Category Archives: 2002

#98: Lost Kingdoms

Format: GameCube Genre: RPG Released: 2002 Developer: From Software

It’s been incredibly difficult to decide which games to cover for the final few places on our list, and dozens of equally worthy titles were considered for this particular spot. In the end though, I felt that this almost unknown GameCube title thoroughly deserved a place on the list: not least because I think more people should find out about it.

The utterly dreadful cover art for Lost Kingdoms. There's definitely something not quite right about the proportions of that woman's face...

Lost Kingdoms made my life slightly better because it’s one of the few games I can think of that I enjoyed from start to finish – there were no frustrating difficulty spikes and no tacked-on ‘stealth’ sections, just pure, unadulterated fun from the moment I picked up the controller to the moment I watched the credits roll. Admittedly, the time in between the two wasn’t particularly long, and this is probably the game’s biggest flaw – it’s far too short. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – particularly if you’re an older, time-poor gamer – and considering the game can now be picked up on eBay for an absolute pittance, you’d be mad to miss out on it.

The cards in your hand are on the right, and the rest of the deck is shown on the left.

The key to the game’s success is its innovative combat system, which is based on ‘Magic: The Gathering’-style trading cards. Each card summons a specific creature, which either performs a one-off attack or hangs around for a while and attacks any wrongdoer that ambles by. All of the cards have specific affinities (Fire, Earth, Wood, Water), and part of  the game’s enjoyment comes from carefully preparing your deck before a level to ensure that you have the right balance of cards to fight the upcoming monsters (e.g. if you’re going to be facing a lot of fire-breathing monkeys, it’s probably a good idea to bring along a few water-based cards).

The best thing about the game might just be conjuring up a host of Harryhausen-esque walking skeletons. They're fairly rubbish in battle, but they evoke fond memories of Sunday afternoons spent watching Jason and the Argonauts.

The best thing is that all of the fighting is done in real-time, so the fights can get enjoyably frantic as you sift through your deck, trying desperately to find the right card to deal with the monster that’s just jumped up through the floor in front of you. The creature cards themselves are also impressively designed, and there are some particularly good showstopping animations for the more powerful beasts (á la the Guardian Forces in Final Fantasy). Best of all, there are around a hundred different cards to collect, and you can also upgrade your cards by ‘transforming’ them, so there’s plenty of fun to be had for the compulsive collector.

You can see the main protagonist in the centre - she's certainly up for the worst-dressed-hero award. Are those booty slippers?

Speaking of which, isn’t it weird how obsessive collecting has been such a part of video games since the very beginning? From collecting coins in Super Mario Bros. to finding Riddler Trophies in Batman: Arkham Asylum, it seems gamers like nothing more than to gather pointless tat for hours on end – although to be fair, the cards in Lost Kingdoms are a little bit more interesting than many game collectibles.

I think the worst example of pointless collecting I’ve witnessed in recent history was Assassin’s Creed, which tasked you with collecting several hundred flags of various types. And what did you get for painstakingly collecting these flags? A poxy little Xbox ‘Achievement’ and the knowledge that those five hours spent trawling through every street and alley in Jerusalem are five hours you’ll never get back.

Beware the glowing red dome of scariness! OoooOOOOOooooh!

The thing is though, I get totally suckered in by these collecting quests: once you’ve started collecting these little in-game trinkets, it’s very difficult to stop. Assassin’s Creed was definitely a watershed moment though – receiving the ‘Achievement’ for collecting god knows how many flags was the point at which I seriously asked myself “What the hell am I doing?”

Still, certain games handle item collecting well, and because it kept the number of collectibles down to a reasonable level and made each item unique and interesting, Lost Kingdoms was certainly one of the better ‘collect ’em ups’ (another good example is Ghostbusters: The Video Game – the ‘haunted artefacts’ scattered throughout the levels were genuinely worth finding).

To sum up then, Lost Kingdoms is a cracking little game that’s well worth picking up if you’re in the mood for a spot of RPG-lite collecting and card battling, and its relative shortness means it’s guaranteed not to outstay its welcome – definitely one of the GameCube’s high points.

To whet your appetite, here’s a video of the first level:

And below is a video of the final boss battle – it gives you a good idea of what some of the higher level cards do. (But don’t watch if you don’t want to see the ending. Obviously.)

Lewis

(Cover image fro gamefaqs.com, screenshots from Softpedia)

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Filed under 2002, From Software, GameCube, RPG

#77: Bloody Roar: Primal Fury

Format: GameCube Genre: Fighting Released: 2002 Developer: Eighting

I have fond memories of this game, partly because of how I came to own it.

I was doing work experience at CVG at the time, where my responsibilities mostly centred around taking the odd screenshot and tidying up the games cupboard. Thankfully though, after I’d been there for a while the editors started letting me handle the more important stuff: like filing the competition entries and recategorising the photo library.

Whoo.

I won’t lie to you, it wasn’t exactly a thrilling job. And to make matters worse, I was actually losing money every month – I didn’t get paid for my time at CVG, and my part-time bar job wasn’t even covering my bills. But the prospect of actually writing for a games magazine kept me hanging around, and eventually my patience paid off. Sort of.

Mole versus elephant - wonder who's going to win this one?

The publisher decided that the magazine was going to be bundled with a free tips book every month, and they decided to give me the job of compiling it. Unfortunately though, this wasn’t a case of me playing through dozens of fantastic games and scribbling down my carefully considered directions on how to complete them. Instead, I was given the unenviable task of trawling through hundreds of pages of html code from a tips website owned by the publishing company, then painstakingly extracting all of the code artefacts and knocking it into something resembling English.

Again, whoo.

But on the plus side, I had my name in the front of a book AND a big ol’ cheque for 150 quid. My months of hard work had (almost) paid off.

The humiliation of being smacked around by a bunny. Fail.

So what to do with my new-found wealth? Did I use it to pay off my mounting debt? Or perhaps spend it on some more exciting and nourishing food than the baked beans and economy pasta I was subsisting off at the time?

Of course not. I spent it on a GameCube.

Several months previously, one of the first GameCubes to arrive in the UK had landed in the CVG office, and ever since then I’d been coveting it. I seethed with jealousy when the writers were each given a GameCube of their own FOR FREE (b*****ds!), and I drooled over news of the games that were in development: Metroid Prime, Zelda: The Wind Waker, the Resident Evil remake… Actually, I remember when the preview code for Resident Evil came in – it was one of the few games that stopped all work in the office (along with Ico).

As you'd expect, most rooftop battles end with one of the protagonists giving the pavement below a close inspection.

However, when the GameCube was finally released in the UK, the launch games weren’t exactly mind-blowing:  the lack of a Mario game was a big disappointment (Luigi’s Mansion didn’t quite cut it for me I’m afraid), Wave Race: Blue Storm was fun but not exactly innovative, and Super Monkey Ball got pretty dull after a while (with the exception of Monkey Golf, of course).

The one game that really stood out for me was Bloody Roar: Primal Fury. Not only did it look fantastic, it gave you the opportunity to turn into a mole and lay the smack down on an elephant. And those kinds of opportunities seldom come up.

The guy on the right turns into a chameleon - an unlikely fighting animal perhaps, but surprisingly effective.

So, once my cheque had cleared, I proudly marched down to Virgin Megastore and bought myself a GameCube with a copy of Bloody Roar, which was the only GC game I had for a loooooong time – mostly because I couldn’t afford to buy any more. But did I get bored of it? Nope. In fact, I still had Bloody Roar right up until the time I passed on my GameCube a couple of years ago, and I was still playing it even then.

I never did get a job at CVG. Eventually a writer position came up but, to my utter dismay, they gave it to the other work experience guy (who, to be fair, had loads more experience than me and actually remembered to bring his portfolio to the interview). But at least I had Bloody Roar.

Obviously, a job would have been better, but Bloody Roar was pretty good anyway.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.mariocube.nl; cover from http://www.mobygames.com )

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Filed under 2002, Eighting, Fighting, GameCube

Podcast 9: Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (#74)

Format: GameCube Genre: Survival Horror Released: 2002 Developer: Silicon Knights

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a 2004 American romantic fantasy film scripted by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry. The film uses elements of science fiction, nonlinear narration and neosurrealism to explore the nature of memory and romantic love. It opened in North America on March 19, 2004 and grossed over US$70 million worldwide. This podcast is not about that film.

Instead Lewis and Ian discuss the well respected but not massively well known or successful GameCube game Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. Well, Lewis does. Ian spends most of the podcast calling it Eternal Sunshine.

 

The original hero and villain, Pious.

 

WARNING – We ramble more than usual on this one, including such conversational vignettes as an appraisal of British actors playing Nazis, whether you can ever watch Eddie Izzard in a film without thinking ‘That’s Eddie Izzard’ and what it would be like for Lewis and Ian to share a bath.

Click below to listen directly through this site

Or download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

Podcast 9 Eternal Darkness

Beware… THE PILLAR OF FLESH!

Ian & Lewis

(Screenshot from http://www.uk.gamespot.com)

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Filed under 2002, GameCube, Podcast, Silicon Knights, Survival Horror

#42: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Format: Playstation 2 Genre: Sandbox Game Released: 2002 Developer: Rockstar

Whenever I think of Grand Theft Auto, I’m always reminded of the time when I worked in a computer game shop just after university (and before any smart alec asks, no you don’t need a degree to work in a computer game shop).

A frazzled-looking mother was dragged into the shop by her young son, and he made a beeline straight for the shelf with GTA: Vice City, eagerly thrusting the game box into his put-upon mother’s hands. Mum wearily approached the counter, purse in hand, ready to purchase the child’s treat. I took a look at the son – he couldn’t have been older than 11 – and said to the mother “Errr… you do know this game is an 18, don’t you?”

I’ve never seen such fury in a mother’s eyes. She swivelled the full force of her Gorgon gaze onto her cowering son, who could only tremble underneath the onslaught of her words:

“YOU NEVER SAID IT WAS AN 18!!!”

“But mum…”

“NO BUTS! OUT!!!”

I felt almost guilty as the defeated son was frogmarched out of the shop by his furious parent. Almost, but not quite.

It’s illustrative of a problem that didn’t really exist when I was growing up – parents have no idea what their kids are playing. When I was a kid, my parents didn’t really have to worry – games didn’t really get more violent than Mario jumping on the head of innocent (or perhaps not so innocent) Goombas – but a quick look at my Xbox 360 games collection reveals that about half of the titles have great big red age ratings all over them.

Does the above example show that modern parents haven’t quite cottoned onto the fact that games have become more violent? Or is it the opposite – are modern parents more aware of computer games, having grown up playing them themselves? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

In terms of game violence, Vice City looks a bit tame now by modern standards – the cartoony graphics are a long way from the more realistic depictions in recent titles such as Modern Warfare 2. Indeed, perhaps the furore over the airport scene in the latter game indicates that video games have reached new heights of moral complexity (although in my opinion they have a very long way to go). Having said that, I still wouldn’t let my (hypothetical) kids play Vice City – as an adult, I can appreciate the humour and irony of a lot of the storyline, but I don’t think that young kids should be exposed to the various pimps, prostitutes and gangsters that populate the game.

Perhaps I’m getting too serious here – one thing that can be said about Vice City is that it’s very, very funny, perhaps the funniest in the series. I absolutely loved the inane chat shows on the talk radio stations – if I made a list of Nice Touches in Video Games, they’d be right up there, hovering around the number 1 spot (along with discovering that you can do handstands and swan dives in the original Tomb Raider).

[Click of dictaphone whirring into life] “Idea for new blog: 101 Nice Touches in Video Games. Whoa, no, hold on, make that 50 Nice Touches in Video Games. No, actually, 10 Nice… hell, who am I kidding, I’ve got enough on my plate as it is. OK, scrap that idea.” [Click]

The best thing about Vice City – like all of the GTA games – was just exploring the game world, looking for things to do. I’d occasionally attempt an actual mission, but the vast majority of my time was spent in various other pursuits, such as racing dirt bikes, stealing a police car and using it to hunt down criminals, finding hidden jumps, or attempting to nick a helicopter from the military base (that last one was difficult, but gosh darn it was worth it). Even just cruising around listening to the cheesylicious eighties music was a diverting pastime in itself (have a listen to the Flock of Seagulls song that accompanies the trailer below to get an idea of the awesomeness of the game’s soundtrack).

If you’ve yet to experience this slice of Miami Vice-inspired brilliance, I urge you to play it immediately. As long as you’re over 18 of course.

Lewis

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

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Filed under 2002, Playstation 2, Rockstar, Sandbox Game

#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.

ico-box-art

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.

ico-sunlight-on-stairs

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.

ico-screenshot

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-castle-vista

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.

Lewis

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Filed under 2002, Adventure, Playstation 2, Team Ico

#12: Doshin the Giant

Format: GameCube Genre: God Game Released: 2002 Developer: Nintendo

I’ve got to admit that this game was a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. It’s obviously a kids’ game, and I obviously wasn’t a kid when I was playing it, but let’s face it, kids shouldn’t get to have all the fun.

doshin_the_giant_box_art

Doshin the Giant managed to suck me into its world entirely. At its core the game is incredibly simple, yet somehow utterly compulsive: you play a friendly yellow giant whose aim is to help four tribes scattered across several islands. The villagers’ requests are pretty simple – they generally amount to raising or lowering the ground or moving trees about – and every time you help them out they send a bit of love your way. The more they love you, the bigger you get, so that by the end of each ‘day’ in the game Doshin is usually towering above even the highest mountains. However, come the next day, he always reverts to his original size, although all the changes you made to the islands remain the same.

doshin-the-giant-planting-trees

A lot of the game’s charm comes from its visual appeal – all primary colours and smiling faces. More than anything though, it’s the sound effects that wormed their way into my head: there’s no music as such, but the background noise is a symphony of birdsong, animal noises, the lapping of the sea and the weird, high-pitched mewlings of the villagers. The whole soundscape is strangely hypnotic and relaxing: playing Doshin is almost like undergoing brain massage. Click on the video below and you can hear what I mean for yourself:

It’s not perfect of course – the simple concept, although appealing, ultimately becomes repetitive – but it’s the way this game made me feel that ensures its place on the list. As you make your way from village to village, planting and landscaping, you can’t help but build up an affection for your tiny wards, and there’s a sense of fatherly pride as you watch your little denizens go about expanding their villages and building monuments in your honour.

doshin-lowering-the-ground

But there’s the catch – the ultimate goal of the game is to get the various villages to build all 15 possible monuments, but only half of these are ‘love’ monuments. In order to get the remaining ‘hate’ monuments, you have to terrify your villagers by tapping the shoulder button and turning into Jashin the Hate Giant, allowing you to destroy the villages and murder the inhabitants.

After nurturing my villagers for so long, watching their families grow and listening to them burst into cheerful song at my approach, I was quite reluctant to rain down fiery destruction upon them, yet it was the only way to proceed. As they ran in terror while I systematically destroyed their houses, I couldn’t help but feel terribly guilty – and there are very few games I’ve played since that have managed to provoke such emotion.

jashin_the_hate_giant-fire

Who’d have thought a kids’ game could be so provocative?

Lewis

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Filed under 2002, GameCube, God Game, Nintendo