Category Archives: Dreamcast

Podcast 22: Crazy Taxi (#100)

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Racing, Arcade, Sandbox Released: 1999 Developer: Hitmaker

Here at 101 Video Game Towers we often enjoy games that somehow turn mundane activities into fun adventures. Yes, you may have a good time being a space fighter pilot, or the heroic saviour of a post apocalyptic wasteland, or even a low-level gangster in the 1980s clubbing someone round the head with a baseball bat, but it can also be just as satisfying walking a dog, fishing or running a railway business.

Despite this fine pedigree there must have been some consternation when, during a meeting at Hitmaker HQ, the Big Boss pointed with his fat cigar at a lowly, nervous looking  programmer and demanded he make a game that recreates the thrills and spills of driving a taxi.

The advertising was very subtle.

Still, they don’t call Hitmaker ‘Hitmaker’ for nothing. They know how to make hits. In case you haven’t noticed it’s literally their name. Hitmaker… a maker of hits. If they didn’t know how to make hits their name would look stupid and boastful. Which it certainly isn’t. Though they did change it a couple of years ago to Sega AM3 which suggests they tired of putting so much pressure on themselves and instead became extremely early risers.

Anyway, all it took to turn mini-cabbing into a successful game was to add a bit of *pause* ‘Crazy’ (raise eyebrow when reading the word ‘Crazy’).

A taxi flying into the air? How crazy.

Welcome to the 22nd 101 Video Games Podcast! Listen as Ian and Lewis discuss Crazy Taxi on the Dreamcast, the disappearance of Tower Records, how pretty much anyone can’t help but like Offspring while playing this game even if they don’t usually, what a British version of the game would be like and once again reminisce about wasting time at university.

So, as someone with some kind of throat problem once said, ‘Hey, Hey, Hey its time for Crazy Taxi!’

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Podcast 22 Crazy Taxi

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In many ways Gena is Ian's perfect woman - beautiful, cool and, most importantly, she can drive.

Ian & Lewis

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Filed under 1999, Arcade, Dreamcast, Hitmaker, Podcast, Racing, Sandbox Game

#75: Resident Evil CODE: Veronica

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Survival Horror Released: 2000 Developer: Capcom/Nextech

I have a love/hate relationship with this game. Love because it’s one of the best Resident Evil games out there, with some of the most memorable characters and storylines of the series. Hate because some IDIOTIC PUZZLE with an EMPTY FIRE EXTINGUISHER meant that I WAS UNABLE TO FINISH THE F**KING GAME. The memory still haunts me now, hence the extravagant use of capitals and self-censored swearing. I’ll explain…

In our student house at uni we’d often play through games together, or we’d play the same game but using different saves. Not long after I started playing Code Veronica, Paul, my housemate, began playing through it too. We’d swap stories about good bits in the game, and I’d drop excited hints about what was coming up next. All was fine and dandy until right near the end of the game, when I inadvertently uncovered a bug that made finishing the game all but impossible.

Tense, nervous headache?

Earlier in the game, Claire uses a fire extinguisher to retrieve a briefcase that’s stuck inside a flaming room, but for some reason she keeps hold of the empty extinguisher. This either means that Claire is a compulsive hoarder, or the game is subtly trying to tell you that there may just possibly be a puzzle later on that might – just might – require an empty fire extinguisher. Seeing as Claire generally isn’t the type to push around a shopping trolley filled to the brim with carrier bags full of knick knacks and shiny things she finds in the street, I placed my bets on the latter option, and kept the extinguisher to hand.

This guy was very creepy. Despite having his hands tied behind his back, he was still able to attack you using the organic broomhandles sticking out of his back. As you do.

A bit later on, Claire and her hapless companion Steve come across the chap in the pic above, who goes by the name of Nosferatu. History doesn’t relate how he came to bear this moniker – I’m imagining the label was thrust upon him after his unfortunate transformation, before which he was probably called Alan or Dave or Alfonse. Anyway, Claire makes no bones about swiftly dispatching poor Alan (or Dave or Alfonse) and we’re treated to a cut scene in which Alexia, the sister of antagonist Alfred Ashford, awakes from her long hibernation and unleashes the full force of the T-Veronica virus on Steve and Claire’s smiling, unknowing faces – the truck they’re driving is destroyed by one of Alexia’s handy new tentacles, and  control switches to Chris, who’s just pitched up in Antarctica on the hunt for Claire.

Alfred's twisted relationship with his sister Alexia was one of the most memorable parts of the game. Here the newly regenerated Alexia emerges for the first time.

I just want to jump in here for a second to say what a fantastic character Alfred is – definitely my favourite character of the series. Wesker is always held up as the series’  ultimate villain, but he’s so incredibly one-dimensional – there’s nothing really beneath the implausible hair and the Johnny Cash sunglasses. Alfred, on the other hand, has an interesting backstory, which the game goes to great pains to relate – from his possibly incestuous relationship with his twin sister to his penchant for dressing up in women’s clothing. You almost end up feeling sorry for him in a way – through no fault of his own he was born into an incredibly screwed-up family, was ruthlessly used by Umbrella and then ended up losing his mind. Having said that, I’d have a lot more sympathy for him if he stopped trying to kill me all the time.

Claire and Steve admire a digger. Whatever you do Claire, remember to take that fire extinguisher out of your pocket before you get in...

OK, back to the story. After the fight with Alan*, control switches to Chris, and the difficulty steps up a notch. The Antarctic facility is infested with various horrors, including a giant spider that has somehow managed to survive the freezing temperatures, and these fiends quickly take their toll on Chris’s ammo supply. As I limped to the final showdown with Alexia, I was down to just a few assault rifle rounds and a couple of clips for my handgun, but I was finding plenty of ammo for the magnum. So where could the magnum itself be hiding? Wait, there it is, behind that wall of flame. No problem, I’ll just fill up my empty fire extinguisher with that handy extinguishant refill device nearby… Hold on, the extinguisher isn’t in the space/time defying inventory box. Wait a sec, didn’t Claire have it in her personal inventory when she got whacked by that tentacle?

Bugger.

Don't worry, he's 'armless.

With no access to fresh weaponry, it was impossible for me to defeat the final boss, and instead I watched impotently as Paul went on to finish the game. I suppose I could have used one of his save games to go and fight the final boss for myself, but by that point I was so rankled by the whole fire extinguisher thing that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And anyway, I would have been finishing his game, not mine.

Yet, like a middle-aged man trapped in a loving but turbulent marriage, I still have a soft spot for Code Veronica, despite all of the seething resentment bubbling below the surface. It was denied the suffix ‘4’ by its creators, but in my mind the game stands proudly with its numbered brethren, and possibly slightly above them.

Lewis

*I’ve just found out that Nosferatu was actually Alfred’s father, who went by the name of Alexander, not Alan (or Dave or Alfonse). This is slightly disappointing in some ways (I would have preferred Alan), although I’d forgotten just how convoluted the backstory to Code Veronica is, particularly the history of the Ashfords. You can read about Alfred Ashford’s creepy upbringing here: http://residentevil.wikia.com/Alfred_Ashford.

(Screenshots from http://uk.gamespot.com)

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Filed under 2000, Capcom, Dreamcast, Nextech, Survival Horror

#69: Dead or Alive 2

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Fighting Released: 2000 Developer: Team Ninja

I couldn’t think of a better game than Dead or Alive 2 to feature as post number 69. After all, this is the game that famously featured an option to adjust the bounciness of the female characters’ bosoms, so I think it’s deserving of a slightly saucy number in the 101 Video Games countdown.

Tch, “101 Video Games countdown”? I’m starting to sound like some withered old DJ cliché. Or Steve Priestley from Movies, Games & Videos (née Movies, Movies, Movies). Apparently he works for Magic FM now…

OK, I think I’ve drifted from the point a bit there. Right, let’s start again.

In many ways, Dead or Alive has become a cliché of itself. (See how I worked the whole cliché thing back into the post there? Yeah, I know, I’m good. Let’s see if I can keep it up…) When DoA2 was released, it was a revelation in terms of fighting mechanics and graphical finesse, but subsequent versions have failed to add much of note to the basic game, and the infamy of the Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball spin-off series has somewhat overshadowed the brilliance of the original games.

Yoga-inspired trust exercises featured heavily in Dead or Alive 2.

Dead or Alive Xtreme (and all of its subsequent incarnations) annoys me. It’s basically soft porn dressed up as a series of lacklustre minigames, and it’s exactly the type of game people point to when they argue that computer games are just the preserve of sex- and violence-obsessed adolescent boys. Imagine the scene: a respected university media lecturer is delivering an empassioned speech about how games like Heavy Rain are pushing the boundaries of the medium and exploring territories that could never be reached through film or literature.

Lecturer: “…and that’s why we can expect to see the videogame demographic continue to expand, with older gamers reaping the rewards of a more sophisticated approach to interactive narrative. Any questions? Yes Mackenzie?”

Student: “Professor, can you explain how the recently released Dead or Alive Paradise fits into this demographic? How can we relate something like Heavy Rain to a game in which the main aim is to achieve victory in a handful of simplistic and shallow minigames in order to unlock increasingly skimpy bikinis for a group of proportionally exaggerated fictional women?”

Lecturer: “…erm… Ah, well, you see, errr….. Any other questions?”

Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball - good, clean, wholesome, semi-nude fun.

Arguably, the Xtreme spin-off series is now more famous (infamous?) than the main series, and you can probably imagine what greeted me when I typed ‘Dead or Alive screenshots’ into a Google Image search – let’s just say that the screenshots presented here are by far the most tasteful I could find.

But get past the sauciness and you’ll find that Dead or Alive 2 is a technically brilliant and hugely entertaining brawler. The counter system was particularly fun – get the timing right and you could turn almost any attack back on your opponent, which made for some tense back and forth fights. Plus the animation and collision detection was spot on:  your punches,  kicks and counters connected exactly where they landed. This seems like an obvious point, but if you look at older 3D brawlers like Tekken, sometimes the punches seem to land in mid-air or the reaction doesn’t quite match up with the attack.

See? There are men in the game too! Although it was never quite explained why Zack was wearing a bra.

One of the game’s best features was the the multilevel stages. One stage was set in a church tower, but if you got your attacks lined up carefully you could punch your opponent through a window and jump down after them to carry on the fight below. Along with Power Stone, Dead or Alive 2 was one of the first fighting games in which the stages themselves had as much influence on the fight as the actual fighting, if that makes sense.

And there’s nothing quite as satisfying as knocking your best mate off a skyscraper, then leaping directly onto their head for the finishing blow. Metaphorically speaking of course.

There's nothing quite like punching your opponent out of a church window then jumping after him to deliver the final blow, that's what I always say.

Sadly, I was just as bad at Dead or Alive 2 as I am at most fighting games – although I love the genre, I’ve never quite managed to become an expert. (As evidenced by my recent foray into playing Soul Calibur IV online, in which I failed to win a single fight. Harrumph and, indeed, Grrr.) My gaming nadir occurred sometime in 2001 during a trip to Cowes in the Isle of Wight. A local pub had installed a PS2 with Dead or Alive 2 on a giant screen, so I stepped up to have a go against my friend Louise. Despite owning the game on the Dreamcast, I lost every single round, unable to defend against Louise’s cast-iron tactic of whacking all of the buttons very quickly. I retired defeated, mumbling some half-hearted excuse along the lines of “the button layout is different on the Dreamcast”. I never went to that pub again.

Yet despite the rancour surrounding this particular memory, I still regard Dead or Alive 2 as one of the finest fighting games ever released.

And the bouncy boobs are just an added bonus.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.gamershell.com and http://uk.gamespot.com)

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Filed under 2000, Dreamcast, Fighting, Team Ninja

Podcast 6: Quake III Arena (#57)

Format: Dreamcast Genre: First Person Shooter Released: 2000 Developer: id

Quake III Arena. Bane of Degrees. Annoyer of Female Housemates. Enemy of Social Life. King of multiplayer FPS games on the Dreamcast circa 2000.

Yes Lewis and Ian step into the time machine that is their collective memory and travel back to the Space Year 2000 where they wasted so many hours playing Quake III Arena. Hear the journey on this, our 6th podcast. You’d think by now we would actually be good at them.

But wait! There’s more. For the first time ever in 101 Video Game Podcast history we welcome a special guest star, our friend Paul. Stupid Paul (his full name) lived with us at university and wasted his time playing Quake III as well. In many ways he is the ‘5th 101 Video Gamer’. If there were four rather than two of us. Luckily he escaped a life of blogging about old and obscure video games by getting married and having children.

And the ‘firsts’ don’t stop there. Listen out for the first ever 101 Video Games Podcast edit. Yes, Ian finally made a joke so distasteful that it was decided to overdub the offending section. We even got a mystery guest (not a special one) to do the overdub. See if you can spot it! Here’s a clue to find it – you’ll notice around the twelve-minute mark Ian suddenly makes even less sense than normal…

If we’re brutally honest this isn’t one of our best efforts, but it does have a certain charm. Hope you enjoy it.

Click above to listen directly through this site or click below to listen/download in your media player of choice:

Podcast 6 Quake III Arena

Ian & Lewis

(Screenshots from http://uk.gamespot.com)

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Filed under 2000, Dreamcast, First Person Shooter, id, Podcast

#43: Skies of Arcadia

Format: Dreamcast Genre: RPG Released: 2001 Developer: Sega (Overworks)

Yes, that’s right another Dreamcast game for the list – no complaining back there. Hey, look, it’s not my fault that a signficant proportion of THE BEST GAMES EVER MADE were released on one particular console. (Funnily enough, I was never a big fan of Sega consoles before the Dreamcast came along, but I became a bit of a DC fanboy after I got one. Ah, Dreamcast, you were taken far too young! May you rest in peace in forgotten console heaven…)

In terms of set-up, Skies of Arcadia is pretty much your standard Japanese RPG fare:  a young boy from a small village is summoned by destiny to save the world by fighting random, turn-based battles across strange new lands filled with a multitude of manga-style characters, and so on, and so forth. We’ve been here before (Grandia, Final Fantasy, etc. etc.), but the difference with Skies is the sheer imagination that has been poured into the game world, along with the strong sense of ownership you feel over the characters.

The game world is composed of a series of floating islands that you navigate between using your trusty flying pirate ship. I couldn’t really find the screenshots to do it justice, but this floating world looks fantastic, and there’s a real sense of wonder as you explore new continents and find hidden treasures. In fact, finding the hidden ‘discoveries’ became such a distraction for me that I regularly abandoned the main plot in favour of locating these hidden gems, which were revealed by vibrations of the joypad.

Then there’s your ship’s crew – as you progress through the game you can recruit more and more members to your crew, each of whom provides some sort of boost when battling an enemy ship. (Incidentally, the ship battles are fantastic, and make for a diverting change from the usual monster battles – see the video below for an example.) The personalities of each of the characters really shine through, and by the end of the game you find yourself becoming quite attached to your motley crew of air pirates.

The big downside to the game for me was the random battles – I’m not totally against random battles per se, but there should be an option to avoid them if possible. Later on in the game you can purchase items that let you avoid all confrontation, but earlier on you have no option but to plough through whatever the game throws at you, which got frustrating at times. The hardest part of the game occurred about a third of the way through, when you were tasked with finding an item among a series of floating rocks. The trouble was, you were constantly attacked as you flew your ship between the rocks, and this one section became so frustrating that I almost jacked the game in right there. Thankfully I perservered, which was a good thing since the game got a whole lot better from then on in.

It’s difficult to say exactly what sets Skies of Arcadia apart from its JRPG ilk – it could be the imaginative setting, or the neat mixture of ship and monster battles, or perhaps the excellently crafted characters. Whatever it is, it had me totally hooked, and if you’re an RPG fan it’s an absolute must buy. (NB. If you’re planning to get it, you might want to look out for Skies of Arcadia Legends, an improved version that was released for the GameCube/Wii.)

Lewis

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Filed under 2001, Dreamcast, RPG, Sega

#41: Power Stone 2

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Fighting Released: 2000 Developer: Capcom

It was a tough call deciding between Power Stone and Power Stone 2. In the end I went for the sequel – perhaps Power Stone is the better game (it’s much more finely balanced than Power Stone 2), but the sheer mayhem of Power Stone’s second incarnation never failed to bring a smile to my boat race.

The original Power Stone was almost unique – a 3D fighting game in which the environment was just as important as the actual fighting. The focus was less on punching your opponent than on trapping them under collapsing walls or gunning them down with the assorted weaponry that materialises on the level. In this sense the game shares many similarities with Super Smash Bros., but I’m surprised that the Power Stone template hasn’t been used more often since the original was released back in 1999 – considering it was such a breath of fresh air in the generally stale world of fighting games, it’s spawned remarkably few imitators (I can only recall two – Kung Fu Chaos and a Naruto game I played in Japan).

Power Stone 2 was Power Stone with all the dials turned up to 11. The game switched from being two player to being four player – a move that was both its triumph and its downfall. The utter chaos of playing against three human opponents was a delight, but the major difficulty was persuading anyone to play against me for longer than about ten minutes. The game was so intense and so much was going on at the same time that most people I played with just couldn’t work out what they were doing – or even where they were on the screen. Full-on four-player Power Stone 2 – with all its diving  submarines, deadly gun turrets, screen-filling special moves and overpowered laser guns – had roughly the same effect on novice players as that Japanese cartoon that induced epileptic fits.

One of the best aspects of the game was the item shop. As well as letting you purchase new items, the shop allowed you to ‘mix’ two items together to create totally new weapons, which would then appear during the game. For example, mixing a kitten with a leg trap produced a panther (natch), and mixing the soap-bubble gun with a trumpet produced a loud speaker (which could knock down opponents). Trying out all of the various bizarre combinations was hugely addictive, and it gave you a big incentive to keep playing through the single-player game in order to find some of the rarer items.

Of course, Power Stone 2 was not without its flaws. I’ve already mentioned the confusing multiplayer mode, but there was also the character line-up – some of the new characters brought in for the sequel didn’t quite fit the art style of the originals, or the supposed Victorian setting of the game (Jack – presumably ‘The Ripper’ – was one of the original characters). I particularly disliked Gourmand the chef, who looked a little bit like an early Mickey Mouse villain.

However, the sheer explosion of imagination contained within this game more than makes up for its shortcomings – any game in which you can whack someone with an umbrella before setting a kitten on them has the thumbs up from me.

Lewis

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Filed under 2000, Capcom, Dreamcast, Fighting

#37: Sega Bass Fishing

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Fishing Released: 1999 Developer: Sega

I love this game because it’s just such an unlikely concept: who’d have thought fishing could be so much fun? It’s a bit like the TV show Late Night Poker – explain the concept to someone and they’ll probably roll their eyes in boredom, but when you see it in action you suddenly find yourself addicted. Likewise with Sega Bass Fishing – get past the naff-sounding concept and one go is all you need to get you hooked (sorry).

Sega Bass Fishing Dreamcast Box

The best bit about the whole game is the sampled speech – I’ve no idea where they found the guy who does the voiceover, but he’s absolutely priceless. I’ve never heard anyone strangle the English language in quite such a fantastic and delightful way as he does – just click on the video below and have a listen to him say “select a casting point” to hear what I mean. The best bit is when you catch a big fish, which triggers a crescendo of J-pop guitar riffs followed by the voiceover guy excitedly booming “WOOOAH!!! A BIG ONE!!!” as your avatar struggles under the weight of an enormous bass.

bg01_640w

The game is so dependent on sound that if you took away the wonderfully over-the-top music and speech, I reckon the game’s appeal would easily be halved. The act of reeling in a fish would actually be quite dull without the blare of hyperactive guitars reverberating in your ears and some ambiguously accented narrator demanding that you “LOWER THE ROD!!!” (with ‘rod’ pronounced ‘raaard’). Perhaps real-life fishermen would do well to hire someone to stand behind them and excitedly comment on everything they’re doing – it might make the time pass quicker.

bg02_640w

In addition to the sound, the other main appeal of this game is of course the motion-sensitive fishing rod controller (dubbed the ‘Fission Controller’ by some wag). Motion control is two-a-penny now, but it was a real novelty back in 1999, and anyone who saw me playing with my rod would often be astonished by its capabilities (sorry, couldn’t resist). I seem to remember that the controller wasn’t all that sensitive, and it was certainly nowhere near as responsive as the Wii controllers, but it did the job well enough. And let’s face it, the game wouldn’t be half as much fun without the plastic fishing rod.

Speaking of which, has anyone played the Wii version? I’ve been very tempted to buy it for old time’s sake, but I’m not convinced that it would be quite the same without the proper controller…

bg09_640w

Of course, the game wasn’t without its down sides. The chief disappointment was that it became repetitive quite quickly, although this was diminished somewhat by the ability to unlock extra lures. Even so, the game was quite limited in that it only had three levels (actually, I think it was four including the special stage) and just one type of fish to catch – after hours and hours of fishing for bass I was crying out for a bit of variety (“A perch! A perch! My kingdom for a perch!” etc.).

That said, the game had excellent pick-up-and-play appeal, and I found myself dipping into the arcade mode again and again, long after I’d grown tired of most of my other Dreamcast games. A true classic.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.ign.com)

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Filed under 1999, Dreamcast, Fishing, Sega