#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

#97: Civilization II

Format: PC Genre: Turn-Based Strategy Released: 1996 Developer: MicroProse

One of the great difficulties in writing this blog has been picking just one game to represent its respective series. This is especially tricky if ‘the best’, ‘the one which we played the most’ and ‘the original’ are actually all different games in the series. Argh!

I faced this problem before, when trying to decide which Resident Evil game to write about, and I’m having the same debate with myself about which Civilization game to cover. The thing is I… is love too strong a word? No, it’s not. I love the Civilization games. The late, great Sid Meier (N.B. at time of writing, not actually dead) created something very special when he came up with the idea of Civilization (it either came to him after he got a bang on the head while fixing a toilet or stole the idea from a board game, can’t remember which).

Sid Meier. My hero... Sigh.

I think I’ve played six different Civilization games over the years, and I’m not even counting the various add-on packs and downloadable content. Collectively I’ve probably spent more time playing Civ (get with it Grandad, that’s what we kids call Civilization) games than any others. Deciding which one to cover for this blog has not been easy and, again similar to Resident Evil, I put the decision off as long as I could. With only four slots left on the blog my hand has been forced and, after careful consideration, I’ve decided to write about the one I probably played the most and returned to the most often – Civilization II.

By the way, despite being English and becoming increasingly annoyed by how American spellings are creeping into general use in the UK (it must be my age), I’ll be using the US spelling of ‘civilization’ rather than the actually-correct-as-we-invented-the-language civilisation, as that’s the spelling the games use. When I was a kid and had the first Civ game on the Amiga I made a big thing about spelling it ‘Civilisation‘ not ‘Civilization‘ on the labels of the copy disks I made. I was, as has been established in several other posts, a strange child.*

The premise of Civilization is that you control a nation/civilization for 6000 years of history. It is a massive, sprawling game in which you start with the founding of a small city state, often not even having invented the wheel, and can end up with a continent-spanning empire, putting people on the moon and nuking your neighbours.

I got the first Civ game for my Amiga 1200 sometime in 1993. Despite the simple visuals the 12/13-year-old me was instantly hooked. The game’s genius lies in how it starts off relatively simply and gradually becomes complex as you play it. Initially you just have to choose the location of your city, and then decide what unit or building to make. Easy.

The first Civilization. Looks like the German's are doing well.

After a couple of hours’ play you might have adopted a monarchy, hit the middle ages and have six or seven cities. Suddenly there’s a lot more to worry about. What’s your tax rate? What technology are you going to research? Do you change political systems? You’ve just met the Russians, should you attack them or try to build an alliance with them? Hang on, the people in one of your cities have started to riot! Do you send in the troops or build a temple to try and make them happy?

Five or six hours later you’d have become a republic and have a dozen or more cities. Your civilization has grown but now you’re in the middle of a nasty war with the French which you seem to be losing despite your new musketeer unit. By the eighth hour you’ve defeated the French, turned Communist, cured cancer but lost the space race against the aggressive and technologically advanced Zulu Empire.

Still, unlike the real world, if it all goes wrong you can start again and try to get it right. Before you know it you’ll be shouting at your pixelated army “Repel the Mongols you cowards” and renaming the recently conquered Berlin after youself. Ianstown does have a ring to it…

Early in the game. Looks lonely for the English.

One game could last days, and the sheer complexity of Civilization meant that each time you played it the experience would be slightly different. Wiped out by an invading Aztec army in 1457? Simply start again and try to get it right.

1996’s Civilization II took all that was great about the original and added so much more. Graphically the game was obviously vastly better, with an isometric viewpoint and a much more intuitive interface. The world map became larger, with lots more civilizations to play as (ever wondered who would win in a fight, the Vikings or the Egyptians? You can see in Civ II). The military side of the game is also much better. In the original Civ you occasionally had tanks beaten by archers and other slightly ridiculous things like that. Now units have ‘firepower’ and ‘hit’ points. Y’know, just like in real life!

One nice touch was the videos of advisers telling you what to do. The help they gave was minimal, pretty much asking you to concentrate on whatever area they represented (military advisor asking for more military units, economics advisor asking for more banks or market places), but for a game that in many ways was so serious, it was good to have some amusing (well, amusing the first couple of times you saw them) bits. I especially liked the Elvis guy, and the way the advisers’ costumes changed through the ages. When your Civilization was in a state of anarchy they even argued:

One innovation that Civ II introduced, and that all subsequent Civ games have had, is having different ‘scenarios’ – WWII, Fantasy Kingdoms, etc. Civ II also allowed you to create game scenarios and soon there were hundreds of fan-made ones online. My favourite was a steampunk one where you could control the Anglo-French Empire and take on the ‘Evil Society’ led by Fu Manchu. There was even a War of the Worlds-esque Martian Invasion half way through the game.

The Civilization series is the crack-cocaine of games, with a ‘just one more go’ aspect that I’m sure has led to all sorts of missed appointments/late homework/failed relationships. This is despite some pretty slow loading times. Civ II wasn’t so bad, but the original Civilization? Towards the end of the game, when your Empire would be pretty big, you would sometimes have to wait nearly 10 minutes between turns.

The games are especially appealing to people like me with a God/Napoleon complex. If only humans had always had this game, I really feel it would have saved our race a lot of bother. All those dictators and mad men who have caused so much misery because of their lust for power… If only they could have played Civ II, they would have just sat in their bedrooms, living out their power-crazed fantasies virtually.

Half the fun was creating an entire alternate history for the world. Remember the great Greek Empire across 19th Century Europe?

I sometimes worry that without this game I would end up seizing power and MAKING EVERYONE PAY. Ahem. Don’t worry though, even if this does happen I’m a pretty good ruler, conquering the world as a communist before creating a worldwide democracy. Doesn’t sound too bad does it? See my Syndicate post for more evidence of my disturbing dictator tendencies.

I got a good 8 or 9 years of play out of Civilization II. Not many games you could say that about. I bought Civilization III but it seemed overly complex to me, and I returned to the simple elegance of II. It wasn’t until I got Civilization IV in 2006 that I felt ready to leave it behind. I’ve not played Civ V, though my brother has and he’s not impressed, so I’ll probably stick with IV for now.

If you treat the series as one game then I would say it’s the best game ever. Really. It’s addictive, has incredible depth, and has taught me all sorts about history and ancient civilizations (I first learnt about what happened to the Aztecs, the Manhattan Project and Ironclads from Civilization). It also manages to realistically reflect real-world politics. For example, in Civ IV I often found myself starting wars because I wanted access to oil a rival had in its territory. They should play it in schools! Though it might lead kids to think Cardiff had pyramids…

Taken from Moby Games (http://www.mobygames.com/)

To finish, here’s a description of a particular game of Civ II I played years ago, taken from an old blog of mine. Enjoy!

I dug Civ II out the other day on a whim. I decided to be the Japanese and play on the ‘real’ world map (as opposed to a world the computer randomly makes up). I didn’t do very well. I made some elementary mistakes which meant that I fell well behind in technology compared to other civilisations (especially the Greeks curse them). I ended up having a pointless war with the Chinese which gave me a bad reputation with the rest of the world, then accidentally angered the Greeks who conquered half of my territory with frightening ease. I gave up when it became obvious that I was on the brink of becoming a 4th rate power in the world, appeasing the massive Greek Empire and their Chinese lapdogs. I refuse to live in a world like that!

I named one of the Japanese cities on the Asian mainland after Lewis (Lewisville?). It was one of the first to fall against the Greeks. I blame him and his cowardly city on my eventual defeat. I will make him suffer for your betrayal.

ALL HAIL IAN!!!

Hmmm, writing that reminds me of this bit from Red Dwarf…

Ian

*[Lewis puts on his copy-editor hat and attends the lecturn.] Actually, ‘-ize’ endings have been in use in British English since the 16th century, and are derived from Greek (whereas ‘-ise’ comes from French), so they’re not merely an ‘Americanism’. Also, the OED usually lists ‘-ize’ endings first, although it takes great pains to point out that ‘-ise’ is an “equally correct, alternative spelling”. Having said all that, I still prefer ‘-ise’ endings, even though I spend all day at work changing them to ‘-ize’.

4 Comments

Filed under 1996, MicroProse, PC, Turn-Based Strategy

#96: Syndicate

Format: Amiga Genre: Tactical shooting/Real-time tactics Released: 1993 Developer: Bullfrog Productions

I’ve always been interested in politics and, well, power. I distinctly remember aged 7 or 8 explaining to a classmate that Margaret Thatcher was a Prime Minister, not a President as Britain didn’t have Presidents. When I was given the action figure of Hordak (main villian of She-Ra and former mentor of Skeletor of course) I considered the ramifications amongst the villians of suddenly having the old boss back. Who would they back? Could Skeletor be deposed? Could civil war break out on Snake Mountain?

I was an odd child in many ways.

By the time I was 13 I had started to think about how power should be used and, most importantly, who should be in charge. My conclusion? That I should be in charge. Yes, me. Sadly at 13 I realised I was some time away from seizing power. Sorry, did I say seizing? I obviously meant to say ‘become politically active, maybe getting involved in local politics or something’…

While I waited to get old enough to fulfil my political destiny I played games that seemed to have a political or, ahem, power-hungry bent. Civilization, Command & Conquer, Colonization, Rise of Nations, and, the subject of this post, Syndicate.

See my Empire grow... Ooo har har har!

Syndicate is set in a Blade Runner-esque future where nation states and governments have been replaced by corrupt corporations. The people have been numbed into submission by having a chip inserted into their heads which alters reality, making them see a world of sunshine and lollipops rather than the dystopian nightmare it actually is. Imagine the iPhone ten years from now.

Rather than make you a freedom fighter or something similar (booooooooring), Syndicate puts you at the head of one of these naughty businesses. The aim of the game is to forcibly take over all other rival corporations – effectively take over the world. You do this by sending a team of four heavily armed cyborgs into various global hotspots to commit sabotage, oppression and bit of old-fashioned political assassination. Successfully complete the mission and a chunk of the world would become yours. It certainly puts the aggressive in ‘aggressive takeover’.

A rival suffers from an unfortunate 'accident'.

Each mission takes place in a city. One of the most impressive things about Syndicate, especially considering when it came out, is the way each level felt like a real city. Yes, they all look the same, but they seem like living, breathing places. Police are patrolling the streets, cars and trains are moving around the place and people are going about their daily business. Well, they were going about their daily business until cyborgs got in the way.

Sorry everyone, boss says I've got to clear the area.

Of course you didn’t just have to kill people, you could also hypnotize them, kidnap them and turn them into cyborgs to use in future missions. You could raise taxes in each territory you owned and invest those funds in weapon research and upgrading your cyborgs, giving them fancy new legs, skin and eyes.

We can rebuild him...

The great thing about Syndicate was, though simple to play, it had a surprising amount of depth. It wasn’t a case of just shooting everything that moved (though there was thankfully a lot of that) but also managing your resources. The way each of your cyborg agents reacted in missions could be altered by adjusting their IPA (Intelligence, Perception and Adrenaline). Raise taxes too sharply and you might have a rebellion on your hands in your territory. Want more intelligence before you start a mission? OK, but that info will cost you money.

There’s something about seeing the colour of your empire slowly spread across the map of the world that is just so appealing. Every time you successfully completed a mission you saw the cut scene below. I never got tired of watching it.

In the manual it explains that like all power mad villains your base of operations is an airship. Oh yes!

Unfortunately, for various reasons I never played either of the follow ups – ‘American Revolt‘ (an expansion pack for the original game) and Syndicate Wars, a full sequel released on the Playstation and PC in 1996. I would love an updated version though. Even though it’s not something I ever do, an online Syndicate would be awesome, especially as the world of Syndicate seems to get a bit closer every day…

Ian

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Filed under 1993, Amiga, Bullfrog Productions, Real-Time Tactics

Podcast 20: Amiga Power (And Other, Lesser Gaming Magazines)

Welcome, wanderers of the SuperInformationCanalPath, to the Podcast of Champions: an entire 26 minutes (count ’em!) dedicated to the MIGHTY BEINGS of Amiga Power (and other, lesser gaming magazines).

It's Doom... but on the Amiga.

Pay attention as we DISSEMINATE ESSENTIAL INFORMATION about Stuart N Hardy, the Amstrad CPC464k (NOT the Amstrad CPC6128k), Bob The Hamster, Office Joust, Doom… but on the Amiga, “Orwellian dandies” and AP’s dreadful, hateful magazine rivals: we’re looking at you, (“Michael Jackson” – Ed).

Despite receiving some devastating feedback from a certain anonymous, whining, childish hatemonger, and despite Ian’s repeated attempts to torpedo the conversation, we struggle through to produce the finest podcast the world has ever seen. With hilarious consequences.

Click below to listen directly through this site:

Or download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

Podcast 20 Amiga Power

OR you can subscribe to the Podcast of Gentlemen through iTunes:

And if this podcast has whet your appetite for more Amiga Power shenanigans, we recommend you hasten forthwith to AP2 (it’s Amiga Power – but on the computer) and Stuart Campbell’s forum for the chastising of useless, cretinous morons, World Of Stuart.

Ian lines up another laser-guided conversation torpedo, yesterday.

Lastly, here’s a video of Bob The Hamster*. BYE-BYE BOB. YOU WERE A GIRL HAMSTER.

*Not the actual Bob The Hamster. Natch.

Lewis & Ian

(Cover image from Amiga Magazine Rack)

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Filed under Podcast

#95: Defender

Format: Coin-Op/Amiga Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up Released: 1980/1994 Developer: Williams/Ratsoft

Sadly, I’ve never played the original Defender arcade machine, although with the current growth of the retro game scene, it’s surely only a matter of time before I come across it at some sort of retro-themed club night. However, I did play the Amiga shareware conversion a helluva lot, so that’s what I’m going to talk about here.

Good old Ratsoft. Whoever you are.

There may well have been more than one shareware version of Defender, but after scouring t’interweb, I’m fairly sure that the one I had was developed by Ratsoft (thanks lemonamiga.com). Having never played the arcade original, I’m not in a position to comment of the quality of the Amiga conversion, but as far as I’m concerned it’s bloody brilliant. Interestingly, according to Retro Gamer and Edge (via Wikipedia), “most official and unofficial ports [of Defender] failed to accurately emulate the arcade’s gameplay”. If that’s the case, I’m obviously in for a real treat when I finally play the original arcade machine, because to my mind the Amiga version was nigh-on perfect.

Ah lasers. Good old lasers.

Unlike many eighties arcade games, Defender has really stood the test of time. The lightning-fast gameplay is  incredibly frenetic and tense, and the controls are amazingly responsive (which is in stark contrast to the woolly controls of one of its contemporaries, Space Invaders). The scrolling and collision detection are both spot on, so  however difficult the gameplay gets (and it gets very difficult indeed), you can never blame the game for an unfair death.

The trick is to shoot the alien without hitting the human - harder than it looks.

Speaking of difficulty, this has to be one of the hardest but most rewarding games out there. It’s difficult because the secret to success is aiming and shooting at enemies on the main screen while simultaneously keeping one eye on the top radar screen – a very difficult task unless you happen to have eyes that swivel independently of each other. Still, keeping an eye (or at least part of an eye) on the radar is the only way you’ll have a chance of avoiding any aliens lurking off-screen once your ship gets up to full speed, unless you have Tron-like reflexes. Likewise, the radar screen helps you to find and rush to the aid of humans who are being abducted, and one of the most rewarding (and challenging) aspects of the game is shooting a fleeing alien out of mid-air (being careful to avoid hitting its human cargo), then deftly catching the falling human and returning him/her to terra firma.

Whoever's playing is in a spot of trouble here - if the screen fills up this much, it's almost a guaranteed Game Over.

More often than not, your little rescue mission ends with you missing the alien entirely and destroying the innocent human instead, or shooting the alien but failing to catch the human before they plummet to their death, which is why it’s so damn satisfying when you’re successful. It’s a brilliant mechanic that’s endlessly entertaining, and despite my general awfulness at this game, it was enough of a carrot to keep me playing and replaying for hours at a time.

The fantastic Guardian - shame so few people got to play it.

Lastly, I have to mention an excellent Defender spin-off called Guardian, which was one of the very few games that was exclusive to the Amiga 1200 and the ill-fated CD32. Guardian did an absolutely amazing job of replicating the mechanics of Defender in 3D, and it’s just a shame that it was released so late in the Amiga’s lifespan (it was rated as the third best game on the Amiga in the penultimate issue of Amiga Power in 1996). The makers, Acid Software, were also behind the fantastic Super Skidmarks, but as far as I can gather, they were sucked up by some kind of black hole that emanated from Commodore’s HQ at around the time the Amiga imploded, and no-one’s heard of them since. Shame.

Anyway, here’s a clip of Defender in action – this is from the coin-op, but it’s pretty much identical to the Amiga version (make sure to have the sound turned up to fully appreciate the bombastic SFX).

Lewis

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

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Filed under 1980, 1994, Amiga, Coin-Op, Ratsoft, Shoot 'Em Up, Williams

Games Behind Glass Cases

My girlfriend and I took a trip to the V&A Museum of Childhood this weekend – it’s a fascinating place, and highly recommended if you live in London. There were tons of interesting exhibits, but the one that stood out for me was, of course, the video game display.

The Amstrad CPC at the Museum of Childhood.

The thing that immediately drew my eye was the Amstrad CPC. The whole display wasn’t that big, and there were only a few select consoles and computers, so it was nice to see the mighty Amstrad represented among the Playstations and Game Boys. It’s a shame Ian wasn’t there to share the moment with me really, I’m sure he would have been welling up.

It's like Space Invaders. But it's Invader from Space.

Another thing that drew my eye was ‘Invader from Space’, an early portable game that I remember playing for hours at a time when I was a child. Look kids! It’s a console that you can only play one game on! You can imagine my generation’s collective delight when the Game Boy was launched and we could – shock horror – play more than one game. Still, when the only game you can play is Space Invaders – sorry, Invader from Space – it’s not so bad.

I wonder what happened to Grandstand? Perhaps they went under after a massive lawsuit filed by Taito.

Ah, the Game Boy. Shame the box isn't the right way up.

Of course, the Game Boy was featured, and looking at it there behind glass with a little placard explaining what Tetris is for ten-year-olds, I suddenly felt very, very old. I miss my old Game Boy – it disappeared off into eBay some time ago, but seeing it again today had me hankering after a Tetris fix.

The Xbox at the Museum of Childhood.

It was interesting to see the original Xbox featured. Flick (my girlfriend) mentioned how old-fashioned it looks, and looking at it again, she’s definitely got a point. Even when it came out I thought it looked awful, and if anything it’s got worse with age. Interesting to see they displayed it with the later, smaller controller. When I told Flick the original controller was even bigger, she couldn’t believe it.

The last pic is of the Binatone TV Master, which I’ve never actually heard of before, but the Luger-style gun certainly caught my eye. Not sure you’d get away with that today.

And that’s about it. It was interesting to see these slices of my childhood locked away behind glass like priceless exhibits, and it made me wonder what subsequent generations will think of the consoles and computers we have today – I expect they’ll be laughing at the concept that you actually had to buy special equipment to play games on. And the idea that you have to buy more than one piece of equipment to play games made by different manufacturers will seem absolutely ludicrous.

Lewis

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Filed under Feature

#94: Ms. Pac-Man

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Maze Released: 1981 Developer: Bally/Midway / General Computer Corporation

In 2005 I waved goodbye to Blighty (UK) and set sail (boarded a plane) for the new world (Vancouver, Canada). There I was going to make my fortune (live there for a year) and wander from town to town righting wrongs (do some travelling). I went with my good friend (actually… hang on, he is a good friend) Andy. Being adventurous we decide to plan as little as possible (left everything to the last-minute and chanced our luck).

When we arrived we had no job, no where to live and only our first night in a hostel booked. Seems crazy to me now but at the time neither of us was particularly worried. That’s the confidence of a 25-year-old. You completely believe it will all work out fine in the end. And it did. We arrived on the 4th, by the 8th we had found work and a place to live.

Home to travellers, wanderers and slightly confused Brits

Unfortunately there’s a peculiar Vancouver by-law (I think) which only allows contracts to start at the end/beginning of the month which means on the last day of the month the streets are full of moving vans and people carrying sofas.

So despite signing our contract we couldn’t move in for another three and a half weeks. With no other option Andy and myself prepared ourselves for 23 days of hostel living. The YHA Vancouver Downtown became our home. 23 days of sharing a room with three other men. 23 days of eating out every night (and drinking pretty much every night). 23 days of getting strange looks in the kitchen at breakfast time as you were in a suit dressed for work.

Still, it could have been worse. The place was clean, relatively quiet and only a couple of weirdos. The main problem was trying to fill time. The books I brought with me I soon finished. The TV room always seemed to be hogged by someone watching… whatever it is they put on Canadian TV (The Rick Mercer Report, Corner Gas and hockey). There’s only so many times you can play ‘Chase the Ace’. So thank God for Ms. Pac-Man.

Similar arcade to the one I used to play. More games should come in table form.

Yes, Ms. Pac-Man. The hostel ‘games room’ had a bashed about but perfectly working Ms. Pac-Man arcade. At first I just played it in a slightly ironic ‘Oh yeah, old game… cool’ kind of way. Plus at only a quarter a play it seemed a cheap way of occupying myself. Within a few days though I was hopelessly addicted. My ultimate aim? To beat the current high score. Why? Because it was there of course, because it was there.

So did I do it dear reader? Well, the photo speaks for itself.

Possibly the happiest moment of my life.

With only a few days left in the hostel I manged to do it. The High Score. 30,470. IN YOUR FACE OTHER HOSTEL PEOPLE! So imagine my disappointment when a few days later a guy turned up to empty the machine of quarters, turned it off and the score was deleted. In many ways this tale is like a modern day Icarus. I had a brief moment in the Sun before I plummeted back to Earth.

I was even more disappointed when, while researching for this post, I found out the highest score ever was 933,580. Abdner Ashman of Queens, N.Y. achieved that in April 2006. That’s about 6 months after my high score. Maybe I inspired him?

A couple of years ago I got Ms. Pac-Man for my phone. Despite no need to find quarters and lots of time to kill on the tube I’ve never beaten 30,470. It remains a personal best. I think I might have 30,470 put on my gravestone.

Before I go, have a look at this. I never realised Ms. Pac-Man had such a lovely voice.

Ian

1 Comment

Filed under 1981, Coin-Op, General Computer Corporation, Maze, Midway

#93: Super Star Wars

Format: Super NES Genre: Run and Gun Released: 1993 Developer: Sculptured Software/Lucasarts

Super Star Wars blew my tiny little adolescent mind when I first played it. Graphically it was superb, with crisp and colourful visuals that really captured the look of the film, and even today it still looks pretty damn good. In particular, I remember the Mode 7-generated battle above the Death Star was spectacular at the time, as was the climactic fight against Darth Vader’s TIE fighter at the end – although sadly I only saw this on a couple of occasions because the game was so f*****g hard. But more on that in a minute…

As well as looking fantastic, Super Star Wars sounded amazing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it has possibly the best sound effects and music on the SNES – the 16-bit versions of the famous Star Wars tunes are absolutely spot on, and the sound effects are probably the meatiest on the console (apart, perhaps, from the OTT gun noises in Super Smash TV). Particular praise should go to the noise that the womp rats make when you shoot them – it sounds more like a train being shunted off a bridge than the demise of a fleshy sci-fi creature (listen to the video below to hear for yourself). But then again, the extravagant sound effects are in keeping with a run and gun game that has all the knobs turned up to 11 – I mean, practically everything explodes in a ball of flame when you shoot it, even the Jawas (who also fly comically off the screen with a satisfying ‘ooOOOtiiini’ noise lifted straight from the film).

Apparently Luke used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home, although here it appears he couldn't hit a barn door with a banjo.

But for all its preening good looks and aural bombast, Super Star Wars was always a little rough around the edges when it came to the gameplay department. Sadly, the massive sprites and evocative music don’t quite cover up the shoddy collision detection, inept bosses and utterly infuriating level design…

…but at the time I could forgive it – the all-consuming desire to see the next gorgeously realised level had me hooked, and the showy visuals – not to mention the fact that it’s Star Wars goddammit – were enough to keep me plugging away until I finally, FINALLY, managed to finish it. Although looking back now with the benefit of hindsight, I’m amazed I had the patience…

The landspeeder had considerably more 'oomph' in the game than it did in the film.

Here at 101 Video Games, we generally write our reviews based on our personal memories of the games, rather than what they’re actually like to play now. The idea is to generate a record of the games that enriched our lives, rather than a list of ‘top’ games – hence the inclusion of games that taught us a valuable life lesson (Rise of the Robots) or that simply made us smile (Dog Walking). However, I got so nostalgic about Super Star Wars after watching videos of it while researching this post, I ended up downloading it from the Wii Virtual Console so I could play it again.

A fatal mistake.

What do you mean, "you don't remember this from the movie"?

It all started off pleasantly enough as I happily romped across the dunes of Tatooine, blasting the local fauna into oblivion with carefree abandon and generally having a whale of a time. But then I started noticing the cracks…

[Lewis sits playing through the first level of Super Star Wars. Gradually his brow begins to furrow and a slight frown plays across his mouth as he nears the end of the stage. We listen in to his internal monologue…] “Hold on, no matter what I do, I don’t seem to be able to avoid getting hit by these creatures – maybe my reflexes aren’t as good as they used to be? …Or is it because you actually CAN’T avoid them and the developers just decided to throw loads of health boosts at you to make up for it? Wait a minute, here’s the sarlacc pit boss… oh, you can’t avoid his attacks either. And now I’m dead and the restart point seems to be practically at the beginning of the level. That’s …erm… frustrating.”

Worst. Boss. Ever.

Yes, 17 years is a long time in the world of video games, and little things we now take for granted – like reasonably spaced restart points – were thin on the ground back in 1993. But there are some aspects of Super Star Wars that are frankly just the result of poor design, like the inability to avoid getting hit, or the all-too-common ‘leaps of faith’ where you can’t see the platform you’re meant to be jumping onto (which usually results in you landing in that all-too-common ‘insta-kill’ lava instead).

[We rejoin Lewis’s inner monologue as he starts level 3 outside the Jawa sandcrawler.] “Ah, I remember this bit! I love that noise the Jawas make when you shoot them! Right, just need to make my way to the top of the sandcrawler by navigating these moving, wafer-thin platforms… Oh. I’ve fallen right back to the beginning. Right let’s try again… Hmm, seems a little tricky to persuade Luke to do that spinny ‘super jump’ thing, I seem to end up doing a ‘normal’  jump half of the time… Oh. I’ve fallen again.]

"Stay on target. Stay on target. Stay on... oh, I'm dead."

[Fifteen minutes later…]

“Right, finally got to the top! Now I just need to jump insid… hold on, gun emplacements? WTF? Oh. Dead again.”

[Another fifteen minutes later…]

“OK, I think I’m getting near the bottom of the sandcrawler now, although those myriad boucing lasers and security flamethrowers were a tad annoying. Still, I’ve been playing for ages, so I can’t be too far away… Hold on, I’ve come to a dead end and I can’t see what’s at the bottom of this drop. Must be another platform I guess, I’ll just jump down… Oh. It’s ‘insta-kill’ lava. That’s a bit… erm… irritating. Oh, and I’ve been taken back to almost the very beginning of the level… Right, I think I need to stop playing and find somewhere I can hurl this controller in rage without damaging any expensive electronics equipment.”

In a nutshell, Super Star Wars is just a tiny bit infuriating. But my younger self just couldn’t get enough of it – perhaps in the pre-internet, pre-‘instant access’ era I had a little more patience. And let’s face it, games were just harder back then, not like these namby-pamby modern games.

So bearing that in mind, I’ve decided to embrace Super Star Wars for what it is and dismiss its faults as the foibles of a bygone age – welcome to our video game canon old friend. Although if it’s all right with you, I’d prefer to remember you as the esteemed game of my youth rather than the frustrating throwback I bought in a fit of nostalgia.

(Skip to the 2.30 mark to go straight to the gameplay.)

Lewis

(Cover art from www.mobygames.com, screenshots from www.gamefaqs.com)

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Filed under 1993, Lucasarts, Run and Gun, Sculptured Software, Super NES