Category Archives: Rare

#59: Battletoads

Format: NES Genre: Fighting/Platform Released: 1991 Developer: Rare

Battletoads was one of my favourite games on the NES, second only to Super Mario Bros. 3, although I have to admit my recollections of how it actually played are hazy at best.

I read through a few internet reviews before I started writing this post, and almost all of them mentioned how incredibly difficult Battletoads was – something that I don’t remember at all. That either means I’m an amazingly skilled gamer or my memory isn’t up to much –  I’m guessing it’s the latter. Most reviewers bewailed the teeth-grinding difficulty of the hover bike bit on level three, and after watching a clip of the level on YouTube (see below), painful memories of thrown joypads and screamed curse words gradually began to float towards the murky surface of my brain pool. Obviously Battletoads caused so much trauma to my poor teenaged brain that the delicate organ has suppressed all memories associated with it.

Punching out the robots let you use their legs as a weapon.

There's nothing more satisfying than beating up cartoon enemies with bits of other cartoon enemies.

Battletoads was obviously a thinly veiled attempt to cash in on the mania surrounding the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the time, and I seem to remember a whole crop of these rip-offs emerging during the nineties (anyone remember Street Sharks?). I never really ‘got’ the Turtles though – even as a ten-year-old I thought they were one of the stupidest ideas I’d ever seen, and my position hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. Having said that, the Turtles video games were generally pretty good (my favourite was the original Game Boy one) – but Battletoads was in a league of its own.

"It's too orangey for crows." Not sure how the Kia Ora crows ended up in Battletoads.

"It's too orangey for crows." There was no explanation as to why the Kia Ora crows made an appearance, nor what they had against anthropomorphic toads.

One of Battletoads‘ best features was its sense of humour – something that its po-faced beat ’em up cousin Double Dragon lacked. All the cartoon violence staples were there – the character’s foot turned into a giant comedy boot to give enemies a final kick off the screen, and some enemies could be pounded into the ground, leaving only their heads showing. It was like watching Tom & Jerry but with ‘attitood’.

Comedy-violence fans rejoice! The first appearance of the Big Boot.

These comedy-violence tropes were just one example of the imagination that really set this game apart, but the variety of gameplay styles was another. The second level saw the gameplay change completely as you abseiled down some sort of multicoloured mine shaft, and then of course it all changed again on the third level with the introduction of the infamous hover bikes. My favourite bit was probably the end of level one, which saw you face off against a giant robot boss, but from the robot’s point of view – a fantastic idea that I don’t think has been used since (please correct me if I’m wrong). Skip to the end of the video below to see what I mean.

Oh, and did I mention that Battletoads looked utterly amazing at a time when most 8-bit games made do with monochromatic backgrounds and barely functional animation? No? Well consider it mentioned.

The insanely hard hover bike bit on level three – one mistake and you were sent back to the beginning.

Lewis

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Filed under 1991, Fighting, NES, Platform, Rare

#55: Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Format: Nintendo 64 Genre: Platform Released: 2001 Developer: Rare

Probably my favourite comedy series of all time is Spaced: not only is it very, very funny, you also get the impression that it was almost as much fun to make as it is to watch. Likewise with Conker’s Bad Fur Day – when you’re playing it you can almost see the developers chuckling to each other as they write the song lyrics for ‘The Great Mighty Poo’ or concoct a risque love story between a deadbeat bee and a busty sunflower.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day was one of the final games to be released for the Nintendo 64, and there’s a palpable last-day-of-term feel about the whole thing. On the game’s release in April 2001, no-one was really paying much attention to the N64 anymore – at the time it was regarded as a sort of  living fossil that encapsulated outdated ideas of what a console should be like. Its clunky, expensive cartridges seemed utterly out of touch with the Playstation generation, and by 2001 it was getting difficult to even find N64 games in the shops – my local Game store had reduced its N64 stock to just three paltry shelves on the end of an aisle.

Kerching!

All attention was focused on the brand new ‘sixth generation‘ systems – Sega had launched the Dreamcast back in 1999, Sony had unleashed the Playstation 2 (currently the best-selling games console of all time) in 2000  and Microsoft was planning the release of the Xbox by the end of 2001. Nintendo too was busy preparing for the launch of the GameCube, and seemed to be paying little attention to its current ‘lame duck’ console as it served out the end of its term (just 12 games were released for the N64 in 2001). In other words, the conditions were perfect for a game to be sneaked out that went against all of the notions of what a ‘traditional’, family-friendly N64 platform game was supposed to be like.

There was a fair old amount of swearing in the game, but the developers stopped short of the 'f' word.

The character of Conker the Squirrel had previously appeared in Conker’s Pocket Tales for the Game Boy Color, an unremittingly cute, kiddie-friendly platformer with some sort of twee plot about finding your girlfriend’s lost birthday presents. The N64 version – titled Twelve Tales: Conker 64 – was set to be in the same vein, but at some point during the game’s development, the programmers had a drastic change of heart. Possibly, they watched an episode of South Park and thought “Ooh, let’s do that.” Whatever happened, the result was a game that endeared itself to smutty-minded teenagers worldwide  – if they could find it in the shops that is.

Kids, look away now...

The humour in the game is undeniably puerile, with an emphasis on toilet jokes throughout, but most of the gags hit the mark, and parts of the game are laugh-out-loud funny. There’s also a bit more to it than you might think – film references abound, and as well as obvious nods to Alien, there’s a lovely Clockwork Orange pastiche near the beginning.

Importantly, the game buried beneath all the nob gags is pretty darn solid too. It borrows a lot from Rare’s excellent Banjo-Kazooie, and the graphics and sound effects are easily some of the best produced for the N64. In fact, the amount of speech in the game is truly staggering considering the limitations of the cartridge format.

Beats me kid, beats me.

If you missed this game the first time around, I’d highly recommend procuring a copy of it if you still have a working N64 (although due to its rarity, be prepared to shell out £50 for a boxed copy with instructions). Alternatively, you could try the Xbox remake Conker: Live & Reloaded, but be warned that it was heavily censored – who’d have thought, what with their reputation for producing consoles littered with bloody first-person shooters, that Microsoft would end up being more prudish than Nintendo?

Now brace yourself… for your pleasure and delight, it’s The Great Mighty Poo (not for those of a sensitive disposition):

And as an added bonus, here’s the infamous ‘pollination’ scene (listen out for the Withnail & I reference):

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.gamefaqs.com)

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Filed under 2001, Nintendo 64, Platform, Rare

#32: Killer Instinct

Format: Super NES/Coin-Op Genre: Fighting Released: 1994 Developer: Rare

Killer Instinct was fantastically naff really. The character designs were generally uninspired and the graphics had an odd sheen to them that made it look like everything had been sprayed with cooking oil. On top of this, most of the levels were incredibly murky (possibly in an attempt to make the game seem ‘darker’ and more adult), so the effect was a bit like watching bits of foil leaping about down a well. However, it was enormous fun to play, so that made everything all right.

killer_instinct_SNES

When the game came out, most gaming magazines trumpeted the fact that it was based on hardware from the long-awaited ‘Ultra 64’ (later rebranded with the decidedly more prosaic name ‘Nintendo 64’ when it was released two years later). As it turned out, this was all complete rubbish, and Killer Instinct actually turned up on the Super NES the next year, which somewhat tarnished its ‘next-generation’ image in my eyes (although it was hugely impressive that they managed to squeeze the whole game onto a SNES cartridge – obviously Rare is staffed by tiny gaming wizards with magic compression wands).

(Incidentally, Killer Instinct emerged at about the same time as Cruis’n USA, another game that was thought to be based on Ultra 64 architecture – unlike Killer Instinct however, Cruis’n USA was entirely bobbins and not really the best of adverts for Nintendo’s new console. Even if it wasn’t actually developed on one. Does that make sense?)

Killer Instinct ready screen

Killer Instinct fought its way into my life when I was going through the teenage phase of hanging around McDonald’s for want of anything better to do. Calendars, the American-style diner next door to MaccyD’s, decided to install a single Killer Instinct arcade machine right in their entrance hall, presumably to keep customers entertained while they were waiting for a table. Not that we ever let the actual customers have a go on it, although thanks to this particular coin-op my friends and I made a substantial contribution to Calendars’ revenue during the summer of ’95.

Killer Instinct Cinder

The game’s biggest gimmick was its combo system, which went above and beyond the call of duty – if I remember rightly, some characters could even deliver 56 hit combos (which I imagine would have been intensely irritating for the recipient).* My friends and I spent most of that long, hot summer poring over combo lists in the backs of game magazines, desperately trying to make longer and longer combos. I think the best I ever managed was 24.

Killer Instinct 80 hit Combo

Looking back, there were probably better things I could have been doing that summer than hanging around in the entrance to a restaurant and memorising complicated lists of button presses. But for the moment they escape me, as all I can think about is laying the smack down on shiny robot knights and Harryhausen-esque skeletons…

Hey, I wonder how much  Killer Instinct goes for on eBay…?

Lewis

*Although from the screenshot above, it looks like an 80 hit combo was possible. Cor, and indeed, blimey.

However, it was enormous fun to play, so that made everything all right.

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Filed under 1994, Coin-Op, Fighting, Rare, Super NES

#16: GoldenEye 007

Format: Nintendo 64 Genre: First Person Shooter Released: 1997 Developer: Rare

Facility level + Licence to Kill mode + Pistols only = Best multiplayer game ever? Discuss. 

goldeneye_box

The thing that most impressed about GoldenEye was just how far ahead of its time it was in terms of gameplay features, such as the huge weapon set, the cleverly designed levels and the sheer range of multiplayer options. When you compare it to the other first person shooters (FPSs) that came out on the N64 in 1997 – Doom 64, Hexen, Duke Nukem 64, Turok – it’s clear that GoldenEye was just leaps and bounds ahead of the opposition. It’s all the more astonishing, therefore, to learn that the multiplayer mode was added as ‘a complete afterthought’.

goldeneye-cave

I think the most staggering achievement of this game is that it’s actually impossible to get bored of it. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I dread to think just how many nights of my teenage years were consumed by marathon GoldenEye sessions. If GoldenEye were to appear on Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) tomorrow (which is unlikely to happen for various reasons), I’m sure that it would garner just as many online players as some of the more recent FPS efforts, like Call of Duty. Actually, I really hope that GoldenEye doesn’t appear on XBLA – I spend enough time playing video games as it is, and XBLA GoldenEye might just send me over the edge into game zombie oblivion.

goldeneye-map-room

The more I write about this game, the more I want to play it again. There are just so many stand-out moments: such as lacing the toilets in the Facility level with mines, then gleefully detonating them when your hapless opponent walks in. Or fighting over who gets to play Oddjob in multiplayer (he’s so short, it’s almost impossible to hit him). Or playing with rocket launchers only on the miniscule Archives level. Or shooting an enemy agent in the balls and watching him crumple to the ground clutching his groin (puerile admittedly, but fun nonetheless). Or cathartically executing Natalya after she gets lost for the umpteenth time (it means a Game Over screen, but it’s worth it). Or annoying the hell out of your best friend by consistently defeating him with a karate chop to the back of the head (in the game that is, not in real life).

goldenye_four_player

I could go on, but I think it’s better if you just watch the video below and relive the memories yourself.

Facility level.

Licence to Kill mode.

Pistols only.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

Lewis

 

PS. I couldn’t end  this post without mentioning the brilliant ‘GoldenApple’ spoof that was filmed by the GamesMaster and NGamer magazines – watch it for yourself below:

And if you liked that, the ‘GoldenEye Facility Remix’ is also worth a look:

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Filed under 1997, First Person Shooter, Nintendo 64, Rare