Category Archives: Sports

#87: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

Format: Playstation Genre: Extreme Sports Released: 2000 Developer: Neversoft

Back in the year 2000 I was halfway through my English Literature degree in Southampton, but during the holidays I could usually be found propping up the sofa at Paul, Phil and Richie’s house, which we affectionately knew as ‘Foxhill’ (after the attractively named road it was located on, in the not-so-attractive environs of North Watford). Along with regular visitors Gav and Curly, I busied myself over those summer months in creating a buttock crevice in the Foxhill sofa while watching various kung-fu films and episodes of Alan Partridge (that is, if I could see the TV screen through the fug of cigarette smoke – the eventual ban on smoking in the house came as a welcome relief).

Foxhill was a bloke paradise really: the walls were graced with engaging bloke ephemera (I distinctly remember one wall had a pair of nun-chuks next to a homemade Kylie calendar), the whole house was wired up to a LAN network for multiplayer PC gaming, and the living room played host to an enormous TV complete with every bit of audio-visual equipment you could ask for. Not only that, a full wall was taken up by DVDs, and next to that stood an absolutely enormous beer fridge that Phil managed to get as surplus from the bar he managed (sadly though, it was only ever turned on intermittently after the first month owing to the ridiculous amounts of electricity it used).

I have very fond memories of Foxhill, and looking back it feels like I spent practically all of my time there when I wasn’t at university – although I know I had a summer job, so obviously that isn’t the case. In fact, I don’t really remember anyone going to work – it feels like all we did was stay up till three in the morning watching Bruce Lee movies every night.

Well, that’s not all we did – we put some serious time into playing video games as well. In fact, there were a few games that the denizens of Foxhill invested silly amounts of time in: Gran Turismo 3 was the sole topic of conversation for months at one point, and Paul became so obsessed with it he even went out and bought a £100 force feedback steering wheel before going on to unlock every single car in the entire game. Alien Versus Predator on the PC caused a similar stir when it arrived, mostly because it did a bloody good job of scaring the crap out of us. Picture the scene: four grown men stood around a PC, the only sound the increasing ‘ping’ of a marine’s motion detector… ‘BANG’! A pipe falls from the ceiling of a corridor, causing four grown men to shriek like girls and wet themselves.

Shogun: Total War was another one: Paul and Richie got pretty obsessed with playing this against each other – I’d often be in the living room, watching TV while Paul played on the PC, when suddenly he’d erupt in an explosion of cursing, accompanied by the sound of maniacal cackling coming from Richie upstairs as he decimated Paul’s army with his archers.

But the game that probably clocked up the most hours of play time was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. The level of devotion to this game at Foxhill was just phenomenal – every time I visited, THPS2 seemed to be on the Playstation, and often the sunken eyes of the current player would indicate that they hadn’t actually been to bed the previous night, such was the level of commitment to Tony and pals. But the thing about THPS2 is that it doesn’t really end – although there’s only a finite number of characters to unlock (Spider-Man being the obvious house favourite), there’s no end to the pursuit for high scores, and we’d sit for hours patiently taking it in turns to beat the score records for each level.

The key innovation of THPS2 was the introduction of the ‘manual’ – balancing your skateboard on two wheels – which allowed you to link tricks together in an unbroken train and achieve some utterly ludicrous combo scores (I seem to remember Curly was particularly skilled at this). But the brilliant thing was that it was almost as much fun to watch others performing tricks as it was to do them yourself, so waiting your turn to play was an entertainment in itself.

Ten years down the line, the residents of Foxhill – although still in touch – have gone their separate ways, and looking back, those hours spent playing games seem like a world away. Where did we find the time? Easy I suppose – most of us were single and didn’t have much responsibility, which meant we had loads of spare time and cash to spend on pursuits like learning intricate trick combos and practising nose grinds. They were good times, and although I wouldn’t change anything about my life right now, I sometimes miss those carefree days of blokeish pursuits…

…but then I remember about Gav’s fungal foot infection and suddenly the past doesn’t seem so rosy.

Lewis

(Screenshots from giantbomb.com)

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Filed under 2000, Extreme Sports, Neversoft, Playstation

#40: NBA Jam

Format: Super NES Genre: Sports Released: 1993 Developer: Midway

You’ve probably noticed that there are precious few sports games on this list – the reason being that I hardly ever play them. I’ve never quite been able to get to grips with football games (people I’m playing against often wonder why I cheer when they score – it’s usually because I thought I was controlling their team), and the only sports game that has successfully piqued my interest in recent memory is Golf on Wii Sports. Back in 1993 though, you’d have had to pry the joypad out of my hands with a crowbar to stop me playing NBA Jam.

It’s not like I even like basketball – in fact I find it incredibly boring – but somehow this game managed to make basketball not only bearable to watch but actually exciting. Its first stroke of genius was to get rid of all those surplus players on the court – with only two players per team there’s none of the usual confusion you get with sports games over which player you’re controlling and where they’re going to pass the ball next and hold-on-I-didn’t-mean-to-pass-it-over-there-damn-you-computer-for-cheating-oh-now-you’ve-gone-and-scored DAMN THIS MACHINE. No, none of that.

The second wave of the genius wand ensured that all of the gameplay knobs were turned up to eleven – you don’t just slam dunk the ball in this game, you leap 30 feet into the air, spin 360 degrees, do the splits and dunk the ball so hard the backboard shatters, as multiple flashbulbs erupt in the audience and the announcer builds himself into a frenzy.

Realistic? No, but who cares, this is a video game, right?

"BOOMSHAKALAKA!"

Speaking of the announcer, the sampled speech was a real highlight – speech was rarity in games before the CD-based consoles arrived. As I remember, the announcers didn’t have that many soundbites, but for some reason they never got repetitive (maybe I was still tickled by the novelty of people speaking IN A GAME). The best bit was when a player scored three points in a row, which caused him to (literally) become ‘on fire’, accompanied by the commentator booming “HE’S ON FIRE!”. The phrase has penetrated my brain to such an extent that I still find myself thinking “HE’S ON FIRE!” every time I do something noteworthy in a game.

‘Achievement: Brumak Rodeo 10G’

[Thinks] “HE’S ON FIRE!”

"HE'S ON FIRE!"

But the true brilliance of NBA Jam emerged in multiplayer – the game was good when played alone, but it was utterly fantastic with four players. Along with Super Bomberman, it was one of the first games to be compatible with the Super NES multitap – imagine kids, you had to fork out £20 just to play with more than person! – and the two games barely left my SNES for the whole of 93 and 94. You can keep your Modern Warfare 2, just give me NBA Jam, four controllers, a bottle of Virgin Cola, Maid Marian and her Merry Men on the telly and several flavours of Push Pops, and I’ll be happy.

Lewis

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Filed under 1993, Midway, Sports, Super NES