Today I'm Playing (Archive)

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Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:41 pm

Hi all! Am planning on running a new "Today I'm Playing" thread, where I get to share with you what gaming offering I have decided to randomly pull from my 800+, 25 year collection... swear to God, I have more video games than shoes (and I do luuurve me some shoes!). Thing is, I put a lot of time and effort in the previous threads, and as ONM has gone the way of Steps and VHS, I'm going to pull the previous threads like hairs on a health-spa waxing session (and just as painfully) and place them here, on the nice shiny forum utopia which you are currently inhabiting. So yeah, here are the previous games I have played and reviewed in case you wish to read them. Then compare it to my current thread and feel at just how little free time I have now I have a child and a job. MERRY CHRISTMAS!
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:41 pm

Hey all! I'm sure that you frequently see topics pop up on here about "top 10 games ever" or whatever (I've been here for 5 years, so I certainly have seen a fair few!). I was chatting with some friends the other day, and they asked me the usual "top ten games" question, and I rattled them off. But then they kept mentioning ones in their lists which made me think "how could I leave that out?!?" So today I actually compiled a top 30 list, and was satisfied with the results.

But reading through them, what made me sad was how long it had been since I had played on some of them. I was guilty (as I'm sure a lot are) of finishing a game, then consigning it to memory, never to actually experience again but think of fondly when I recall it.

So for the next thirty days, I will be playing my top 30 games, like a countdown, each better than the last! Not only will this make me have some fun revisiting the greatest games I've ever experienced, but also hopefully jog your memories too, and maybe inspire you to go back and revisit some old classics.

I've linked the games on the list below to the pages they are on. Clicking these won't bring up adverts (promise!)

30) Gunstar Heroes (April 12th)
29) Batman: Arkham Asylum (April 13th)
28) Star Wars: Rogue Leader (April 14th)
27) Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising (April 15th)
26) Super Metroid (April 16th)
25) Shadow of the Colossus (April 17th)
24) Red Dead Redemption (April 18th)
23) The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (April 19th)
22) Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble (April 20th)
21) Lylatwars (April 21st)
20) Pikmin 2 (April 22nd)
19) Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (April 23rd)
18) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (April 24th)
17) WWF: No Mercy (April 25th)
16) Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (April 26th)
15) God of War I, II & III (April 27th)
14) Banjo-Kazooie (April 28th)
13) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (April 29th)
12) Burnout 3: Takedown (April 30th)
11) Assassin's Creed II (May 1st)
10) Jet Force Gemini (May 2nd)
9) Portal (May 3rd)
8) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (May 4th)
7) Kingdom Hearts II (May 5th)
6) Golden Sun (May 19th)
5) Super Mario 64 (May 20th)
4) Pokemon Gold/Silver (May 21st)
3) Super Mario Kart (May 22nd)
2) Timesplitters 2 (May 23rd)
1) Street Fighter II (May 24th)
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:42 pm

Hey everyone! Following on from my award winning thread from last year entitled "Today I'm playing", I decided to do a sequel! Essentially the premise of the original was that I would spent 30 days going through my 30 favourite games of all time, counting down, and give a summary review of them as I did so. I thoroughly enjoyed doing this, and I hope all those that read and posted did too!

I was thinking though about all the other games in my collection though. Over the course of my 25 years on this earth, I have amassed a grand total of 846 games across the Amiga, the Game Boy, NES, SNES, N64, Game Gear, MegaDrive, Game Boy Advance, Gamecube, PC, Playstation, PS2, PS3, DS, 3DS, and Wii. And although I never sell games on the basis that one day I may want to go back and play then, for the most part I simply don't have the impetus. So this is a way to give those games a good run out, and hopefully all those present a nice nostalgia boost too.

To make the process truely random, I've assigned each of my games a number from 1 to 846 (which took several hours!), and then will use an online random number generator to select todays game. The previous thread was made because of the comments and personal experiences of the people who posted in it, and as such I would love to see your thoughts on things!

Right, let's get started...


THE LIST
1st March: Perfect Dark (N64)
4th March: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PS2)
5th March: The Curse of Monkey Island (PC)
6th March: Pokémon Yellow (Game Boy)
8th March: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Gamecube)
9th March: Crazy Taxi (Dreamcast)
10th March: Final Fantasy VII (Playstation)
11th March: Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero (N64)
12th March: Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
13th March: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS)
14th March: L.A. Noire (PS3)
18th March: Lemmings 2: The Tribes (Amiga)
20th March: Metroid Prime (Gamecube)
25th March: Streets of Rage 2 (MegaDrive)
27th March: Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
30th March: Quake (N64)
1st April: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
2nd April: Heavy Rain (PS3)
3rd April: Killer Instinct (SNES)
5th April: Micro Machines (MegaDrive)
7th April: Guitar Hero (PS2)
9th April: Half Life (PC)
11th April: Desert Strike (MegaDrive)
15th April: Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (PS3)
19th April: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (PS3)
25th April: Mario Kart: Double Dash
27th April: Holy Magic Century (N64)
2nd May: Doom (PC)
7th May: ClayFighter 63⅓ (N64)
9th May: SimCity (PC)
17th May: Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (Gamecube)
24th May: Sonic the Hedgehog (MegaDrive)
31st May: Super Mario World (SNES)
6th June: Manhunt (PS2)
11th June: Goldeneye 007 (N64)
15th June: WCW/nWo Revenge (N64)
1st July: GUN (PS2)
19th July: Football Special (Various)
2nd November: Papers, Please (PC)
12th January: Best of the MegaDrive
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:42 pm

So today, on Thursday 12th April I will start with number 30:

GUNSTAR HEROES (MegaDrive, 1993)
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This is an absolutely amazing side-scrolling shoot-'em-up, probably not ever bettered in terms of action. Explosions abound and the screen seems to be constantly covered in laser-fire, enemies and carnage of all description. Treasure have a habit of making fun, chaotic, seldom-known games, as anyone who has played Ikaruga or Sin & Punishment will tell you. It's been re-released on the Virtual Console, as well as having an excellent remake on the GameBoy Advance. But I had this on the MegaDrive when I was young, and of the 4 games on the cartridge (Alex Kidd, Altered Beast and Flicky were the others), this was definitely the most played.

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What I loved most about it was how creative it was. Never a one-trick pony, Gunstar Heroes instead threw you into worlds where you never knew what was coming next. Green's level was superb, an on-rails subway level where you could switch between riding the floor or ceiling. Black's palace had a board game at the end, with squares sending you to mazes, fighting armies of tiny soldiers, or even taking your guns away! And then there's the space level, and the final level when you face all the bosses... it's just so, SO good. The way it lets you mix-and-match your powers to create your own style of gun is superb too.

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In short, I implore you to play this. Whether it's on the VC or the MegaDrive or the GBA, just grab yourself a copy and have a blast. Word of warning though - unlike games like Streets of Rage or Final Fight, this game doesn't give you half the enemies because it's single-player, so it gives you extra incentive to find a friend! (Plus, it's someone else to say "isn't this amazing?" to!)

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Post about the amazing game that is Gunstar Heroes here! Or alternatively, classics from your own collection you'd like to revisit.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:43 pm

Number 29:
BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM (PS3, 2009)

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You all must had heard of this game! If not, how was your time away on the moon? But I suppose just because you have heard of it doesn't necessarily mean that you've played it - after all, the only reason I bothered getting it in the first place was because I had just finished Red Dead Redemption and my colleague was pestering me relentlessly to play it (and subsequently, I'm now much more open about trying recommendations!)

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This is the Batman game that all the fans had been waiting for. Batman has always had 3 things going for it in my view - a dark, brooding, cool hero, some truely creative and dark villains, and atmosphere. Arkham Asylum builds on all of these things extremely well. The premise is simple; the famous sanotorium's most insane inmates, including Joker, Riddler and Scarecrow, have broken loose and now the lunatics are literally running the asylum. Batman, with help from Oracle giving him advice, must subdue the prisoners and bring order back to the place.

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The best feature in this game is the way the gameplay mechanics works. It allows you to be Batman, basically. Bruce Wayne, the man who took the symbol of the time which brought him the most fear, to strike fear in the heart of criminals. Sneaking around the aslym, hiding on statues and watching as your enemies get more and more terrified as you slowly pick them off is absolutely brilliant. The "super villains" are very well represented, Scarecrow's surreal visions being particularly superb. And overall the game just feels incredibly "tight", the combat is fluid, the story is superb and ticks along at a decent pace, and the environments are suitably gothic and atmospheric.

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Arkham City should've been the game to be in this spot, after all it's a sequel that's bigger and better and with more. But for some reason, it's just not as "together" I suppose. Characters in that game seem to make a cameo, whereas they get full-blown parts to play in AA. But really, it's not by a lot - both games are incredible, but Arkham Asylum holds better memories for me.

So what do you guys think? Is Arkham Asylum worthy of the praise it gets? What memories do you have of it? Discuss here!
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:44 pm

28:

Star Wars: Rogue Leader (Gamecube, 2002)
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I love Star Wars. Not in a sense of being able to name all the races and planets and timeline and whatnot, but enough to know that exciting spaceship battles, lightsabre duels and The Force are all pretty cool. Whilst the new trilogy is pretty good (what? It is!) the originals I remember watching when I was younger and will always have a place in my heart. And like when kids watch anything that they like, I instantly wanted to copy it! So getting a good Star Wars game was a must.

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The first game I got was "Star Wars" on the GameBoy, which was actually pretty good. After that came Super Star Wars on the SNES, which is absolutely brilliant (I can still clearly remember the day I went and bought it from Argos!). Then, with the N64, we had Shadows of the Empire, which was good, but other than the opening level, was devoid of what I really wanted - to play the scenes from the film. The live those exciting jetbike chases and battles and wave a lightsabre around. And the next game to come out really recitifed those problems. It was a game called "Rogue Squadron", and it had you flying round in an X-Wing (and several other Rebel craft) fighting off the Empire in memorable locations such as Tatooine, Bespin, and Hoth. It was utterly stellar, and naturally, a sequel on the N64s successor was high on my wishlist.

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Before the launch of the Gamecube there was a magazine called Cube, which was editted by a chap called Chandra Nair (a name you may recognise!). Looking at the pictures of this game almost made me smack my gob at the visuals. Despite being ten years old, it still looks superb today - massive space battles with wave upon wave of fighters, stunning sunsets over watery planets, and the firey remnants of TIE fighters screaming all around you. But far from just flashing it's graphical quality, Rogue Leader kept the same core gameplay that made Rogue Squadron so great, with the added bonus of huge space battles to boot.

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Going back and playing it now, I have to say that my favourite level is still Bespin. Lifted almost exactly from Rogue Squadron (where it was the best level too!), it has you defending floating platforms of silos against imperial TIE fighters and floating balloon gun-batteries. But unlike the N64 level, once you've done that you get whisked off to Cloud City, where you can find a Cloud Car and zoom in between the streets and valleys. It's great fun! And whether it's that or fighting the Battle of Hoth or blowing up the Death Star, there really isn't a Star Wars game that makes you feel as part of your favourite scenes as this one.

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It also has great replay value, awarding medals for how well you do in a mission, and giving you different crafts and levels after gaining so many. And they're definitely worth getting too, as it allows you to play some great scenes - I particularly like the one where you're in the gun turrets of the Millennium Falcon fighting off TIEs, but there's also the famous chase through the asteroid field from The Empire Strikes Back, as well as the attack on the Death Star where you're Darth Vader trying to destroy the Rebel attack!

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Since then, there have been other great Star Wars games. Jedi Outcast was great, and the fact I don't like first-person-shooters (let alone PC first-person-shooters) yet loved it should be an indicator as to how good it is. Lego Star Wars too had a wonderful charm which made it a popular hit. Star Wars Battlefront also managed to create the same excitement of faction vs faction conflict, but loses out to Rogue Leader simply because space battles>ground battles. To me, this is the definitive Star Wars game, and even if you're not a fan, it's a great space shooter in it's own right.

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So what do you think? Is Rogue Leader the best ever Star Wars game? Are you surprised as I am that Lucasarts havn't made another sequel? What are your memories of it?
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:45 pm

Number 27:
ADVANCE WARS 2: BLACK HOLE RISING (GBA, 2003)

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I love Advance Wars. Everything about it is awesome. The cartoony graphics are great, the turn-based strategy is great, it's even got a snazzy blonde-haired CO called Nell (remind you of anyone? :wink:) What's there not to love? I used to like strategy games, as I liked how it tested you mentally. It's like a game of chess which you play out on a virtual battlefield, which is probably why I like Warhammer. But as someone who doesn't play PC games (the last great strategy game I had was Red Alert 2), it's an itch I was unable to scratch very often. Until this game!

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If you've never played Advance Wars before (in which case do it, DO IT NOW!), it's a turn-based strategy game played out on a grid system. You have a HQ, as does your opponent, as well as factories to build troops, tanks and whatnot, as well as cities which conquering gives you money to build more troops and tanks. You win by either wiping out your opponents whole army, or conquering their HQ. Sounds simple? That's because it is! And I think the simplicity of it is part of the appeal. It's easy to learn, but hard to master. It's so accesable that pretty much anyone can give it a go, and with that ever-so lovely Nell to give you a tutorial if you should need it, you'll be a whizz in no time at all!

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There is also a cracking array of characters to choose from. In the first Advance Wars, you played as the nation Orange Star (originally "Red Star" in Japan, but this apparantly conjured up images of communism) who battled against the other local nations: blue moon, yellow comet and green earth. In the sequel, all 4 team up to face a new and terrible threat - Black Hole, a very Nazi-esque nation with plans of world domination (obviously). The colourful COs not only generate more personality, which a lot of strategy games lack, but they also give you a new element regarding gameplay. Sami's tanks, for example, are weaker, but her infantry is stronger and can capture cities faster than other COs. Olaf of Blue Moon is able to go through snow which hinders every other army, but gets bogged down in the rain. You also get CO powers, which can be unleashed to devastating effect when your power bar is filled, giving you a chance to unleash hell on the opposition!

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The single player game is very long, tricky and tremendously rewarding. The multiplayer is ace (and you had to be next to the person you were fighting, back in the days of link cables!), and it even gives you the option of creating your own maps to fight on. I am very proud of my Risk-style world map which I had many battles upon! The best thing I can say about Advance Wars is just how fun it is to play over and over again. With so many maps, COs and unlockables, you can play it for hours, days, weeks, months, and not get bored as it's different every time. Value for money without a shadow of a doubt.

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So guys, what do you think? Do you have as fond memories of Advance Wars as I do? Looking forward to Advance Wars 3DS? (PLEASE Nintendo!). Post your comments here.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:45 pm

Number 26
SUPER METROID (SNES, 1993)

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The last Metroid is in captivity. The galaxy is at peace...

Sometimes classics just fall into your lap. You didn't seek them out, you didn't hear of them or get sucked into the hype, you just happened to be in the right place at the right time. "The Dark Knight" apparantly had mega-hype, but I managed to avoid it - I just went to see it because my friends wanted to see the new Batman film. One Christmas, ONM gave away some Blockbuster coupons which meant you could hire games for a couple of days for free. I had one left which would expire, so I used it on the one Gamecube game I hadn't played there - it just happened to be Timesplitters 2. And for my 10th birthday I had no clue what I wanted, so I was taken to the games shop and had the first thing I saw, which was Super Mario Kart - the rest, as they say, is history.

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In my old home town of Tamworth, there was a shop which sold random brick-a-brack that was closing down. Eyeing some cheap jewellry, my mom took me in there, but instead of some earrings I came across a SNES game called Super Metroid. I had seen some screenshots in NMS (the forerunner to ONM) and thought I'd give it a try. It was £5 (which, at my tender age of 10, was a huge amount), but after bartering the shopkeeper down to the money in my pocket which was £3.65, he let me buy it, and I took home, what I didn't know at the time, would be one of my all time favourite games.

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For those of you who only know Metroid as a first-person shooter/adventure, you're missing out. Metroid began life on the NES, a side-scrolling adventure game similar to Castlevania but with shooting sci-fi elements rather than gothic horror ones. It starred Samus Aran, bounty hunter who's main task was to hunt down and extreminate the parasitic alien race known as "Metroids", being used by evil Space Pirates hiding out on Planet Zebes.

Super Metroid was the third Metroid game, after the predocessors on the NES and GameBoy. At this point in the story, the Space Pirates had been defeated, and Samus had gone to planet SR388 and wiped out the Metroids bar one, which had latched onto Samus as it's mother. Samus then hands over the Metroid to a lab where it can be protected and studied... until Ridley, one of the Space Pirates, captures it and Samus must head back to Zebes, the site of the original game, to try and find it.

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A colleague of mine who I pestered in playing this after they did the same for me and Arkham Asylum, said it best; "is it me, or is everything about Super Metroid great?" And isn't it just? It's so hard to find fault with it. The gameplay is excellent, being far more than a "gun and run" game, with puzzles and platforming sections. The bosses are huge, the environments are varied, and the story ace. The game doesn't hold your hand either, it doesn't heavy handedly point you in the right direction - you're encouraged to explore, to try and find routes yourself. You constantly look back at the map screen and work out new routes and memorise where you need to go back to with a certain item or ability - a far cry from the "die too many times and we'll let you win" elements in today's games. Everything is put together so perfectly, you want to go back to it to see what it has next to throw at you.

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The other great thing about this game is how massive it is. I think people nowadays assume older games were shorter, but Super Metroid is genuinely one of the biggest games I've ever played. It's HUGE! You go back to a previously explored area with a new ability, and find you can now get to a whole new section of the planet. It just goes on and on and on, through subtarranean forests and caverns to deserts and lava fields and ghost ships, it is staggering just how much they've managed to fit onto a catridge. It's a phenomenal achievement, a gigantic sprawling adventure that you are aching to explore further. Sometimes it throws you into boss fights with no warning, other times it ramps up the suspense (and does so brilliantly!) It has titbits for fans of the previous games (even then, Nintendo liked to do nostalgic easter eggs), one of the first scenes has you go through the broken tank where you beat Mother Brain in the first game. But it's so much larger and fresher and better, and with a map this time, which in a game this large is a godsend!

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Whilst the Metroid Prime games are amazing, to me, the best Metroid was a 2D one. Metroid Fusion too, is fantastic, and would probably be in this place if it wasn't for the simple fact I'd never have played it if it wasn't for it's older brother. Super Metroid was a classic I was never expecting that I got on a whim, and will stand forever as a testiment as to how good games can be. It's a genuine masterpiece, and still to this day regularly makes the top 10 lists of official gaming magazines all time lists.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:47 pm

Number 25
SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS (PS2, 2006)

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There is a question which I've often asked myself - can video games be art? In a world where anything can seemingly be art; bits of wood, a bed, urinals, pickled cows - it seems there's little reason as to why a game, too, cannot be considered as art. But what merits art? The Dictionary describes it as this:

ART (Noun): the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

If this is criteria on which art is judged, then, Shadow of the Colossus certainly qualifies as it is all of these things.

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Shadow of the Colossus is a game I almost didn't ever play. I got it on a whim when I finished my A-Levels to treat myself for a job well done, with the intention of then spending all summer playing it. But real life got in the way; sorting out the house, getting a car, job hunting, all of these things meant that my time which I filled with computer games was now taken up with boring grown-up stuff. And so the Colossi wandered the land in peace for a full 18 months before I ended up working a job where I did lots of (very boring) nights. With nothing to do, I invested in a small TV and a slimline PS2 to play when there was no-one around. The one game I had to play to see me through those nights was Shadow of the Colossus. And when I played it I wondered "why the hell did I leave it this long?"

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For those of you unfortunate enough to have never experienced this stunning masterpiece, it's kind of hard to explain the tranquility and wonderous nature of the game. You play as a hero called Wander (although he is never named in the game), who is in a strange, forbidden land full of gigantic creatures called the Colossus, gigantic monsters made of stone, fur and metal. You must defeat them to help revive a dead princess who Wander lovingly places on the altar of the temple in the centre of this land.

And that's it. I'd like to point out none of this is spelled out for you in the game - there's no narrator, there's no long winded explanation of events. But it's clear what's going on from the beautifully simplistic story. The land itself is vast yet barren - there are no dungeons or villages, no characters to interact with, and no enemies to fight other than the vast Colossi themselves. Your only companion is your horse, Argo, and your weapons are a sword and bow, neither of which are upgradable or are you given the option to get better ones. You are pointed in the right direction by a mysterious voice in the temple, telling you vaguely in which direction to head and a gigantic statue gives you an idea of what you're about to face, but there's no GTA style satnav system to show you exactly how to get there. The challenge comes from exploring the massive land to find the next Colossus, and then working out how to defeat them.

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Whilst this may sound like a sparse game with little going on, the simplicity of it gives it a great beauty. You could argue that the lack of depth makes it a shallow experience, but the opposite is true; it's incredibly emotionally involving. You invest so heavily in the characters despite knowing nothing about them, because the game allows you to project yourself onto the protagonist and creates a bond between you and the only 2 other characters there (the princess and Argo). The love between the ill-fated girl and Wander is unspoken, yet obvious. The bond between you and your loyal companion Argo as you battle against impossible odds together gains stronger throughout the game. You make these connections - the game never tells you that this is someone you're supposed to like, because they have no traits which could be interpreted as such. The problem with characters that are designed to be lovable and funny is that they're only like that in the designers eyes; one man's meat is another man's poison, and those same "Lovable" traits to one person can be irritating to the next. But there's none of that here; she's just a sleeping princess. It's just a horse. He's just a hero trying to save the day.

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Of course, the real focal point of the game is the huge Colossi which you are to defeat. There are 12 in total, and they each have to be beaten in a different way; usually by having to climb onto them, trying to find a weak spot to stab your sword into whilst clinging on for dear life. But this is much easier said than done - even getting onto the things, never mind actually being able to climb your way to a weak spot, can be a hard task. In a way, I suppose this can be described as a puzzle game, as the challenge is to work out how to beat the monsters and then implement it. If so, it's certainly the best looking, most incredibly involving puzzle game that has ever been released.

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This game, then, is a feast for the senses. The graphics are wonderful - the Colossi are huge and interesting to look at, and the landscape is spectacular, a mix of plains and ruins and desert and caverns. The award-winning soundtrack is wonderful, and underscores the mood perfectly. But it's emotionally that this game really thrives. You will feel lonliness exploring the vast wildnerness, you'll feel tension battling the seemingly unbeatable monsters, you'll feel wonderment exploring an alien land, you'll feel like a hero when you vanquish one of the beasts, you'll feel attatchment to a princess you've never talked to... if you get nothing else from this game, I promise, you will feel.

And in the end, isn't that what art is supposed to make you do? It's questionable whether or not computer games could ever be considered art. But if any could be, it's definitely this one.

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So what about you? What experiences do you have of this stellar masterpiece? Did it move you as much as it did me?
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:48 pm

Number 24
RED DEAD REDEMPTION (PS3, 2010)

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Don't you just hate it when your favourite game becomes popular?

In 2004, Rockstar released a Playstation 2 game called Red Dead Revolver. It wasn't particularly well known (although my local GAME ran a huge campaign for it), but I saw it cheap in a local Blockbuster and snapped it up, oddly enough the same day as I got the amazing Burnout 2. And it's an absolute gem! Apparantly it had spent life in development hell, although you wouldn't know it to play it - originally a game by Capcom with a cowboy killing zombies Onimusha style, it was shelved and then passed over to Rockstar San Diego. They turned it into a spaghetti western cowboy shooter (but kept the name), and honestly, it was fantastic! Each level replicated a bit of the old West - you had raids on trains, fighting off Indians, defending carriages, and it built towards an excellent gunslinger tournament at the end. The story was superb too, with a great ending.

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A short while after this came a game from Activision called "Gun". It took the Red Dead Revolver idea, but then based it upon Rockstar's flagship series, Grand Theft Auto. A sandbox wild west game worked exceptionally well, and aside from being horribly bloody, there was little to fault with it - exploring the old west on horseback, hunting buffalo on the plains, playing poker in saloons, it was brilliant. The story too was absolutely ace, with a fantastic twist at the end. I won't spoil it for you, but any game that begins with you defending a steam paddler from bandits only for your dying father to tell you he's not your real dad just before it sinks is definitely onto a winner!

So when Rockstar announced it was releasing Red Dead Redemption, which would be like Gun in being a sandbox style game, words cannot express how excited I was. At last, people would finally realise how superb this series was! But I also had misgivings. People were billing it as "Grand Theft Auto Wild West", and although GTA is a fabulous series, I knew that Red Dead Revolver, and indeed Gun, were so much more than this. I also was worried due to another couple of game series that I loved being ruined due to them becoming big and pandering to a more "mainstream" crowd. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was a wonderful game, beautifully made, great fun, and witty. It sold really well, so of course Ubisoft made the Prince American and brooding and put women in it wearing dental floss and sod all else. Call of Duty: Finest Hour was the war game Medal of Honor wishes it was. Great set pieces, difficult, and really gave you the feel that you were in a war. When Modern Warfare came out, it was critically acclaimed and rightly so. Modern Warfare 2, however, I thought was far more style than substance. To me, they were trying to appear flashy and be "mainstream" rather than focus on what made the original great in the first place.

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Red Dead Redemption is not a direct sequel to Red Dead Revolver, more a spiritual sequel, in the same way that Shadow of the Colossus is to ICO. It's set in the fictious state of New Austin, as well as across the border in Mexico, in the dying days of the Wild West, 1911. You play as John Marston, former gang member, now charged with members of the United States government of hunting down and killing the old members of his gang. The catch? The government have his family, and arn't releasing them until Marson completes his task. So begins an epic adventure which will take Marson from the snow-capped cedars in the north to the scorched desert of Mexico.

Obviously I've been very sparse in my description here, because the story is winding and, as any good sandbox game will do, it's full of twists and turns to give you reason to go exploring across the huge landscape. And it is huge! The game comes with a map, and just looking at it gives you an idea of the scale of the land. The best bit I like is how the different areas actually feel different, rather than just look it. Mexico is a lawless desert land, where you can pretty much start fights with anyone you like as long as it's not the military police. Try that in Blackwater and you'll have New Austin's finest on you - it's the latest in modern advancement, with motor cars, chain stores and churches. Armadillo is your typical Wild-West style town, whereas if you travel further north you can find plains for farming and hunting Bison. Thieves Landing is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, although if you head further West where the law hasn't reached yet you'll find worse! The whole place feels like an untamed wilnerness, the freedom of the West (with Blackwater as a reminder of how those days are soon to end).

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Aside from the superb main story, the other thing which is to be expected from a Rockstar open-world game is side quests. And they are in abundance; you can gain extra weapons and outfits by clearing out bandit hideouts, from rescuing people, from hunting and skinning animals, from winning poker games or throwing horseshoes... the list goes on and one. Treasure hunting is a real treat too, as it just gives you a vague direction and a drawing of an area you're supposed to explore, which gives you a real job actually finding the pile of rocks you're looking for (I can't tell you the amount of times I've been attacked by a mountain lion whilst I've been looking too!). A personal favourite of mine is "Liar's Dice", a game of bluff which was actually used in the second Pirates of the Caribbean film. Of course, the temptation if you lose is to shoot the winners face off, and if you're in a scumhole like Thieves Landing then you can! The game also gives you a "hero/villain" bar where you gain fame or notoriety by performing virtuous or terrible deeds. I think this is quite misleading, however, as completing the main game automatically gives you fame, meaning it's very hard to become a notorious badass if you want to. You can wear a scarf over your face meaning you can perform bad deeds without reprisal if you like, so that feeling of wanton desctruction you get from GTA can be yours even if you are a good guy!

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Whilst I don't want to spoil any of the story, I do have to make mention of the ending (sort of). After wiping out his former gang, Marston goes back to his farm with his wife in peace. But of course, it's never that simple - the law could never allow him to live after all he had done in his past. Cornered in the barn, Marston comes out shooting... and despite impossible odds, after everything, for a brief second, you really believe that you can win. You genuinely think you can do it. Of course, it's never going to happen, and it just makes it all the more sad when the inevitable happens. I know Slayso hates this ending, but I found it incredibly moving, and a great metaphor for the story as a whole; you can fight it all you want, but the inevitable will happen.

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There is one more thing I need to add about this game, and that's the downloadable "Undead Nightmare". A fantastic little add on, it gives you a whole new story where New Austin has been ravaged by a virus that has turned all the animals and people in zombies. With all the stores closed and people barracaded in their homes, you have to scavenge for bullets and weapons and try and stop this plague which is sweeping the land. Undead Nightmare is played straight, yet continually makes obviously references to horror films of the ilk. It also allows you to capture the four horses of the apocalypse, War, Famine, Pestilence and Death, and gives you a whole new set of challenges to boot.

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In the end, I needn't have worried about Red Dead Redemption being ruined by the mainstream. Whilst I will admit that yes, it has a lot of similarities to GTA: the map system, the side-quests, the controls - it's not simply GTA IV in a different setting. The feel of it is entirely different, the landscapes are vast and spectacular, and it genuinely feels like you're taking part in the last great free adventure of the West. And it was all possible because Rockstar saw how the Red Dead Revolver game could be reinvisiged, sold to the masses, and made it as big, as good, and marketed it as massively as it could be.

Don't you just hate it when your favourite game becomes popular?

Nah, me either.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:49 pm

23:
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: MAJORA'S MASK (N64, 2000)

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"You've met with a terrible fate, havn't you?"

Let me make something clear - I don't like scary games. Nor films, nor books, nor any other medium where the aim is to make you frightened. Now this isn't because I'm a wimp who cowers in fear behind the sofa anytime there's a scary noise. Far from it - in fact, the opposite is true. It's precisely because I don't get frightened that I don't like them, because I then find them pointless. To me, zombies and monsters seem a bit neutered in the fear stakes when you have shotguns and flamethrowers to combat them with. And ghosts? Don't make me laugh! You can't scare me if you can't touch me! Just to point out, making you jump isn't the same as being scared. Anything can make you jump if it catches you off guard - I was playing my GameBoy in the kitchen when my mom snuck up behind me, and that made me jump worse than any film or game has ever done!

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The one thing that has always puzzled me is why would anyone want to be scared in the first place? To me, fear is a negative emotion, one that's unpleasant and should be avoided. To actively seek it out seems daft to me. As long as I can remember, boys in my school (and since they've left, too) have participated in this "one upmanship" of who can see the scariest/goriest/bloodiest film. But why would you do it to yourself? A friend of mine, who is really into scary games and films, told me this; "it makes you feel alive. The rush of adrenaline and suspense is a thrilling experience". Which, when you think about it, makes sense. Thing is, fear is a very subjective thing; as previously said, I don't find the usual monsters and zombies thing scary, nor gothic horror or blood and guts. I tend to find things scary in a more psychological way, creepiness and being sinister is what works.

This may seem like a very odd tangent to go on, but trust me, it's got a point!

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After the phenomenal success of Ocarina of Time, everyone was clamouring for a sequel. Problem is, Nintendo have a habit of making people wait for Zelda games; the last console Zelda before Ocarina was A Link to the Past, and that was released 5 years beforehand! But considering Ocarina had sold gangbuster numbers and was touted across the globe as the greatest game of all time, it was a no-brainer that Nintendo should look to be making a sequel. And at Space World 1999 (whatever happened to Space World?) we had screenshots of a young Link walking around a strange land under an angry looking moon. This game had the project title of "Zelda Gaiden", and naturally sent all gaming journalists (not to mention fans!) into a tizzy. And at Christmas 2000, their dreams were made a reality, as Majora's Mask was released. I didn't get this game on a whim like Half Life, or stumble across it in a junk shop like Super Metroid - this was a very deliberate choice. I wanted this game in my stocking more than anything else.

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As a game, Majora's Mask plays a lot like Ocarina, which is a very good thing! The controls are the same, with the c-button item arrangement which worked very well in the last game. This basically means if you've played Ocarina, you'll instantly feel at home. The game looks like Ocarina as well, with most of the characters sprites being identical to that from the previous game, despite being different characters. You might think this is lazy, but you couldn't be more wrong - this is a very clever trick, and works perfectly with the games superb story.

Majora's Mask is a sinister game, there is no question about that. The plot basically goes like this; Link, after defeating Ganon and saving Hyrule in Ocarina of Time, travels away from that land to try and find his lost friend, Navi (although why you would want to is another matter.) Whilst undertaking this task, Link is robbed by a skull kid wearing a strange tribal mask, who lures Link down a dark hole, leading to a strange alternate universe, a universe that is doomed to be crushed by the falling moon in 3 days time. On top of that, the Skull Kid turns Link into a Deku Scrub and steals Epona! Things arn't going well for the young hero of time.

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Your quest, then, is to firstly find a way to turn back into your Hylian self, rescue your horse, and then stop the moon crashing into Termina and save the world. Usual Zelda fare right? Well, not quite. Firstly, these 3 days arn't like stages that you have to work through, nor are they super-slow game time days. Or 3 real time days. They go lighteningly fast. There literally isn't enough time to do everything in the time allotted. So Link, via the Song of Time, can travel back to the beginning of the 1st day, giving him as much time as he wants. But the cruel twist of this is that everything resets; all your hard work saving people counts for nothing. It's a very chilling and sombre experience; throughout your adventure you will reunite 2 lost lovers, save a girl who's lost her memory, help a dead Goron spirit find peace, and in the end, no matter what you do, the moon crashed into the earth and everyone dies regardless.

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The only person who is seemingly aware of events is the Happy Mask Shop salesman, undoubtedly the weirdest character in all of Ocarina of Time, and the only person who seems to be the same person as they were in the previous game. All the other characters use the same sprites as in Ocarina, but like Termina itself, are a strange parody of their Hyrule selves (the begger in Ocarina is the banker in Majora's Mask, for example). The salesman knows what fate befalls Termina and helps Link to escape his Deku Scrub status in return for him getting back his mask (this being the mask the Skull Kid was wearing). And masks have a strange power in Termina; they can give you powers, even alter your appearance. The bunny hood makes you run very fast, the stone golem mask makes you invisible to Gerudo guards. The big ones are the Deku Scrub, Goron and Zora masks, and they actually transform you into those species, allowing you to swim, fly, roll around, etc. Mask collecting is a huge part of the game, as you may expect, and although you don't need them all to complete it, they're very useful.

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oooh err misses....

If you've played Ocarina of Time, you pretty much know what to expect here. Yet what sets is apart from Ocarina I'd say is the creepy tone of the whole thing. If you have played Ocarina of Time, the fact all the characters look familiar yet are complete strangers is very odd to begin with. Some of the fates of the characters are unbearably tragic, and the fact that even if you save them you have to go back to the beginning and undo your work leaves you feeling like your work is for naught. Then there's the moon which leers down at you from the sky, a huge menacing face of destruction hanging in the sky as a constant reminder that you are doomed. The clock at the bottom of your screen, too, moves unrelentingly towards the hour of oblivion, and at the end of every day you get a black screen with white writing on telling you simply how many hours remain. The whole game is just so brilliantly done that it gives you a feeling that no other Zelda does, and very few other games do either - being in a dungeon with only a few minutes remaining before the moon crashes, hearing the rumbling and the chimes of the clock, that's tension which a hundred Resident Evils couldn't match.

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I'll admit that I'm a huge Zelda fan, and I've pretty much had a 15 year long love affair with the series. I've not played one that I havn't loved, and it could very, very easily be The Wind Waker or Twilight Princess sitting in this spot. But Majora's Mask stayed with me slightly more than the others, I think because it has that different feel along with the adventuring and the heart collecting and the side-quests. The final level on the moon, with those skipping children wearing masks, may be one of the most surreal and amazing experiences I've ever had playing a game. The whole thing is just wonderous, and whilst every Zelda is something special to me, it's Majora's Mask which is my favourite.

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So what about you? Was this your favourite Zelda? Are you hoping Nintendo re-release it on the 3DS as much as me? Post your thoughts here!
Last edited by Highlight on Tue Dec 16, 2014 11:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:50 pm

22:
DONKEY KONG COUNTRY 3: DIXIE KONG'S DOUBLE TROUBLE (SNES, 1996)

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Ahhh. Whatever happened to Rareware?

In the '90s, to me, Rare were the best company in the world. Even before their glorious N64 days of Banjo-Kazooie, Diddy Kong Racing and Jet Force Gemini, their SNES years were golden too. They got the attention of most people through a game series called Donkey Kong Country. Now, for years, Donkey Kong was a huge name in the world of video games. He was mostly known for the arcade game of the same name, but he actually spawned loads and loads of spin-offs on several systems long before Mario became Nintendo's mascot. But by the early '90s, Donkey Kong had sort of lost his lustre. A cameo appearance of Donkey Kong Jnr in Super Mario Kart was kinda the only thing he had at that time. Rare, who were a Nintendo second-party company located in Twycross, Leicestershire, originally developed a Mario platfrom game using hi-res, pre-rendered sprites to make the game look graphically advanced. Nintendo didn't think this suited Mario well, but were happy to let them convert it into a game with Donkey Kong instead. And so was born one of the best game series I have ever played.

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The reason Donkey Kong Country was so eye-catching in the first place was because, well, it was eye-catching! The pre-rendered sprites made a lot of people think that the game was running on a new system, rather than the 16-bit SNES. But far from just being a pretty game, Donkey Kong Country played superbly as well. It plays a lot like Mario World, except with a couple of extras; you have both Kongs on hand (unless you get hit), and can switch between them at will, each of them having differing abilities. There are also a bunch of animal friends to ride, such a Squitter the Spider or Enguarde the Swordfish, who can help in your quest to rescue the banana horde captured by the evil reptile King K. Rool. It sold gangbuster numbers, and certainly put the little company from Twycross on the map.

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Two years and a sequel later (titled very originally "Donkey Kong Country 2"), Rare brought out the third installment in the series. In the 2nd game, Donkey Kong had been kidnapped, whereas here, both he AND Diddy Kong had been kidnapped by the Kremlings. How careless! To be fair, seeing was all originally supposed to be Mario, it's hardly surprising that the plot hardly differs from the usual "rescue the Princess" fair. But the plot's not important - what's important is just how much fun this is to play. Platformers in the '90s were the bread and butter of the industry, pretty much every game, based on anything, was a platformer. Yet despite this deluge of games to choose from, Donkey Kong Country 3 still manages to stand head and shoulders above the rest. It's a surprisingly deep game as well; little things, such as finding bonus barrels, banana bird caves and trading with the Brothers Bear meant there was a lot more to this game than just "get to the flag at the end of the level".

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The game also has an interactive overworld map, unlike the previous games. No more is it just a case of following a dotted line between levels. You're now allowed, encouraged even, to explore. Secret caves hide puzzles to unlock banana birds, which will reveal a secret ending. There's a Lost World too, which hold the hardest levels in the game. Funky's Rentals has a series of craft which get upgraded throughout the game, allowing you to reach new levels and hopefully, new secrets!

Speaking of Funky, the Kong clan from the previous games are back too. Wrinkly Kong will save your game (when she's not playing Super Mario 64... seriously!), whilst you can win extra lives, bear coins and bananas from Swanky's sideshow. This is a fun ball-throwing mini game played against Crankey, who is still as hilarious as ever in my book. The rest of the cast of characters is made up with the Brothers Bear, who inhabit various shacks throughout the overworld. You'll need to complete tasks for each of them, which again, will unlock secrets or levels. We're not talking the Legend of Zelda level of trading quests here (although Link does get a mention!), but it's a nice addition.

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But the real reason this game is so good is the excellent and varied platforming levels. You'll go from seaside boardwalks to haunted forests to coral reefs to jungles to sheer cliff-faces, and much more. You'll have levels toboganning down pipelines to swimming in gas to races agains the clock... in short, it's just so much fun! The third installment of many series has a tendency to try and introduce a gimmick or feels it has to alter the core gameplay to appear to be fresh. Donkey Kong Country 3 doesn't do that; it just pulls together what the previous games did so well to make the best of the lot. It's platforming perfection.

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Rareware is apparantly a dirty word with Nintendo these days, so much so that Chris Scullion wouldn't acknowledge my question in a live chat about them. But to me they will always be the best games company I have ever had the fortune to experience the products of, and to play back on this is to be reminded of a golden era of Rare, and gaming in general. And of all the fantastic games they did back then, this probably stands above them all.
Last edited by Highlight on Tue Dec 16, 2014 11:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:51 pm

21:
LYLATWARS (N64, 1997)

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Or "Starwing 64" as it should've been called.

Back in my old hometown of Tamworth, there used to be an independant games shop called Superland. They would let you hire a game for a week for a fiver, which was a lot better deal than Blockbusters! I used to beg my mom every time I went in there for a new game, even if it was only a whim. I remember one week there was a SNES game called Starwing which I liked the look of - I can still remember sitting in the doctors waiting room reading the instruction manual (am I the only one who misses good instruction manuals?). It was a brilliant on-rails space shooter, with stunning state of the art graphics (yeah, you might all laugh now, but back then, this was the upmost in graphical advancement.). The bit I loved about it most was the nonstop action, it was frantic, whether it was battling through space armadas or defending the homeworld Corneria. Clearly a lot of people agreed, and it became a very popular game.

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Fast forward to Space World '96 and the talk of the show was two games, both for the N64. One was a continuation of Squaresoft's best selling RPG series Final Fantasy VII (yeah, about that....), and the other was Starfox 64. I have to say, when I got the N64 there were only 2 games I wanted; Super Mario 64, and this. Renamed Lylatwars in the UK (for some reason Starfox was copyrighted back then), it was basically a remake of Starwing, with the same plot, setting and characters. But because it was on the N64, things were done bigger and better. For starters, in the original the whole game was set on rails, whereas in Lylatwars you can also have all-range mode, which lets you free roam round an arena (great for dogfights!). You also have other vehicles other than the Arwing, such as the Landmaster Tank or Blue Marine sub, which adds some variety to proceedings. One change I think was for the worse though, which was in Starwing, your wingmen could actually die (and gave some famous last words too!), whereas in Lylatwars they just get knocked out for a level whilst their ship is repaired. It's worth keeping them alive though, as they can open different routes and give power ups, but a lot of people argue that sometimes they can be really, really annoying.

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The plot of the game basically runs like this: after waging war against the Lylat galaxy, evil monkey scientist Andross is exiled to the remote planet Venom. However, he was simply biding his time, rebuilding his army and waiting to strike again. And lo and behold, that's exactly what has happened! The Lylat system is overrun, and General Pepper of the Cornerian army has employed you, Fox McCloud, to win the war for the forces of good. Fox is the leader of a mercenary fighter squadron called "Starfox", along with his wingmen Falco (who is brave, yet sarcastic), Slippy Toad (who needs a lot of rescuing), and Peppy Hare (who really likes barrel rolls). There's some schtick in there too about Fox's dad being killed by Andross, but really, the plot is kept to a minimum, which is fine by me - what more excuse do you need to get into a spaceship and blow stuff up with lasers?

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The levels are great and varied. You'll have to defend a base from a flying saucer (very Independance Day), rescue Slippy (surprise!) from a giant tentacled Mantis, blow up an army supply train, and battle your arch-nemesis Starwolf. But to me, it's what goes on between the levels which makes this game so unique, and honestly, is a brilliant idea. In Starwing, you picked your route at the start of the game - easy, medium or hard - and that took you through which levels you would visit. But in Lylatwars, the route you take depends on your actions in game. Complete certain tasks and you'll go one way, fail and you'll go another. Not only does this make things varied, but fact is, as long as you don't die, you can't actually fail at this game - you'll just be taken a different way. Even if all your wingmen die, the Great Fox gets shot down by nuclear missiles and Starwolf blow up the base, as long as Fox McCloud lives to fight another day, you're a winner (although I will say, if you end up on Titania without meaning to, you suck at this game).

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Lylatwars may not be the deepest game you ever play, but its just pure fun. It also, by the way, introduced a feature to gaming which has been a staple ever since - the Rumble Pak. Before rumbling was built into controllers, Nintendo invented an add-on which plugged into the back of the N64 controller. Rumbling seemed made for Fox McCloud - it was so well done, giving great feedback and building tension leading upto boss fights. It surprises me no end that Nintendo hasn't made a sequel which matches up to this - it's been 15 years for crying out loud! Assault wasn't bad, but the on-foot sections brought it down, and whilst I loved Adventures, the Arwing sections were an afterthought to the main adventuring. Command on the DS was just a dissapointment - thankfully Nintendo re-released this on the 3DS to remind us all how good Starfox can be! So c'mon Nintendo, what do you say? Just make a sequel to this that's the same, but just, well, bigger. No Wii motion controls or DS stylus or any other console gimmicks - just mash A to fire, zip around the screen, and do a barrel roll!
Last edited by Highlight on Tue Dec 16, 2014 11:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:52 pm

20:
PIKMIN 2 (Gamecube, 2004)

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What better game to play on Earth Day?

With all this talk of a new Pikmin game recently, it's made me think about how much I love the little carrot-like critters. Whilst people complain that Nintendo lives off it's core franchises of Pokemon, Zelda and Mario, Pikmin proved that Shiregu Miyamoto still had originality coursing through his veins. It's quite funny how the idea for this game came about (that said, ideas can crop up in the strangest places!). Gardens are a rareity in Japan, and Miyamoto-San was fascinated by his when he moved house. He especially liked the way that the ants would work together to move objects much larger than themselves around the garden. From this, the idea for Pikmin was formulated, and all I can say is thank goodness for gardens!

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Pikmin 2 has you playing as Captain Olimar, a space captain who is small of stature and also small on luck. In the first game, he accidentally crash landed his ship, the Dolphin, on a strange alien world. With only enough life support for 30 days, Olimar seemed doomed. But on this planet were odd creatures, half flora, half fauna (think Bulbasaur) called Pikmin. Olimar found he could command them, and by doing so was able to retreive his spaceship parts. Pikmin was a great game, and being able to control up to a hundred Pikmin at a time to solve puzzles, defeat enemies and find the vital Dolphin parts made a fantastic and unique experience. There were a couple of issues though; the game had a 30 day time limit, which meant that your game ended after the time limit had expired, regardless of whether or not you had enough parts. Whilst this, like Majora's Mask, did add a excitement to proceedings, it also meant you felt slightly rushed, whilst your natural instincts were to take your time and explore the surroundings. Thankfully, Pikmin 2 addressed this, and Nintendo produced a sequel which tops the original in nearly every single way.

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In the sequel, Olimar's employer, Hocotate Freight, has found itself in deep debt, and Olimar has been tasked to go back to the planet of the Pikmin to try and scavenge goods to pay it off. For company Olimar finds himself with an assistant of questionable calibre called Louie, and a chatty ship who seems fixated on material goods. Olimar and Louie can both call upon the help of the Pikmin (who now have 2 more colours to choose from) to aid them in their quest. Red Pikmin are very strong & immune to fire, Yellow Pikmin can be thrown high, are immune to electricity and can hold bomb rocks, blue Pikmon can breath underwater, whilst Purple Pikmin are very heavy and can lift massive objects. But personally it's the new White Pikmin which are my favourite - they're super fast ninja Pikmin with glowing red eyes, and are so poisonous that if enemies eat them they die! Awesome. You can have up to 100 Pikmin in the field at one time, but the difference this time around is that you can control different groups with Olimar & Louie, and switch between them at will. You can even play 2 player with each of you controlling one group each, which is a fantastic addition to the game.

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Because of Louie, the watchward of the game is now "multi-tasking". Despite the fact the 30 day time limit has been removed, you still have a sense of urgency as making your way through the games many environments can eat up your day. The sun meter at the top of the screen tells you how long of the day has passed, and you have to be back to your ship by nightfall - any Pikmin not safely back in their Onions (that's their ships) by the days end will be eaten by the noctornal creatures of the planet. Yes, even the poisonous ones.

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Most of your game will be taken up by exploring the planet looking for treasure (treasure, which, incidentally, can take the form of anything from a rubber duck to a Duracell battery!). However, there are a new addition to the game which were missing from the first game; dungeons. These underground caverns work differently to the normal gameplay mechanic, as you're basically limited to only the Pikmin you take in with you when you enter. You're given a basic idea of what threats each cave will entail, so you can plan to an extent, but with dangerous bosses and randomly generated layouts it can be a minefield. Time stands still when you're down there though, so you can be as methodical as you like, and it also means you can extend what you can get done in a day if you're organised.

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The word which comes to mind when I think of Pikmin 2 is "charming". Which is odd, because in a way it's quite sinister; you use Pikmin to kill the local fauna and flora, feed it into the Onions to then generate more Pikmin. Part of me worries that, with enough of them, Pikmin would easily strip a whole world bare! But the wonderfully beautiful environments, soundtrack and the fact that you arn't scrimped on time means you're allowed to explore at your leisure. The Pikmin are adorable too, and I genuinely feel bad whenever I let one die! I also love the addition which means that you can look over the enemies, bosses and treasure you have collected in your database. Some of the names and ideas of what Olimar thinks we use our items for is hilarious! (Kinda like the seagull from The Little Mermaid saying a fork is a comb!)

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I thought the first Pikmin was a great game, but this one improves upon it in every way. I, like anyone who has played this, is dying for a sequel. I'm also super-lucky that I got to play this on a Sunday which means I, like Olimar, have all the time in the world to explore with the Pikmin! Happy Earth Day everyone!
Last edited by Highlight on Tue Dec 16, 2014 11:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:54 pm

19:
PAPER MARIO: THE THOUSAND YEAR DOOR (Gamecube, 2004)

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A game so good it made the sig!

2004 was, truth be told, a pretty crappy year for me. Won't go into details, but it was one of my worst years on record, and I find it hard to look back at any of it with fondness. Video games were always a great route for escapism for me; didn't matter if things wern't going well in the real world, as I could always lose myself in 16-Bit fantasy (or, at this point, 128-Bit fantasty. What Bit are we on at the moment, by the way?). However, this plan kinda went a bit pear shaped come October as, for reasons I still don't understand, my Gamecube broke. I think it had something to do with the laser reader, but whatever it was, it was bust and no matter where I took it, they all said I needed a new one. So I had to make do with just my PS2, which would normally be fine, except the sequels released at the time (Smackdown vs Raw, Timesplitters: Future Perfect) were quite dissapointing compared to the originals that I loved. It was a long, long wait until Christmas where my mom surprised me with a new purple Gamecube! Was extremely pleased, and even more so as I had a new game to play on it; Paper Mario 2. And boy, was it worth the wait!

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In the dying days of the N64, getting games was hard to come by. Releases were few and far between, and those that were usually cost between £50-£75 (not joking at all). I think there were only 3 games which I bought in that whole last 18 months of the N64s life; Pokemon Stadium 2 (which set me back a cool £75), Conker's Bad Fur Dar, and Paper Mario. The latter is still very rare, and can fetch a pretty penny on eBay. It's basically an RPG but done with Mario, but the twist is all the characters are 2-dimensional in a 3D world (hence the title). This means that you can do things like turn sideways and go through narrow gaps, roll up like a newspaper and roll down hills, turn into a paper aeroplane... basically, it adds a great deal of originality to proceedings. The look of the game is also very unique and charming, and reminds me of Micky Mouse in his old Steamboat Willie days (and no, I'm not old enough to remember it!)

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Mario RPG games have always been replete with humour, and this one is no different. Seriously, whoever makes the Paper Mario series, and the Mario & Luigi series must be a blast to hang out with, as these games had me giggling from beginning to end! I love how it never takes itself too seriously, even the villains play comic relief - Bowser, being relegated to second fiddle this time, spends his time stomping after Mario with Kamek in tow, and is actually controllable between stages in levels modelled after Super Mario Bros. Despite the humour being present throughout, the game is also a grand adventure, your quest never made light by the fact that you're laughing all the way through!

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The plot is the usual Nintendo fare (Nintendo make great games, but they don't do good plots!). Princess Peach has been kidnapped (big surprise), but not by Bowser this time. Instead, it's the evil X-Nauts, led by Sir Grodus, that have done the deed. They figure there is an ancient treasure below Rogueport, and Princess Peach holds the keys to unlocking it. The treasure lies behind the Thousand Year Door, and requires seven crystal stars to unlock it. So Mario must travel to Rogueport, rescue the princess, collect the stars and unlock the treasure. Basically you could substitute this for any Nintendo RPG (take Ocarina of Time/Twilight Princess/A Link to the Past, for example - rescue the princess, collect 7 artifacts to collect your prize.... yeah). But ultimately, the plot isn't what's important. What is important is the quest this plot takes you on. And it's utterly joyous!

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So, as Mario, you explore the overworld and go into combat with enemies to gain EX to level up - so far, so RPG. But there are slight differences. Firstly, the battles arn't random as with games like Pokemon or Golden Sun; you see the enemies on the overworld map, and by coming into contact with them, you initiate the battle (think Final Fantasy XII and you get the idea). If you hit them in the overworld, then you get a free hit on them in the battle phase, which in itself is superbly done. The turn-based battles take place on a stage, in front of an audience. The more stylish your attacks, the more they'll show their appriciation, which can build up your star meter and unleash devastating attacks! If you've played Mario & Luigi, the combat will be familiar, as it's not a simple case of just picking your attacks and waiting for your character to strike - you have to time button presses and move the control stick to get the best out of your combat. You also have to watch out for the audience, as they can help or hinder you - falling backrounds and thrown items are just some of the things you have to contend with. It's one of the most original and brilliant combat arenas I've seen in an RPG, and seeing some of the massive bosses try and squeeze onto a tiny stage is hilarious!

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I can't think of another word to describe this game but "joyous". I loved playing it - I love the way the characters are stylish and charming, I love the original combat system, I love the way the game blends the 2D characters with the 3D environments, I love the Glitzville level as a whole (I'm a sucker for tournaments) which blended a wrestling tournament with a whodunnit mystery, I love how Mario's ringtone is the theme from Super Mario World, I love how Luigi pops up to tell Mario about his own adventure which sounds remarkably similar to Mario's one, I love how the treasure box who gives you new abilities thinks that it's cursing you... hell, I just love it all! I especially loved the cutscenes with Bowser where it shows you what's going on with him. Peach's cutscenes are good too, but a little weird - that robot camera that falls in love with her makes me feel a bit icky (made me look around any time I took a shower, certainly!). But overall, this is a game that made me smile from ear to ear when playing it, and does now going back to it.

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Little known fact - today is actually my birthday. And I can't think of a better present than to have an excuse to play this amazing game again. Share your love for Paper Mario here!
Last edited by Highlight on Tue Dec 16, 2014 11:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:55 pm

18:
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 (MegaDrive, 1992)

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I'm going to sound like one of those stereotypical Vietnam veterans from a war film, now. Just imagine me bitter, with an eye patch, dodgy arm tattoo and a glass of scotch if you like. But regardless of how it makes me sound, it's definitely true; "If you weren't there, you don't know what it was like".

It's very hard to explain to someone who wasn't alive in the early '90s just how massive Sonic the Hedgehog was. I mean, everyone knows Sonic as a gaming character, and if you've only just joined the gaming party, you've no doubt heard stories about his exploits on the MegaDrive, about the days when he and Mario went head to head and Sega and Nintendo were bitter enemies. All those days seem like such a long time ago, especially when you now have Mario & Sonic in the same games nowadays, either sprinting at the Olympics or fighting in Smash Bros. But back when Sonic 2 was released, this was no game - this was a very real fight.

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Service Games, or "Sega" for short, entered into the foray of home consoles at a time when Nintendo was very much king. The NES had taken the market by storm, partly by being cheap compared to other home computers, and partly due to it's accesibility and addictive games like Mario Bros, Metroid and Castlevania. Mario, in particular, had become a mascot for Nintendo, and as such lots of other companies were trying to create their own popular characters to try and propel them to success. With this aim, Sega instructed it's AM-8 team to to develop a game which would feature a mascot for the company. Originally the idea was for Sonic to pick up objects and throw them at enemies, but they decided the animation would be too complicated. Instead, they had made the character with spikes with the idea he could simply plough through enemies; the character was codenamed "Mr Needlemouse", and that was that.

Little did they know what a huge commercial success he would become.

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Sega's head of US operations at the time was itching to have a go at Nintendo, but this just wasn't how things were done in Japan. Service Games was a proud company, and the idea of directly attacking a competitor was a big no-no. But American capitalism works differently than in Japan, and after convincing the higher-ups at Sega that this would definitely be a good idea, Sega started a campaign to push Sonic and attack Mario.

And boy, did they ever. Adverts with the tagline "Sega do what Nintendon't" appeared on TV. Sega travelled around shopping malls of America, getting people to play Sonic and say how much better they found it than Mario. They even did a commercial where an old biddy said how she hated Sonic for being so fast and cool, and "he should be more like that nice boy Mario". The MegaDrive did legitimately have an advantage over the SNES in that it could load images onto the screen faster than the SNES could, and therefore make games like Sonic possible. Of course, they didn't need to say it like that - it was simply "Sonic is cool, Mario is square". It was a tactic never seen in the video game market before, and started a game of one-upmanship which would last until Sega bowed out of the console market a decade later.

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After the massive success of Sonic the Hedgehog, where for Sega to go next? The obvious answer was "Sonic 2", and so on Tuesday November 24th 1992 (dubbed "Sonic Twos-day") Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was released for the MegaDrive in America and Europe. As far as sequels go, it's pretty much perfect, as it takes what made the original so great and improved upon it in every way. The reason Sonic was so much fun in the first place was, in my view, it's simplicity. You play as Sonic (I don't need to tell you who he is!), and the object of the game is to basically get from one end of the level to the other as fast as possible. You have rings to collect, which you lose if you get hit - get hit with no rings and you lose a life. You kill enemies by either rolling through them or jumping on them, and every single button is jump. And that's it, all there is to it. Add in some great platforming levels and lightening fast movement and you've got a very accesible, yet very playable and rewarding experience.

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Sonic 2 takes the originals core mechanics and builds upon them. It adds a 2 player mode by introducing Tails, who runs behind Sonic and can be controlled by a second player. Tails can also be controlled by the CPU, but seeing as friendly AI seems to be terrible in games nowadays, never mind 1992, I tend to just choose "Sonic alone" when playing single player. There are more zones this time around, with most having 2 Acts (although one has 3), making a total of 20 levels to plough through. These are varied and colourful, taking you from the serene Emerald Hill Zone to the manic Aquatic Ruin Zone (damn water levels!), to the dingy and dangerous Mystic Cave Zone (which has awesome music!), to the final confrontation aboard Dr Robotnik's homage to Darth Vader, the Death Egg. The musical score is utterly fantastic, with many of the tunes being some of the very best a 16-Bit sound chip could muster (I actually have the music for the Chemical Plant Zone as my phone alarm!). This was far more than just a rushed game to cash in on the success of Sonic's first outing - this was the absolute best platformer the MegaDrive ever had.

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One major change in Sonic 2 was the special stages. In the original, if you had over 50 rings by the end of the level, you got sent a rotating maze with a chaos emerald at the centre. There were 7 in total, and if you got them all then you got a slightly different screen when you completed the game - scant reward considering as how hard it was to get them! However, in Sonic 2 you could go to the special stages if you had over 50 rings anytime you touched a starpost (which were dotted around each level). Instead of a spinning maze, Sonic ran down a half pipe, and had to collect a certain number of rings in order to complete the stage. This added more skill to proceedings, and they were great fun (even if a CPU Tails could ruin everything), but that wasn't the only change. Instead of just a change in the "well done" screen at the end of the game, this time if you obtained all 7 chaos emeralds you were able to change into Super Sonic, an invincible yellow demon based on the Super Saiyans from Dragonball Z. Able to move at ridiculously fast speeds and indestructable bar bottomless pits, it gave you a real incentive to try and do the special stages this time around. (My fastest is to get them all by Casino Night Zone, Act 2 - how about you?)

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It's impossible to explain how just how huge Sonic was to someone who wasn't around in the early '90s. The only thing that was as big as he was at the time were The Simpsons, who's popularity has remained pretty high since, unlike Sonic. His face was on cereal boxes, he had floats in parades, there were Sonic toys with Happy Meals; it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. To those of you who have only known him in 3D form, I feel sorry for you. Sonic Adventure 2 isn't a bad game (far from it!), but compared to the utter brilliance of the MegaDrive originals, it's a shadow (no pun intended) of what Sonic was. And the less said about Sonic & the Secret Rings, Werehog, or the 2006 game entitled "Sonic the Hedgehog" the better.

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If those are the only experiences you have of Sonic games, then you may be forgiven for thinking him a sub-par character, a relic from the past of a company who was once great but doesn't know when to call it day with their franchise (a bit like Mortal Kombat). You might even play this and believe that it's not very good - 16-bit 1992 graphics arn't that impressive, Tails can be irritating when the CPU is in control, and the lack of a save function means that you have to play it through in one go. And if that's all you know of Sonic, then chances are nothing I say will change your opinion. But if you were there when this came out, then no explanation is necessary - to play it is to go back to a time when everyone knew the sound of collecting rings, of a time when Sega did what Nintendon't. Loving Sonic is a bit like being in an abusive relationship - you keep telling yourself "next time will be different" after each horrible episode, because you remember back to when it was good. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a reminder of that time - a time when Sonic was a phenomenon, and games were golden.

So if you were there, like me, I don't need to say any more, do I? WASN'T IT GREAT?!?
Last edited by Highlight on Tue Dec 16, 2014 11:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:56 pm

17:
WWF: NO MERCY (N64, 2000)

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Yes, really.

Similarly to my post yesterday about Sonic the Hedgehog, you can't really explain the appeal of professional wrestling to a non-wrestling fan. If you like it, no explanation is necessary - if you don't, none will do. Some people will call it a sport, others will call it a soap-opera, but in reality it's a unique attraction not really like anything else. Detractors will say it's "fake", but I dislike that word - you can't break your neck doing something that's fake. "Scripted" would be a more accurate description of it, as the outcomes are pre-determined to advance the storylines. But the action in the ring really happens; they're athletes of great ability, and also are actors and comedians and allsorts besides. Ultimately, it's great entertainment, and anyone who's a fan will attest that wrestling has made the feel as much, if not more, emotion and excitement than any other form of entertainment out there.

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WWF No Mercy was released during the biggest boom period in American wrestling history. It was known as "The Attitude Era", and was based around providing the most daring, raunchiest, pushing-the-envelope programming that was allowed to air at the time. Whereas wrestling heroes of the '80s were all-around good guys who obeyed the rules and never gave up, the main heroes of the Attitude Era were Stone Cold Steve Austin (who drank beer, beat up his boss and use the middle finger like it was going out of fashion), and The Rock (who would verbally and physically humiliate his opponents at every opporunity, all whilst wearing shades and raising one eyebrow). It was like nothing anyone has seen before, and helped the promotion (WWF at the time, now WWE) catch fire. I'm sure even those of you who havn't watched wrestling have heard of The Rock! It was a different time back then - Jerry Springer and South Park were the highest rated shows on TV, which shows how outlandish and outrageousness was what people were after. The World Wrestling Federation just tapped into that.

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Before No Mercy, there had been some superb wrestling games on the N64 before. Acclaim had released the much vaunted WWF Warzone and WWF Attitude, the former of which introduced something which has been the staple of wrestling games, and in fact lots of games, since; the "create a character" feature. The idea of being able to design, name, and use your own wrestler was incredibly popular, and it's no wonder it's been copied by everyone since! Meanwhile, THQ had released WCW vs nWo World Tour, and WCW/nWo Revenge, based upon the WWF's main rivals at the time, World Championship Wrestling (I wish I had time to tell you some stories about World Championship Wrestling, that company was run by imbeciles). Whilst Warzone and Attitude were more like traditional fighting games with button-combos to perform moves, THQs games were slower and more methodical; you pressed B to strike or A to grapple, and once grappled you could then perform several moves by pressing a direction and then either A or B. It was very playable, and the control system allowed you to interact with the ring and surrounding area very well. At the time, WCW was on a downward spiral and WWF was on the up, so THQ paid megabucks to gain the liscence for the World Wrestling Federation. They took the base for their WCW games and built WWF Wrestlemana 2000, released in November 1999, which was incredibly popular. A year later, WWF No Mercy was released, and is in my opinion the greatest wrestling game ever (to give you some idea of how good it is, it scored the same in ONM as Majora's Mask, 96%).

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Gameplay wise, No Mercy is a very solid fighter. This isn't your typical Tekken-style smash the buttons, it's a more methodical approach, wearing your opponent down slowly is the order of the day. Instead of a health bar you have an Attitude Meter, which starts on green and then goes redder when you gain momentum, or blue if you lose it. The more blue it goes, the more likely you are to be pinned or submit. You can also get a SPECIAL bar up if your meter goes really red, which allows you to pull off devastating finishing moves. There's a tremendous amount of variety in a matchup, as there are in real wrestling matches - you can get weapons from the crowd, and use the announce tables as weapons, even go to a variety of backstage areas such as the boiler room and a pool hall!

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There absolutely loads of features too. You can fully customise your wrestlers outfits and movesets, and can create your own PPVs and can buy new characters, outfits and weapons from the WWEshop (that's the in-game shop with in-game credits, no Mass Effect style DLC here!). Then there's the career mode, where you choose which title you want to compete for and go through a series of matches linked together by a storyline (how you perform depends on which route you take). There's also loads and loads of different match types, from cages to the new ladder matches to the Royal Rumble. There's also the Guest Referee mode, where you get to control the match official. I find it utterly hilarious to play this, as I take great joy being as biased as possible! It tends not to be included much anymore in wrestling games, which is a shame.

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No Mercy is a wrestling fans dream - it played amazingly well, and had all the modes, matches and options you could possibly want. There are people online who have made their own versions by taking the core of the game and mapping new textures onto the characters and environments. And if they can do it, why can't THQ? I can see literally no reason as to why they havn't redone an updated version for the 3DS, especially seeing as THQ still hold the WWE liscene. WWE No Mercy 3DS would quite possibly be top of my fantasy wishlist.
Last edited by Highlight on Tue Dec 16, 2014 11:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:57 pm

16:
PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER 6 (PS2, 2006)

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Football - the beautiful game. It has it's many detractors; people who say the players are overpaid primadonnas, that the fans are thugs, that it's just a bunch of men chasing a ball around (which is the dumbest thing I've heard - by that logic, Hamlet is just some paper with ink on it), but in the end, it inspires and excites and enthralls more people than any other sport in the world.

For this reason, football games have always been a staple of gaming, as it's already got a target audience. In the days of the Amiga and Spectrum, football games where you get to control the players tended to be a bit simplistic and poor. Managerial games were better though, and I had a game called "Manchester United football manager" where you could control the squad, tactics and take your team through a season (you could only play as Man U, but to be fair the clue is in the title). There was also Emlyn Hughes soccer, which was alright (I doubt many of you know who Emlyn Hughes is!), but it wasn't until World Cup Italia '90 on the MegaDrive (with awesome title music!) that football games truely became great.

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Italia '90 was a top-down game similarly to Sensible Soccer (which was also apparantly superb but I never played). The reason that made it so great, and in fact, the reason all good football games are great, was because the gameplay was fantastic. It was hard to win, but you felt that you could - winning felt like an uphill battle at times, but never a frustrating impossibility. It may seem as simplistic as anything now, but for core gameplay, I'll take it over FIFA any day.

Konami were the company to truely make football games as they ought to be. Whilst EA released FIFA International Soccer on the SNES, Konami had International Superstar Soccer, and comparing the two, there was no contest. ISS Deluxe, especially, was utterly brilliant; the controls were spot on, the tackles were beautifully weighted, it had everything in there which made football fans happy. Yes, it didn't have real names or club teams, but it didn't matter - kicking a ball around is fun regardless if it was "Alunn Sheepdip" doing it.

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With the release of the N64, ISS hit it's stride. ISS 64 and ISS '98 were both miles ahead of the FIFA offerings at the time (as well as any other offerings; Adidas Total Soccer, anyone?). Instead of being able to just hit a button and do a stepover or a bicyle kick, ISS made you work for the victory. You felt like you'd earned a win, whereas in FIFA it was all too easy - Press B in FIFA and they'd even aim the shot for you, whereas ISS you had to direct it. It had a wicked penalty system too that I wish someone would copy, as you had a box which you moved around the goal to aim the shot, and the goalie had one to move in which to save it; the better the striker, the smaller the box, the better the goalie, the bigger the box. There was a scenario feature too, which put you in the middle of a match with the idea of then having to go on and win (ever wanted to rewrite history and make England beat Germany in Euro '96?). I cannot for the life of me understand why this hasn't been carried over, as it's a great idea and I loved doing it. ISS also allowed you to edit the players for each team as well as create your own, so if you're picky (like me) then you can make the names correct and means FIFA loses whatever advantage it had over Konami's offering. It's still an N64 game though, so the crowd still looks like cardboard and the commentary is atrocious. But who cares when it's this much fun to play?

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When the Playstation 2 was released, Konamia evolved it's series (known as Winning Eleven in Japan, and still is), and released a game called Pro Evolution Soccer. It took everything that had made the previous ISS games great and built upon them. The gameplay was far and away the most solid of any football game released, and it became a best-seller as a result. I didn't get a PS2 until December 2003, by which time Pro Evolution Soccer 3 was out. I got it and was instantly hooked. It was the football game I had always wanted - challenging, realistic, and brilliant fun to play. People always say about how great FIFA's graphics are, but I've always thought Konami's series has been much better on that front as it looks so much more realistic. It was steets ahead of even previous Pro Evo games, for 2 reasons; firstly, it included club teams from the major leagues of Europe (all of which were fully customisable, badges, kits, players, everything!), and secondly, the Master League.

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The Master League is essentially the career mode of Pro Evolution. You pick a club (either real or you can make it from scratch), and you are given control over the team and the purchase and selling of players. Regardless of what club you choose, you start with the same squad of losers (although there is a choice to go with the normal team, but that defeats the point), and earn money by winning games and trophies. The basic aim of the game is this; by the seasons end, you must balance the books (Portsmouth/Rangers, take note!). This creates a fine balancing act between buying players you need, and not going over-budget. I know so many people (and I was one of them!) who spend the first season of the master league sitting down, with a pen and a calculator, to work out how much they're likely to make, how much to spend, and then hunting for the best bargains available. This also encourages you to go in search of some hidden gems, and the game is so deep and excellent with it's players and stats that it can almost predict the future - I have a friend who, on Pro Evo 3 in 2003 had as his 2 strikers a young pair named Lucas Podolski and Carlos Tevez. The game showed how, in about 8 or 9 years, they'd go on to be awesome, and how right it was! (I am in no way, shape or form joking about this by the way. My friend now insists he should be a scout based upon this).

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So then, why Pro Evo 6? Why not 5, or 7, or the latest installment? That's a perfectly valid question. Pro Evo built upon itself year on year after the original, adding more teams, more features, more liscences - by the 6th game it was almost perfect. I didn't really play the 2007/08/09 versions very much either, as I thought they seemed far more clunky than the predocessors. Pro Evolution 2010 was a fantastic return to form, and added a fully liscenced Champion's League mode to boot, and an entire league of blank teams for which you to create whatever you fancy. Some people made these into the Bundelisga teams (sadly missing from the game), but I made them into The Championship, with the idea of then being able to tackle the Master League as Derby County (won the league on the final day, eat that Liverpool!). 2010 would probably be here if it wasn't for the fact they've made the penalty system absolutely awful. It's Pro Evo 6, despite being 6 years old this year, which I'm holding up as the best, simply because playing it gives you a better sense of the feel of football than any other. It's an utter joy in every way.

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This write-up is different to all the ones that go before it because there's no need to explain the characters or the plot or the objectives of the game. You all know what football is. And if you're a fan, you know what you're looking for in a football game. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 delivers that all in spades, and then some. You may be put off with the idea of not all the names and liscences being correct (although they've added lots more as time has gone on), but honestly, it's a minor inconvenience that can be rectified via editting. And part of me actually doesn't want it to be fully liscenced, because the online forums that sprang up to discuss different ways of creating kits and badges meant you felt like you were part of a community, and that your finished editted game was something you were proud to have made yourself. The Master League is as deep and enthralling as anything you could ask for - it's like the footballing version of Gran Turismo, it's practically life-consuming.

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Pro Evolution Soccer 6 was easily my most played game of 2007. Spending ages editting all the kits, players, leagues and badges just so I could experience the joy of playing as Tamworth FC in the Master League was a hugely rewarding experience. It's everything you could possibly want in a football game, and due to the nature of it, is infinitely replayable too.
Last edited by Highlight on Thu Dec 18, 2014 11:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:59 pm

15:
GOD OF WAR I, II & III (PS2/PS3 2005/2007/2010)

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Ok, I'll hold my hands up here - I've cheated. This is supposed to be a countdown of my top 30 games ever, and I've included 3 in one go. Bad, bad Nell. But to be fair, there is a completely legitimate reason that I've done this; I simply can't split them. Seriously, all 3 of these games are just as fantastic as each other, and try as I might, I can't put my finger on a single installment as standing above the others.

I never played God of War until very recently, the last year or so. The original came out on PS2 back in 2005, and I was tempted to get it, but I think I didn't for the same reason a lot of people didn't; it came out in August, the height of summer, and as such there were holidays and days out a myriad of other things for people to spend their money on. As a result, it didn't sell very well, which is a real shame, as it's brilliant fun to play. There was clearly enough clamour for a sequel, however, as God of War II was released in 2007, in the much more sensible month of April. The third and final part of the triolgy came out in 2010 on the PS3, but because I had missed out on the first game, I had no inclination to get it. Thankfully, my original oversight in 2005 was going to be recified.

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At my workplace, one of the assistant manager's was an avid gamer, and we'd often talk about games we'd played and share in our experiences. He was utterly horrified that I hadn't gotten a game called "Arkham Asylum", and badgered me relentlessly to play it. After several weeks of nagging, I finally relented, and had an absolute ball with it! Normally I don't like taking suggestions on anything. I hate the idea of people telling me what I should like. And anyway, if I listened to everyone's suggestions, I'd never have time to do anything else, so I took the decision a long time ago to just not bother listening to anybody. But after the brilliance of Batman, I figured I might be more open to suggestion from now on.

So we made a trade; I'd play God of War if he played Super Metroid. There was a double pack for the PS3 where you could get both God of War I & II on one disc, and I found it quite cheap online (about £25 I think). And as far as bargains go, you'd be hard pressed to find anything better than that!

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In God of War you play as Kratos, the "ghost of Sparta", a former soldier in the Spartan army who, in the face of certain death, made a pact with Aries, the God of War. Aries spared Kratos' life in exchange for him being his soldier forever more - his arms were bound with chains attached to the blades of chaos, whirling swords of destruction. But the greek gods are a cruel bunch, and Aries tricked Kratos into killing what he saw as his only restraining influence - his family. After murdering his wife and child, Kratos swore vengeance against the god of war, and it's your mission to destroy Aries in an act of revenge (and before he can wipe Athens off the map due to a spat with his sister Athena). Let me get one thing straight before we begin - Kratos is no hero. If you're expecting a whiter than white captain of virtue in shining armour, you can forget about it. Kratos thinks nothing of hacking and murdering anyone who gets in his way (you can get red orbs by killing the civilians in Athens!)

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The game is a blend if platforming, action and puzzles, and takes place from a third-person perspective. You have 2 weapons (Blades of Chaos and the Blade of Artemis later), and by killing enemies you can collect red orbs which can be used to power up your weapons or unlock extra combos and attacks. You also have magic, which can be used to turn enemies into stone with Madusa's Gaze, unleashing undead hordes with the Army of Hades, and much more besides. There's also a special ability called "Rage of the Gods", which can be charged up by killing enemies, which turns you momentarily invunerable and increases attack damage. There are also several "quick-time" style attacks, usually against bosses, which can be used to kill enemies in a variety of unique and bloodthirsty ways (ripping a gorgons head off or pulling out a cyclops' eye, for example).

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I will make no bones about this - God of War is very, very violent. Blood and gore abound everywhere, but I don't think it's done to try and appeal to the immature. Instead, I think due it being loosely based on Greek mythology, God of War is unashamedly gorey because Greek mythology was too. Kratos may be the protagonist, but he's a self-serving mass murderer, and to have him behave in any other way than a violent thug would undermine his character. You've no doubt also heard about the sex minigame in there too (which takes place on Kratos' ship in the 1st game and Aphrodite's chamber in the third), where you press buttons and move the control stick around to pleasure the woman, or women, you are with (quick word of advice though boys - this may not be how it actually works in real life). Basically, the game is unapologetic in it's depiction of Greek mythology, and I think it's all the richer for it.

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But if I've made it sound like a mindless hack-and-slash affair, then I apologise because nothing could be further from the truth. The combat is fluid and very very fun; combos are simple to pull off, and battling multiple enemies at once becomes a pleasure rather than a chore. The puzzles are incredibly well thought out too, and some of them are utterly genius. A great example of this is Hera's Garden from God of War III: the garden is full of walkways and ladders which are unconnected. But standing on specific switches changes the perspective to the point of view of a statue, and then all of a sudden those walkways and ladders become attatched to each other, like an M.C Escher drawing, allowing you to scale the level. It's so, so clever. And in Pandora's Labrynth from the first game, the entire level is a rotating maze of circles, and if you reach the centre you can rotate it and alter the layout and where you can get to. It's the variety and the sheer brilliance of the levels and puzzles which impresses me most about the games.

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The plots are absolutely brilliant too. As previously said, they're loosely based on Greek mythology (so if you're a purist, look away now!). At the beginning of the first game, Kratos is seen throwing himself from some cliffs in an effort to kill himself. The first game then plays as a flashback; after killing the Hydra for the god Poseidon, Kratos is guided to Athena's oracle, battling his way through Aries' minions to get there. Athena tells Kratos in order to defeat Aries that he should retrieve Pandora's Box, an item which holds great power. It is hidden in a temple which the Titan Kronos carries on his back (a punishment for his role in the war against Olympus). Kratos must find his way to the temple, obtain the artifact, and escape from the very depths of hell itself to defeat Aries and gain his vengeance.

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The second game sees Kratos as the newly installed God of War after Aries demise in the first game. Disollusioned and arrogant, Kratos manages to irritate his former ally Athena and Zeus by staging an attack on Rhodes. Tricked into making himself mortal by Zeus, Kratos is killed. However, he has an unlikely ally in the form of Gaia, the earth Titan. The Titans were rulers of the world before the Olympic gods, and Gaia saves Kratos in the hope he can overthrow Zeus in revenge. Kratos must travel to the islands of the Sister of Fate, who weave the fabric of destiny. Only by altering his destiny can Kratos undo Zeus' murder of him, and therefore can gain revenge. Commandeering the winged Pegasus, Kratos fights his way through many others trying to change their destiny too (including Theseus, the barbarian king who was due to kill him before his pact with Aries, Perseus, Icarus, Atlas and Euryale) and he ends up at the Palace of Fates. This battle highlights the genius of God of War, as the sisters of fate try and alter destiny and make you try and lose the boss fight with Aries at the end of the first game! (Think Marty McFly going back to save himself in Back to the Future II). The whole game is incredible, the set-pieces are stunning (I can particularly recall running down the chains which connect the stone horses to the island and smacking my gob), and in terms of gameplay, is pretty similar to the first game, which is a very good thing!

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The third game picks up where the second left off, with the Titans climbing Mount Olympus with Kratos in tow to try and take down the gods. Of course, they're having none of that, so Poseidon, Zeus, Hermes, Hades, Apollo and the rest attempt to drive Kratos and the Titans off the mountain. Gaia allows Kratos to fall, stating he was merely a pawn, and so Kratos falls into the river Styx in the underworld. Defeating Hades, Kratos then climbs the chain of Olympus in an attempt to reach the Flame, which, if extinguished, would mean the end of Zeus. During his quest, Kratos will battle the remaining gods, find his way through Daedalus' labrynth, rescue Pandora, defeat Hercules (who is voiced by the guy who acted him in the TV show!), be enticed by Aphrodite, solve Hera's garden puzzles (which as I said, are awesome), and then finally take down Zeus in an epic confrontation.

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All 3 games play pretty much the same - same controls, virtually identical combat combos, except with some new weapons, items and magic added each time. This means that if you've played a previous game, it's a piece of cake to get into the next one, and trust me, if you do one you'll want to do them all! It also means the whole series plays like one long, huge adventure, which may be why I have trouble splitting them. If I absolutely had to choose, if it was a pick-now-or-Emperix-gets-it scenario, I'd probably go for the 2nd game, just on the basis of one puzzle where you have to go back in time to stop the translator killing himself before you can kill him first, which is just brilliant! But truth be told, they're all so amazing, it could be any of them. I can pick between Zeldas, but when it comes to God of War, it's all of them together I'm afraid.

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When I told my colleague that I was going to play God of War, he said he was excited for me, a bit like how Kesskuron was saying how he'd buy Bleachyleachy a PS2 so he could play Shadow of the Colossus! Because honestly, that's the mark of a game you love - you want to pass it on. So let me give you all a recommendation; if you are able to, play God of War. It's Playstation exclusive, but if you have to beg, borrow or steal one, I don't care. Play it. Play it and love it. You will thank me for it!
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:00 am

14:
BANJO-KAZOOIE (N64, 1998)

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Holy hell this game is fantastic!

For those of you who have been paying attention so far (for which you have my gratitude!), you'll remember I asked the question "whatever happened to Rareware?". During the '90s they were, without any doubt in my mind, the greatest games company in the world. The Donkey Kong Country series was amazing, and Killer Instinct was one of the best fighting games of all time. However, as amazing as it seems, when the Nintendo 64 was released in 1997, Rare were about to get even better. Towards the end of that year came Killer Instinct Gold, as well as Diddy Kong Racing, an absolutely brilliant driving game akin to Mario Kart (which, now I think about it, I can't quite believe hasn't made this list!), and Goldeneye 007. Goldeneye is a game so groundbreaking and revered that people are using it's name to try and sell games even to this day. When a game is still being name-dropped in the hope of making some money 15 years after it first came out, you know it's an all-time classic.

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Rare's talents seemed limitless - they had made awesome fighting games, driving games, and shoot-'em-ups. Now it was time for them to conquer the world of platforming as they had in 1994 with Donkey Kong Country. Except the funky monkey would have to wait for his N64 debut, as Rare had their own star creation - a bear named Banjo, and a bird name Kazooie, who lived in his backpack.

The game takes a lot of it's cues from Super Mario 64 (not a bad thing at all!). The game is a 3D platformer with the emphasis on collecting stuff; mainly jigsaw pieces or "Jiggies", but also musical notes dotted around each level and Jinjos, which are odd-looking brightly coloured creatures. The more you collect, the further you can move on in the game - each Jigsaw piece can be used to make pictures in the hub world, which then unlocks the level (a bit like how you use stars to unlock different worlds in Super Mario 64).

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Unlike Peach's castle in Mario 64, however, the hub world in Banjo-Kazooie is practically a level by itself. It's set in Gruntilda's lair (Gruntilda being the witchy villain of the piece), and exploring it can be downright dangerous! Finding the jigsaw puzzles to unlock each level can be difficult in of itself, and some can be miles away from the actual entrance - Click Clock Wood, for example, is the 9th level of the game and is unlocked high inside the witches lair, yet the puzzle is next to the 2nd! Thankfully there are different coloured Cauldrons which can warp you around, which no doubt will save the poor bear's feet!

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The plot goes like this - Gruntilda, wicked witch of Spiral Mountain, is fed up of her hideous looks. With help of her minion Klungo, she builds a machine which can be used to suck the beauty out of one person and replace it on another. Living in the shadow of Spiral Mountain is a bear named Banjo, and his sister Tootie - she's the perfect victim for the machine! So Gruntilda kidnaps her and Banjo must get his sister back before it's too late. On the way you'll receive help from a mole called Bottles (who teaches you all the moves, and doesn't get on well with Kazooie!), Brentilda, Gruntilda's nice sister, Cheato, her spellbook, and Mumbo, a witch-doctor who can change you into different creatures if you bring him skull tokens. Then there's Kazooie herself, who is absolutely superb; she can let you fly, run faster, spit eggs and turn you invincible. In fact, she probably has more moves than Banjo! (who's the real hero here?)

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There are 9 worlds in total, each of them huge and varied. You've got Freezeezy Peak, which takes place in the shadow of a massive snowman (at least 100 feet tall!), Clanker's Cavern, a dingy industrail lake with a giant metal shark in it, Mad Monster Mansion, which could probably be a game in it's own right if expanded, and many more besides! My absolute favourite it Click Clock Wood though - it's a level set in a forest, that you can change the seasons. Each season brings its own enemies, as well as changes the environment around you. It's brilliantly original, and the music is as catchy as hell!

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In fact, the music is tremendous throughout the whole game (apart from Rusty Bucket Bay, but we'll gloss over that one...). Rareware's musical talents are prevelant throughout all their N64 games, and this one is probably their finest work in that regard. And because the game is on a cartridge, rather than CD, it means the music is able to change instantaneously, so you have different atmospheres when different enemies appear, or you're in a different area of the level. For example, the music in Gruntilda's lair is a tinkered version of "Teddy Bear's Picnic", but if you go to, say, the entrance to Gobi's Desert, it'll be played in a different tempo and with different instruments to suit the environment. Same with Freezeezy Peak; it's the same song, but more twinkly, the kind of sounds you associate with snow and Christmas. Very very clever.

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Rare's humour shines through the game too. Most things have mad staring eyes on them (check out the carrot further up the page!), but the best comes from Kazooie, who is very sarcastic and happy to tell people exactly what she thinks of them! The finale to the game too, is a fantasticly wonderful idea - "Furnace Fun", where instead of fighting you, Gruntilda challenges you to compete on her gameshow for a chance to win Tootie back (or a washing machine for 2nd prize!). You make your way around a game board suspended above lava and answer questions based upon the game (so it's useful to pay attention!). It's so much fun, whoever thought of it should really have at least an OBE in my opinion.

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Playing Banjo-Kazooie reminds me of a simpler time, but also reminds me that although my life may have been easier, the games certainly wern't. Make no mistake about it; Banjo-Kazooie, despite being cutesy, can be downright mean in places. It can be very challenging - the Jiggy behind the turbines in Rusty Bucket Bay is one of my least favourite quests in any game ever. It's SO difficult! And bear in mind that when I said earlier you have to collect things, you are expected to collect everything; There are 10 Jiggies on each of the 9 levels, 100 notes (and ONLY 100 notes), and 5 Jinjos. There are also an additional 10 Jiggies in Gruntilda's lair, as well as 3 Cheato books which boost your flying/eggs/invincibility, and Brentilda, who'll give you facts about Gruntilda to use in Furnace Fun. Finding everything is an absolutely mammoth task, and gives the game great longevitiy and encourages you to explore every nook and cranny.

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I'll be honest and say I find it very hard to think of any faults with this game at all. It's amazing to play, the graphics are good, the music is excellent, the levels are varied, it's challenging, it's funny, and it'll keep you going for a fair old while! Godzilla was supposed to be the blockbuster of 1998, but that was a flop - Banjo was the real main event that summer. Post your love for bear and bird here!
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:01 am

13:
METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SNAKE EATER (PS2, 2005)

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"What a thrill..."

I'm sure lots of people can relate to this, but when I was growing up, my mom used to tell me lots of little sayings that I didn't really understand. One of them was "eyes bigger than your stomach", which I never really got until me and my friends on one fateful trip to Alton Towers decided to try and eat 2 super-sized meals each.

But one which sticks in my mind is "even a broken clock is right twice a day". I never really got this - basically it means that something or someone, even if they seem to get things wrong 99% of the time, can occasionally be good and valid. As before, it took me a life lesson to figure out the significance of this statment - this time, it was Metal Gear Solid 3.

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I'll make no bones about this; I think Hideo Kojima badly needs an editor. He reminds me of a chap called Vince Russo (if you're not a wrestling fan you'll have no idea who this is); clearly a very creative man, but needs to have his creativity channelled. Vince Russo was a writer who helped script WWE shows during their boom period of 1999 under the tutilage of Vince McMahon, before leaving for the competition, WCW. When he was there he was given free reign to do what he wanted and the results spoke for themselves - the shows were so complicated and OTT that within 18 months the company went bankrupt.

Hideo Kojima is a bit like this - the original Metal Gear Solid is an amazing game. Innovative, interesting and with a fantastic story, it was one of the best games of the PS1, if not the best. Everyone knows the bit where the game breaks the fourth wall and makes you look at the back of the game case to get the code to contact Meryl!

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Problem is, after that Kojima was given free reign to do what he wanted. The result was Metal Gear Solid 2, which was a horribly overcomplicated mess. The gameplay was good, but it seemed to take a back seat to the story in every respect. No doubted elated by the praise he got for his story in Metal Gear Solid, Kojima jam packed the game full of cutscenes. Looooooooooooooooooooong cutscenes. Unskippable cutscenes. Cutscenes which led into more cutscenes. The game reminds me of Final Fantasy XIII in that when the game allows you to take control it can actually be quite good, but it doesn't let you very often - whatever gameplay is there seems to be filling time before the story takes over again. It's almost as if Kojima wanted to make a film rather than an actual controllable game. But when it did allow you to play, it was glorious - showing that even a broken clock can be right twice a day.

Thankfully, when the sequel (or prequel I suppose), Snake Eater, came out 4 years later, it fixed pretty much all of this. And what you have is, in my mind, the best MGS game ever, and one of the best games ever full stop.

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I won't go into major details about the plot, as a lot of it is to do with previous MGS game, and also it has lots of twists and turns along the way. But basically it runs like this - it's the height of the Cold War, 1964. The Cuban Missile Crisis has just been averted. In exchange for not putting nukes on Cuba, the Americans agree to give back a defected Soviet Scientist called Sokolov. Little did they know Sokolov was developing a weapon called "Shagohad", a tank which can fire nuclear missiles without detection, thereby allowing the Soviets to launch Nuclear strikes without retaliation.

On top of this, an elite group of soldiers called "The Cobras" have defected to the Eastern Block too, taking a bunch of nuclear missiles with them. Oh dear.

Your job, as CIA agent codenamed "Naked Snake", is to be parachuted deep behind enemy lines, eliminate the Cobras, rescue Sokolov, and bring him back to the other side of the Iron Curtain.

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It's difficult to know where to begin when explaining why I like this game. The camoflague system is very clever for a start. In previous Metal Gear games, stealth was the aim of the game; being spotted by enemies would alert them all to your presence, and would bring up a countdown showing how long you had to avoid the enemy before they'd go back to normal. This hasn't changed in Snake Eater. The main difference is, in previous games, it tended to be indoor environments, with lots of crates, boxes and lockers to hide behind or in. You also had a small mini-map which showed where the enemy was and their field of vision. There's none of that here - most of the game takes place outdoors, in jungles, caves or mountains, and the mini-map has dissapeared. How then, do you hide? Answer is simple - camoflague!

In the top right of the screen is a camo meter - the closer to 100% it is, the more camoflauged you are. By painting your face and wearing different uniforms, you can blend into the jungle and sneak your way past the enemy patrols. It's very clever, and gives a huge feeling of tension when you're hiding in the grass and the guardsmen wanders past, inches from your face!

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The stamina meter, too, is a new and brilliant addition. Your stamina slowly deteriorates, and does moreso when doing things like hanging from ledges. In order to regain it you need to eat, but as you havn't exactly got a local supermarket to pop into, you have to eat all your meals in the jungle! This means killing or capturing the local wildlife, some of which is very tasty and will regain lots of stamina, others not so, and some might be poisonous. It's for this reason that the game is called "Snake Eater", and trust me when I say it's an absolutely excellent addition which works perfectly with the game!

The healing menu, too, is new and superb. Instead of simply eating rations and regaining health, you are given a whole sub-screen which details Snakes injuries. You have to prize bullets out with knives, burn leaches off with cigars, heal burns with oinkment, etc. It's not just a simple task of taking medicine, you have to work out the right medicine to take - failure to do so won't kill you, but will limit your life bar until you're fully healed.

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One of the things which impressed me most about the game is it's sheer depth. The amount of camos and unlockables you can get is brilliant (you can even get union jack facepaint if you fancy it!), but it's what you can do with the enemies and the environment which makes it feel more like a real world. As you are behind enemy lines, you don't get weapons or ammo given to you, as any sign of US involvement could start an international incident. So you have to steal and aquire all your weapons and items from the enemy. Around the place are various enemy store rooms, either of weapons or food - blow them up (after robbing them, naturally) will mean enemies in that area will suffer from lower accuracy thanks to hunger, or will be less well equipped. Kill soldiers in the mountains and vultures will come and eat them, allowing you to in turn kill the vultures and get some food of your own. There's even a whole base which you can sneak past undetected, but take the time to explore it and you find a helicopter - blow it up and then it won't bother you in the mountain stages later. Truely remarkable.

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When you mention Snake Eater everyone talks about The End, and I can't possibly not talk about the bosses in this game. Like the previous games in the series, they are original, fun, and memorable. The Fear leaps around the canopies of the forest in a stealth suit, shooting poisonous darts at you - better get them out and use your thermal goggles or else you'll be in a coma before long! The End is brilliant, an ancient sniped camoflagued perfectly with the forest - the battle is a true war of attrition that can last literally hours. And the final battle with The Joy in the field of white tulips is one of the most iconic images in all of gaming.

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The game is so superb in every respect. The radio team are even excellent, with Para-Medic telling you about the latest films of the day (in 1964 anyway); and let me say, if you havn't watched Jason & the Argonauts, me and her both highly recommend it! The game is full of humour too, with Snake occasionally perving on EVA (which I'm sure you boys all love!), as well as guards moaning about their hunger when you blow up the food stores, and Snake having a nightmare if you save the game when he's in a prison cell. The 3DS version is just as amazing; even the occasional slowdown (and it is very occasional) can't disguise what is a bone-fide, 100% classic. Even after all these years I'm still in a dream....Snake Eaaaaaaaaaaaaaaater!
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:04 am

12:
BURNOUT 3: TAKEDOWN (PS2, 2004)

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Best. Racing game. Ever.

EVER.

Bold statement I know, but I will stand by it. In 2004, just before my Gamecube broke, I was lucky enough to get a game by the name of Burnout 2: Point of Impact. A friend of mine had the original and it seemed pretty good - my local Blockbuster used to do great deals on pre-owned games, and I think I got it for about £15 or so. And I'm so pleased I did! Dunno if I've ever mentioned this, but my favourite genre is racing games. I have more of them than any other type of game; Gamecube-wise, I have Double Dash, F-Zero GX, Blue Storm and Burnout 2, and Point of Impact ranks right up there with all of them.

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In terms of gameplay, Burnout 2 is extremely tight. The handling is spot on, the game has depth with car unlockables and different circuits to go through, but the best bit is the sheer thrill of being in a race - the game encourages aggressive driving (which suits me fine, as anyone who has ever been go-karting with me will tell you!). You have a boost meter at the bottom of the screen, which fills up if you drive in a dangerous fashion; drifting round corners, driving in the oncoming lane, and most of all, making your opponents crash will add to your boost, allowing you to drive even faster, and ergo more dangerously. It's brilliant fun.

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Burnout 3 is a perfect example of what a sequel should do and that's take a brilliant original and build upon that in every way. More races, more vehicles (in different categories too - sports, heavy, coupes, etc), more unlockables. You can change your vehicles colours, which is an superficial addition but one I actually like! The graphics are glorious, the soundtrack is great with rock tunes blasting out the TV whilst I'm caning it down the waterfront at 100mph! There's also a new game mode called "Road Rage", which the name of the game is to make as many of your opponents crash as possible before your car is turned to scrap.

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The biggest new feature is "Impact Time". When you crash, you can hold R1 and it'll make the whole game go into super-slow motion. Not only is this spectacular, watching glass, metal and sparks fly everywhere, but it also allows you to slowly change the direction of your vehicle mid-crash, letting you hit other vehicles and taking them out! This comes into it's own during the "Crash Junction" sections, a brilliant mode which makes it's return from Burnout 2. There are several junctions full of cars, and the basic aim is to crash and cause as much damage and destruction as possible - there are also bonus items which can multiply your score or cause huge explosions for added damage! This is great fun with multiplayer, and it also gives you reason to unlock the super-heavy vehicles in order to acheive massive scores!

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I can't really do Burnout 3 justice. It's phenomenal. Playing it gives me joy through my fingertips - it's like racing a car that fast for real, only without the fear of death! Just to prove how good it is - many years ago in CUBE magazine, a mag which exclusively delt with Gamecube games, finished their Mario Kart: Double Dash review like this; "it's a great game, but it's no Burnout 3. Trust us, we've played it, and it rocks". Burnout 3, by the way, was PS2 exclusive.

Surely you've all played the Burnout series along the line somewhere? And if you've played this one, you have to agree with me!
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:05 am

11:
ASSASSIN'S CREED II (PS3, 2009)

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The game that made me make this list in the first place.

I know it's been a long time since the beginning of this countdown (seems a long time to me anyway!), but if you remember, I said that there were so many "what's your top 10 games ever" threads on this forum that, in the end, I ended up sitting down and actually making a top 10. I definitely knew what my favourite game ever was, but didn't really think much beyond that - but after a while I'd got a top 10 games ever nailed down, and could therefore answer the question. Sorted.

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Thing is, I was sitting with some friends talking about this, and one of them piped up about Assassin's Creed II. They remembered how much I raved about it, how I'd pretty much foistered it upon them (they were grateful, by the way!) in a similar fashion as to how Arkham Asylum was foistered upon me. They seemed surprised that it hadn't made it into my list. And thinking about it, I was shocked too; I couldn't really have a top list of games without including it. So I ended up sitting down and making a top 15. Which soon became a top 20, then a top 30 when I realised I couldn't fit all the games I liked on it! But what's important is, we've finally arrive here. And now I'm going to tell you why this game is so brilliant.

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When the PS3 was first released in 2007, Ubisoft brought out a game called Assassin's Creed. It was quite similar to the companies excellent Prince of Persia series, with lots of free running, climbing, and jumping around. The difference was that whilst Prince of Persia was mostly dungeon and interior based, Assassin's Creed was able to utilise the power of this new console to create whole cities for you to run around in. Whilst excellent in concept and visually stunning, the main problem was that the game itself could get very repetitive. The missions in between the actual assassinations were usually the same ones repeated ad nauseum. Also, as you played a character who was being regressed into his ancestor, you had to stop playing every so often and "rest", which broke up gameplay further (and didn't help that the main protagonist, Desmond Miles, is the dullest human being on the face of the earth).

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You'll notice a pattern with all the sequels in this list, which is that I say "it takes what made the original good and builds on it/fixes it's faults". Because really, that's what a good sequel should do - the developer has time to reflect on what made the game great, and use that as a template to make a bigger, better game, and also what made it bad, and alter it or remove it entirely. Assassin's Creed II managed to do everything right the second time around; those repetitive missions? Gone. Those "rests" between missions? Much more rare. That annoying feature that meant guards would chase you if you ran, meaning you had to go everywhere at a snails pace? Removed. Throw in more cities, more varied weapons and environments, tighter controls and a whole bunch of secrets, you have the game which launched the franchise into the phenomenon that it is now.

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First, the backstory. In the original game, Desmond Miles, modern day dullard, has been hired/kidnapped by Abstergo industries for their research. They use a machine called "The Animus" to help him regress into the life of a past ancestor, "Altair", who lived near Jersulaem during the time of the Third Crusades. The idea was that by studying Altair's life, they could find an artifact that he uncovered during his life, although the game ends in a very confusing and unsatisfying manner.

In Assassin's Creed II, Desmond escapes Abstergo and joins a group of underground rebels fighting against the "Templars", an ancient organisation that Abstergo is the modern day front of. The Templars strive to restrict knowledge and create "order" by placating the population - the Assassin's are the group opposed to them, fighting to free the world of their tyranny. Desmond is placed inside the groups own Animus in order to live the life of another ancestor, Ezio Auditore de Firenze, a 15th century Florentine, so he may learn the same skills he did and be able to fight the Templars.

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And blah blah blah blah blah. Yes, ok, it's a good story to set up the reasoning behind all this historical larking about, but honestly? I couldn't care about Desmond Miles or some daft universal conspiracy to restrict knowledge. Ezio is the star of the show baby, and make no mistake about it! The game tells how Ezio's family are betrayed and murdered, and how he spends the next several decades seeking his revenge. During this time, Ezio will become a fully fledged Assassin, taking out the ringleaders of the murder plot one by one, and travelling all over Renaissance Italy from Florence to Tuscany to Venice.

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The game is great fun to play - as I said before, the running, climbing and jumping is taken straight out of Prince of Persia. The cities themselves are beautiful to look at; the magnificent Christian architecture has been faithfully recreated, and the day/night feature means that you can watch the sunset over Venice (very romantic!). The main difference between this and the original is that in the first Assassin's Creed, the places tended to be a bit samey (with the exception of Acre, which was more English medievil). Whereas here, the cities are all cleary very individual; Florence is a bustling market city, Tuscany is mostly vast fields and vineyards, Forli is a walled fortess with outlying villages flooded by the Montone river, and Venice is a sprawling metropolis with waterways and carnivals.

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There's also a city called Monteriggioni, which is your "base" of sorts. A walled city which has been ruined by the Templars, Ezio and family hide out there after fleeing Florence. Here you can sort between your weapons, armour, but also have a chance to earn extra money. By using your money to rebuild the town, it generates Florins for you, which you can use to buy items, weapons, etc. You can also purchase famous paintings to hang on your wall which will add to the value of the place. This is extremely useful early on, giving you a chance to gain some much-needed cash to fund your quest. But later on when you're earning daft amounts of money every 20 minutes, you end up looking for things to spend money on to get rid of it; it's like a tidal wave of cash that you can only get rid of by throwing more money at it. Still, it's an interesting idea, and does give you something to do besides the main quest.

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This game is also very, very deep. You can tell it was a real labour of love by the sheer effort that has gone into it. Fitting for a free-roaming environment, the game reminds me of Grand Theft Auto in the way there is simply so much to do, and a number of ways to do it. Far from being one way to complete a mission, you are given many tools - poison blades, guns, etc - and work out what to do for yourself. There are also courtesans (that's prostitutes to the unitiated), thieves and mercenaries who can be hired to distract guards whilst you sneak past. The main missions are highlighted on the map, but there are also side-quests to complete to, not least the special Assassin dungeons which are hidden in monuments around each city. These are like the Prince of Persia games Ubisoft made, in that you have a dungeon to work your way around (usually with a time-limit), and in you complete all 6, you can unlock the best armour in the game. I have to say, doing these was probably my favourite part of the game, and the set pieces within them are absolutely spectacular.

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But that's not the end of the secrets, oh no! There are also special symbols, or "glyphs" hidden on some buildings. These unlock secret intellectual puzzles, some of which are fiendishly clever, and solving them gives you a (rather cryptic) clue as to all this daft conspiracy Templar nonsense that's going on. You can also find and unlock different cloaks, which can help in your attempt to become anonymous whilst going round assassinating people, and on top of that, each character and building in the game is based on a real person or landmark. By pressing select when prompted, you can go to the animus database where assassin Shaun Hastings (voiced by Danny Wallace no less!) tells you about their actual history. To a history geek like me, this is nirvana, and it's fantastic that Ubisoft put this in as it makes you feel more part of a living, breathing history (as well as more cultured by the end of it!)

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I could wax lyrical about this game forever. It gave me a feeling that I hadn't had from a game in a long time - a feeling that above all else, I wanted to play it. I would literally watch the clock at work, waiting so I could go home and fire up my PS3. I'd not felt like that since I was back at school, running home so I could put my SNES on and play Donkey Kong Country 3! I actually looked for every single feather, every treasure chest, earned every trophy because I was desperate to find an excuse to play more of it. It was actually a sad day when I finished it! Brotherhood continued on the excellence of this game, as did Revelations, and the only reason that they miss out to this game is because I think the differing environments give it an edge over Brotherhood, whilst Revelations was just a little short. But all are truely fantastic, and if Ubisoft keep making them as good as this, I'll keep buying them!

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This to me, is more than just a game. It's what games can be. It's expansive, entertaining, beautiful, deep, educational, enthralling, long, varied... I could go on forever! It's an utterly breathtaking experience, and Brotherhood and Revelations carry that on. I have to look back on this and think "how on earth is this not in my top 10?" But I suppose that makes one thing clear - the next 10 days are going to be very good ones indeed if I get to play games even better than this!
Last edited by Highlight on Wed Dec 17, 2014 12:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:06 am

10:
JET FORCE GEMINI (N64, 1999)

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Woooh, the top ten! And guess what? It's another Rare game!

Space: 1999. Not the awful TV show, but the setting and release date for Jet Force Gemini, Rare's seminal masterpiece. At Christmas that year, there were 3 Triple-A titles released for the N64: Donkey Kong 64, Super Smash Bros, and Jet Force Gemini. The biggest hype surrounded DK64, as it was the big platformer in the guise of Banjo-Kazooie. Smash Bros. was Nintendos big offering, but for whatever reason, Jet Force Gemini was shunted to the backround a bit. It certainly wasn't as well publicised as the other titles, and the only advert I ever saw was on Channel 4 at one in the morning.

This is a shame, as to me, it was the best of the lot.

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Jet Force gemini is a third-person shoot-'em up set in space. You play as the Jet Force twins, Juno and Vela, and their dog, Lupus, in their quest to stem the tide of evil bug overlord Mizar's massive invasion force and attempts to take over the galaxy. After being attacked on their mothership, the 3 protagonists go seperate paths to find their way to Mizar's Palace and bring down the psychotic invertibrate. Once all 3 heroes have gotten to the Palace, Mizar faces them down, but once defeated sends a meteor on a collision course with earth! Once the team is united, their armour is upgraded snd they get jet packs, and from this point on, the team stays united and, together, works to search every world for the space ship parts which will allow them to reach and destroy the asteroid.

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During the game, you will have to battle through a seemingly endless hordes of insect opponents, find Tribals (small bear creatures which have been captured by Mizar), and the spaceship parts after the first trip to Mizar's palace. Your help is given in the form of Floyd, a small flying droid who can be controlled by a second player and shoot enemies on-screen (it's pretty rare to find a co-op game like this which isn't split screen). There's also Jeff, king of the tribals who upgrades the heroes gear in the game, and Magnus, a Yoda-like mage only with floppy ears and greener. Together, this unlikely band of heroes must save the galaxy from the bug threat.

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Jet Force Gemini is a third person shoot-'em-up, with elements of platforming in there too. The game has erratic and differing levels to explore, items to collect which enhance your health and weaponary, and lots of blood splattering mayhem. You fight mostly on foot and can jump, but also swim and use jet-packs when needed. The camera is fixed behind the player and the aiming is fixed, but when pressing "R" a reticle appears on screen and the playable character becomes translucent so that players can aim and shoot with finesse. And believe me when I say that the bullets come thick and fast! The weapons you can get are tooled for destruction, especially the tri-rocket launcher (why fire 1 rocket when you can do 3?). Most NPCs, even friendly ones, will explode in a shower of blood!

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Exploration is fundemental to this game. To complete it in it's entirity, you'll have to find all the tribals and ship parts, which is a hard slog. The 15 worlds are pretty non-linear, and are connected by a series of doors which need certain actions to unlock - this can be killing all the enemies in the area (which gives you a moral dilemma when they surrender...), or using a specific key. You can also use the 3 characters abilities to find different routes through the levels - Juno can walk through magma safely, Vela can swim underwater forever, and Lupus can hover for a short period of time. The bosses are absolutely massive, and some of them and the puzzles can be head-bangingly hard; if D.J. didn't like Diddy Kong Racing for being hard, he'd have bloody hated the Mantis bosses at the end of Eschebone!

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The reason this game is so fun is mainly for how great it is to go around shooting the hell out of hundreds of bugs! They splatter in a very satisfying way when shot, and if you collect the ants decapitated heads you can unlock extras like rainbow blood. The levels are also fun and expansive; finding the new areas unlocks more challenge and depth. The bosses are epic, massive in scale and pretty intimidating! The graphics are ace for the N64, with mirrored surfaces and snazzy water effects. The enemy AI, whilst not perfect, is pretty good, with enemies circling your position or surrendering when outnumbered! Rare's soundtrack as per usual, is brilliant, with the foreboding music when entering the Sekhmet particularly sticking in my mind.

There is one annoying part of the game though - having to rescue all the Tribals. The cutesy bears all have to be saved or else you can't get the final spaceship part. This can be very frustrating. So do what I do - take your anger out on them! Here are my top 5 Ewok splattering moments:

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5) Some of the smaller Tribals will follow you around like a lost puppy. Shooting them once makes them look sad. A few more will send them to a better place.
4) By winding up a group of local bugs, you can lead them to where the Tribals are hiding, and wipe them out in the crossfire! It's not a war-crime if it's in the heat of battle...
3) The shurikens are used to take an enemy's head clean off their shoulders, but there's no rule saying this doesn't apply to allies too! See if you can line them up and get several in one go!
2) The Bond-villain style of execution - don't watch, just assume it all went to plan. Walk into a room full of Tribals, toss a cluster bomb, then slowly walk out again and hear the explosion.
1) The Tri-Rocket launcer is an insanely powerful weapon, capable of taking down massive enemies in one shot. A single Tribal has no chance of keeping any of their internal organs intact... even better if you turn on rainbow blood, as you can paint the room pretty colours!

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Jet Force Gemini was originally designed quite cutesy, but was given a more mature makeover and is all the better for it. Maybe that's why Nintendo didn't push it hard. It's a real shame, as although unforgiving, difficult and long, Jet Force Gemini is hugely rewarding and an adventure I, nor anyone that played it, will ever forget. It has Rare's amazing gameplay and trademark humour running through it (such as the distinctly un Sci-Fi name of "King Jeff", or disguising as an ant to get into an enemy nightclub!). There's also great little touches like the title screen changing depending on how far through the game you have got. In the end, the best thing I can say about Jet Force Gemini is simply this; it's the best game Rare ever made. Now imagine the ground that covers.
Last edited by Highlight on Wed Dec 17, 2014 12:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:07 am

9:
PORTAL (PS3, 2007)

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"Hello, and again, welcome to the computer aided Aperture Science Enrichment Center. We hope your brief detention in the relaxation vault has been a pleasant one. Your specemin has been processed, and we are now ready to begin the test proper. Before we start, however, keep in mind that although fun and learning are the primary goals for all enrichment center activites, serious injuries may occur. For your own safety, and the safety of others, please refrain from..."

Portal is a game that pretty much came out of nowhere. Whilst the world salivated over Half Life 2: Episode 2 (and as well they might), Portal was a game that was tacked on to "The Orange Box", a compilation of 5 games released for PC, X-Box and PS3 (which I thought actually came in an Orange Box, and was sad to find out it didn't). Five games for the price of one is an extremely good deal, especially when you consider how good the game in it are - you have Half Life 2, Half Life 2: Episode 1, and Half Life 2: Episode 2 for starters, and despite not being a big fan of FPS games, I will admit that Half Life was one of the most imaginative and fun games of the genre that I've ever played, so was very pleased to see such a Half Life bonanza here! There was also Team Fortress 2, a game for online FPS fans (e.g. not me), and lastly, a niche puzzle game called Portal. As with my last game on this list, Jet Force Gemini, the least publicised ended up being the best, and in this case, the most loved.

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"You, [subject name here], must be the pride of [subject hometown here]!"

Portal is a puzzle game played from a first-person perspective. You don't have weapons, but rather simply one item; the Portal Gun, which can fire out 2 different coloured Portals which, we shot onto surfaces such as walls or floors, are connected to each other. Pass objects (or yourself) through the orange portal and you come out the blue one, and vice-versa. You can use this to cross large distances, but also is ingenious in the use of physics - objects going through one portal will come out the other at the same speed as entering the first, and so can be used to propel things huge distances. Or, as the game itself explains it, "speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out". You character has springs on their heels so cannot take damage from falling (no matter how far), but can be damaged and killed by other hazards such as bullets from turret guns, toxic liquid, fire, and balls of energy.

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"Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an "unsatisfactory" mark on your official testing record, followed by death. Good luck!"

So basically, this game gives you what you would expect - plenty of genius Portal based puzzles. But what you may not expect, and I didn't certainly, was some of the finest pitch-black humour ever seen in a game. The game features exactly one other character bar the protagonist - the robotic GLaDOS, the computer who oversees the testing. GLaDOS has some amazing one-liners in the game, and as you progress, starts to exhibit increasingly erratic and worrying behaviour (think HAL from "2001: A Space Oddessey"). The test become more and more dangerous, as you are "accidentally" re-routed from the human testing chambers to the machine testing ones. In here you will find the drone turrets, adorably cute white little robots who bear a huge resemblence to the ship's steering wheel from "Wall-E" if you ask me. They speak softly and promise not to hurt you, only to brutally shoot you to death on sight should you believe them. It's then that you start seeing behind the scenes - the pristine white testing chambers start turning into dirty, metallic, industrial rooms will graffitti left by previous testing subjects, warning of lies and deceit from GLaDOS (cue a dozen "The Cake is a Lie!" posts). The better you do, the more GLaDOS comes to resent you, telling you that you were adopted, have no friends, and are a monster for "murdering your best friend" (the friend in question being an inanimate metal cube).

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"The Enrichment Center regrets to inform you that this next test is impossible. Make no attempt to solve it."

Portal is a game which is hard to criticise in any respect whatsoever. You could complain that it's too short, but it's not so short that you feel cheated, and it doesn't outstay it's welcome either. Better to leave them begging for more than wishing it would end. It's incredibly creative, some of the portal puzzles being superb in design, and it's amazing just how many different things you can do with the 2 portals. The humour is genuinely funny, the game being infinitely quotable, but most of all, it's just pure fun to play. The story is great to play through, the physics are bang on, and although the puzzles can sometimes seem very hard, you never feel they are impossible.

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"The Enrichment Center reminds you that the Companion Cube cannot speak. In the event that the Companion Cube does speak, the Enrichment Center urges you to disregard its advice."

Portal turned into a worldwide phenomenon, and deservedly so. Plushie Companion Cubes can be bought, as can toy drone turrets and even replica portal guns (which don't work, sadly). There were infinite "The Cake is a Lie" memes online (so please don't repeat them!), and there's even an actual Aperture Science website, which is well worth a read, if only for the hilarious company backstory (the portal gun was developed originally to try and help make shower curtains for the military). The game clearly has so much love running through it that it's impossible not to get captured by it's charm, humour, and brilliance.

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"Didn't we have some fun, though? Remember when the platform was sliding into the fire pit and I said "Goodbye", and you were like, [deep voice] "No way!" And then I was all, "We pretended we were going to murder you." That was great."

I was thinking about a way to sum this up, but really, I needed had bothered had I? It's already there for me. So, then, altogether now:

"This was a triumph. I'm making a note here: "huge success". It's hard to overstate my satisfaction..."
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Dig Dug wrote:Highlight nailed that.

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