Category Archives: Gaming

Skyrim’s the limit.

Title: Skyrim
Format: XBox 360
Release date: 2011
Obtained: 2011
Place of purchase: Amazon
Price: £35
Completed?: Yes

Here’s my problem with The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: it was dull. Its large world felt dead, despite the meticulous attention to detail that was doubtless lavished on it.

Here’s my problem with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: it was dull. Its large world felt dead, despite the meticulous attention to detail that was doubtless lavished on it.

I did, therefore, approach The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with a certain amount of trepidation. The pre-release hype was immensely appealing, though, and there were dragons. Lots of dragons. Big, fuck-off dragons with fiery breath, flappy wings and a propensity to go ‘roooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh’ at inopportune moments. Let’s be clear about this: in my fantasy-addled mind there is nothing that cannot be made better by the inclusion of dragons. Bethesda were making all the right noises about the game: the clockwork automatons of the previous titles will be replaced with more realistic ones, the combat will be improved from the frankly rather dull click-click-click of before, and so on.

Delightfully, I pre-ordered the game. Excitingly, it was dispatched. Thrillingly, it arrived through the post. With a quivering sense of anticipation dampened only by the fact I knew I’d have to install a patch, I slipped the disc into my 360 and prepared myself to play. Some 80-odd hours I came away feeling, well, a little exhausted. In truth, I’d wanted to get my character up to about level 50 and clear off most of the big side-quests before attempting the end-game, but I got bored. Bored of the wandering around, bored of going into dungeons and killing Dragurs, even bored of fighting dragons, which is something I never thought I’d say. I think I’d just played it too much; I’d really enjoyed the first 60 or so hours, but after that it did just become a bit too much like a job, and a tedious one at that.

I know of some people who’ve spent hundreds of hours in the world of Oblivion, and no doubt there are plenty others who’ve done the same with Skyrim, but all I can say is that they must be happier than I of essentially doing the same thing over and over again. This, perhaps, is for me Skyrim‘s problem: it’s just too big. Too big, and again a touch too ‘dead’. True, the world is a more believable one than previous Bethesda titles, but it still seems false. Maybe it’s me, but it seems less alive than Baldur’s Gate II did, or even Dragon Age (maybe not Dragon Age II). The people wander around and do the same things day after day, the shop-keepers are always there and always say the same things, the world just doesn’t change enough. Oddly I think the difficulty is that they try too hard to make the world real. Designers like Bioware who are creating some that is perhaps a more linear, traditional gaming environment have an easier time of it since they can work within the generally-acceptable boundaries of a game and make something that seems more ‘full’ though actually isn’t.

I’ve no idea if any of that makes any sense.

In any case, I did enjoy Skyrim, but do feel as if I spent too long in its company and now don’t really want to go back and play the (apparently slightly disappointingDawnguard.

Guardian force (without the ‘force’).

Guardian - Box art
Guardian box art (this is for the CD32 version, but the A1200 one was pretty much the same, albeit in a bigger box).

Title: Guardian
Format: Amiga 1200
Release date: 1994
Obtained: 1994
Place of purchase: Uncertain
Price: Uncertain (but probably circa £20)
Completed?: No

Bought on the strength of a review in the mighty AMIGA POWER, Guardian was a pretty nifty clone of ye olde arcade game Defender, but with graphics in super-whizzo-3D. By that I mean ‘3D’ in the rather 2D sense that we understood in back in the mid-1990s, rather than ‘3D’ nowadays which is actually 3D. The visuals were impressive for the time and the hardware, as the graphic chipset in the Amiga hadn’t really been designed to push polygons around at break-neak speed, though today that look unbelievably simplistic. Alas, this was one of those games I never got very far in and never played very much, mainly because it was damned hard, not helped by the fact I was using keyboard and mouse controls when the it had really been designed for the Amiga CD32’s controller. As a result, I have very little indeed to say about this. Guardian, then: it was a game I played. For a bit. Years ago.

Guardian
Guardian, guarding things. With guns.

Duck Tales – Tales about ducks

Just to note, this blog was originally written a few weeks ago when we actually thought we might have a proper summer rather than the damp, grey disappointment we appear to be graced with.

Duck Tales boxart (I never actually owned the box, though)
Duck Tales boxart (I never actually owned the box, though)

Title: Duck Tales
Format: Game Boy
Release date: 1990
Obtained: Unsure – probably circa 1992/1993
Place of purchase: Swapped
Price: N/A
Completed?: Yes

The rather clement weather of late has made me think of games that remind me of summer. One of these is Duck Tales on the Game Boy. Actually, most GB games bring summer to mind, since the handheld invariably got the most use in the holidays which I’d usually spend with my Grandma and Grandad whilst my parents were at work.

Duck Tales was one of those games that I’d temporarily swapped for something else, but that something never cam back, and so the cartridge remains in my possession to this day.I think the ‘something else’ in this case was Super Mario Land 2, but I’m not entirely sure.

I’m fairly certain that the GB version of the game – a pretty well-known Capcom platformer – was almost a like-for-like conversion of the NES original, albeit a tad greener and perhaps with the absence of a level or so. It involved a lot of bouncing around on Scrooge McDuck’s curiously spring-loaded walking stick, much stealing of treasure and a substantial amount of eating ice creams in such locales as Transylvania and the Moon. Immense fun, if a little short-lived. I seem to recall completing the game on many occasions, with each play-through only taking an hour or thereabouts.

Scrooge McDuck doing some physics-defying walking-cane-based gymnastics
Scrooge McDuck doing some physics-defying walking-cane-based gymnastics

Every child of my age of course remembers the cartoon, a staple of afternoon and Saturday morning television throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Personally I never rated it as highly as the later Darkwing Duck (which I think also spawned an NES game that I never played), but it was nevertheless great animated-duck-based fun. Oh, and the theme tune was a little bit catchy too.

Skyward Sword: It’s a sword that’s pointing up. To the sky.

Zelda: Skyward Sword boxart
Zelda: Skyward Sword boxart

Title: Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Format: Wii
Release date: 2011
Obtained: Christmas 2011
Place of purchase: Gift
Price: N/A
Completed?: Yes

I finished Skyward Sword just the other day, and thought I’d try to put some thoughts down about it. It was, in turns, one of the most amazing and one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever played. Let’s deal with the frustrations first… A big part of my problems lies with the motion controls. I won’t lie, I have a problem with such controls in general that problem stems back to my extreme idleness. Swiping the Wii Remote to launch an attack is fun most of the time, but becomes very tiring after a while in a way that traditionally-controlled games don’t. And whilst it’s a credit to Nintendo’s developers that Link’s actions so closely mirror your own physical ones, sometimes your movements result in the wrong attack, or just aren’t picked up quickly enough, and there are a few battles in the game where this becomes quite important.

Link, kicking some butt
Link, kicking some butt

The game also suffers from a level of hand-holding that is quite often over-the-top, but weirdly at some times irritatingly non-existent when you need it the most. I’ve read a few comments elsewhere about the stating-the-bleeding-obvious nature of Fi, your sort-of robotic sword-based companion, and depressingly it’s all fairly accurate. A typical exchange involving Fi goes like this:

Random other character: Well, in order to get through here you’re going to need to find a way past this door.

Fi: Master, I estimate with a 90% probability that in order to proceed you will need to find a way past the door.

Gee, thanks.

There are other bits in the game as well where the exposition and frilliness of the game gets in the way of actually playing it. Towards the end of the game I kept wanting to buy some heart potions, which isn’t a difficult task but does involve a fair amount of tedium. To whit:

  • Find a bird statue;
  • Return to the sky;
  • Flap your arm about like an idiot to move your bird towards Skyloft where the only potion shop in the world is located;
  • Land in Skyloft;
  • Traipse towards the bazaar;
  • Move towards the potion store and twiddle the analogue stick until the context arrow hovers over the red potion (which isn’t always easy to tell given the camera perspective);
  • Press the A button to examine it and have to sit through the same two-page explanation of what it is from the store owner (even though she’s sold it to me fifty times before);
  • Move the remote across to the ‘Okay’ button to confirm that I want to purchase it;
  • Watch Link scoop up some of the potion;
  • Watch Link do a little ‘ta-da!’ pose with his newly-purchased item and read a description of what it does (again) and how to use it;
  • Read some more dialogue from the shop owner who tells you that you can get your potion infused if you scoot down to her husband at the end of the shop;
  • Repeat ad nauseum.

Really – is all of that necessary? Surely at some point during play-testing somebody must have mentioned that maybe, just maybe, this was all utterly monotonous after you’ve watched it for the umpteenth time? Apparently not.

But, you know what, it’s still a phenomenally good game. The puzzles in the game are as cunning as ever, and are usually a joy to figure out. There’s relatively little moving of blocks from one place to another, and more using items and the environment in clever ways. The puzzles in the Lanayru Desert region, involving timeshift stones that change the environment, are a particular highlight and it’s a lot of fun to make your way through the game in general.

The storyline – often something I’ve found to be pretty weak in Zelda titles – is also pretty good. Yeah, it’s the usual ‘Zelda gets kidnapped’ business, but as a prequel to the other Zelda games it works well, and there’s even a fair bit of character development going on. Sure, it’s not going to win any Booker prizes and there’s a few too many MacGuffins around, but by the end you’ll find yourself caring about the characters and wanting to know more about their lives (maybe a handheld sequel is a good idea, Nintendo?).

I’d perhaps grown a little disillusioned with Zelda after Twilight Princess, which I felt was just a little too similar to previous titles, but Skyward Sword has reignited my passion for what is surely one of the best game series around.

One, twice, Super Mario Bros. 3 times a game.

Super Mario Bros. 3 NES boxart
Super Mario Bros. 3 NES boxart

Title: Super Mario Bros. 3
Format: Nintendo Entertainment System
Release date: 1991
Obtained: 1992
Place of purchase: Gift
Price: N/A
Completed?:Yes

To really understand the impact SMB3 had on me, you have to bear in mind that I was never really into music, and that games have been the dominant cultural anchor in my life. To me, playing SMB3 for the first time was akin to the experiences people had when they originally heard the Beatles, or David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. I remember vividly playing it originally at a friend’s house in their bedroom; at the time I only owned a C64 and was used to relatively small games that took 30 minutes to load in from a cassette tape. In contrast, here was a game that seemed absolutely massive in scope and loaded in an instant. I wanted it so much…

That was probably in the spring of 1992 – I can’t really remember the exact time. I then saved up my pocket money for the next few months and bought myself an NES. It came complete with a copy of the original Super Mario Bros. which, though it was a great game, when you’ve played SMB3 it can’t help but seem a little… basic. SMB was actually the first Mario game I’d played, but that had been on an arcade machine in Blackpool Tower and it was only for a few minutes. The third game in the series (though, as every true gamer knows, it was really the first proper sequel to the original, since we can discount the-not-really-a-Mario-game SMB2 and the unreleased-in-the-west-and-more-of-an-expansion-pack Lost Levels) was the first one I played to death.

Mario 3 had everything: fantastic graphics; incredible gameplay; a huge, varied world. From taking to the skies for the first time as Raccoon Mario, to discovering how much easier it was swimming in the frog suit, to seeing giant goombas stomping around world four, SMB3 just made you feel like you were in the midst of an imaginative whirlwind, and you were enjoying every second of it. Compared to the other games I’d played at the time, this seemed like something from another world; a giant leap forwards in terms of professionalism and invention.

I recall getting in trouble for borrowing the game from a friend just before we were about to go on holiday, I think to Great Yarmouth or possibly Exmouth. My dad had this big hang-up about people breaking into the house and stealing things, and he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of somebody else’s property being left in our house whilst we went away. After we came back from our holidays, though, my mum and dad bought me a copy of my own (on the same day we got our first microwave as well, I believe – a rather exciting day in the Hall household!). I must’ve played it pretty non-stop for some while afterwards, and eventually completed the whole thing – in one sitting, since there was no save mode – one day in the August holidays when I’d taken my NES to my Grandma’s. I used to stay with my Grandma and Grandad on my mum’s side during the school holidays, and decided this time to take the Nintendo with me. My Grandad had never really gotten used to the fact that televisions no longer had valves in them, so there was a constant concern – shared by my Grandmother – that the TV would overheat if left on for more than a few hours at a time, and she was very worried as I was making it through worlds seven and eight. Thankfully I managed to complete it before the TV combusted.

Perhaps because of the impact it had on me and the memories connected with it, in my mind SMB3 remains the pinnacle of 2D platform gaming. The SNES’s Super Mario World may have had better graphics and a cute green dinosaur, but to me SMB3 was more fun. Nowadays it’s rightfully revered as a classic, though to youthful eyes today it must seem fun yet limited. Back in the very early ’90s, however, it was jaw-dropping, and despite its vision being dulled by the advancement of gaming, its play mechanics are as fluid and enthralling as they ever were.

Nightmare (without the ‘K’)

Title: Nightmare
Format: C64
Release date: 1991 (?)
Obtained: Unsure, probably around 1992-3
Place of purchase: The Guild Adventure Software (public domain)
Price: Approx. £1
Completed?: Yes

A text adventure by a chap called William Quinn, Nightmare was one of the first things I remembered buying (using pocket money via by mum’s chequebook) from mail-order firm The Guild. This was a company run by Anthony Collins that specialised in text adventures; I recall that you used to get their ‘catalogues’ on photocopied sheets of A4, and that the proprietor would hand-sign the compliments slip that came with every purchase. I’m not sure how I actually came across The Guild in the first place, though it probably must have been via Zzap! 64 or Commodore Format, as these were pretty much the only place I got games information back in those pre-Internet days.

On the other hand, I do remember how I came across William Quinn: it was a copy of LA Adventure Part I on Zzap! megatape 31. I’ll talk in detail about that game at some other point, but I enjoyed it and it made me want to play more of Mr. Quinn’s titles. Nightmare was the first other one I bought, and I enjoyed it immensely. The story was pretty simple: you wake up one night only to find that, actually, you haven’t woken up and that you’re having a nightmare. This is the sort of realisation that never actually happens during the nocturnal hours, but that didn’t particularly bother me at the time I played it. Your character was tipped off that ‘it was all a dream’ by the fact that your room was tidy; in typical game fashion, this sparks off a quest, specifically to find the bag of rubbish that once filled your room and return it back to its previous state of disshelvement.

Playing through the game again now, it still seems funny, though perhaps in a way that would have appealed more to me as a ‘young adult’ than it does nowadays when I’m an old-fuddy-duddy. This is hardly surprising, though, as I’d hazard a bit of a guess that the author wasn’t that much older than I was when he wrote the game. It suffers all the typical text adventure problems of irritating parsers and too heavy a reliance on trial-and-error to get through the not-always-entirely-logical-puzzles. The game was made using the Graphic Adventure Creator (or GAC for short) and, as such, comes with the rather annoying habbit of taking a long time to respond to commands you’ve entered, particularly if they’re not recognised. Even playing the game on an emulator at 200% speed there’s still a very noticeable wait in-between pressing the enter key and the game getting back to you. Still, you got used to this kind of thing back in the 8-bit days.

At the time Nightmare made me want to make my own text adventures, and though I never got very far with any that I started on, I think its surrealism and style of humour has had a fair impact on things that I’ve written over the years. I’m not sure that I’d actually want to bother playing it all the way through again now unless I was really at a loose end, but in fairness this is probably more to do with the style of game rather than the game itself: the text adventure is a relic of a bygone age and only the very best examples are playable today.

Hardwar – what is it good for?

Hardwar box art
Hardwar box art

Title: Hardwar
Format: PC
Release date: 1998
Obtained: On release
Place of purchase: GAME
Price: Approx. £30
Completed?:Yes

I’d been a huge fan of Elite and Frontier: Elite II, so the prospect of a game that was a little bit like it but not exactly held a certain amount of appeal. Hardwar is one of those titles that isn’t really remembered all that much nowadays, having had a pretty minimal impact on the world. It was set on the Saturnite moon Titan, which appeared to be rather rocky with lots of pink fog and poor draw distance. Your task as Player Character 1 was to work out a way of getting off the moon and off to somewhere else, possibly to be featured in a sequel that never happened.

You flew around in a ship called a moth (incidentally, I hate moths, with the horrid flappy wings and general persistence on being as bloody irritating as possible), and you had a certain amount of freedom in the way that you made money in the game. You could be a pirate (aaarrr etc.) or a legitimate trader, or something in between, as you travelled between the different craters that made up the gameworld, connected by a series of tunnels. There were some cool touches to the game, including the fact that you needed to recharge your ship every so often by hovering over a recharging point, leaving you potentially vulnerable to enemy factions, pirates or the local law enforcement if you happen to have annoyed them in some way.

Sadly, to me the game seemed to be one that never seemed to get particularly interesting. The world, despite the involvement of funky Wipeout designers The Design Republic, was just a bit dull, and everything moved at a pretty slow pace. The storyline didn’t grab, not helped by the fact that most of the cut-scenes had some awful acting and dodgy costumes. Like the player character, I wanted to explore the universe away from Titan, and it seemed a shame that just as we manage to escape the game ended.

Booty-licious

Booty inlay
Booty inlay (this is the ZX Spectrum version, but I couldn't find the C64 one of this style).

Title: Booty
Format: C64
Release date: 1984
Obtained: Unsure, probably circa 1990.
Place of purchase: Gift.
Price: £1.99
Completed?: No.

Every time Charlotte watches the-surprisingly-not-completely-awful Jake and the Neverland Pirates I’m reminded of Booty. The only real connection is the pirate theme, of course, and it’s not even as if Booty was particularly a favourite game. In fact, I think I only played it a handful of times because I found it so soul-crushingly difficult to even get past the first screen.

The game was a pretty typical 8-bit single-screen platformer, with you cast as the character of Jim the cabin-boy (or somebody the cabin-boy, anyway) wandering around a pirate ship collecting coloured keys and treasure. Thinking about it, the ship must have had an utterly bizarre team of architects, since they came up with what is surely the most impractical layout for the interior of a sea-faring vessel. Doors that can only be unlocked with keys of a particular colour? Okay, then. Ladders placed seemingly at random throughout the ship? Erm, all right.

I do recall it being incredibly difficult, though that may have been a comment on my still-fledging gaming skills. My dad bought it for me one day back in the times when you could buy computer games from the local newsagent, not long after I got my C64 back at Christmas 1989. He used to get quite a lot of games from there for me, actually, which is why I ended up with a large number of random old titles.

Booty
It's Booty, complete with ludicrous ship layout.

Will you still love me when I’m Donkey Kong 64?

Donkey Kong 64 Boxart
Donkey Kong 64 Boxart

Title: Donkey Kong 64
Format: N64
Release date: 6th December 1999.
Obtained: On release.
Place of purchase: GAME (online).
Price: Approx. £60.
Completed?: Yes.

Three main things stick in my mind about Donkey Kong 64: 1) the damnably awful ‘rap’ song that started every time you plug the cartridge in; b) spending an absolutely age playing the in-built version of the original Donkey Kong arcade game just so I could get one of the game’s collectable golden bananas; and iii) the fact that my copy came with a free inflatable banana that I kept in my room for a long time before it deflated into oblivion.

DK64 was developed by Rare and was pretty similar to Banjo-Kazooie. Replace golden jigsaw pieces with golden bananas, and swap musical notes for, erm, differently coloured bananas, and you’ve pretty much got the same game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, and indeed I remember DK64 quite fondly. Sure, it was incredibly frustrating in places and the continual collection of lots of different items became a bit tedious after a while, but it was pretty fun.

Swapping around between the characters provided a fair bit of scope for variety, as they were all sufficiently different as to give some interesting challenges each. There were plenty of good ideas around, as well, albeit sometimes you did feel that they were just a bit stretched out and indeed, the game overstayed its welcome a bit.

Graphics-wise DK64 was pretty decent for an N64 title, more impressive given the scale of the levels. Having said that, the title was the first to require the use of the optional RAM expansion pack. Thankfully the initial release of the game came bundled with one, which saved me the bother of having to source one from elsewhere.

That rap, though, that rap was really, really bloody awful. Whoever thought it might be a good idea to have some polygonal apes doing a cheese-infested rap number that would have embarrassed the makers of Saturday morning cartoons deserves a slap around the face.

You ain’t nothing but a Heimdall 2

Title: Heimdall 2.
Format: Amiga 1200.
Release date: 1994.
Obtained: Sometime around 1994/5.
Place of purchase: Britannia Games Club (at least I think it was them).
Price: No idea.
Completed?: No.

Heimdall 2 Boxart
Heimdall 2 Boxart

Watching Thor on TV the other day made me think of Heimdall 2, mainly because Heimdall appears in the film and even my rather sluggish neural pathways can make that connection. In truth, I really don’t remember an awful lot about the game, probably because I’m fairly certain I only ever played it about six times. Whether there was a bug in it or just a puzzle that as a naive (and rather lazy) 13-year-old I couldn’t get past, I can’t remember; but something obviously stopped me from playing it and I never went back.

The game is an isometric adventure rather in the vein of Head Over Heels, with the player controlling Heimdall and a Valkyrie warrior ‘chick’ named Ursha. Together you must solve puzzles and defeat bad guys to stop the evil (or at least slightly misunderstood) Loki from doing something that presumably he shouldn’t be doing. The game has a good understanding of Norse mythology, and as such has a fair amount of atmosphere, but never really struck me as being particularly enthralling.

I had intended that as I was writing these little remembrances of games past that I would have a quick replay of them, but in the case of this one I can neither be bothered to dig out my Amiga or an emulator to play it on. Really a minor footnote in my tragically long gaming history.

Heimdall rescuing a guy in a cupboard.
Heimdall rescuing a guy in a cupboard. Not the most heroic act ever recorded in the annals of history, but I guess somebody needs to do it. These people can't stay in cupboards forever, after all.