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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.