The Retronomicon 12.27.13: The Retronominomicon!
Posted by Stewart Lange on 12.27.2013
From Final Fantasy VII and Prince of Persia to the original Grand Theft Auto, Tetris and more, 411's Stewart Lange takes a look back at his thoughts on all the classic games he's played over the last six months!
Hey everyone and welcome to the penultimate instalment of the Retronomicon! It's only another week before I hand the Friday reigns over for good so I decided that rather than cover Halo this week as promised, because Halo sucks and I don't want to write about it, I'd do what all the great sitcoms and TV shows do when it's Christmas time and they're on a limited production budget. That's right, while I try and rid myself of a hangover and relax before going back to my work after only 2 days off (because fuck retail), I figured we'd take a look back in time at the history of the Retronomicon since I took it over. That's right, it's a RetroRetronominomicon!
I gave Cara the week off to at least hog the limelight one last time!
That title maybe needs a little bit of work. The banner, on the other hand, does not!
I thought I'd compile all of MY THOUGHTS on the games I've covered up until the last couple of months as a bit of a "best of." Sorry to the three of you who wanted to read about Halo today.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World
So, this is where I talk about how much fun, or pain, I've had while playing the game of the week again. I have to admit, it's been a good fun week with Alex Kidd on hand. Unfortunately, my Master System power adapter seemed to be split when I took it out the box so while I haven't been able to play it in its original glory, I did wind up playing it to death on Xbox Live. I'm still amazed at the variety of the platform levels in the game- level one has you dropping down the level, rather than the traditional left-to-right popularised by Sonic and Super Mario World. The game tricks you at certain points, with some blocks releasing an evil ghoul that kills you on touch and some really difficult and sneaky foes to deal with. I'm not ashamed to admit I died a few times while getting the hang of it again, but once I had fought past it and remembered the pattern of the first Jan-ken-pon foe you encounter (stone then scissors, by the way) it was like no time had passed. While Miracle World is never going to be mentioned in the same breath as your Mario or Sonic games in terms of selling consoles, it will always hold a very special place for me as the game that started my gaming life.
While I've already said this was one of my favourite games on one of my favourite consoles, I'll try and be slightly more diplomatic about things. I've gone back to the original port of the game and while I still feel like I know the city in the game like I know Edinburgh, my home town, it is showing it's age rather badly. Driving games have been tweaked to such a high standard now that you feel like you need to get used to the game every time you pick it up to play, rather than just picking it up and going. Another criticism would be the difficulty of the "Crazy Box" levels. These were short mini games that involved speed runs, or using your car as a bowling ball. I'm not sure I've EVER been able to do the first "boss level" mini game, nor have I been able to even get close on the Xbox live port, either.
With all of that having been said, this game is still a joyous delight. Even the worst run in the world is a blast to play, with the soundtrack of The Offspring and Bad Religion encouraging more and more erratic driving and vehicular stupidity, it just oozes playability and the fact it's just so easy to hit start on one more shot means that a quick game can turn into a wasted hour. It's a flawed game, but it's still a classic and truly one of the top 10 "must own" titles for any Dreamcast enthusiast or collector.
Back in the day, I never owned an N64. My friends had one and I got to play a fair amount on it, but I always wound up getting the MadCatz controller, which as we all know, never worked quite as well as the real pad, so I'd always end up as the whipping boy (my excuse and I'm sticking to it). It was nothing like I'd ever played before, as I was too young to have really given much scope to play Doom or Wolfenstein and while I wanted to like it, I just wasn't good enough at Quake to really get into it. When I started to earn my own money, I picked up an N64 and now have over 100 games for it, including a mint in box Goldeneye and an unboxed cart (with "Andy" written on it in marker pen. Thanks for ruining my cart, Andy, you dick) that I can play without feeling like I'm spoiling it. I'm really not great at it, even after all of these years but you know, whenever I have people round, they spot the N64 and ask if I have Goldeneye. That just shows you how that, other than probably Mario Kart, there has never been a more fun game to play with your friends in the room and given the rise of online gaming, there probably never will be again.
The game has, understandably, struggled to age well, with the faces of the bad guys rendered with extreme polygonal features, but at the time it looked great. The name characters did, and kind of still do, look like the actors that portrayed them due to the N64's capability to map the faces, but a fun game is always a fun game no matter what it looks like and that's what is so endearing about this classic. Like I said above, it's just that good a feeling to win the race to find the rocket launcher and actually see the look of panic in the face of your friend sitting right next to you as they desperately try and get you with their pistol before you blow the shit out of them. In the game, I mean.
Nights Into Dreams
Nights was pretty much the first game of it's kind I had ever seen before. While the story totally baffled me (even trying to use Wikipedia to fill in the section above didn't help whatsoever) the gameplay is extremely addictive and satisfying. The game adapts to how you play, the weather would change to the Saturn's internal clock and that astounded me when I was younger. This is one of the games that blinded me to the Saturn's flaws and one of the true stand out titles on the console. While certain other games were received better by critics or rarer to buy these days, this crazy Japanese game totally captivated me and despite the fact I'm not sure I've ever finished it, remains one of my all time favourite games.
When I started playing Maniac Mansion, it really blew me away with how difficult it is. The first time I entered the kitchen and that creepy bastard Nurse Edna jumped out the fridge I just about shit myself and she got me. As with all adventure titles, it's not always the most obvious solution that works, handing the wrong thing to the wrong person can get frustrating once you've convinced yourself that you're correct and there's an awful lot of going back and forward, but ultimately, the charm and fun of the game wins you over.
I will admit that this isn't my favourite Lucasarts title. Grim Fandango takes the number one spot, followed by Secret of Monkey Island, but Maniac Mansion is still in the top five for me. It really borrows from the likes of Rocky Horror for it's atmosphere and fun factor, but the fact you can die before saving the day actually takes away from my enjoyment rather than enhances it, which may sound petty but where is the adventure in dying?
Carmageddon was probably the first really violent game I played as far as wanton destruction goes. Wolfenstein and even Quake involved shooting things, sure, but once the blood patch was installed, it was real people I was mowing down, something that the two FPS titles I mentioned didn't capture (mainly due to Wolfenstein being very cartoony in comparison). That said, it was really, really good fun. Due to lack of any multiplayer modes, this game really pioneered "life or level" for me and my friends, as watching what someone else was doing was almost as much fun as doing it yourself. Beat the stunt contests were common and made up challenges (picking the order to kill the other drivers, kill 50 pedestrians without being hit, so on) kept us busy in the days before we could buy beer.
The game recently became available on the iOS app store and more recently for Android and it's a very faithful port of the original game so I was able to replay the game and have the same amount of fun with it. A quick clean up of the graphics really helped and the handheld platform really suit the title. If it came out for the 3DS, I'd snap it up tomorrow. Hopefully, the new one that's been rumoured for years actually sees the light of day like we've been promised.
When Doom came out, I was 9. My big cousins played it but never really let me get a shot, but when I did, they put it on "nightmare" mode so I never lasted two seconds into a battle. This made me too scared to play it, so for years I just assumed it was the hardest game that would ever exist until just after I started to play Duke Nukem 3D (almost this week's choice, by the way). When I realised that I wasn't that bad at this first person shooter, maybe I should go back and give Doom a shot! By this time, obviously, it wasn't holding up all that well so I'll admit I don't feel like I appreciated it as much as I would have in 1993 but the game still stood well above most other titles at the time and it wasn't until Goldeneye came out that I felt it was no longer the best FPS title I'd played.
Well, the first thing I should admit is that at the time, I struggled to get into Resident Evil. I played it, but only because everyone else was. I found it to be a struggle, as I was always to much of a wimp to skip a save point, which led to me running out of ink ribbons as soon as things really started to heat up. I like a decent save point system and a full bar of health- neither of which you could really maintain throughout this game! Once you'd died and had to restart a couple of times, though, it was easier to get through the first couple of save points and start to relax a little- at least until the door creaks open when you've only 2 bullets remaining. It was moments like those that really helped make Resident Evil one of the defining moments in the PS1's life.
This week, I've been replaying the Saturn port of the game and to be honest, it feels like it's harder than I remember. I generally would play as Jill, because I always enjoyed hearing Barry's shit chat (as mentioned above..... But really. How bad was it? "It looks like blood!" "What is it?" "Blood.") and she started off with a gun, too. While I've heard from some of my friends that they didn't enjoy it, I know that others swear by it, have played them all inside out and still make sure they play through them every few months.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors!
I remember Zombies! coming out but don't think I ever got to play it at the time. My first real experience with the game came a few years ago when I had a shot of it while helping someone repair a SNES and it was the only cart they had handy. I liked what I played but always struggled once I got to level 12 to 15. Playing it again to research this column, I found it harder than I remember but I'm really struck with how well it would adapt to being a handheld screen with a level save. My biggest issue with the game is the lack of a password or save system. Many players will struggle to get past the first few levels, let alone manage to bash through the whole game in one sitting. There's a lot of fun features in the game and is a really good fun pick up and play title, despite not having any depth or continuing story line.
What do you guys think about the game? Do you have happy memories of playing or are you amongst the many who have never played or heard of it? I'd be particularly interested to hear thoughts on this title as it was never a title that was on my radar upon release, but know a lot of people love it like a Sonic or Mario game!
When I was at school, people went crazy for Pandemonium and I never got it when I played it at other peoples houses. When I got my own copy I realised why- whenever I played anywhere else, the games owner was clamouring to get their controller back! It's such a hypnotic title that it's very hard to put down, which I realised pretty soon after beating the first level and really getting into the game. A real old school vibe ran through it, with games veering away from such a fantasy setting in favour of a real environment around this time. When you also take into account the game uses password access rather than a standard save system, it really took me back to playing the likes of Wonder Boy.
The game hasn't aged well, if I'm being totally honest. The game doesn't feel as fast or frantic as I remembered it to be and the controls just don't feel quite as responsive as I'd like them to be. It's very colourful and the graphics don't look as aged as some PS1 games I've gone back to recently, such as Tomb Raider or Resident Evil. If you haven't played this game before, don't go into it expecting to be blown away but if you remember loving it as a child/younger adult, then give it another blast. It's still fun enough to be worth another play through.
I was honestly pretty scared about playing Double Dragon again because quite honestly, I remember being absolutely terrible at it. I booted up the old Master System though and has a shot of it and actually quite enjoyed it! I didn't get as far as beating the game in the limited time I had to play, but I did get further than I remember ever being able to before having to switch it off to walk the dog. While it's easy to write it off as just another beat 'em up, if you think that this game pretty much popularised the entire genre and really kicked off the boom in similar titles, such as Golden Axe, Streets of Rage and even influenced the creators of Street Fighter to develop the one on one combat further.
Graphically, the Master System version is pretty. It's everything an 8-bit game should be, with the colours being used to full effect and the character sprites animated perfectly. While it doesn't handle well by today's standards, theres nothing wrong with how the game plays. Buttons react accordingly, characters due what you expect them to and there are no major glitches which makes Double Dragon feel as fresh as it ever did. I've recently played both Scott Pilgrim and Charlie Murder and while technologically, both of those games are much more advanced than their spiritual grandfather, the old boy could still show them both a thing or two about good old fashioned fighting games.
Some of my earliest gaming memories were being parked in the back of a car on the way to somewhere for a holiday, with a packet of 10 (great multiple of 4, there) batteries and a few games. I had Super Mario Land, Lemmings, Kid Dracula and a couple of others but Tetris was always plugged in when those got too hard, plus when my sister got her Gameboy it was the only game we could play two player, too. That was the joy of it, though. Everyone loved it. My grandparents would have a shot and enjoy it just as much as the rest of the family, despite not being sure about what on earth they had in their hands.
That's the thing with Tetris, though. I can't really put my feelings about it into words because it's just falling blocks but to anyone who has ever played it, and by that I do mean all of you, it's so much more. Between the graphics that do everything that they need to, to the gameplay that makes you think about the game when you switch it off and think about what you'll do the next time you play it, to the soundtrack that immerses you so deeply that it sticks in your head for days, Tetris is more than just one of the best handheld games ever made.
It might just be the most perfect video game ever made.
Grand Theft Auto
While it's pretty safe to say I'm hooked on the new one, the original GTA still stands as being my favourite of them from a personal standpoint. When the demo was first released for the PC, a couple of my cousins downloaded the game at their house (my PC wouldn't play it.... it was only then I started appreciating hardware constraints) and I would regularly spend my evenings there playing it. The issue with the demo was that while it was the full, unlocked game, it was limited to only 2 minutes of play. What this meant was we had to make our own rules as we played took turns, seeing who could cause the most destruction, or get the highest number of wanted stars. With the three of us going all out, when I eventually got a copy of the game myself I found doing the missions normally quite boring.
I think that's always been the charm of the GTA games, though. The sheer volume of things to do without doing anything has always been incredible, right from the start and strangely enough, I find the original game is the only one I can go back to as the 3D universe have done really well at overshadowing the previous release making it hard to go back a game in the series. Graphically, the game doesn't look good but it really doesn't have to, as you'll forget all about it after you first mow down a line of Hari Krishnas- a real sign that the game was created in my home city of Edinburgh, there used to be a lot of them. Gouranga, indeed.
I've been playing Micro Machines 64 in my bed every day before work this weekand it's really, really good fun. While the handling of the vehicles is even worse than I remember and levels featuring weapons make the opposition look even cheaper than in Mario Kart, it does feel pretty good when you win a race. Flying off the table that you're racing around is frustrating, but in a good way, as you feel yourself screaming at the game to get you back racing as quickly as possible. The good thing about the very slight gameplay changes, though, is the fact that none of the games really feel like they've aged too badly. Only the Gameboy version doesn't look great but the fact it's for a handheld means you can forgive it.
As I said already, there was a massive amount of support across Facebook for this game and I can only imagine it's because of the huge appeal the title held. With as much luck involved as skill, it meant that Micro Machines very quickly became one of the first real party games that anyone could pick up and play. While it's time has definitely come and gone, it's worth it purely for a nostalgia trip. Basically, if you ever played this game as a youngster/younger adult, trust me and play it again this weekend. You'll thank me.
Prince of Persia
I always struggled with Prince of Persia. I found the sword fighting needlessly awkward and the gameplay lacking the fluidity of other platform games. I had a copy of it for my Game Gear and played it when I felt fed up with everything else. It wasn't until I played the Sands of Time (the 2004 PS2 release) that I felt I'd unfairly looked over the game and started to feel like I should give it another chance. I finally got the chance to do this when it was released onto the Xbox Live Marketplace and my feelings changed slightly- but I still found the controls impeded how much I enjoyed the gameplay.
This comes all the way back to what I said at the top of the article. I said I'd had a frustrating week playing this game and while I don't feel happy saying this, I just can't say that I've ever enjoyed the original game in the series. The PS2 trilogy was fun and I really enjoyed the 2008 off-shoot game, so much so that I was disappointed when 2010's Forgotten Sands was nothing to do with it. But, this is a Retro-spective and as far as my memory serves me, this is the first time I've written about a game that I've not had fun revisiting.
I actually already owned this game, as I'd picked it up for the wife as it was a game that she had as a child. She had played it but I'd never shown an interest in playing it at all. When I finally did, the first thing I noticed was how mind numbingly slow the character sprite is. It's poorly animated and Barbie moves and jumps slower than any of the obstacles you have to avoid. This suddenly makes the game an awful lot more challenging than it has any right to be. The puzzles are non-sensical and I can genuinely say at a few points I had no idea what I was meant to be doing.
"Give the pelican a biscuit, then jump on his back! He'll fly you high enough to jump the tennis racquet!"
"Climb onto the shoe boxes next to the cat, then jump between the fountains while avoiding the flying fish because they kill you!"
Those were just two of the choice phrases I had yelled at me while I was battling through the first two(!) levels of the game. There is no doubt in my mind that this game was not developed as a Barbie game until very late on, let alone a game aimed at girls. That doesn't excuse the massive flaws this game clearly has, though. I said at the top that I'd treat this game like anything else I write about and while it's easy to cut this game some slack as it's clearly been marketed at the wrong audience, it's riddled with issues. The character animation is poor, the levels are poorly designed and needlessly complex at times. It's not hard by design, but by flaw and because of the extreme level of pink, it's extremely headache inducing.
I wanted to treat this game as a bit of fun and it was never destined to be a classic. It certainly has an interesting place in gaming history given it's place in the counterfeiting movement and "pink software" arguments, but it's just a really bad piece of software, whether you're an 8 year old girl or a 29 year old man.
Toejam and Earl
Well, this has always been a weird game. I'm really, really sure I never "got" this game as a kid and not without good reason. There's very little explanation around what is going on, so I think it's only been playing it as research for this I've been able to suss out a little more what is going on around me. The soundtrack is extremely cool, the graphics are pretty cute despite being fairly basic and the gameplay isn't so frantic that it becomes frustrating until you're used to what is happening in the world. It's undoubtedly dated now but still a fun blast for old times sake, despite me not having any real attachment to it as far as nostalgia goes.
It's a shame that some of the weirder games of the early 90's don't get the love that they deserve, maybe due to a lot of the people who were old enough to really understand what was going on in them at the time may have moved on from gaming, or have to fit in quick games of COD around school runs and the rest of real life. I'm 29 and think a lot of the humour in this game went over my head as a 7 year old playing this for the first time, as with the likes of Cosmic Spacehead and such. I just didn't appreciate it as much as I could have and while I could see the charm of the game upon a replay for this column, it was never a favourite of mine which is maybe why it isn't held in as high regard as it maybe should be.
Final Fantasy VII
When I said earlier that Final Fantasy 7 was called a console seller? Well, I was one of those people. I was pretty content with my Sega Saturn but when all of my friends starting talking about what Summons they had unlocked and if they'd been to the Gold Saucer yet, I knew I had to ask Santa for a Playstation that year. Not a night passed that I wasn't sitting in front of my PS1 levelling up or trying to advance in the story. I quickly made sure I caught up with my friends, a few of whom had actually decided to "wait up" for me, taking time out to play a few other things to let me catch up (I want to say Silent Hill, but not sure my timeline works out. Not like it matters. Getting to school to talk about it almost became as fun as actually playing it, which is saying a lot.
My own personal experience with Final Fantasy began and ended with 7 on the PS1. I didn't get into 8 as I think I was too attached to 7 still. I tried to get into it but didn't get more than a few hours into it before deciding I wasn't going to have the same experience with it. I never even played 9 but when the PS2 came out and I saw the opening FMV for FFX I was sold. I knew it was going to be my new 7 and I wasn't far wrong, but 7 is by far and away my most played game ever. Cloud and Aerith are two of my favourite characters in gaming and I haven't even looked at another Final Fantasy since 10 as I just don't want my memory of them soiled.
That's the lot for you this week, sorry it was a bit of a recap but it was nice looking back over what I've said about some classic games over the last week. I really hope you guys have enjoyed this look back over the Retronomicon. If there were any you missed, please click on my name at the top of the article and have a read back over them. 411 keep all of our old columns for you to read so please feel free to do so. Join me next week for an emotional end to this run of the Retronomicon but in just 10 days time, Ask 411 Games will be back and I'm still wanting ANY gaming related questions either in the comments section or to Stewart.411Games@Gmail.com so the first instalment will be a good one. Thanks to everyone who has supported the run and for the kind messages I've received but look forward to the big things happening in the Games zone here!
Hope you've had a great holiday season and I wish all of you a fantastic 2014- see you next year!