Monday, February 25, 2008

#39-#29 Games that Fail to Suck

39. Theme Park
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.

1 comment:

Maleah said...

Well written article.