to materialize out of thin air, and if you grab it you get an extra life (but it doesn’t count toward your total treasure count), but sometimes it turns into a deadly golden arrow! Death! Also, there are golden traps that look alternately like claws, forks, jumping grasshoppers, and blunted spikes that pop up out of little bumps. A large amount of the time, these bumps are found at the bottom of ancient and mystical elevators, so you must stand on them waiting for an elevator and get killed if you wait too long! Wait, elevators? This ancient pharaoh outfitted his tomb with elevators? Who is this, Pharaoh Otis? I gotta hand it to those ancient Egyptians: their tombs may have been filled with deathtraps, but at least they were handicapped-accessible.
Anyway, occasionally you will run into either Pharaoh Otis himself or his mummy, who appear on a given screen announced by an eeeeevil fanfare. These denizens of the underworld don’t have any otherworldy powers, however; but they do have guns. Which they shoot at you. Fortunately, you also have a gun. Unfortunately, if you shoot one, it just dematerializes for a short time and will later reappear. Fortunately, the pharaoh can’t seem to figure out how to use his own elevators. Unfortunately, the mummy can. Fortunately, you can kill the mummy by running over a booby-trap bump right before the mummy does and kill it that way. Unfortunately, if you grab a key and then get killed you lose the key, often having to backtrack several screens. Fortunately, the Frogurt comes with your choice of topping! Unfortunately, the toppings contain potassium benzoate. That’s bad.
Pharaoh’s Curse is a lot of fun, but has some really strange physics quirks. Oftentimes you can walk right through walls and shimmy up them. Sometimes the bird will suddenly grab you, even though you were nowhere near it, and deposit you somewhere deadly. If you climb up a rope too fast a little remnant of your feet get left on the bottom of the screen, and if those pseudopods run into a wall then you can’t move in that direction, even if your way is clear. There are at least two or three doors that you are supposed to open with a key but can actually pass right through going one way (one of these actually gets you stuck until the bird-thing picks you up). If you jump while shooting you can make your jumps longer, sometimes, by…jumping off the bullets or something? You can even use this right when you press START to begin the game by shooting and jumping off to the left, eventually ending up in a part of the tomb you weren’t supposed to access yet. This makes it possible to collect the title screen treasure last instead of first, which is rather silly.
And hey, this is original: once you finished a level you started the game over, but everything went faster! It even gave you a password in case you wanted to start at higher levels. Interestingly enough, the password, which I won’t reveal here, is simply propaganda by Synapse software to train you into typing that their games are the best. It’s like the secret code from Miner 2049er actually being the phone number of the company that made the game: if you typed it enough into your Atari, maybe you’d accidentally punch it into your phone without thinking, and when you’re on the line with the company, heck, you might as well order a game or something, right? That’s marketing for you!
I really liked this game growing up. It was a fun, unpredictable platformer that was at a good difficulty level (not maddeningly hard, but not a cakewalk at higher levels either), and none of the weird quirks are gameplay killers. Give it a try, and see if you can avoid the evil pharaoh and his ominous elevator systems!
A regular visitor to this site may wonder why there was a several-month delay between my last reviews and this disk’s review. Well, wonder no more, because it mostly has to do with this game! In it you play a submarine commander on maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea during WWII, sinking enemy ships. No word on which side you belonged to, Allied or Axis, so I would assume you were actually a semi-neutral Spanish submarine, sinking ships from both sides just for kicks. In any case, you had to creep along silently and avoid depth charges to get within 35 feet of the surface and close enough to a ship to torpedo it, which usually missed. Once you got too damaged you had to go hide along the bottom of the sea and nurse your wounds, sitting there waiting for the sound of more depth charges being unloaded above your head. Once you blew up all the ships then…no, wait, that never happens; the ships keep coming.
This game, much like Eastern Front 1941 and Jumbo Jet Pilot, suffers a lot from a lack of manual, but even with the manual the controls were hard to figure out. Nevertheless I really tried to get into this game, as several reviewers online found it fun and adrenaline-filled when you finally sank something, but this game requires patience that I just don’t have. Curse my upbringing and exposure to fast-paced cartoons and ADD-inducing trance-like commercials for sugary beverages! So if you can figure it out then have fun sinking those Nazis. Or Frenchies. Whoever.
Side note: why do these hard-to-figure-out games always have to do with Germans? First Eastern Front 1941, and now this game. Maybe Jumbo Jet Pilot was commissioned by Lufthansa.
All right, nothing too fancy here; it’s pool. Or more specifically, 8-ball. You point the cursor at where you want the cue ball to hit, watch the fluctuating power meter on the left, and hit the trigger when the meter is at the level you want to strike with. Instead of stripes and solids, the balls are red and blue (except the 8-ball and cue ball, of course). It’s two-player, with no computer opponent, and numbers on the top of the screen represent nothing important. I don’t have much else to say here: if you like pool, give it a shot, if not, don’t. Whatever.
For those for whom Submarine Commander was apparently too obtuse of a submarine game, we present Nautilus! You control a submarine, whose mission is to torpedo underwater skyscrapers and steal the inhabitants.
It gets better. The computer opponent (or a second player if you wish) controls a destroyer of some sort, who speeds across the screen dropping depth charges on you in its mission to drop a white thing on the far left of the playing field, which goes down a tube and rebuilds all the skyscrapers. Magic! If the sub runs into anything it breaks in half and sinks to the bottom, where it lies for a few seconds before being miraculously resurrected to continue its underwater havoc-wreaking, where if the destroyer gets hit by anything (either from a torpedo by the surfacing sub or a malicious yet tiny helicoptor dropping bombs) part of it explodes and it races back to the far right of the screen, unable to drop that skyscraper-building whatever thing. I know that’s a vague term, but if there is a word in the English language for “device that travels through an underwater tube erecting skyscrapers in its wake” I’ve yet to find it.
Anyway, once the sub gets all the inhabitants from the skyscrapers, then they all immediately reappear and you can get them all again! Yay? This continues for the entire three-minute round, at which point the game abruptly ends and you can press START to begin it again.
I don’t know about Nautilus. While it certainly is a well-made game, there’s just something missing to make it truly enjoyable. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand anything that’s going on. Maybe it’s because there’s no real objective (collecting things from skyscrapers ad nauseum aside). Maybe it’s the fact that you can’t kill either the sub or the boat for more than a few seconds. Maybe it’s the fact that the board never changes and is pretty easy the first time anyway. Whatever the reason is, Nautilus is one of Synapse’s weaker entries, and, while not a bad game, fails to live up to the shine of its brothers.
That finally does it for Disk 11! Stay tuned for Disk 12, which contains beta versions of Ball Blazer and Rescue on Fractalus, called Ball Blaster and Rescue Mission.