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The first game that Lewis ever played was "Horace Goes Skiing" on the ZX Spectrum. Yes, he's that old.

There’s only ever been one good Ghostbusters game


I’m off to see the new Ghostbusters film tonight. I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be good after reading a four-star review in The Guardian, in which the reviewer was at pains to point out that the movie is a damn sight better than the bafflingly mediocre trailer. Seems this could be one instance where for once the best bits of the film aren’t just stuffed into the trailer, leaving the main feature sagging empty.

For the record, I think it’s a really interesting move to go for an all-female cast, and I’m intrigued to see how the film turns out. I would have loved to see Ghostbusters III with the return of the original cast – but with the death of Harold Ramis in 2014 that is never going to happen. And judging by the ongoing concerns that Bill Murray had about the scripts for the third movie – which he kept refusing to take part in – perhaps it’s just as well that it didn’t happen.

But that version of Ghostbusters III actually DID happen, in a way. Ghostbusters: The Video Game, released in 2009, not only reunited the original cast (with the notable exceptions of Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis), it also offered a plot that paid homage to the first two films at the same time as pushing things forward with new characters. There’s a great feature on the making of the game over at Kotaku UK.

ghostbusters 2009 video game library

Considering it was based on a film license, Ghostbusters: The Video Game was surprisingly brilliant – clearly a lot of love went into making it, as evidenced by the involvement of the principal actors (including a brilliant turn by William Atherton as the odious Walter Peck). The ‘busting’ mechanics work a treat, with the proton beams crackling and sparking just like in the films, as you wrangle ghosts into traps. The collectibles, too, are worthy of a mention – whereas many games are content to let you gather several hundred identical objects (I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed), Ghostbusters saw you collecting unique haunted artefacts, each with an interesting and often funny backstory. Shock horror: a video game with collectibles that are actually worth collecting.

Back in 2010, I did a podcast with Ian over at 101 Video Games that gave this game its dues – you can have a listen here (or get it through iTunes here).

Ghostbusters: The Video Game from 2009 - the Ghostbusters III that never happened.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game from 2009 – the Ghostbusters III that never happened.

Although it’s probably too much to expect really good games to be made from film licenses, I’m still shocked by how poorly Ghostbusters has been served as a game franchise over the years. The 2009 game was a triumph, but it’s very much the exception to the rule. Digitiser2000 has a run down of all the Ghostbusters games released over the years, and it’s pretty much wall-to-wall dross.

Many people seem to hold the 1984 C64 game in high regard, but I remember thinking it was thoroughly awful back in the eighties. It did that weird thing that a lot of eighties film licenses did (e.g. Batman, Robocop, Live and Let Die), where each level was essentially a completely different game in a completely different style. Rather than providing variety, this portmanteau approach just irritated me – and it meant the quality of the game varied wildly from level to level.

I still don’t know why they insisted on this approach. Surely it’s more work to create such wildly varying gameplay? It would make more sense to concentrate on one format – say a driving game – and just make that really, really good, rather than spread the developers’ talents thinly.

Of course, the other approach that film licenses tend to take is to rush out something utterly slapdash in time for the film’s release – which sadly seems to be the case with the 2016 Ghostbusters game, judging by the scathing reviews.

As I said above, there’s only ever been one good Ghostbusters game – and it came out in 2009.


Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

Pokémon Go is giving mobile gaming a fresh start


This quote from a Eurogamer article published today really leapt out at me:

“And you could even argue – justifiably, I think – that Pokémon Go is in the process of rehabilitating mobile gaming itself with a whole sector of gamers that had grown disenchanted with it, and who form a natural constituency for Nintendo’s games. (People like the readers, and authors, of this website.)”

It’s bang on the money. When I got my first smartphone – an iPhone 4 –  I approached the App Store like a kid in a sweet shop, and spent many months happily sampling games like Angry Birds, Tiny Wings and Jetpack Joyride, while revisiting classic games like Monkey Island, Secret of Mana, Gunstar Heroes and Broken Sword. But gradually I became disenchanted with the games on offer, and in the past year I’ve drifted away from the mobile gaming scene entirely.

There are multiple reasons why. Many of the classic games don’t hold up terribly well on mobile: for example, Gunstar Heroes and Secret of Mana were nigh on unplayable using the touch screen. Monkey Island, on the other hand, worked brilliantly with the touch screen, but the game itself wasn’t as funny or clever as I remember it being when I was 14.

Games that are built for specifically for mobile phones tend to veer between being too ambitious and involved, and thus not suited to short sessions on a small screen, or they’re too simple and repetitive, failing to keep my interest for very long. One of the only games that I’ve kept coming back to is Threes, which was one of my games of the year in 2014, and I’m still playing it now. But that game is very much the exception, rather than the rule – I can’t think of any other mobile games I’ve played in the past few months.

And then, of course, there’s microtransactions and free to play. I’m not entirely against free-to-play games (indeed, I warmed to Pokémon Shuffle after a while), but when every game you play is constantly nagging you to buy stuff, it does wear you down after a while. It’s certainly made me wary of downloading ‘free’ games from the App Store – and one of the main things that attracted me to Threes was that I could buy it outright.

Pokémon Go is, of course, free to play, and comes with those dreaded microtransactions. But despite this, I’m planning to download it, because it seems to be one of the few ‘proper’ games that also takes advantages of the strengths of the mobile format. There’s a solid base for a game here, along with plenty of scope for long-term play – I mean, how many Pokémon are there now? But it also plays to mobile’s strengths in that it enables short play sessions and utilises functions that are unique to phones. It seems to be the occupy the perfect space between ‘proper’ games and bitesize ‘gaming on the go’.

And it’s pretty much laser-targeted to my demographic – older gamers with a nostalgia for Pokémon but who aren’t necessarily that into mobile games. Yet it also appeals to kids who want to hunt for Pokémon in the playground with their friends. No wonder it’s raking in an estimated $1 million to $2.3 million a day.

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Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

Better Late Than Never: Uncharted

99443-uncharted-drake-s-fortune-playstation-3-front-coverI finally got around to getting a PS3 in December 2013, and since then I’ve been gradually playing through some of the system’s exclusives. But with the recent release of Uncharted 4 on PS4, I thought it was high time for me to finally sample this series for myself. So I dutifully loaded up the first game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

I remember that when this game came out in 2007, Sony was playing catch-up with Microsoft. The PS3 had launched about a year after the Xbox 360, and sales were slow to start. Sony was in need of killer platform exclusives to line up against Microsoft’s impressive roster of games (Uncharted went head to head with Halo 3). At the time, I pretty much dismissed Uncharted as ‘Tomb Raider with a bloke’, a seemingly desperate attempt to cash in on the well-worn subgenre of Indiana Jones-style adventure. But even if it struck me as entirely unoriginal, there was no denying that Uncharted was exceedingly pretty. I remember cooing at screenshots of the rusting submarine in the jungle and thinking it was an impressive showcase for the PS3 – as well as an iconic image.

Uncharted Drakes Fortune submarine

Seeing that submarine in the game itself was no less impressive. And having seen that image so many times in the intervening decade, I had the strange sensation that I’d been there before, even though it was my first time playing the game. Having said that, few of the other locations really stand out in my mind now that I’ve finished Uncharted – it’s all a blur of jungles and ruins, with only the creepy medieval labyrinth sticking out as something that seemed unlike anything I’d seen before.

Playing the game itself was something of a chore at first. I’d gone in expecting it to be just like Tomb Raider – which it pretty much is, when it comes to leaping about on ruins – but the shooting sections are completely different. I ran into my first gunfight with pistols blazing, leaping about all over the place, just like I’d do in Tomb Raider – and I died very quickly. Getting through the shooty bits felt like a war of attrition, and by the point that I got to a huge jungle clearing stuffed full of seemingly endless guards, I was ready to give up on the game. The controls felt clunky, and I kept standing up by accident instead of sneaking around in cover, plus I learned that the only way to win most fights was to stay behind a wall and carefully pick off the bad guys. Which felt pretty boring, to be honest.

uncharted drakes fortune cover shooting

But not long after I almost gave up, something clicked. I gradually began to work out when I should stay in cover and when to risk rushing the enemy. I started getting better at placing grenades where I wanted them to go, and using height to my advantage. I began to realise that the gunfights were puzzles with various solutions, some easier than others. I still had to restart some of them many, many times, but I was actually starting to enjoy them, rather than willing them to end.

There are still too many gun battles, though: the kill count in this game is nothing short of astronomical. I must have murdered thousands of mercenaries by the end. Nathan Drake is essentially a one-man army, a tooled-up, beefcake hero of the sort to be found gracing the covers of straight-to-video eighties action flicks. Whereas the gunfights in Tomb Raider were occasional, and often against exotic animals or supernatural beings, Uncharted sees you mowing down fields of soldiers. It doesn’t really make any sense.

And another example of logic being thrown out of the window is the way that the bad guys keep showing up in locations that are meant to be inaccessible. You spend a large part of the game solving puzzles and leaping across chasms to reach secret chambers that the enemy supposedly doesn’t know about, only to find an army waiting for you. It’s ludicrous.

But then again, the game itself never tries to be anything less than a hokey old adventure story, a tale of derring-do with a suitably square-jawed hero. Having said that, I was impressed with the characterisation – Nathan, Sully and Elena come across as likeable leads, and Drake drops some genuinely brilliant quips. And the story is told with aplomb, much unlike the Tomb Raider games. Whereas I barely understood what was happening in any of the first five Tomb Raiders, let alone the motivation of Lara Croft and her various nemeses, I always knew where I was going and why throughout Uncharted.

That’s not to say the story is going to win any prizes, mind you. If you’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. As I watched the final scenes of the game play out, I remarked to Mrs Merriweather that the storytelling and characterisation in this game were better than in many I’ve played. She regarded the cheesey dialogue being exchanged, the narrow escape, the almost kiss, the turnaround ending, the sail off into the sunset, and declared: “This is rubbish”.

uncharted ending

I’ve got to admit she has a point. We could have easily been watching any old action flick from the eighties, but with mouth movements that don’t quite match up to the dialogue, and skin that appears unnaturally shiny. The script may be better than most games of its time, but it’s hardly Oscar-worthy – and us gamers have put up with so many shitty stories for so long that our standards have been suitably lowered.

But as a popcorn flick, an action romp, a swashbuckling adventure with a likeable lead, Uncharted undoubtedly works – just switch your brain off at the door.

Better Late Than Never is a regular series in which we play through landmark games many years after their debut, after missing them the first time around. Does the praise heaped on these famous games hold up in hindsight?


Filed under Better Late Than Never, Reviews

Pokémon are back – even though they never went away

pokemon go

When I’m not writing video game articles, I’m probably doing scientific copy editing, and it was in just such a capacity that I found myself subbing news articles for New Scientist earlier this week. One of the articles was on Pokémon Go, because of course it was – that’s pretty much the only thing anyone seems to be talking about on UK news outlets this week (apart from, you know, the fact that we now have a new prime minister and the country is teetering on the edge of Brexit-fuelled economic meltdown).

The slightly longer online version of the New Scientist article (which I didn’t edit) is here, but the print version I worked on had the trimmed down title of “Pokémon return”. The opening line was “It’s the 90s all over again”.

Now, clearly Pokémon Go has been an enormous success in the few days it’s been on sale. And it has obviously sparked a similar wave of fanaticism and devotion to when the original Red and Blue games shipped in the 1990s. But it was quite strange for me to read about Pokémon ‘returning’ – they never went away.

There’s been a top-selling Pokémon game pretty much every year since the series’ debut, and two of the most recent entries, Pokémon X/Y and Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, sold a pretty damn impressive 14.7 million and 11.8 million units, respectively. As of February 2016, the Pokémon series has sold a staggering 279 million copies – and that figure doesn’t even include spin-offs. Pokémon Centers regularly draw huge crowds in Japan, and fans always go crazy at the announcement of new Pokémon.

So, all in all, it sounds quite odd to my ears when Pokémon are described as ‘returning’. But then again, I’m pretty plugged in to the gaming scene – as far as the mainstream press is concerned, and the regular people on the street, they probably haven’t heard anything about Pokémon since 1998. And Pokémon Go is certainly a brilliant filler of column inches as we lurch forward into the newspaper ‘silly season’, what with tales of armed robberies at Pokéstops, Pokémon hunters finding dead bodies, and all sorts of other crazy stuff.

Hey fellow Pokémon fans, we’re mainstream again!

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Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

A Most Agreeable Pastime is five years old today

Most agreeable

Happy Birthday us! On this very day five years ago, Sir Gaulian and I first embarked on our grand Victorian gaming adventures – and what a merry time it’s been.

Many of the Victorian stylings have been dropped along the way, and the ambitious Choose Your Own Adventure game I started to create using nothing but various WordPress pages was quickly abandoned (although bits of it are still out there if you know where to look) – yet we’re still going strong. Arguably stronger than ever, I reckon.

It’s interesting to take a look back through the stats and see some of the hits and misses we’ve had along the way. Visitor numbers got off to a slow start back in 2011, but the article ‘Bikini Warriors: The Sorry State Of Female Representation in Video Games’ was one of our biggest early hits, along with retrospectives on Psi-Ops and Shadow of the Colossus, as well as a look at ‘musou’ games.

2012 saw Sir Gaulian’s excellent time-travel post ‘Past Present, Future Present and Past Future‘ rack up an enormous number of hits after it was featured on ‘Freshly Pressed’, and my controversial thoughts on CoD Modern Warfare – ‘This Is Just A Modern War Song‘ – also proved popular. The following year, Sir Gaulian scored another hit with ‘The Two Dollar Coin‘, a musing on the value of gaming ‘loot’, and my review of the failings of Far Cry 2 also racked up the views.

In 2014, ‘ZombiU: The Scariest Game I’ve Ever Played‘ topped the hit chart, followed by Sir Gaulian’s wonderful ‘Stealth games can learn from human behaviour in public toilets‘, while in 2015 we had our best year yet, with total yearly page views smashing through the 20,000 barrier for the first time. A couple of posts stood head and shoulders above the rest in terms of hits, namely ‘BJ Blazcowicz, the Nazis and the Aryan race: how Wolfenstein: The New Order tackles the rise of the far right‘ and ‘Big Ant Studios is swarming America’s cultural monopoly‘, followed by a look at Amiga piracy – ‘The hand and the pirate‘ – and ‘The Gentlemen decide: the most agreeable games of the generation (Xbox 360, PS3)‘, in which we spent many enjoyable hours deciding the merits of our favourite games.

This year, meanwhile, the most popular post so far is ‘Microsoft, I’m so confused‘, which got picked up by N4G as part of their E3 coverage and accrued some, ahem, ‘heated’ comments from Xbox fans.

Here’s looking forward to the next five years – we’re hoping to make the site even bigger and better in the future. And if you want to look back to see where we’ve been, I’ve activated the Archives in the side column so you can do just that. Thanks to all our regular readers, and thanks especially to those who have been with us since the beginning. See you in 2021!

Lucius & Sir Gaulian


Filed under Editorial

From The Armchair: Platformer Purge

ArmchairAfter realising the other week that actually I don’t really like 2D platformers very much, no matter their illustrious provenance, I decided it would be a good time to have a bit of a clear out of the games cupboard… ahem, I mean The Mantelpiece.

First for the eBay pile was New Super Mario Bros. U, a game that I feel like I should really love, but that in fact elicits little more than a shoulder shrug on the few occasions I play it. I bought it on launch day at the same time I got my Wii U, and I wasn’t that impressed then – three and a half years on, I’ve barely gone back to it, and my opinion hasn’t changed. As I said in my post the other day, it just feels like the 2D platformer has been done to death, and it has to take a really novel idea to get me interested in playing through another one. (Interestingly though, I loved Super Mario 3D World and the Galaxy games – clearly my platformer apathy is confined to two dimensions.)

While I was feeling ruthless, I decided to get rid of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U as well. I had a blast with the game when it first arrived back in December 2014, but I haven’t been back to it since then, except for taking it along to Ian’s stag do last year, where it went down like a lead balloon as everyone tried to work out what the hell was going on. I think the Smash Bros. games tend to appeal more to people who’ve grown up playing them against mates and tend to play that way now – I, on the other hand, only played my first Smash Bros. game as an adult (all my mates were into Street Fighter II back in the day), and the few times I’ve tried to introduce people to the game have met with disaster.

Which one am I again?

Which one am I again?

It’s got me wondering whether the Smash games are actually any good. I enjoyed my brief time with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, but I realised that was mostly for nostalgia reasons, as I gathered trophies of gaming heroes from my childhood and played through levels from my favourite SNES games. In terms of the actual gameplay though… well, it all feels a bit floaty, confusing, repetitive and, above all, unfair. In multiplayer there’s just so much happening on screen at one time that it can be difficult to even pick out your character, so it’s no wonder that my friends were left confused. Whereas SFII offers tense, constricted matches that come down to split-second skill, Smash Bros. just seems to be free-floating chaos.

Admittedly, I am quite shit at it. But I also don’t have the patience or interest to put in the hours to get good. And while writing this, I’ve just realised that I get far more excited about the Smash Bros. amiibo than the game itself.

Anyway, while we’re here, I might as well mention a few more games that I’ve given up on after realising that I don’t actually like them very much. Kirby’s Adventure on the Wii U Virtual Console is naturally top of the list, for obvious reasons, i.e.: 2D PLATFORMER = NOT THAT BOTHERED. I’m also tempted to give up on Child of Light, which I picked up in the eShop anniversary sale just a couple of weeks ago. Despite my known apathy towards 2D platforming, I thought I’d give the game a go because it looks so gosh darn beautiful – and because technically you’re flying so it’s not really a platformer. But after just half an hour I could feel my willingness to play gradually slip away as the same old platforms and puzzles reared their ugly heads…

But... But it's so pretty!

But… But it’s so pretty!

Aero Porter is a fun little 3DS puzzler that has you sorting out airport baggage carousels, of all things. It starts off brilliantly, and I found myself drawn in as the puzzling gets more and more complex. But I hit a massive wall several levels in, when suddenly it got excruciatingly hard and I just couldn’t get any further. Shame really, it’s a really neat idea for a game, but the difficulty curve needs some serious tweaking.

NES Remix is a fantastic idea for a game, and I’ve had hours of fun playing through snippets of 8-bit classics. Most of these games would be an utter chore to play through on their own, but in 10-second chunks they are wonderfully addictive. Having said that, Mario Bros. is still utterly awful, and is far surpassed by Super Mario Bros. – I’m sure the only reason it appears in this compilation is because of the name, as even 10 seconds of it is 10 seconds too much. NES Remix 2 is just as good as the first game, but I’ve pretty much run out of steam with both of them now – now hurry up and do a SNES Remix, Nintendo.

Scenes like this are what make NES Remix such great fun.

Scenes like this are what make NES Remix such great fun.

Finally, Swords and Soldiers for Wii U is a conversion of a smartphone game that received glowing reviews on its Wii U debut, but that I’ve struggled to love. The game’s humour is great, and I like the art style, but the gameplay just seems to involve furious tapping and scrolling, and not much in the way of real strategy. It’s not a patch on the wonderful Plants vs. Zombies, for example, and I found my interest waning to zero about a third of the way through.

And on that note, which games have failed to hold your interest for the full furlong?

Ninja monkeys! Oh you guys.

Ninja monkeys! Oh you guys.


Filed under From The Armchair

The innate urge to play games

I had a fascinating chat with Phil Robinson of the Museum of Games and Gaming while I was at Play Expo Blackpool the other month, and it really got me thinking about where this urge to play video games actually comes from. Sure, games are fun, but why are they fun?

Phil put together an exhibition called ‘Why do we play?’ for the expo, taking on the formidable task of dissecting the evolutionary reasons for why we play games, and creating a timeline of gaming that stretches from the earliest strategy games scratched in sand right up to the sophisticated video games of today. And there are a surprising number of parallels that can be drawn between those early games and our modern equivalents.

I wrote up the interview for Kotaku UK – you can take a look at the full thing here: 

How Our Caveman Instincts Explain Why We Play Video Games

Phil Robinson of the Museum of Games and Gaming


Filed under Pulp, Uncategorized