Thanks For All The Fish

There follows spoilers for ‘What Remains Of Edith Finch’.

I didn’t really want ‘What Remains Of Edith Finch’ to be done as quickly as I got through it. I downloaded, started, played and indeed finished the game in one evening but I do not suggest this as a negative point. Every section of the game has a brilliant mechanic or gameplay idea hiding inside. Far more important however is how much some of them work well with the stories of the characters involved.

The Finch family are cursed and each and every single member seems to have died in tragic circumstances, sometimes at a very young age. Seventeen year old Edith Finch is the last member of the family alive and she inherits the family home after the death of her mother. The house has remained abandoned since everybody left. Upon approaching the building at the start of the game Edith remarks that she wasn’t allowed in half of the rooms as her mother sealed them off once that particular family member died. What Remains Of Edith Finch is a game about uncovering the past, going from room to room finding what others have left behind and piecing together the story.

It would be easy for me to talk about each and every single part of Edith Finch. There were so many sections of the game that impressed me. If there’s one part that really made me sit up and take notice though it’s probably the story of Lewis Finch, about two thirds into the game’s duration.

Lewis got a job in the local fish processing plant. He takes the fish off the conveyor belt, passes them across to the blade at the side, chops the head off and then throws the rest onto another belt to be taken away and canned. It’s not the most glamourous of jobs and it’s mind numbing to the extreme. You, as the player, hold R1 to grab the fish and move the right stick to control Lewis’ right arm. After only a few seconds you’ll be engaged in a near automatic rhythm. Fish come in, slice, fish go out.

Lewis was attending regular appointments with his psychiatrist before his death and the voice that starts to fade in during this part of the game is from those sessions in the clinic. It tells of how Lewis would invent his own stories to help distract himself from this repetitive task. A small section of the screen is taken up with a storybook being opened and the tale of a prince travelling to far away lands aboard his ship begins to play out. Control of the prince is done via the left hand analog stick. As more details are given of Lewis’ made up fantasy land that section of the screen gets bigger and bigger, eventually taking up half the display. The fish are still there, you’re still controlling Lewis doing his manual day job with one hand but also playing out the Prince’s adventure with the other.


In time this story takes over the entire screen. All view of the fish has vanished and your full attention is on the prince arriving to meet a princess in a far away land. You’re walking through city streets with crowds cheering and waving. The crucial detail however is that whilst the fish might be gone you’re still moving the right stick with the same motions. You’ve become so used to doing the same movements again and again that you really haven’t had to think about it even after the bulk of your attention has been occupied by something else. You’ve been placed in a very similar situation to the character you’re controlling at that time. I actually couldn’t not remember the last time I’d seen a control method blend in so well with a character’s feeling and motivation. It’s the complete opposite of Call Of Duty’s ‘Press X to pay respects’ prompt.

Every character in Edith Finch has these moments. I didn’t finish it in one evening because I was rushing through it, I finished it because I was genuinely caught up in the story of this family and the troubles they went through. My congratulations must go to Giant Sparrow for creating one of my gaming high points of 2018 so far.




Sometimes a game just skips you by due to a misunderstanding or a cross wire. Oxenfree was a game that I had certainly heard of but never really worked out fully. It seemed to be forever attached to the horror games genre and as such I’d never really taken any great interest in it. Without truly investigating it I’d managed to somehow combine it with games such as Outlast and Slenderman, games I would never really touch.

The power of the Nintendo Switch though is great indeed for being able to download indie games to play both at home and on work lunch breaks. When Oxenfree recently came down to a mere £4 in the Nintendo eShop I gave it a chance. A tenner is bargain territory, four quid is certainly ‘it doesn’t really matter if I end up not liking it’. I’d spend more than that on a coffee and sandwich during lunch.

Dear reader, I was wrong about Oxenfree.

Very wrong.


The initial set up for Oxenfree is very much a horror staple. Five teenagers go to what seems like a deserted island, home to a former military base, in the hope of some drinking fun away from anybody who may tell them otherwise. The very first scene in game is the player character Alex taking the ferry to the island with her friend Ren and step brother Jonas. As soon as a deserted island is mentioned you expect something like Until Dawn to play out. Somebody with a knife will surely stab their way through our group leaving you, as the last surviving player, to get off the island with all your blood intact? Oxenfree never goes there, it’s far better because of it.

During the boat ride I seriously thought I’d messed up during a dialogue option. Ren spoke to Alex and three options popped up for Alex to respond with. They quickly vanished as I was thinking about what to say and never returned. Ren then had dialogue which referenced Alex’s silence on the matter. Far from failing I’d actually tripped upon one of Oxenfree’s greatest features.

In most games with any choice in character dialogue the world will wait for you. They’ll stand there, gawping at you, as you take your sweet time deciding what to say back to them. They will then wait patiently until you’ve said your piece before responding. Oxenfree is possibly the best at representing how proper, real life humans talk to each other. Once an NPC has said something then two or three options will float over Alex’s head, each corresponding to a button on the controller and each coloured differently to suggest temperament (so you can avoid any L.A Noire style sudden mood swings). It’s possible to press the button quickly and cut people off mid speech. There’s also the option to not press anything and have Alex remain silent on the matter. For each of these occasions the NPC will react accordingly. It goes the dialogue a very natural flow and goes a really long way to you being able to influence how Alex is around others as a player. I was probably about two minutes into this game and already I was impressed.

oxenfree radio

Radios are a big thing in the world of Oxenfree. Alex carries a pocket radio that can be tuned to various frequencies, some have music and others have strange voices from the island’s past. Unlike some other games the environment isn’t full of left over audio recordings as if there was suddenly a fashion for talking into a microphone and dumping the results somewhere. Oxenfree’s voices from beyond soon seep into the story like an oil slick and their disembodied nature means you’re never truly sure who they belong to.

Personally I can live without playing horror games. I don’t think I’ll ever be in a great rush to play Resident Evil 7 or the like (I bought Alien Isolation for £10 a few months ago thinking I’d play it very soon but it remains untouched months later). I’ve come to the believe that I’m too old now to be permanently petrified during my game time. Oxenfree does something a little bit different though in that it really doesn’t go for any kind of jump scare. Everything about the island and its back story has a layer of tension with it, a creeping unease rather than an outright shock. It’s like playing an episode of The Twilight Zone rather than watching Saw. It’s much better for it as well. At no point does it seem like Oxenfree is trying to simply terrorise you as a player, it has something to say but it’s going to whisper it to you over hushed radio frequencies.

As my free time gets shorter I’ve found that the games that really stick with me are not the two hundred long hour epic RPGs anymore. Maximum enjoyment tends to arrive from those smaller games which might only be two or three hours in duration but remain in the mind long after you’ve played them. Firewatch became a favourite this way, Gone Home also. With it’s mind bending story and sometimes fourth wall breaking moment it seems Oxenfree has also joined that list.

Empty Lots

Usually in December each year I start to look at some of the games I’ve bought over the last few months but never finished. There then follows the concentrated effort to see the end credits of each before the year is out. Breath of the Wild, which I bought in the summer just after getting my Switch, still needs finished off as only Ganon remains standing. Shovel Knight could do with some attention and the Doom reboot that I picked up for a tenner still has some demons left in it.

Back in March last year I picked up Yakuza 0. It was the last copy in the shop and even then it was second hand. I’d played the original Yakuza game back on the PS2 and enjoyed it so was very interested in playing the prequel. I ended up playing a few hours, getting through the opening three chapters before something else came along and it was relegated to the sidelines. A few nights ago I figured I’d put Yakuza 0 back on just to remind myself where I was in the game. What followed was two weeks of playing the game each night to drink in the story of the power struggles within Japan’s criminal underworld. After finishing the game I have to say I had a wonderful time with it.

yazuka fighting

Plenty of people who perhaps haven’t even touched a Yakuza game will look at it and dismiss it as a Japanese version of Grand Theft Auto. It’s true to say that both series feature you playing as characters and meeting people with dubious moral backgrounds and, much like Rockstar’s opus, it is played from the third person perspective. Whilst GTA often portrays a cartoon version of America that’s played up for laughs, Yakuza gives us a realistic world from a culture we perhaps don’t see much of. There are no restaurants in Yakuza named after dick jokes.

This is hardly to say there are no jokes in Yakuza. One of the game’s greatest strengths is keeping a rather fine balance between the serious business of hitmen, killings and main characters who have been tortured for months on end alongside moments of pure comedy. It’s quite possible to be using a bicycle as a weapon in a street fight to smash somebody’s head in one minute and then having your character sing a cheesy karaoke croonfest complete with a rock star fantasy playing out in the background. It should be a jarring change of pace but it never feels that way. There’s an atmosphere in Yakuza that is comfortable with both. Most characters in the series play it dead straight and never feel like they’re a overemphasised stereotype of the culture they inhabit.

The Yakuza games are (mostly) set in a fictional district of Tokyo called Kamurocho based on the real life suburb of Kabukicho. As far as map size goes it isn’t that big. Even at walking pace you’ll probably get from one side of the map to the other in around ten minutes. By the standards of today, with games such as The Witcher 3 and Breath of the Wild, it seems impossibly small. The key to keeping Yakuza going in how densely packed the location is. In amongst the doorways and side streets sit whisky bars serving a range of real life brands, Majong parlours, pool halls, ramen restaurants, underground women’s fighting leagues, dance floors, baseball arenas, bowling alleys and phone clubs for those who are feeling a bit frisky. Around every corner there are landmarks that begin to take root in the memory. Kamurocho becomes a familiar stomping ground for the player and it ages throughout the series. Building projects in the 1980’s set Yakuza 0 become explorable places in later games. The street layout remains the same yet the features change with the times. Like a lot of the characters caught up in Yakuza’s story, Kamurocho is changed by events for better or worse.

What characters they are as well. Yakuza 0 actually tells two stories each with their own lead character. Goro Majima begins the game as an outcast from the Yakuza having been forced out to live life as a civilian. As ‘punishment’ he runs a Hostess club and the opening chapter of his story sees him battle a club customer who has been touching the girls in an inappropriate manner. Majima’s desire to uphold the club’s rules means hitting customers is frowned upon. There follows a battle in which you must block and dodge and drunken man’s flailing fists until he injures himself punching walls or furniture. All of this whilst the in house band plays tunes in the background. It’s a period of violent flamboyance, much like Goro himself.

goro majima.jpg

In a reversal of Majima’s story Kazuma Kiryu starts in the Yakuza but leaves of his own will with no plans to get back in any time soon. He cuts a slightly less flamboyant figure than Majima (he struggles during a shopping trip to find a suit that he feels comfortable in for example). He might come from a criminal organisation but Kiryu always seems to have a strong moral compass. Unlike some of his fellow Yakuza members he doesn’t treat women like dirt and always seems willing to help people who might need him. In many ways, to use the Rockstar comparison again, he seems very much like John Marston of Red Dead Redemption. Kazuma is trying to go as straight as he can but parts of his criminal past still come back to haunt him. He’ll defend the weak and downtrodden using exactly the same methods he has been taught during his early years in the Yazuka family.  As such his character is a compelling one and it was certainly a pleasure to play as him during the game’s running time.

kazuma kiryu.jpg

Add to this the side characters you meet on the streets of Kamurocho. Fathers who have been estranged from children, journalists who are trying to go undercover in order to expose arms deals, government officials who are in town for a conference on tax and want the opinion of a ‘man on the street’ and people who are so desperate for the latest RPG console game that they’ll attack people walking out of games shops for it. The side stories of Yakuza 0 might be strange but they’re never overblown or  painted with heavy brush strokes. No matter how ridiculous some of them are there remains a sensibility to them all.

With this combination of the serious overall story, the comedy side notes and the cultural differences it’s obvious that Yakuza shouldn’t work yet somehow it does. Yakuza 0 is, storywise, a fantastic starting point in the series for anybody who has yet to catch on. It might seem daunting to begin with but once you’re in then it’s very hard to leave.


Calling All Cars

I’ve had an idea.

It’s become one of those ideas that’s very difficult to shift despite it needing planning and collaboration to move forwards to any great degree. It’s still seems like a pretty cool project though. I might have deemed it all a bit too much but I went and mentioned it on Twitter just before New Year so I’m kind of held to it now.

I want to make a games magazine. A paper, printed, words in it, thing you can hold magazine. I want to rekindle the spirit of the best games magazines from when I was a teenager. Titles such as Super Play, Games Zone and Total had a level of passion and a sense of humour that you don’t often see today.

I don’t even really want to do reviews of modern games. The problem with many websites doing any review is that they tend to rush out anything purely to be first for hits. I’ve currently clocked about 100 hours into Breath of the Wild, I would have probably had to review it after four or five hours in order to pump a review out.

Rather than engage in that arms race I’d be far more interested in putting out a collection of stories about older games, wider games culture or just bizarre articles about how you spent a whole holiday at Center Parc sneaking off to play Mortal Kombat at the bowling alley when you were 11.

That last one was me.

It wouldn’t be a huge, glossy mag full of photos because the cost of such a thing would prohibit it ever getting made. It would probably be a small mag in black and white to begin with. If people liked the first then we’d do a second one.

I need content to make that though so I’m after people to get in touch with me with ideas for what they could write for such a publication. It would be featuring off the wall articles about videogames, board games or table top RPGs. If I get enough people wanting to contribute then we’ll start putting this whole idea together.

If you have anything to plug at the end of your article then that’s all cool. Within reason though, let’s not be giving coverage to anything covered in swastikas.

Also, I’m not for making this pages full of white blokes. If you don’t fall into that category then do let me know. If you think gaming should be an all boy’s club then please walk on.

Email if you want to talk about it.


Electric Daydreams

I had something of a daydream the other day. It was about starting a games magazine like they used to do in the old days. It would be a collection of articles about any aspect of gaming including video games, board games or tabletop RPGs. It would be inclusive and not regard gaming as a boy’s club. It would be written with both passion and a tongue firmly in cheek style like Super Play and Neon used to be.

I took to doing a few scribbles and diagrams in a notebook once I got home. There have also been some tentative talks on possible articles and print runs.

So, come January, this might actually be happening.

More details as they emerge.


Awaiting Stock

This time last year I decided that I didn’t really need a NES Mini Classic. Despite having many happy memories of owning the full sized NES the first time around I’d gone back to play some of the games again and felt them best left alone. I sank hours into playing Zelda 2 back then but revisiting it again just made me appreciate the modern versions a whole lot more. There was also the usual Nintendo stock shortages and it seemed impossible to get hold of one even if I had wanted to. It was a bunfight I really didn’t feel like I wanted to be part of. They sold out within minutes everywhere and haven’t been back in stock since.

Sure enough Nintendo decided to give the Mini Classic treatment to their next console in line, the Super Nintendo. Once again pre orders went up and very quickly were sold out. History was about to repeat itself. I used to work in a small independent games store. On the final day before it closed I had managed to bag myself the store display SNES and I still had it in storage. If I really wanted to play the games I remembered from the 16 bit era then it would only have taken a few quick trips to eBay. I decided that I didn’t exactly need a SNES Mini Classic.  The usual flood of ‘Sold Out Here’ news stories persisted.


I read a story online a few weeks later about Argos having a few preorder slots left over. Rather than just giving out their stock on a first come first served basis from one pile they were apparently splitting it up based on location. Within minutes I had friends from Glasgow and Edinburgh saying that they had typed their postcodes into the site and been given the usual ‘Sold Out’ screens. I live in the very South of Scotland though, one hundred miles away from either of those cities. Curiosity took hold and I wondered if I could have bought one if I wanted to.

Putting in my postcode gave me a positive response as far as stock went. The one slight point Argos put on the pre orders was that full payment had to be taken there and then. I put my card details in fully expecting to be denied at the last moment. The money went through, the confirmation email arrived and it was very much ‘Thank you for your business’. I had accidentally pre ordered a SNES Mini Classic.

I told myself that I didn’t really need it but, thinking it over, I became really reluctant to actually go ahead and cancel the thing. The sensible part of my head was soon drowned out by the part that had hold of something rare. Why give up on this pre order if you may never have the chance to buy it again?

Then I thought about just waiting until it had arrived and selling it, unopened, on eBay. Surely, if there were still stock issues, then a tidy sum could be made? I shot that idea down in rapid time however as I came to the conclusion that it would just be me scalping somebody else and I really didn’t want to be part of that. At the time of writing this however there are still people out there selling their preorders for £200 a pop.

There’s still a small part of me that thinks it won’t come through and I’ll get an email from Argos within the next few days telling me that there’s been a problem and to have my £70 back. In all honesty I won’t believe that it’s happening until the console arrives through the post on September 29th. Nintendo have apparently promised there will not be a repeat of the shortages of NES Classics witnessed last year so I’m hopeful that they’re freely available to anybody that wants one on the day.


In the meantime I’ve come to the conclusion that it’ll be a handy thing to have to show my son all the games I used to play when I was younger. He’s currently really digging Breath of the Wild so I can show him Link To The Past. I still think he’d love Super Metroid, Earthbound has it’s own charms and he’s yet to throw a fireball in Street Fighter 2 Turbo. He’ll probably also wonder why the heck we ever coped with pads that had to be wired into the console.

For that reason I’m now looking forward to the SNES Mini arriving. I might have had an NES back in the early 90’s but the SNES was when gaming as a hobby really clicked for me. It’s still one of the best consoles and bringing that piece of Nintendo history to generations who weren’t there at the time has to be well worth it.


Are You Sitting Comfortably?

We’re used to talking about endings in video games. We’ll discuss in hushed tones and spoiler warnings about who dies, who lives and who turns out to have been a vampire all along. There doesn’t seem to be quite the same level of discussion about the introductions though. Those first few moments in a game world or cut scene are all important to getting us involved in whatever follows. Considering what comes afterwards could be perhaps sixty hours or more then this is very much an important part of the overall game.

Over the years I’ve seen many great examples of this but here’s my pick of the top ones.

There are spoilers ahead if you’re one of those people who considers being told what happens five minutes into a game somehow ruins the whole thing for you.

  1. Bioshock

A friend loaned me Bioshock on the Xbox 360 not long after it first came out. I hadn’t really read anything about it nor seen anything of it up until then. This actually resulted in probably the only time I went into such a well known game completely blind. It only made the opening scenes of Irrational Games’ 2007 classic all the better.

The text ‘Mid-Atlantic 1960’ comes up on screen and we see through the eyes of an aircraft passenger. It’s the only we hear any dialogue from the character you play as and even then it’s only a couple of lines. The plane soon goes into a nosedive and lands in the middle of the ocean. There you float amongst the wreckage and everything burns around you. This was done so wonderfully and smoothly that it actually took me a few seconds to work out I’d taken over control.

You’re instantly attracted to a tower standing high over the surface of the water. Swimming towards it reveals a large door. Beyond that opening there’s a statue of a man holding a red banner.

‘No Gods Or Kings, Only Man’ say the golden letters on it. It’s the first clue as to the themes of objectivism present in the game. Not that you know it yet but the man holding the banner is Andrew Ryan, the creator of the underwater city of Rapture. There is then the journey into the main entrance to Rapture itself, weaving through underwater skyscrapers with neon filled signs on them. You then hear a voice on the radio of a person stuck down here with his family who, like you, is desperate for a way out.


All of this happens within the first ten minutes and it’s nigh on perfect the way it’s set out. There’s a wonderful look at the location, a brief glimpse of the main characters and an overall sense of dread that something down here has gone truly, utterly wrong.

2. Doom (2016).

I actually managed to pick this up on the PS4 for the grand total of a tenner the other day and the introduction is probably what got me thinking of this list. There was a period of time last year just before this game’s release that I recall reading some pretty downbeat thoughts on it. How could Id Software possibly recreate what made the original Doom so good back in 1993? The multiplayer demo had a fairly lukewarm reception. The single player campaign’s introduction though makes no bones about it. Whilst the game may be running on much better hardware and have all the trapping of modern first person shooters, this is still the Doom that gave rise to the FPS genre all those years ago.

You awake on a table, almost like a surgery except it seems to be surrounded by candles and has pentagrams scrawled on the walls. It’s then you notice that you’re actually handcuffed to the table as a demon makes it’s way across to you, mouth agape and hands raised. You manage to smash the abomination’s head against the table with a hugely satisfactory shower of blood and skull. A quick yank of the chain makes it snap.

There’s a screen over to one corner and the words ‘Demonic Invasion In Progress’ scroll across. There follows a recorded message by Dr Samuel Hayden who is the head of the facility. Just when you’re thinking this will be another long winded, audio diary left around the place just before it all went South the character you’re controlling rips the entire thing off the wall and throws it across the other side of the room. Doom Marine does not care for the details.

There’s a run through of a few corridors which includes the tutorial for the brilliant ‘Glory Kill’ melee attacks. The heavy, industrial music builds up and up. At the end of this section you reach an elevator that not only has a dead body in it but also another screen in which Hayden assures you that ‘what we were doing here was for the good of mankind’. Doom guy cocks his shotgun (in time with the music), the doors open onto the surface of Mars and the game’s title flashes up on screen in that familiar font.

It’s taken about three minutes but Doom has left you in no doubt what it’s all about. Find demons, shoot demons, survive. 1993 called and it’s damn happy you still love it.

3. Blade Runner

You know how some people describe movies licensed games as ‘tie ins’? Often, especially in the 90’s, this just involved slapping the film’s name on a platform game that didn’t bear much resemblance at all to the source material. The Westwood produced, PC point and click Blade Runner was a complete tie in. You might not play as Deckard but events of the movie are going on in the background of the game as you play. Certain characters cross over and voice actors reprise their role in animated form.

The introduction might well look clunky these days but it still looks absolutely a part of the Blade Runner cannon. It features the exact same scrolling text as the film as well as the flight over 2019 Los Angeles.  We’re then in a pet shop selling real animals (a rarity in Blade Runner’s future) as a young girl tells the owner that she’s done all her jobs and needs to leave. The owner then starts saying that she ‘has one job left’ in a rather creepy manner.


Events play out very differently as two men walk into the shop and break the owner’s hand before killing all the animals in the store. We then jump to McCoy from the Blade Runner division who gets a report of animal murder in a pet shop. The opening scene of the game is the aftermath of the crime you saw in the introduction and the story spirals from there.

Blade Runner pitches itself perfectly alongside the source material and the introduction is an amazing welcome to the story that follows.

Anybody have anymore favourites? Put them in the comments below.


“You Can Do It, I Believe In You”

The Legend of Zelda has always been a part of my gaming life. Playing Link To The Past still reminds me of my sister and I passing the pad to each other, taking turns to complete dungeons and defeat bosses. Wind Waker still reminds me of working in a small games shop in Carlisle. I recently bought a Nintendo Switch along with Breath Of The Wild. Despite the fact it’s a wonderful reworking of the entire Zelda formula there’s another big reason why BotW will live long in my memory.

My ten year old son is on the autistic spectrum and was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome a couple of years ago. Essentially it means that he often has routines that he sticks to and gets really concerned and scared when something comes along that may disturb that. It also means that anything new to him, be it places or people, has to be introduced gradually.

He often plays video games. Whilst his friends at school often ask him why he’s not playing Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty he prefers anything Nintendo related. He knows that games such as GTA are for people aged 18 years or over. Another part of his condition is his tendency to not want to break any ‘rules’. Obsessions can also be another part of Aspergers and one of his current, long standing ones is Nintendo. Others in his class may be taking control of Trevor Philips of an evening but he’s perfectly content with Mario, Yoshi, Samus or indeed Link. He will talk endlessly about them, make up stories with them as the central characters and draw them using the copious amounts of notebooks he’s gained.


One of the main problems he’s had in the past with games is losing. In his mind he would often build up the perfect story of being a hero, of succeeding against all the odds and coming out victorious. If any boss or another player came along and changed that by winning instead then it would be a break in the procedure and a big change. What he had envisaged in front of him was now not going to happen. He wouldn’t process it well, often breaking down and he’d switch it off and give up. Said game would never really be touched ever again. This wasn’t just limited to games either, anything that brought up any kind of resistance was met with him backing away. Any primary school teacher trying to teach him maths early on in his school life became well aware of this too.

His early gaming years were, like many kids his age, made in Minecraft. When put on creative mode there were no barriers put in his way in Mojang’s world. If anything proved too difficult then it could be scrubbed out and build over. He spent hours constructing large buildings and whole towns. Disney Infinity came along and served much the same purpose (the large army of plastic figures stored below my TV is a testament to this). This also kicked off a fascination with Marvel comics and Star Wars. Super Mario Maker meant he could delete and rebuild entire levels even if the end results often didn’t make a lot of sense to anybody else bar him.

I’d heard from a few people that Breath of the Wild was difficult and having had a few hours with it myself I can say that it does have something of a mean streak. The game gives no real indication of where to go and what order to do quests in. It’s appropriate that the Link of BotW has lost all his memory as a lot of the gameplay is rediscovering places and people in Hyrule thought lost. Much of the time is spent getting used to systems and walking around the map with the possibility of running into enemies that are far higher in skill and weaponry than you. Early on in the game when Link has only three hearts for a life bar and one stamina wheel it’s quite possible to get wiped out in one hit by something far larger than you are.

My son really, really wanted to play BotW and I thought the worst was going to happen. He’d try once or maybe twice, get slaughtered by a few Mokoblins and then he’d be sitting and watching me play.

This hasn’t really happened.

Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game my son has had his own save file for as he said from the start he wanted his own decisions and experiences to count in this playthrough. Upon starting the game on the Great Plateau he quickly learned that Guardians are not to be messed with whilst you only have a tree branch. The laser fired right towards him and the Game Over screen quickly popped up.

Then he tried again, this time avoiding them and moving for cover if they discovered him. He got to the Shrine nearby and completed it in fairly short order. With it being the summer holidays he’s often spending time each morning playing a little more of the game and edging forwards all the time. Each death was greeted by him shrugging his shoulders and pressing continue, learning from each demise as he went. He’s spent more time with the game currently than I have, spending evenings telling me of his exploits in Hyrule, blissfully unaware of how spoiler filled it can sometimes get. I don’t really mind though, not when he’s getting this much enjoyment out of it.

Today we were both home together and he happened upon Sidon, the Prince of the Zora. Not only is he a member of a fish royal family but he’s also the most positive character I’ve seen in gaming for a long while. When he pumps his fist and says “Link, you can do it and I believe in you!” it genuinely feels like an in game pep talk.

Seriously, he’s bloody great

Sidon wants you to help his people deal with one of the Divine Beasts which has been possessed by Ganon and is now causing huge amounts of rainfall around this part of Hyrule. In order to get to the Zora Domain Link must walk a mountain pathway full of various monsters, many of which are a step up from those he meets at the beginning of the game on the Great Plateau.

I sat with a cup of coffee and watched my son play through this section of the game. There were a couple of deaths and a few moments of panic as a sentry lizard found him and brought the whole camp down upon Link but in each case he tried again and kept on going. Eventually Zora’s Domain was reached and my son was wonderfully happy at reaching this stage of the game and even more ecstatic that he hadn’t given up. As I sat on the sofa next to him I shared this fantastic moment with him. It might only be a very small part of the game but it gained significance for us personally. It’s a complete change from instances in the past when he’s tried to play other games of a similar style. This is persistence introduced to him via video games, a thing he likes and cherishes. He may have slowly been coming around to this idea before and getting much better but Breath of the Wild is the game that seems to be sealing the deal for him not backing out at the first sign of anything not being part of the plan.

He ended his play session today after attempting to get to the Divine Beast itself. He died in the process and he’s agreed that perhaps leaping to battle a huge boss creature with only a four heart life bar maybe isn’t the best idea. Rather than pack in completely though he’s now determined to find more of the Shrines dotted around the area so he can get more Soul Orbs and increase his life bar. Every system in BotW is joined this way and there always seems to be something he can do. If the Divine Beast was a boss in a previous, more linear Zelda game then he’d be truly stuck there. Now however he’s working out different ways to solve it.

Because of all of this Breath of the Wild will certainly be added to the list of important Zelda games of my life. Even if I have to wait until he’s gone to bed to get my hands on the Switch to play it myself.


The Loneliness Of The Data Runner

A few years ago, after a games convention in Glasgow, whilst we were all sat around a room drinking the last of that evening’s brew there came a question. “What is your favourite game you’ve played so far in your life?” asked one person. Everybody in the room thought for a while, some for far longer than others. There were many, varied answers but then it got to me. I looked out to the room and said, without any doubt whatsoever, the NES version of Frontier Software’s Elite.

Yes, this.

A small portion of the room were too young to have heard of it, some had and wondered why I’d picked it, others remembered it as a game that came out during the dawn of time and I was therefore telling a lie concerning my actual age. Apparently I wasn’t 30 but more like 45.

When I was given my NES on Christmas Day 1990 it arrived with both the original Super Mario Bros and Konami’s Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles game (the one with the near impossible underwater bombs level). Most the games that I bought for my new console were fairly simple affairs of running, jumping and beating people up in Double Dragon. Upon reading a review in Total Nintendo magazine of Elite, seeing it was about space flight and dogfights among the stars I took a chance on it. Christmas of 1991 saw the arrival of the game under the tree in our house. It was the first game to really, truly grip me. I spent hours and hours within the randomly generated galaxies of Elite. I regret nothing.

It was probably the first game I had played in which your own stamp could be put on your character and play style. Everything else I had played, from Mario to Zelda, gave you a character to play and get on with whatever goal the game had in mind. Elite gave you the basics to start with and then let you do pretty much what you wanted. If you wanted to upgrade your cargo hold capacity and spend the entire game simply hauling goods from one planet to the next then you were fine doing that. If you fancied taking on the criminal elements of the galaxy by updating your laser rifles and missile launchers then that was also perfectly fine. The game was flexible enough to suit whatever you wanted to do with it and it was completely mesmerising. The sounds of the Blue Danube playing when you auto docked have been in my head for a long time.

This is from the Commodore version but still..

I only really stopped playing Elite a few years later when I upgraded to a SNES and left the game behind. The entire of my 8-bit collection went up in my parent’s attic and seems to have vanished into thin air (I moved out 16 years ago and my Mother insists she hasn’t chucked it out even though it’s not anywhere obvious in the full cavern above the house). I imagine that my Commander is still on the last planet I landed on, living a good life in retirement.

A couple of years ago David Braben (one of the creators of Elite way back then) went to Kickstarter to find funding for a new version of Elite. He wanted around £500,000, he ended up with £1.5 million. The PC version of Elite Dangerous arrived in 2014. My simple laptop wasn’t going to be able to handle something like that so I missed out on it. Then Frontier made a version for the Xbox One which I also didn’t own but I was heartened by the fact that a console version existed. Then rumours began that Microsoft only had a timed exclusive deal with Frontier for the console rights. A Playstation 4 version of Elite Dangerous existed somewhere in their office in Cambridge.

That version saw the light of day this past Tuesday.

It became the first game I had ever digitally preordered (I know, I’m old school and usually prefer to have discs on my shelf).

I started playing it when I got home from work that night and I expected the magic to have gone. I thought the whole thing would have been rendered so complex and detailed that I would no longer have the time free to play it properly. Half of me thought I’d wasted the £20 asking price as I’d probably only play it for a few hours before finding some impenetrable wall of numbers that I couldn’t make sense of.


Within the first hour I had got the basics of taking off and flying the starting (incredibly basic) ship. I had picked up some data at the first space station and taken it to the desired location. My pay cheque of 10,000 credits went through and I then consulted my star charts for the next hyper jump location. I was back in and it felt great.

The two versions of Elite I’ve played have a 26 year gap between them. I still found myself rediscovering small tips and tricks that worked in the NES version and still applied to this new, shiny PS4 edition. It’s one thing to be able to remember how to throw a Hadouken from Street Fighter 2 Turbo to Street Fighter V but I’m here remembering docking procedures, each ship’s jump radius and each planet’s economic structure. Either Elite Dangerous has been simplified to suit new people or I played it far more than I thought I had back in 1991. I strongly suspect it’s the latter.

As I type this I’m thinking about what I’m going to do next in my travels around Elite’s universe. I’m mainly doing data runs to gain enough money to buy a completely new ship. Elite Dangerous has tapped into a long forgotten part of my brain dedicated to virtual space travel. Sure the Playstation 4 version clunks a little when transferring between star charts and your cockpit, sure it might not look as good as a 4k PC set up but I don’t care. Elite Dangerous could have been just a nostalgia trip for me and whilst it does give me that warm feeling of yesteryear it also goes way beyond that. Everything I found wonderful about the old NES version has been updated and expanded here. It’s a fantastic modern day update.

It’s also one of the best feelings I’ve had in recent gaming.


For All The Single Players Out There

My copy of Injustice 2 arrived on Thursday and was waiting on my mat behind my front door when I got in from work. I’ve spent the last few nights getting the hang of it and beating up the DC roster as best I can. The Flash is an early stand out, being able to punch somebody so fast it looks like you’re standing still is a certain bonus. I’m never going to be in a position of being anywhere near good enough for the online multiplayer though. Because of the forward thinking of NetherRealm Studio though, this really doesn’t matter.

Opening up the menu of Injustice 2 sees a great amount of things to choose from away from the online, ranked multiplayer. Much like its stablemate Mortal Kombat X, Injustice 2 has a sizable story mode. Carrying on from the first game in which Superman turned into a dictator and Batman tried to stop him, the second game sees Brainiac come down to Earth in search of the Man of Steel. It’s essentially a DC collective movie in which you play the fight scenes. Each member of the playable cast gets a look in from Batman and Superman all the way to Scarecrow and Captain Cold.


Then there’s Multiverse Mode which comes across as the Injustice equivalent of Mortal Kombat X’s Towers Mode. It’s a single player campaign based on a vast variety of differing dimensions monitored by the Batcave’s computer. Some can be around three matches, others can be ten or twelve. Sometimes there are also different match stipulations to contend with. As a result of being connected online each of these dimensions changes at regular intervals be it each hour, day or week. Multiverse Mode never runs out of challenges for you to tackle.

The tagline of Injustice 2 in the run up to release was ‘Every Battle Defines You’ and this is quite true. The Gear system drops random loot after each fight. Upon decoding the boxes you gain various new armour or abilities for each character. Every item can change the appearance of your chosen character and it’s great fun to change around known and established fighters by discovering cool new items. It also enabled you to perhaps boost a part of your game plan you’re weaker on.


I’m tempted to compare this to Capcom’s often derided launch of Street Fighter V last year. Out of the box, without the updates that followed SFV had nothing for the single player at all. There was a training mode and either online ranked or casual matches. Capcom put so much into the idea that every single person buying the game would be up for ploughing hours into playing other people they totally forgot anything else. Recent updates have improved the experience since but it took Capcom more than a year to get anything resembling the package that Injustice 2 puts together right at the start.

NetherRealm have gone to town in keeping those players who haven’t quite got the time to spend in order to get good at Injustice 2. Obviously there are people who are comfortable with the eSports idea, who want to go to The Evo Fighting Games Championship and that’s great. People like myself however, who just enjoy the idea of playing as Superman and punching Gorilla Grodd upwards into space, can also get plenty of enjoyment out of the game.