Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, mainly because I'm fairly squeamish and was fully expecting to spend half the movie peering out between my fingers. The shamelessly over-the-top design pleased me, I spent the next three weeks humming "A Little Priest" at inappropriate times, and the cast were excellent, even the ones who had rubbish parts to play (i.e. Anthony and Johanna). Helena Bonham Carter completely owned the movie as I far as I'm concerned. Needed more Anthony Head, though, but then everything needs more Anthony Head. Everything.
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Brilliant script, brilliant acting, brilliant direction, brilliant soundtrack (I bought the CD on the way home from the cinema, which I think is the only time I've ever done that). Nary a bum note to be had.
The Other Boleyn Girl
I can't remember much of this, to be honest (saw it in March), which probably isn't a good sign. From what I can remember, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johannson were good as the Boleyns, but Eric Bana was a bit of a damp squib as Henry VIII, largely down to not having anything to work with. Mind, put Portman and Johannson in bosomy Tudor corsets and hint at much taking off of said bosomy corsets and I'm pretty much satisfied.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
When you're giggling out loud as you remember a movie's plot, you're probably on to a winner. All the tiresome naysayers have apparently forgotten how deeply silly the first three movies were, and Skull can hold its head up high as being even sillier. ARMY OF MONKEYS
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
I've read the Narnia books several times, and I can never remember Caspian's plot. Upon viewing the movie, the reason for this became clear: the plot's rubbish. The film isn't rubbish, but it is the very definition of meh. Hopelessly average. Only Eddie Izzard as Reepicheep (and the bit where he stabs a guy in the eye very nearly being shown onscreen and making the whole cinema wince audibly) is worth noting.
Just glorious. I've covered this already, so I'll just praise the astonishing character animation, and the pleasing fact that it apes Firefly/Serenity in places (i.e. some of the action sequences being shot as if "real", with the camera panning around to find Wall·E before zooming in on him).
The Dark Knight
Again, covered this. I remember my body hurting at the end of the film, as my muscles had been tensed for so long. Gripping.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
A little disappointing, mainly due to the pre-release hype and early reviews. It felt like a character piece with the action sequences bolted on out of obligation, but it was fun and well-acted. Nice use of Travis's "All I Want to Do is Rock", too.
Excellent. Top performance from Angelina Jolie, suitably restrained direction from Clint Eastwood, and possibly the only time I've seen John Malkovich act in a movie and not be a dreadful ham.
Overall, it's a toss-up between Wall·E and The Dark Knight for bestest film of the year.
Special bonus feature!
Stuff what came out this year but I saw on DVD/airline seatback telly rather than in the cinema reviewed dead fast
Cloverfield: miles better than I was expecting. Developed instant crush on the girl that Hud fancies.
The Forbidden Kingdom: highly entertaining and very late-80s-family-fantasy (this is a good thing). You can't argue with a film that casts Jet Li as the Monkey King.
Kung Fu Panda: unexpectedly brilliant and made me laugh out loud within the first two minutes. Looked good enough to lick.
The Incredible Hulk: okay, but ran out of steam about forty minutes from the end. Nice sly vein of humour.
I also saw the last fifty minutes or so of Iron Man, which seemed fairly good.
THE END, NOW GO HOME
Saturday, December 13, 2008
What was number 1, you ask?
Condoms that vibrate.
They had a little battery pack on the ring or lip or whatever you call it.
Also, I had one of the best dreams I ever had last night. Basically it started out as a fairly accurate version of Resident Evil: Extinction, with me as Milla Jovovich. Then I woke up and went to sleep again, and it sort of restarted, but I was me instead, in England. One of the movie's plot points is that the zombie virus has also killed off plantlife, turning the world into one big desert, but in my dream England was sort of half-hanging on to its green and pleasant self, and some resemblance of normality. I went to a Toys R Us at one point, and about half the customers were queuing up to pay for their stuff, because they wanted life to carry on as normal; and the other half were just shoplifting, because, hey, zombie apocalypse. Then it turned out that Australia was untouched, so I flew there with Milla and some friends, although when we got there the scenery was more like a cross between England and Canada. There were also a couple of pretty girls that I suspected of having a crush on me, one of which I think my subconscious based off this girl I met once in college, thought, "Wow, you're beautiful," then never saw again and have not thought about for a good four years. Then I can't remember what happened.
So, yeah. Doesn't sound that great when you write it down but it was immensely satisfying for some reason.
You read it...you can't un-read it!
Monday, December 08, 2008
Monday, December 01, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
EDIT: Just spent an increasingly surreal ten minutes trying to stop the feed having two titles. It now has two "follow me on Twitter"s instead. I think this compromise will have to do.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
(I should break here to say I don't have any idea why I'm being so incredibly verbose and roundabout. It's that time of the month or something.)
- anyway, contained within its shiny shiny pages was a look round the offices of Valve. Valve are weird. Everything they make sells about one billion per second, and they dedicate themselves largely to a single genre. Surely they should be moneygrubbing, dribbling corporate clones? No, they seem like nice guys. They have fun. They made a "shipping machine" for The Orange Box - they decided just clicking a mouse wasn't grand enough to load the game onto Steam, so they built a giant mad scientist machine with flashing lights and a klaxon and levers to pull and a Big Red Button to hit in order to ship the game. Just for the heck of it.
And now they're offering their whole back catalogue for 70 quid, just to celebrate their new game. Nutters. They shouldn't work, and yet they do. And the gaming world is better for it.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
(It's right at the bottom)
Anyway, this has already become my most-wanted movie for 2009. Look at the fluidity of the characters' movements! Gorgeous.
(Also, is it just me or does Gaiman look a bit like David Thewlis?)
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I loved the first series; the way it threw a whole bunch of disparate characters at you and gradually knitted them together, and the sense that they were ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances was very well done.
The second series wasn't as bad as everyone made out, but it was kind of aimless. A sort of "we're doing this 'cos we have to" thing. Thankfully, the writers' strike causing them to have to jam about ten episodes' worth of plot into three episodes caused it to perk up at the end.
Now with series 3, the writers have gone mad with power. It's the only explanation. I can visualise them sitting round a table, pitching the most ridiculous, shamelessly over-the-top ideas they can think of, then throwing them all in at once.
They just showed episode 5 (of 22, I presume) last night on BBC 2. So far we've had the end of the world, a nuclear explosion taking out Costa Verde, secret brothers, secret triplets, one of the lead guys turning into Evil Spider-Man, characters hallucinating Malcolm McDowell, good guys turning bad, bad guys turning good, good guys turning bad then good then bad then good again, a bar brawl, several people getting killed very horribly, lingering close-ups of Hayden Panettiere's exposed brain in a scene that I chose to believe was paying deliberate homage to the second-series finale of the superb Farscape, a joke with a tortoise cheerfully ripping off The Simpsons, blatant misuse of time-travel causing several main characters to be killed multiple times, and a Buster Keaton film. And absolutely no sign of Peter's annoying girlfriend with the atrocious Irish accent.
Heroes was a better show overall back in series 1, but it's a heck of a lot more fun these days.
Monday, October 27, 2008
There's this great skit on one of Eddie Izzard's older DVDs where he imagines the meeting that led to young singer Arnold Dorsey being persuaded to take on a pseudonym by his manager.
"Cuthelbert Bushtywank, Fringleson Hoopdeflip, Engelbert Humperdinck, Slipteburt Scrotedewhip - "
"Hang on, hang on, go back one!"
I like to think that Charles Dickens had bits of paper with long lines of ridiculous-yet-brilliant names scratched out and one circled enthusiastically. There's always one in his books, and they're almost always evil. In Little Dorrit, it's Jeremiah Flintwinch, and oooh, he's evil.
The problem with Dickens adaptations is that it always takes forever to introduce everyone, and it's always a game of Spot The Face for two or three episodes before things calm down. Alun Armstrong, Ron Cook, Mark Williams and Tom Courtenay are all in this one, but they don't count because they're in everything. Armstrong is in everything so much, that he's actually in this twice - he's playing Jeremiah, and as it turns out he's got a twin named Ephraim (which is almost as good a name). Then we've got Sue Johnston, Matthew Macfayden, Maxine Peake, Freema "'ere it's Martha out of Doctor Who" Agyeman, James Fleet, and loads more to come yet if Wikipedia's cast list is telling truths. And Andy Serkis, who should be in everything.
One of the great things about Dickens is everyone is either a) a fairly well-sketched character, which allows some proper costume drama stiff-upper-lip acting or b) a bonkers caricature, which allows some validated scenery-chewing. The former so far appears to consist pretty much only of Macfayden and the excellent Claire Foy as the titular Amy, but they both acquit themselves well. Of the gleeful hamminess of everyone else, special mentions must go to Armstrong, who punctuates every third step with a vicious growl; Johnston, who summons her inner dormouse as Armstrong's wife; and Serkis, who plays a flamboyant, psychotic French murderer with a big fake nose and beard and flappy cape and does it the only way that is right and proper - with lots of exaggerated gestures and a glorious overdone accent.
Proper British telly, done the proper British way. Almost makes you want to put up with TV Licensing. (But not quite.)
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I have learned the following things about Canada:
* They share the U.S.'s inexplicable love of not putting the cost of taxes on stuff until you take it up to the till, with the result that you're never sure how much something is going to be until you actually go to pay for it
* They have an odd definition of "ale" (most of them appear to be lagers)
* They love to recycle
* They enjoy slipping you U.S. 1 cent coins on the sly instead of Canadian 1 cent coins
* They enjoy American football, so it is actually enjoyed in more than one country
* They don't say "eh?" that much
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
Seriously Internet people, you're letting the side down here. I require knowledge of such things as soon as they exist. It is important for my well-being.
Thank you random browsing on Wikipedia
Friday, September 19, 2008
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
(Pointless aside I must sneak in whenever discussing the Offspring - I'm part of the crowd providing the crowd vocals on "Neocon", the first track of Splinter. Check the CD inlay - Reading Festival, 2002. Sunday I think?)
Please note that I have listened to the first five tracks several times and the rest between one and five times prior to doing this. Not because of any particular bias, I just listen to CDs in a funny way.
Also, I just noticed there doesn't appear to be an underline option on Blogger. What the hell? Bold it is.
Well, the opening guitar bit is "New Born" by Muse.
Oh, there's the drums, and we're off into more Offspringy waters.
First "woah-oh" identified at about 25 seconds. New record?
Into the chorus, and we're suddenly listening to Black Parade-era My Chemical Romance. Odd but quite good.
And back to basics for second verse. Shakespearean lyric reference noted (1.27) - bonus points.
Chorus again - yep, definitely My Chem-y.
Overall, pleasing to the ear. Randomly scabbing other bands obviously pays dividends.
2. "Trust in You"
Hey, it's The Standard Offspring Song! You know what this sounds like, it's been on all of their albums at least twice. Basically take "All I Want" and squiggle it a bit. It's still good.
Hang on, the chorus offers up some weird squeaky noise in the background. Keyboard? No mention of keyboards in the booklet. Strange. And now we have a dash of Latin for the heck of it. I have no idea what "Quo modo" means but it sounds quite good.
Seriously, this precise guitar chug should be patented or something.
There's a good bridge that's not a million miles from "Have You Ever". Agreeable.
So yeah, if you like the Offspring you automatically have to like this song because this is their definitive sound or whatever.
3. "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid"
(Side note: I had this stuck in my head for most of last week.)
You can sort of dance to this one. The "dance, fucker, dance" hook's brilliant and is the bit that really got lodged in my skull.
Pre-chorus is a bit odd. Odd appears to be a key word for this album.
Main chorus: the business. Love that little riff at the end.
Then rinse and repeat.
Overall: probably the best track on the album. Not quite top marks, but close.
You've probably heard this one already, it's the first single and they released it as a free download. Oh Dexter, you'll never make your delicious money that way. OR WILL YOU?
Overall: quite good. Understandable single choice, but not the album's best.
5. "A Lot Like Me"
More like "A Lot Like Linkin Park", mirite lol. Actually this one's grown on me a fair bit - I have a soft spot for Mr. Bennington and his wacky gang of crazy fellows, which probably helps.
So, sampled piano at the beginning and "ohhhh" bit - seriously, every time I hear this it sounds more like something off Meteora.
Is this actually Dexter singing? It sounds a bit different.
Okay, Dexter's providing backing vocals for the pre-chorus. So I guess it's Noodles doing the lead vocal? I can't really see Greg K, The Silent Bassist, taking the mic.
Right, into the chorus, and that's Dexter. Wow, mixing it up. Up is down and black is white. Michael Jackson is now really confused. I should be shot for that last joke.
Anyway. Song. Song quite good. Lyrics hilariously overwrought, but it's enjoyable in a slightly cheesy way.
6. "Takes Me Nowhere"
Start sounds kind of like "One Fine Day", Part 2. Good way to start. Verse gets a thumbs-up.
Chorus, um, doesn't really. Sounds like they were going to do something interesting but couldn't make it work so they went with plan B. Is there a band called Plan B? There should be.
Overall: Good verse, indifferent chorus. S'alright.
7. "Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?"
Oh blimey, they're unplugged. I smell a ballad.
Yep, definitely a ballad. The Offspring do not do ballads! They are manly and play very fast.
Also, slowing down causes Dexter's vocals to get incredibly nasal. Not quite Jordan Pundik level, but not pleasant.
Hmm, yeah. Actually I'm not so down on this one, I know there's worse to come.
Hey, we've got some drums pinched from American Idiot coming in there with their thumpy-thump-thump.
Overall: cheesy and slightly painful, but bearable. Actually, this one ended up in my head for a couple of days too. Basically, don't listen to it when your cool friends with immaculate music taste are round and you'll be fine. It'll just be between us...
The American Idiot vibe returns with a vengeance. This is basically the unused sixth part of "Homecoming". And I like "Homecoming", so we're good.
Yeah, you can dance to this. It's good stuff.
Overall: one of those ones that makes you grin. It so bouncy. We like. Who "we" are, me no know. Upbeat bassline has destroyed Sam's grammar. Sammar?
9. "Stuff is Messed Up"
I think this actually turned into a Green Day record when I wasn't looking, there's a hint of "Longview" about this intro. Not as good, mind.
This is The Snarky Song. The Offspring give good snarky. It's not their best, but it's acceptable.
I like the gleefully obnoxious tone of Dexter's voice when he sings "shit is fucked up". Also, that's the sort of ridiculous phrase I like in general. Screw you, semantics!
Here we have a Clash lyrical reference followed swiftly by what you could argue to be a Christina Aguilera lyrical reference (that's how I hear it, anyway).
Then we've got this great bit near the end where Dexter sings a long list really, really fast, and fits an "lol" into it. Approval rating: high!
Overall: gets better as it goes along. Well done, sirs.
10. "Fix You"
Oops, so much for the good work so far. Here we have another ballad, and it's fucking awful. And Dexter's even more nasal. If you're going to name a track after a Coldplay song, the least you could do is make it better than the original. Yeesh.
Overall: go away now. Possibly the worst song they've ever released. So rubbish I feel confident in making that last statement despite the fact I haven't actually heard their first two albums.
11. "Let's Hear it for Rock Bottom"
Tune's perky, slightest hint of ska. Christ, the first verse actually is Linkin Park. It even sounds like Chester Bennington singing it.
Ooh, that's better. Got a bit of energy there.
...No, gone again. WHAT'S GOING ON, DEXTER
Oh, back up again. What? This song's like two different ones mashed together.
Overall: um. Hard to call. Not offensive, but probably should've been better.
12. "Rise and Fall"
Green Day again? This time it sounds like something off Shenanigans, if rarities complations can have their own sound. No, actually, it sounds like "St. Jimmy", right down to some "ooo"s in the background. Actually, that guitar solo sounds a little "Ha Ha You're Dead".
Overall: totally a Green Day song. I like Green Day, so I like this.
Album overall: not their best, not their worst. Generally, the first half's topper and the second can vary wildly. Nice to hear some different influences in there, if a bit odd at times. See? "Odd". Sums it up quite nicely a lot of the time, actually.
I've been Samuel Bridgett, and this has been a waste of your precious time.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
There's no major upsets in the editing suite or anything, the producers just thought they could make a bit more dosh with a summer release. 'Cos, you know, these films usually struggle to scrape a penny or two together.
Way to show pretty thorough contempt for your audience, guys. (I bet you if you go to see The Dark Knight tonight there'll still be a trailer advertising a November release.)
I've never liked this summer-movie mentality anyway. Plus, Potter films just seem to work better in the winter (probably because they invariably have a Christmas scene).
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Radiohead - Kid A (2000)
Well, obviously. These days, the fires also remind me of the beacon bit from Return of the King, fact fans.
Gorillaz - Demon Days (2005)
Yes, it's the fifth billionth Beatles mick-take, but Jamie Hewlett did it so it's all right.
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1991)It's the pinkest thing ever, and it took me months to realise it's actually a guitar rather than an abstract blob. Then it took me another couple of months to notice the band name's on there.
Monday, August 04, 2008
Okay, so there's not much actual onscreen violence, but the repeated threats are pretty intense, and it's basically one huge downer from beginning to end. I wouldn't feel comfortable taking an 11-year-old to see it.
I can understand why they 12A-d it, though, if it was 15 the ushers'd be trying to hold back an oncoming flood of underage kids determined to get in.
(I seem to recall that the original 12 certificate was invented for the first Burton film, incidentally.)
Sunday, August 03, 2008
One of the things I really liked about it was the action sequences - in Begins they felt thrown in out of expectation, as if the makers were obligated to put in a bit where stuff blows up but they really wanted to get back to the character drama. This time round all the explosions felt like they should be there, and it made a lot of difference. Even when Bats was zooming around on his ridiculous seat-and-guns-on-wheels thing, it didn't look that daft and unnecessary. Impressive.
There's no doubting who the movie belonged to, though. Heath Ledger, quite frankly, scared the crap out of me. I was terrified whenever he was onscreen because I literally had no idea what he was going to do next. Probably the scariest character I've ever seen in a movie (disregarding the fact I don't tend to watch horror movies). Everyone else was exemplary, too, especially Aaron Eckhart. Christ, that makeup.
It was a summer blockbuster movie that ignored all the rules of summer blockbuster movies (I can't elaborate for fear of ruining the plot), which seems fitting. Essential viewing.
Friday, August 01, 2008
(Having said that, I remember being quite surprised that Resi 4 got a 15 rating and not an 18.)
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
I like it. Phoenix managed the rather odd feat of making the magic world seem kind of unextraordinary and prosaic - I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the film, but it wasn't the best. (To be honest, in my view Goblet of Fire remains the only one of the lot to actually work as a good film in its own right, rather than a passable adaptation of a book.) Anyway, this slightly strange ability of returning director David Yates should work very nicely for this film. The flashbacks were by far the most interesting part of the book for me (it was my second-favourite tome of the series, after Azkaban, fact fans), and his particular touch of the grey and authoritarian should hopefully hit just the right note for 'em.
Plus, Jim Broadbent's in it. And Jim Broadbent's great.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I still find it highly amusing that they're called Darwin yet displayed a singular lack of human intelligence.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Unfortunately, it's too bloody hot and clammy and my brain's given up. To prove it, I just tried to spell "bloody" with two "d"s. It's like in the Beano when they have a heatwave and the streetlights start melting.
Having said that, I wouldn't mind a go on Billy's Whizzer right now. It's not even as rude as it sounds, it's a ride at the Beanoland bit of Chessington World of Adventures. It's a waveswinger (those things where you sit in a single chair suspended by chains and it spins around a bit) that squirts water at you, and it's absolutely the best thing in the world on a hot day.
I should additionally point out it's nearly 10pm at the time of writing. I really do not cope with the summer at all. I should move to Alaska or something.
I saw on Smithy's blog (Holy Calamity, over there to the right) that some people don't like Jamie Hewlett's glorious Monkey idents on the BBC for the Olympics. This is because people are idiots. It scares me that these are the people together enough to successfully leave comments on a website. I shudder at the thought of the real reactionary, backwards-thinking people in their armchairs across the land, who haven't worked out how to get their messages of bile and idiocy to a wider world. "Stupid moving drawing things, where's Britannia punching the foreign devils in the face?" Ugggggh.
Right, I give up. To leave things on a lighter note, here's a hot girl in her underwear.
...Hey, you can totally see her nipples. I didn't notice that before.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
They didn't give themselves much to work with, but every emotion comes across as clear as a bell - joy, fear, resigned irritation. She is, frankly, a work of animation art.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
That's an in-game shot. You should see it moving.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Just lovely. I thought it was just waves under the boat when I first saw it.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Dreamcast, 2001, AM2/Sega
This game is so much better the second time you play it through it's not even funny. When you know what to expect from the endless QTE bits, and can take the mindless money-grubbing more in your stride because you’re no longer desperate to find out what happens next, exploring and soaking up the atmosphere becomes that much more satisfying. Kowloon especially – the mouldering tower blocks, a mixture of shabby prosperity and decrepit abandonment, are the most eerie and poignant places I’ve ever been in a game. I once spent about an hour wandering the halls of one of the more run-down ones, poking my nose in one empty apartment after another. I know that they were designed that way as a memory-saving approach, but nonetheless they just seemed to wail the long-forgotten, shattered hopes of their departed residents. It made it all the sadder when I actually came across someone living in one of them, often the only person on the floor. This is a computer game, remember. Bunch of funny made-up shapes on a screen, with three lines of dialogue chucked in for a bit of extra believability. And it works. It was a real relief to escape to Guilin’s endless beautiful mountains and valleys in disc 4. Shenmue’s core plot of revenge and discovery may be old and pretty basic, but its little, quiet, unnoticed moments are what make the series.
9. Super Smash Bros. Melee
Gamecube, 2002, HAL Laboratory/Nintendo
It took me quite a while to realise just how much I love this game, but love it I do. The deep fighting system, hidden under a simplistic brawler then hidden again under a nonsensical free-for-all, is hugely satisfying and a lot more fun than more po-faced fighters; the multiple one-player modes are fantastic (even if the last few Event Matches are far too hard); it still looks incredible six years on; there’s enough hidden stuff to power a whole other game. But above all, it’s probably the best multiplayer game I’ve ever come across. Admittedly you need to get four players who are good at the game together, but once you do it’s astonishing. In my second year of university, I and three of my flatmates played this a lot. One of them nearly always chose Dr. Mario, and nearly three years down the line the Doc is still a good few hundred ahead in terms of number of games played, K.O.s scored, losses conceded, etc. That’s how much we played it. (That’s another thing – the insane amount of stats the game somehow stores is fascinating. It tells you how many metres you’ve walked in-game, for heaven’s sake.)
8. Resident Evil 4
Gamecube, 2005, Capcom
The more I play this (seven or eight playthroughs by now? I forget), the more transparent it becomes. It is basically a shooting gallery. And the less I care. I don’t know how Capcom did it, but they made an incredibly repetitive game into one of the Bestest Fingz Evar. Blasting away at the shrieking Ganados is nothing less than completely enthralling. The impeccable presentation doesn’t hurt, either – the uncluttered HUD, the way they completely solved Resi’s storage headaches without making it seem an alien system, the top-notch direction in the cut-scenes, the fact that you can fish and then eat the fish, the whole shebang. Saddler was rubbish, mind, both as a character and a final boss. They should’ve made Salazar or Krauser the big cheese.
7. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Mega Drive, 1992, STI/Sega
Here’s one I’ve played so many times that nowadays when I pick it up I go on auto-pilot and carve the best route through the levels without thinking (at least until I get to Metropolis Zone and a poky spear thing inevitably catches me and sends me tumbling into an area I’ve never seen before). It’s incredible how completely streamlined and focused this is, refining the first game’s formula and adding in Tails, Super Sonic and pretty much all the traditional level themes. Just look at the way Aquatic Ruin permits the skilful player to completely avoid any underwater segments, or Wing Fortress and its luring temptations of what even the most hard-bitten veteran will mistake for a shortcut but will inevitably lead to death. Inspired bosses, too.
Dreamcast, 2000, AM2/Sega
Never in the history of gaming has walking to the shops seemed so epic. Even after eight years I view Shenmue’s world as a real one. Even after eight years I’m finding new places to go and things to do.
5. Shining Force III
Saturn, 1998, Camelot Software Planning/Sega
Sad to say, but this is really showing its age now. The graphics, with sprites plonked over polygons, are blurry and somewhat silly; the loading times are more marked than ever; the fighting system is starting to look a little simplistic against your Fire Emblems and your Disgaeas. But the fantastic plot, with political shenanigans of a level rarely seen in games; the wonderful design (there aren’t enough games with tiny goblins in huge steam-powered suits of armour that fire their fists at opponents); and the general epic feel – all of these still shine through. This is a rare case, though, where I’d actually recommend a remake.
4. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Gamecube, 2003, Nintendo
The high seas! Arrr, me buckos. Link’s swashbuckling seadog shenanigans make for the best Zelda ever (or the best one I’ve played, anyway) for many reasons. Reason #1: it’s utterly beautiful. Keep your “realistic” Lord of the Rings style, I want big-headed people and glorious swirly explosions. Reason #2: exploring the oceans is intensely satisfying, and I will maintain this in the face of the entire world’s denials. Setting sail for unknown waters captures the sense of adventure and discovery better than any other game. Reason #3: it’s huge. I keep finding previously unknown submarines and platforms and new crannies on old islands, and I don’t think I’ll ever finish the figurine collection. Reason #4: incredible sound. It’s a factor that often gets overlooked in gaming, but WW owes a lot of its impeccable atmosphere to the creaking of ships’ timbers, the cry of gulls, the swell of waves. Reason #5: the bit in Hyrule Castle. Reason #6: you can put a pear on your head and use it to hypnotise a seagull somehow.
3. Panzer Dragoon Saga
Saturn, 1998, Team Andromeda/Sega
In which Team Andromeda go out on arguably the greatest high any developer has achieved by taking their on-rails shooting series – Space Harrier with a lick of paint, basically – and turning it into an RPG. Edge’s phenomenal journey across a scarred world on the back of a laboratory-grown living weapon, taking on and taking sides with a rebel fleet, fighting off hideous mutants and an insidious, invasive Empire and trying to unlock the secret of humanity’s fall from grace would be fantastic if you just made a movie of it. In game form, with dozens of little side bits to discover, characters that are just as memorable if they are key or one-line nobodies, and a genius battle system that mixes up turn-based and real-time action just right, it’s nothing short of phenomenal. And I haven’t mentioned the still-impressive graphics, the incredible soundtrack, the unforgettable twist ending…
2. Christmas NiGHTS
Saturn, 1996, Sonic Team/Sega
Christmas time/Mistletoe and wine/Androgynous jester-things fighting giant dragons to rescue Christmas tree stars. No, that’s not right. Sonic Team’s Chrimble prezzie to the world, taking one level of their masterwork, stuffing new bits and bobs into it and giving it away for free, is very right, though. The changing seasons concept is sufficiently genius to be nabbed by several other games since, the extras range from agreeable (loads of lovely artwork) to fantastic (option to play the whole level as Sonic with Robotnik-Puffy boss at the end), and the spirit of NiGHTS and the spirit of Christmas compliment each other beautifully.
1. NiGHTS into Dreams…
Saturn, 1996, Sonic Team/Sega
It's short. It's fairly basic. It's repetitive. The two-player mode barely even exists. It's also completely wonderful. NiD is like the Matrix – you just have to play it for yourself to really get it.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Mega Drive, 1992, Sega
The game that single-handedly brought about my love of scrolling beat-'em-ups. It seems fairly slow and very repetitive these days, but it’s still packed full of invention and character, and big fat guys that breathe fire. And of course, the legendary soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro. The end sequence tune is the first piece of gaming music I ever truly fell in love with.
27. Marvel Super Heroes
Saturn, 1997, Capcom/Virgin Interactive
Another one that’s not quite as good as you remember it, but MSH is as passionate a love-letter to what you can do with the traditional 2D beat-‘em-up as any you’re likely to find. Still quite stunning.
26. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Gamecube, 2005, Intelligent Systems/Nintendo
FE’s first steps into 3D, and very nice they are too. The game doesn’t look as lush as it could and should have done (although the occasional CG cutscenes are absolutely lovely), but the aesthetic change allows for some subtle adjustments to the formula – most notably, you can’t fire over walls any more, which always seemed rather cheaty to me. The laguz units – half-humans who are defenceless in human form, but can transform into tigers, eagles, dragons and the like – are a brilliant touch, and the pre-battle prep is more comprehensive than ever, with a new experience-sharing system meaning you can get a much more balanced force without ridiculous amounts of effort. The main fighting is largely identical to previous games, but when it’s this good it doesn’t really matter, and the result is certainly the best Emblem to arrive on these shores yet.
25. Soul Calibur
Dreamcast, 1999, Namco
SC has been completely outdone by its sequel, but taken on its own merits it remains one hell of a fighter. It still looks lovely and plays with a wonderful smoothness, and it does in fact beat its spawn (heh) in one area – you can play an 8-player team battle against the computer, whereas in II you can only fight with three.
24. Sonic the Hedgehog
Mega Drive, 1991, Sonic Team/Sega
Marble Zone gets boring after a while. Labyrinth Zone just isn’t much fun in general. Everything else is absolutely brilliant. For a first try at a new platforming formula, it's astonishing how close Sonic comes to getting everything spot on.
23. Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now
PC, 1998, Stainless Software/SCI
I dug out my old demo of this a couple of months back. And while it now looks pretty abysmal, the gameplay is every bit as brilliant as it ever was. Racing’s still too fiddly to be worthwhile, but the 150mph game of bumper cars you play with your opponents, with metal shearing off, pedestrians running for cover, and the physics flip-flopping between ultra-realistic and bonkers cartoon nonsense for maximum enjoyment, is still utterly enthralling and completely exhilarating. Now if only I could get the full game to run on XP…
22. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
DS, 2006, Capcom
So, yeah, I’ve already outlined what makes the series great. So take Justice for All, bin the bizarre logic-leaps, and add in a fantastic fifth case that makes much better use of the DS (fingerprint-dusting is supremely satisfying) and there you go. Plus, there’s a bit where you have to interrogate a parrot.
21. Worms 2
PC, 1998, Team 17/Microprose
There are enough Worms games to entertain the entire population of the UK, and they’re all pretty similar (except for that puzzle one that was apparently rubbish). 2’s the one I’ve spent the most time with, so here it be, and it’s ace. The ultra-lo-fi graphics of the original had a certain odd charm, but the new cartoony style settled on here is undoubtedly prettier. The increased armoury is pleasing, even if the Homing Air Strike is so cheap and the Homing Cluster Bomb so useless they took them both out again, and the booby-trapped weapon crates and medical drops add extra dashes of strategy. Being able to build your own levels, though, is undoubtedly the most important addition to this classic strategy with added explosive ovine. Hoorah. Hoorah indeed.
20. Burning Rangers
Saturn, 1998, Sonic Team/Sega
Sadly, when I got a new Saturn last year and booted this up, the silky-smooth controls weren’t quite as exquisite as I remembered, and the game subsequently fell a little in my eyes. No matter, it’s still fantastic. Leaping around gigantic environments, extinguishing fires and saving puny humans, remains unique in gaming even nine years down the line (as far as I know). The real kicker, though, is the fantastic voice acting – both in the comprehensive navigation system, that allows you to call up the Rangers’ leader for directions at any time; and in the way that the other Rangers combing the level will occasionally radio in to alert the rest of the team to any discoveries they’ve made. It really does make you feel like part of a team. Sequel with full co-op play plz?
19. Resident Evil Code: Veronica
Dreamcast, 2000, Capcom/Eidos Interactive
Now even Capcom seem to want to forget this one (I haven’t played Umbrella Chronicles, but from what I gather it doesn’t even merit a mention). Which is idiotic, because it’s brilliant. Creepy as hell (the Private Residence is more Silent Hill than Resident Evil, and is that much better for it), stuffed with ideas and featuring two of the freakiest villains ever in the form of the insane and incestuous Ashford twins, it’s absolutely unforgettable. So why are you trying to forget it, Capcom? Whyyyyy?
18. Sonic Adventure
Dreamcast, 1999, Sonic Team/Sega
It’s looking decidedly old these days, but it still plays up a storm. It’s odd that Sonic Team got the move from 2D to 3D, and how best to increase the narrative scope without making the whole thing ridiculous, pretty much perfect the first time and have spent since then flailing madly in confusion. Oh well.
17. Virtua Cop 2
Saturn, 1996, AM2/Sega
The first game I got for my favourite console, so obviously there’s fondness here that’s not much to do with the game itself. But regardless, it’s still flinkin’ ace. Jamming Cop’s scenario up to maximum with car chases, helicopters, a shootout all across a cruise liner and a bloke who chucks vans at you, it is neither subtle nor considered. But what it is is high-octane, breathless, excessively cool fun. The perfect lightgun game, in other words.
16. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Gamecube, 2003, Nintendo
It’s famous and that. Not playing it until the Gamecube re-release has undoubtedly coloured my opinion of it, as it really does look quite slow and ugly next to the fluid and gorgeous Wind Waker. Still great, though.
PC, 1998, Valve Software/Sierra
Half-Life is the game that does not get old. I’ve been playing through this and its expansion packs just lately, and despite the fact it must be about my fifth or sixth time through the game, it still feels fresh and glorious. (Admittedly I got bored of trying to beat the Nihilanth and skipped straight to Opposing Force, but we’ll leave that aside.) Leave out the lacklustre Xen levels and this is pretty much flawless, with its narrative style still distinctive now, and the set-pieces still brilliant. And the Gargantuas continue to scare me rigid.
14. Sonic R
Saturn, 1997, Travellers Tales/Sega
Yes, okay, go back to this after several months of Mario Kart and you are likely to utter a hearty “dubble-yoo-tee-eff mate” at the “interesting” controls. But I maintain this has more to offer than most other racers, purely due to the astonishing complexity of the tracks. I found a whole new route through one section of Radical City a few months back, and I’ve had this since it first came out on Saturn. Oh, and you have to like it or the Tails Doll will consume your soul with its eyeballs, etcetera etcetera.
13. Animal Crossing: Wild World
DS, 2006, Nintendo
There aren’t any real goals that you absolutely have to achieve and it actually tells you off if you don’t play it for a while. It’s the anti-game! But people who complain about it for these reasons have got completely the wrong end of the stick. These aren’t little collections of polygons and A.I., they’re actual animal-headed mutant wrongnesses that live on the card and get miserable when you’re not around. I won’t let Bluebear and Dizzy leave my town (Winsburg – I wanted to call it Victoryville, but the name was too long) because I like them too much. I paid off my final mortgage in mid-December, despite having bought the game in May 2006. I’ve got all the fossils in the museum, but am still working on the paintings (because Redd keeps selling me fakes, like the shyster he is) and the fish and insects (because I’m lazy). Several of Winsburg’s residents proudly sport a t-shirt of my own design, which simply reads “LOL” in large black letters. Sometimes a very confused albatross flies by in a spaceship and I shoot it down, only to offer to help patch it up, receiving gifts in exchange. I’ve completely ignored one of my neighbours for several weeks because I bought her a top and she didn’t like it. Once I wished on a shooting star and got a suit of samurai armour in the post. In the last weeks of university, I used to go over to my friend Tom’s flat specifically so we could visit each other’s towns with the wireless link-up and hit each other with nets. It took me more than a year of trying, but I finally got a palm tree to grow on my beach. I’ve run out of room to make constellations in the night sky. Animal Crossing isn’t for everyone, but if you are the sort of person that it is for, it will keep you very happy for a very long time.
12. Soul Calibur II
Gamecube, 2003, Namco/Nintendo
Now here is a fighter. It plays excellently regardless of whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, something that not many in the genre can boast; the Weapon Master mode is so pleasingly huge and hard it took me the best part of three years to finish, and even now I haven’t bought all the weapons; and it looks and sounds fantastic (top marks for being able to choose between English and Japanese voice-acting). The minus points are two. First, when playing a Team Battle against the computer you can only choose a maximum of three characters, meaning that eight-combatant epics require a second person – something that, as I've mentioned, did not trouble the prequel. Second, a couple of the characters are fucking awful. Yunsung, hang your head. Necrid, cut yours off or something.
11. Jet Set Radio
Dreamcast, 2000, Smilebit/Sega
I swear this game actually gets cooler as time goes on. The glorious graphics, the phenomenal soundtrack, the deeply satisfying gameplay, the sheer swaggering technicolour style of it all. Almost certainly the coolest game ever. A few bits of the levels could’ve done with a little more work to round off the corners, and some of the specialist assassins are annoying enough to drag down the later stages, but that’s about as much criticism as I can muster. Also: best final boss ever.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Mega Drive, 1994, Bullfrog/EA
At lunchtimes at primary school I used to get great hunks of computer paper and design the perfect park to build in this game. Of course, once I got home and sat down to give it a whirl, I got bored after about twenty minutes and started making it up as I went again, but there’s no denying this game had its claws in me bad. Since outclassed in just about every way by the RollerCoaster Tycoon games, it’s still great to play, even if the music loop drives you slowly insane.
38. Power Stone
Dreamcast, 1999, Capcom/Eidos Interactive
Power Stone will always be special for the way it dropkicked the bar for beat-‘em-ups into the stratosphere. When it came along we’d had 3D, first in looks then in gameplay; we’d had weapons; we’d had outlandish special moves; we were starting to have more variety in stages. PS swaggered in and took these baby steps, twirled them round its head and threw them out the window, before chucking three chairs and a giant bomb after them for good measure. My amazement as everything the genre had threatened to be for years was suddenly reality rings fresh in my mind. Of course, in pure playability terms it didn’t quite match up to those that followed, but it made a heck of a lot more feasible in fighting games, and for that it should be remembered.
37. Fire Emblem
Game Boy Advance, 2004, Intelligent Systems/Nintendo
In gameplay terms, the first FE to make it to these shores has been pretty thoroughly thrashed by its younger brothers, both in sophistication and player-friendliness (come on, which idiot thought it would be a good idea to only allow shopping on the actual battlefield?), but even so it remains an exquisite turn-based treat. The ruthless nature of the series, wherein characters killed in combat can’t be revived for the next level, makes every successful battle that much more satisfying, and this one (Blazing Sword, as it’s known in Japan) dreams up some particularly inventive scenarios. The characterisation’s arguably the best of any of the translated games, too.
36. Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Mega Drive, 1994, STI/Sega
The only game in this list where you had to buy two separate games to get it. Deadlines, eh? Still, Sonic’s defining moment is arguably worth all the hassle, throwing out invention and classic gaming moments like they’re going out of fashion or something. You get the distinct feeling the coders were getting pretty knackered by the end (did Hidden Palace really deserve to be a separate level? Couldn’t they have just slapped it on the end of Lava Reef?), but that’s about as far as my criticism of it goes. And it’s interesting that the particular circumstances actually add to the enjoyment, allowing gamers to run through the familiar Sonic 3 scenery and mutter to themselves “Ah, so that’s what that suspicious ledge was there for.”
35. Cyber Troopers Virtual On
Saturn, 1996, AM3/Sega
You control BIG ROBOTS and fight other BIG ROBOTS with BIG GUNS and one robot has a BIG SWORD. Oh, and another has a BIG HAMMER. Come on people, it is not that hard.
34. Beyond Good & Evil
Gamecube, 2003, Ubisoft
Fun fact: my spellchecker wanted me to change “Ubisoft” to “bigot”. Anyway. BG&E is almost ridiculously better the second time you play it – the stealth sections make a lot more sense and flow better, the intricacies of the plot are clearer, and the experience as a whole is much more enjoyable. In an alternative universe, Michel Ancel is best known for making this, which sold by the bucketload and spawned the promised two sequels, rather than more Rayman. I want to live in that universe.
33. RollerCoaster Tycoon
PC, 1999, Chris Sawyer/Hasbro Interactive
I’ve said it already, but RCT really does take the Theme Park template and improve it in every imaginable way (except for the extra-salt-on-the-chips trick). Makes you wonder why Bullfrog bothered with sequels, really. Seminal strategy.
32. Crazy Taxi
Dreamcast, 2000, Hitmaker/Sega
I dug this out for the first time in about four years a couple of months ago, and I am sad to say that in this age of Burnout it is looking decidedly dated (SO MUCH POP-UP), and the handling’s not as smooth as I remembered. But it will always stand in fond memory as an early example of truly vibrant, full-of-life gaming environments, and it still plays well.
31. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All
DS, 2007, Capcom
Phoenix Wright (or Ace Attorney, as I guess we should get used to calling the series before Apollo Justice makes its bow) is a truly delightful, unexpected success story. Taking the nearly dead point-and-click genre, with thoroughly basic (if charming) presentation, they should’ve vanished without trace. The adventuring is satisfying, but we all know the key to their success. Complex plots, one of the best casts in the history of gaming, and an utterly hilarious script makes for the appropriate victory and justice. The courtroom scenes are less impressive as they reveal the very linear nature underlying the mechanics, and this instalment is particularly nasty for forcing you to make utterly arbitrary leaps of logic. But who can deny the spiky-headed crusader who has leapt from obscure Japanese nobody to gaming legend in a little over two years? No-one. And if they try, they’ll be “OBJECTION!”ed to hot, creamy death by the fans.
30. Donkey Konga
Gamecube, 2004, Namco/Nintendo
I’ve already established that Jungle Beat uses the DK Bongos designed for this game better than this game itself, but Konga is more enjoyable to actually play. And this is because – are you listening, Guitar Hero? – it’s an absolute riot even when you don’t know what you’re doing. Whereas other rhythm-actioners are just frustrating when you’re starting out and making hideous noises rather than doing anything well, Konga allows you to have fun straight away through the power of thump. It may be less sophisticated than its peers, but it’s more inclusive and forgiving, and I know which I prefer. Four-player jam with four bongo sets is utterly legendary.
29. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
Game Boy Advance, 2005, Intelligent Systems/Nintendo
Almost exactly the same as its immediate predecessor, but leaps ahead by a) making it possible to shop outside of battles, as should be the case in every RPG ever, you idiots Intelligent Systems and b) including infinite strength-building bonus battles, so you actually have a chance to get your weaker characters up to scratch. Oh, and c) giving you the option of choosing what class your characters promote into, so for instance your dark magic-wielding shaman can promote to either a druid (strong, powerful magic, slow) or a summoner (weaker and quicker, but can call up monsters for reinforcements), thus allowing for a more thoroughly customised army. And d) splitting up the party halfway through the game for a few levels, encouraging a second playthrough. The only major downside is that the plot and characters are nowhere near as memorable as the other games, with the honourable exception of the charmingly deluded L’Arachel, and Dozla, who is basically Brian Blessed with a large axe.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
53. Zoo Keeper
DS, 2005, Success/Ignition Entertainment
Yes, it’s just Bejeweled/Santa Balls/whatever with a new face. But damn it, it’s still a brilliant game, and the new face is deeply pleasing – I absolutely love the cubist animals and their eye-popping gurning as they’re sorted into oblivion. And the stylus control raises it from excellent to sublime. Quest mode’s complete rubbish, mind. Someone needs a slap for that.
Gamecube, 2005, Grasshopper Manufacture/Capcom
Style over substance? Most assuredly. But the substance is actually pretty good (imagine an ultra-stripped-down Resident Evil with Virtua Cop-style combat) and the style is phenomenal. Oozing class, gorgeous design and more originality in five minutes than most games/books/films cram into their entire length, and bolstered by stellar voice-acting, it’s one of the few games I’ve played that’s worth sticking with for the story alone. And what an ending!
51. Virtua Cop
Saturn, 1995, AM2/Sega
Lightgun games used to be known for being crap, y’know. Apparently no-one told Sega, and they came steaming in with this addictive, satisfying, and excessively cool effort. It looks a little lacklustre compared to its sequel, but for convincing the world not to give up on the genre and paving the way for Time Crisis, The House of the Dead and their ilk, it deserves your respect. Or, um, it’ll shoot you?
50. Pikmin 2
Gamecube, 2005, Nintendo
Good ol’ Shigsy, eh? He saw real-time strategies, usually a genre dominated by achingly serious sci-fi war guff, and said “I know, let’s do it in a garden with tiny squeaking plant-men.” And it works beautifully. Inventive, enthralling, atmospheric, intelligent and oh-so-pretty, it exudes that special kind of joy only games can give you. A bit too hard in places, but it gives far more than it takes away. Dazzling.
49. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Game Boy Advance, 2004, Flagship/Nintendo
The Minish Cap seems to have become the forgotten son of the Zelda family, and I have no idea why. It’s brilliant. The shrinky-dink hook is great, and gives the game a wide-eyed, family-movie style charm; it looks lovely; fusing Kinstones for delicious treats is highly addictive; and it has two of Zelda’s best ever gadgets in the ceramic-hoover Gust Jar and the flippy-flippy Cane of Pacci. The opening is a bit seen-it-all-before, and the final boss is far too aggravating, but other than that it’s wonderful, and deserves more appreciation.
48. WarioWare: Touched!
DS, 2005, Intelligent Systems/Nintendo
Ah, WarioWare. King of the it’s-about-ten-minutes-until-tea’s-on-the-table-and-I-need-to-do-something-as-my-years-of-gaming-have-caused-me-to-constantly-crave-stimulation-and-entertainment market. Which I may have just invented. A pretty shameless “Wheee-we-have-a-new-console-let’s-show-off-all-its-features-as-quickly-as-possible” release, it’s saved from motion-going by the series’ usual relentless invention, unyielding surrealism and steadfast idolatry of the nose and the picking thereof. WarioWare appeals deeply to the gamer id with its “complete task NOW well done here’s your reward now DO ANOTHER ONE” mechanic, and Touched!, while not quite up to its siblings, is as wonderful and hilarious as ever. And Ashley’s theme song is superb.
(Sam: 1, hyphens: 0)
47. Bust-A-Move 2: Arcade Edition
Saturn, 1996, Taito/Acclaim
Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. What day is it again?
46. Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition
Saturn, 1996, AM3/Sega
So the Saturn’s launched, and Daytona is ported right on over. People complain at the naff graphics and general rushed feel of the conversion, so Sega say, “Awright, giz a year or so and we’ll do a nicer version and chuck in some extra cars and tracks while we’re at it.” Then they release CCE and people complain at the altered handling and loss of super-cheesy vocals on the tunes. Tchuh. While it doesn’t handle as nicely as the original, I didn’t play that until years after I got this, so I was free to take it on its own merits. And those merits are many! It runs very nicely for a 3D Saturn racer; it plays well; the new tracks are good (National Park Speedway is actually my favourite Daytona course); the new cars add some variety, even if the differences between them are fairly small; I can’t resist the ultra-naff rock songs on the title screen and replay modes; and it’s a good deal easier than Sega Rally. Not the ultimate Daytona experience, then (I’d be tempted to plump for Daytona 2001 on the Dreamcast despite only having played a demo), but plenty good enough for me.
45. WarioWare: Twisted!
Game Boy Advance, NEVER (2005 in the US), Intelligent Systems/Nintendo
I don’t really import, which I guess is an odd thing for a lifelong gamer. I think I’ve just got it into my head that importing is too much hassle, despite the fact it hasn’t been for a long time. So when I saw this in my local game store sometime in 2005, I just assumed they’d finally got around to releasing it and snapped it up, not noticing it was the US version until I got home. Just as well, eh? The endless fiddling about (something to do with mercury in the cartridge or something) has resulted in Europe missing out on an absolute classic, generally agreed to be the best WarioWare of the lot. And while I haven’t played them all, this is certainly the best I have played. The spinning mechanic is seized on with astonishing vigour and used in every way imaginable – from stitching a seam to balancing a cat to a circular version of Super Mario Bros. oh my God. And it’s a huge game, hiding absolutely tons of unlockables away. A lucky buy indeed.
44. The House of the Dead 2
Dreamcast, 1999, AM1/Sega
Lightgun games exert a strange pull on me. No matter how many times I complete one, I’ll always go back and play it again. The net result is that I am now really, really, really good at this game because I’ve played it about a hojillion times. Which is nice. The main game itself is agreeable enough, with its branching routes, vicious bosses and astonishingly bad voice acting, but the Dreamcast version’s Original Mode is the icing on the cake, giving you new weapons, new characters to play as, and the ability to use lures from Sega Bass Fishing as bullets. Oh, and the fact that one of the zombies is clearly modelled on Kurt Cobain never fails to amuse me.
43. Burnout 2: Point of Impact
Gamecube, 2003, Criterion/Acclaim
I tried to play Burnout 3 once and it confused the hell out of me. Probably with some time I would’ve worked out what was going on, but it seems that Criterion hit their peak with the simplicity of the second game. Drive fast! Boost! Crash! The end. The nods to various classic Sega racers (Scud Race, Daytona) are very welcome too.
42. Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
Gamecube, 2003, Nintendo
This was the first Mario Kart I owned, which probably explains why I like it more than other people generally do, although it did seem weird going back to it after a lengthy MKDS period and not being able to hop. Anyway. Great tracks (mostly), nice range of characters, brilliant four-player, gorgeous graphics and a two-characters-in-a-kart gimmick that I will maintain is excellent in the face of all opposition. So there.
41. Unreal Tournament
PC, 1999, Epic Games/GT Interactive
You know how in Penny Arcade they might illustrate Gabe and Tycho playing a game by having them actually inside the game, dressed in appropriate costumes? UT’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like that. Even Half-Life can’t match the sheer absorption that comes over you when you’re playing this, and you’re dodging about in your seat and craning your neck to see round corners without even realising it. The fantastic weapons list, sublime maps (Facing Worlds is one of the best things in gaming) and superb game modes don’t hurt, either.
40. Shining Wisdom
Saturn, 1996, Sonic! Software Planning/Sega
If you were a Sega fan in the early- to mid-‘90s, you’d’ve witnessed a whole bunch of Zelda clones turn up on the Mega Drive and Saturn as they madly scrambled to find a rival for Link to the Past. The Shining series was well-established by this point, so it’s no surprise that they chucked out one under that banner – except that complicated copyright ownerships meant that the English language version had all references to the other Shinings garbled, despite the fact that a couple of the characters actually turned up in Shining Force II. D’oh. Anyway, for all its derivativeness, Wisdom is one heck of a game. The plot’s a fairly standard save-the-princess-defeat-the-evil-fellow-who-plans-to-resurrect-a-giant dealie, but all the originality is poured into the dungeons. Helmets to fly with, an astonishingly hard level that requires you to fiddle with mirror images of it, burrowing shenanigans and a giant tree that has to be traversed by dressing up as a monkey – it’s brilliant. Some of the extra items are inspired, too, including a little car to pootle around in, and a judo suit that allows you to defeat enemies with martial-arts throws. The main gameplay hook of various power orbs that give different effects when combined with your different weapons is pretty great, too.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Oh, and they're for the Wii. Er, would be. Won't be. Shouldn't be. Please, don't make these games.
Apocalypto - pump your arms up and down really fast to simulate running through the rainforest for ages. Like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, but with more people getting their faces chewed off by jaguars.
Duck Soup - the remote takes the place of Groucho's cigar. Wave it with vigour. The mirror scene is done in the manner of Dance Dance Revolution.
Coffee and Cigarettes - lift the nunchuk to drink some coffee. Lift the remote to smoke a cigarette. Includes an unlockable Singstar-style level where you freestyle with the Wu-Tang Clan.
Clerks - don't touch the remote to make your character sit on his arse. Waggle the nunchuk listlessly to discuss Star Wars.
Shaun of the Dead - lift the nunchuk to drink some tea. The remote acts as your cricket bat.
Juno - lift the nunchuk to drink some Sunny Delight/unidentified blue sugary substance. The remote takes the place of Juno's pipe. Gesture with it to wisecrack.
The Truman Show - exactly like The Sims, except IT'S ALL REAL.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Game Boy Color, 1999, Nintendo
My first Zelda, a statement I should think probably applies to a lot of people. I’m sure it was very impressive on its first, non-colour, release, with Nintendo taking a series very much intended for home consoles and making it work on a handheld without compromise, but, well, I was too busy playing Land of Illusion to notice. Anyway, this fancified version hit the spot quite nicely when I was looking for a GBC game to compliment Pokémon (which I’d specifically bought the console for). Now that I think about it, Nintendo probably foresaw the combination of Pokéfever and excitement over the new colour version of the good ol’ GB and squeezed this out specifically to attract new customers like me. Well, their cunning marketing worked out for them and for me, because this is a stone cold classic. Filled with typical Zelda-y goodness, one of the series’ best plots (I spent the whole last bit of the game expecting Koholint to somehow survive the Wind Fish’s awakening, and was genuinely shocked when it was wiped from existence) and the opportunity to take a Chain Chomp for a walk, it’s so very great. It’d be a lot higher up this list, in fact, were it not for the Eagle’s Tower. I’ve never been able to get my head round those sorts of dungeons where you’re changing the whole layout, and this is a particularly infuriating example. Sigh.
64. Dynamite Headdy
Mega Drive, 1994, Treasure/Sega
Entering stage right, Game I Love But Suck At #573! I’m clearly never going to finish this (at least the level select’s let me see all the levels). But who cares, the antics of head-throwing, head-changing puppet actor Headdy is filled with such vibrancy, variety and bonkers imagination that it doesn’t even matter. Chuck in one of the best Mega Drive soundtracks ever and some dementedly impressive bosses (Mad Dog! Clothes Encounters! Baby Face! Spinderella! Twin Freaks!) and yus got yerselves a durn mighty purdy platforming hoojamaflip to be playin’ on yer fancy magic box wid the purty lights an’ beepy noises. Yup.
63. X-Men Legends
Gamecube, 2004, Raven Software/Activision
I probably love this game more than it really deserves, but as an X-fan it’s hard to look down on something clearly made by fellow devotees. The game itself is a rudimentary but addictive take on Gauntlet, with extra statty delights. The run-and-thump-and-run-some-more gameplay is hardly revolutionary, and the occasional puzzle actually shows the game up even more by being astonishingly basic, but the powers wielded by your fighters (a group of four, from a choice of fifteen) keep things enjoyable. Special nod to Jean Grey’s telekinesis, which makes picking up a guy twice her size with the power of think and hurling him through a brick wall easy and fun. But the bit that really gets me is the lavish attention paid to the source material, from the design (uniforms straight out of the Ultimate X-Men comics, Xavier’s mansion a dead-on recreation from the films), to the dialogue and quizzes, a hundred and one characters, places and events getting the subtlest of nods. Lovely.
62. X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse
Gamecube, 2005, Raven Software/Activision
Same deal again, but with improvements. More characters (although some from the first game aren’t playable any more – bizarrely, despite the fact the whole of the prequel revolves around new recruit Magma, she only merits a single off-hand mention here), more varied locations, team bonuses (a really nifty idea wherein certain combinations of characters – four women, say, or four of the original X-Men, nabs you extra bonuses such as health recovery or increased attack power), more costumes and more moves. The last is the most important, as each character can now learn up to about twelve special moves but can only be assigned four at once, leading to a whole new level of precision team-tweaking. Otherwise, it’s the same simple-but-addictive gameplay as the first. Not especially pretty, but it does its job and does it well.
61. Half-Life: Blue Shift
PC, 2002, Gearbox Software/Sierra
Very much the lesser of the Half-Life family (well, I haven’t played Decay, but then neither have a lot of people), but a crummier HL is still streets ahead of most things. Yes, it’s short; yes, you don’t get any new weapons; yes, the onus is more on platforming than shooting; but it still oozes class, and any chance to delve further into Black Mesa isn’t one you should turn down easily. Especially the fantastic ending, poking about in long-disused laboratories and twiddling machines before the final mad dash to safety – one of the most breathlessly thrilling sequences in any game I’ve played.
60. Resident Evil 2
Dreamcast, 2000, Capcom/Virgin Interactive
As with RE3, my enjoyment of this was muted by picking it up late on a console that clearly could have done more with the game. But this was a lot closer to its original PS1 release, the Dreamcast didn’t have the Gamecube’s grunt, I was just discovering the series at the time and was thus more forgiving, and this is better than Nemesis anyway. Jacking up the first game’s scenario to the extreme, RE2’s vision of a devastated city is as impressive as any disaster movie’s, and the creatures that stalk it have rightfully gone down in gaming history.
59. Resident Evil Zero
Gamecube, 2003, Capcom
RE0 is the most potent example of the fact that Capcom’s shake-up of the series with 4 was extremely necessary. On my first play, it was a good game that seemed very archaic in places. Going back to it after Leon’s Spanish jaunt, cleansed of fears that the Resi games were going to gradually sink in a mire of outdated gameplay mechanics and too-similar scenarios, Zero revealed itself to be a swiftly-paced, atmospheric, inventive entry into the Resi canon. Plot’s still madder than a sack of anvils, mind.
58. Half-Life: Opposing Force
PC, 1999, Gearbox Software/Sierra
“So, wait, you play as a soldier?” Opposing Force shouldn’t’ve worked. Even with the double-twist of the government sending in black ops to take out the marines after the latter fail to not get eaten by aliens, it still shouldn’t’ve worked. Huge chunks of the original Half-Life’s appeal lay in the fact that you were playing a speccy, unremarkable scientist, outgunned to ludicrous degrees. Surely plopping the player into the battle-hardened boots of an experienced corporal would just sap away any such unease? Well, thanks to some impressive new alien species, cleverly-written team A.I. that makes your squad useful but not indispensable, and the fact that those black ops really are the business, Gearbox make it all work out nicely. They also prove their handiness with a set-piece, as witnessed by the terrifying scene where you have to take out a group of voltigores (those huge bellowing four-legged electricity-spitting things) in pitch-black identical corridors, or opening a door just in time to see Freeman take his leap of faith into Xen, and then having to clean up the mess he’s left behind. The bit where you accidentally warp yourself to the Hazard Course and see a confused vortigaunt try to kill the hologram woman’s priceless, too.
57. Resident Evil
Gamecube, 2002, Capcom
This is gradually slipping down my list because I’m getting tired of it, surprisingly. When I like a game I can normally play it over and over and over without getting tired of it, but four times through this appears to have been my limit. A real shame, because this is both a great game and a textbook example of how to do a remake right.
56. Fur Fighters
Dreamcast, 2000, Bizarre Creations/Acclaim
Now here’s a game that could do with a sequel. Inspired shootery meets platform shenanigans meets rock-hard puzzlement. FF is huge, hard and very, very clever. As a crack squad of wickle fwuffy annymals take up arms to rescue their babies (or siblings, in the case of infant Welsh dragon Tweek), Bizarre go hog wild, throwing out an avian take on New York City, a vast dam in staggeringly huge quarry country, Incan temples, surreal nightmare sequences, and an underground city populated by dinosaurs. The relentless mick-taking of just about every major movie and game from the last forty years doesn’t hurt, either. Maybe too hard and too vast at times, but it’s a heck of a game and deserves a wider audience. The multiplayer was some good times, too.
55. Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament
Mega Drive, 1994, Supersonic/Codemasters
Ah, Micro Machines. The multiplayer king of the mid- to late-‘90s. What a series. Etc., etc. Give it a whirl now and it’s not quite as all-conquering as you probably remember, but its enormous invention and sense of fun both remain, and its chunky graphics are still utterly charming. So there.
54. Micro Machines Turbo Tournament ’96
Mega Drive, 1995, Supersonic/Codemasters
Almost exactly the same as the previous one, but with better tracks (the gym ones with trampoline frolics stick in my mind) and a tip-top track editor. Very nice.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Mega Drive, 1995, Shiny Entertainment/Virgin Interactive
I’m actually kind of okay at this one! Well, I only got to the last level once and promptly died, but whatever. This isn’t as purely playable as the first one, but the varying level styles make for a much more imaginative game (and, for me, forever associated the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” with blind cave salamanders). As you might expect from the pick-n-mix approach, some of the levels are pretty poor (The Flyin’ King, Inflated Head) while others are brilliant (Lorenzo’s Soil’s shifting sand, Udderly Abducted’s mad race to defuse bomb-cows). Mix ‘em up with a giant marshmallow, a homing missile that actually is shaped like a house, angry grannies, a larva on a unicycle and a parachute made of snot, and what do you get? Indigestion! And a brilliant platform game.
74. Mario Kart DS
DS, 2005, Nintendo
I’ve not long had this one, actually. I think it’s the most recent acquisition on this list. Anyway, you drive this go-kart and throw bananas at people or something, I don’t know. A few of the courses are a bit blah, and several of the novelty vehicles are completely hideous and should be purged with fire, but it’s Mario Kart, for heaven’s sake. I haven’t tried Wi-Fi, but the local-cart link-up works a treat.
73. New Super Mario Bros.
DS, 2006, Nintendo
I grew up playing Sonic, so I suck at Super Mario games and also don’t massively care for them. This one, however, is both clearly brilliant and pretty easy (the retention of the wall-jump from the 3D titles is a massive help), so I like it. It’s the little things that get me – the enemies bopping in time to the music, the glorious liquid-rainbow invincibility effect, the genius homage to the original Mario Bros. in World 8-6. Plus, of course, turning into Mega Mario and smashing everything to tiny little bits. Shell Mario’s good for a laugh, too. “WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEdead”
72. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Gamecube, 2002, Silicon Knights/Nintendo
Quite possibly the scariest game I’ve ever played (admittedly I scare really easily, but still), ED is a masterwork of atmosphere. Unashamedly nicking its plot from the Lovecraft staple of giant tentacle monsters lurking just beyond human comprehension, it zips through two thousand years of story with twelve playable characters trying to stop the Darkness from swallowing the world, guided by a book made of human skin. The real kicker is the Sanity meter. The more horrors your fellas witness, the more they start to lose their grip – the camera slants unnervingly, blood pours from the walls, and sobbing and banging is heard coming from nowhere. Then it gets really clever and starts messing with the fact that it’s a game and pretends to delete your save files. Genius.
71. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
Game Boy Advance, 2002, Konami
Like I said before, Castlevania games are all much of a muchness. So here’s my favourite, for what it’s worth, and also the first one I played. It covers far more ground than the Sorrow titles by virtue of having two subtly different castles; and rather than Soma Cruz’s soul-harvesting shenanigans, Juste Belmont nabs various spellbooks, and combines them with the series’ traditional sub-weapons for justice and victory. This magic system is far more satisfying, and it’s a strangely addictive thing to visit a room in Castle B that you’ve already passed through in Castle A just to see the difference. And, of course, since this is a Castlevania, it looks and sounds gorgeous.
70. Virtua Tennis
Dreamcast, 2000, Hitmaker/Sega
There’s just something so “Sega-y” about this game. Is it the lovely graphics? The hilariously cheesy geetar wangling? The simple controls masking complex play? The vibrant presentation? The silly-yet-logical training minigames that see you go bowling with your racket and lobbing balls into oil drums? Well, yes. But most importantly, it’s the pick-up-and-play ethos of the game and the fact that I’ve never met a person who didn’t like it. As a multiplayer sports game, it’s about as good as you can get.
69. Sim City 2000
PC, 1995, Maxis
Hands up anyone who could work on a city for more than about a week without getting bored and starting a hurricane for a laugh. But you always start another one, don’t you? Its delightful mix of addictive gameplay, crisp graphics and an inexplicable llama preoccupation has led Sim City 2000 to earn enough money to buy God, conquer the Earth and build an army of Tom Cruise-bots with which to crush the dissenting meatbags. Probably.
68. Dead or Alive 2
Dreamcast, 2000, Team Ninja/Acclaim
DoA may always be sprinting along (whilst bouncing extravagantly) in the dust left behind by your Soul Caliburs and your Virtua Fighters, but if it could get its mind out of the gutter for ten seconds it could certainly be seen as a more viable alternative. This seven-year-old title looks lovely even now, and the mechanics that allow every single move in the game to be reversed mean that matches can be impressively tactical. Or, of course, you can just opt for the old “punch them out of the stained-glass window” option. A tippity-top example of a game that caters to both newcomers and veterans.
67. Golden Sun
Game Boy Advance, 2002, Camelot Software Planning/Nintendo
Much like Shenmue, the Golden Sun games go together so well it can be genuinely hard to tell them apart at times. The first game is great in its own right, but after you’ve played The Lost Age it’s hard to look back on it without seeing it as a scene-setter for the sequel. Still, the gorgeous, atmospheric graphics, lush sound and robust characterisation mean it has plenty to be proud of. The fighting’s good, but not great, but the real clever bit is the Djinn system. It’s superb, although not explained clearly enough – I didn’t really get the hang of it ‘til almost the end of the game. And the Obligatory Stealth Bit That Must Be Included Because This Was A Game Made In The Early 2000s sucks the expected amount of donkey dong. Other than that, it’s tippity-top like it just won’t stop.
66. Golden Sun: The Lost Age
Game Boy Advance, 2003, Camelot Software Planning/Nintendo
And there’s the other one. Not so much taking the template and running with it as continuing on in more or less exactly the same way, Lost Age takes the Golden Sun world and makes it bigger, better, more. Playing as a group of secondary characters from the first game is a great narrative touch (shades of Camelot’s defining Shining Force III?), and it’s a genuinely exciting moment when you finally catch up with the guys you used to be playing as. The revelation that the GS world is ours in the distant future – never directly addressed, but look at the world map and some of the dungeon/continent names – is a well-worn twist I’m always a sucker for, and getting to explore it to its utmost is very satisfying. The battle system remains decent but not great (aside from the Djinns) and the plot gets ever better as you get near the end – only to end really suddenly. Sequel plz?