Tag Archives: Review

#89: Alien Breed

Format: Amiga Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up Released: 1991 Developer: Team 17

Oh, the hours I used to spend playing this bloody game. Not only was Alien Breed one of the best games on the Amiga, it was also one of the hardest – not least because of its incredible stinginess when it came to handing out health and ammo. God knows how I had the patience to keep playing, but I just couldn’t put it down.

Actually, when I come to think of it, the main reason this game was so damn hard was the control system. Because the Amiga only had a one-button joystick, you had to move ever so slightly in the direction you wanted to shoot before pressing fire, meaning that if an alien was sneaking up behind you, in the process of turning round to shoot it you’d more often than not end up walking into it instead. Of course, on modern consoles this problem could easily be solved by just assigning one thumbstick to movement and one thumbstick to directional fire, but obviously this wasn’t an option at the time (and I seem to remember The Chaos Engine suffered a similar problem).

Still, ropey controls aside, this was a brilliant game, and a brilliant-looking one too – the level design really managed to capture the feel of the Alien films the game was so shamelessly ripping off, and it’s still one of the best-looking Amiga games out there. Although I always wondered about the character design – why did the protagonist have an orange head? Did Earth’s government send one of the Incredible Crash Test Dummies to defeat the alien menace?

My favourite bit was when you were tasked with activating the level’s self-destruct system (obviously in homage to the films:  “Mother! Turn the cooling unit back on! Mother!…You BITCH!” (Alien), “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” (Aliens), and so on and so forth (love those lines)). Suddenly the clock in the top left corner would start ticking down and you’d be left to frantically steer your crash test dummy in the direction of the (incredibly far away) elevator, cursing every godforsaken alien that leapt out in front of you and panicking as your already slim supply of bullets ran out. Classic Amiga gaming.

However, I can’t write about Alien Breed without mentioning Team17’s (ridiculous) long-running feud with Amiga Power. Like many Amiga owners, I was a big fan of Team 17, and the company turned out some absolutely classic Amiga games (the Alien Breed series, Arcade Pool, Project X, Worms, etc.), but any time that Amiga Power gave one of their games a mark below 90%, they’d throw their toys out of the pram. It was ridiculous. Sure, they made some great games, but they also made some highly questionable rubbish – F17 Challenge springs to mind – yet for some reason they seemed to think that everything they touched turned to pure gold, and they even tried to sue AP for giving one of their games (Kingpin) a low mark. You can read Amiga Power‘s account of the Team 17 ‘vendetta’ here, and here is a link to an astonishingly libellous article in the French magazine Amiga Concept, which basically claims that AP killed the Amiga by giving low marks to Team 17 games.

Whining childish hatemongers.

For me though, Alien Breed (along with its many sequels) was Team 17’s finest hour, and I’m very intrigued by Alien Breed Evolution, the Alien Breed remake (of sorts) that recently appeared on Xbox Live Arcade. Sadly, according to the Gamespot review, the new game seems to do a good job of capturing the negative aspects of the original with its ‘repetitive and dated gameplay’, ‘occasionally unwieldy controls’ and ‘instantly forgettable’ story (although at least they’ve made it a little easier this time around, so hopefully players will be less inclined to gnaw their own limbs off in frustration). Reading this review made me think that perhaps I’m seeing the old Alien Breed through rose-tinted spectacles, that perhaps the mist of nostalgia has obscured the frustrations and limitations of Team 17’s magnum opus. Perhaps, as the review claims, the original AB is an example of ‘a classic game that wouldn’t hold up too well if you were to go back and play it today’.

Perhaps. But whatever the reality, I still have fond memories of this rough-edged Amiga classic, even if Team 17 tarnished their crown somewhat through their litigious relationship with AP.

And what’s wrong with being ‘repetitive and dated’ anyway?

Amazingly, the incredibly badly drawn intro took up an entire disk. Still, the music was good, even if the graphics looked like something from Tony Hart’s Gallery:

"Next we have something from Team 17. I really like the bold use of black and white here. Good effort!"

Lewis

(Screenshots from lemonamiga.com)

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Filed under 1991, Amiga, Shoot 'Em Up, Team17

#88: Fire Emblem

Format: Game Boy Advance Genre: Tactical RPG Released: 2004 Developer: Intelligent Systems

Fire Emblem makes it onto the list not just because it’s an excellent game – it’s easily one of the best ever GBA games – but also because it’s one of the few games I’ve played that really makes you care about what happens to the characters. And considering that for most of the game the protagonists appear as barely animated cardboard cut-outs with reams of text scrolling beneath their alternately grinning/puzzled/frowning faces, this just goes to show you don’t need fancy graphics to make you invest your emotions in game characters.

Having said all that, I found it a little difficult to warm to the characters at first – the dialogue has a habit of being either very twee or wilfully contrived (see the screen below to get an idea of what I mean). Still, I eventually got used to it, and after a while I just came to accept the fact that everyone in the Fire Emblem universe just happens to say everything very earnestly. (I’d like to see a sequel set in England where everyone automatically assumes you’re being sarcastic no matter what you’re saying – it would be a bit like The Inbetweeners but with more knights on horseback, and every conversation would be interspersed with comments about the sexual prowess of someone’s mother.)

In terms of the story, there’s nothing particularly original. It starts off as the usual Japanese RPG fare – young girl leaves home village to defeat great evil, meets various companions along the way (who all happen to have differing but complementary special skills), discovers that – SHOCK HORROR – she’s actually a long lost princess, a larger plot is revealed involving an evil wizard and dragons, you’re tasked with finding an ancient…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

"Verily, yay and forsooth!"

So far, so dull, but despite what I said about the twee dialogue, it actually does a pretty good job of conveying the various personality traits and flaws of the many (many) characters (around 40 characters become available in total). And this is where it gets interesting. Every single character has his or her own plot arc, and their story changes according to what happens over the course of the game, resulting in multiple endings. Each character has around three other characters that have a strong relationship with them (for example, perhaps they have a love interest, a father and an old friend within the group), and each level is bookended with little cut scenes showing how the various relationships that character has are developing.

BUT – and this is the clever part – when a character dies, they stay dead for the rest of the game. So if your favourite character’s love interest perishes on the battlefield, you’ll never get to find out what would have happened between them, and instead the survivor will go on to pine for their lost love.

Kent was furious at his name, but nowhere near as livid as his brother Herefordshire.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop you turning off the game and loading up a previous save point in a bid to prevent the death of this particular character, but sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to save them. If you’ve made a bad tactical decision in terms of the characters you’ve brought along on a particular mission, or if you’ve left yourself in position where you can be easily surrounded, the only option might be to restart the level. But restarting is incredibly time-consuming – some levels can take about an hour to get through – so you’re left with a dilemma: do I try to save this character, or should I push on without them?

The first time a character died, I instantly restarted the mission – there was no way I was going to lose someone, obviously. I mean, what kind of person leaves a man behind on the battlefield? And anyway, I was determined to get through the whole game with all of my characters intact. The second and third times too, I restarted the level to avoid leaving someone behind – but after that things changed.

Oooh, look at the horsey's pretty wings! Shame it can take about as much damage as a tin-foil helmet.

The game’s difficulty level quickly begins to rise, and often you’ll be ambushed by hidden enemies, giving you little chance to protect your weaker characters. On one such occasion, my thief, Matthew, got caught in the crossfire when several enemies popped up in a room I thought was clear. I tried reverting to an earlier save point, but it was impossible to save him, and I was left with the unappetising prospect of restarting the entire level, which had taken me nearly an hour. Shamefully, I started to think I could probably do without a thief – I mean, he was pretty useless in battle, and I had plenty of keys for opening locked doors. But what about Leila? Surely I couldn’t sacrifice Matthew, her soul mate?

And this is where the game really starts to get you – when you’re holding the lives of these characters in your hands, suddenly they seem more than mere cardboard cut-outs.

This wizard's speciality is concocting hair-dye potions.

Eventually, with a twinge of guilt, I decided to continue on without Matthew.

And then, a couple of levels later, Rebecca died. Again, I had to decide whether to save her, and again I decided that it just wasn’t worth playing through the whole level again – but the decision was easier this time. And so it continued: more and more characters started dying as the levels got harder and harder, and sometimes I’d attempt to save them, but other times I’d leave them behind. I realised that the stronger characters could actually do most of the fighting and, if anything, these weaker characters were more of a hindrance. As time wore on, I reached the stage where I barely felt anything when a character died, and instead I’d just focus on securing victory at whatever cost.

And it’s at that point that it hits you: when did I turn into this heartless bastard?

Don’t be fooled by its cute good looks, Fire Emblem is a masterclass in emotional trauma. The game does its utmost to make you really care about the fates of each and every character, then makes it almost impossible to win without sacrificing some of them, leaving you with no option but to blunt your feelings towards these doe-eyed innocents and adopt a sort of ruthless Machiavellian-general persona. I swear by the end I was developing a thousand-yard stare as I sent yet another pink-haired teenager to the slaughter… Sort of puts me in mind of that poem by Siegfried Sassoon:

If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. ‘Poor young chap,’
I’d say—‘I used to know his father well;
Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I’d toddle safely home and die—in bed.

Yes, GBA Fire Emblem certainly made for some sober but compelling bus journeys.

Lewis

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

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Filed under 2004, Game Boy Advance, Intelligent Systems, Tactical RPG

#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

#86: Rise of the Robots

Format: Amiga 1200 Genre: Fighting Game Released: 1994 Developer: Mirage

‘Even if you don’t believe in Father Christmas, it might be worth writing to him to make sure he doesn’t bring you a copy of this’. Jonathan Davies, Rise of the Robots review, Amiga Power 45. In 1993 various video game magazines ran previews of a beat-’em up that seemed to be from the future. It looked stunning, with graphics that promised to be far superior to anything else out there. Not only that but the gameplay was going to break new ground too, with computer opponents that ‘learned’ as they fought you, adapting their fighting style to match yours. All in all Rise of the Robots, for that was the name of this legendary game, was going to be THE game of 1994. Unfortunately, as Jonathan Davies alludes to in the above quote, Rise of the Robots was shit.

Rise of the Robots was more than just a video game, it was an event. The previews of 1993 turned into a steady stream of hype throughout 1994. There was talk of tie-in books, comics, toys, cartoons and a film. It was to be released on practically every platform and giant cardboard robots were cropping up in video game shops across the country. Brian May was even going to write the soundtrack.

Brian May pictured with a relaxed GamesMaster

Being an impressionable 14 year-old I was extremely excited about Rise of the Robots. It looked simply amazing. I mean, you got to be a kung-fu robot! Just watch the video below for a taste of the building excitement. It ‘redefines the fighting genre and raises the ante on gamers with a futuristic motif proven in focus groups’. Focus groups like the motif, what more do you want?

Just after Christmas (the same Christmas I got UFO: Enemy Unknown), with a decent chunk of Christmas money jangling in our pockets, my brother and I went to Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street and, £40 later, we had picked up Rise of the Robots. I always remember how huge the box was. Well in fairness it had to be. On the Amiga 1200 Rise of the Robots came on 13 disks. That’s right, 13.

Rushing home we inserted the first disk and were confronted by a very impressive intro. ‘This is going to be great’ we thought. Then, after an hour or two, we both felt something was wrong. Could Rise of the Robots be… rubbish? Neither my brother or myself could believe it. In fact I remember assuming that we were playing it wrong, that it was our fault that you could beat every robot by doing a flying kick. That there was a way of turning round and jumping over the other fighter we just hadn’t worked out how. That you could pick a fighter who wasn’t the blue cyborg, you just had to complete it or something. How could all the hype be wrong?

It's the big Gorilla Robot! Can't wait to play through the game as him. Oh. You can't.

Rise of the Robots was crippled by its flashy visuals. So much computing power was devoted to having beautifully animated robots that there was nothing left for the rest of the game. I distinctly remember reading Jonathan Davies review and just feeling sad. Ok, at least now I knew it wasn’t my fault the game seemed to be poor. It was poor. But I felt swindled, the victim of a con.

IT'S RUBBISH!

An important lesson for any child to learn is that all that glitters is not gold. Sometimes that which glitters is simply that, a glittery thing. Not only that but rubbish stuff is often coated in glitter to try to distract you from the rubbish underneath. Rise of the Robots, covered in metaphorical glitter (plus fairy lights, shiny baubles and tin foil), taught me that lesson. So in that way, and in no other, Rise of the Robots made my life slightly better.

Ian

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Filed under 1994, Amiga, Fighting, Mirage

#85: Sega Superstars

Format: Playstation 2 Genre: Party Released: 2004 Developer: Sonic Team (Sega)

When I was teaching in Japan, I lived in the party house. Whereas most of my fellow assistant language teachers (ALTs) were living in one-room apartments, by sheer luck I was placed with a school that owned a two-bedroom house, so naturally I ended up playing host to lots of parties (thankfully, I had very understanding neighbours).

The Japanese cover art for Sega Superstars.

I loved my house. When I first arrived, my supervisor couldn’t stop apologising about it: she kept saying sorry for how old it was, and how the school was sorry that it couldn’t get me a new apartment, and there’s me thinking, “Blimey, I’ve got a house, woohoo!”. Of course, it wasn’t all brilliant – although I loved living in a traditional Japanese house with wooden walls and tatami flooring, this meant there wasn’t much in the way of insulation, and it got so cold in the winter that my olive oil actually froze solid in the kitchen.

But the fact that I had so much space more than made up for the lack of creature comforts, and as an added bonus I had cupboards full of random stuff that had been left by previous residents. As well as piles of books and suspicious looking bottles of spirits, I inherited a huge collection of Friends episodes taped off Canadian TV, as well as about a year’s worth of Hawaiian local television broadcasts (which were strangely compelling).

I don't fancy the bloke on the left's chances.

But the main plus to having a house was that fact that I could invite people over without any worries about fitting them all in, and I played host to a fair few parties: as well as my birthday, I held the Festivus (for the rest of us) after-party at my house, we shaved off Matt G’s massive ginger beard for charity (and everyone turned up at my door with fake beards), and of course there was the legendary Halo 2 gaming night. But whatever we were doing, we always seemed to end up playing Sega Superstars sooner or later.

I first saw Sega Superstars at the Tokyo Game Show in 2004: the game is basically a collection of twelve Sega-themed minigames, all of which are played using the EyeToy. To be honest, not all of the minigames were up to much: in particular, I remember the game based on Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg was almost unplayable (what do you mean you don’t remember Billy Hatcher? Come on, surely everyone remembers Billy Hatcher? No? OK, moving on…). However, most of the games were pretty good fun, and a few were absolutely brilliant.

"Take that evil undead!" The zombies were as surprised as anyone when the 100-ft-tall Japanese woman loomed over the hill.

The House of the Dead game was the one that initially drew us in at the Tokyo Game Show booth, and it also proved to be one of the best on the disc. There wasn’t much to it really – just whack the zombies as they amble onto the screen – but it was compelling, and whenever we had a party, this was always one of the first games to be played. The other big hit with party guests was Virtua Fighter, where you had to punch and kick your computer opponent, occasionally raising your hands to block. This one was a constant source of hilarity for onlookers, and it led to several ‘near miss’ incidents involving wildly mistimed kicks and desperately fragile paper screen doors.

The control system wasn’t perfect though – often the EyeToy found it hard to tell whether you were punching or blocking, which led to some frustrating losses. The Space Channel 5 dancing game suffered particularly from this: the dance moves required pinpoint timing and accuracy, but sometimes the game just wouldn’t register your move, making it all but impossible on the higher levels. This was a real shame because along with HOTD and Virtua Fighter, Space Channel 5 was one of the games people often requested.

This was actually one of the weaker games in my opinion - you were simply required to move Sonic around a tunnel by waving your arms.

I know I moaned about Kinect earlier this week, but it would be great to see an updated version of Sega Superstars released for Microsoft’s system. I have such fond memories of this game that it would be fantastic to play it again, and playing it on Kinect would (hopefully) eliminate all of the annoying flaws of the original, whereby the EyeToy would struggle to disentangle your impressive kung-fu moves from the outline of the sofa behind you. Having said that though, Sega Superstars was undoubtedly the best EyeToy game out there, and although many of the games were fairly similar to previous EyeToy offerings (in particular, HOTD was almost exactly the same as that ‘whack a ninja’ game from EyeToy: Play), the slick presentation and the use of Sega characters really made it stand apart.

Still, regardless of whether it was any good or not, Sega Superstars made my life better because it reminds me of all the fantastic times we had in my little wooden house in Japan: the party house.

A scene from the 'Wear An Engrish T-Shirt' party (I think Laura's T-shirt says 'Let's Playing In The Dramas'). I've just been given the underwear as a present.

Two years after I left Japan, my successor, Eben, got in touch to bring me the sad news that the party house was scheduled for demolition. In the end the school had decided it was costing too much to maintain, and Eben was left with the sad task of sifting through all the many years of ALT detritus left in various cupboards and crannies around the house, selling what he could and binning what he couldn’t (history doesn’t record what happened to the Hawaiian local programming). I was pleased to find out that Eben had continued the tradition of partying in the house, and he was just as devastated as I was to find out it was going to be knocked down after he left – he even offered to send me a piece of the roof as a memento.

It’s sad to know the party house is no longer with us… but the good times were fun while they lasted.

Lewis

(Screenshots from puolenkuunpelit.com)

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Filed under 2004, Party, Playstation 2, Sega, Sonic Team

#84: Spider-Man

Format: Playstation Genre: Action Adventure/Beat-em Up Released: 2000 Developer: Neversoft

‘Greetings True Believers! It’s me, the Sensational, Surprising, Staggering Stan Lee! During the 60s I (co)created loads of iconic Silver Age superheroes and villains – The Fantastic Four, X-Men, the Hulk, Thor, Daredevil, and many, many others. Then after the 60s I just made up loads of rubbish ones. Anyway, today my good pal Ian is here to talk about maybe my most fabulously famous creation, the Amazing Spider-Man! Over to you Ian’

Thanks Stan. Stewart Lee, in his excellent ‘How I Escaped My Certain Fate – The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian’, mentions how much he loves Marvel comics and how Spider-Man’s code – ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ carries far more moral weight for him than the various commandments and declarations of the world’s major religions. Though I’m not massively into comics (I don’t really buy any titles regularly, just getting the occasional trade paperback) the Spider-Man love resonated with me. For me, Spider-Man is not only the best superhero created, but one of the greatest fictional characters of the 20th Century. Yes. Better than Batman.

Similar to Batman though, Spider-Man has not had the greatest vintage when it comes to video games. Back in the day both characters were often stuck in dull side scrolling beat-em ups, with only a token effort made use the unique abilities and powers of those characters. In fact Spider-Man the game and Batman: Arkham Asylum share a lot in common – they really reflect the spirits of their characters. Whereas Batman: Arkham Asylum was a game with a dark and twisted atmosphere, Spider-Man is joyous and fun, just like the title character normally is (between bouts of teenage angst of course). Both make full use of the universe the characters are in, using many of the supporting characters from their respective comics, films and animated TV shows. Both featured as many iconic villains as possible but used them all in a brilliant way. Both tapped into the ‘collecting’ urge of the average nerdy comic book fan by having various secret items to collect. And finally both are brilliant.

Not enough computing power to create the streets of New York? Don't worry, Dr Octopus has luckily released a yellow gas into the streets. Phew!

The game itself is great fun to play. I distinctly remember how exhilarating it was the first time you jump off a building, start to fall before shooting out a web and gracefully swinging over to the next building. Or the buzz you got as you realised what classic villain you were going to face now (I was stuck on flippin’ Mysterio for ages). Or indeed which classic hero was going to make a cameo appearance – everyone from Daredevil to the Punisher to Captain America pops by.

When I got Spider-Man I had lost interest in the character and comics in general (the ‘Clone Saga’ had just about finished me off I’m afraid) but the sheer joie de vivre of the game made me fall in love with Spidey again. The game feels like a comicbook, from Stan Lee’s typical verbose opening narration, to the bright colours of the levels, to Spider-Man’s sarky comments as he punches Rhino in the face. Not only that but the sheer number of various characters and comic book references crammed into the game reminded me why I had liked the comics in the first place. Plus I could look all knowledgable (and tragically geeky) in front of Lewis and our friend Paul as they played it and asked me who ‘such and such was’ or where the ‘Bag Head’ costume came from.

As usual Ol'Knuckle Head - J. Jonah Jameson has got himself into trouble and it's up to Spidey to save him. This time, from the Scorpion.

Sadly the game’s sequel, and the various Spider-Man (Spider-Men?) games that followed in its wake over the years failed to capitalise on the original’s innovations and they never matched the simple fun of that first game. It’s telling that the latest Spider-Man game – Shattered Dimensions – is still being compared to the 10 year-old Spider-Man. I still hope that a new game will come along and match the originals sense of fun and get the old spidey-sense tingling once again.

Oh, it also had a fantastic ending:

Ian

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Filed under 2000, Action Adventure, Fighting, Neversoft, Playstation

#81: Elite

Format: BBC Micro Genre: Space Combat Simulator Released: 1984 Developer: David Braben/Ian Bell

Our criteria for including games on this list have always been fairly relaxed – the sole thing we insist on is that the game must have made our lives slightly better in some way. In light of this tradition, I’m going to talk about a game that made my life slightly better DESPITE THE FACT THAT I’VE NEVER PLAYED IT.

Of course, Ian has already pushed the boundaries of legitimacy by including a game that he only ever saw advertised in a pub toilet, so perhaps writing about a game I’ve never played won’t boggle your astonishment glands all that much. Although I’m sure the die-hard video game fans among you will be rolling your eyes and shaking your head in disbelief at the fact that I haven’t sampled the delights of a game that’s been variously described as a “milestone in gaming history” (Ian Livingstone, Eidos) and “the first great example of British innovation in video gaming” (Michael Moran, Times Online).

Many’s the time that I’ve thought about scouring t’interweb for some sort of Elite emulator and finally basking in the glory of one of gaming’s great triumphs. But every time I’m about to do it, I’m held back by one incapaciting thought: “What if I think it’s shit?”

I mean, what if I find the game unendurably simple and dull? Surely, in the intervening 26 years since Elite‘s release, the gaming juggernaut has rumbled so far down the highway of progress that I could never hope to be as enthralled or impressed by this seminal game as BBC Micro owners were when it was first unleashed upon the world. Yes, it was one of the first 3D games (if not the first ever 3D game), but that’s not really enough to impress nowadays. I mean, nowdays we can play games by leaping up and down in front of the telly and acting like a tit (you can tell I’ve yet to be won over by Kinect).

But still, Elite has made my life better by the very fact that it exists at all. I’m glad to know that there once existed a race of British bedroom coders who performed astonishing feats of coding inbetween their university studies (the entire 3D world of Elite was made to fit into 22k of memory – about the size of a short email). I’m ecstatic to know that Elite pushed the boundaries of gaming and directly led to open-ended games like Sim City and Grand Theft Auto. I’m positively thrilled that noted historian Benjamin Woolley saw fit to include Elite in his BBC4 programme Games Britannia, thereby placing this humble BBC Micro classic in a direct lineage that began with Medieval dice games.

I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t really need to play Elite to appreciate it – and in fact playing it might actually make me appreciate it less. But I still love hearing about how it altered the perception of computer games forever, showing the world that there was more to games than simple ‘three lives and you’re dead’ arcade shooters.

Elite, we salute you.

And perhaps if David Braben ever gets round to releasing Elite 4, I might actually play it.

Lewis

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Filed under 1984, BBC Micro, David Braben, Ian Bell, Space Combat Simulator