First person shooters, racing games, character action platformers, after a while they all blend into one another. An innovation one year is a stale convention the next; we all throw our arms up in the air; developers respond with a nice little token change; and the cycle repeats. Okay, okay I’m being overly dramatic to the point where I really deserve to be on some kind of top-rated podcast, but there is a nugget of truth in all of that. Of course we are all at fault because we shamelessly hand our cash over for games, then we turn around and chastise developers and publishers on the internet for being money grabbing and complacent. It is a vicious cycle that, in some kind of masochistic way, we love to loathe.
Of course there are alternatives. There are games that aren’t just different in theme or aesthetic but are entirely different or unique gameplay experiences out there. Sitting in retailers’ bargain bins around the world going largely unnoticed by scores of video game players rushing to the best sellers section to buy the latest blockbuster. Niche titles perhaps, but they are nonetheless very different games that will either convince you that the path of less resistance is great and Call of Duty is still pretty awesome, or will expand your horizons and enter a world of unimaginable wonder. Or you’ll read this and think that it’s all a bit retarded and go and read a book.
And now for something completely different.
Le Tour De France (aka Pro Cycling Manager)
Hey so that Tour de France, its pretty great right? Actually I don’t quite understand the fuss to be honest, and while I respect and admire the athletes themselves for the strength, perseverance and talent required to partake in the event, it doesn’t really make for exciting television viewing. But the scenery is pretty picturesque, right? I’m clearly in the minority though because while the Tour de France is on, given the time difference here in Australia, plenty of co-workers come into work bleary eyed muttering nonsense about yellow jerseys, un échappé and performance enhancing substances. I listen, because that’s the kind of guy I am, but it all falls on deaf ears because quite simply I don’t really care.
But as is often the case put the same thing into videogame form and I am all over it like a rash. Suddenly I am all about the Grand Boucle, the breakaway, the pack. Enter Le Tour De France, the hey guys we’ll sell more renaming of the long-running Pro Cycling Manager series, is yours and my opportunity to stand next to virtual incarnations of mildly attractive women on the podium after taking the coveted yellow jersey. And like the sport itself, that reward at the end of a stage is hard earned, with the game requiring incredible patience and nigh on perfect pacing through the quite long stages. It isn’t exciting but it is strangely relaxing as it lulls you into a semi-hypnotic state if you let it.
The great thing is because (1) next to no-one bought it and (2) the few people that did bought it decided it was dead boring and returned it, so you can pick it up for a pittance if you look hard enough. It may not convert you from the more high octane game experiences available, but I’ll be damned if you don’t end up spending a few lazy afternoons intrigued and mildly obsessed with guiding your cyclist to victory. Or at the very least get a nice picturesque view of the French countryside.
Championship Jockey – G1 Jockey and Gallop Racer
Way back in the start-up days of this blog I wrote a little piece on horse-racing video games. Titled Nice Niche: a brief (and incomplete) history of horse racing video games I wrote the following on the G1 Jockey series:
G1 Jockey requires careful management of your horse throughout the race. Remember, you’re the jockey, not the horse, so you can only control the same things a jockey could: namely the speed and position of the horse. While it sounds slightly dull, it actually requires a quite a bit of skill, and after the initial resistance of ‘I can’t believe I stooped this low’, you’ll find yourself lulled by the rhythm of the race….
Well unsurprisingly I am going to echo just that sentiment here. The G1 Jockey series is quite simply one of my favourite underdog series’ of all time. It is a game concept that shouldn’t work, but does. It is the kind of game that will have your friends staring at you, as if you farted in their mouths while kissing their girlfriends or boyfriends, while you describe to them that photo finish as you pushed hard in the final furlong or a hard fought race. It is more about micro-managing your horse through a race, maximising rhythm while minimising energy expended, to pace your way to the end. It is a marathon not a sprint, and like Le Tour De France above, the game will require discipline and patience. Exercise those traits though and you’ve got yourself a tremendously rewarding gaming experience.
Port Royale 3: Pirates and merchants
I have an irrational fear of water almost to the point where walking on the beautiful St Kilda jetty in Melbourne makes me fall onto the ground and convulse uncontrollably. That sucks for a number of reasons, firstly because Australia isn’t a great country to be terrified of water given the abundance of great beaches we have, but secondly because I’ll likely never go on a pleasant cruise across the pacific with my lady-friend. And that second one sucks because ever since I was a kid I’ve had an absolute fascination with sea-faring vessels from the European Colonial period. Something about those perfectly engineered vessels purpose built for their primary function, a big British Man-o-war or a small merchant Sloop, just gets me going. It is human ingenuity at its finest since the invention of the bicycle and Port Royale 3 has boats in spades.
It also has complex commodity markets which in and of itself makes it pretty much the perfect game. Economics is great and this game has a relatively decent representation of a closed economy, with supply and demand responding dynamically to other variables in the game. It is a hands-on economics tutorial dressed up in a pirates and traders costume. In other words don’t go in expecting a constant flurry of cannon fire, ship battling or sword fighting.
Endless Ocean & Endless Ocean 2
Remember the Nintendo Wii? That system that saw extreme shortages for the first six months of its life, that was all the rage in gaming and non-gaming circles for 12 months, and then for the six years after that was derided for its lack of software? Well turns out that very system had some rather interesting games for it, among them japanese developer Arika’s Endless Ocean series.
Endless Ocean and its sequel were diving games, and quite good ones at that, where you explore vast and intricately modelled underwater environments checking out the scenery, the wildlife, and even finding the occassional treasure or two. If there was one game that justified the Wii Remote as a control device, it is this one. Using nothing but the Remote as a pointer you effortlessly guide your diver avatar through vast spaces of ocean and through narrow caves in what can only be described as the most relaxing videogame experience I’ve had outside of ThatGameCompany’s Flower. Endless Ocean isn’t the deepest game nor does it have a sweep you off your feet type narrative, but it is a brilliantly designed and beautiful game that happens to also be a relaxing good time. How many video games can you say that for?
Do you have any ‘different’ games that you’re fond of? Perhaps you have a few that you think are utter rubbish. Either way we want to hear from you in the comments.