Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 4 - Micro Machines 2 - Turbo Tournament

The next game is one that I was very excited to be re-playing, as it's long been a favourite of mine. It's Micro Machines 2 on the Megadrive!

Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament
Originally released on: Sega Megadrive
Played on: Sega Megadrive
Release Date: 1994

It's strange. If you asked me to list genres of game that I particularly enjoy, I would usually list Platformers, Puzzlers, Arcade/Adventure, Point & Click etc... but I'd never mention racing games. However, looking at my giant games list, it turns out I own rather a few of them, and this is the first that I get to re-play.

And what a good game it is.

(I know that sentence kind of removes any suspense in the review, but sometimes that's going to happen. If you want suspense then go rent a season of 24 or something, I never promised dramatic reveals, just slightly sarcastic blogs!)

Micro Machines 2 is the sequel to Micro Machines, (And yes, I am aware that this sentence is completely redundant, but tough), and of course they are based on the tiny toy cars that were popular with kids in the late 80's/early 90's.  The game takes full advantage of the "micro" element, with the courses taking place on tabletops, pool tables, treehouse floors, in the bath, around the toilet seat etc, which lends the whole game an air of ridiculousness and entertainment. The 16-bit era graphics are beautiful in their simplicity and the whole game is well made (A fact it proudly displays on the box, as it declares that Official Sega Magazine gave it 96% claiming that "Without a doubt, [it is] the best Megadrive game there is." and that Gamesmaster magazine gave it 97% stating "Probably the most playable game in the whole world!").

In a way, it's a shame I played this when I was alone, because a big part of it is the multiplayer, which I remember as being absolutely wonderful, and indeed, thanks to the magic of the J-Cart (which has two joypad sockets in it) you can play with anything up to 8 players! (8 players is accomplished with 2 players per joypad and 4 joypads. Yes, sounds confusing doesn't it - sadly, I don't own 4 Megadrive pads at the moment, so I can't try it out.) But anyway, the point of this blog is to play games on my own, in single-player, unless it is a game where that is completely impossible. So I dived in.

The first mode I played was the challenge mode. This gives you three lives, and starts you on a selection of races, where you have to come 1st or 2nd (out of 4 racers) to continue, and if you drop below the top two places, you lose a life... once you've lost all 3? Game Over. This mode was a nice warm up, and then I discovered the Super League...

The Super League mode is what it sounds like. You start in the fourth league, and have four races to get as many points as you can. (As is often the way, you are awarded 4 points for 1st, 3 points for 2nd, etc...). After the four races, the top racer in each league is promoted, and the bottom one is demoted. "Well that sounds fun Brawny," I hear you say, and that's what I thought too, so I started it up. And then I lost. Again and again, and again. 

"But why Brawny? Surely you are brilliant at all computer games?"

Thank you for that compliment oh mysterious voice in my head, but firstly that's not true, and secondly, once you get to Super League, the computer doesn't give you any help at all. What I mean by that is, if you play a modern non-serious racing game (let's take Mario Kart Wii for example), if you start badly and end up miles behind everyone else, the computer players will make "mistakes" and slow down so that you have a chance of getting back into the race. Not so here. On Super League, it is as if you are racing against a trio of humans, who are all just as competitive as you, but at least two of them have owned the game for a year longer than you and know most of the courses like the back of their hand, so you have to get very good reasonably quickly.

I played through Division 4 about five times, before finally graduating to Division 3. And then in one round of Division 3 I got demoted again... and that's when I stopped playing. I couldn't quite bring myself to play those races again.

Overall though? It's a game I remember fondly, and it seems to still stand up well today. As with a lot of these earlier games, the difficulty is in the harder end of the spectrum, but as a 1 player game I could spend a lot of hours engrossed in it - as the Super League offers the long-term challenge that most racing games lack. 

Plus, the multiplayer is (I am sure) still as great as I remember (although I cannot allow that to affect my scores today).

Rating: 8/10
Time played: About 1 hour 10 mins
Would I continue playing?: Absolutely! In fact, next time I have people round for a gaming session, this is going to be top of the pile!

And the next game? Well we'll be sticking with the racing theme, but changing to a handheld - it's Mario Kart: Super Circuit (originally on GBA, played on 3DS). 

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 3 - Resident Evil

So, Game 3 is upon us. And it's one of those games that lives on in infamy, and one that I've played some of the sequels to - but never played the original beyond about 5 minutes.

Resident Evil
Originally released on: Sony Playstation (followed by Sega Saturn and PC, before being remade for Nintendo Gamecube, Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii)
Played on: Sega Saturn
Release Date: 1996

Resident Evil (or Pestilent Weevils as it's often known in our house), is a game oft discussed for many reasons. It's a game that spawned a franchise of live-action films, animated DVDs, novels, comics and most importantly, it's the game that created the most random numbering system ever.

What on earth are you on about Brawny? I hear you ask, well just look at the following list of Resident Evil games:

Resident Evil
Resident Evil: The Directors Cut
Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis - Numbering up to this point? So far, so good.
Resident Evil: Survivor
Resident Evil: Code Veronica
Resident Evil Gaiden - OK, so maybe they've given up numbering the games, instead just doing subtitles. That's OK, right?
Resident Evil: Survivor 2 Code Veronica - What? This is a sequel to one game (Survivor), remaking another (Code Veronica) into a different genre (Light Gun Shooter). This is getting strange...
Resident Evil Zero - Again, a bit strange as a piece of numbering, but it's a prequel so I suppose it's OK...
Resident Evil: Dead Aim
Resident Evil: Outbreak
Resident Evil: Outbreak File #2
Resident Evil 4 - Oh - so we're going back to numbered games are we? This is quite definitely not the 4th game in this list, so quite why we're going back to numbers now I don't understand...
Resident Evil: Deadly Silence - Oh hang on, this is a remake of Resident Evil 1 but with a different name??
Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles
Resident Evil 5 - This is getting silly....
Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D
Resident Evil: Revelations
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Resident Evil 6

So that's 20 games, and the newest one (that comes out later this year) is numbered as 6? Yeah that's not confusing at all. In fact, I'd argue it's more confusing than Final Fantasy numbering (and don't get me started on that!) But anyway, I'm not here to talk about the whole franchise, I'm here to talk about the game that started it all. The original.

This game came out at a point where I wasn't a big gamer. As with many people, after gaming a lot as a child/early teen, I "put away childish things"and became obsessed with teenage things (mostly girls and beer). Consequentially, the 32-bit era (Playstation, Saturn, N64 (This is struck through as my wonderful friend Mr Andy Isaacs just pointed out that while it was of the same generation, it is incorrect to list the N64 as a 32bit console)) mostly passed me by at the time, and I didn't get into it until several years later. Famous games that I therefore completely missed at the time they came out include this, Tomb Raider and many others, mostly with horrendous polygonal graphics. So in a way this feels like I'm filling in a portion of my missed youth.

So after choosing a character to play (and then discovering in the manual that if you play as Jill, the female character, it's the easy difficulty, whereas Chris is hard - sexist or what!) and settling down onto the sofa, I began my game. And my first overriding impression? This game is frustrating. After declaring "9 minutes in, and I've found one zombie... and it ate me!" I had to stop and actually look up the controls in the manual and, while they are intuitive once you know what they are, they're not obvious at all.

People have often complained about areas of this game. "The voice acting is rubbish" they say (which it is), "The controls are very awkward" (which they are, it's obvious this was a very early 3D game as up is always forwards, even when you turn the character around, which takes a while to get used to), and "It's hard!". (Which, again, it is).

But you know what? It may be frustrating, it may be awkward to play, you may have to endure loading times cunningly "disguised" as rubbish animations of doors opening and steps moving past, everyone may sound as if they are permanently surprised, bored or both, and it may get exceedingly boring when you don't know where you're going, but after my hour was up? I wanted to keep going.

All of the things in the game that annoyed me, all of the niggles, bad controls, blocky polygonal graphics, strange pacing, were balanced out by the good parts. It's a game with a plot, however ridiculous, it has character, the strange fixed camera angles actually really work to give it an atmosphere of it's own and most important of all, the gameplay is strong.

So, in conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised by Resident Evil. It's reputation of being awkward and awful is understandable, but completely unjustified. It's very playable, and I may well come back to it, to see how far I can get.

Rating (out of 10): 7/10
Would I continue playing?: I think I will. Granted, you have to be in the right mood to play it, but it'll definitely get dug out again.

The next game on this big list of video-game-awesomeness? Micro Machines 2 on the Megadrive!

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 2 - Ice Climber

It's time for Game 2 of my great playthrough! (Which now has a twitter hashtag by the way - #brawnysgreatplaythrough). And what game am I playing today?

Ice Climber
Originally released for: NES
Played on: 3DS (via Nintendo Ambassador Program)
Release date: 1985

I have to admit, my previous playthrough game (Midway Arcade Hits) did worry me a little. What if all of the old games are actually rubbish? What if my good memories are just rose-tinted thoughts? And, if a significant chunk of my games collection IS rubbish, what have I committed myself to??

These thoughts and more were rushing through my head as I powered up my 3DS and loaded up Ice Climber. And then? My worries were sated. It's great!

This game suits a lot of my sensibilities. Firstly, it's a platformer, in the truest sense of the word, and I am a huge platform fan. Secondly, it's a first party Nintendo game, and that always equals quality.

Just to clarify, I know that the previous statement makes me sound like a giant Nintendo fanboy - but it's OK, because I am. (As can be seen from the fact that I even own this game - it was given to 3DS owners as part of Nintendo's 3DS ambassador program which was a thank-you gesture to everyone who bought a 3DS before the price was cut). But this game really is up there with some of the best retro platform arcade games (incl. Donkey Kong and the wonder that is Bubble Bobble) and as a consequence, my hour with it passed in pure delight.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it works even better as a handheld game than it would as a regular console game nowadays, as the bite-sized levels are a perfect size to just pick-up-and-play.

Don't get me wrong, it's still harder than a bar of nougat that's been left in the freezer, (I sense that this will become a trend with the older games I own - either that or I'm just really rubbish at playing games), but it's so entertaining that dying many times doesn't stop you wanting to have just one more try. And the fact that you can choose which mountain you start on means that you don't have to be brilliant to try out all of the levels.

Granted, just like Midway Arcade Hits, the primary aim is to beat your score, although as I've mentioned earlier, there are 20 levels to give a little variation, but the very nature of the game makes it an exceedingly addictive experience. And the graphics are 8-bit wonders of the age. They're colourful, identifiable and downright beautiful.

Overall, it's a fun, easy-to-play and has completely restored my faith in retro games and this overall experiment. So it's a big thumbs up from me.

Rating (out of 10:) 8/10
Time played: 1 Hour (or if I'm being honest, just over)
Would I continue playing?: If I've got a spare 5 minutes and my 3DS to hand, it'll be near the top of the list. (That's a yes, if you didn't understand)

Next game? Well, for the next game it's time to dim the lights, turn up the sound, get out the popcorn and attack the scariest game in existence. Soon we will determine whether or not I am the master of unlocking... yes it's the original Resident Evil! Join me for that won't you?

(I'm also considering setting up a different blog for these playthroughs so they are separate from my personal blog. Do you think this is a good idea? Does anyone care? Let me know!)

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 1 - Midway Arcade Hits

It's time to begin my great playthrough, and as you can see from the photo above, I was very excited to get started. And then I remembered what game I was playing...

Midway Arcade Hits (Joust/Defender)
Originally released for: Nintendo Game Boy / Game Boy Colour
Played on: Nintendo Game Boy Pocket
Release Date: 1999

As soon as this turned up as game number one on my playthrough list I was sorely disappointed. This is one of those games that I got at a car boot sale, bundled with a console. (In this case, my red Game Boy Pocket, as seen in the picture), and I remembered playing it once, for about 30 seconds, and then never touching it again.

"But never mind," I thought when I saw that it was listed first, "This is the point of the playthrough. To find those games I didn't give a fair chance to last time, and try them again. Maybe it'll be great! I mean, Joust and Defender are two famous early 80's arcade games, and if there's one thing popular old arcade games do well, it's gameplay, right?"

Well, I'm sorry to say that my previous impressions of this cartridge were not challenged in the slightest. In fact, I had to force myself to try and play both games for longer than I wanted to, and I still only lasted 15 minutes before I gave up.

The problem is primarily visual. I don't mind when graphics are basic, and I know that these games originate from the time when everything was created from blocks and triangles - which i have no problem with. The problem is that when this was transferred to the Game Boy's small screen, nobody thought "Hey, we'd better make this bigger so that people can see it". Consequentially, everything in Joust is a tiny white blob, and in Defender, while the ships are a vaguely reasonable size, the projectiles they fire are not. This would therefore lead to the infuriating situation whereby I would end up dying apparently randomly, as I had not been able to see the bullet that was hitting me.

These games also have the two issues that all modern gamers tend to find with 80's arcade games:

1) There is very little progression. The only thing you are trying to do is get a higher score.

2) Both games tend to be harder than trying to persuade the Pope to not only sanction condoms, but personally place them onto the private parts of every person trying to have sex in the world.

It's a shame in many ways, as I have played both games on other consoles (originally on my BBC B Micro when I was very young) and at that time I found them addictive and fun. And I'm sure they still are. But when I can't see what I'm doing, then it just feels that all of the fun has been surgically removed. Sorry Midway, but this was a poor conversion, and therefore my playthrough has started with a bit of a damp squib.

Rating (Out of 10): 2/10
Time played: 15 mins
Would I continue playing?: No.

So that's the first game down, and in a way it's a shame that it was such a bad game. But anyway - onwards and upwards to the next game...

Next time: Ice Climbers (Originally on NES, played on Virtual Console on 3DS)

Join me, why don't you?

And if you've got any ideas for ways I can improve these blogs, then please comment!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Great Playthrough begins...

So, as I'm sure the vast majority of you know, the ever-wonderful Neety and I are getting married in just over a years time, and consequentially we are looking at ways to save money etc for the next year. My contribution to all of this? I'm giving up buying computer games for myself.

I'm sure that at some time in the next year I will gain new games, probably around birthdays and Christmas, but no more will I buy a game simply because it is reduced and I think I might enjoy it.

"So what are you going to do to entertain yourself Brawny?" I hear you all ask. Well, since I have over 160 games, spread over at least 13 platforms, I've decided that I'm going to play them. All of them. And I'm going to post here to let you know what I think of them. You see, in my long and varied gaming career I have obtained many games, some bought full price on release day, some bought in the sales and some bought from car boot sales, and there's a lot of them that I haven't played in years, and some that I haven't played at all.

So now I'm going to. I'm embarking on a project that I tentatively call "Brawny's great gaming playthrough." (Yes, I know it's a rubbish name, but until I think of a better one, I'm sticking with it.)

"But Brawny," I hear you all yell, "How are you going to choose which one to play?"

That's easy. I've organised them into a list. And then, with the help of an online random number generator, I've put them into a random order.

So what are the rules? Well, it's very simple. And, because I like presenting things in list form, here is a list of them.

1) I will play each game for at least an hour. At the end of the hour is when I will write up the blogpost detailing what I think of the game and whether I would like to continue playing. If I find the game so rubbish that I cannot play for an hour I won't force myself to continue, but if it's just dull I will carry on.

2) I will start from the beginning. Ignoring any save games that are already in place on the relevant games, I will pick a fresh one and start from the beginning. Where this is impossible (on games that only allow one save game that I do not wish to delete for example) I will play the game through from the beginning as best I can.

3) I will attempt to play AT LEAST one game a week. I'm going to need to do more than that if I'm going to finish this within a year, but I think one a week is a good basic level to start from.

These are not necessarily the only games I will play this year - I'm free to play any game at any time, but I will only post opinions once I have played the game in list order.

So that's it. I'm off to play my first game which is *checks list* Midway Arcade Hits on the Nintendo Game Boy. Wish me luck, and I'll see you back here soon.