Category Archives: 30 Years of Video games

30 Years of Video Games: F1Race Stars (2012)

Today is the final in our 30 year countdown of games, which unfortunately also for me, means I am soon to exit my 20’s and move head-first into my 30’s.  I’d like to thank you all for reading and I hope it’s been as fun for you as it has for me. 

F1 Race Stars

Sometimes I wish the internet was full of free-willed individuals.  Thinking for one’s self is a wondrous thing; developing one’s individual tastes, becoming an individual who is able to express one’s self.  Child psychologists believe that children become aware of themselves as an individual entity early in life, somewhere between 18 and 24 months.  While many of us retain that trait, sadly video game enthusiasts who live their lives through the internet, do not.  This regression is unfortunate as it leads to millions of clones wandering the information superhighway, spouting off the gospel of their internet video gaming churches.  The prophets call themselves ‘the reviewers’, brainwashing their minions with their own thoughts, beliefs and ideas, removing from them the ability to think for themselves, leading to a dangerous hibernaculum of group thinkers.

Of course some of us just call it ignorance.  I’d be fine with ignorance if it weren’t so widespread, and those people who chose its path would keep their mouths shut. It upsets me that the performance of a game is so dependent on the voices of the few purporting to be the voice of the many.

Codemasters’ F1 Race Stars fell victim to this unfortunate phenomenon.

On its surface F1 Race Stars is a kart racer like so many others that hit the market each year.  And every time a kart racer hits the reviewers decry the genre, supposedly searching for the next big innovation.  “The genre hasn’t changed since Mario 64” they yell.  “It’s not worth your money, stick with Mario Kart” they instruct their minions.  Yet when one comes along that changes this up they ignore it and search for other problems.  I’m certainly not claiming the F1 Race Stars is perfect, in fact far from it.  But what it did do was change the genre up in a way that no other game has.  Earlier this year I reviewed both Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing and its excellent sequel Transformed which were great games that stuck rigidly to the formula forged by Nintendo 20 years ago. F1 Race Stars was a genuine attempt at creating something new and the development team deserve credit for that.

The excellent thing about F1 Race Stars is that it feels like what Formula One would be if it were a kart racer.  Formula One is at its foundation a technical sport and it is admirable that this game takes aspects of the sport and tailors them to fit into an accessible racer.  All the racers are here, along with interesting and technical tracks based on the locales (not the tracks) of the 2012 F1 Racing season.  But most intriguingly so is the KERS system.  KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) is technology that allows F1 cars to store energy from braking for faster acceleration during at designated parts of the track.  While its not that complicated each track has designated KERS areas that the player can use to gain a brief turbo boost, manually ‘boosting’ by letting go and holding down the accelerator.  It’s not automatic and there are three levels of boost that can be attained, but this is one example of the game trying to draw on and infuse its kart racer with real life Formula 1 rules and regulations.

Probably most pronounced a difference from other kart racers is that there is no drifting.  None at all.  Instead, like real racing, the closer you stick to the racing line the better you’ll perform.  That means entering a corner slowly and accelerating out of the apex at speed.  While that all sounds pretty straightforward, the impact it has on the game as a kart racer is pronounced.  Overtaking is no longer a matter of boosting out of a corner around a slow opponent, instead like Formula 1, it becomes a battle of wits and skills as the same logic that applies in the sport transfers across to F1 Race Stars.  We’re not looking at the level of simulation seen in Codemasters’ F1 series proper, but it is a unique take on the kart racing genre that successfully captures the essence of Formula 1 and permeates it through a more accessible and light-hearted racing experience.

There are things the game could’ve done better, there usually are.  But it’s important to acknowledge where a developer innovates.  F1 Race Stars isn’t perfect and its not even best in show; but it is a genuine attempt at something new.  It may not be the best kart racer available but it’s different enough to sit, if not on top of, right next to the Mario Karts and Sonic All Stars.  F1 Race Stars represents more than just a decent racer, it represents effort and ambition.  Even with the flaws Codemasters should be proud of what they’ve achieved, even when the group thinking internet tries to bring them down.

F1RaceStars

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30 Years of Video Games – Thor: God of Thunder (2011)

I’m waving goodbye to my 20′s and to celebrate I’m counting down 30 games from the last 30 years.  Join me while I countdown 30 great years of game memories.

Thor: God of Thunder

WayForward Technologies.  Give them a round of applause for almost single-handedly keeping 2D side scrolling beat ’em ups and platformers alive.  From the excellent Shantae on the Gameboy Color, to the sickeningly sweet A Boy and His Blob or the under the radar Aliens: Infestation, WayForward has been the harbinger of all things neo-retro.

They also have a pretty good knack for bringing a bit of spice to the often (unjustifiably at times) maligned licensed game world.  Batman: The Brave and the Bold held its own against the ever-popular Arkham Asylum in its more cartoony portrayal of the Bat, and recent efforts with both games based on the Adventure Time and Regular Show are well worth tracking down, not just for their licences but also because they’re pretty good retro-inspired games in their own right.  The same can be said for the often forgotten Thor: God of Thunder for the DS, which unlike efforts on other systems, is actually an excellent game based on the film of the same name.

Thor is simple in its execution, and it’s this simplicity that goes a long way to making it so endearing.  Straight away anyone over the age of 20 will be thrown back to the heyday of 16-bit brawlers – and that feeling never goes away.  Thor’s design document could well have been transplanted right from a Super Nintendo or Mega Drive game and we’d be none the wiser – you run left and right, taking on multiple enemies along a 2-D plane, and unleash awesomely devastating multi-hit combos and special moves.  It’s pure and unadulterated retro brawling and while here’s nothing new here per se, in an era where games are seemingly out to out-complicate one another, it is sometimes nice to go back to basics, and when it’s done as well as this who cares that it feels like a 20 year old game.

The developer has a great track record when it comes to its art and Thor is no exception.  I hesitate to call it ‘stunning’, but Thor’s pixel spritework and animation is, like all of its output, close to second to none.  There is a certain retro beauty to the game’s graphics that isn’t matched by the smoother, higher resolution sprites in today’s games.  It looks old, but underneath the game’s still appearance, is a master-craftsman’s work.   Some of the best artists in human history are known for the details of their execution rather than the overall aesthetic of their work; and WayForward are no different in this respect.  The way it moves, the way the characters react to attacks, the excellent use of parallax scrolling for its backgrounds – it is these things that makes it a beautiful game.  Screenshots don’t do this game justice, watching it in motion is a revelation of just how amazing WayForward are as artists.I

ThorDS

Have a favourite game from 2011?  Tell us in the comments below.  Don’t forget to come back soon for the next game in our countdown.  Miss a year?  Catch up below.

2010 – 2009 – 2008 – 2007 – 2006 – 2005 – 2004 – 2003 – 2002 – 2001 – 2000 – 1999 – 1998– 1997 – 1996 – 1995 – 1994 – 1993 – 1992 – 1991 – 1990 –1989 – 1988 –1987 – 1986 – 1985 – 1984 – 1983

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30 Years of Video Games – Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (2010)

I’m waving goodbye to my 20′s and to celebrate I’m counting down 30 games from the last 30 years.  Join me while I countdown 30 great years of game memories.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey

The Nintendo DS was the undisputed king of the japanese role playing game for most of its life cycle.  It is the close to fact that the traditional Japanese RPG experienced a marked decline this (last?) generation and so those that wanted a taste of roleplaying both old and new were best served by picking up Nintendo’s two screened wonder.  While the big boys of the genre were there, the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quests, it also raised the profile of a number of classic series that perhaps didn’t have a mass fanbase outside of Japan, like the long-running Shin Megami Tensei.

It would be disingenuous to give all the credit to the DS for raising the series’ profile, given its prolific presence on both the Playstation Portable and the Playstation 2, it certainly didn’t hurt that publisher Atlus focused on the system.  While the world’s collective eyes were firmly planted on the more modern Persona games, and perhaps rightly so, the developers were busy crafting more traditional JRPG experiences to take advantage of the DS hardware.  The Devil Survivor series was an excellent take on turn based RPGs, while Strange Journey was very much in the tradition of classic SMT first person dungeon-crawling.  They were all excellent games that I highly recommend anyone with an interest in RPGs period, play.  But there’s one that captured my imagination like no other.

Strange Journey Character

Strange Journey  rose to the top and captured my time and imagination with its sci-fi storyline, excellent art style and addictive exploration.  It was also not ashamed to frustrate with its retro, and in some ways archaic, game design.  The top screen shows the majority of the action while the bottom screen is home to additional information on your enemies during battle, and an excellent auto map during exploration.  If that sounds a bit like Etrian Odyssey, that’s because it shares a developer.  In some ways its Etrian Odyssey for dummies.

But that doesn’t mean Strange Journey is a pushover.  Far from it, actually.  Taking its cues from earlier game in the series, Soul Hackers (recently re-released for the 3DS), Strange Journey takes a no prisoners approach to its gameplay.  Enemy encounters are seemingly random and more often than not capable of wiping your party out, and if you happen to die its back to the save point for you.  Given the game doesn’t auto save and there are only set places at which you can save your process, that could have well been an hour ago.  You’ll learn your lesson soon enough though and once your head is out of the hand holding style of play we’ve become accustomed to over the last few years, you’ll slip into a routine.  It’s hard, but fair.

MatadorStrangeJourney

The game is also intuitive despite an appearance to the contrary.  The game will throw term after term and gameplay mechanic after gameplay mechanic at you in the first hour or so, mainly comprising a well-disguised tutorial.  But once you’ve actually been let loose you’ll find it’s all pretty straight forward.  Battles are turn-based affairs, and while they do have some clever twists, are largely in-line with genre conventions.  Like other SMT games it employs a demon recruitment mechanic that forms the basis for building and levelling up your party.  Negotiating with demons is seldom boring, often hilariously funny, and for the most part rewarding if you manage to convince them to join you.  It’s not quite Pokemon but it will, at times, scratch that perhaps latent obsessive collector in all of us.

Where the game will either win or lose you is its polarising art style.  There is something about Kazuma Kaneko’s art style that I am instantly attracted to.  Its is in stark contrast to a majority of the japanese game industry’s output and stands out as a refreshing change from the doe-eyed, school girl, upskirt-filled art that you often see.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that per se, but Kaneko, who also directed Strange Journey, has an art style that feels more mature and distinguished than that of his peers.  His work on Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga is best in class, but Strange Journey isn’t too far behind.

Strange Journey is a uniquely japanese take on the hard sci-fi genre that is worth experiencing.  It is unapologetic in its old school game design and is a reminder that, despite moving forward, there is still merit in the game design tropes of yesteryear.  All in all the developer succeeded in making a simple and streamlined throwback to old school RPGs.  While it may require patience, but it is an excellent trip back for those of us familiar with the likes of Wizardry, and an excellent faux-history lesson for those willing to get past its significant learning curve.

SMTStrangeJourney

Have a favourite game from 2010?  Tell us in the comments below.  Don’t forget to come back soon for the next game in our countdown.  Miss a year?  Catch up below.

2009 – 2008 – 2007 – 2006 – 2005 – 2004 – 2003 – 2002 – 2001 – 2000 – 1999 – 1998– 1997 – 1996 – 1995 – 1994 – 1993 – 1992 – 1991 – 1990 –1989 – 1988 –1987 – 1986 – 1985 – 1984 – 1983

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30 Years of Video Games – A Boy and his Blob (2009)

I’m waving goodbye to my 20′s and to celebrate I’m counting down 30 games from the last 30 years.  Join me while I countdown 30 great years of game memories.

A Boy and His Blob

They tell you there is nothing sweeter than honey.  They tell you too many sweet treats will give you diabetes.  They tell you it’ll rot your teeth.  Well they’re lying.  WayForward Technologies’ A Boy and His Blob is the sweetest thing on Earth – and there is no such thing as too much.

I have a long and storied history with the Boy and His Blob, spanning right back to the original games on the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Game Boy.  While this game shares a name it is a far cry from the at times gruelling unabashedly old school game design of those classic puzzle platformers.  While some of the puzzles will make you scratch your head, sometimes in frustration, instead WayForward took the approach of making 2009’s Nintendo Wii exclusive A Boy and His Blob a friendly and approachable 2D platformer – a move that paid off in spades.

The game follows the same basic formula of David Crane’s 1980’s and 1990’s classics as you take on the role of a boy who is assisted by a blob who shapeshifts when fed jellybeans.  Like those games it is less about the platforming and more about the puzzling.  Which is a godsend because the boy moves at a slow and plodding pace and his athletic ability is severely limited.  Needless to say the game designers don’t rely much on that mechanic and instead presents the player with clever scenarios one after the other in a progression really not too unlike a Scribblenauts game, but instead of a long list of items, you rely on those defined by the designers and distilled into a small pellet-sized piece of candy.  It’s a safe callback to the original games and one that provides the game with most of its charm and its challenge.

A Boy and His Blob, like most of WayForward’s output, is gorgeous.  The excellent animation of the 2D sprites exudes charm and the areas are beautifully drawn.  One of the big selling points of the game prior to its release was that it was entirely hand drawn, and rightly so, because it looks like nothing else released this generation.  If there was ever a game that proves that horsepower and resolution aren’t the be all end all of video games, this is it.

It could argued that the game is too cutesy, but only the heartless and soulless demons of the underworld could possibly be repulsed by WayForward Technologies’ hand drawn masterpiece.  It is at times a devious puzzler, but even when you’ve got your head in your hands stumped by a puzzle, all you’ll want to do is give the Blob a hug.

Just press up on the d-pad.

BoyandHisBlobWii

Have a favourite game from 2008?  Tell us in the comments below.  Don’t forget to come back soon for the next game in our countdown.  Miss a year?  Catch up below.

2008 – 2007 – 2006 – 2005 – 2004 – 2003 – 2002 – 2001 – 2000 – 1999 – 1998– 1997 – 1996 – 1995 – 1994 – 1993 – 1992 – 1991 – 1990 –1989 – 1988 –1987 – 1986 – 1985 – 1984 – 1983

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30 Years of Video Games – Condemned 2: Bloodshot (2008)

I’m waving goodbye to my 20′s and to celebrate I’m counting down 30 games from the last 30 years.  Join me while I countdown 30 great years of game memories.

Condemned 2: Bloodshot

Although its probably better known for its FEAR series, a series that I love dearly, it is Monolith Productions’ Condemned series that made me recognise just how brilliant that studio is.  Both games are horror-inspired first person shooters, but while FEAR takes the more fast paced approach with a series of jump-scares, Condemned is a more plodding and atmospheric experience characterised by long silences between pulsing red fits of genuine heart-wrenching fear.  Both games were released close to the launch of the Xbox 360, and while both had their merits, it was Condemned: Criminal Origins that had a lasting impact, leaving a lingering sense of unease that will remain in the back of your mind, rearing its head only when you are alone and vulnerable.

It was also a cracking game, successfully mixing excellent first-person melee combat with crime scene investigation elements, taking on the role of Ethan Thomas in a gritty search for Serial Killer X (SKX).  Creeping around abandoned buildings with drugged-up loonies waiting in ambush, their footsteps echoing from the upstairs floor, is one of the moments that has defined this generation for me.  While Condemned wasn’t perfect it was a great game that dared to be different and scored more hits than it did misses in the process.

Condemned 2: Bloodshot released in 2008 was a bigger, better and more ambitious game than its predecessor, managing to take what was good about the first game and make it even better.  Ethan Thomas and disorderly returns a drunk man, scarred from the encounter with SKX, when he is recalled to help solve a series of murders that appear to be connected to that prior case.  The story is a decent conspiracy story that takes a series of interesting twists and turns, but Condemned 2, like its predecessor, lives and dies by its gameplay.  Luckily it lives up to its predecessor, delivering a brutal journey through a gritty, dirty, violent and crumbling city.  The melee is more brutal, with more violent finishing moves to really earn that mature rating.  It doesn’t add much to the game itself, but it certainly gives off the impression that the team wasn’t mucking around when it came to delivering an earnest mature experience.  Similarly the investigative aspects of the game have had a significant overhaul, which while not quite reaching the heights (the overrated) LA Noire did a few years later, did go some way to lending a degree of actual investigative work to the process.  Upon coming across a dead body you’ll be required to assess the crime scene and either ask or answer a few questions that may lead to Police HQ having some idea of what led to the death.  It’s not overly complex or technical, and there are only a few scripted instances throughout the course of the game, but it was a nice touch that broke up the combat and exploration sequences.

Condemned 2 isn’t the kind of game you come across very often.  Its innovations were great but arguably ignored by the industry at large and its tone was unashamedly dark and mature.  The developers weren’t afraid to go against what the market had proven it wanted, instead sticking to their vision for the game.  Sadly it didn’t pay off and Condemned 2 didn’t sell enough to warrant a sequel.  The reality is, though, it is the sort of game you expect to see the world going crazy for on Steam these days.  Unfortunate as it is, it was really just a case of wrong place, wrong time, wrong pitch.  As an indie darling it could’ve blown the world away, but unfortunately against the big boys of boxed retail, particularly in the first person category, Condemned 2 couldn’t compete.

condemned2screen

Have a favourite game from 2008?  Tell us in the comments below.  Don’t forget to come back soon for the next game in our countdown.  Miss a year?  Catch up below.

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30 Years of Video Games – Overlord (2007)

I’m waving goodbye to my 20′s and to celebrate I’m counting down 30 games from the last 30 years.  Join me while I countdown 30 great years of game memories.

Overlord

Overlord is one of the more unique games released this generation.  First appearing on the Xbox 360 and then later in a slightly expanded form on the Playstation 3, Triumph Studios’ action-strategy game gave you control of the titular Overlord as he journeys across the lands to take revenge on those responsible for slaying his predecessor.  Of course he is not alone in his quest and he is accompanied by minions who he can call on to do his bidding.  You have minions with different skills who allow you to progress through levels, navigate treacherous lands, and solve some elementary puzzles, that’s it in a nutshell.  Think Pikmin in a fairytale inspired land and you aren’t too far off the mark.

While the Overlord can fight himself, it’s not very effective, and so your role in the game is little more than commander of the vast army of goblins you have at your disposal.  The different types of minions you find will have different characteristics and in most cases will be required to be called upon to progress.  While the standard brown minions are your battle-ready brutes, the others are less natural warriors and more suited to either ranged attacks, or immune to environmental hazards, again, like Pikmin.  There is a level of satisfaction that comes from unleashing the hordes in Overlord that is unmatched by almost any other game this generation.  Watching your little guys pillage and plunder their way through villages and houses brings out the mega-lo-maniac in anyone, but its watching them come back with the spoils of war that is perhaps one of the most memorable parts of the game, as you amass minions wearing pumpkins, brandishing helmets and swords.  And this stuff isn’t just for show, a kitted-out minion is stronger and more resilient, making it easier to sweep across the land ridding it of your enemies, your horde at your side.

I guess I should mention at this point that you’re the bad guy.

That’s right, the Overlord isn’t the hero of this story, in fact his quest is to slay the heroes that slayed the ultimate evil that preceded him.  Overlord turns the fairytale fantasy genre on its head and the result is a crass and hilarious take on the Pikmin formula.   The result of all of this is that Overlord sits right at the top of my list of games I will likely revisit for many years to come.

Overlord spawned a sequel in 2009 and two spin-offs, Overlord: Dark Legend and Overlord: Minions for the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS respectively.

Overlord360screen

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30 Years of Video Games – Outrun 2006: Coast to Coast (2006)

I’m waving goodbye to my 20′s and to celebrate I’m counting down 30 games from the last 30 years.  Join me while I countdown 30 great years of game memories.

Outrun 2006: Coast to Coast

SEGA are one of the most interesting video game companies out there.  Their journey from hardware manufacturer to the SEGA we know today is a long and storied one.  It’s successes in the Mega Drive era (masterfully documented by Greg Sewart in his Generation 16 series) have of late been overshadowed by its more recent failures, both in the demise of the Dreamcast and its failures to really capitalise on its position as a third party developer.  But perhaps the more tragic oversight is that SEGA always had racing pedigree both in arcades and at home.  While its perhaps best known for its more recent failures to capture the magic of Sonic the Hedgehog,  it’s exploits in the arcades are legendary: from Monaco GP to Daytona, SEGA consistently outplayed and outclassed its competitors, leading to some of the most loved arcade racing games of all time.  The house that Sonic built wasn’t just fast on foot, it had some serious racing chops.

And then of course there is the iconic Outrun series.

Outrun 2 is perhaps the perfect video game.  Bite-sized chunks of fast, simple driving around winding courses, all against the clock.  It was excellent in the arcade, it was excellent on the Xbox a few years later, but it was perhaps its best in its portable form on the Playstation Portable.  From a technical standpoint it was mindblowing that the Sony’s portable could be home to the game, and while it obviously wasn’t as accomplished as other versions of the game, it moved at a cracking pace and looked bloody fantastic in the process.  Part of Outrun’s appeal is its simplicity and for that reason it was a perfect fit for the portable platform.  Add to that that nothing was lost in the transition and the result was an excellent portable version of what I consider to be perhaps the best arcade racer ever made.  

There’s not much I can say about Outrun 2 that hasn’t already been said ad nauseum elsewhere.  But if you haven’t played any iteration of Outrun 2 you are certainly missing out on one of gaming’s simple pleasures.

And Magical Sound Shower is pretty great….

OutrunPSP

Have a favourite game from 2006?  Tell us in the comments below.  Don’t forget to come back soon for the next game in our countdown.  Miss a year?  Catch up below.

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