Today I'm Playing 2 - Super Empire Strikes Back

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Today I'm Playing 2 - Super Empire Strikes Back

Post by Highlight » Fri Dec 19, 2014 8:11 pm

Hi kids, and welcome once again to "Today I'm Playing!" This is the 3rd time I've done this now (as you can tell, I went to the Resident Evil school of numbering!) after my initial thread where I counted down my top 30 games and it's follow up where I delved into my somewhat expansive game collection. Both of these threads have now been merged and archived on these very forums, and are available right here for your viewing pleasure! (now with fixed pictures and links, too!)

As for this new thread, I guess this is a continuation from the previous one - I'll pick a game, series, or a genre and play through them giving my own reviews and opinions. Sometimes this may be random (like the time I got Mortal Kombat Mythologies, ick) and other times it may be topical (like the football games special just prior to the World Cup). Please feel free to share your own personal thoughts, experiences and opinions, and any suggestions and requests may be taken into consideration if you're nice or I'm feeling masochistic.

THE LIST
19th December 2014: Christmas games!
30th December: Mike Tyson's Punch Out! (NES)

6th January: Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
10th January: Daikatana (N64)
21st January: Temple Run (iPhone/Android)
14th Febuary: Saturday Grandstand (Part 1)
18th March: Saturday Grandstand (Part 2)
28th September: Turok 2: Seeds of Evil (N64)
14th October: Shadowman (N64)
20th October: Super Ghouls and Ghosts (SNES)
23rd October: Resident Evil (Gamecube)
29th October: House of the Dead Overkill/Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles (Wii)
22nd December: Super Empire Strikes Back
Last edited by Highlight on Thu Feb 18, 2016 10:23 pm, edited 17 times in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - The Sequel!

Post by Ploiper » Fri Dec 19, 2014 10:09 pm

as it's Christmas you should play we wish you a merry Christmas for the wii. surprisingly a decent game.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - The Sequel!

Post by Highlight » Fri Dec 19, 2014 10:30 pm

Games of Christmas Past

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Merry Christmas everyone! No matter how old I get, it's impossible for me not to get excited at this time of year. Despite the fact that I can officially apply for my old lady card now, fact is, it still makes me feel like a kid. Maybe it's because the traditions I grew up with are still alive and well - the tree, the trimmings, the Christmas specials, Carols by candlelight at the church, and of course, leaving mince pies and milk for Santa (and 9 carrots for the reindeer!). Yuletide conjours up many memories for me, but unsurprisingly, most of my memorable presents are video games (sometimes accompanied with a shiny new console). I'd like to share some of these memories with you, if I may, and wonder what your memories of gaming Christmas past are? Quick rule though - I won't list any game here I've already done previously (sorry WWF No Mercy).


Donkey Kong Country (SNES, 1994)

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I'll be brutally honest - I never wanted to Super Nintendo. Not because it's no good (hell no!), but rather, my heart was always swayed by the MegaDrive. Everyone and his kid sister had a Sega, and after years of pining for Sega's obsidian joy-bringer, I wasn't about to suddenly jump into bed with Nintendo at the last second come Christmas 1994. This was, of course, until I walked into my local Curry's that December and saw Donkey Kong Country being played on the big screen. Graphics are the easiest thing to sell a game on (hence why the majority of adverts nowadays just use pre-renders and FMVs) and this thing looked utterly incredible. So good, in fact, that people were convinced at the time that this was running on a next-gen system rather than the humble SNES. My mind was made up right then - I needed to have a Super Nintendo. My parents were not impressed (they'd already purchased the MegaDrive), and although I wasn't ungrateful or unhappy when I unwrapped Sega's 16-bit masterpiece on Christmas Day, a year later I was adamant - a SNES and Donkey Kong Country was at the top of my list.

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Donkey Kong Country is one of the most popular games of all time, selling over 8 million copies worldwide. Playing it immediately reveals why - beyond the drop-dead gorgeous (for the time) graphics is a very tight platform game, very reminiscent of Super Mario World. This is unsurprising, as Rare had originally developed DKC as a Mario title, with the pre-rendered versions of Mario and Yoshi eventually ending up at the ending of Diddy's Kong Quest. Sadly Nintendo didn't think the graphics suite the portly plumber, but pitched the idea for them using Donkey Kong instead. The rest, as they say, is history - it rejuvenated the character, and the new characters became so popular they're still being used today. It was an utter joy and a pleasure to revisit this masterpiece, and if it's still available on e-shop (Nintendo and Rare have a hate/hate relationship nowadays, which means it often gets taken down) then I suggest buying it without hesitation.


Diddy Kong Racing (N64, 1997)

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Super Mario 64, Lylatwars, and Diddy Kong Racing. Other than perhaps Goldeneye (let's not be greedy now ;) ) could I possibly have gotten 3 better games with my Nintendo 64 on Christmas morning 1997?

And ooooooh how I ached for that day. When the N64 was released on March 1st 1997 on these shores, NMS (the forerunner to ONM) released a very special edition which came with a free Super Mario 64 tips book. And, without exaggeration, I read that book, cover to cover, every day until I got the game myself. That's 9 and a half months of pining, aching, dreaming of this game. And when I did get it, you better believe it, it was as close to ecstasy as my ten year old self knew (girls, and the love thereof, would come a few years later). It did, however, mean I basically knew how to beat the game right out the box, and although it did not diminish the fun I had with it, it did mean that the experience was shorter than it ought to have been (see also; the previously mentioned "love of girls a few years later").

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Diddy Kong Racing would last me a lot longer, though. It's a kart racer, similar to Mario Kart (aren't they all?) and created by Rareware at the height of the genius powers. Unlike Mario Kart, Diddy Kong Racing has you start in an open hub-world, and has you explore a tropical island to find each set of races. Win and you get a golden balloon, more of which allow you to open up new areas. You also get bosses to race against in special arenas, which are exhilarating but very tricky.

The game is more colourful and sweeter than a bowlful of Skittles, and the fact you can play as a mix of kart/hovercraft/plane on each course (and it's catered for them!) adds wonderful variety and longevity. There's even battle arenas and special courses hidden too - I've heard lots of people compare this to Crash Team Racing, but to me, Diddy's team was always better.


Pocket Bomberman (GameBoy Color, 1998)

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Ok, be honest - how many of you have actually heard of this one? When you look up "all time great GameBoy games", chances are Pocket Bomberman won't pop up. However, I always had quite fond memories of it, partly because it was my first GameBoy game, and partly because it has a simplistic charm which makes it a fun pick-up-and-play game.

You may be surprised when you first fire up Pocket Bomberman that it's not the usual Dynablaster affair... instead, it's a platform style game, where you have to blow up enemies in order to progress. It's also pretty hard, with no life bars or anything, but like with a lot of old games, the difficulty adds to the longevity. There's also a second mode called "jump game" where Bomberman is constantly jumping and you have to try and make it to the top of the stage and defeat the boss. If truth be known, I actually ploughed more hours into this mode than the main game!

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I think that the main reason I look back on this with fondness, though, is because of the system I got this with - my old purple GameBoy Color. It replaced my chunky yellow one from this point on, and allowed me to play genuine classics such as Pokémon Gold/Silver, and Metal Gear Solid. She is a thing of beauty, and I still have my sticker-adorned travel console to this day.


Wii Sports (Wii, 2006)

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I was shocked, shocked I tells ya, when I saw the sales figures for this game. When the Wii was announced, I was pretty disappointed - Nintendo had come third in the previous console generation (despite the Gamecube having some excellent titles), and when they changed the name from the awesome "Revolution" to "Wii" I cringed, figuring I would be ashamed to go and buy one. How amazed I was, then, when it was propelled to amazing heights by this very game. In fact, this is the greatest selling game of all time - EIGHTY THREE million copies! Ten times more than Donkey Kong Country, twice as many as Tetris! But I suppose the question is... why?

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Like many popular games, it's beauty lies in it's simplicity. Wii Sports make gaming more accessible than it's ever been - gone the complicated controllers and button-presses, instead you are simply asked to move a wand around. This makes it playable to anyone from ages 8 to 80, and for once this isn't merely a slogan - old people's homes all over the world use Wii Sports as a way of keeping their residents fit and active (I would LOVE to see them go head to head at the boxing, complete with smack talk!). It also really helped to differentiate the Wii from it's competitors, which is why Nintendo technically "won" the last console war (the less said about this round, the better....)

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Here's to many more to add to this list in the future. Merry Christmas everyone!
Last edited by Highlight on Fri Jan 09, 2015 8:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - The Sequel!

Post by Chocolate-Milk » Fri Dec 19, 2014 10:53 pm

Always a great read, glad to see it back! And a Merry Christmas to you! (:
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - The Sequel!

Post by D.J » Sat Dec 20, 2014 7:56 am

Playing DKC for the first time on Christmas Day '94 was an unforgettable gaming experience.

I also received Diddy Kong Racing three years later, but while it was fun, the difficulty spikes were just too extreme and i ended up focusing on another game i was given instead; Final Fantasy 7.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - The Sequel!

Post by danbish » Sat Dec 20, 2014 1:28 pm

Great to see the thread back Highlight! Both Donkey Kong Country and Diddy Kong Racing are right in there amongst my favourites but sadly I never played the for the first time on any Christmas. I don't remember when my first was for DK but DKR was at a mates and he whopped me good, he used the extra boost technique on the boost strips to fly ahead which my first time self didn't know about.

I never got to play GBC Bomberman but I did experience Wii Sports (and Wii Play) on Christmas day (even though I also experienced them both on launch day shortly before then) and they were still as amazing then as the very first time - maybe its because I was still riding on a high from my brand new Wii, who knows, but its still a damn good game.

Oh and Merry Christmas to all of you too!
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - The Sequel!

Post by Highlight » Tue Dec 30, 2014 11:53 pm

Mike Tyson's Punch Out (NES, 1987)

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With Boxing Day just gone, what's more apt than a bit of boxing?

Celebrity endorsements can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, celebrities are generally popular (hence the "celebrate" part of the name), and as such, adding their likeness to your product can lend it a degree of cool which it would otherwise lack. Brylcream, for example, was a hair-styling product for men which had great popularity in the 1960s, but by the late '90s it was basically seen as dated. Enter David Beckham, England football captain and heartthrob of the world, and all of a sudden Brylcream was a household name again. Celebrities can also create fads and crazes - when Madonna started wearing black t-shirts with Kylie Minogue's name on it back in 2000, several other singers started to wear the same t-shirt with the name of their deadly rival on it too (I'm still stuck in the late '90s, can you tell?)

But the flip-side of that coin is that whilst society raises celebrities up to the level of a semi-deity, they are real people. And if the covers of the various women's magazines have taught me anything (other than "men are all evil", and "sex tips to drive your man wild"... go figure) is that real people are flawed. They fail, they have breakdowns, they look bad without makeup, they sleep around... basically, they're like you and me, but with infinitely more money to make those screw-ups possible, and equally as much scrutiny on their lives to make the consequences of those screw-ups magnified so the whole world can see every little detail.

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It's little wonder, then, that Nintendo originally shied away from having celebrity endorsements, especially as they were positioning themselves as a toy company (the term "video games" being about as popular as "genital warts" back in 1983, and were just as nice on the eyes). Instead, Nintendo created their own celebrities - Donkey Kong, Mario, Samus, Link, etc. Donkey Kong was one of the first true gaming mascots, but it was Mario who was destined to be the talisman, the symbol of gaming's rebirth in the West. He was a marketing dream, the face of Nintendo, with his own cartoon show, cereals, the works. Little wonder, then, that for the next 15 years other companies would try in vain to come up with their own Mario (although Sonic is probably the most successful). But the best thing with a fictional mascot is that they're under your control as a company - they won't turn down media appearances, they won't have controversial political views, and they won't turn up in some sleazy hotel with a pile of cocaine and a hooker.

When Sega decided that they would do what Nintendon't, they brought in a lot of celebrities to endorse them. Michael Jackson (easily the biggest star in the world back then) starred in the average-at-best "Moonwalker" and also did the music for Sonic 3. Not that you'd know the latter fact from listening to the game - it was heavily remixed and kept hush, due to the fact that Jackson was involved in a child-abuse scandal at the time. Joe Montana's football was a big hit in the States, but like all sports stars, his fame was fleeting, as was the case with the boxer Buster Douglas (who also had a MegaDrive game). However, in spite of the risks associated with celebrity endorsement, there was one guy Nintendo did strike a deal with... a young boxer who went by the name of "Kid Dynamite", aka Mike Tyson.

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I realise I've spent a lot of time not talking about Mike Tyson's Punch Out, but that's all so I can really say the following - I genuinely believe that this game is the perfect fusion between celebrity and product. I can't think of another example where both shine so well together. Tyson was, at the time, arguably the greatest heavyweight boxer possibly ever. He was known the world over, and his badass status would give him a legendary reputation for the rest of his life. Heck, he even had a character modelled on him in Street Fighter II! (best game ever, fact fans!). Nintendo, meanwhile, were at the height of their powers - it was the winter of 1987, and the NES was the number one selling toy in the United States of America. Super Mario Bros. 3, one of the best games ever made, had just been released, and shortly after came Punch Out. It was classic old-school Nintendo - colourful characters, catchy music, and quality gameplay backed up by slick, responsive controls. It was that formula which had brought Nintendo to these heights, and allied with Tyson's name recognition, it would help create a legendary game.

Punch Out might be styled as a boxing game, but it's not - it's not really even a fighter. Rather, it's a puzzle game. You play as Little Mac, a Brooklyn-born newcomer to the boxing circuit with dreams of turning your fellow professionals faces into mush on the way to everlasting glory. Compared to your opponents, your repertoire is quite limited - you can dodge left and right, block, and deliver either a left or right-hook with the A or B button. There is also a special punch which you can use with Start, but you only get those if you are able to sucker-punch an opponent - easier than it sounds! The aim of the game is the learn your opponents patterns and strike when you find an opening. This will give you chance to deplete their life-bar - take it down and they'll hit the mat, hopefully for a count of 10. You have two ways to win - either have Mario (told you he was everywhere back then!) count to 10 when your opponent is grounded, or manage to reach a certain score by the end of round 3 (what that score happens to be is hidden from the player, though). You can't just hammer the buttons, though - every time your opponent blocks, you lose a heart. Lose them all and you get tired, leaving you vunerable to get knocked out in short order. Patience, memory, and timing are the order of the day here.

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To explain why this game is so good is to explain why NES games were so good in general. The premise is simply, the execution hard - the game eases you in with a couple of scrubs to help you get the basics down, but by the time you win your first trophy (and get a fun little reference to "Rocky", no less) then you're suddenly playing with the big boys. I will admit to thinking that beating King Hippo was actually impossible the first time I came across him, but now I know how, I can do it with ease. It's one of those games where you get a little bit further each time you play, learning as you go, until you look back and realise just how much progress your endeavours have made. It hits the sweet spot between challenge and frustration, making things fun enough to want to keep playing, and tough enough to feel rewarding when you finally do manage to succeed.

And dear Lord, nothing is more challenging than Tyson. Possibly one of the hardest boss fights in history, Mike Tyson really had to be this difficult in order to match up to his fearsome real-life reputation. Everyone I knew who owned this game knew the straight to Tyson password (007-373-5963) but beating him was another matter. His uppercuts could knock you out with one hit (just like real life, to be fair) and beating him was almost like a rite-of-passage, a bit like those '80s "coming of age" films like The Goonies or Stand By Me. Forget finding One Eyed Willies treasure - the real passage from childhood to adulthood was knocking Tyson flat on his ass.

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Like all those people I mentioned previous, eventually Tyson's endorsement ran it's course. He lost his world heavyweight title, and was involved in several scandals such as alleged rape and biting off some of Evander Holyfield's ear. As such, Nintendo didn't renew the licence, and now the game is simply titled "Punch Out". Instead of Tyson, players now face the fictional "Mr Dream" as their final opponent. And I suppose this makes sense - after all, if kids these days played through to Tyson, they'd probably wonder why the guy from The Hangover is the final boss. But to me, and all kids of the '80s and '90s, there is no comparison - Tyson was the baddest man on the planet, and to play this game and to beat him was a legitimate accomplishment. If nothing else, at least now you know who the new guy on the Smash Bros. roster is!

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Last edited by Highlight on Fri Jan 09, 2015 8:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - Mike Tyson's Punch Out!

Post by Vtheyoshi » Wed Dec 31, 2014 12:49 am

Nice little history lesson there :) I've always found it a bit strange that Tyson was replaced by someone like Mr Dream.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - Mike Tyson's Punch Out!

Post by danbish » Wed Dec 31, 2014 11:16 am

Have a watch of this and just wait until they face Mike Tyson!

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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - The Sequel!

Post by Highlight » Tue Jan 06, 2015 12:53 am

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze (Wii U, 2014)

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Has anyone ever been to see a tribute act?

Way back in the mists of time, I was taken by my mom to the local assembly rooms to see "Major Tom, a loving tribute to the music of David Bowie". I believe that was his full name too, as any time they were introduced they seemed to use all of those words every time, as if missing out any of it would mean the audience would forget that we were watching a tribute act. There was no need to worry on that front, believe me - not that they were bad, the songs were well sung, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, but it just wasn't... the same, you know? Like someone from the X Factor trying to mimic Whitney Houston or Freddie Mercury, they may sing well, but you can't help but compare it unfavourably to the original.

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As previously mentioned in this thread, I got a Super Nintendo purely for Donkey Kong Country. The graphics spellbound me, but when I actually got my hands on the game, the tight gameplay and excellent level design kept me coming back for more. The second and third instalments were fantastic too, to the point where I consider the series to be the best 2D platformers of all time.

However, since then, mummy Rare and daddy Nintendo had a nasty divorce, and Nintendo has found a hot new piece of ass to dote their first-party franchises on called Retro. After doing wonders with the Metroid series, Nintendo entrusted them with the ape's beloved series. But could lightening strike twice? Could Retro live up to the inevitable comparisons between it's new game and the million-selling originals? Or would it be "Major Kong, a loving tribute to the gameplay of Rareware's classic"?

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I'm not going to beat around the bush here - Tropical Freeze is fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, that I would go as far as to say that it's an essential purchase if you have a Wii U. It's certainly better than Mario Wii U, and that's not a knock on Mario's game at all - merely that, like two decades prior, the Italian u-bend fixer is simply a notch below his old nemesis' platforming efforts. It looks fantastic right off the bat, colourful, bright, and in full HD. It's graphics can't really blow away the audience like in the original DKC, but it doesn't mean that they aren't creative with the visuals - there are some levels where the characters are done entirely in silhouette, with only Donkey's red tie or Dixie's pink cap brightly lit against the darkness. It's very stylish, and somewhat reminiscent of Schindler's List (at least visually - you know which scene I mean). They also have levels where they make use of the backround in a sort of a "2-and-a-half-D" way, and as such the game has a visual style all of it's own.

But the best thing about this game - indeed, the very best decision Retro Studios could've made - is that it doesn't try to be Donkey Kong Country. Rather, it has it's own play style, built on the previously released "Donkey Kong Country Returns". The pinpoint perfect platforming is still present, but there are also new features, such as having to hold the trigger buttons to hold/release from vines and climbable walls. Donkey Kong is the constantly present character, but he can be joined by one of three of his kin - Diddy, Dixie, or Cranky Kong. By having them not only do you gain twice as many hits before you die, but you also get an additional power. Diddy has his barrel jetpack to help slow descent, Dixie spins her ponytails to help reach higher platforms, and Cranky can bounce on his walking stick just like Scrooge McDuck in the NES game "Ducktales".

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By having these characters, it opens up new parts of the level which can lead to bonus rooms and hidden exits. And just like the original DKC games, there are tonnes of hidden bonus rooms to find. And it wouldn't be a homage to a Rare game without having lots of stuff to collect - each level has four letters spelling out "KONG" as well as several jigsaw pieces to find to complete it fully. And it gives the game a lot of longevity - a bit like Super Mario World, you'll revisit levels again and again trying to find each hidden room. There's also a whole secret world hidden, but shhh, I didn't tell you ;) In terms of gameplay, it actually reminds me of Yoshi's Island DS - creative platform levels which you navigate as a single character (Yoshi/DK) with a support character on the back which allows different powers. And it works a treat! Swimming also works much better too, with an infinitely better degree of control than in the SNES games.

One thing where Tropical Freeze does emulate it's famous predecessors is in the audio. This is a good thing, as the music in the Donkey Kong Country SNES trilogy is up there with my favourite in the history of videogames. Retro made the decision to get the original composer, David Wise, back on board for this production, and what a stellar call that was. The music is wonderful, an orchestral delight which enhances the experience for the player. Most of the game has an original score, but they do drop in the odd remix from the original games, such as the overworld theme, Aquatic Ambience and Lockjaw's Locker. It's enough of a nod to the originals to make older fans smile, but doesn't overshadow the new offering - which is symbolic of the game as a whole, really.

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No game is perfect, however, and Tropical Freeze does have it's flaws. The biggest one, to me, is the controls. Not because they're unresponsive at all, but simply because they make the mistake of trying to tie too many controls to a single button. This isn't the SNES pad anymore guys, you can have a different button for rolling as well as running! I would've also liked some different styles of bonus rooms, as they are all of the "collect all the bananas" type. In Diddy's Kong Quest they had "defeat all the baddies" and "find the coin" variants... why couldn't they return? Speaking of Diddy, he's completely redundant in this game, as Dixie's ability is basically his but with the ability to jump higher too... I never picked him by choice, let's put it that way. Also, can someone please tell Nintendo that the idea of lives are completely pointless nowadays? Seeing as I can save after each level, why bother having a life system at all if I go back to where I was anyway? There's no line of people behind me waiting to play - Sega never got over the death of arcades, but you should know better!

But genuinely, all those are small complaints which don't spoil the rich tapestry of gameplay on offer. I like how the coins aren't useless collectables but can be spent on helpful things like extra health - expensive enough to be a luxury, but cheap enough for the player to get use out of them. And the bosses are definitely worth a special mention, as they are all unique and are possibly the most memorable part of the game for me. The level design is great too - you'll find yourself ascending through avalanches, bush fires, and tornadoes amongst others. It really has that "one more level" feel which kept me coming back for more.

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So in the end, Tropical Freeze is a legend in it's own right. It's not Major Tom, but rather Lady Gaga - clearly inspired by the original, but also it's own brilliant creation. Almost 20 years to the day since I unwrapped the original DKC, my house is once again filled with the joyous laughter (and frustrated crying!) of a girl trying to control a monkey.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freez

Post by Sabrofra » Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:07 am

I found DKTF to be the most disappointing game of 2014. I got to world four and I was still bored. The game looks beautiful but it couldn't keep me playing.

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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freez

Post by Commandervideo » Wed Jan 07, 2015 6:40 pm

Tropical freeze is better than any tribute act, it's the real deal. I recently played the original DKC trilogy and didn't like them what so ever. While Returns and Tropical freeze are up there with some of the best platformers ever made.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freez

Post by Oathkeeper » Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:04 pm

Tropical Freeze is fantastic and probably the best game on the Wii U imho. Everything about it has been so lovingly crafted by the developers it's hard to find faults. I personally didn't have any problems with the controls but I can understand how run/roll being on the same button could be annoying. David Wise did a superb job with the music which was an epic accompaniment to the brilliant level design. Each world really feels like a separate island with its own story to share. I personally think the best example of this is World 2, as you really feel as if you're climbing up the mountain with each new level. It's the highlight of the series and should not be overlooked by anyone.

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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - The Sequel!

Post by Highlight » Fri Jan 09, 2015 11:14 pm

Daikatana (N64, 2000)

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Grab your placemats and your milk cartons kids, because it's storytime!

Once upon a time, in a mystical land far away called Texas there were two Johns. John Carmack, a programmer, was a computing genius. He was enthralled with what computers could do, and what technical limits they could be pushed to. Lighting effects, parallax scrolling, that sort of thing gave the guy a major stiffy.

Then there was John Romero. He was a storyteller, and loved how video games could create narratives and worlds which no other medium could. How immersive they were, how big in scope - the bigger the better, as far as he was concerned. With their powers combined, they were Captain Planet the founders of 'id software', and produced all time classic games such as Doom and Quake. This generated them an ungodly amount of money, to the point where they both started living rock and roll lifestyles. And why wouldn't they? They had single-handedly created the FPS phenomenon, their games were known the world over, and they served both the John's respective interests - Doom was not only a visual delight with well designed levels and a cool concept, but also was technically impressive for the time, and even allowed modem play, and therefore the early forerunner of online FPS games like Counter Strike and Team Fortress.

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So Carmack and Romero were living high on their success, even living in mansions and driving matching Ferraris. But, like seemingly all rockstar couples, the dream went sour. Carmack believed that all the money and focus should go into programming and technical development. Romero wanted it to go into game design and storytelling. They bickered, their egos (I would like to make a clever "id" joke here, but I'm nowhere near intelligent enough) clashed, and the two parted company (and haven't been reconciled since). And this is where the story, sadly, turns sour.

Romero, riding high on his own inflated sense of success, set up his own company "Ion Storm". And when I say set up, I mean bought a penthouse suite on the top floor of the prestigious JP Morgan building in Dallas, filling it with solid oak furniture, arcades, and a marble floor with their logo carved into it. He did photoshoots in magazines where he styled himself on Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, he had a playboy bunny girlfriend, and he boasted of how the world would be shook to it's very core by his brilliance. It was the product of either an auteur genius, flawed in his character but capable of producing masterpieces, or a modern-day Icarus, over-confident and brash and about to be brought crashing down to earth due to ego. And which of these Romero turned out to be would all depend on one thing - was Daikatana, the game Ion Storm were making amid all this furore, any good? Err, well...

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May I just start by saying that people's opinions on Daikatana were soured before it's release. Romero had promised the game to be released in 7 months, but it's development actually dragged on for years and years and years. This was partly due to the aforementioned rockstar lifestyle Romero was living rather than doing his damn job, but also because they were desperately attempting to keep up with the cutting edge. At the same time id software were making Quake 2, and Romero was determined to one-up his former colleague. "Quake 2 is going to have 11 weapons and 15 enemies? Well Daikatana is going to have 25 weapons, be dripping in enemies, and be an epic adventure set over 4 time periods with co-op partners, and, and, and..." Problem is that whilst swanning around in Ferraris and doing magazine interviews is easy, actually developing a game is somewhat difficult, and the people within Ion Storm who had realistic time management skills decided to up and quit, publically slamming Romero and his company. Seeing as Romero had started to run very poorly received ad campaigns and gamers were starting to get restless as they wondered where their promised magnum opus was, this created a perfect storm of critics chomping at the bit to scream "Die, Katana!" the second they possibly could.

So the game never really stood a chance. But playing the (admittedly inferior) N64 version 15 years later, outside of the bubble of bile which surrounds it, does the game itself actually hold up? Well, honestly, no. It's pretty bad - not soul-wrenchingly bad as reviewers at the time decried, but about as bad as stepping on an upturned plug in the middle of the night whilst listening to the views of Katie Hopkins. The first thing which strikes me is that for a game designed by a man who apparently championed the notion of games telling stories, the plot is as dull as Grimsby on a wet bank holiday Monday. It's also told in the most unintuitive way that a video game can - cutscenes. Loooooong cutscenes. Boring cutscenes. Cutscenes so bad they almost make me long for the voice acting in Mortal Kombat Mythologies - heck, at least those guys were dressed up in daft costumes for a giggle.

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I can't deride the graphics, because pretty much all pre-PS2 3D games looked like they were modelled out of origami. But I can deride everything else. Sound quality is poor, and although I initially wanted to excuse this for being on the N64, I reminded myself this was the same console which had me humming along for weeks to the jaunty tunes of Banjo-Kazooie, or had the beautiful orchestral pieces of Ocarina of Time. The control system is horribly unintuitive, and makes a game which is already determined to make it's players into female dogs even more difficult. The fact that John Romero wants to make me his liverpool tart is self-evident even without the full page adverts - you will die playing this game, a lot, although whether it's the enemy which will kill you or your own weapon is about a 50/50 split. If you are firing a machine gun, for example, and the enemy dies, any bullets which would've hit the now-dead enemy will instead ricochet off the wall behind them and harm you. It's intelligent gaming design like this which makes me wonder if Daikatana is some sort of revenge that John Romero wanted to inflict upon the gaming world at large due to us mocking his effeminate hairstyle. There's also the fact that the game only allows you to save if you find a "save gem", rare crystals (and I mean rare) that are used up once and then disappear. Need to save the game because time's ticking and you need to be off to school/work/the orgy soon? Too bad! Wander aimlessly through uninspired levels and hope you get lucky, or else lose hours of work!

And then there's the piéce de résistance, the crowning giant turd in this cesspool of a game, which is your AI co-op partners. Any gamer anywhere will tell you that the very worst thing in games is friendly AI, especially when you have to keep them alive to proceed. Daikatana manages to one-up this annoying trope as both of your brainless imbecilic comrades have to be present with you at a level exit to complete the stage, yet they seem to have a distinct talent of getting themselves stuck on bits of scenery several rooms back. I'm guessing whoever tested this huge amount of tosh committed seppuku before they could stomach any more, and therefore couldn't reveal how wretched the game is to those in quality control. Either that or they were John Romero's liverpool tart.

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So we all know what happens next... Daikatana gets panned, Ion Storm closes, Romero retreats into the shadows, only showing up in footnotes on games like Gauntlet 7, or at the odd retro games convention. Carmack, for his part, stayed with id and helped develop the Quake and Doom sequels, which were popular and very nice, but never really advanced the genre or innovated in the same way their forebearers had.

So then, what have we learned from this rambling, idiom-filled tale? Well, for one things, don't bloody play Daikatana - it's awful, I'd give it a 5 out of a 10 if I was feeling incredibly generous (and I mean "had the best sex of my life on Christmas day after Nottingham Forest got relegated" happy levels of generous). But also that Carmack and Romero, for their faults, really did bring out the best in each other. They were the ying to the others yang - that none of us are as good as all of us. Carmack needed Romero to breathe life into his technical works, and Romero needed Carmack to craft his visions into tangible games and give him focus. Ultimately, that whilst lighting effects are cool, they're much cooler lighting off a demons face as you shotgun them back to hell. And that whilst the idea of a designer-centric gaming company is noble in of itself, it needs structure and a CEO who doesn't blow all his money on penthouse suites and flash cars. Game design is a beautiful thing, and it needs all elements to work together to help create the wonderful medium that we all love.

Either that, or "don't treat your audience with contempt". YOU HEAR ME, ELECTRONIC ARTS?
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 -Daikatana (urgh)

Post by OrangeRakoon » Fri Jan 09, 2015 11:45 pm

I have daikatana waiting for me to play on steam. I am scared to begin.

This has only made it worse

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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 -Daikatana (urgh)

Post by Highlight » Fri Jan 09, 2015 11:58 pm

It's not that bad... like I said, poor to bad is a fair assessment. But I think the main reason it turns up on so many "worst games ever" lists is because of Romero's spectacular level of hubris.

No doubt some people will be thinking why, if I'm admitting that the N64 version is inferior, why I didn't play the PC version? Well, whilst the N64 version is certainly worse, at least it works. When it was released on PC Daikatana was notorious - more bugs than a bush tucker trial, and as unreliable as Jonathan Aitken on the witness stand.

Ultimately, though, nothing is as bad as being let down. Gamers were resentful towards Daikatana because they'd been told for 3 years how amazing it was going to be, and then were insulted by it's creator. The fall is all the worse if the level of expectation is raised beforehand - it's one thing to lose the big game, it's another to know your dad was supposed to be there but he "couldn't make it because of work". Or when you meet a smoking guy or gal out in a nightclub, you flirt, your temperatures rise, your senses tingle as your mind races about sealing the deal... and then you end up sitting in a wet patch watching Loose Women with the sign-language lady in the corner after 5 minutes of "action". What I'm basically saying is, Daikatana is a cum-soaked bedspread and it should be consigned to the laundry basket of history.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 -Daikatana (urgh)

Post by D.J » Sat Jan 10, 2015 8:07 am

I remember all the fuss and hype surrounding Daikatana, and the scathing reviews that followed.

Never played it myself, but to be honest, it's not something i even want to.

It must surely be though, one of the most overhyped video games of all time.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 -Daikatana (urgh)

Post by danbish » Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:19 pm

D.J wrote:I remember all the fuss and hype surrounding Daikatana, and the scathing reviews that followed.

Never played it myself, but to be honest, it's not something i even want to.
This. I've heard all the stories surrounding it and its legacy and its a game I've avoided like the plague. Ninjabread Man & Bit-Boy quite probably have nothing on this.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 -Daikatana (urgh)

Post by D.J » Sat Jan 10, 2015 2:01 pm

Highlight wrote:Gamers were resentful towards Daikatana because they'd been told for 3 years how amazing it was going to be, and then were insulted by it's creator.
Sounds like my experience with Final Fantasy XII
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - The Sequel!

Post by Highlight » Wed Jan 21, 2015 10:24 pm

Temple Run (iPhone/Android, 2011)

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It's amazing how much effort human beings have put into playtime throughout history.

I mean, think about it. Take a game like chess - someone, at some time, had to individually craft the board on which it was played, carve the pieces, and then create the rules for the game. And then people would spend centuries working out what the best strategies are, how best to win, and publish books on the subject... all, really, in the name of having fun. After all, chess is a board game, and it is a leisure activity.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and we find that our playtime is evolving faster than almost any other industry out there. Within the space of a single generation games have gone from primarily being played out of a box on boards to advanced electronic devices. Even video games have gone through a huge overhaul, from pixelated cartoon characters to high-definition complex adventures. To say that your a "gamer" now is almost a redundant a term as saying "I like TV" - what genres, what shows? Gaming now is so diverse that it creeps into so many areas which it daren't have dreamed to merely 10 years ago.

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The reason I talk about this is because when thinking about what games I had been playing in order to do a review, I didn't even count Temple Run amongst them. This is in spite of the fact it was easily the most played game of the past week - I've spent most of my spare moments having "just one more go" to see if I can get a little bit further. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that I'm stuck in an outdated mindset that a game is something you purchase in a shop for a console. This is probably because I'm now an old-timer who can't keep up with you young whippersnappers, but for the longest time, this was the case. You may laugh at this, but I distinctly remember hearing that "Tales of Monkey Island" was coming out for the Wii, and heading down to the shops to buy it only to discover it wasn't there. I couldn't understand why it wasn't stocked on it's release date - not realising, of course, it was a download only game!

Despite my derelict mindset, Temple Run is most definitely a game. It has a clear objective, a high score system (the most old school of all game mechanics), easy to learn controls, and character and level design. Purists may scoff when these sort of games get nominated in game of the year awards alongside Triple A titles, but games like Temple Run are not only great fun, I'd also argue that they good for the gaming industry as a whole.

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Temple Run's brilliance really does lie in it's simplicity. You are an adventurer who has apparently stolen some sort of ancient icon, and now demonic monkeys (I think?) are after you. Your objective is to outrun them and escape, or, more accurately (as this is impossible) keep going for as long as humanly possible before you get caught. It's one of those "run forever" games, where it ends the second you make a mistake. Because it's played on a touch screen, you swipe your finger up and down to jump and duck respectively, as well as tilt your phone to move your character left and right along their plane, avoiding the various pitfalls and traps as you go. Basically, if you have a working index finger you can play this game, and it's this accessibility which has helped to make it hugely popular.

Like Tetris, Temple Run has that "just one more go" appeal about it. You really do feel that you can do better next time - each death will be due to a split second error of judgement, and your inner ego just won't allow you to walk away knowing that it was avoidable. There's also collectable tokens which you can spend on new characters, items and multipliers if being a completionist is your thing (like me). I wish I could describe it further, but really, the game does exactly what it needs to do without excess - music is kept to a minimalist jungle drum beat, graphics are colourful but not really detailed, and there's no real aim beyond run for as long as you can and get the high score. And yet, it's great!

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If I may go back to my earlier comment, I'd like to explain why I think games like Temple Run are good for the industry. Firstly, giving developers a new platform on which to sell their wares allows many games companies and designers to have a chance to create something and bring it to market without it getting buried under the weight of what console gaming expects of titles nowadays. Temple Run was actually created by a husband and wife team, and whilst being free to download may make it difficult to compare sales with console titles, the fact it has been downloaded over 1 billion times should show that it is possible to be successful without needing next-gen graphics and a marketing department the size of Angola. From the gamers point of view, this type of title appeals to the often mentioned "casual gamer" - those who wouldn't necessarily froth at the mouth at the new Zelda release, but at the same time can enjoy a quick blast on an interactive gaming title. It may even lead people to try more "typical" gaming titles on the back of it, which means more people will experience more facets of the industry. And lastly, because Temple Run is so popular worldwide (seriously, a damn movie is in the works) it may hopefully help video games to be more accepted by the mainstream, rather than the vilified boogeyman that it usually is treated like by the media.

So let the scoffers scoff, let the purists turn their noses up and go back to their Japanese-only Saturn imports. To me, the more gaming evolves, the more avenues it explores and the bigger it becomes, the better it is for all of us. At the end of the day, Temple Run has caused handheld pleasure to millions (like you mom has), and really, what better way to judge a game than that?


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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - Temple Run

Post by Vtheyoshi » Wed Jan 21, 2015 11:51 pm

I don't like to admit it, but I have spent more time than I care to mention on this game. It's rather addicting.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - The Sequel!

Post by Highlight » Sat Feb 14, 2015 12:03 am

Saturday Grandstand - Part 1

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Anyone else old enough to remember Grandstand? For years it was a staple of the BBC weekend schedule. On a Saturday morning they would go to Bob Wilson or Des Lynam at the BBC sports centre, who would then run down the days sport that you could look forward to. The theme tune was really iconic, and would get your spirits raised for the great action that would unfold throughout the day. I wasn't exactly an avid viewer, but I remember by dad being glued to it every weekend.

When I was younger and everything was getting a video game adaptation, I often wondered why there wasn't a Grandstand game. How great would that be? Instead of having a million different sports games, you could have just one, which contained everything. Obviously I was unaware of the notion of data storage and limitations, but also financially it makes no sense- after all, why buy the rights to all these sports to sell one game when you can sell many different ones?

However, over the course of the last 22 years of gaming, I have acquired various different kinds of sports game. Lord knows how or why... they've just ended up in my collection for some reason. So now I'm going to realise a childhood dream and combine all of these games to make one big game of Grandstand! Also, for a bit of realism, I'm going to play these over the course of a day and change over to the next sport at specific times, just like they used to on Grandstand. Ok, time for a Saturday of sport!

7am - GOLF

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Up bright and early for a knock around the links! Golfers seem to tee-off very early in the morning, and so I thought I'd get up very early to replicate this. I didn't, however, head out in the horrible drizzling rain and cold for extra realism, although I could, as the first game I'm playing is Golf (1990) on the original Game Boy (not to be confused with Mario Golf, which is a Game Boy Color game).

Golf basically uses the same mechanics as virtually every golf video game since. You aim the direction you wish to hit the ball, press 'A' to start your swing, then stop the pointer for power, then again for accuracy. Nintendo deserve props here, as this game (well, the NES version of this game) was actually the first to use this method. There is a slight catch, however, as you have no way of knowing where your ball will land once you hit it - you aim in the general direction and kind of have to hope you don't hit it so hard or soft. As a result, the first few times you play this game will be filled with trial and error - don't be discouraged to finish with a treble-figure score over par come the end of your first round. But eventually you get a feel for things and manage to get better as you go... my first par was literally met with yelps of pleasure from myself, such was the achievement! Unlike the NES version, you also get two courses to choose from, USA or Japan. Be warned though - the Japan course is for hardcore ninjas only, the sort of people who play Ghosts and Goblins wearing a blindfold made of nails.

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Unable to make myself even semi-competent at the portable version of a good walk spoiled, I decided to transfer my skills to more familiar greens - Wii Sports, the 2006 best selling game of all time. I already did a review of this earlier up the page, so won't re-tread that ground, but I imagine everyone has their own specific game which they love the best. For me and my friends, it's the bowling we like best, then tennis, boxing, baseball, and finally golf. Guess you can imagine my thrill at playing this then. Having said that, it's not that bad, and despite it's tetchy controls it's worlds better to get to grips with than the monochrome monster I was playing previously. You have to be very light with your golf swings or else you'll end up being wildly inaccurate, but eventually I got to be an expert of swinging and ball-control.

After finishing 2 under par and using up my AA batteries like the good old days, the clock had rolled around to 8 which means it's time for...

8am - ATHLETICS

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This the point where they would hand back to the studio, recap what we had just watched, then pass over to the next sporting correspondent. In this case we head over to the athletics, which is actually several sports in one. These are usually released on Olympic years to tie in with that year's festivities (Sonic and Mario optional). Back in the glory days of the arcade, two titles stood out as the definitive athletics experience - "Track and Field", and our celebrity endorsement, "Dailey Thompson's Decathlon", played here on the ZX Spectrum.

For those of you who are unaware, Dailey Thompson is one of the UK's finest ever athletes, winning two Olympic gold medals at the decathlon in 1980 and 1984, and breaking four world records at the event. He also had a legendary rivalry with German decathlete Jürgen Hingsen, tormenting the poor man at every turn by constantly relegating him to "man who comes second to Dailey Thompson". Thompson even went so far as to wear a t-shirt saying "is the world's second best athlete gay?" at a winner's press conference.

The game doesn't really convey Thompson's charm and personality, but it has a rustic and retro charm all of it's own. The crowd noise, for example, really did make me giggle - they are absolutely silent except when you win, and then they cheer for 2 seconds, and go dead silent almost instantly. The reason this is funny is because the crowd cheering sounds somewhat like gunfire, making it appear they are being coerced into cheering for our hero.

As for the game itself, it pretty much is the mould in which all athletics games would take forever. You hammer buttons in order to win events - simple, yet effective, and it provides a similar level of concentration and endurance as the real event does. It's the original button masher - no game will ruin your joystick and keyboard faster than these games do. By the way, I absolutely suck at the high jump, to the point where the real Dailey Thompson probably has concussion via proxy due to the amount of times I've slammed his head off the floor.

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Fast forward to the Playstation, and we have Sydney 2000, the official tie-in with the summer games that year (bet you can't guess when that was? ;) ) Building on the framework of that classics such as Dailey Thompson passed down, Sydney 2000 compiles 12 events for you to run, jump, swim and throw your way to victory in. The biggest change is the Olympic mode - instead of just throwing you into the biggest event of the summer, you have to qualify for each event to prove your worth, before given the honour of representing your country (unless your country happens to be Pakistan or Argentina, as there is a pre-set list only).

The best events seem to be the ones which require the third "action" button, as it mixes the button mashing mechanic with a bit of timing - high jump, long jump and the throwing events spring to mind. I dislike the swimming, as the computer appears to be some sort of fish/cheating bedfordshire clanger hybrid, and the hurdles, as mistiming just one slows you down to the speed of a narcoleptic breeze block. It's not bad fun, especially with friends, but the gameplay involves more mash than a secondary school canteen.

10am - CRICKET

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Cricket and video games always have had a bit of a rocky history. Unlike athletics, which usually require one or two actions to perform the event, cricket is an extremely complex sport. Take bowling alone - do you bowl spin, pace, seam? The field settings, the state of the pitch, the kind of shot the batsmen play - all of these things have to be taken into consideration. To try and create a game which plays well and manages to take into account all these elements seems like a minefield.

Ten o'clock is usually when the test match starts (at least in this country - cricket it played all over the world), and so it's time to pop in Brian Lara Cricket (1998) for the Playstation. The 32 and 64-bit console era was one where 3D was the in thing, and as a result, all the polygon characters look like origami figures have come to life. Loading times take forever, and the sound occasionally drops out when you're playing. However this was a different era, one where graphics as ugly as that kid from "Mask" weren't held against a game. So how does it play?

Honestly, quite well. Batting (which is always the most fun in cricket) is easy to pick up - you move your batsmen around to play each shot, and then press the directional button where you want to hit the ball. You can also play different strokes, such as pull shots or block shots. The main issue I have with the batting is the running - bear in mind you press "x" to run, so if you press the button twice the batsmen will run twice, come hell or high water. I guarantee your first loss of wickets will be accidentally run out by pressing the button one too many times.

Bowling is a bit trickier - you can aim where you want the ball to go, and then press a button to decide which sort of delivery you wish to bowl. Problem is that this can be hit and miss - most of the times, the batsmen have no issue knocking me all over the show. If you're a cricket buff, then I'm sure you can work it out, but it's mostly incomprehensible to me. Also the fielding is automatic unless you change it to manual, but trust me, one go at that and you'll happily let the computer pick it up.

The game has many modes, and allows you to set things such as how many overs each game is, the order of the lineup, etc. One thing I quickly learned as I played is that you want to severely limit how many overs each game is, as otherwise it will take hours to finish (and I am not being facetious in my statement there at all).

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Most cricket games that followed used the same formula as Brian Lara, so for a change of pace I went with Big Beach Sports (2008)[/b] for the Wii. All big successes have copycats (I look forward to all the 50 Shades of Grey film knockoffs), and as previously mentioned, Wii Sports is the highest selling games of all time. Cue a million casual sports games where you waggle the wiimote to simulate swinging a tennis racket, unblocking a sink, punching a donkey, etc.

However, cricket is a game where swinging the wiimote makes sense - after all, you can simulate throwing your bat around like the real deal. But here's where it falls down, folks - like most knockoffs, Big Beach Sports fails to capture the class and gameplay of the original. The issue here is one of control - my motions have as much relevance to what's going on on-screen as a block of cheese does to the dark side of Pluto. In video games control is key, and this goes double for sports games - after all, timing can be the difference between success and failure. Unfortunately his means that cricket here is a frustrating, rather than a thrilling, affair. Arkham Asylum is a better cricket simulator than this... at least the bat control is better.

Time for a tea break, methinks... more to follow soon!
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - Saturday Grandstand

Post by D.J » Sat Feb 14, 2015 7:56 am

I remember Grandstand, and Game Boy Golf, the latter of which is the only golf game i've ever scored a hole in one on.
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - Saturday Grandstand

Post by danbish » Sat Feb 14, 2015 1:07 pm

I remember Grandstand and seeing you mention it brought the theme tune screaming back around my brain! I own (somewhere) Dailey Thompson's Decathlon on my Spectrum (which is also somewhere, where I know not) and obviously Wii Sports. Your second mentioned athletics game reminded me of Konami's International Track & Field Summer Games on N64 which is a great game, especially in multiplayer but as is normal in those types, its also a blister machine. I presume Sydney 2000 was as well?
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Re: Today I'm Playing 2 - Saturday Grandstand

Post by Highlight » Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:38 pm

Pretty much all of the athletics/Olympics games play the same way, with you being assigned one or two buttons to either hammer as fast as you can or time correctly.
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