Thursday, October 11, 2007

Joystick Johnny Review

Joystick Johnny, developed and published by Flea Circus Games.
The Good: Lots of classic games recreated, short sessions with each game reduces monotony, appropriately adjusted difficulty
The Not So Good: No instructions for individual games, a loss requires to redo the entire sequence over again, levels are identical if repeated
What say you? A nice nostalgic collection of classic arcade games: 6/8

The first video game console I played was an Atari 2600. My family had (and still has, somewhere) quite an extensive collection of games for the system. All of these titles are very simplistic by today’s standards, but they were quite fun twenty-five years ago. Not surprisingly, several collections have been released featuring those titles, hoping to cash in on the nostalgic fervor. Joystick Johnny is one of those games, sort of. You see, it contains eerily similar adaptations of classic games, and you must complete a couple of levels of each game in a set amount of time. Will Joystick Johnny successfully recapture the youth of gamers everywhere?

Joystick Johnny certainly captures the atmosphere of those classic arcade games. Featuring low-resolution graphics in all their pixilated glory, Joystick Johnny does a nice job representing each classic game in a slightly different context (replacing asteroids with pizzas, for example). The variety of games is impressive, and the fact that each level “looks right” is a testament to good graphical design. Joystick Johnny has a generic 80’s-like music mix; it would have been better to rip off (I mean borrow) the actual game music. Overall, Joystick Johnny looks and sounds just like it should for what it is attempting to accomplish.

Joystick Johnny contains three arcades in which you need to beat thirteen games in twelve minutes. Each arcade is divided into three rows, and you must beat one, two, three, and then four levels in four of the five games in each row. There is some strategy in choosing the orders in which you play the games: obviously, games you stink at you will want to play first, since you only need to beat one level to move on to the next title. The controls can use the keyboard, which works well on most of the games. Still, a joystick gives you the ability to move at an angle easier (and makes the Gyruss clone playable). I found the time limit to be adjusted well: just enough time for a semi-perfect game. Every time you die, you lose five seconds of completion time; this can become an issue in the later rows. You can adjust the difficulty to allow for more and less time; harder levels will add more bonus points to your score. It took me a couple of tries to beat each arcade level; the limited number of lives in the very last game makes it quite difficult, and also annoying if you lose since you have to play all the games over again.

Joystick Johnny features a pleasant and complete list of arcade classics, or at least reasonable replications thereof. There are around 25 different games to choose from, including Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pac Man, Marble Madness, Missile Command, Gyruss, Spy Hunter, Joust, and the unforgettable E.T. for the 2600. Of course, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. I found that all of the replicas perform just as well as the originals, so the gameplay of Joystick Johnny is enjoyable. The game doesn’t give explicit instructions in each game, so it can take a couple of tries to figure out what you are supposed to shoot or collect and what to avoid. After you defeat the regular time limited game, you can enter mystery mix mode that will randomize the games’ placement, or dollar dash that will allow you to pick and choose. After you finish a game, you can upload your score to the Internet and revel at your incompetence.

Joystick Johnny successfully recreates some classic arcade games and presents them in an original concept with a neat overall goal, instead of simply slapping them all together. The gameplay is just as you remember it, and the subtle graphics changes make sure the developer won’t get sued (much). Joystick Johnny will obviously have more appeal for people who played the original games oh so many years ago. Still, the game is well designed and the quick pace reduces the probability of boredom associated with playing these archaic games. It helps if you have played these games before, since Joystick Johnny is devoid of instructions for each game and inexperienced players might not be able to figure out why they keep dying. Still, those looking for a fast-paced adaptation of simplified arcade action will find Joystick Johnny a satisfying title.