Review: 3D Realms Anthology – Part II:
After all those SHUMPs in Part I of my review of the 3D Realms Anthology, a change of genre was definitely welcome. For Part II, I decided to check out a selection of side-scrollers and adventure games. The side-scrollers I chose feature shooting mechanics, similar to Metroid or Metal Slug, and the adventure games are reminiscent of Zelda.
You have to give 3D Realms a lot of credit for trying out so many different genres when growing their library of games. Very few publishers take those risks these days, and instead focus on sequels to experiences that paid off for them.
Read part I of our review here
Alien Carnage / Halloween Harry
Original release: November 4, 1994
Alien Carnage is a pretty typical side-scroller/shooter. You are tasked with navigating four unique stages to find and kill aliens. This is accomplished by way of a jetpack, which allows you to quickly ascend to new areas while still being able to shoot. Eventually, you’ll have to find additional fuel for the jetpack as well. There are a variety of weapons which you have to keep stocked with ammo, which can be found throughout the stages as you progress.
The game’s story is pretty bland. Typical “save us from the aliens” stuff. Aside from that, the gunplay was solid and navigation was enjoyable. The jetpack mechanic worked well for the game… except when you run out of fuel. At that point, everything comes to a screeching halt. Often, I would run out of fuel in an area where I could not jetpack out of, and would have to quit and restart the game. After getting stuck in this situation a dozen or so times, I stopped playing. It just stopped being fun.
This unfortunate feature is enough for me to recommend skipping this game. If the fuel mechanic were not there, it would actually be a pretty solid shooter to work through. Unfortunately, it shoots itself in the foot.
Original release: August 3, 1993
You are legendary CIA agent Snake Logan, shot down over the city during some sort of biological attack that releases mutants and monsters all over the metro area? What does one do in this situation? Shoot as many of them as you can. Oh yeah, and collect all the jewels you find, because there are literally precious gems lying around all over the place.
Bio Menace really is about as typical as a side-scrolling shooter can get, but it has a huge amount of charm. The graphics and gameplay are solid, with simple controls and lots of variety in environments and enemies. While not taking the genre to any new heights, it nails all the checkpoints games like this are supposed to.
Guns? Check. You start with a single shot weapon and can pick up upgrades as you play as long as you have ammo.
Enemies? Check. From slugs to slime monsters, bosses, and dinosaurs, this has it all.
Collectables? Check. From secondary weapons like grenades to jewels for extra lives, there’s plenty to hunt down as you work through this level.
Mullets? Check. Just one, and it’s yours. What more could you ask for?
This is a pretty great example at a shooter in this collection. There are plenty of levels and lots to go back and see as you play. Check this one out.
Original release: October 23, 1991
Crystal Caves is another side scrolling shooter in the 3D Realms library, and this one is pretty expansive. The primary goal is to collect crystals, which are scattered throughout the game world within a series of caves. You can complete the caves in any order you choose, but once you enter one you cannot escape until all crystals are collected.
As you play, you’ll encounter enemies that you’ll have to either avoid or kill with your missile weapon. You’ll run out of ammo, so pickups are scattered throughout the world to replenish it. There are temporary weapon upgrades lying around too. Some caves are lit, but the ones that aren’t will be lit by your helmet light. There are candles to pick up too if more light is needed.
The game is colorful and, on the surface, looks like an entertaining experience. It is at first, but unfortunately the game gets pretty repetitive almost instantly. The enemies are not too smart and the environments are just platforms that are connected by small puzzles as you traverse them. To leave, you’ll have to switch open doors and find release buttons on top of the already tedious crystal hunt.
I’d say play this one with caution. If you’re into puzzles while you traverse large environments, you’ll enjoy this, but I have to admit after the first hour or so I started to grow weary of the experience.
Original release: June 1, 1994
Hocus Pocus is a wizard-themed side-scroller/shooter, and a very good looking one at that. The game has very good looking backgrounds that feature parallax scrolling and plenty of colors. The enemies are varied, and the 36 levels are all unique and interesting to play through.
Your character Hocus is a wizard, so the gunplay in this one is actually magical projectiles. Potions give you new powers, but only temporarily. Some augment your primary spell, while others give him abilities like teleportation and movement enhancements.
I have to say, I was a little unsure how long I’d stick with this one at first, because it was simple at the beginning and somewhat easy. As I progressed, however, the difficulty really increased to a level that provided a satisfying challenge. Luckily, Hocus has a Wizard teacher that helps you out with hints along the way.
The game, much like 3D Realms’ other shooters in this collection, don’t push the boundaries too much, but it sure was a fun game to play and was one of the most polished games I’ve played in this part of my review series. Give this one a look, even if only to admire the graphical accomplishments the development team pulled off.
Monuments of Mars
Original release: January 1, 1990
Maybe it was the older looking graphics. Perhaps the simplistic sound effects. Or even the endless restarts I had to trigger.
Whatever the case, I didn’t care for Monuments of Mars.
The game is more dated than most of the ones in this collection, barely making it out of the 1980’s (releasing the opening hours of the 90s). Normally I wouldn’t take too much stock in the date of the release, but seeing as this game released after the Nintendo’ platformer successes of the 80’s, at some point a standard has to apply. The graphics are simple, the enemies are almost non-existent, and there are specific controls mapped to the keyboard for when you inevitably cannot move. I’m not kidding. There are places where you get stuck, so they have a button mapped to bail you out. Why not just put a death trap in those locations? Instead you leave it to the player to trigger a manual death? I don’t understand that idea at all.
Shoting wise, you get five shots before you go ammo-less, and collecting more ammo is a chore due to the fact that you’ll have to kill yourself with the hotkey before getting to an area with an ammo box. The only upside to this whole experience is that you don’t run out of lives, so you can keep going through this cycle until you decide to close the DOSBox window.
Skip this one. It’s just not that good, and there are so many better games in this collection deserving of your time.
Realms of Chaos
Original release: November 11, 1995
Realms of Chaos caught me by surprise. I started playing it without reading into the controls or story (shame on me!) and found out partially through the first stage that you actually play as two characters at once!
Endrick and Elandra travel the world of Mysteria in search of treasure, all while defeating a number of mystical beasts and solving puzzles. While playing, a press of a button will switch which character you control, allowing you to take advantage of both characters’ strengths and abilities. Endrick has a sword and is great at close range combat and, best I could tell, a little more resistant to damage. Elandra wields a magical fire projectile and is a little faster than her brother. She also has a longer jump for getting over traps and pits.
Visually the game is impressive, with detailed environments and lots of enemies to conquer, as well as a number of interesting boss battles.
The game doesn’t offer much more than that, but with 36 levels and the ability to switch your character on the fly, the replay-ability is quite substantial. Definitely give this one a go.
Original release: July 15, 1994
Mystic Towers is a puzzle game set inside an isometric tower. Your goal as Baron Baldric is to explore the tower you are inside while avoiding monsters and finding secrets. The game is filled with stuff to do, with 540 rooms to explore.
Baldric, despite looking quite old, is surprisingly spry. He can jump, roll, flip and run across the room, and can use magic to teleport, heal, and even levitate. The game has a number of interesting monsters that are not exactly intelligent, but have the ability to follow you from room to room, so don’t take them lightly.
At first, I had a hard time playing this game. The isometric view is a little disorienting, and the arrow keys used to move don’t exactly translate well to what’s happening on the screen. A little bit of fumbling lead me to discover that the mouse is fully useable with traversal, and I found that to be a little easier to use.
The game is big, and there’s lots to do, but if you’re not into seemingly endless rooms to traverse, this game might not be for you. What is there works pretty well, though, and I found myself rooting for the old guy as he got further into the game. He was quite charming!
Original release: October 1, 1991
Paganitzu is a fun game, and it’s fun because it’s simple. It’s probably best described as an early example of a rouge-like. You are tasked with going from room to room in a dungeon, collecting keys necessary to unlock the door to each room as you progress. You can also collect gems found in each room for point bonuses.
You cannot attack the various enemies you’ll encounter in these dungeons, but you can push obstacles in their path to block them from being a danger. If that’s not an option, you’ll have to carefully maneuver around them. It reminds me a bit of Sokoban, honestly, except with fewer puzzle-based box movement and more survival aspect.
I enjoyed this game a lot, and I think most people will enjoy the simple task of getting around this environment. There’s no weapons to fire, no puzzles to think through. I found it quite relaxing, and can see myself coming back to this one for short bursts down the line. I highly recommend this one.
Part 2 Wrap-up:
Some great ones. Some duds. This selection of games seemed to blend together a bit, mostly because few of them took risks in their respective genres. Even the great ones were still pretty typical, but the surprising star for me was the simple but enjoyable Paganitzu. We’ll be back soon with part 3 of this series, with a bunch more 3D Realms classics to check out.
Stay tuned to LevelSave for coverage of the 3D Realms Anthology!
The 3D Realms Anthology was provided to LevelSave for review purposes and was played on a PC via Steam.