“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cannons!

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Stick Shift

I’m not good at fighting games. I had a period of time in the 90’s when I was at school and could easily find the time to get good at games like Street Fighter 2 Turbo and Mortal Kombat 2. These days I’m too busy to put the practice in but I still enjoy dipping my toes in the genre. I bought Street Fighter V the day it came out, Mortal Kombat X got the same treatment. I also have both Injustice 2 and Tekken 7 on preorder. Maybe it’s fighting games linking to my youth as to why I enjoy playing them so much.

From throwing my first Hadouken on the SNES I’ve been using a pad. Nintendo’s controller for the 16 bit era was one of the best as far as comfort goes (to be honest anything was an improvement over the brick like NES one). Those shoulder buttons were just lovely for getting easy access to the hard kicks and punches. When Street Fighter 4 came out on 2009 I actually decided to check out the professional choice and get an arcade stick. I cannot remember how much I paid for this exactly but it must have been around £70.

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It looked something like this.

It was horrible.

I’m going to get really nerdy here and say my main complaint was the shape that the joystick sat in (or ‘the gate’ as it’s known). As any seasoned Street Fighter player will know there are many moves in the game that require either quarter circles or semi circles to perform. Whilst trying to move around in a square I found myself just hitting corners and ruining any movement. Try as I might I could do any of the special moves so critical for success in Capcom’s fighting franchise. I actually took the stick with me to a games convention in Glasgow, found myself getting royally kicked in and traded the damned thing in against a £15 fight pad which remained my weapon of choice ever since.

For the last few weeks I had been thinking about possibly getting another stick but certainly not in the previous price bracket that I shelled out for years ago. With two massive new fighting games on the horizon it felt like something I should get involved in. I was frantically Googling joystick gates and trying to find circular ones when a small piece of advice was thrown my way.

‘Just don’t ride the gate’.

Or, to put it in simple terms, don’t follow the edge of the joystick base.

So I’ve ended up with the square gated Hori Fighting Stick Mini.

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I had a chance to have a blast of it last night with Street Fighter 4 (as that game is on my PS4 hard drive) and it felt really good. It’s a little bit of a change from using a pad, almost like when you’re wearing a new pair of boots for football. I found myself just going into training mode and trying out Ryu as he’s my old Street Fighter staple. Sometimes I was pressing punch to early in the move and ending up doing an uppercut for as I went on I improved the timing.

Also, it feel pretty much ‘right’ having a stick for what started life as an arcade fighter. I’ll see if I can adapt it to Injustice 2 when that arrives in two weeks time.

It probably still won’t make me any better at fighting games though.

Drawn To Death

I’ve played games before which I don’t expect to like but then do and others that I have high hopes for but then disappoint.. On rare occasions though there comes a game which is so different to my outlook and so wildly off the mark that I simply cannot continue with it beyond the opening. Drawn To Death is certainly that kind of game.

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I will take this opportunity early on to say this is not a review. It is impossible for it to be one as I played Drawn To Death for a grand total of about twenty minutes. Luckily for me it’s a part of April’s free PS Plus games so I downloaded it to try it out. It’s now been firmly deleted off my hard drive, never to return. From this point on are my thoughts on that first experience and how I felt the game did everything within its power to be everything I detest in gaming today.

Drawn To Death is a multiplayer shooter from the mind of David Jaffe, creator of the God of War series. I’ve played the first two God of War games and quite enjoyed them. The setting of Greek mythology as a background for Kratos taking vengeance on nearly everybody around him was something different, the boss battles against huge Titans were amazing and the action never really let up.  Having had Zeus trick him into killing his own wife you could understand the anger levels Kratos would display on every given opportunity. Drawn To Death has none of that.

The entire game is drawn from the mind of a bored 14 year old boy’s notebook as he daydreams in class. The opening point of view video even shows a teacher up in front of the room trying to give some details of the lesson. We then see the notebook laid out on the desk and enter a world of chainsaws, Satanic imagery and being called a wank bucket at every available moment.

The game strongly encourages you to try out the tutorial first before you head off to the online arena. In this you are greeted by a frog who seems to hate you. In fact he seems to hate everybody. It’s the start of the undercurrent of sheer, unchained obnoxiousness that is so tightly woven into Drawn To Death that there is no break from it.  There follows a few rooms in which you are taught your character’s special moves and how to use the various pieces of weaponry. Every step of the way you’re wandering through the same white paper corridors facing off with enemies that look like they’re hand drawn with a cheap biro. There’s a tirade of bad language which gets to the point of wearing really thin really quickly. This game is from the perspective of an unseen, angst riddled teenager and it portrays that extremely well. Almost far too well. I cannot recall the time that a game has failed to click so much with me. I am in my mid 30’s and would count drinking alcopops, hormone induced acne and being nervous about buying condoms as things I’ve left behind from my teenage years. I don’t look back upon them with much delight. The attitude displayed so readily in Drawn To Death would also make that list.

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Drawn To Death bored me even in that short time. Even whilst using a small dragon to burn an armoured cat with three heads. ‘Press this’ went to ‘change loadout here’ and then to cockroaches that can only be destroyed by dive bombing them from above. It reminded me a whole lot of Anarchy Reigns, the often forgotten Platinum games arena brawler released about five years ago. I liked Anarchy Reigns because it had crazy characters in large battlefields. Unlike Drawn To Death it didn’t labour along with such a relentless and narrow mindset.

Having finished the tutorial I thought about jumping in to try the multiplayer. I have a slightly strange history with competitive FPS games in that I’ve never really got along with many of them. I was originally encouraged to switch from my planned PS3 purchase to get a 360 instead because a friend got me into Halo so much. We played a lot of Halo 3 and Reach a few years ago. I made a few friends through playing Bungie’s space marine odyssey. I ended up playing with people who were very friendly ad this helped the experience for obvious reasons.

As I hung around on Drawn To Death’s title screen I thought back to those days and then had a thought. If this game introduces new players by calling them shit stains then what will the actual community playing it be like?  I had half a notion that, if the game itself was hostile, the community would surely follow suit as such behaviour was normalised. I’ve reached the age when being yelled at down a headset is something I really don’t want in my life. I reset back to the dash and deleted it off the library.

When I was around 15 years old I discovered Quake. I hadn’t played a great deal of Id Software’s Doom beforehand but Quake’s freeware demo had arrived on a cover disc with PC Gamer magazine. The soundtrack was composed by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame, a band I listened to a lot at that time. I was given the full game that Christmas and proceeded to rail gun a long line of demons down in a tidal wave of gore. Quake spoke to who I was at that time. I’d wager that going back to Quake now would leave me cold. I’m just not in that mindset anymore.

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Most of my gaming these days is alongside my ten year old son. We’ve recently bought Stardew Valley and were happily tilling soil and fishing on Pelican Town pier the other night. Rather than satisfy myself with what I want to play (which does still happen after he’s gone to bed, Mortal Kombat X please take a bow) I find myself gaining far more by showing him how much fun games can be. I don’t really want gaming to be an isolating thing anymore. I’m going to give it a few years and I may well find him playing something like Drawn To Death. On that day I shall take the role of ‘Father shaking head in resignation’.

For me Drawn To Death is the ultimate example of ‘fun, if you like that kind of thing’. Try it, play it and see. If you have a PS Plus subscription like me then you really have nothing to lose. It shall forever be know to me as the game which made me feel my age.

All 36 years of it.

Street Racer

Yes, yes Mario Kart…

…greatest kart game of all time…

…Nintendo magic…

…in the days before blue shells appeared.

Mention karting games for the Super Nintendo and Mario Kart is probably the only one that springs to mind. Indeed Mario and co’s racing debut is held in high regard for good reason and the series has become a long standing gem with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe waiting in the wings for the Switch soon.  Back in 1994 though there was a game that took what made Mario Kart so good and added plenty to it. I don’t recall ever owning Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo, it as a game I usually went round my friend’s house to play, but I ploughed hours into Street Racer in my own bedroom.

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I can still hear the music just by looking at that screenshot.

The best part of Mario Kart was the multiplayer, it’s hardly a stretch of a statement and yet there was only room for two.  Street Racer has the rather glorious idea of doubling that amount and splitting the screen into quarters. This was well before consoles arrived with four joypad ports meaning you had to dust off that multitap you initially only really bought for Bomberman for maximum thrills. It was well worth the effort though because Street Racer was a little more combat based than Mario Kart ever was.  Alongside items you could pick up during each race you could also use the shoulder buttons to make the driver punch, whip or slap anybody alongside them at the time. Even if you had nothing in the item box in Street Racer you could still drive through the crowd battering people as you went.

The cast list of drivers varied from the cartoonish to the bordering on complete racist. A German pilot called Helmut? Yes, he was there. An African witch doctor complete with a bone sticking through his nose? Yes indeed. An Italian who drove something that looked like a Ferrari and kept lowering his shades to look at people? Of course there was. It was almost as if the cast of ‘Allo Allo’ had decided to stop trying to have sex with each other and race around in small cars instead.

Add to this the football mode which was essentially Rocket League twenty years early and Rumble Mode in which every car was placed on a large floating platform with only a collapsing wall separating them from the dark abyss below.  If you didn’t fancy racing then there were still plenty of giggles to be had.

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The game was ported to a vast range of consoles including the Mega Drive and Playstation but never received a sequel. It remains a fleeting example of a gem that was perhaps overshadowed by something a little more well know. It is firmly on my list of favourites however.

Super Mario Bros 2

There are far better Mario games than this. Mario 64 broke new ground by transferring the plumber’s jump mechanic to three dimensions and Super Mario Galaxy had bucket loads of inventions behind the planet based levels. Quite famously Super Mario Brothers 2 on the Nintendo Entertainment System wasn’t even a ‘proper’ Mario game. Rather than release the original Japanese sequel to the first Mario game in the West, Nintendo deemed it far too difficult for gamers in America and  Europe. As a plan B a game know as Doki Doki Panic was repurposed and released instead. Rather than jumping on enemies to kill them you have to land on them, pick them up and then throw them. Bowser is also nowhere to be seen. Mario Brothers 2 is often seen as a black sheep, something to be shunned and forgotten. For me though, it’s the first Mario game I ever completed and will therefore always hold a high place in my heart.

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My NES didn’t come bundled with the original Super Mario Bros, nor do I have memory of having SMB3 later on (I think the first time I played that particular game was when it was part of the Super Mario Collection on the Super Nintendo). Super Mario Bros 2 is therefore my earliest experience of Nintendo’s mascot. As a young kid I joined Club Nintendo which gave you a magazine through the post every few months. There was an entire issue dedicated to the game with massive stitched screenshot maps.

My Dad and my Sister spent some time in China in the early 90’s. I stayed home with my Mum for the two weeks they were away. Their return journey saw them getting stuck in Istanbul for a night due to flights getting cancelled. Among the objects my Dad brought back  were two small statues of terracotta soldiers, some kind of chest infection which kicked his asthma off grand style not long afterwards and a copy of Super Mario Bros 2. To this day I’m not sure where he got it from. It certainly wasn’t Asia as it was clearly the PAL edition. I’ll take a guess at Dixon’s duty free in Heathrow Airport.

First came the character select screen. A definite change to the usual Mario formula. Even more surprising was the fact the characters were not interchangeable pallet swaps. Toad was fast, Princess could float through vast portions of levels, Luigi had a very strange high jump that seemed to be accomplished by waggling his legs and Mario was down the middle average.

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It doesn’t play as fast as any other Mario game, the pace seems slow and jumping up and gaining score multipliers by hitting enemies in sequence isn’t really an option. There is however a certain otherworldly charm about a game which is entirely Mario’s dream. There’s a strange theme regarding root vegetables being thrown around, vases that are bigger on the inside than the outside and alternate shadow worlds that hide bonus items which can only be seen via small bottles of chemicals.

Most of the enemies in Mario Brothers 2 haven’t really ever been seen again in the series. There’s the introduction of the Shy Guys who have since popped up a few times (in Mario Kart mainly).  As far as I’m aware Wart, the final boss who takes the shape of a large frog, hasn’t been seen again. The game’s influence on the series overall is fairly minimal and yet it’s probably because it’s so different that I remember it so well.

I played Mario Bros 2 intently over a period of a few weeks. It was one of the first games I played so much that I knew every in and out of each level. I was probably trying to speedrun the game years before speedrunning was a thing. I loved it that much. I’ve played a lot of the mainline Mario games since and, whilst each are pretty amazing in their own right, none of them hold the memories and are linked with such a time in my life as this one.

Super Metroid

This list of games won’t be in any particular order. It won’t feature some of the cornerstones of gaming as far as we know it. Some of the games will be technically clunky and perhaps not seen as much good by most people. All of them however have influenced how I see games. They have all, at some point, made a mark that has stuck around for years.

My Sister is older than me by three years. Whilst we may have had our fair share of sibling arguments in our time we’ve got along for the most part. One occasion of pure little Brother malice on my part occured when I went with my Dad to buy the Super Nintendo console that would be my Sister’s birthday present. Inwardly jealous that she was getting a new console before me I convinced our Dad that, rather than buy it with the Zelda game she’d love,  Street Fighter 2 would be a far better option. Yes, I was a total prick when I was 12.

It backfired in spectacular fashion when she was allowed to keep the console in her room and I was forced to ask her permission to enter whenever I wanted a few rounds with Ryu. This continued until I got my own SNES many months later. Being pretty much into different games at the time (she really didn’t like Street Fighter 2 it turned out) we played games alone in our separate rooms across the hall.

Until the summer of 1994.

Until Super Metroid.

Cartridge based games were massively expensive back in the 90’s, often being around the £60 mark in some cases. I have a strong memory of us splitting the cost of Samus Aran’s 16 bit debut down the middle as we both wanted to play it. The box was huge, double the size of any other cart packaging there had ever been before. Nintendo actually broke thier own rule about uniform box size to bundle the game with its own printed guidebook complete with detailed artwork. It was the sort of thing you’d be skinned an extra £15 today at the counter of Game.

My sister and I loaded up the game for the first time and witnessed that intro. The speech sample of ‘The last Metroid is in captivity, the galaxy is at peace’ was a truly great moment as was stepping into the research station after receiving a distress signal. The opening escape from the station and landing on the planet below is still one of the most atmospheric introductions to a game world I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

The summer of 94 was, unusually for Scotland, quite warm yet we both spent hours inside taking it in turns to play through the entire game. We drew maps detailing each part of the cavernous system underneath Planet Zebes. Super Metroid wasn’t a game to hold you and give infinite details on how each of Samus’ weapons worked. Progress in Super Metroid was made by exploration and experimentation. It was because of this that sharing tips back and forth with my sister was one of the best parts of playing through it. Gaining Samus’ powers back gradually after losing them all after the introduction was a fine feeling. A new item would allow access to a previously fenced off area. 

The ending, without spoiling a 23 year old game, is fantastic especially considering it features no pre rendered footage nor dialogue. It remains one of the best conclusions in gaming. I think we were both in the room when the credits rolled.

Sometimes good games are made even better by who you play them with. Super Metroid shall forever be considered as the game that stopped my Sister and I gaming in separate rooms.

Give Your Cat A Sword

A six foot tall cat, walking on hind legs, walks into a medieval city in search of food and arrows. As he gets beyond the towering wall that surrounds the houses and shop he is approached by a small child. “I work with my Mother” she starts with absolutely no other introduction. The cat walks onwards towards the main hall hoping to see the Jarl. The child walks alongside.

“I work with my Mother” she says again.

My ten year old son finds this hysterical. He creases with laughter as he sits on the couch next to me. We’re going through Skyrim all over again, this time on the PS4 Remastered Edition.

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I didn’t buy Skyrim on release back in 2011 because the fantasy setting really didn’t interest me. When I was growing up I played table top battle game Warhammer. When given the choice I went for the more science fiction based 40k edition rather than the fantasy of the original version. Dragons were fine but they were nothing compared to a hulking great mech stomping over a battlefield towards Genestealers. Fallout, Bethesda’s other RPG franchise, passed me by for some reason. I tried to get into the third instalment but always ended up giving up somewhere after Megaton (for the record, I declined the offer to blow the place up). I picked up Skyrim upon its budget re-release on the Xbox 360 about two years afterwards. As I played though my son used to sit next to me and watch my game. I was a strong Nord warrior called Bob if memory serves me correct. If I played it alone after he had gone to bed I still had to fill him in as to what had happened in the story the next morning over breakfast. He’d have been about seven years old at the time and often said that he wouldn’t actually play it but enjoyed being a passenger along for the ride. Skyrim got us both and it rapidly became ‘our game’. Once the ending arrived and the evil dragon Alduin had been vanquished the game went back up on the shelf. Skyrim had been saved, we were done, we moved on.

My son usually goes Christmas shopping with my Mother early in December. It pretty much involves his Gran ‘loaning’ him the money to get other people presents. Usually he ends up getting me a videogame that he wants to play as well. It’s a practice I’m totally fine with as it’s got me such titles as Luigi’s Mansion 2 and Yoshi’s Island in the past but for Christmas just gone he was determined the pick up Skyrim Remastered. In the run up to the 25th he would beam towards me saying that what he’d bought me ‘would be excellent’. I had a really strong idea of what it would be beforehand but he was right, it is indeed excellent.

We’ve made a ginger Khajiit called Raul, making him look like and naming him after our actual pet cat. Real life Raul spends his time sitting by the radiator and stealing food of plates as if we don’t feed him. Skyrim Raul has a bow and arrow which he lets fly with deadly accuracy and a sword that was given to him by a Goddess with the deliberate instruction of slaying the undead. Real life Raul wouldn’t kill a dragon unless it had a beak and feathers.

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Skyrim is one of those gameworlds that I don’t mind revisiting despite knowing exactly how the main story turns out. It’s such a stunning setting rammed full of characters each with their own story that it feels like opening a well loved book and going ‘Oh this bit!’ on each chapter. The Remastered Edition also includes all the previous DLC that we never had on the 360. We’re therefore enjoying owning our own home in Whiterun and have already been on the boat to Morrowind. Even if I was on my own then I’d probably still be enjoying it but the fact my son is there to shout ‘Mudcrabs!’ at me makes the journey even more special.

Skyrim is a fantastic game despite some parts of the construction showing their five year old age. Even with this in mind though, some games just have a special place because of who you play them with.

The kid still keeps telling us she works with her Mother.

In The Eyes Of Your Opponent

The 90’s were a time when you really had to nail your colours to the mast as far as console hardware went. Sony had yet to come along and make gaming an acceptable pastime for anybody above the age of 14 so the school yard featured kids who either had a Nintendo or a Sega machine underneath their fourteen inch TV. Anybody lucky (or rich enough) to get both certainly didn’t exist where I was from. From the Christmas when I received a NES bundled with Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles I was always on the side of Mario. The change in recent years however is that Nintendo’s console of the time is never my ‘main’ one. When I had a Xbox 360 there was a Wii beside it. Having a Ps4 now means the WiiU is still under the TV. Since the battle lines shifted from Nintendo and Sega to Sony and Microsoft it’s become clear that Nintendo don’t see themselves involved in direct competition anymore. As a company they’re happy to remain to the side and innovate on their own terms. It’s a feeling that permeated the recent presentation of the new Switch console.

I liked the WiiU. It probably had more playtime in my house than my Wii ever did. It dropped the continual need for motion control and instead started to look more like a Nintendo console of old again. Sadly, I seem to be very much in the minority for this. The Wii sold around 100 million units in its lifetime, the WiiU in comparison has only just about made it to the 13 million mark. There was certainly something to be said for grandmothers the world over waggling what looked like a TV remote about as they played tennis. With the Switch just around the corner Nintendo have something of a mountain to climb again. Whilst I want Nintendo to succeed I find myself looking  on with a feeling that Nintendo’s ignorance of certain aspects may cost them. When Nintendo innovate for the better then other companies tend to copy them. When other companies push things forward though it’s often Nintendo that tend to be languishing behind. If they cannot ‘Nintendo’ an idea then they don’t really see it as worth doing.

Firstly Nintendo make reference to their online service which will become subscription based in the near future. This isn’t a radical move, Microsoft have always had a subscription based model for Xbox Live and Sony have slowly got Playstation Plus as the main method for their network. The benefits or paying your way in both of these services are discounts on downloadable games, access to multiplayer and free games each month. Nintendo have been remarkably coy about any details regarding what’s planned once their network starts charging. Despite having far more games at their fingertips than both Microsoft and Sony put together we’ve been told that you’ll be able to ‘borrow’ one Virtual Console title a month before you have to give it up. It seems incredibly half baked compared to what else is out on the market, almost as if Nintendo wants to guard the very thing that would probably get people to sign up in droves. Rather than releasing one retro game every week or so like the Virtual Console offerings on the Wii and and WiiU surely it would make more sense to give paying customers access to that back catalogue on demand? Imagine having a catalogue of Mega Drive, Master System, NES, SNES, N64, Gamecube and Wii titles available to play when you wished either at home or on the move. For whatever reason Nintendo seem happy to keep their back catalogue under lock and key.

Breath Of The Wild seems to have a lot of expectations riding on it as it’s really the only big hitter in the Switch’s launch library. It does look fantastic, pushing the series into vast open world territory, but development started on the WiiU to the point where Nintendo are still releasing a version for the older console. Apart from the ability to play it on the bus, how different will the Switch version be to warrant players buying the hardware for that version instead?

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1-2 Switch appears to be the similar to Wii Sports in that it features a collection of mini games designed to show off what the system can do and bring players in who may not have tried any kind of game before. Wii Sports however was bundled with the console whilst 1-2 Switch is looking like being an entirely separate package costing around £35 here in the UK. Is this a price worth paying for the chance to look somebody straight in the eye whilst you both pretend to milk a cow?

Splatoon 2 is the sequel to one of the genuine surprises over the WiiU’s lifespan. Nintendo’s take on the first person shooter genre certainly had many fans and I’m hopeful that they can carry over to the new hardware. The demonstration of Splatoon 2 being played not only online but over a local network with Switch units linked together looked really good. It’s certainly Nintendo giving the player options to remain in the same room. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Edition looks like a smoother version of what came before on the WiiU. MK8 is a fantastic racing game and it’s wonderfully fun in multiplayer but I’d still question what exactly would make this so different to warrant another £50 purchase.

Part of the problem Nintendo had with the Wii and WiiU was the lack of third party support for the system. Many of the bigger publishers simply stayed away due to the lack of power in the hardware and (in the WiiU’s case) the dwindling user base. Electronic Arts have said that FIFA will be coming to the Switch though. It’s a big grab for Nintendo but it relies on the fact that, if you’re a fan of one of the biggest sports games in the world, you haven’t already got it on PS4 or Xbox One. Taking your Ultimate Team out on the road has to be the major selling point here. Bethesda were also at the presentation saying that Skyrim is on the way. Whilst Skyrim is brilliant I’ve already finished it back on my 360 and have the HD remaster on my Ps4. It’s not the reason I’ll be buying a Switch.

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Today a story has broken that the Switch won’t support Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube or Hulu. It seems to be a backward step especially as Netflix and Amazon Prime have the ability to download shows for offline viewing later. With the size of screen on the Switch pad would loading up a few episodes of a show or a film for viewing on the morning commute not make sense? Whilst Sony and Microsoft have made efforts to make sure their machines are multimedia devices Nintendo remain rigid in the Switch being a games machine only.

I’ve probably railed enough about the company that introduced me to the joy of video games to start with. I’m still keeping my WiiU, I love playing Mario Kart, tearing apart levels in Super Mario Maker and wandering Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda. I really want the Switch to provide a complete jolt to the industry and be a marvelous success despite all the points above going against it. I recall people snorting in derision back in 2004 when the DS was announced as they wondered why touchscreens were needed. I also have a memory of the same thing happening with the Wii as nobody thought motion control would ever be anywhere near a best seller. Sony gave us Playstation Move in response, Microsoft ditched the controller altogether yet only Nintendo truly made a go of the hardware. When Nintendo gets it right and it all comes together then they are truly one of the best games developers in the world. I just hope the Switch can provide me with the same buzz I had from plugging in my NES for the first time all those years ago.