Rediscovering Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare on Game Boy Colour

Rediscovering Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare on Game Boy Colour

For a good few years after the disappearance of the video shop, you had the DVD rental by post service. I used LoveFilm, eventually bought out by Amazon, but I’m sure there were others. And for the horror film collector with a PC that could copy DVD’s, these offered a wonderful service! For a fixed price of a tenner or so a month, you were getting up to three films from your wishlist of every genre title that ever got released in the post. If you were lucky, you could get them all copied and back in the post on the same day, then have a new batch two days later! And they soon mounted up to more than you could ever watch, and even 15 or 20 or whatever years later, I’ve still about a dozen 50-DVD spools worth of rented films I still haven’t got around to (or brought myself to) watching!

If I had to name one film that typified those boxes of unwatched films, it would be Alone in the Dark, the 2005 Uwe Boll classic starring Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff and Tara Reid. Paranormal detective follows clues to the death of his friend, ends up on Shadow Island with its demons and gateway to hell. Sounds great, and I recently added it to my Amazon Prime watchlist now its evolved from DVD to streaming obscurity, but still have never had any real inclination to watch it… Despite it often being nominated as one of the worst movies ever made!

The plot doesn’t sound that disimilar to Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare on the Game Boy Colour (and other platforms), and that’s because it was loosely based on it. Also known as Alone in the Dark 4, it’s a kind of reboot of the original game from 1992. Which is why the plot doesn’t sound that disimilar to that either! In 2008, Alone in the Dark was recognised by Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition as the first ever 3D survival horror game. It was originally released on PC (MS-DOS) then ported to the 3DO a couple of years later. It has you going backwards and forwards around a haunted mansion in 1920’s Lousiana, solving puzzles, killing or running away from spooky stuff and, of course, managing your inventory like all good survival horror games that followed it! I remember it looked cool at the time, with hand-drawn backdrops behind some vintage 3D polygons, but like the film, I was never that inspired to get involved – and actually, by the time I could, Resident Evil had completely superceded it.

The 2001 Game Boy Colour game has your partner being found dead off the coast of Shadown Island, which is apparently off the coast of Massachusetts. It turns out he’s been after some magical tablets, which you get roped into searching for while you’re trying to solve the murder. And that means going to the island and wandering around the spooky woods, mansion grounds and mansion itself, looking for a clue that will lead you to the next through the story.

This all manifests in a mostly point-and-click feeling game, where you’re on the lookout for a glinting object that will turn out to be a key or a crowbar or a secret switch in the bookshelf that will open up the next place you need to get to. It’s relatively well signposted if you’re paying attention, especially once you get the lie of the land and stop getting lost in the often labyrinthian mansion! Now and again you’ll get something like the random encounters that drive you nuts in the old Final Fantasy games, where the game switches to an isometric scrolling shooter and you’re taking out werewolves and spiders and the like with your pistol or whatever weapon you find and prefer on the way. Apart from the final boss battle, which also takes this form but is a little more enjoyable than the rest of these encounters, it’s not going to take long for you to dread these happening. They’re really not fun and they are where you’re going to die, often through sloppy controls and the rubbish semi-auto aim rather than anything you did yourself. That said, it does a good job of forcing you to manage your ammo, to the point where most of the tensioni in the game comes from the prospect of running out, and finding more is always a huge relief.

And now you’re really wondering why I dismissed the original game, the star-studded movie adaptation by the master of the video game to movie adaptation, and indeed the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 versions of this very game (Windows and Dreamcast also exist), when it’s already apparent that I’ve not only played this, but also finished it on the Game Boy Colour…

Some context is necessary here! Obviously, the original Game Boy was a revolution and a revelation in handheld gaming, but whilst it was great to have some colour graphics, the Game Boy Colour never really made much of an impact because it didn’t really add anything more than that – more of the same games, different screen; like moving from the crappy green monitor Amstrad CPC option to the colour one fifteen or so year previously!

For me, that was until Alone in the Dark came along. Nothing had looked like it on such a tiny screen before, and if you were making comparisons, then look no further than the aforementioned PlayStation version because when screenshots first started appearing for this, it really was that good! And as you play through it, every location is absolutely sumptuous, oozing atmosphere in the palm of your hand like you’ve never seen before – to the point that I needed a second playthrough so that on almost every other screen I could crawl under my desk where there’s no reflections and get some photos of the screen!

Alone in the Dark didn’t only push the limits of the Game Boy Colour, but went beyond them! It benefitted from a rarely used but very cool high colour programming exploit that could get 2000 colours on the screen at once, rather than the typical maximum of 56, though I think it for most games was generally a lot less than that. And that made the environments look spectacular on the system. Or most of them… There was no way you were going to be anything but a 2D sprite, and there was definitely no way that sprite was doing anything more than moving around those beauties, so the crappy combat had to switch to a more traditional Game Boy Colour look, then switch back when you’d killed everything (or been killed because you’d run out of ammo).

To the modern eye, playing this is very early Resident Evil-lite in almost every respect (if it was on a handheld and needed a lacklustre combat mode for some reason), and if that sounds alright, then you’ll struggle to find a better looking and more enjoyable, atmospheric and surprisingly immersive few hours on your Game Boy Colour!

Game Boy Tetris Body-Paint Cosplay

Game Boy Tetris Body-Paint Cosplay

This quick bonus post poses a very important retro-gaming related question… How do you miss someone dressed as Tetris on Game Boy, in body-paint, no less, for nearly 8 years?

This Inna Doll session was part of a Mesh for UnikoGirls collaboration in 2012, by photographer Nicolas Ahouansou. You can see the full set and the rest of his work right here, but we also have a preview!

My Life With… V-Rally 3 – Game Boy Advance

My Life With… V-Rally 3 – Game Boy Advance

When the Game Boy Advance SP arrived in 2003, I was a couple of years into the job at a Japanese electronics mega-corp that I’m still to escape, which has had me travelling the world on a far too regular basis. Now I still owned the original Gameboy, and a Gameboy Advance, and a vast collection of games for both, but in reality, they weren’t that portable, and for the latter, playing in anything less than the equivalent of midday summer sunshine was a major challenge.

The SP, with its tiny, travel-friendly folding shell and it’s backlight, and not to mention its awesome battery life, was an absolute game changer for the nerdy regular flyer! Whilst we’re only talking 15 years or so ago at the time of writing, air travel wasn’t anything like what it is now – your limited electronics (giant Archos MP3 player for me!) were forbidden for the best part of an hour that seemed like an eternity wherever you were going; there wasn’t the huge selection of films on tap like you get now on every long-haul flight – you rented a pair of headphones with a customised adaptor and watched whatever crap they were showing; and unless you carried half a library with you (which I often did), you didn’t want to blow the whole of your book on the journey there!

And that’s why I’ll always think of the SP as the beginning of flying in relative comfort, although Nintendo still haven’t solved the problem of being six-feet one inch in economy class… And more than any other, I’ll think of V-Rally 3 as the game that saw me through thousands and thousands of miles.

I’d actually picked up V-Rally 3 on release a year or so before I got my SP, and even without a nice backlight, this thing was really special. For starters, it looked absolutely stunning, especially in my preferred cockpit view; actually, that was probably the biggest draw for me – ever since playing Chequered Flag on the Spectrum, I’ve never wanted to drive a car I’m ten metres behind and three metres above! Everything is in full 3D, with detailed textures flying past you everywhere you look with never a hint of slowdown. I’d even go so far as to say this wasn’t that far off what you’d have expected on a full console at the time.

Once you get past the breathtaking visuals, it’s all about the handling of the car, and I’d maintain that this is still one of the best feeling rally games there was before or has been since; as I write this, I’m dipping in and out of Dirt Rally 3 on the Playstation 4, and as much as I want to enjoy its ultra-realistic driving experience more than a 15-year old game on an ancient handheld, I simply don’t! Once you’re in cockpit mode, it just feels like you’re chucking a real car across dirt, snow, sand, gravel, tarmac, up and down hills or over jumps. Everything behaves like you think it should, which again, when you consider it’s on this old tiny handheld, is some achievement! And if I’m making it sound like some stony-faced simulation (also see Dirt Rally 3), it definitely isn’t – for all it’s great physics, this definitely feels like an arcade racer.

The meat of V-Rally 3 is a career mode, where you sign up with a real car manufacturer and compete in a championship that spans different countries, from miserable Great Britain to an incredible looking Kenyan Savannah. You race across five stages in each race, with a chance to repair damage after every other race – especially important if you’re in cockpit view and the windscreen is covered in a load of cracks that appear one at a time with every bump, and ends up looking like an inpenetrable mass of spider webs that often spell game over! You can, should you wish, also modify the car set up, but in all the racing games I’ve ever played this has never appealed to me! I’m not sure how much difference that would make, but I’ve never had a problem getting through the first championship fairly comfortably, at which point you’re given a bunch of better teams to sign up with, and a bigger engine. The challenge does pick up a lot here, and winning this one does take some delicate finger work!

There’s also a time trial mode that I don’t think I’ve ever really bothered with (and again, you could apply the same to pretty much any other racing game I’ve ever played), and there’s a really cool mode where you’re forsaking the lonely regular rally experience and going head to head against other cars in a more traditional car race. However, playing it again now you’ll notice that collision physics have come a long way in the last 15 years, and wonder how you ever put up with being slowed down regardless of where your car was in relation to the one that it’s just made contact with!

It’s a tough call to say whether I’d take this over Mario Kart Super Circuit as the best GBA racer, so let’s just say this is the best rally game on the Gameboy, and probably my favourite rally game ever!

Gamerboy Art

Gamerboy Art

During the course of writing this blog, my original Gameboy sadly gave up the ghost (RIP Game Boy), but I’ve also really got back into my Game Boy Advance – Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfing, V-Rally 3… 

I’d forgotten how great that machine is, so I got a real kick when I take across this today!

Gamerboy is a great piece of art by Mike Stafleu and captures the time of the Game Boy’s launch perfectly! See more of his stuff here.

RIP Day One Game Boy (1990 – 2017)

RIP Day One Game Boy (1990 – 2017)

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my Game Boy, bought at launch in September 1990 and serving me faithfully until the 11th May 2017. This photo was taken moments before it went to its final resting place. In the bin. 

Actually, it was pretty much ditched when the Game Boy Advance appeared in 2001, which in turn survived two years (together with the ridiculous light attachment that made it vaguely playable) until I picked up the Game Boy Advance SP. The latter is still regularly dragged out of the box it shares with a fortune’s worth of the old huge cartridges and the later more sensible form factor ones – not convinced the screen brightness is what it used to be though, even with the backlight on. 

I remember buying the original at a computer game exhibition as soon as it launched, though I’m not sure my memories 100% tie up. I had in my head that it was in London’s Wembley Arena, though a bit of detective work seems to suggest it was more likely ECES (European Computer Entertainment Show) at Earl’s Court, which took place in September 1990. Who knows. Who cares! Though if anyone can shed some light on it I’d be mildly interested. 

I do, however, vividly remember playing Super Mario Land on the train home. And, of course, the bundled classic Tetris. 

For a console I’ve always held in such high regard, I actually have a very modest collection of games for the original Game Boy. Which was a lot to do with its heyday coinciding with my poorest time at university. But the few games I had got well and truly played to death, despite some of them not exactly being of Tetris calibre! Here’s the list, in what I remember to be the order I got them in…

Tetris 

I posted this a while ago on the wonderful Cane and Rinse forum for what, at the time of writing, is their next but one podcast: “If I had to name the perfect game, I’d probably pick this. A timeless masterpiece that my words can’t do justice to. Three word review: Invaded my dreams!” 

And invade my dreams it did! Or more specifically, those moments before you fall asleep… Blocks falling, lines forming in your mind! This was probably one of the last games I’d consider myself truly great at – Match Day, IK+, Kick Off, WWF Smackdown and this were games I can say I mastered. 

By the way, if you’ve never listened to their podcast, do yourself a favour! Very intelligent, well-researched, in-depth, non-pretentious chat on a single game per episode. Fantastic group of guys and girls, and the first podcast I ever felt a compulsion to do a monthly Patreon donation for! 

Super Mario Land

Here’s a gaming confession… I’ve never truly loved a Mario game. Except maybe Crazy Kong on the VIC 20, which was a  knock-off and therefore didn’t even feature Mario (aka Jumpman). I’ve been playing Mario Run on the phone for six months solid, but that’s more addiction than love! It’s not to say this wasn’t a great game though – side-scrolling platformers have just never been my thing, and it’s perhaps testament to what a great example of this genre Mario Land is that I played it so much. 

Tennis

I’ve already written a lot of words on Tennis (and my early days with my Game Boy). As mentioned in that post, this is a game I put more hours into over a longer period of time than almost any other game I’ve owned. No fuss, simple presentation, perfect gameplay. The best tennis game on any platform ever!

WWF Superstars 

It’s incredible that autocorrect on my phone changed WWF to WWE! 

In retrospect, this was pretty basic. Five wrestlers (Macho Man, The Hulkster, DiBiase, Warrior and Mr Perfect), all with pretty much the same moves, and you simply had to beat the other four in a row to become champion. But it was so much fun, especially when you picked Savage or Warrior! As with many earlier games, this was one where you filled in the gaps and added your own complexity, creating storylines and feuds in your mind… where Savage always came out on top in the end!

Best of the Best: Championship Karate

I think I got this for my birthday in 1991. It arrived in the post while I was at lectures, needed a signature, and resulted in one of the few times I skipped lectures the following day to plod into Hatfield’s miserable town centre to pick it up.

Despite the title, I’m fairly sure this was a kick-boxing game! You trained at the gym then selected from a list of increasingly difficult fighters until you reached a championship fight. It was realistic, the AI was good enough that spamming buttons didn’t work, and once you’d reached the higher levels it was very fast and very tough! It took a while, but I got to the final tournament and that was probably the last time I played it. 

WWF Superstars 2

This time around you had six sports-entertainers (Hogan, Savage, The Mountie, Sid Justice, Undertaker, and Jake The Snake), but almost as importantly as finally being able to be The Undertaker on the go, there was a steel cage match! There were also (a few) more moves and more modes, including tag and one-on-one matches, so those imaginary feuds could really come to life! Winning the championship after beating down your opponent enough to get up and over the cage remains a classic gaming satisfaction!

Super Kick Off

As alluded to elsewhere on these pages, I once put together a list of my top 50 games. Kick Off came in at No. 2… I also mentioned my mastery of Kick Off just a minute ago… But you can be sure that neither of these facts have anything to do with the Game Boy version of this football gaming masterpiece! 

Believe me, I wanted to love this game so much; I’d being excited about (not for – I’m English) this arriving on the Game Boy more than any game since I’d heard Kung Fu Master was coming out on the Spectrum! Admittedly, it wasn’t as bad as that shocker, but it definitely wasn’t the monochrome version of my greatest love on the Atari ST either! 

There was no excitement, little skill required, and everything was too big and up close. I remember playing it lying in bed at university for hours and hours in the hope that it would eventually click, but despite my best efforts to not admit money I didn’t have not being well spent, it never really did. 

Kung-Fu Master

I’ve also written about Kung-Fu Master extensively on these pages, but the Game Boy version was a very different game, written ground-up for the system. The principle is similar, as are the simple punch-kick controls (though you did have a backflip too), but rather than ascending a dojo like in the arcade game, your traversing varied levels, including dodgy cities and a great moving train, taking out goons and bosses with chainsaws and other heavy weaponry. 

Unlike the aforementioned Spectrum disaster of the same name, the controls are responsive and it all ends up being a really fun handheld brawler. 

Gauntlet 2

Gauntlet was one of my great loves on the Spectrum, but this was the first time I’d ever played a sequel. You’ve only got two characters, but otherwise everything has been squeezed into the Game Boy, including speech from the arcade version, which is a remarkable achievement. 

Masses of monsters, the maze-like dungeons, the chests, the keys… it’s all present and correct, and was far more detailed than the Spectrum ever managed with the original! This is one, like Tetris, Elevator Action (see below) and Tennis that I still love to play to this day. 

Elevator Action

I actually bought this one in 2010, having never realised that one of my all time favourite arcade games even existed on the Game Boy! Everything is intact, the graphics are detailed and full of character, and the duck and shoot gameplay feels just like it did when I first saw my next-door neighbour drop a 10p into it at a local sports centre many years earlier! Classic game and fantastic conversion – who’d have dreamt you’d be carrying this in your pocket when you were gulping Dr Pepper after the roller disco in 1983!

And that concludes my original Game Boy cartridge collection, which will now be consigned too protruding ridiculously from my SP as and when the mood takes me. Until next time…