Game 64: The Beatles: Rock Band

Posted: June 25, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , , , ,

Game 968/1001 according to the list

(will someone PLEASE think of the children!)

Genre: Music
Platform: Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer:  Harmonix, Pi Studios (Wii Only)
Publisher: MTV Games

So, we spent some simoleons investing in a complete instrument set for the Xbox 360 and it is time to take them on a bit of a test drive. It would have probably made more sense for us to buy a copy of the earlier games but The Beatles: Rock Band really did seem so warm and inviting that it seemed to be well worth it.

Our Thoughts

With the exception of Band Hero this was Jeroen’s first exposure to both the drum and guitar controllers so I think I’ll let him lead the charge in talking about these. The benefit of this being that when we later play other games with the same exact controllers we NEVER have discuss them again (which when you consider the number of times we will be strumming and banging will be a blessing to anyone reading this). Yeah, although this of course does tie in to DJ Hero, with its own controller and music tie ins. Beforehand, I had read the warnings that the controller were not like the normal ones (microphone, of course, exempted), which seemed like a good thing – I can’t play a guitar, and drums were limited to a very basic rhythm during secondary school music lessons. Out of the two remaining, the drums feel more ‘right’. You don’t get as much feedback as you’d normally expect, but they play well. The main issue is that it sometimes felt the recognition was a bit off and it didn’t always recognise your drumming. The guitar seems more different (it’s not as if you’d normally have that many buttons). It seems vaguely easier to keep up with, just moving your fingers, but then again, the additional buttons and speed make it harder to keep up with. They do, however, accomplish their main goal: They make you look cool. Especially the guitars look right. And nothing else matters. On a side note I have always been more a fan of the guitar as the snare pedal usually gives me the beginnings of foot carpel tunnel. Something we did manage to vaguely alleviate in our last playthrough. On the other hand, I’m as good… or bad… as any at them and it’s clear my singing training (yeah, I did) didn’t leave much of an impression.

Anyway. The game itself then. Unlike what you would have thought considering the legal battles between Apple Records and Apple Computers this game was pretty much controversy free. There was only one main stipulation from the likes of Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono… that the game features songs spanning the entire Beatles catalogue. This is something that, to be honest, is a huge strength of the game since it managed to skirt around being a vanity project showcasing the Beatles greatest hits and instead walks the player through the band’s history by re-enacting some of their major concerts (such as the infamous outing on the Ed Sullivan Show). I guess that in the end what the game has been able to do is introduce the music of the Beatles to the Google generation which is always a positive when you consider that they stand amongst the true musical trail-blazers. The downside to this is that songs such as ‘A Day In The Life’ and ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ don’t feature in the main game (ka-ching downloadable content) whilst questionable songs such as ‘Eight Days a Week’ get some of the spotlight. It’s of some comfort that John Lennon was quoted as calling the song “lousy”… but this re-opens the question of its inclusion. But… I digress. I was personally looking forward to ‘Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da’, a song that isn’t even on the DLC list.

The sound is supplemented by some gorgeous visuals. Obviously, they don’t usually have much of an impact – when playing you’ve got better things to do than gawk at the visuals – but there are some gorgeous options here. First, during the actual music playing, the background is often that of the band playing. The earlier albums and studios obviously feature known Beatles concerts and appearances, but as there were few to none in the Beatles’ later years, it changes into fantasy concerts, often based on the visuals they included on their albums and in their later movies. The first we saw of these is Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but it was exemplified by I am the Walrus. The song is… trippy, to say the least (with a very interesting story behind it), but the visuals in the background are just insane. Usually not as scary as what we see above, but it makes you wonder how, what and why. It ranks up there with the mindf***ery that is the current anime season Deadman Wonderland (try it out). However there are no ways that you can fault the graphics on show during this game – both during the songs and during the opening sequence. And intervening FMVs. So much time and effort has been invested in giving most of the songs their own music video that it will be hard to go back to earlier games in the Guitar Hero/Rock Band bracket without sarcastically thinking “oh great it’s the stage again, fantastic”. Although you still get that in earlier games, with a few songs on the same stage, it’s not as repetitive as I noted in Band Hero. Don’t worry you’ll see it in all the other games within their respective franchises. Except for this one, obviously.

And that leaves us with the gameplay. I’m not sure what’s new here compared to other games of the franchises, but there seems little that could be different. Not a bad thing, as it’s fun to jam along to songs of one of the best bands in the world, but it makes it hard to say more about it. The enjoyment of this game really does depend on how well you like the music of The Beatles. I am not their greatest fan but can appreciate what they did for pop music so have really enjoyed this game. It’s impressive how well this sold considering the game’s singular focus on one artist’s back catalogue. Especially since the first Guitar Hero games featured avatars more aimed at the rock/metal crowd. Only five bands have had games of this genre centered around their music… and the Beatles does stick out against the likes of Van Halen and Metallica. Granted there was also a Green Day: Rock Band… but I doubt we’ll ever have to cover that when the book gets an updated. In the end, as we’ve said before, a game like this stands or falls with the music.

I guess in the end The Beatles: Rock Band has the mass appeal that previous installments lacked. This is probably why this was so warmly received critically and by fans of music games (unlike Band Hero whose sequel plans were shelved pretty quickly).

Final Thoughts

It’s a good fun game but to be honest there is not much more that can be said for this compared to the earlier games in the batch… so look forward to some short write-ups in the future!


Game 63: Sonic Adventure

Posted: June 21, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , ,

Game 384/1001 according to the list

Genre: Platformer
Platform: Dreamcast
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega

Sonic. The second big mascot of the nineties, after Mario, and created to be its updated counterpart – blue, sleek and fast. Like Mario in Super Mario 64, Sonic too made a leap to 3D with this platformer – again a few years later. Mario’s leap was great – not perfect, but good, and it’s a question how Sonic kept up, in particular on the ill-fated Dreamcast.

Sonic makes it to 3D with some RPG elements. You need to get the chaos emeralds before Dr Robotnik (I refuse to use any other name) gets them to power some other monster. Can you do it?

Our Thoughts

This game is described in the book as a flawed master piece, which is quite obvious.

I remember playing it a year after it originally came out. I purchased a Dreamcast for £25 with both Sonic Adventure games and a number of others (including Crazy Taxi).  That sounds like it must have been a good deal at the time. And it must have been a good enough game at the time. It was the only thing I played for a long time where, in the end, I completed it with all six characters as well as raising a whole heap of specialised Chaos. (I only now get the name where the name Chao came from.)

I even carried a Chao with me on the Visual Memory Unit.  After all, it was like a sweet lil’ Tamagotchi type thing.  Often imitated, but I bet it beeped a lot less at the time. I had the sound switched off. I cannot count the hours I spent collecting special animals to endow my Chaos with specific powers.  That would have worked. The collectables do sound interesting that way, if you like that.

Before we go any further I would like to point out that Jeroen has been playing the Gamecube port of this game whereas I have played it on the original.  I do not know how accurate this is because it has been AGES since I played the original game… but the port does handle a little bit worse. So please bare that in mind when Jeroen starts to blame multiple deaths on the bad camera system. Performance is also still horrible, despite what you’d expect.

In the Gamecube port they actually made no attempt to improve anything which feels like a true rookie mistake. The same goes for the recent Xbox 360 release of this game… which seems a bit redundant if they weren’t even going to try to improve anything. At least the people behind Beyond Good & Evil tried to bring it into the realm of HD technology.

Yeah, the controls of this game seem off sometimes. The camera doesn’t follow you well, often keeping too zoomed in on Sonic (or the other main characters) and getting confusing when the game speeds up – unless you know what you’re doing already, you need a break to catch up. That really showed when I was playing a level compared to when you did so. Since I was more aware of the controls and the general layout of the areas I was far more able to complete the levels without losing a life. While I got to use several continues.

One thing that made this game so addictive was because of the large amount of variety displayed in level design. A personal favourite of mine is the third one (set in a casino) due to a rather cool Nights into Dreams… cameo in the form of a pinball machine. The variation is great, graphically as well. Colourful, with a few themes per level. It makes for a very fun sequence of going through… when you have the time to do so. This does bite them in the ass later on when it comes to Big The Cat. Dear God, how boring and pointless those levels are. “Froggy”… to hell with your froggy you idiotic obese purple cat thing. Yeah, there didn’t seem to be much of a point to him. And it’s that one step away from the point of Sonic games… speed and racing around; fast platforming, here with several characters that have different ways of playing.

Whilst gameplay is more on the hit side compared to miss this really cannot be said for the audio work. Sonic Adventure must contain some of the most lacklustre voice-acting in a major gaming release. Yeah. The characters sound kiddish and very much read out line-by-line with OVER pronounced WORDS for EMPHASIS. Making it sound ridiculous. The world will be DESTROYED if you DON’T HELP us. Also I sound like a FOUR YEAR old. Sonic sounds like he’s on drugs; like he is a California surfer who somehow ended up trapped in the body of a neutered blue anthropomorphic hedgehog. And Knuckles has the same voice actor as Sonic. I seriously couldn’t tell the difference between the two.

I think the only decent talent they got in for the voices were those for the Chaos and animals that you ‘feed’ to them, the elephants sound so cute! Not that they have much to say. But yeah, the elephants stood out. If you whistle, it trumpets back at you. So sweet!

We did not have time in the latest attempt to play with the Chaos a lot so this will be a lot of purple text. Have fun as I’ll update our bookkeeping lists.

The whole point of the Chao Garden (apart from wasting your time making cooing noises at cute winged blue things with a teardrop for a head) is to raise your little charges so that they can take part in Olympic-style events. The animals you give them changes their overall abilities. If you feed one plenty of parrots their wings grow larger and they are able to successfully glide. The temperament of the Chaos depends on how you hatch them (as well as the type of egg itself). As long as you allow the egg to hatch ‘naturally’ they will be generally good-natured; if you hatch them by throwing their egg… well you know where this is going. I really feel that if Super Mario Galaxy had tried to emulate this then all bets would be off… people would die of starvation through playing this game at the cost of nutrition and decent toilet etiquette.

Right, that’s that done. No platformers needed for a while. Oh, ehmm, yes, the chao are cute.

Flawed masterpiece works well as a description of the game. There are fun things here, a good potential gameplay. The voice-acting and controls and occasional performance issues make it a bit hard to keep going though.

Final Thoughts

This game is not as uniformly brilliant as its Mario counterpart. With that said, the game feels like there’s a lot of promise – lovely environments, fast gameplay areas, good potential moves. It just seems a bit too unpolished to be a great game, with awkward controls, performance issues and horrible voice acting. Play with sound off and be prepared for it to take some time.

Don’t avoid the game for sure, but don’t go too far out of your way looking for this game.

Game 490/1001 according to the list

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo

So here’s a game Peter absolutely adores, so I quickly thought I’d snag the intro before he’d unleash his torrent on words on you saying how great the game is. He’s already started about how it’s why he got the Gamecube… lovely stuff.

Anyway, the idea is simple: All sorts of characters from Nintendo and Nintendo-related characters join together into a giant mash-up brawl of a fight (or fight of a brawl if you prefer) where you have to defeat the other characters (by having them fall off the screen). You can use Nintendo-franchise-inspired powerups in Nintendo-franchise-inspired stages… and it’s basically fun, wholesome brawling… the way Nintendo would set up a fighting game.

Our Thoughts

Two words: Kirby Rocks. He may be great but… no. Zelda rocks!

Then again I know someone who can clean house using Jigglypuff.  This is something that many, including myself, have lauded about this game. Many games, SoulCalibur included, tend to have a small echelon of characters that are supreme fighters.  Starting with this entry in the Super Smash Bros. gaming franchise they have levelled out all the fighters so “the best” character depends a lot on how you like to fight.

I like female characters that are quick, magic-based and pack one hell of a punch which is why I always go for Zelda. Something that my best mate Chris still finds strange since I am the only person he knows who has tried (and succeeded) in mastering her. Jeroen, why did you choose Kirby? It’s cute, it’s quite strong, it’s funny to hit people with mallets and to be honest, being able to float up allows me to save myself when I fall and nearly die. But mostly it’s cute.

Nintendo have always been well known to tap into their long-running franchises. In some cases this can be seen as both one of their great strengths and weaknesses. They manage to turn this to their advantage in this game by equipping each character with moves that tap into their respective backgrounds. Peach brandishes a Toad as a shield, Pikachu uses Quick Attack, Yoshi swallows opponents and traps them in eggs, Mewtwo uses psychic-based attacks… the list goes on. Of course Kirby’s big power is swallowing the other fighters to gain their powers… with cute hats!

It also helps that there is a large line-up of characters available to play with. So lots of cute hats! True there are a large number of them from the Mario, Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda but also lesser known characters get a chance at the spotlight.  How many people would have really heard of Nana and Popo from the Ice Climber game? I mean Fire Emblem was not even released outside of Japan until after Super Smash Bros. Melee was released and yet two characters can be unlocked. And Mr Game and Watch is a reference to a fairly obscure Gameboy predecessor that used to be big, but is not remembered anymore.

I guess that the main strength that this game has is the utter insanity of the multi-player battles. They took a leaf out of the Street Fighter handbook by making things take place at a potentially light speed pace. When you first play a game with three mates there is likely to be times where you can get a tad lost in the fray. Happened to me more than once. This is greatly aided by the large number of weapons that gets dropped in from the sky such as Pokéballs, baseball bats, fire flowers and something which makes you invisible. Also bunny ears that make you jump uberly high. An interesting reference to a certain handheld hero.

The main issue I have with it is that they felt that a straight-up fighting would not be enough. They added an ‘adventure mode’ which is not the most inspired gaming mode ever made…  It’s basically just fighting with a semi-platformer… without anything that’d make a platformer interesting, since they really just used their fighting arena engine. The fighting stages are a welcome relief from them. In order to unlock all the characters you need to complete a few rounds of this… that or play hours of multiplayer.

I do like the option of unlocking characters through either time played or something else since it may be easier just to leave the Gamecube on a multi-player battle as you go for a long walk or make lunch.  It means you can do it your own way, based on what way you play best.

There are a lot more things that could be said but they can also be said for its follow-up Super Smash Bros. Brawl so I guess we’ll see y’all then.

Final Thoughts

As Jeroen already mentioned, somewhat pissily, this was the game that made me get a Gamecube. I remember being so excited the night before I went to buy it in my local Game. In fact due to us being robbed in the autumn of 2003 my Gamecube stands as my oldest console as it was the only thing of value (minus the television) that was not taken. So even though I can play all my Gamecube games on the Wii I will not be getting rid of my little purple console as not only is it my oldest console but also the first big thing that I save up for… all thanks to this game.

Game 261/1001 according to the list

Genre: Platform/Shoot ’em Up
Platform: Mega Drive
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: Shiny Entertainment
Publisher: Playmates Interactive Entertainment/Virgin Interactive

Despite how big it must have been in some points, Earthworm Jim seems to have only slightly hit my life, bypassing me most of the time.  There was a cartoon series I’ve seen bits of, but nothing more than that really. Then there’s a video game, which I’ve seen people play a bit, but never much. And then it turns out to be better than I thought and, well, I played it.

Basic story? Earthworm Jim is, well, an earthworm, who becomes a sort of superhero through some strange suit. People try to steal the suit back, destroy him, and capture his princess. There’s nonsense. There’s lots of shooting and fighting. There’s rabid dogs. And you launch cows into space.

Our Thoughts

Time for a rare case of a game which went on to inspire a rather successful surreal animated series. A fantastic show that I would love to watch again at some point. Okay, so you’ve seen the show and played the demo of the game? You were ahead of me by a mile here. I also had a favourite villain. Who’s that? Evil the Cat. Very atypical. Although Professor Monkey-For-A-Head wins in terms of nomenculture.

This, at the same time, is mostly a colourful, funny platform game with shoot ’em up interludes. Where you can use your wormhead to traverse pits, hang on to wires and whip opponents into submission. I was going to make a crack about a worm-like appendage but thought it beneath me. Groan. There’s clever bits in the game, that’s for sure, and it looks lovely. It also has a fantastical sense of humour where villains spit out rotten fish and you launch a cow into the sky at any given opportunity. Something that comes back to haunt you at the end of the game.

Colourful, funny, with some nice sound effects, that’s true. But here’s the however. The game itself is decidely more average. In many ways the game still feels rather polished but there is only so much you can do with a 2D side-scrolling platformer. There were certain points where you had to go back on yourself in order to climb a ramp following a zig-zag pattern and this was rather a chore to manouvere yourself through. Just felt clumsy and unnatural. Quite a bit of the game feels that way. A bit clumsy, repetitive and at times quite obscure. A further hindrance here is that it doesn’t feel that innovative. It doesn’t do anything new or special, while the existing mechanics are clumsy at times. Jumps were unnatural and the game didn’t allow you to jump when you expect it, like when hanging from a chain – you can’t pull yourself up. This made it harder to see what you had to do – especially when you manage a jump the first time, but not the second time. Also there were times where certain things did not respawn as quickly as you would have expected meaning you had to walk back and forth a few times to make sure you could make your way through the level. One time, a pulley didn’t respawn, but stayed stuck at a point where I couldn’t reach it, meaning I was stuck and had to restart.

To be honest, a bit more work here would’ve been nice to keep the game a bit more playable. When you consider the time this was made and the effortless fushion of humour and gameplay this was easily  a must-have release back in 1994. However, when viewed through the eyes of people who are keen to invest in a copy of Portal 2 it can be seen as lacking at times. In a way it is games like this that help us to understand why there is such a large recency bias in this list since games, unlike music or films, tend not to age as well. Some games have such refined and unusual gameplay that they still feel like classics (this is the reason why Tetris and Arkanoid are still adored to this date). And with some, their simplicity help, such as with the original Super Mario Bros. But internet-only flash games now possess similar, if not better, credentials which can put games like this in the shade somewhat.

So there we are. A good game, I suppose, but it’s not top of the list for a good platformer. Not as good as I remember either, bit dissapointing to be brutally honest. Good enough for an occasional play. That’s it.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes a bit of style over substance, but it has great style anyway, so I can’t blame it for that. Give it a go – regardless of whether or not you’ve seen the TV series, which is awesomeness on its own. So I’m told. We never got the channel it was one.

With that said, this is a cartoon in game form. It’s worth trying it for that reason. Looks, fun and guts. Even if it gets frustrating sometimes.

Game 60: Donkey Konga

Posted: June 9, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , ,

Game 539/1001 according to the list

Genre: Music
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Nintendo

Of all the Nintendo franchises to receive a music-based game I bet there are people who would have bet good money that it would have fallen on The Legend Of Zelda to produce some sort of outing with an ocarina peripheral. After all it does heavily feature music and it DID later spin-off a Crossbow Training shooting game.

In the end though the task fell to Donkey Kong provide the means for Nintendo to mass-market a home-console music game periphery drawing inspiration from the successful Taiko no Tatsujin arcade games.

Our Thoughts

To quote a Harry Hill running joke from a while ago: “I like to play my bongos in the morning”. I wondered how long it would be until you made that joke. We had to start somewhere.

So Donkey Konga it is; another game with its own very special controller, and one that took us a while to get. Thankfully it was not too expensive for us to purchase; especially when compared with other games on this list. So expensive that there is a doubt that we’ll ever even get to play it. Steel Battalion, where are you with the proper controller? Any help there is appreciated. Luckily these Donkey Konga bongos will be used again at a later date making it eight quid well spent… unlike the £80 we’re likely to have to shell out to buy the (kick-ass) cockpit controller for Steel Battalion.

An interesting thing to note is how this could be the first music game on the list equipped with a specialist controller meaning it outdates the Hero music franchise. Let’s hope the drums survive to that point, considering our enthusiastic playing. It could be that this is the first game, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Sure, it’s quite simple, but the challenge isn’t in using twenty different buttons, it’s in trying to keep up with the song.

In order to play along you bang the drums together, on their own or clap. On a personal note I found it difficult to transition between a clap and the banging of both bongos. It helped when later I discovered that you can slap the right side of the controller and it is registered as a slap. The slap instead of the clap also allows for greater playing stamina since it prevents your hands from getting red raw from clapping. It’s a bit of an awkward mechanic that didn’t fit in as well, although I can see why they’d want it as an extra option. On its own is not too bad, but if you’re not careful your hand starts hurting. You need to hold back. But it’s the only annoying transition. The bongos themselves work well, simple but fun.

They also look fantastic. The cartoon-like wood finish does make like something direct from the game… unlike the awkward chainsaw controller released alongside Resident Evil 4 which was annoying as hell.  Yeah, they fit in the game. The sole issue here is that they feel flimsy. You’re tempted to hit them hard, but then they immediately feel like they’re about to break. The fact that the still work perfectly despite obviously being second-hand shows just how sturdy they are. Also there is no real need to bang then too hard during gameplay as it makes it far harder to transition. Absolutely, despite expecting worse, it seems like we’ll be bongoing for quite a bit longer. And once we are through they will be lovingly stored next to the controllers we have purchased from DJ and Band Hero. The latter of which I hope I will we will get to use for this project soon.

Now, a music game stands or falls with the music they put in, and being the first of its kind (seemingly), this should set a benchmark. And if we can say one thing, it’s that there is a lot of variation in the songs. Yes, but they don’t always work. Take That’s ‘Back For Good’ really had no place in a bongo-based music game. No. On the other hand, Blink 182 is the last band I’d expect to see here, yet ‘All The Small Things’ worked well. It might have helped, though, that I know the song well, giving me a personal best record. Other songs worked surprisingly well too. ‘Lady Marmalade’, ’99 Red Balloons’, ‘Impression That I Get’ and a batch of Nintendo theme songs all were fun to play with. Something to note is that the song list varied depended on the region it was released in. In fact, those of us in the PAL region actually received the fewest number of songs from all three regions. It’s a good enough list anyway, although it’s a shame.

Another thing to note here are the graphics. Obviously, a music game doesn’t need them as much, and they’re not outstanding, but one thing they are is fun. Birds, monkeys and rhinos dance around at the bottom of the screen and balloons fly up if you do well. I thought that happy little chappy was an elephant. Apologies. They’re both grey. He’s still dancing! Very cute too! Who wouldn’t dance to ‘Louie Louie’ played on the bongos? Nobody, that’s who!

In other words, we’ll play our bongos again. Just not in the morning. I prefer to lie in a bit longer.

Final Thoughts

At some point we will be using these bongos to play Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. It will be very interesting to see how this specialist controller works on a conventional platform game compared to a rhythm based one.

Game 366/1001 according to the list

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Trust me, it’s a wonder we got this out there. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri is, in brief, Civilization… in space! What it does, though, aside from changing the graphics, technologies, units and texts to be more futuristic, is to modify the gameplay ever so subtly to make it a different game. Not just game mechanics – height of land played a role for the first time in the resources you could collect – but more so in the way the game was layed out, with a larger emphasis on a story (up from none) and its own consistent world that doesn’t (vaguely) try to mimic ours. Rather than having known civilizations with minor or no differences, you have seven factions of the original landing party, each with their own goals, objectives and strengths.

Even more so, it’s addictive, and Peter’s main session was a long one stretching up to 1AM at night. I didn’t need to… I had those sections years before when I was younger, and still remembered the game far too well for that.

Our Thoughts

Are you sure you don’t want to play a bit longer? Just because I had a bit of a marathon gaming session last night does not mean that my hand has melted onto the mouse.

I do have to admit that there are few games which can keep me occupied for such a long sitting… it wasn’t until I needed the bathroom until the truth of how long I had been playing truly hit me. Had I not mentioned it was 1AM and I was getting tired, then you’d still be playing now. I don’t think so… but I probably would have gone on for another hour or so. I believe the last game I played as the sun rose was GTA: San Andreas. To be fair that only happened because we were flying to Toronto later that day and I was too excited to sleep. As it so often happens. Still, it shows how well this game fits into the Civilization lineage – it too is a game that makes you forget time and keeps you thinking “Just one more turn… one more can’t hurt…”

In the interest of full disclosure the only Sid Meier’s game I have played were SimGolf and Civilisation IV. Neither of these saw me lose time in such an unusual fashion as Alpha Centauri. This prompts me to ask what is so special about this game when so many games have been released since which have built on the classic 4X formula. To be fair, other games in the series (part four never was my favourite) have a similar effect on most people. Part of this is possibly the easy gratification – there’s many small ‘wins’ in there, with each (often initially short) turn giving you or leading you to something small, combining to larger ‘victories’. A new tech is always a few turns away, your cities gain more improvements, your scouts discover more of the world and you beat more enemies.

It stands out a bit because they were able to interweave a rather interesting narrative yarn whilst you kick ten bells out of religious zealots. That’s probably the most interesting part of the game – it has a story, something I don’t think I’ve ever really seen in other 4X games (although I obviously haven’t played them all). One of your goals is to bring this story to its end, interacting with the planet and leading to becoming one with it… in a way I won’t spoil here. The other main goal is to achieve dominance over the seven factions as they attempt to extort money out of you the moment you show any sign of power. (You only need to complete one main goal. A third option is to be elected supreme leader of the planet). 

The variations between factions are interesting as instead of being united by nationality you are grouped by ideology. Yeah, this makes for each faction playing a bit differently, from starting technology to further abilities; setting each up for its own success story.

Those who are fans of the game will probably try each one out but for beginners it is fun to see which ideology suits your gameplay most. At first I started out playing as the peacekeepers but I found them a tad sanctimonious. Then I started a game as the Green faction (known as Gaia’s Stepdaughters) and that’s the one I stuck with. Those of you who are more war-mongering will probably prefer to play as the Spartans or possibly the Believers. The latter of the two had a portrait which game me the creeps.

At least their goals are not as creepy as the Hive – who want to make a literal hive, a dense network of overcrowded cities,slums and other such desperation. *coughBorgcough* The fact they made him Chinese may border on racist… without the cybernetics. But yeah, the origin was obvious. Making it interesting the scientist is Russian… and we don’t even need to explain the Spartans. Either way though, it is their individual strengths and weaknesses which does warrant multiple plays, especially since different maps will end up with the deployment of different tactics. Especially when you make it an ocean world populated with plenty of native nasties.

The native nasties are interesting too. In this game, we don’t have the Civilization barbarians – random weak units that wander around and attack you. Here you have mind worms, who grow in power as you do. Mindless, they are spawned from the fungus that covers the planet, and can be aggressive – unless your units have stronger willpower, in which case they can convert the mind worms to do your bidding and they are strong if they fight for you, whether they’re converted or you bred them. Same go for their aquatic equivalents known as ‘Isles of the Sea’ which are even more difficult to defeat unless you are properly armed. Later in the game you also get a flying version, based on a similar principle, called Locusts of Chiron. They sound scary. They can be.

The game’s atmosphere is interesting. Somewhat different, certainly, from other games, which is there in just about every aspect of the game. The tech tree is very much sci fi, the interface is change, all of that, but it’s almost made alien. The best example here is in the sound used, in particular the music. The music gave me the creeps, I had to play with the sound off. Obviously I turned it back on for the wonders’ movies and the story progression.

I really did enjoy the passages used in the game; they almost felt as if they were taken from contemporary texts rather than years in the future. I guess it makes sense as ideologies may evolve but some never really change. There’s some that are more out there, but it’s recognisable, helped by the texts mostly being taken from the seven faction leaders in the game – they are a part of it through the technologies they’ve helped discover… or actively dislike. They are used for technologies, the first time you build a city improvement and all the wonders that you can build (although that’s not what they’re called here).

The mystery is still kept, even as you progress – for example, what’s the source of the alien artefacts you can find around, that will give you a random technology when you connect them to one of your network nodes? So many questions are raised with many answers left wanting such as the thing which started it all… who killed Captain Garland (later answered in the official novels).

To be honest the only things which have come to date this game are the quality of sound and graphics. In terms of gameplay and how in-depth the mythology is… well I would not resent them re-making it with these elements completely intact. We are yet to play many titles from the Civilisation series but it will take something rather extraordinary to outdo it in my opinion. And in the end, the gameplay is what makes these games addictive. And really… what more could you want from a game?

Final Thoughts

And there we are, then. Addictive, with great gameplay. We played the game without the expansion – not yet owning it – but that’s something I hope to change soon. I’ve gotten Peter addicted to the game as well, as you can tell, and we’ll certainly be replaying it in the near future. There’s no way we couldn’t. So if you see us online again at 1AM, not responsive, saying we’ll go to bed after this turn… we promise… really… Then you’ll know why.

Game 58: Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis

Posted: June 1, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , ,

Game 702/1001 according to the list

Genre: Sports
Platform: Xbox 360, Wii
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Publisher: Rockstar Games

If ever there was a game that could be inspired by an AIR song it would be this one. Yes ‘Kelly Watch The Stars‘ is not exactly the sort of song you would associate with gaming but when there is a realistic depiction of table tennis on offer you can bet Moon Safari will be playing in my mind.

Our Thoughts

And so here we already go full circle, from table tennis game to table tennis game. I think the weirder thing to note is that of all the Rockstar developed games on the list we have first chosen to do the only one where you are unable to maim people. Unless you count the possible trajectories of rogue ping-pong balls. I suspect they won’t do more than leave a bruise. Unlike paintballs which, as Byker Grove taught us, can blind you. Or hurt you far more than a ping-pong ball, as a particularly fierce game taught me.

The title of the game really says all about what it is, and that’s pretty much what it is. No complicated submodes, no special features, just playing table tennis versus CPU or player. In the race to make games with all the features under the yellow sun it is somewhat a breath of fresh air to have a game which is so focussed on one thing and decides to do it very well. Some would say that it was a test-run of the RAGE gaming engine which would later go on to power the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. However, one thing that I would say about this is that it was a rip-off at the original release price. Since we got this second-hand in a Game in York I feel we got it for a steal. Yeah, 5 pounds for this game is a very good deal. Full price for a game like this… Because it does the one thing well, it doesn’t do more, and while it’ll hold your attention, it doesn’t do it in a way that, say, Fallout 3 does. It’s a good game, and a great try at the engine, but it’s not a full game. Well, not in the current climate… in the amount of gameplay, this game lags a few years. This game was released a bit before downloadable content made it big. If this was made now I can see it being up on offer on Xbox Live instead. Yeah, that makes sense for this game. Perhaps they should, it would be worthwhile if they could do it. We appear to be underselling this game (excuse the pun). In a way, yes, but it would serve as a good warning not to expect ten storylines and lots of background. There’s less of a storyline than your standard fighting game… and that’s saying something.

What the game does, it does well: allow you to play table tennis, in a way that works well despite the limits of the controller. I have to admit that I was very impressed how they were able to bring table tennis to life using shoulder and coloured buttons as well as the joystick. During the tournament mode I actually felt my heart beating fast as I got further and further into it. It was quite frustrating to see him do not entirely 10-0… Someone… was not happy. True, this was not a cakewalk of a game. Each player has their own strengths and weaknesses which mean some can be hell for amateurs like us to play against.

One way you can try to level the playing field is with focus shots which, on the 360, are activated using the right shoulder button. This slows time down and allows you to make difficult shots which can either allow you to win the point or to stretch your arm out to prevent your opponent from scoring a winner. Making for not just an easier moment, but also a fairly exciting more cinematic game. Even more interesting to watch that way – even if you’re not playing. It also makes for better screenshots. Very true. Except for the blur, of course. It also helps to showcase the graphics, which are pretty damned good. As the game progresses your player actually begins to glisten with sweat.

In the end this is a nice little sports game to waste an afternoon on but not much else to be honest. However, it stands as the best and arguably most realistic attempt ever made to bring ping-pong to the home console. And with it being available for cheaper now you know where to look, it’s worth going after it to spend an afternoon on it. And possibly another one too. Pick up, play and try more. All available from your local second-hand game retailers.

Final Thoughts

So many people have sold this game off to the likes of Gamestation, Game, CEX and HMV (all fantastic stores) so they can invest in the newest games. This is great for the likes of us and is also for the likes of you. If you can pick this up for less than a fiver I suggest you to pick it up as it is well worth it as both a sports title and a mild video-gaming curiosity.

Game 57: Paradroid

Posted: May 28, 2011 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

Game 100/1001 according to the list

Genre: Action
Platform: Commodore 64
Year of Release: 1985
Developer: Andrew Braybrook
Publisher: Hewson Consultants

The most roundly numbered game we’ve covered so far, Paradroid is an old action game that makes you hack robots and fight your way around. Blow up the ship by shooting other droids and taking over their bodies. It’s that simple.

Our Thoughts

Time for a game which sounds more like a crappy Hitchhikers tie-in than anything else. It’s certainly not a well-known title. It’s our first, and only, title for the Commodore 64. I think it is fair to say that we had to emulate it… considering how old it is.

Yeah. Now, this is an interesting game anyway. It took some time for us to figure out what we needed to do. Ah tutorials and instruction booklets how we missed you. Very true. The idea is actually not too bad – you’re a droid assigned to blow up a ship that looks a remarkable lot like the USS Enterprise of Star Trek fame. (Why blow it up? Why not?) To do so, you take over other droids with more powerful weapons by hacking their system in a minigame that makes you take more rows of a column than the opponent. Stronger droids are, of course, harder to take over. It was great since it gave me the only opportunity I am ever going to have to try and explode a starship with Shatner still in it. At least in theory. Like the theory about Shatner’s Shakespearean acting method? It’s either that or early dementia. But that’s not relevant at the moment.

One thing that is very interesting from this game is that although it it top-down they only show enemy robots if they are within your droid’s line of sight. Making for some surprise appearances as you round the corner, especially when you’re a simple droid suddenly being faced withsome super fighter. Who is kick-ass when you beat the mini-game and then do a little bit of mechanical body snatching. It is so useful in clearing a path from some measley inconsequential droids. Absolutely. Taking them over remains tough, but if you can manage it, it’s great. That minigame is a real bitch until you figure out the best way to beat it. Something that takes you about the first ten games you play. When playing this game, prepare to die and restart often. Oh god this game is frickin’ brutal in that respect. It’s a good thing this game predates long cutscenes… else it’d be horrible.

Still, when you get that far that you get it, the game actually gets quite addictive. I must admit that while I was playing to try to get a good screenshot, I instead did try to get a bit further in the game… what should have been a single game took… a few more than that. A few more than a few more. A bit like Tetris then where you keep playing it to get better and better scores. Yeah. But instead to get to the next deck of the ship.

What helps here are the graphics. Yeah, they’re simple compared to what we have now, but they’re effective. A futuristic ship with a fitting layout of the decks, starting out in the crew quarters and being able to go to other places. They’re nicely layed out, making some sense, and nice to explore – you want to see all decks. I realise there aren’t many, but it’s just nice and varied enough to work. They also go through pallette swaps between games, somehow effective in making them look just a little bit different each time. I have to admit that I really did love the looks of the different marauding robots. Some of them actually look slightly threatening as you roll around the corridors in a metallic foetal position. Some did give me the impression of some big humanoid thing stomping around the halls. This is also helped by the randomness – while the ship start out in a similar way each time, the robots follow their own path that changes between games… meaning I was very surprised to face the nastiest droid as I was walking down the first corridor.

And so I started yet another new game.

Final Thoughts

This is a game from a simpler time, with the appropriate graphics and difficulty curve. You need to take your time to get this game. After that, you get a game that’s addictive in the sense that so many games from this era are – a single game doesn’t take long, but you just want to keep trying. It’s fun, addictive, and you just want to try to win.  And there’s so much more strategy to it than running around a Pacman maze, as we might be used to now.

Game 232/1001 according to the list

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1992
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

Some game franchises have so many entries in this list that to not include one of them in the first 100 games would end up with a mad dash to the finish line. Granted we have already covered plenty of games in the Mario, Zelda and Final Fantasy but we figured it was time to fast track the Street Fighter series.

Our Thoughts

So here’s the first game in this series of major 2D fighters, something that used to be huge in the arcades. Then again the arcades have not exactly been as popular in the last decade or so… with the exception of the Dance Dance Revolution machines which always seem to be packed. Absolutely, with what’s available on the PCs and online these days, arcades can’t really compete anymore. Consoles killed the arcade star.

This is definitely true with fighting games. Whilst there are some who have their own customised retro-joystick to play fighting games with there is a lot to be said for using a 360 controller or any other sort of console controller for that matter. Once Sony were able to perfect the Dual Analog sticks… then all bets were off. Add to that the technology of consoles constantly improving, meaning that the arcade machines could no longer really provide the better graphics, sounds and other experiences that it offered over older consoles.

With that said, this game has so many editions and arrived on so many consoles after its original arcade release that it doesn’t matter much here. Absolutely, Street Fighter II has received six remakes for the arcade. Using subtitles that feature combinations of the words ‘hyper’, ‘turbo’, ‘world’ and ‘fighting’. Today’s game, Street Fighter II Turbo – Hyper Fighting, was the third of these releases. We will be covering the downloadable Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix Purple Monkey Dishwasher at some point. I can only roll my eyes upwards at that title.

You have to admire Capcom for their ability to flog this horse until all is left is gristle and bone powder. I guess the main thing we need to mention is how this version of the game is set apart from those which came before it.


The main, and most noticeable, way they did this was by increasing the speed of game play. Also they added in some special moves (such as fireballs and hadoukens) which have become staples of the series. Absolutely true. This version was mostly created to move against pirates, who created modified versions of the original Street Fighter II that had similar goals. It plays like it. As said, it’s made a faster game, this certainly is a fast game. It was, in fact, quite disorienting sometimes, and didn’t give you much time. Not helped by the first enemy in story mode possibly being one of the most difficult ones. A tank with horrid attacks. Part of it is that you obviously need to learn the combos, while you don’t immediately get a lot of time for that.

I guess the best way to play this game is with a friend. It’s the same with all fighting games to be honest as you can play as every single character in different combinations and there is not the annoying ‘you lose… continue?’ voice which pokes fun at you when you get set on fire. It’s also a lot more fun beating each other up and putting in your own trash talk.

Of course, if you want to take over in story mode because you can do better, just challenge the other player to a duel and win to take over. Yes, that got annoying after a while. Then again it’s worse in an arcade when a stranger uses it to steal your go… yes that happened to me before at an ice rink with a game of Virtua Fighter. Better to play at home then.

Final Thoughts

Seeing how fighting games really have gome a long long way since then it it has really made me want to invest in a copy of Super Street Fighter IV. Also… I think I may be the only one really looking forward to BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger… TO EBAY!!! *cape swishes*

Game 956/1001 according to the list

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Xbox 360/PS3/PC
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Publisher: Activision

If you ask us officially, we’d say that the enemies of this game are sort of zombie-like, fitting our current games theme (and we promise this is the last, as we’re already pushing it quite far with this game). You’re Alex Mercer, a prototype human who has to fight the other mutants, the military, or both, in a semi-representation of Manhattan. He’s dressed to last – clearly it’s not summer in the game, considering the many layers he wears.

Anyway, this guy runs up buildings, creates claws, swords and whips from his own whatever he is, and eats people. Don’t you just love it?

Our Thoughts

Yes, I do love it. Nice attempt tying this to the recent undead theme… but I don’t think mutants derived from experimented-on girl really fits the bill. I recall you using it as the original argument for doing the game next… but then again, I guess we deserved a lot more about the story anyway. Or you did, considering how much time you have been spending on the game. I think it is safe to say that this is the most I have been addicted to a game since Bayonetta way back when. In a way I am now sorta glad my old Xbox 360 packed in as it gave us an excuse to buy a new game or two to go with it. It’s one I have been looking forward to for about a year and it really has lived up to my expectation.

In essence, Prototype is a mixture between the free-roaming nature of Spider-Man 2 with the killing sprees available in Grand Theft Auto. And the upgrades of, well, many an action/RPG. Ah the upgrades. There are a large number of different powers that can be unlocked during the game. All of which have been beautifully realised with their own pros, cons and uses. Some of these are quite straightforward, like faster runs and higher jumps. Some are transformations – changing your hands into claws, whips or the iconic big sword. And then there’s the big devastator attacks where you shoot spikes out of your body in all directions that kill mostly everything near you. The whip-fist is possibly the most impressive of the lot since you are able to take down helicopters in a single hit without even breaking a sweat. Then you can upgrade it even further so that you whip it around you in a circle and cut everyone around you in half. Then there is the musclemass upgrade where you reduce people to a bloody mess in a single charged punch… with the exception of a disembodied foot.

It seems incredibly violent, made a bit stranger by the fact your innocents are easily harmed. Of course, if you don’t, the infected are likely to get to them first, if they’re not killed by the army in the crossfire. So, to be blunt, everyone is pretty much screwed. The further you progress in the game the more the infection takes a hold over Manhattan. There are certain streets where you will just see burnt out cars and dead bodies strewn about the place. Really gives the city a certain macarbe ambience. This is further enforced by the game playing as a flashback. Your tutorial takes place on the 18th day of the infection, where you have all your powers. You then go back to the first day as you play through the game while the infection spreads further, leading up to what you know is the inevitable conclusion. It’s a fantastic way to introduce the controls since you are thrown right into a chaotic Times Square with maxed out mutations. I actually played this twice since I enjoyed chopping things in half with my arm-sword. The most awesome power, which of course is unlocked as one of the final possible powers.

It may take you a long while to get this far since it is just so much fun to wander around the city killing armymen. It is also rather satisfying using the absorption power so that you can later use their form to hide from the filth. This power is heavily used both in missions and outside of them since, for extra XP, you can infiltrate army bases and stealthily kill everyone inside then blow it up with a hijacked tank. OR you can decide to take down the hive locations belonging to the infected. Anything to increase your powers eh? Or do both and get a double return… they’re both bastards, really. Absolutely, all’s fair in war and mutation. One thing I had slight issue with is the sidequests… or the fact that the idea of taking part in a gliding race across Manhatten doesn’t exactly fit in with the apocalyptic feel of the game. They are common to these sort of games, but it is one of those disadvantages of putting so much time pressure on a main quest. As well as a rather annoyingly emo main character who always has the hood of his jacket up during the entire game. To be honest, not always a bad thing, his face somehow seems a bit off. In any case, he looks… and at times is rather emo. Then again if I was experimented on and the government wanted to kill my sister and love interest I would probably be rather emo. I’d be emo if my sister were my love interest. (Two different people) (Scratch that)

Lastly I think we need to mention the Web of Intrigue feature. As a side-effect of your absorption power you are also able to take on the memories of certain people that you meet during the game. This then forms a ‘web’ which acts as a rather unique story-telling device. Therefore the only way you can completely understand the game’s backstory is to absorb every one on your hitlist. Now, this obviously doesn’t happen with everyone, and in a way getting to part of the web is a side quest where you can get more sections as you absorb more characters, but it allows you to learn more about the side story without it being in your face through forced cutscenes. It also allows for more branches in the story, rather than the linear story you normally get. Cutscenes you can easily skip through if the only reason you are taking on this feature is to end up with 100% completion. And at some points you probably will, but the small fragments can be incredibly compelling to track. In the end this game excels with the amounts of freedom you get. It makes me really want to buy a Playstation 3 as soon as possible so I can compare it with Infamous.

Final Thoughts

So yeah, this is a very good game, as said. There’s a good story here, that you can follow up through great missions, with plenty of fun sidequests – either direct events, but also finding people for the web of intrigue, landmarks and hints that you can all find as long as you do plenty of exploration.

Graphically, this game looks lovely and good – as we’d expect by the year this game was introduced in. The AI is good, working different for individual monsters. And you yourself become an incredibly awesome character. Worth playing, absolutely worth it.