Category Archives: Adventure

#101: Journey’s End

Format: Spectrum Genre: Adventure Released: 1985 Developer: Games Workshop

Nothing lasts forever. Here we are then, at game number 101. The last in our (not really) definitive list of games that made our lives slightly better. What game do you pick to adequately round off this 3 year journey? How can you represent 100 entries, thousands of words and several podcasts?

We’ve been through a lot on 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better. Doing this blog has been fun, has brought friends together and has given Lew and myself a great sense of achievement. At times it’s also been frustrating, has caused arguments, has been distinctly annoying and seemingly never-ending, and there have been long periods where nothing has really happened. Our final game was all those things for me, plus its name is perfect for the last post (natch). We have reached our Journey’s End.

My best friend for most of my childhood was a guy called Tony. Between the ages of 9 and 16 we saw each other pretty much every day. We lived on the same road, walked to school together and were in the same class at school. During the school holidays we would hang out together along with my younger brother. When you’re 10 years old, school holidays seem to last forever and we were often bored and struggled to think of things to do. Things got pretty desperate at times; one holiday I’m pretty sure we went to Woolworths every single day just to look at the videos and toys, never buying anything. Those were the days eh?

Tony had an old Spectrum (a hand me down from his older brother I think) and we used to dig that out and play on it, especially if it was pouring with rain outside. Even back then the Spectrum was pretty old fashioned, but we had no other options. I may be wrong but I think Tony didn’t own any two player games either. We were forced to play collectively, with one person controlling the game while the other two gave advice. This was surprisingly fun and kept us occupied for hours at a time. By far our favourite game to play this way was Journey’s End.

To the castle comrades! Just to warn you it's further away than it looks...

Journey’s End was a fantasy game, featuring the usual fantasy tropes – bands of warriors, spells, dragons, goblins (or was it orcs?) and so on. The game stood out by being split into four distinct parts which all played quite differently. It was also a long game. A very long game. So it was the perfect distraction to fill those long summer holidays.

Everything about the game took time. To begin with, of course, you had to load the game. It’s an obvious point to make but it did take aaaaages to play a Spectrum game. I remember we would sit there waiting 20 to 30 minutes for a game to load. Or should I say try to load? Often games would crash half-way through loading so you would have to start again. I’m sure Journey’s End often did that. It was quite possible to spend 45 minutes just trying to start a game. Looking back it absolutely amazes me that two 10 year olds and a 7 year old had that level of patience.

Here you can see all the gems, pots of gold and potions. But you can't see the stupid invisible traps.

The first part of Journey’s End was set in a maze. You would move around, exploring more of the maze until you found a key and a gate to escape. There were gold, gems and potions to find as well. Unfortunately there were also traps. Stupid, invisible, impossible-to-avoid traps. One of the most frustrating things about the maze was that you would only find the traps once you had set them off. The mazes were randomly generated and there was no logic behind where the traps were so it was sheer luck whether you ran into them. Not only that, occasionally you had strength points taken off because of a trap your character had fallen into during the bit between mazes, when you weren’t even controlling him. IT WAS INFURIATING. But we played it all the same.


After a certain amount of mazes (again it seemed random the number you would have to tackle) you start the second part of Journey’s End: recruiting your band of warriors, wizards and warlocks (I know warlocks and wizards are kind of the same thing, I just wanted to use another ‘w’ word).

Using the treasure you found in the mazes you recruit a group of men to come on the quest with you. Not enough gold? Well make some on the rat races!

Just like my old Grandad used to say, always bet on the Green Rat.

Being 10 year old boys we particularly enjoyed renaming the mercenaries so they had stupid and/or rude names. As a 31 year old man I suspect I would still find that funny.

After advertising this is all I got. Rubbish!

Once you’ve got your gang together it’s time to go to the enchanted castle where the ‘Elixir of Hagar’ is being guarded by a giant dragon. How exciting! Oh, first you’ve got to get there.

Yes the third part of the game was you making your way to the castle. It’s actually quite similar to walking around the map in Final Fantasy 7, with the same random annoying fights. It’s this stage of the game that I really remember. The image of Tony, my brother and I, sitting on a large cushion transfixed in front of the TV, using the cursor keys to sloooowly move our group up the map while being watched by Tony’s haughty cat Claude is burned onto my mind’s eye. That stage was hard and often we wouldn’t reach the castle. The battles would pick off your men one by one, it was easy to get lost, and of course there was always the danger that the game would crash.

So here we go. Easy right. Nope.

Looking back, this stage of the game does successfully recreate the feel of the first Lord of the Rings book, which emphasises just how far the Fellowship of the Ring actually have to travel. The problem is, while a book can use that time to concentrate on character, and while a film can distract you with flashy CGI and battles, a 1985 Spectrum game can only recreate the feeling of travelling nowhere fast. Again, the patience we had was incredible.

Thrilling action from the map screen.

If you did manage to survive the random battles, find the bridge to take you over the river and then find the castle itself, you could move on to the fourth and final part of the game – the Dragon’s Castle.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about this stage as we rarely reached the castle. Even if we had got through the previous three stages without dying, by the time we got to the castle it was usually dinner time and my brother and I had to go home.

The couple of times we did get there though it seemed impossibly hard. I think we reached the Dragon once, but by then our party’s strength had been massively depleted, and we had used all our spells so there was little we could do.

Saw this screen a lot.

Despite all of this we loved the game, and I think there was more to this adoration than just being able to call one of your warriors Arsebum. The very fact the pace of the game was so slow allowed Tony, my brother and myself to play it together. We gave our characters personalities, argued over the way to go, shouted at the TV in unified anger when we had tripped over an invisible bit of stone in the maze losing 5 strength points, laughed at each other’s jokes during the dull slog looking for the Bridge across the river and cheered when we found the castle. We may have never actually reached the End but the Journey was fun in itself.

Speaking of endings, we’re at the end of this post and this blog. Well, we do have two more podcasts to come about games that didn’t quite make the magic 101, but our list of games is now complete. For those who have read/listened to all 101 posts I hope you enjoyed them and Lew and I would like to think that the blog has made your lives (very, very, very slightly) better. Or at the very least not worse.

Every ending is a new beginning though and our new project will be launched sometime in the summer. Hope you can join us on that journey too.

One last thing before I go: fancy playing Journey’s End? Then go here for this excellent repository of old Spectrum games. Isn’t the internet marvellous?



Filed under 1985, Adventure, Games Workshop, Spectrum

#78: Psychonauts

Format: Xbox Genre: Platform/Adventure Released: 2006 Developer: Double Fine Productions

The other day I was looking back through the games I’ve covered so far on the blog, and it dawned on me that I have a very odd taste in games. Loads of people have been asking me when I’m going to cover classics like Sonic the Hedgehog and Sensible Soccer, but to be honest I’m more interested in writing about oddities like Doshin the Giant and Emergency Call Ambulance.

That’s partly because odd games are a bit easier to write about of course. One of the most difficult posts to write so far was the one on Super Mario Kart – it’s clearly a fantastic game that had to be included on the blog, but how do you write something new and interesting about a game that everyone already knows everything about? I ended up going with the whole ‘which version of Mario Kart is the best’ angle, but I think I rewrote the whole post about three times before I was reasonably assured that it wasn’t incredibly boring.

Zapping a psychic censor. With your mind.

But the main reason that I tend to pick odd games to write about is that I genuinely like them. Give me the choice between playing Katamari Damacy and Halo 3, and Katamari would win hands down. That’s not to say I don’t like the Halo games of course,  but in the end they’re just a more refined version of a genre that’s been around for nearly 20 years, whereas there’s just nothing like Katamari Damacy out there (except for its sequels of course).

But it’s not just originality that attracts me – a good story is a plus too. I’m not one of those people who just keeps playing the same games again and again (I’m looking at you Ian) – I generally just play through a game once and then move onto something else. But the game has to make me want to see what’s around the next corner to keep me playing, and story is a big part of that.

Inside the mind of a milkman with delusional paranoia.

Dark Sector is a good example of a game that doesn’t quite get it right – the story is all over the place, to the point where the game would probably have been better off without a story at all (watching the developers painstakingly try to explain why some young man has ended up with an organic, psychically controlled throwing blade for an arm is excruciating at times). Not only that, the limited story available is delivered through incredibly dull, poorly scripted cut scenes that actually leave you even more confused about what the hell is going on rather than illuminating the finer details of the hackneyed plot (which mostly centres around the usual mad scientist/femme fatale/betrayed friend gubbins). Thankfully, the game was saved from utter mediocrity by the small spark of originality that is the glaive – the amusement to be had from lopping people’s heads off from a distance was just about enough to keep me playing to the end.

Playing Risk inside the brain of a little chap with a Napoleon complex.

The wonderful Psychonauts, on the other hand, has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to originality and story. In fact, it almost goes too far in the opposite direction – basic things, like the controls (which are ridiculously floaty), seem to have been added in almost as an afterthought, such is the focus on telling the sublimely ridiculous story. I won’t go into the details of the plot here (you can read the Wikipedia entry for that), suffice to say that at one point you get trapped inside the mind of a giant mutated lungfish and lay waste to an imaginary city – populated by tiny little mutated lungfish.

Graphically too, the game is exploding with imagination, and the stylised characters and landscapes are totally unlike anything I’ve seen before in a game (think The Nightmare Before Christmas, but set in a psychic summer camp). Not only that, in a welcome change from the norm, the voice acting is absolutely fantastic, and the deadpan one-liners often had me (genuinely) laughing out loud.

Are those faces in the clouds? Brr.

Most importantly, the game kept me playing not because I was trying to collect 100 of this, that and the other, or because I was desperately trying to get some obscure, yet utterly meaningless ‘Achievement’ – I kept playing just because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Which is the way all games should be.

Here’s a taster of the first batch of cut scenes to whet your appetite:


(Screenshots from


Filed under 2006, Adventure, Double Fine Productions, Platform, Xbox

#71: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Format: Playstation 2 Genre: Platform/Adventure Released: 2003 Developer: Ubisoft

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has been on my list of  ‘games to do’ since we started this blog, but seeing as the Prince of Persia film is coming out this week, now seems like a good time to cover it. By the way, doesn’t that film look absolutely terrible from the trailers? I don’t want to judge it before I see it, but I’d raise a quizzical eyebrow if it turned out to be a cinematic classic. Call me a cynic, but I’ve a feeling it will follow in the manured footsteps of  the many, many other video-game-to-film disasters – and seeing the dread name ‘Jerry Bruckheimer’ on the credits seals the deal.

I should mention at this point that I absolutely hated the original 1989 Prince of Persia game, despite its fancy rotoscoped animation – it was without doubt one of the most unerringly difficult and unendingly frustrating games I’ve ever played. I couldn’t see the point in creating such amazingly fluid animation when most of the gameplay involved creeping along at a snail’s pace while scanning the screen for barely visible traps. Then dying in said traps and starting all over again. And again. And again.

Thankfully Ubisoft picked up on this when they developed Sands of Time – not only was the game much more fluid, the addition of an ability to rewind time meant that frustrating level restarts (almost) became a thing of the past.

The rewind ability was a fantastic touch – it’s a shame it hasn’t been used more often. Who wants to click through various ‘Game Over’ screens when they die in a game? Surely it makes much more sense just to rewind back to the point at which you know you made a mistake and carry on playing. And another bonus of the rewind system is that it encourages you to experiment a little more – there’s nothing more frustrating than attempting a jump that you reckon you’ll just about make, then plummeting to your death because you were a few pixels short of a ledge (Tomb Raider, I’m looking at you). But in Sands of Time you’re free to experiment with impunity, and the game’s all the more fun because of it.

However, Sands of Time‘s biggest draw was its fluidity – Lara Croft suddenly looked like a creaky octogenarian when the acrobatic Prince arrived on the scene. The ‘wall run’ move – running along a vertical wall to clear a chasm – is one of the most satisfying inventions in videogame history, and not only does it look impressive, it’s incredibly easy to perform. The same is true of most of the game’s moves – from running up the body of an opponent and deftly flipping over his head to scampering up ledges like a monkey on uppers – and the excellent controls give you a sense of empowerment and connection with the main character that’s sadly lacking in most games.

It’s a shame the ‘Mystical Arabia’ look was all but abandoned for the subsequent two installments, which adopted a dark aesthetic that tarnished the feel somewhat, but I liked the cel-shaded 2008 reboot, even if it didn’t quite match up to Sands of Time. But regardless of the quality of the sequels, it’s interesting to see how the controls and animation of Sands of Time went on to be so influential (the wall run has since turned up in games from Assassin’s Creed to Mirror’s Edge – click here for a complete list). I wonder whether the film will prove to be so successful…



Filed under 2003, Adventure, Platform, Playstation 2, Ubisoft

Podcast 7: Batman: Arkham Asylum (#67)

Format: Xbox 360 Genre: Fighting/Stealth/Adventure Released: 2009 Developer: Rocksteady Studios



BATMAN: ‘Yes Commissioner Gordon?’

C. GORDON: ‘It’s the Riddler, he’s sent us a message. It’s addressed to you…’

BATMAN: ‘Read it to me Commissioner, this might be important’

C. GORDON: ‘Riddle me this Batman – What can everyone listen to yet no one does? On what do people laugh constantly despite what they say not being amusing? What lasts 25 minutes but seems to last forever?




Yes, after mentioning Batman in practically every podcast they’ve done, Lew and Ian finally devote an entire episode to the Dark Knight, in particular Batman: Arkham Asylum.


'I know I shouldn't say this, but you're my favourite enemy'.


Though Lewis and Ian being Lewis and Ian they couldn’t help but ramble, so you also get with this podcast discussions about football games, superhero games in general, the new Spider-Man game, Ian’s idea for a Judge Dredd game and the usual homoerotic undertones.


Special Scanning Eyesight Mode


As the Riddler alludes to above, it’s a long one, nearly 25 minutes. Though Lewis and Ian make no apologies – it’s Batman. It needs to be talked about…

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

Podcast 7 Batman Arkham Asylum

Ian & Lewis


You'd think the henchmen would have learned to look up when looking for Batman.



Filed under 2009, Adventure, Fighting, Podcast, Rocksteady Studios, Stealth, Xbox 360

#24: Super Metroid

Format: Super NES Genre: Adventure Released: 1994 Developer: Nintendo

Metroid Prime on the GameCube was a strong contender for the list, but in the end I decided to go with Super Metroid as my most fondly remembered Metroid game. If you’ve never played it, I urge you to download it from the Wii Virtual Console with all possible rapidity – it really is an absolute classic, reflected in that fact that it’s still knocking around the top of the Game Rankings ‘All Time Best‘ list.

Super Metroid Pal Box

The thing that always stands out in my memory about Super Metroid is the bloody great big box that it came in – bizarrely, Nintendo decided to ship the European version of the game with an enormous strategy guide detailing every last corridor and secret item in the whole game. I don’t think this kind of marketing tactic has been attempted before or since (correct me if I’m wrong) and you’ve got to admit that it’s a bit of strange decision. It’s as if Nintendo were about to launch the game and then suddenly thought:

“Ooooh, maybe it’s too difficult for them? What if they get a bit, you know, frustrated? I know, let’s tell them exactly how to do everything in the entire game. That should do it.”

Of course, hardcore players like me don’t need strategy guides (“Ha! I laugh in the face of your pathetic guide of weakness!”), and I blitzed my way through this enormous and complex game with nary a moment’s pause.

OK, maybe I peeked at the guide a teeny weeny bit, but only when I was really stuck. Honest.

super metroid 1

The highlights of Super Metroid were undoubtedly the bosses – particularly the screen-filling Kraid (see screenshot below). He (I presume he’s a he anyway) doesn’t seem to learn though. Put it this way: if I was entirely invulnerable except for a weak spot in my mouth, I would probably keep my mouth shut the entire time, rather than periodically unleashing reptilian screams of fury then wondering why I kept getting hurt.

super metroid 4

However, I think the overall reason that Super Metroid was so successful was that it constantly drove you to see what was around the next corner. Every few screens you’re presented with some sort of barrier to your progress – perhaps a seemingly impassable lava pit or a platform that’s just out of reach – and one of the game’s joys is collecting a new item or ability and then backtracking through the game to see what new areas it will open to you. In fact, Super Metroid engendered an almost compulsive urge to explore every nook and cranny of the game world in the hunt for elusive weapons and upgrades, and the triumphal music that accompanies the discovery of each item is right up there as one of the most pleasing game sound effects of all time (possibly only beaten by the music accompanying the opening of a treasure chest in Zelda: Ocarina of Time).

super metroid 3

You could argue that its excellent graphics and inspired shift to 3D make Metroid Prime the instant stand-out game of the Metroid series, but in terms of gameplay there’s very little Prime does that Super Metroid doesn’t.

Excluding duplicated games, Super Metroid is currently at number 8 in the All Time Best games list – which is frankly not high enough in my opinion. Buy this game now: you won’t regret it.


(Screenshots from


Filed under 1994, Adventure, Nintendo, Super NES

#17: Ico

Format: Playstation 2 Genre: Adventure Released: 2002 Developer: Team Ico

I first laid eyes on Ico when I was doing work experience at CVG magazine, back in 2001. The arrival of a preview copy of the game sent a palpable wave of excitement through the office, with writers and artists from neighbouring publications all wandering over to take a look and join in with the exaltant ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’. Simply put, nothing quite like Ico had been seen before; and very few games like it have appeared since. People floundered around trying to define it – I once heard it decribed, innappropriately, as a ‘Tomb-Raider-style adventure’ –  but most agree that it’s a landmark in terms of art direction and storytelling in games.


At the time of its release I was as impressed as anyone else with Ico’s distinctive graphics and unique gameplay, but I didn’t really get a chance to play it properly until 2005, when I picked up a second-hand copy while living in Japan. The game grabbed me from the outset, and I was impressed with the intense feeling of isolation and loneliness that it created: Living on my own for the first time in a foreign country, they were feelings that I instantly related to. For most of the game, the only sounds you can hear are your own footsteps and the distant howling of the wind, and this, coupled with the enormous, seemingly never-ending landscape of the castle, conspires to make you feel very alone indeed.


I suppose this feeling of isolation could invite some similarities with the original Tomb Raider (despite my protestations above). TR’s triumph was to make you feel like you really were single-handedly exploring long-forgotten ruins – an illusion that was totally ruined in the ‘Legend’ update by the constant chattering of your anodyne, comedy companions via your miraculous PDA, which seemed to maintain flawless network coverage even in underground tombs. Ico, on the other hand, foregoes direct speech almost entirely, and is all the better for it. The bond between your character – Ico – and the girl he rescues – Yorda – is conveyed almost entirely through the bewitching key frame animation.


And you really do start to feel for the characters. When the game’s enemies – the shadow creatures – appear and try to kidnap Yorda, it leads to some tense moments as you desperately flail at them with your hunk of 2 by 4, the very ineffectiveness of your weapon heightening the intensity of the struggle. Above all else, you feel an overwhelming urge to protect Yorda at all costs, which is in stark contrast to the throwaway relationships with non-player characters that emerge in most games. Think of your fellow marines in Halo for example – do you fight tooth and nail to protect them? Or do you just continue onto the next section of the game and forget about them?


Ico works because it draws you into the world of its characters entirely, but rather than relying on extended story-driven cut scenes, à la Final Fantasy, it achieves this by engendering a sense of isolation and empathy in the player via simple visual and aural effects. By creating the illusion that these two characters really are alone and helpless, it compels you invest time and effort to help out these strange little people trapped in your TV set.

Simply put, Ico makes you care. And that’s a pretty hard emotion to capture in a video game, which is why Ico more than deserves a place on this list.



Filed under 2002, Adventure, Playstation 2, Team Ico

#14: Shenmue

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Adventure/RPG/Fighting Released: 2000 Developer: Sega (AM2)

At the time, I considered Shenmue (pronounced ‘shen-moo’)  to be one of the most absorbing  and realistic computer games I’d ever played. If you’d spoken to any of my housemates, however, they’d probably be more likely to express disbelief at the saddening amount of time I spent waiting for buses and going to work – in a video game. After all, that kind of stuff is boring enough in real life – why on earth would you want to emulate it on a computer?


It’s a fair point and, to be honest, a fairly accurate one: I’m not about to suggest that becoming a forklift truck driver ranks among my top ten most exciting video game experiences. In fact, parts of Shenmue were incredibly dull, and it would be over-generous to describe the pace of the game as ‘slow’. ‘Glacial’ is probably more accurate.

But the reason that Shenmue appears on this list is that it hinted at the possibilities of what videogames could be like, even if its execution was a trifle rough around the edges.

Forklift racing - slightly more interesting than stacking boxes

Forklift racing - slightly more interesting than stacking boxes

In creating Shenmue, Yu Suzuki tried, and succeeded, in designing a noticeably different video game experience from those that had gone before it – the kind of varied, free-form gameplay seen in Shenmue is two-a-penny now, but back in 2000 it was virtually unheard of. Yu Suzuki gave this new genre the rather naff moniker ‘Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment’ or ‘FREE’ for short. Needless to say, the name didn’t catch on, but Shenmue was (arguably) the first real ‘open world’ game experience, appearing a year before the landmark Grand Theft Auto III.

Although there was a central plot, which revolved around finding your father’s killer, the real bulk of the game centred around the various sub-plots, characters and entertainments to be found in your Japanese home town. In fact, the main plot is barely referred to for most of the game – Ryo seems to spend more of his time collecting Sega-themed figurines, feeding kittens and playing Space Harrier in the local arcade than actually searching for the murderer Lan-Di.

"I LOVE these!"

"I LOVE these!"

When Ryo does finally get round to looking for his dad’s killer, his chosen approach is to hang around the docks chatting to sailors.


I’m not saying anything.

Although the developers at Sega either missed the other possible connotation of parleying with barnacle-ridden old sea dogs or they’re all laughing silently into their sleeves right now. Either way, Ryo’s quest for nautical companionship inspired this rather excellent song (wait for the chorus).

No-one seemed to question why Ryo spent so much time hanging around the docks talking to strangers...

No-one seemed to question why Ryo spent so much time hanging around the docks talking to sailors...

Despite his tireless devotion to chatting-up sailors, Ryo barely manages to find out anything about the reason for his father’s death; in fact, the entire plot could be summed up as: ‘A Chinese guy kills your dad, it’s something to do with a magic mirror, now you have to go to Hong Kong.’ Apparently, the game was planned as the first chapter of a 16 chapter series – in reality, this means that barely anything happens.

 This is by no means the only criticism that can be levied against the game: I’ve already mentioned the glacial pace and the dubious ‘thrill’ of fork lift truck driving, but Shenmue also had the ‘honour’ of bringing us what Suzuki called QTEs (Quick Time Events). These basically amount to watching a cut scene and pressing a button at the right time (a game technique that had previously been shown to be awful in such ‘classics’ as Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace). Nevertheless, for some reason QTEs seem to crop up in games all the time now – I think the idea is that they bring more interaction to cut scenes. Why they can’t just put in fewer cut scenes is beyond me (after all, Half Life 2 managed just fine without them).

The birth of the Quick Time Event - for good or ill

The birth of the Quick Time Event - for good or ill

Despite all this, I loved Shenmue. I loved it because it felt like a step into the future – for a start it looked amazing, but it also heralded a new age of free-form gameplay that’s still only in its infancy, and its interactive world offered features, such as dynamic weather and online highscores, that were way ahead of its time. The lines between game genres are becoming increasingly blurred (look at Spore for an example), and back in 2000 Shenmue was on the front line of this trend.

Shenmue was by no means perfect, but there are very few games I’ve played since that have offered such a different and refreshing take on the pre-conceived notions of what a video game should be. As the (rather grandiose) trailer says: ‘It’s not an RPG. It’s not a movie. [It’s] a world that transcends games.’


(Screenshots from


Filed under 2000, Adventure, Dreamcast, Fighting, RPG, Sega