Sunday, 24 July 2011

Game review: Hamster's Escape

Hamster's Escape
Genre: Arcade
Author: GECA soft
OHH download: v1.0 (11/07/11)
Size: 2.2 MB
Licence: Freeware

This is one of the newest games available for the GP2X, and is a very simple arcade affair. You play a little blue stick man, who is being menaced by waves of approaching hamsters. At various speeds they move down the screen, going from side to side while they do so. The game continues until you come into contact with a hamster, at which point it's game over.

Addictiveness: 4
It provides some ultra-retro fun for a little while, but the lack of a high score feature means that even the usual "can I beat my previous best?" option is missing unless you have a sensationally good memory!

Depth: 2
Don't be silly. Moving around and avoiding hamsters is the entire game.

"FIRE" (the A button) starts the game, but then doesn't actually do anything! All you can do is to move around the screen with the stick. That's all, folks. Start quits the game (without warning) whether you're in the middle of a game or not.

Graphics: 5
There's a fairly long pause before the game starts, so don't think that the black screen means it's crashed. You then get a splash for the Crap Games Combo contest (which is awful, as it should be) and then a title screen that looks like it's escaped from 1983. A message advises you to "Press FIRE to play" and then you're into the main game. Ever played a mediocre Atari 2600 game? If so, you'll be right at home: I'd be amazed if the look weren't deliberate, as it really is very close, and though everything's very basic it's not actually too crap. (Sorry!)

Sound: 3
We're in the days of dodgy old consoles, and it sounds like it too. Only one thing is authentic GP2X, which is that the default volume blows your eardrums when using the official headphones. Thankfully the standard volume control works, though you'll need to press it plenty of times. The actual sound... well, it's bleeps and bloops, and very basic ones at that. They fit the graphics, but they'll probably drive you mad fairly quickly.

Documentation: 3
Virtually nothing: the readme doesn't tell you much beyond that Hamster's Escape was "made in one afternoon for the Crap Game Combo 2011 Contest" -- and I thought that was just a Spectrum thing! The text on OHH isn't much better, simply advising you to run from evil hamsters to stay alive...

Completeness: 5
Given that this game is supposed to be crap, I suppose a low score here may actually be a good thing! It's not exactly deep, and the documentation is awful, but then it's so simple that it doesn't need much explanation. The core game may be utterly simple, but it's there! A high score feature really would help a great deal, though.

Overall: 4
I am bearing in mind what this game was written for, but there's no getting away from the fact that Hamster's Escape is not a very good game. Even disregarding the dodgy apostrophe in its name, I really can't see anybody playing this for more than a few minutes without getting bored. It's like Centipede without the depth!

Friday, 22 July 2011

And here's that low-level library!

Game review still on the way by Sunday, but this takes priority: I mentioned a few weeks ago that f-cycles had announced the release of a new low-level library for the GP2X. Well, I'm pleased to say that he's lived up to his words, and here is the release announcement. It's mostly a bit over my head, but I'm sure the serious programmers amongst you will enjoy playing with it. It's been licensed as GPL v3, so the source can be played about with, too.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Sorry for any delay

I'm going to be taking a very short break from 2XGB. And when I say very short, I mean it! There will definitely be another post here by the end of the weekend, if not sooner. Nothing terrible has happened; I'm just a bit snowed under with other things for a few days. I hope to make my next post a review of a new GP2X game, so I hope it will be worth waiting for. For the three and a half people who read this blog, thank you for your support!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Racing games, or the lack of

It surprises me a bit that there are so few racing/driving games available for the GP2X. The OHH archive lists only about half a dozen (for some reason a completely unrelated PocketSNES adaptation is also in that category...) which is pretty disappointing for such a popular genre. I'm sure the hardware would be easily capable of running a port of the top-down racer GeneRally, for example, which is a very nice game indeed -- albeit with one idiotic bit of licensing.1

Yes, there are plenty of console and computer racing games if you want to go the emulation route, but it surprises me that so little has been written for the console natively. Of course I'm not a good enough programmer to be able to tell whether there's a particular reason for this, but it seems very odd that even 2D racers are so notable by their absence. It's probably too late for this to change now, but it seems worth a quick mention just in case someone's got something special up their sleeve!

1When you go to download GeneRally from the official site, you're told that by downloading it you agree to the terms in the readme file... which you obviously can't have seen yet!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Second-hand prices falling?

I've generally felt that £50 is a fair price for a used GP2X in good condition and with the odd accessory such as headphones or a big SD card. However, I've noticed recently that £40 is now often enough to snag an F100 (the F200 is still rarer and more expensive). It's true that the prices of most electronics have fallen on eBay over the last few months, but it'll be interesting to see whether GP2X prices recover or whether they're stuck at this new lower level.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Game review: NetHack (CaduHack)

Nethack (CaduHack R01)
Genre: Adventure and RPG
Author: Cadu / Dzzz (GP2X port)
OHH download: vR01 (03/06/07)
Size: 5.8 MB
Licence: Nethack General Public License

CaduHack is a version of NetHack, the best-known of the "roguelike" sub-genre of role-playing adventure games. These, named after an early title actually called "Rogue", are at their simplest dungeon-based quests: you descend into the catacombs, acquiring treasure and weapons as you go, and try to get hold of a great treasure. In NetHack's case, this fabled item is the Amulet of Yendor. Winning the game is accomplished not simply by escaping the dungeon (you can aim to do that, but it isn't really a win) but by "ascending": fulfilling all the requirements of your god and thus being raised to the status of demigod(dess) yourself.

This is a turn-based game, something not very common nowadays but which it's important to remember. In the middle of a desperate melee, you can find yourself making decisions in a snap, when in fact you have time to stop and think. The basic graphics actually help enhance the role imagination plays in NetHack, and the pressure is certainly very real. One major decision enhances that: if you die, you die. You have just the one life, and though you can save your game and carry on later, you cannot return to a previous save point. On top of all that, you can choose your starting role (eg Barbarian, Knight, Tourist, Valkyrie), race (eg dwarf), alignment (eg lawful) and gender, all of which can have major implications.

Addictiveness: 9
NetHack itself gets a 10 here, easily. The only reason CaduHack doesn't is that the (inevitably) slightly fiddly control system can become a pain if playing for long periods of time. Either way, this is one of the most extraordinarily involving games ever made. The basic graphics and lack of sound don't matter one jot, and the vast variety of monsters, friendly creatures, other humans (shopkeepers, for example!) and magical beings which populate the huge playing area means that you're never going to find yourself playing exactly the same game twice. (There's a random element to the maze generation anyway.)

Depth: 10
NetHack is an absolutely massive game. Many people play quite regularly for years before winning through, and some don't ever manage to do so. You can have quite a good time just sticking to the upper levels (the Dungeons of Doom) and doing a straight dungeon-crawl, but if you do that you'll be missing out on the quests, alternative planes of existence and much else besides that give this game its enormous longevity. Even if you do manage to ascend, you can try again with another type of character, set yourself challenges (eg never eating meat) and much else besides.

Controls: 7
NetHack was written for computers with a full keyboard available, and there are an awful lot of commands, so inevitably things aren't perfect here. CaduHack does about as well as could be expected, though: all the buttons are made use of, and there are several commands which require two buttons to be pressed simultaneously: for example L+B will zap a wand, while L+Y equates to "kick". Start will bring up a menu offering a choice of the many other commands: from here (and sometimes a submenu or two) you can adjust armour, engrave "Elbereth" (there's a hint for you...) and dip things in water. I couldn't find anything that wasn't there somewhere.

Graphics: 6
Roguelike games don't generally go in for flashy graphics, and NetHack certainly follows that tradition. There are two main options for display: you can either use a set of "tiled" graphics, in which you get a teeny tiny picture of whatever's on a square (eg an open sack of gold), or you can go the old-school route and use ASCII graphics. With this second option, everything is shown with an ordinary ASCII character: you appear as an @ sign, canines as various colours of d, and so on. Many players -- including me -- prefer the simplicity of the ASCII look. None of the three text sizes is ideal, but they're all useful at times.

Sound: N/A
There isn't any.

Documentation: 7
Reasonable. There's a pretty good help option in the in-game menu, as well as two readme files: one from Dzzz's original GP2X port, and one explaining Cadu's enhancements. You don't get the very detailed in-game guides available on "computer NetHack", however, so I probably wouldn't recommend this version to absolute newcomers. The internet is absolutely stuffed with guides, spoilers and the like for NetHack, so if you want to learn then that's the place to look.

Completeness: 9
One or two bugs have been reported by users: for example, an OHH reviewer mentioned that the game hung when they tried to drop 30 items on an altar. However, that seems to be about it; I think the level of documentation included is acceptable for this port so won't knock anything off for that.

Overall: 9
CaduHack really is about as good a port of NetHack as anybody could reasonably expect on the GP2X. I thought quite seriously about awarding it 10 for that reason, but there's no doubt that the fiddly controls do have a small impact on its playability. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful game to be able to take with you, and I would urge everyone who values atmosphere and imagination over big explosions and blinding eye-candy to keep it on their SD card. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

GP2X music!

LittleGPTracker (colloquially known as "Little Piggy Tracker") by Marc Nostromo is, as the name rather implies, a music tracker written especially for portable consoles such as the GP2X. About a month ago, Patric Catani / Toytone released a full 12-track digital album, entitled Pad Sounds. It costs €5.99 and is available from Patric's Bandcamp page, where you can listen to the first track free. Very electronicy stuff, and not really my sort of thing, but it does sound very well done and is definitely worth a listen!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A new low-level library on its way?

A Canadian developer by the name of f-cycles has announced the forthcoming release ("before [the] end of July 2011") of his low-level library for the GP2X. The list of features (see the link) is pretty impressive, and if it does indeed appear then maybe it will kick-start a little more development for our console. Caution has to be in order, of course, as there are an awful lot of examples of people promising exciting-looking releases that we're still waiting for several years on. Still, let's be optimistic for once: this really does promise a lot!