Author Archives: lewispackwood

About lewispackwood

The first game that Lewis ever played was "Horace Goes Skiing" on the ZX Spectrum. Yes, he's that old.

Russian ZX Spectrum Clones

My article on Russian ZX Spectrum clones – ‘The Land Where the Spectrum Lived On‘ – has just been published on Kotaku UK. This was a fascinating article to research and write, but it took an absolute age – there’s not a huge amount of information on the Russian Spectrum scene in English, so piecing together all of the various bits of info took forever.


I’ve known for a while that the Spectrum was big in Russia in the 1990s, but I didn’t know much about it, or exactly how big it was. When I heard that someone managed to port DOOM to the Spectrum, my interest was piqued, and I decided to find out more – which is how I ended up pitching this article. The many, many Russian sequels to Dizzy were probably the most interesting things I found while researching it. There are already tonnes of official Dizzy games, but if you add in the Russian sequels, the number is easily doubled.

The other really interesting thing to come out of writing this was discovering the Dendy – a wildly successful Russian clone of the Nintendo Famicom, complete with shameless rip-offs of various Mario games. Apparently 2 million of them were sold!

Drunk Dizzy

(Image: credit)

Buy The Recreated Sinclair ZX Spectrum from Amazon.

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Filed under Pulp

The never-ending Xenoblade Chronicles

I’ve set myself the goal of finishing all three ‘Operation Rainfall’ RPGs, but finishing the second game on the list, Xenoblade Chronicles, is proving to be something of a challenge. I’m already 91 hours in, and the game just keeps unfolding like a never-ending carpet of multi-coloured delights… and frustrations.


I’ve already blithely ignored my pledge to avoid side quests in the aim of using my limited gaming time efficiently – Xenoblade has sunk its claws into me deeply, and I just can’t help but explore every inch of the beautifully realised game world, mopping up sub-quests as I go.

It’s not like the side quests are even that interesting – mostly they involve just killing X number of Y type of monster, or collecting Z number of some random collectible. And there are ludicrous numbers of them – more than 480 quests altogether, apparently. The sheer scale is almost overwhelming.

But the beauty of the quests is that they provide a legitimate reason to carefully explore the extraordinary game world, and this is their magic. The universe of Xenoblade, set as it is on two enormous gods locked in combat, is compelling: it’s easy to spend hours running through the beautiful landscapes, admiring the views and learning more about the world’s history. It’s easy to forget that the reason you’re doing this is to merely to track down two ice cabbages that have a woeful spawn rate of 6%.


Occasionally the subquests do offer something a bit more interesting, however, such as a bit of character development, a bit of world lore or some ultra-rare items from a previously inaccessible game area. The game would be much improved if all of the quests were like that, and the overall number of quests was reduced. But even though there are so many, I feel compelled to complete them all, or at least as many as I can – I’m right near the end of the main game now, and to be honest, I just don’t want it to end. Part of me wants to just finish the game and move on to something else – Splatoon and Yoshi’s Woolly World arrived recently, and I’m dying to give them a go. But I keep being drawn back to Xenoblade

Part of the reason is the clever ‘affinity’ system, whereby all of the characters appear on a sort of relationship map that gets filled in as you complete quests and talk to more people. It’s a clever way of representing the complexity of the world and the people in it, and completing the connections is an addictive pursuit. But mostly, the reason I keep plunging back into the game is that it’s such a pleasant place to spend time in.

And come December, I get to do it all over again with Xenoblade Chronicles X

The affinity chart - joining the dots is addictive...

The affinity chart – joining the dots is addictive…

Buy Xenoblade Chronicles for New Nintendo 3DS from Amazon UK.
Buy Xenoblade Chronicles for Wii from Amazon UK.


Filed under Reviews

Amiibo Bonanza

Following a spate of excited pre-orders a few months back, and the many trials and tribulations I went through in trying to order a Woolly Yoshi amiibo, all of my chickens have come home to roost, so to speak. That is, a tonne of amiibos descended on my house, much to the alarm of Ms. D. (“How many more of these are coming?” were her exact words.)


First up were these two cheeky so-and-sos. I ended up buying Splatoon online in a moment of weakness a couple of weeks back, and I decided to nab these two Inkling amiibos while I was at it. I still haven’t found the time to play the game beyond the tutorial (the reality of parenthood bites), but at least I’ve been able to admire the craftsmanship on these two lovely figurines while burping Merriweather Jr.


I’m particularly impressed with the detail on the back – the tiny ink canister looks great. Now if only it contained real ink…


Next to arrive was Ganondorf, another impressively detailed figure.


He now lives next to Link on my bookshelf.


Next was the amiibo I’ve been really looking forward to – Woolly Yoshi (a.k.a. Yarn Yoshi).


Look how cute he is!


The label is a great touch.


At first glance it appears to be merely an ultra-cute plush toy, but look underneath and its hidden amiibo-ness is revealed…


And finally, a rather pleasant surprise. I missed out on Shulk first time around – the figure sold out pretty much immediately on release back in February. But last week a stock alert popped up in my emails saying that Nintendo had restocked the figures. By the time I clicked through to the Nintendo UK website they’d already sold out (this was only half an hour or so after the email arrived), but luckily GAME still had some in stock.


Shulk has been going for crazy prices on Amazon and auction sites – about £70 on Amazon last time I checked, although I imagine it’s much less now the figure has been restocked. I briefly contemplated ordering Shulk in from Japan for about £40 a few months back, but I’m glad I kept my sanity and decided to wait! So pleased to finally get have this one for my collection – I’ve been playing stupid amounts of Xenoblade Chronicles recently, so it’s fitting to finally get the Shulk figure.


So what next? Well I’m holding off on amiibos for the near future – the living room is starting to look a bit like a toy shop, so any future additions will have to be really special to warrant being added to my already fairly substantial collection. I’ve been tempted by a few from the next amiibo waves: specifically Chibi-Robo, R.O.B. and Duck Hunt Dog. However, I reckon I can probably live without them.

Roy, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. I already have the other four Fire Emblem characters from Super Smash Bros. (see above), so it would be a criminal shame if Roy couldn’t join them on the mantelpiece…

Buy Green Yarn Yoshi amiibo from Amazon UK.
Buy Shulk amiibo from Amazon UK.


Filed under Pulp

From The Armchair: Say Hello To Merriweather Jr

ArmchairWhat-ho, chums!

You may well have noticed my conspicuous absence from this illustrious online tome over the past month or so – my endless thanks to Sir Gaulian for keeping things ticking over with a steady stream of fantastic articles. I have a good excuse for my blogging slackness, however – the birth of my son.




Yes, that’s right, Merriweather Jr has finally made his way into the outside world, glory be! Needless to say, he’s been keeping us all very busy these last few weeks, but things are gradually calming down now as we get used to his cheery (sometimes teary) presence.

Needless to say, my gaming time will be rather limited from now on, but I’ll endeavour to post here as often as I can.

Toodle-pip for now!


Filed under From The Armchair

Why I’m looking forward to Rare Replay

My article on the Xbox One Rare Replay collection just went up on Kotaku UK. And there’s one game I’m particularly looking forward to playing again: Solar Jetman.


As I say in the Kotaku article, this NES game wasn’t hugely successful in terms of sales, but it garnered huge critical praise – and it had me hooked. Yet despite this, I never quite managed to finish the game, mostly because it’s rock hard. I still hope to finish it one day though, and hopefully if they include a way to save the game in Rare Replay, this will be a bit easier than it was back in the day. The original game had a password system so you could skip levels, but extra lives were incredibly limited – an option to reload a save game would be most welcome, if a little cheaty.

I actually still have the original Solar Jetman cartridge – it’s the only NES game I’ve kept hold of, although I no longer have a working NES. For ages I’ve been toying with the idea of picking up another NES just to play this game again, but thanks to Rare Replay I no longe have to. Hurrah!


Buy Rare Replay (Xbox One) from Amazon.

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From The Armchair: Sega Sentimentality

ArmchairWhat-ho, chums!

So, Ms. D’s two lovely sisters came a-visiting recently, and we ended up chatting about their video game habits of old. It turns out that the sisters three were once enthralled by the Sega Mega Drive as youths, and would happily spend hours passing the controller back and forth through epic sessions of Streets of Rage 2, Sonic The Hedgehog and, to a lesser extent, Ecco The Dolphin (which left them “baffled” for the most part, a reaction I can empathise with).

After hearing of this winsome Sega nostalgia, I immediately fired up the trusty old PS3 and promptly downloaded Streets of Rage 2 for a pittance – much to the sisters’ delight. There ensued a highly enjoyable evening of ass-whupping, nineties style – and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Ms. D so enthused over a video game before. As I watched, nostalgia took its vice-like grip as the siblings were transported back to pre-puberty…

Sadly it was an emotion I couldn’t partake of. As a Nintendo-devoted teenager, I only played on a Mega Drive a handful of times, and certainly never owned one – and it’s difficult to be nostalgic about a game you’ve never played. But having said that, it was wonderful to leap back into a simpler time, when games only required a couple of buttons and a big helping of bloody-mindedness, particularly before save games were commonplace and it was de rigeur to play through the opening levels of a game several hundred times, simply because you had no other choice.


But although I’ve never played Streets of Rage 2, I’ve heard lots of very good things about it, and I was keen to sample it for myself. And what do you know, it holds up surprisingly well for a game originally released in 1991. Yes, the gameplay is simple, but there’s just enough variety in the enemies and environments to make it engaging, and the artwork still looks fantastic. OK, some of the bad guys are recycled a little bit too much, but the combinations they’re presented in change throughout, and the final boss is fantastic.

Buoyed by the wave of retro-gaming nostalgia generated by SoR2, I went on to download Sonic The Hedgehog 2, which the sisters greeted with misty-eyed joy. Yet I struggled to warm to this one like I did to Streets of Rage. Back in the nineties, I remember playing Sonic The Hedgehog for the first time and being blown away by the speed of it. Yet very quickly it became apparent that going quickly was actually a recipe for disaster – at top speed it was impossible to see what was coming next, resulting in lots of unfair deaths from unseen spikes. So even though the game’s raison d’etre was speed, perversely it did everything it could to stop you going fast – and the same is true of the sequel. I found Sonic 2 initially fun but very quickly infuriating, and once we progressed to the later levels my long-held suspicions were confirmed: i.e. that the first levels in Sonic 1 and 2 are by far the best levels in each game, leaving little reason to progress.


Still, Ms. D remains a Sonic fan, and while charity shopping the other day I came across the critically lauded Sonic Generations for the PS3 for a mere £3. I’m hoping that both of us can enjoy this update of the old Sonic formula, and that perhaps the 3D sections fix that old Sonic problem – by actually letting you see where the hell you’re going.

But through all this, and despite the D sisters’ Sega sentimentality, my nostalgia glands have remained dispiritingly unstimulated, purely because I’m coming to these games for the very first time. So over the weekend I decided to treat myself to an old Sega game that I HAVE played before – many times in fact.

OutRun was a staple of my youth, being my go-to arcade game in musty waterfront arcades from Portsmouth to Porthtowan on many a family holiday. Recently released on the 3DS, 3D OutRun is an utterly wonderful update of the arcade classic, laden with subtle improvements but still retaining the enthralling gameplay of the original. As soon as I began playing I was transported right back to that beachfront arcade, the ten-year-old me peering over the top of the sweat-slicked steering wheel as I frantically stamped on the sand-covered pedals…

Ah, there it is: that sweet, sweet, intoxicating hit of nostalgia.

Toodle-pip for now!

3D OutRun


Filed under From The Armchair

When English translation doesn’t quite work

The Last Story was great, and so is Xenoblade Chronicles – although they’re not without their niggles. One quirk is that both games use British voice actors, which makes for a refreshing change from the usual American voices in video games. But having said that, the acting isn’t particularly, well, awe-inspiring, and in Xenoblade particularly the script is filled with repetition and lots of stating the obvious. In fact, I’ve now switched the voices over to Japanese because I just couldn’t take any more of the actors saying the same thing over and over again.

Also, the cut scenes just work better in Japanese. The conversation structure of Japanese doesn’t properly translate to English – often there are enormous pauses in conversation, after which one character will nod and gravely say “hai” (“yes”: but really it can convey all sorts of meanings depending on context, and it’s used more extensively than “yes” in English). In the game translation, you usually end up with someone saying “I agree” after an enormo-pause, which just sounds ridiculous.

The best Japanese to English translations tend to involve the translator reinterpreting the text and, where possible, redoing the lip sync to suit more usual patterns of English conversation. But unfortunately that’s not always possible – there was a fascinating article in EDGE issue 278 (unfortunately not available online, but discussed here and available to buy here) in which translator Alexander O Smith details the difficulty he had in rewriting the script to match the fixed lip syncs in Final Fantasy XII (most agree he did an outstanding job on the translation).

But certainly with Xenoblade, the game just makes more sense in Japanese… if that makes sense.



Filed under Opinions and Hearsay