Tag Archives: Games review

#36: Tetris

Format: Game Boy Genre: Puzzle Released: 1990 Developer: Nintendo/Bullet Proof Software

This was the game that started my gaming habit. I may have dabbled with gaming before this, but in 1990, at the tender age of 11, video games finally smothered me with their all-suffocating love. No more Airfix kits for birthdays please mummy, give me Nintendo.

Tetris Game Boy Box

Picture the scene: Christmas morning, 1990. Having been whipped into a frenzy of excitement by Nintendo’s relentless primetime TV ads, my sister and I had asked for a Game Boy for Christmas – and because it was such an expensive present, we’d agreed to share it between us. But wait, what’s this? TWO presents under the tree? Could it be…? YES! Our wonderful parents had given us a Game Boy EACH! AND an extra game each too! (Duck Tales and SuperMarioLand if you’re curious). Even now the recollection brings a smile to my face, and opening that present still ranks as one of my fondest childhood memories – who says kids can’t be bought?

Tetris Game Boy Screenshot 1

A joyous Christmas morning followed as my sister and I got down to the serious business of two-player Tetris while mum and dad cooked the turkey. Happy days! The only sadness arose when mum tried to get us to stop playing and eat our lunch. Alas, had she known that her children would be turned into gaming zombies, perhaps she would have bought us something else for Christmas instead. Possibly Meccano. Actually, were they even making Meccano in 1990? Come to think of it, what do kids get for Christmas nowadays if not computer games? iTunes vouchers?

Tetris Game Boy Screenshot 2

But I digress. Having dipped my toe in the gaming waters, I proceeded to dive headlong into the hallowed pool, and for months afterwards I could be found with my head buried in various gaming magazines, excitedly plotting which games to save up for with my £1 a week pocket money. To be honest, I grew bored with Tetris fairly quickly (I can almost hear the sharp intakes of breath from the readers – sacrilege!), but I think it deserves honouring as the game that really kick-started my fascination with games, as well as my long-held playground allegiance to Nintendo.

Original Game Boy with Tetris

Before I finish though, I have to mention the fantastic music. Of course, everyone remembers the main Tetris theme, but the other two tunes in the game were pretty damn good as well (if not better). I’ve included YouTube links to all three tunes below so you can judge for yourself – I think they’re some of the best (if not the best) 8-bit music out there. Can anyone think of any better 8-bit soundtracks? The only music I can think of that comes close is the soundtrack to Super Mario Bros. 3…

Lewis

Tetris A-type music.

Tetris B-type music.

Tetris C-type music.

Tetris gameplay video.

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Filed under 1990, Bullet Proof Software, Game Boy, Nintendo, Puzzle

Podcast 1: The House of the Dead: Overkill (#35)

Format: Wii Genre: Light Gun Game Released: 2009 Developer: Headstrong Games

 

The House of the Dead: Overkill

'Mutherhugger' (taken from http://www.blast-o-rama.com)

 

It’s finally here, the first 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better podcast! Click play below to hear two very well spoken boys quietly speak in very posh voices about The House of the Dead: Overkill. Be amazed as we get a bit too excited and talk over each other. And be slightly concerned as our mums come up in the conversation.

Enjoy, and don’t be too cruel in the comment section.

Click below to listen directly through this site:

Or download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

Podcast 1 House of the Dead Overkill

Ian & Lewis

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Filed under 2009, Headstrong Games, Light Gun Game, Podcast, Wii

#31: Steel Battalion

Format: Xbox Genre: Mech Game* Released: 2003 Developer: Capcom

I saw the controller for this game before I knew anything else about it. I was doing work experience at CVG at the time, and a leaked internet photo of the extravagant twin joystick/pedal interface (see photo below) caused everyone in the office to gather round and gawp like idiots. Initially I thought it was some sort of joke, but an official press release from Capcom quickly followed – apparently they were serious about releasing a peripheral approximately half the size of the average Japanese living room**.

Steel_Battalion_Coverart

It’s obvious that the control system was dreamt up by some seriously nuts mech fanboys who wanted to take the mech game experience to its logical extreme – i.e. by recreating an actual mech cockpit***. But this is just what makes the game so appealing and refreshing – it’s fantastic to see someone coming up with such a frankly bonkers idea and then just running with it. I’d love to have seen the looks on the faces of the Capcom execs when the developers were pitching this idea, but huge kudos to the Capcom bigwigs for going with it – most companies would have run a mile when they found out how much the controller would cost. (The controller and game retailed for $200 in the US, and this was in the days before  expensive guitar and drum controllers were commonplace. Apparently the game broke even though, and they even made a sequel.)

steel battalion controller

The array of options on the controller is staggering – it features over 40 buttons, the most notorious of which was the ‘eject’ button, housed underneath a plastic cover on the top right of the console. If your mech (sorry, VT****) takes critical damage, the eject button starts flashing and you have only a few seconds to hit it before your VT explodes in a rain of fiery death. Failure to hit the button in time results in the death of your character and your save game being erased. Yep, there are no second chances in Steel Battalion – this game takes the notion of hardcore gaming to worrying extremes. I’m just surprised that the controller doesn’t give you electric shocks every time you get hit.

steel battalion screenshot 1

As you’d expect from the dazzlingly complicated array of buttons (you can read a full list of what they all do here), there’s a bit more to Steel Battalion than simple arcade-style shooting and dodging. The attention to detail is frankly ludicrous – there’s even a button that washes the camera on the front of the VT if it gets dirty during a fight (yes, that’s right, there’s a button for windscreen washers). Not to mention a fire extinguisher button and no less than 8 buttons that are used solely for starting up your VT (see video below).  Admittedly, going through all the rigmarole of pressing these various switches just to get your VT walking is quite entertaining the first time you do it, and adds to the experience enormously. However, I imagine that by the 50th time you play the game, this extended start-up sequence might start to lose some of its lustre… “Come on you bloody machine, start will you! I just want to shoot things!!!”

steel battalion screenshot 2

I say ‘I imagine’ because in fact I only ever played Steel Battalion once, at a friend’s house. (A friend with a very understanding wife who didn’t mind the fact that most of the living room had disappeared underneath shiny black plastic and flashing buttons. Having said that, he didn’t have it for very long, so maybe she put her foot down.)

“What?!”, I hear you cry, “How can you include a game that you only ever played once?!”

Well, I reply, for a number of reasons, chief of which is that this is my blog and I’ll do exactly what I like thank you very much. Hem hem. [Clears throat]

steel battalion screenshot 3

But more to the point, the whole ethos around this game probably gave me more enjoyment than my short time playing the game itself – from the buzz of excitement generated by the first pictures in the CVG office, right through to my friend excitedly telling me that he’d actually bought it. Laying my hands on that fantastically ridiculous controller for the first (and last) time was just the icing on the cake.

If you look at the shelves in any game shop you’ll see they’re heaving with ‘me too’ software – myriad copycat first-person shooters or film-licenced rubbish – so it’s good to know that there are some game companies out there with a bit of imagination and the conviction to try something new. Nice one Capcom.

Lewis

*I’ve listed this one as a ‘Mech Game’ – I was going to just put it down as ‘Action’ or ‘Vehicle Simulation’, but they’re such vague definitions as to be almost useless. I think mech games occupy a special genre of their own – a heady mix of cinematic action and unbelievably anal stat fiddling. See Armored Core For Answer for a recent example (incredibly, this is the thirteenth game in the Armored Core series – there must be a factory somewhere just churning them out).

**From an eBay listing of Steel Battalion:

I haven’t got the space for this – I only bought it a couple of days ago and my wife won’t let me keep it =(

I can just imagine the look on his wife’s face as he came through the door lugging a controller the size of a fridge. Priceless.

***I just found out that the controller was developed before they even started making the game (see here), which makes sense.

****Curiously, the two-legged metal behemoths are referred to as ‘Vertical Tanks’ or ‘VTs’ in the game rather than mechs.

3 Comments

Filed under 2003, Capcom, Mech Game, Xbox

#29: Super Mario Kart

Format: Super NES Genre: Racing Released: 1993 Developer: Nintendo

I don’t think I really need to say much about this one, do I? It’s Mario Kart, everyone’s played it, the Super NES version is the best. End of post.

super_mario_kart_box

Although having said that, I quite enjoyed the GameCube version… and one thing that the later versions of Mario Kart had that the original didn’t was a four-player mode, which seems so essential to the game that it’s almost inconceivable that it wasn’t in there from the start. Anyone remember Street Racer? It was one of the first Mario Kart clones, and its big claim to fame was that it featured a four-player mode, but in almost every other respect it was identical to Mario Kart, albeit significantly more ropey. It sticks out in my mind for having some of the worst character designs I’ve ever seen, including ‘Biff’ (‘a 19 year old typical school bully figure from America’) and ‘Surf Sister’ (‘a young Australian girl with a degree in mechanics’). It’s enough to make you weep.

super mario kart water

Anyway, the main reason that Super Mario Kart is The Best VersionTM is that the multiplayer was perfectly pitched. The Balloon Battle fights were nail-biting affairs that hinged on pixel-perfect deployment of the torpedo-like green shell combined with sheer panic as your opponent unleashed the dreaded Red Shell of Doom. Later versions were a lot more forgiving and the arenas (particularly on the N64 version) were much too large, which meant that a lot of the tension was swept away. As much as I love the GameCube version, the Battle Mode was – dare I say it – actually quite dull (although the Racing Mode was excellent).

super mario kart two player

Speaking of racing, the single-player mode of Super Mario Kart was arguably its weakest link. Perhaps unfairly, I basically saw it as necessary chore to be endured to unlock the multiplayer tracks – let’s face it, racing against the computer will never even come close to racing against friends. However, special mention has to go to the Ghost Valley and Rainbow Road tracks, which are some of the best-designed tracks to have ever been etched onto silicon. Rainbow Road in particular has a way of dragging you back for one more go, even though it’s teeth-grindingly difficult – I think it taps into the inner masochist hidden inside all lifelong gamers.

super mario kart donut land

I’m sure everyone has their favourite version of Mario Kart, but for me the first one will always be the best, and I’m sure almost everyone of my generation will agree with me. I mean, just watch the video below: it’s gaming perfection. All hail Mode 7.

Lewis

5 Comments

Filed under 1993, Nintendo, Racing, Super NES

#28: 1942

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up Released: 1984 Developer: Capcom

Every time we went to holiday parks or the seaside when I was a kid, I would beg to be taken to the arcade. I think at first my mum thought I had a gambling problem, but in actual fact I didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to the fruit machines  – I only had eyes for all those wonderful arcade games.

Although having said that I’ve always quite liked those machines with the sliding racks of 10 pence pieces – does that still count as gambling?

1942-arcade-cabinet

Anyway, going to the arcade was a real treat when I was young. There was a huge gap between the quality of games in the arcade and the quality of games for home systems, so seeing the latest coin-ops was like taking a glimpse into the future. It’s completely different now of course – if anything, home systems are actually slightly ahead of most arcade machines, and most arcades are completely dominated by the same old shooting and driving games. Add to that the fact that the cost of console games has come down while the cost of arcade credits has gone up (or at least stayed the same), and there suddenly seems to be little point in visiting the arcade anymore.

Still, back in the eighties it was all different, because a trip to the arcade meant you could play something mind-bogglingly amazing… like Out Run, Double Dragon, Shinobi, Chase HQ or 1942.

1942_screenshot

I always made a beeline straight for the 1942 cabinet whenever I went into an arcade. The other games I mentioned are all excellent in their own right, but for some reason I was totally hooked on this shoot ’em up.

I don’t even know what it is that I like about it so much – maybe it’s the simplicity, or maybe it’s the well-balanced gameplay. It’s a hard game, but it’s never unfair, so every time you die you know you could do better next time if you just moved that little bit quicker, or tapped the loop-the-loop (evade) button a tiny bit faster. The risk/reward ratio is just right as well – diving for the power ups is always worth it, even if it might end in a fiery death (and the loss of a 20p credit).

1942_screenshot-2

Having said that, it looks incredibly dated now. The graphics could be generously described as ‘dull’… I mean, just look at it – you spend most of the game staring at what looks like stippled blue wallpaper flecked with bits of green snot. Also, there’s hardly any variation in the enemies  – some planes are red instead of green (whoo) and sometimes a slightly bigger plane turns up (although these planes are usually green as well). Understandably, the gameplay gets pretty repetitive quite quickly. Also, the music was pretty damn awful, even by the standards of the time (just listen to the video below to see what I mean).

1942_screenshot-3

I haven’t played the original in years, but I found a remake (1942: Joint Strike) on Xbox Live Arcade that looked promising. It has the same repetitive gamplay but it’s still somehow compelling: I think this game – in all its forms – must generate some kind of Pavlovian response deep in the cerebellum that keeps your trigger finger twitching long after your conscious brain has entirely disengaged.

1942 – a flawed classic. But I’d still happily bypass all the Time Crisis and House of the Dead cabinets to play on it if I saw it in an arcade now. Especially if it still cost 20p.

Lewis

1 Comment

Filed under 1984, Capcom, Coin-Op, Shoot 'Em Up

#19: Halo 2

Format: X-Box Genre: First-Person Shooter Released: 2004 Developer: Bungie

It was a tough call to choose which Halo to include here. I ruled out Halo 3 early on, simply because it didn’t have the same impact on me as the first two, even though it’s an excellent game. Halo 1 very nearly made it: I was blown away when I first played it at an X-Box launch event, and driving a jeep in co-op mode is right up there among gaming’s all time top moments. It’s sort of like taking a drive into the country with a friend, only the friend is in control of a gatling gun and keeps shouting at you for driving off cliffs.

halo-2-box-art

In the end though, Halo 2 was the clear winner, chiefly because of the enormous amount of fun I had playing it on local multiplayer. I don’t care what anyone says, playing games against people in your own living room will always be miles better than playing over the internet – the only downside being that you have to actually get the people there in the first place. Oh, and in the case of this game, a link cable, two massive TVs, two X-Boxes, two copies of Halo 2 and eight controllers.

halo 2 ghost

But, after weeks of careful planning, this was exactly what I managed to do in Japan back in June 2005, as documented on my blog An Englishman In Nyu-gun. It took some effort to get all the various bits together, especially in X-Box-starved Japan, but it was worth it – by the end of the evening my face hurt from grinning so much. Nothing really brings out the smiles quite like shooting your friend in the face with a rocket launcher.

Eight-player Halo 2, June 2005

Unfortunately, I’m unlikely to experience such a local eight-player gaming fest again. The sheer logistics involved in getting so many people and so much equipment together – not to mention the fact that most people I know don’t have the time they once did to dedicate their lives to the cause of video games – means that this event was probably a one-off. But gosh darn, what a night it was. 

halo 2 split screen tank

Special mention must go to the Zanzibar map with its alien ferris wheel (at least I presume that’s what it is), but my favourite map will always be Coagulation, which is based on the Blood Gulch map from the original Halo. The fact that it has two Banshees opens up the possibility for airborne chicken runs (first one to pull up loses), and its combination of wide open spaces, rocket launchers and sniper rifles makes for some highly entertaining skirmishes.

halo 2 jeep

The only downside of this map is the lack of energy sword – officially the most cheaty and frustrating (if you’re on the wrong end of it) yet hugely entertaining weapon in the whole game. Our gaming session that night was frequently punctuated by howls of frustration as some cheeky young cub went round dispatching all and sundry with said sword, only for the rest of us to unite in an almighty virtual bundle against the miscreant. He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword, etc. etc.. Although he’s just as likely to die by plasma rifle in this instance.

Damn, all this reminiscing has made me want to play it again. Anyone got a couple of X-Boxes and a bit of spare time?

(And a link cable, two massive TVs, two copies of Halo 2, eight controllers, an understanding wife, a babysitter, etc. etc.)

Lewis

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

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Filed under 2004, Bungie, First Person Shooter, Xbox