Discovering Silent Hill 3 on PlayStation 2

Discovering Silent Hill 3 on PlayStation 2

I’ve had a strange relationship with Silent Hill. Or Silent Hills. I played what turned out to be the first fifteen minutes of the original PlayStation game several times after buying it on launch day in 1999, and it took me finding it in an old cardboard box to actually play it properly in 2020. And this time I instantly adored it! After that, I had to have the sequel on PS2 as soon as a reasonable price on eBay would allow! And wow, I wasn’t expecting what happened there, and it became one of my top five favourite games of all time. I went way over the top writing about it here, so won’t go nuts again now, but what I wouldn’t have said then (because I didn’t know at the time) was that for the past year or so since the time of writing, I’d play it over and over… I’ve always got a game of Silent Hill 2 on the go!

I eventually picked up a copy of Silent Hill 3 – also on eBay and also for a reasonable price – at the end of November 2020. It was more out of duty than really wanting to play it though; I knew it was very unlikely to top either of its predecessors in my eyes, but I also knew it wasn’t as bad as anything else that followed it, and it was the story sequel to the first game that I loved after all, so was worth a shot!

Silent Hill 3 originally appeared on PlayStation 2 in 2003 from Konami’s Team Silent. Interestingly, and unusually, it launched in Europe first, in May, then Japan in July and America in August. It’s more of the same (although apparently it was originally planned as a rail-shooter) and picks up the third-person survival horror exploration, puzzling, clunky combat and Oscar-worthy voice work from its predecessors. There’s fog too, so actually not sounding too bad so far!

Having just finished the game for the first time, I’m still processing the plot because it’s as bonkers as you’d imagine, so for this paragraph and the next I am going to spoil it a bit to see if I’ve got it! We are seventeen years after the first game, and the baby that gets handed over at the end of that one is at the shops for her dad, stops off for a burger, falls asleep and starts dreaming about Silent Hill. With you now in control, you’re wandering about in its nightmare amusement park until you get hit by the rollercoaster. She wakes up, gets confronted about her birth by a stereotypical private eye who Silent Hill-based cult “The Order” have hired to find her, then does a runner around the shopping mall, comes across The Order’s leader, ends up in a classic bloody, hellish, decaying Silent Hill Otherworld (a bit like Bedford’s town centre), and soon we’re doing all of Silent Hill’s familiar other stuff too!

Things quickly escalate into revenge for murder, as well as the resulting trip to real Silent Hill with the detective in tow to take down The Order. And this is where things get complicated… As well as learning all about the first game, Heather learns that she’s the reincarnation of Alessa, the original vessel for the cult’s god, and that they now want her to give birth to it. Gameplay-wise, we’re back in really familiar territory, in the wonderful fog of Silent Hill’s streets, it’s hospital and other Otherworlds, working your way to the cult and its plot, before a wide awake second visit to the nightmare amusement park to find your way into The Order’s church (providing you avoid the rollercoaster this time). It’s here that she confronts the big witch, works out what she’s up to and how she fits in with the original vessel, vomits out a supernatural fetus that the witch ends up swallowing then dying while she gives birth to it, and onto a boss fight with the new god and the end. I think. It all got a little bit hectic in that church!

Now for my story with the game, and after all that hanging around, I actually sat on Silent Hill 3 for exactly another six months after I bought it! That was partially down to me getting a bit carried away with filling in other gaps in my PS2 collection around the same time and being distracted by all of them, but mainly because the two times I got to it on my official list of games to play next, I decided I needed to play Silent Hill 2 again first… Mainly because I just like being there! Anyway, before I talk myself into ending up there again now, at first I wasn’t really clicking with the third instalment. I didn’t know what was going on (which didn’t really change, but I got accustomed to it), it was all a bit dark, the sun was shining through my window on a very hot day, and I was instantly frustrated by the ridiculous new 3D controls. I couldn’t make Heather go anywhere I wanted, which isn’t helpful when you’re in a pitch black fairground surrounded by holes in the floor and you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going! Fortunately, it’s easy to change to 2D controls, where Heather moves left and right and in and out of the screen regardless of the way she’s facing rather than trying to work out which direction is which in relation to where she is.

By the time I was back in the shopping mall, things were picking up a little, even if I wasn’t massively keen on the setting so far, but it was starting to feel like a Silent Hill game. As we progressed into the subway station, through the sewers and up around the construction site and other not Silent Hill yet town buildings on the way to our apartment, it went even further, and I found myself quite enjoying it simply because it was Silent Hill by numbers. And then we got to Silent Hill itself, and I welcomed the sight of my beloved fog and felt the warmth of cold familiarity as I wandered its streets, but then, again, I started to feel a little down on the game – Silent Hill was just a bit lifeless compared to how it had been in the previous two games, where every texture seemed to be alive and with the promise of secrets, demanding to be touched and explored. The town here just felt like a pathway to the next set-piece. But when that set piece is everyone’s favourite Silent Hill hospital, the mood immediately improves, and this was the start of the best of Silent Hill 3!

You know you’ve spent too long playing Silent Hill 2 when you enter Brookhaven Hospital for the first time and don’t only not need a map, but it feels like home – especially when it goes Otherworld too! I was so happy wandering around here, but there does come a point where things get new and unfamiliar, and this was probably the highlight of the game so far for me; an unmapped maze that appears through a new door, that siphons you through its concrete corridors and self-opening and -closing metal-grilled gates, building up incredible tension even though there’s no obvious threat apart from the prospect of running through these bleak passages forever! It wasn’t long, and with hindsight it wasn’t massively clever, but I got a real thrill out of this bit!

It was also around here that I started stopping the action to take screenshots, awkwardly old-school with a camera badly lined-up in front of the screen! As you exit the maze and climb a horror-drenched ladder into the hospital’s Otherworld, there’s a wonderful moment where you see a hand suspended outside the window of what’s now more like a torture chamber than a treatment room; the first of a concentrated series of horrific postcard imagery! There’s a mirror puzzle that is probably the creepiest moment of the game as the Otherworld literally closes in on you while your reflection becomes disembodied as you watch, apparently completely helpless and with no escape. I also got a real kick out of the twisted altar that triggers the boss here – just classic Silent Hill decoration!

It’s worth mentioning how it all looks while we’re talking decoration. It’s quite occult in feel versus the more personal hellscapes of its PS2 predecessor, and all of this religious imagery, set against more traditional themes of rust, decay and bucketloads of blood – and in such a wide variety of environments – gives it its own disturbing aesthetic. It’s very Jacob’s Ladder, the 1990 horror movie that delves into the bizarre mind of a messed-up Vietnam veteran, and is quite the influence on the Silent Hill aesthetic as a whole, though here there’s a more blatant reference to spot in the subway in Silent Hill 3! There’s a slight graininess to it all that adds an air of the video nasty, much like Silent Hill 2, but this time I think they’ve gone a bit further with the use of light and dark and shadows to ramp up the fear of the unknown. It’s certainly a looker, especially when you’re in the disturbed imagination of the Otherworld, which also felt a bit more gooey this time around.

That’s certainly true of the sound effects too – a lot of the mechanical, almost industrial audio terror from Silent Hill 2 is replaced by a more squelchy and organic ambient horror that you really don’t want to know the source of! And again, that’s still backed by the more traditional themes of children crying, monsters feasting, things opening and closing somewhere… But overall I think I found the sound less dense than in Silent Hill 2, and the atmosphere did suffer in comparison as a result. I’ll quickly mention the music here too – it’s nice enough, but Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack was pretty forgettable to me while I was playing. Yeah, I know, maybe not a popular opinion! It’s very varied, the vocal tracks are strong, and there’s some more ambient tracks that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Miami Vice, which is the kind of praise that should make up for some of my ambivalence! That reminds me, despite what I said earlier, the voice acting isn’t actually that terrible this time out either!

Back to the game, and we were heading towards the home-stretch before I veered off into review land. Now we’re back in the Lakeside Amusement Park, the place we had burger-fuelled nightmares about in that fast-food joint at the start of the game! I know I said I liked that maze bit before, but it was really getting to know this place this time around that I suddenly realised I couldn’t put Silent Hill 3 down because after all those ups and downs, it was suddenly brilliant! As an aside, I also found my new favourite place to hang out in any video game ever here, and it’s in Silent Hill so my long-running plan to retire there based on my Silent Hill 2 obsession is still valid, but now I’m getting a part-time job as a rollercoaster operator! Let me set the scene… At the start of the game, you get woken up after being hit by the rollercoaster, so when you come across it again for real this time, you need to make sure the rollercoaster isn’t rollercoasting, and after a bit of detective work you end up climbing up the rickety stairs to the top of the rickety ride and into a locked cabin to sort that out. And I just loved that little, decrepit wooden hut, with its handful of dials and levers, and plenty of space to put your lunch down and make yourself comfortable looking out at the hell on earth through its dirty old cobwebbed windows. My idea of heaven on earth!

We did end up in Silent Hill by numbers territory again in the last section, the church, but it’s so well realised, and there’s so many twists and turns (around completely ridiculous plot points!) that you won’t really notice. There was one really fascinating (but very brief) side-story going on here though, which as I write is something I want to delve into a bit more later (after I’ve gone into the mystery figure in the far distance I just found for the first time at the end of Resident Evil 4)… As you leave the altar area and go backstage in the church, there’s a confession booth. Investigating the door closest to you informs you that there’s someone in there, so obviously you go around the back and play the priest! It’s clear that all’s not quite right as soon as you go in, with pictures on the wall that you won’t recognise but are clearly out of place. And then a woman’s voice, confessing murderous revenge for the death of her daughter, at the end of which you’re asked to forgive or not forgive, and whichever you choose will influence your ending, despite it being completely missable. But who is the woman is what’s currently fascinating me! Is it the baddie from the first game, or from this game, or the original vessel Alessa, or your character Heather herself having a premonition, or some other lost soul, or no one of importance at all except to question Heather’s morality before she goes all out? I don’t know, but just like my other current fascination, the Tombstone Thunderbird (one for your cryptozoology fans!), I plan to find out more!

I ended up really enjoying Silent Hill 3, far more than I’d expected going in, and came out of the other side with my own little bonus confessional mystery to investigate later too! I also came out with an unlimited ammo machine gun for my next play-through, simply because I ran out of ammo on the final boss and had to finish it off with a sword! And let me tell you, that was a shocker – I’ve never not ended up with a ton of ammo, grenades and rocket launchers when I’ve finished any Silent Hill or Resident Evil or similar game before! But would I be playing again without that helpful little incentive? Well, someone has to operate the rollercoaster, but apart from that, I’m not sure. Until I got to the fairground, I’d filled the Silent Hill 3 space on my PS2 and Atari ST games overflow shelf with my newly acquired Advanced Ski Simulator, which I had on the Spectrum but never on ST, and probably should have left it that way; and Silent Hill 3 was going back to eBay. Now it’s back, and I’ve got nowhere to put Ski Simulator! That said, this just isn’t Silent Hill 2 for me, and I can put that down to three things – the intensity of storytelling; the realisation of Silent Hill as a place; and its inhabitants, which I’ve just realised I’ve not really covered…

Let’s start with the obvious – no Pyramid Head! In fact, none of the bosses are memorable in the slightest, either on their own terms or most definitely in comparison with the horrific unrealities of Silent Hill 2. And in turn, the big hitting scenes they should be delivering here have very little impact. Moving to the regular enemies is a similar story, with the iconic sexualised insanity of the monster designs in the predecessor replaced with what’s mostly a charmless laziness akin to watching a Paranormal Activity movie (or that dreadful Silent Hill: Revelation 3D thing)! They’re all far scarier when you can hear them but can’t see them, and don’t even compete with some of the (admittedly brilliant) environmental horror they’re crawling around in. And as I think about them again, I am wondering if I’m better off just speed-running with my infinite machine gun to my rollercoaster hut and making a permanent save there!

How did I end up getting so down on this when we were so close to a second play-through? I reckon I’d get down on most things that aren’t Resident Evil 4 when I start comparing them to Silent Hill 2, so just ignore me! It’s a crazy, polished, atmospheric and sometimes overwhelmingly horrific tale that still looks and sounds great throughout its 7-8 hour duration. The puzzles aren’t too mental, but there’s an easy setting for both puzzles and gameplay if that’s not your bag, and you can always slide it in the other direction too if it is!  Actually, I just thought of a fantastic upper to close on, and that’s the extra costumes when you finish. There’s tons of them, and I think they’re unlocked for going out of your way on things in subsequent play-throughs (I’ll get back to you on that), but the one you get for finishing first time is this really cool red vest for Heather, that has a picture of her in action with Silent Hill written underneath. Wonder if there’s a Pyramid Head one somewhere?

Discovering BurgerTime on My Arcade, NES, Arcade and More!

Discovering BurgerTime on My Arcade, NES, Arcade and More!

As much as I always liked the look of BurgerTime when it arrived in town with the traveliing funfair a couple of times a year, it was always competing with Pole Position for those fleeting few minutes of my attention when we were allowed in its classically smoke-filled, seedy arcade. Before long, it would be competing with a sit-down Star Wars cabinet too, and by then even a spectacular 3D racer with a steering wheel and a gearstick that once blew a 10-year old’s mind was going to struggle to get another look-in!

BurgerTime was originally known as Hamburger when it was produced by Data East in Japan in 1982, but fearful of potential trademark issues, Bally Midway decided to rename it when they licensed it for Western release. Everything takes place on a single screen, where you control a little chef called Peter Pepper as he runs around six increasingly challenging mazes of ladders and platforms, creating dirty hamburgers from the ingredients lying around while avoiding various enemies, the dastardly Mr Hot Dog, Mr Egg and Mr Pickle! You create the burger by getting to the platform where one of the ingredients is placed and walking over its full length, which will cause it to drop to the level below. These include buns, patties, lettuce and sometimes tomatoes or cheese, and I’m sure they taste all the better for being trampled! If there’s another burger bit under it, then that will drop down a level too, until you’ve got them all stacked up on the bun at the bottom.

As well as avoiding the Mr men, you’re armed with a limited supply of pepper sprays, which will briefly hold them in their tracks, and extra bonuses will also appear from time to time in the form of french fries, coffee and ice creams. Dropping an ingredient on the bad guys is to be encouraged too! And once you’ve dropped all of the ingredients onto all of the burger plates (rather than the bad guys) on the screen, you can move on to the next. Complete all six screens before getting Mr Pickled with all of your lives and it will start all over again.

As stuff like Track & Field, Pac-Land, Out Run and Operation Wolf gradually evolved, running around some platforms making hamburgers and avoiding Mr Hot Dog wasn’t just not happening anymore, but was also just consigned to history! But only for a while… As well as a strangely limited number of home ports (which I’ll touch on shortly) and a much wider range of clones, such as Mr Wimpy, there were also some arcade sequels, with Peter Pepper’s Ice Cream Factory in 1984 and two-player Super BurgerTime in 1990, though I’ve never seen either in the wild; I think the latter is available on Nintendo Switch though. There was an Intellivision-only sequel called Diner too, an odd, blocky, pseudo 3D thing about kicking food down platforms! We pick up my story with BurgerTime again in 1991, but now we’re on that handheld miracle the Game Boy, under the guise of BurgerTime Deluxe.

The core gameplay loop might be the same, but the loop around six screens definitely isn’t in this version! You’ve got 24 all-new levels on Game Boy, though you’re probably going to see them all way before you see all of the arcade ones. They’re mostly quick to complete, and most are not massively difficult in comparison; you also get a password every four screens which makes your lives feel fairly expendable. There’s even more sprinkles on top though! You can get extra power ups, from chocolate, which makes you invincible (just like in real life!), to chicken nuggets that turn your enemies in hot dogs, but not Mr Hot Dogs I presume because that would be the opposite of a power-up! And we didn’t even talk about the cut scenes that tie together all of those loose ends you’ve been wondering about since 1982, or the giant donut that turns up later! It’s great to look at, with a huge amount of personality in those tiny, monochrome graphics that really make me pine for single-screen versions of Rodland and Bubble Bobble on there, and you’re also getting a jaunty take on the BurgerTime tune to keep you company and a nice variety of sound effects too. Most importantly, it feels fantastic to play, and despite the slightly easier difficulty, all the strategy is intact and moving Peter Pepper around the platform mazes is a joy.

In the intervening years since 1991, I’ve always gone back to BurgerTime Deluxe from time-to-time, but I’ve spent quite a lot of time on the NES version too. It’s a lovely port – not quite as polished as the arcade version, but it’s all present and correct, and in the absence of owning the arcade version, you can’t go wrong. My only criticism would be that it’s missing a little finesse in the controls (especially compared to Deluxe), and there’s a stickiness, especially on ladders, that you get used to, but demands a level of precision that feels like it shouldn’t be there.

The other version I know and love is the Atari 2600 port. Now, I get that there’s no need to ever play this when you have any of the other versions (though who has a Coleco Adam or an Aquarius nowadays?), but everyone should have a soft-spot for any attempt at an arcade port on there, and this is one of the better ones! As soon as you let your eyes adjust, you’ve got all the fun and all the strategy of a game of BurgerTime, and it’s as a good as it could possibly be! What’s missing, though, is any sniff of conversions for ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 or that other one. But, of course, we had some nice clones! Barmy Burgers is one I remember, but going back now it controls like a dog and it sounds weird, even for a Spectrum! There were loads more to choose from if that didn’t take your fancy though; in fact, it’s a bit like all those Bruce Lee clones you had around the same time – Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Bruce Thai, Lee Bruce… We had Burger Time, Burger Chase, BurgerSpace, Burger Boy, Chip Factory, Lunchtime, Burger Builder and Basic Burger. And probably better known than even BurgerTime in many parts, we had the mighty Ocean Software’s Mr Wimpy, of burger chain Wimpy fame! It wasn’t BurgerTime though…

I’m skipping past mobile games like 2007’s BurgerTime Delight, 2011’s 3D update BurgerTime World Tour on the consoles of the day, and the more recent BurgerTime Party on Switch from 2019 because I’ve never played any of them! Instead, we’re going to land on 9th May 2021, which was my birthday and I received a rather lovely table-top BurgerTime arcade cabinet replica from my Mum… And here finally begins a journey almost forty years in the making (and I’m not just talking about reading this post so far), the arcade version of BurgerTime! Almost, because this is actually that NES version again, but it’s worth stopping off here before we get to the “proper” arcade version!

The My Arcade BurgerTime Micro Player is fully licensed, stands at 17cm or nearly 7 inches tall, and features a quality 2.75 inch colour, backlit screen with plenty of brightness and the right amount of contrast. The design of the cabinet is very realistic – it could have just been a vague representation and no one would have complained, but this is nicely shaped, angled and proportioned, and well-built too. It’s powered by micro USB or four AA batteries, and it sounds awesome if you plug in some headphones, but for some casual play its built-in speaker sounds absolutely fine too. The glossy cabinet artwork closely resembles the original, with what appears to my eyes to be accurate imagery, but on a slightly modified layout to suit the mini cabinet dimensions and lack of coin slots and instruction panels.

There’s a big, surprisingly tactile on/off switch where the coin slots would have been at the bottom of the cabinet, and the “slots” light up red when it’s on. The control panel has a start and reset button, two buttons which both trigger the pepper spray, and a removable joystick so you can use the d-pad underneath if you prefer. Either method feels fine to me, though if I’ve got it on a table it feels slightly more natural to use the joystick than angle your fingers to the d-pad. What I really love here is that you’re in a game within two seconds of turning it on – hit start when the screen lights up and you’re away! Playing on a small scale like this does take a bit of getting used to, and it’s probably not ideal for long play sessions unless you want your hand cramping into a claw, but until it does there’s no problem zipping around the platforms and ladders. Speaking of zipping around, I have experienced a bit of slowdown a few screens in, but it’s brief when it happens and it seems to happen rarely. Just one other complaint – it doesn’t save your high scores when you turn it off!

Right, we’ve covered the arcade cabinet of sorts, now let’s cover the arcade game itself, and our final port of call, which is most definitely the original arcade version, but now we’re on the original PlayStation, and Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2. This is a really cool collection from 1997, and as well as BurgerTime, features the relatively obscure Blaster (a kind of 3D Robotron 2084 follow-up), Joust 2 (a proper follow-up), the unreleased (and very odd) competitive food-fighter Splat, and stone-cold classics Spy Hunter, Root Beer Tapper and Moon Patrol. Everything emulates really well here, and apart from a bit of time needed to get used to Spy Hunter, the PlayStation controller feels good too. The collection also includes a trivia game, which no one’s ever going to know most of the answers to, but the real fun here is in the video clips of the original game developers explaining those answers. Overall a very nice collection, as are the other volumes which include Atari and Williams classics too.

Anyway, we’re here for BurgerTime! It’s certainly a definitive version, and its interesting to play it back-to-back with the mini cabinet and the proper NES version, because there’s really not a lot in it apart from the aforementioned “finesse” to the controls, and a bit of graphical and audio clarity on top. The animation is very 1982, but I still don’t think a sesame seed burger bun has ever looked better in a game since! There’s also a surprising amount of detail in that tiny chef’s outfit, right down to the buttons, and the same for the shine on Mr Hot Dog or the highlights on Mr Pickle, though I will say that Mr Egg is a little less impressive! The audio is pure early eighties arcade too, with its shrill (in the nicest possible way) theme tune coming and going around the various sound effects and jingles.

Where this still absolutely holds up – in much the same way as its better known brethren like Pac-Man – is in its depth of gameplay. It doesn’t take long before your mind is a few seconds ahead of the action on screen, plotting out an optimum pattern that will lead enemies away from where you need a safe route to an ingredient, and even grouping them together so dropping something on them all at once gives you maximum breathing space! Like Pac-Man, you also need to avoid getting trapped between two incoming enemies, or getting stuck in a dead-end, because the only way out of these is to use your pepper spray, and ideally you don’t want to be using that until you really need to. There’s a couple of other tricks of the trade you soon get used to using – you start at the top and let gravity take the ingredients below with it; the only time you want to distract yourself with other layers is if it’s going to take a load of enemies with it. You can drop enemies down with the ingredients too, though this will involve them being on it as you stand on the last part of its length, so is a risky strategy.

The first stage is pretty straightforward, with a limited number of enemies and a limited number of platforms that you need so drop the ingredients down from, but from stage two onwards you’re being introduced to dead ends and enemy funnelling, and their numbers are going to start ramping up too! By the time you’re at stage four, your going to see eight layers of platforms to drop the hamburgers down from, and you’re going to spend most of your time trying to lead the enemies on a merry dance around the complex set of platforms just to pick off a single ingredient, so patience becomes key. The next two stages are less dense, but there’s also more dead ends and less connections between platforms, and whilst patience still applies, you can’t hang around on either of these! Apparently (because I’ve never got past stage six), this now loops until you get to 28, when the enemies go super-fast for periods and it all becomes about ducking in and out of safe zones. Which I will never need to worry about!

Absolutely wonderful game with timeless appeal, which does make me wonder why it’s not quite as consigned to history now like it seemed to have been for a while in the mid-eighties, but all the same is never mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Pac-Man and other arcade classics of the time, or even stuff like Chuckie Egg that soon followed in the same vein on the home computers… Maybe it just needed Pac-Man on some platforms instead. Or Peter Pepper should have learnt to jump!

Retro Arcadia Top 10 Games of 2021 – The Half Way Point!

Retro Arcadia Top 10 Games of 2021 – The Half Way Point!

Not sure I’ve ever got to the end of June and had a top ten games already, but I’m guessing the jump to Xbox Series X and it’s little Game Pass feature might have something to do with it! And that’s partly why I’m doing this now, because given what’s hopefully coming for the rest of the year, I reckon it might change a bit by December, so I just wanted to give these guys some credit before they don’t deserve it!

1. Resident Evil Village (Xbox Series X)
I wasn’t fussed about next-gen until the doors of Castle Dimitrescu were swept open in that very first gameplay footage back in January, and we climbed the grandest of staircases under the grandest of chandeliers under the grandest of ceilings, and it was just the best-looking thing I’d ever seen in a game! That combined with the clear influence of Resident Evil 4 – my third favourite game ever – to have me more hyped about Resident Evil Village than even Shao-Lin’s Road on the ZX Spectrum in 1986! And it more than lived up to that hype! A beautiful time, several times and counting.

2. Cyber Shadow (Xbox One)
Back in January, on my son’s hand-me-down Xbox, I succumbed to another Game Pass subscription for this retro arcade platformer, because a second one in the house for a month was still way cheaper than getting it on Switch! Little bit Metroid and a lot Ninja Gaiden – really punishing but begrudgingly fair, controls like a dream, and the levels are really well designed with some great variety, despite a couple of overly harsh checkpoints! And it’s also the best-looking and sounding NES game you could ever dream of, oozing this oppressive atmosphere behind all that polish.

3. Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection (Switch)
I’ve spent decades having the time of my life getting killed on the first two levels (but mostly the first!) of this game’s various Ghouls, Ghosts and Goblins predecessors, and I’m pleased to report that this one is no different! By far the most brutal in the series so far (although there are options for wimps and even optional mid-level checkpoints for all), and also the best looking, best sounding and, by all accounts, the most varied, though I’m unlikely to ever know about that!

4. Outriders (Xbox Series X)
Finally, I found my new Destiny! Fantastic feeling cover-shooter built around an addictive, repetitive and often joyfully mindless progressive level-up and loot loop that feels loads better if you jump in with others, though the flexible difficulty system means it works fine solo too. The magic classes mix things up, there’s various enhancement systems and all kinds of modification possible, a ridiculous amount of better weapons and armour to keep finding, and the story isn’t bad either. Looks mighty fine as well!

5. Narita Boy (Xbox Series X)
A pleasantly modern-feeling sort of metroidvania homage to the eighties that starts a bit bewildering as you’re dumped into a complex story made of complex language, but persevere a while and your back and forth will reward you with enormous environmental variety and loads of different enemies to overcome with increasingly fluid combat. And as you’re wandering and wondering at some glorious pseudo-Tron visuals and a fantastic synth-wave soundtrack, you’ll even start to work out what it’s all about too!

6. Genesis Noir (Xbox Series X)
I should hate this! Pointing, clicking and jazzing isn’t me… Unlike Howard Moon, I’m definitely not the jazzy boy! But I’m okay with some film noir, and I like some Pink Panther cartoon aesthetics, especially when they’re so painfully stylish! And this isn’t really point-and-click; it’s very tactile, and, unusually for that genre, its puzzles are mostly logical. There’s no escaping a bit of smoky jazz club in this absolutely unique anti-creation tale though, but I can forgive it that.

7. Travel Through Time Vol. 1: Northern Lights (ZX Spectrum)
For anyone interested in ZX Spectrums, you have to check this out! It’s up there with the machine’s best racing games, whether Enduro Racer and WEC Le Mans et al from its original run, or anything like 4K Race Refuelled or Just a Gal that followed more recently. Speaking of which, it’s from the same developer as Just a Gal, but this time the ingenuity, creativity and sheer craftsmanship on display here will just blow you away even more. Just stunning!

8. Pac-Man 99 (Switch)
I really didn’t appreciate having to buy a skin when it turned out I kept getting into the top ten then dying because of a red enemy Pac-Man on the black background that I couldn’t see because no settings compensated for my very common red-black colourblindness… But it was a Xevious one, and it was cheap, and the game was free, and it’s a really, really good competitive multiplayer take on the classic core mechanics, and it’s really, really addictive, so I’m going to begrudgingly forgive it that and just say it’s great!

9. Danterrifik III (ZX Spectrum)
Yes, you read that right – another Spectrum game! This is a triumph of both minimalist design and the most brutal of old-school split-second, pixel-perfect punishing platforming. The intricate black, white and occasionally red Nazi-soiled religious imagery would look like this on any platform, and the exquisite soundtrack is as good as has ever graced the Spectrum – you might even think you’re listening to a Commodore 64 while your 99 lives are being chipped away in very rapid succession!

10. The Medium (Xbox Series X)
As the first game I played that was made for my new next-gen console, this was a disappointment! Just imagine the leap from playing Zub on ZX Spectrum to Defender of the Crown on Atari ST… Well, it was pretty much the opposite of that, and I might even say was a backwards step from something like Final Fantasy VII Remake on PS4! But as a horror walking simulator of sorts with a fantastic psychic otherworld mechanic and hard-hitting story, it really hit the spot.

Games Completed in 2020

Games Completed in 2020

How about a self-indulgent review of games I’ve played and completed in 2020? I know no-one else cares, but it’s kind of like a diary, and I’ve already written it, and I’ve got nowhere else to stick it!

January
3 January: Untitled Goose Game (Xbox)
13 January: Punch-Out! (NES on Switch)
16 January: Spyro the Dragon (PS4)
19 January: Mega Man X (SNES Classic Mini)
26 January: The Ninja Saviors (Switch)
31 January: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SNES on Switch)

Ninja Saviors the undoubted highlight for January. Goose Game didn’t blow me away like it seems to have done everyone else, but that’s the first game I ever finished on an Xbox! Also nice to finish Spyro on the collection I got for Christmas after starting it all those years ago, as well as some other old classics I hadn’t played before (but am now seeing in my sleep, Punch-Out!). And now I’m torn between what’s my favourite Mega Man. I reckon it’s still 2 but X was a corker!

February
3 February: Bulletstorm (PS4)
5 February: Koral (Switch)
7 February: Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES on Switch)
9 February: Super Mario Bros. (NES on Switch)
10 February: Super Cycle (C64 Mini)
16 February: Bioshock (PS4)
18 February: Castlevania – Circle of the Moon (Game Boy Advance)
19 February: Bloodstained – Ritual of the Night (Xbox One)
25 February: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Game Boy Advance)
27 February: Ninja Gaiden Shadow (Game Boy)
29 February: Ghostbusters (C64 Mini)

Always glad to get value out of PS+, and very much did this month with Bulletstorm and Bioshock. Same for Game Pass and Bloodstained (though my excessive play of Demon’s Tilt on there makes that a given). For medical reasons, my handhelds got plenty of love this month with Castlevania: Circle of the Moon being a particular highlight, though finally finishing the original Mario Bros was pretty cool too. And as I like to every now and again, I reminded myself why Ghostbusters on C64 is in my top 30 favourite games ever – a practice game to remind myself how it goes (which I actually did on the Spectrum this time), then straight through as usual. Timeless!

March
4 March: Destruction Derby 2 (PlayStation Classic)
14 March: Doom 3 (Switch)
18 March: Anodyne (Switch)
30 March: Agent X (ZX Spectrum)
31 March: Agent X II (ZX Spectrum)

50 hours on Animal Crossing over two weeks after release is quite apparent in this month’s list! Loved the chance to win everything in Destruction Derby 2 again, and Doom 3 became probably my favourite shooter ever! For the purposes of Retro Arcadia postings, I finished the wonderful Agent X for the hundredth time, and its less wonderful sequel on the Spectrum for the first time.

April
4 April: Death Star Interceptor (ZX Spectrum)
11 April: Doom 64 (Switch)
13 April: Doom (Switch)
26 April: Doom II (Switch)
27 April: Kid Dracula (Game Boy)
30 April: Saboteur 2 – Avenging Angel (Switch)

Caught up on a load more classic Dooms on Switch last month. As much as I enjoyed them, I’m a bit done with Doom for now! Also caught up with Death Star Interceptor, an even older game I first came across in 1985! I’d also forgotten I was right near the end of Game Boy Kid Dracula a few months ago when I abandoned it for some reason, so got that done too. Same for Saboteur 2 on Switch. Started at Christmas, got sidetracked (by Ninja Saviors) and forgot I had it, but will never forget that map from playing it on the Spectrum years ago!

May
3 May: TimeSplitters (PS2)
5 May: TimeSplitters 2 (PS2)
6 May: Streets of Rage 4 (Switch)
7 May: Moley Christmas (ZX Spectrum)
14 May: Streets of Rage 2 (Mega Drive Mini)
18 May: Daley Thompson’s Decathlon (ZX Spectrum)
26 May: Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (Game Boy Colour)
31 May: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (PS4)

May began with the delivery of a replacement PS2, and meant I could finally finish the two TimeSplitters games I’d had a hankering to play for a while. And I’m still playing regularly to improve times on the original too! Streets of Rage 4 made a claim for the top of my game of the year list so far, but otherwise it was going back to some old favourites. Oh yeah, nearly forgot the latest Star Wars game too, which is indicative of how memorable I found it!

June
12 June: TMNT (GBA)
13 June: Call of Duty WWII (PS4)
14 June: American Election (Mac)
14 June: Wampus (NES)
16 June: I’m Bored, Let’s Explore (Ruins) (Mac)
16 June: Masks (Mac)
18 June: Intrepid (Mac)
23 June: In Other Waters (Switch)
26 June: Rik the Roadie (ZX Spectrum)
28 June: Milk Race (ZX Spectrum)
30 June: Akumajo Dracula (Super Castlevania IV) (Switch)

Thought the Japanese version of Super Castlevania IV might make a nice change for my annual play-through, but turned out wonderfully similar to what I know and love! Otherwise my MacBook got some unusual love with the fantastic Itch.io’s Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, which also included a fantastic all-new NES game Wampus. And an underwater sci-if exploration game called In Other Waters made a hell of a shout for game of the year!

July
12 July: Manic Miner 2020 – Special Edition (ZX Spectrum)
13 July: Super Mario Bros. COVID-19 Edition (ZX Spectrum)
13 July: Monument Valley 2 (iPad)
18 July: Erica (PS4)
19 July: The Room 2 (iPad)
20 July: Silent Hill (PlayStation Classic)
28 July: Ghostbusters The Video Game Remastered (PS4)

New Spectrum games always welcome, especially those involving Miner Willy! Always nice to see a Mario invasion on there too! I’ve had Monument Valley 2 taking up space on my iPad for years and it turns out that work of art didn’t deserve to be kept waiting, but that’s a far lesser crime than how long I left Silent Hill hanging around… Just amazing, and how on earth did I ignore that series for so long?

August
8 August: Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 2 (PS4)
14 August: Carrion (Xbox)
24 August: Winter Games (ZX Spectrum)
25 August: Winter Games (C64 Mini)
27 August: Star Wars Episode 1 Racer (Switch)

Animal Crossing still in evidence while I was on holiday (from work at least) this month, though it marked the end of being about done with anything major on there I think. Lots of arcade stuff like P-47 and Sunset Riders this month that might have an ending but I’ll never see them, but Carrion was a definite, very unique highlight that I did finish. And always an absolute pleasure to spend time with Winter Games… Even in the height of summer!

September
3 September: Silent Hill 2 (PS2)
5 September: Super Mario All Stars – Super Mario Bros. (SNES on Switch)
8 September: Donkey Kong Country (SNES on Switch)
13 September: Bayonetta (PS4)
20 September: Duke Nukem 3D – 20th Anniversary World Tour (Switch)
26 September: Vanquish (PS4)

Some serious catching up done in September. Highlight was Silent Hill 2. First time playing (but already not the last), and I can safely say it’s one of my favourite games ever! Elsewhere some real big hitters I’ve somehow never managed to play before – horizons becoming truly broadened in my old (middle) age!

October
3 October: Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
9 October: Bloodstained – Curse of the Moon 2 (Switch)
17 October: Powerdrift (Arcade on 3DS)
20 October: Out Run (Game Gear)
25 October: Road Rash Jailbreak (Game Boy Advance)
27 October: The Ninja Kids (Arcade on PS2)
28 October: Star Wars Squadrons (PS4)
31 October: Out Run (3DS)

I seem to have had a thing for handheld racers this month! With that and Mario 3D Land, my 3DS had more play in the last month than ever before. Highlight of the month was Bloodstained 2 though. Very nearly as good as any proper old-school Castlevania, and definite game of the year contender, closely followed by Star Wars Squadrons, which is just so much nerd fun, win or (mostly) lose.

November
8 November: Super Mario Sunshine (GameCube)
8 November: The Chaos Engine (SNES)
19 November: Secret of Mana (SNES Classic Mini)
23 November: Friday the 13th (C64 Mini)
24 November: Splatterhouse (PC-Engine Mini)
25 November: Friday the 13th (ZX Spectrum)
26 November: Rupert and the Ice Castle (ZX Spectrum)

Mario Sunshine tops the list this month. Now I can allow myself to play the new 3D All Stars version that’s not only still sealed, but in the envelope it came in on launch day months ago! Enjoyed Secret of Mana far more than expected and Splatterhouse as much as I hoped. Chaos Engine was fun if a bit repetitive, but it’s always nice to finish a game within 30 years of buying it! Otherwise, some crap and not so crap 8-bit stuff for Retro Arcadia!

December
1 December: Splatterhouse – Wanpaku Graffiti (NES)
1 December: Jungle Hunt (Atari 2600)
2 December: Fantasy Zone II W (3DS)
4 December: Splatterhouse (Arcade on Switch)
13 December: Animal Crossing New Horizons (Switch)

A flurry of Splatterhouse and other retro activity at the start of the month! Having finally completed Fantasy Zone II W, I did also finally settle a long-standing internal debate about which game in that wonderful series is my favourite (and it’s this one)! At 510 hours and getting my final fish – which completes everything you can complete in the game – I’m calling Animal Crossing, but I’m still playing! Not sure where the rest of the month went – I was at least supposed to finish Residemt Evil 4 on GameCube, but it will be a nice start to 2021!

Retro Arcadia Top Ten Games of 2020

Retro Arcadia Top Ten Games of 2020

My annual list here is supposed to be screaming next-gen this year, but after much deliberation that helped me make up my mind I wanted an Xbox over PS5, it also made me realise I wanted Game Pass and not a new machine. Enter my 13-year old son wanting to replace his Xbox One with a fancy new gaming PC for Christmas, as well as no actual next-gen games for Series X yet anyway, and here we are! Still pains me not having a launch-day PlayStation for the first time in its history though…

As much as my game of the year for 2020 did affect and continues to affect me – and has made the very unusual leap for anything new into my top 25 games of all time – it’s not the best! Or even second best! It took me a while, but finally properly playing Silent Hill this summer led me immediately to Silent Hill 2 on PS2. Then several times more! Wow, what a game. I wrote loads of words about it here so won’t dwell. Then I got to the last game in the Resident Evil series I’d never played, Resident Evil 4 on GameCube. Given its reputation I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to that either, but I got to the point where I wasn’t playing it to avoid finishing it! Absolute masterpiece!

But let’s now turn our attention to the masterpieces of 2020…

1. In Other Waters (Switch)
A very long time ago, a game called Submarine Commander on the Commodore VIC-20 was busy becoming one of my favourite games ever; it offered a claustrophobic and tense underwater experience that still holds up today. The first time I saw In Other Waters, I immediately knew it was going to do the same, with its beautifully refined and descriptive – but not dissimilar – user interface that almost immediately becomes second nature, and completely drives the wonderful story, as well as your imagination. Intuitive, engaging, nerve wracking and, despite it’s visual simplicity, I found it stunningly atmospheric. Just like some of those great old VIC-20 games!

2. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 (Switch)
I was massively excited when Bloodstained 2 was announced, then decided to voice my opinion on it costing more on Switch (my preferred platform so I could play on TV and handheld) than PS4 by not buying it on any platform for months… The protest finally ended with a Switch sale, and it was worth the wait. It may even have been worth the original price! The gameplay is so tight, it looks and sounds glorious, and it’s up there with the best of Castlevania! It’s comfortable and familiar – to the point you know exactly which walls are going to be holding secrets before you hit them – but brings its own identity with the ingenious character swapping, and offers loads to keep playing past the first credits for, especially something you really won’t see coming! Awesome.

3. Streets of Rage 4 (Switch)
Completely faithful to the series from what I’ve played, but also completely modern feeling and looking, and a fantastic beat ‘em up in its own right. So many things I love… some of the chaotic mass brawls that feel just like a Bruce Lee movie; finding the secret retro areas (and some old friends); just how 80’s the brilliantly styled (and massive variety of) hand-drawn art all looks; and, of course, the soundtrack isn’t bad either! Not much can top the massively concentrated fun on offer here, and with everything else on offer on top of the story mode, we definitely have a keeper to come back to for many years to come!

4. Star Wars: Squadrons (PS4)
No game is ever likely to come close to the thrill of sitting down in that jaw-dropping Star Wars arcade cabinet for the first time at a funfair in Bedford almost forty years ago, but this wasn’t far off! The story offers non-stop spectacular sprawling set pieces across fifteen missions, and it’s non-stop nerdgasm the whole way through. There’s multiplayer all-sorts if that’s your bag too. If you ever wanted to fly something out of Star Wars, this is as good as it gets.

5. Animal Crossing – New Horizons (Switch)
I very rarely buy a game day one, but I knew that with Animal Crossing I’d be getting incredible enjoyment and incredible value from whatever the asking price. I also rarely ever play a game for over 50 hours, but I’d done that in two weeks and we’re now well over 500, and whilst I might have bought it physically so I could sell it on at the usual Nintendo tiny loss price, there’s still not much chance of that yet! It’s the ultimate in gaming escapism, it makes the mundane as addictive as crack, and on the Switch it looks and sounds and plays incredible. A timeless formula that couldn’t have been timed better.

6. Super Mario Bros Game & Watch
Snoopy Tennis Game & Watch was just about my first gaming love, and almost four decades later this wonderfully and accurately recreated piece of tech (and packaging!) celebrates not only that age of wonder, but also 35 years of Super Mario Bros, which remains more than perfectly playable, and perfectly suited to this pocket platform. The sequel, the of original Game & Watch game Ball, the Easter eggs, and, of course, the unique digital alarm clock combine to make this an absolutely priceless piece of nostalgia.

7. Carrion (Xbox One)
You play the bad guy and this game makes sure you know it! This is how a Predator (and maybe other types of predator) feels, with every decaying Lovecraftian tooth and eyeball and tentacle feeling like a flawless extension of your fingers on the controller as you effortlessly glide around then tear your prey apart. The horrific semi-pixel art Metroidvania-styled design is perfectly complemented by the incredible sound design, which is made all the more disturbing when you realise the sound has all gone! A beautiful, terrible thing.

8. Manic Miner 2020 – Special Edition (ZX Spectrum)
Can you believe that in the year of our lord 2020AD, we have no less than three new Miner Willy games (that I’m aware of at least) out on the ZX Spectrum? I’ve not played Manic Panic, but I have played a lot of a four decades late to the party port of my favourite VIC-20 game, The Perils of Willy, and whilst it fully deserves to be here too, it’s harder to justify as new even if it is a joy to play! This one was at least a new take, dedicated to all essential workers keeping things moving in lockdown, and is actually a cut-down riff on the original, featuring what you know and love, but in mirrored caverns. As you’d expect, it’s hard as nails, but the smile will never leave your face! Platforming perfection. Always.

9. Wallachia – Reign of Dracula (Switch)
A loving homage to Castlevania that plays like Contra, complete with zero concession to anyone that isn’t prepared to play hard and old-school! But like Contra, with practice you realise it’s fair, and you will improve to the point that it’s beatable over time. And like Castlevania, it oozes gothic atmosphere, with darkly stylish visuals and a whopping soundtrack.

10. Hotshot Racing (Xbox One)
Brilliantly retro-stylised and very slick arcade racer that controls like a dream once you get it, and has such a sense of speed! There’s elements of Out Run, Daytona 360, Virtua Racer and Sega Rally all present and correct, and whilst it’s unlikely that anything is ever going to reach any of those heady heights again, if you’re a fan then this loving, living tribute is going to appeal.

Not So Silent Hill

Not So Silent Hill

The original Silent Hill on the original PlayStation is a game that I adore, but it took me a while to get there! Actually, at the time of writing I’ve just embarked upon Silent Hill 2 on PlayStation 2 for the first time, having finished the first game for the very first time about six weeks ago… And then it took me six weeks of patiently bidding then dropping out of eBay auctions to get my hands on the sequel at a reasonable price! And four hours in I’m pretty much adoring that too, but that’s another story.

I started Silent Hill on launch day sometime in 1999, and judging by my fairly meagre games library (hacked PlayStation Classic notwithstanding!), I reckon it was one of the last games I bought for the original system. And yes, it took until the 20th July 2020 to get to the end! If I took a run at it now, I reckon I could get as far as I ever did originally in about 15 minutes, but much like Resident Evil, which suffered a very similar fate give or take a year, if you’d asked me in the intervening 21 years, I’d have definitely said I was a fan all the same!

And I can now back that claim up, having properly finished both, and in the case of Silent Hill, properly rinsed it too, getting one of the better endings simply because I didn’t want to leave! Whilst some of the original PlayStation experiences can feel a little tired nowadays, something there finally clicked for me, and I just couldn’t get enough of that wonderfully atmospheric fog-ridden (and not forgetting blood-ridden) remnant of a town and all of its mysteries.

Anyway, my love for Silent Hill isn’t why we’re here today. I’m sure I’ll go into more depth at some other time soon, but for the time being I wanted to focus on the aforementioned opening few minutes. Having finished it, I wanted to get a few screenshots of some of the more evocative areas while they were fresh in my memory in anticipation of writing something about it later, so I started the game again. I was especially interested in the start, because the very claustrophobic alleyway you are quickly running through really left an impression with me.

And after reviewing the product of the first 10 minutes of gameplay, I came to a terrible realisation that by complete chance, I might have just outed the main character as some kind of infantile moron that I’d completely missed first time around! What do you think?

At risk of ruining my feelings about Silent Hill, I am really curious about how many more irritating questions he’s going to ask in the next 10 minutes and then the rest of the game!

The Retro Arcadia Top Ten Games of 2018

The Retro Arcadia Top Ten Games of 2018

This year my SNES Classic Mini was finally joined by its previously impossible to buy NES sibling, plus a C64 Mini and almost a PlayStation Classic – I cancelled the day before it was shipped, not because of the controversial games list, but it just sounded like the finished article was very bare-bones and the emulation was crap. On the ones I hadn’t cancelled, I’ve loved pretty much everything on them more than anything that will ever be released again. On a similar note, I also love most of the old NES stuff that came with the Switch online service – especially the wonderful Tecmo Bowl, Balloon Fight and Mighty Bomb Jack. And on another similar note, I’ve loved playing a ton of the Switch Arcade Archives releases of Donkey Kong and 10-Yard fight, as well as ACA NEOGEO Super Sidekicks 3, and the fabulous Megadrive and SNK collections. And with a Switch now in my possession, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Golf Story from last year, and of course, Breath of the Wild, which I sandwiched between Ocarina of Time and the original Legend of Zelda (which I played on two different platforms almost in parallel).

Hovering just outside this list would be the Williams packs on Pinball FX, featuring some of the best tables ever produced; last-gen racing powerhouse Burnout Paradise Remastered on PS4; Castlevania Requiem (if I’d played a enough of either game included in time); and a game I’ve seriously been waiting 25 years to play, Night Trap on the Switch, which might not be the most mechanically-varied game ever, but was a technical marvel at the time and is still a fun romp today. I’m sure that had I played it yet, Red Dead Redemption 2 would be somewhere around the top, but finally playing and completing Mad Max just before it was released only confirmed I’m a bit done with open worlds at the moment, and I’ve more than enough to keep me going until they finish patching it and the price drops. And I’d have loved to have Tetris Effect on here, but after fifteen minutes of my first game on the beta, the motion sickness began…

As always, the rule here is if it’s been released for the first time on a platform this year, it’s fair game…

1 Gris (Switch)

The very last game I bought in 2018 (at time of writing on Christmas Eve at least). If you ever wanted to convince a non-gamer that gaming is an art form, you’d show them this, because it really is a wonderful piece of art in anyone’s language. I don’t think I’ve ever seen (and probably heard) anything quite as stunning as this on any platform, and maybe aside from Journey, anything as powerful. It’s a dream to play, and a dream to experience as it becomes more and more beautiful as you progress, and subtly more complex. A genuine gaming masterpiece.

2 Minit (Switch)

I avoided buying Minit when it came out on other platforms in the hope it would appear on Switch one day, which seemed like the right place for it, and that day came but a few horrendously hot months later. Bizarre premise of your hero living for only sixty seconds in an old-school Zelda-esque black and white pixel art rogue-lite world, doing simple quests, solving puzzles and killing monsters. Sixty seconds at a time. But it really works! It begins with almost no context or instruction, but you soon work out how things work to progress your story, planning out your next sixty second life as you carry out the next set of activities for this one. Fantastic game, very different, and perfect on the Switch. And when you’re done with the story, there’s a couple more hours picking up the stuff you probably missed then new game plus where sixty becomes forty. Future cult classic!

3 Moonlighter (Switch)

That wonderful Stardew Valley vibe where minutes are actually hours. But with more fighting. Moonlighter is a greeat rogue-like by night, and shopkeeper-sim by day, where you kill for booty to sell to buy armour, weapons, upgrades, better shop stuff and things to liven up your town so you can access new dungeons with better booty. Fantastic to play day or night.

4 Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun! (Switch)

I searched Tokyo in 40 degree heat and 90% humidity for this bundled with the physical drum controller. I failed, but not long after it was all announced for European release and everything was well in the world again. I can’t remember the last time I had a stupid grin on my face playing a game, but there’s little here not to smile about, from the real drum you play along to a huge, bizarre playlist with, to the completely bonkers visual feast that could only come out of Japan happening on the screen. The ultimate party game, even if you’re the only one invited.

5 Mario Tennis Aces (Switch)

I never played Mario Tennis on the Game Boy Colour or Advance, so don’t lament the depth of their story modes apparently missing here. I did, however, sink dozens, if not hundreds of hours into Tennis (featuring Mario as umpire) on the original Game Boy. Jump into an online tournament on Mario Tennis Aces on the Switch, and that’s what you’ve got, dialled up to eleven with trick shots, specials, bullet-time and more, and all against real other people. There’s depth here too – after a few hours you start to notice little things that stack up to make all the difference; you work out how to properly use the trick shot or the blue glow around the ball or the star that sometimes appears on the ground or a dozen other minor things; and then you start winning one in five matches, then one in three, then two, and you’re reaching (and occasionally winning) tournament finals… Stunning looking game, polished to hell, full of character, and utterly addictive. Who cares about story modes (which is actually pretty enjoyable too)!

6 Hollow Knight (Switch)

Specifically here for the first 30 hours, then another 15 hours after 36 hours, then a few more after 53 hours. I absolutely hated everything in between and deleted the game twice in disgust at two bosses I just couldn’t beat. Until I did. Very few games over the last almost forty years have hooked me like this gorgeous looking, vast metroidvania did – even when it was gone, it kept dragging me back. 80% love, 20% pure hatred, and probably the best £7.99 I ever spent on a game.

7 Alto’s Odyssey (iOS)

I’ve played the original Alto’s Adventure more than any other game on mobile (or tablet in my case). It’s the perfect, premium mobile game, and has been my go-to time-passer across thousands and thousands of miles on plane journeys over the last few years. Alto’s Odyssey swaps snowboards for sandboards, but is more of the same, and then some. The new desert backdrop is stunning, and the day/night cycles, variable weather – especially the storms – and multiple biomes to explore make for some outstanding eye-candy. And the one-touch, backflipping gameplay remains as challenging, skilful and perfect as ever.

8 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Switch)

Old-school Castlevania in all but name with some really clever character-switching mechanics, atmospheric old-school graphics and sound that make me want to live in it, and plenty to explore and go back to when you’re able. In the five hours or so to complete first time, it gets progressively more tricky, but aside from a few frustrating sections (generally involving moving platforms in the late game), it’s all do-able after a few attempts and some experimentation with the characters, even on veteran mode. My only gripe is the checkpointing on the double final boss battle – going back to the very start is a real pain while you’re dying over and over again to learn how to beat the second part! Once you’re finally done, definitely worth playing the newly unlocked nightmare mode to explore those places you couldn’t before you had the right characters available. Great game with a lot of retro-love oozing out of it.

9 Mega Man Legacy Collection (Switch)

Much like Zelda, I’d never played a Mega Man game before this year, and now I’ve played and finished three of them; 2, 1 and 3, in that order. I’m particularly proud of finishing Mega Man 2, over a period of months, as I completely avoided all the quality of life enhancements like rewind and save in-progress that come with this wonderfully presented collection of games 1-6 in the series. It’s not just the games though, most of which are bonafide hardcore classics; those enhancements, the mass of settings options and the museum of art that accompanies every game make it one of the best compilations I’ve seen. And it’s the reason why Mega Man 11 is missing – I’ve played the demo dozens of times and it’s awesome, and would certainly deserve to be here in place of this from what I’ve seen, but I’m going to be busy with games 4-6, as well as the Mega Man X game on the SNES Classic Mini, for some time yet!

10 Owlboy (Switch)

There’s still pixel-art everywhere this year, but this really is a marvellous lesson in pixel-art design, and a great Metroidvania game to boot. The sky islands you navigate in this vertical platformer are diverse and stunning. Controlling your owl boy feels great. The evolution of the game mechanics works brilliantly as you meet new partners in crime. And those characters are ones you really care about as you make your way through the thought provoking story. Another brilliant Switch indie.

Retro Arcadia Top Ten Games of 2017

I very rarely have the impulse to buy anything day one, and I’ve spent most of this year playing catch-up with stuff I’ve been given for birthdays or Christmas that I’d directed people to get for me at bargain prices – Wolfenstein The Old Blood, Doom (which was the only game that’s ever induced serious motion sickness in me then outstayed its welcome a bit but I finished it), Dishonored, Dirt 3 and the marvellous Trackmania Turbo were highlights. Lego Dimensions, particularly the Midway Retro Arcade level pack and all the old favourites of mine it included, has also been a mainstay, as has No Man’s Sky, which I’ve now pumped hundreds of hours into and it remained my go-to game until November when I decided I just didn’t want to play it any more. Special mention also to Super Mario Run which appeared right at the end of 2016 and I’ve continued to play throughout 2017. I also got a New Nintendo 2DS which opened up a whole new world of Nintendo games that I’d missed out on since the Game Boy Advance – Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Harvest Moon, Super Mario Tennis and much more…

1. Elevator Action

Seeing this appear out of the blue on the PlayStation Store new release list towards the end of November was a console generation highlight for me, only previously (almost) equalled by the same for Renegade a couple of years ago! Every time I play it I’m standing in front of an arcade cabinet in the cafe area of our local leisure centre in 1984, with the music from the Saturday morning roller disco in the background and a can of Dr Pepper from the only vending machine in town to stock it on the table beside me. It’s the arcade version of Elevator Action, released on PS4 as part of their Arcade Archives series, and by default is the best game released in 2017 on any platform.

2. Stardew Valley (PS4)

This is one of the most joyous gaming experiences I’ve ever had! It also gives me the chance, as someone living on a farm in the country with no intention of ever farming or even vaguely embracing country life, to experience all of that stuff from the comfort of my own living room! You just do whatever takes your fancy, whether it’s clearing some land, doing up some buildings, growing some crops, fishing, looking after your chickens, playing the arcade games in the village pub, mining, building a fence, beach combing, helping out villagers or just wandering about the place. Slow-paced, open-ended, great looking and wonderful – just like the life waiting right outside my front door if only it wasn’t so much hassle!

3. Pokemon Ultra Sun (3DS)

For this game I did get that rare impulse to buy day one! Pokemon Gold (see below) very recently introduced me to a series I’d missed out on for decades, but this brought me right up to date with a stunning handheld masterpiece. The world is brimming with life (including some great Pokemon), the story will cost you hours that you thought were minutes, and even the necessary grinding stays fun. So much gameplay here and I can’t recommend it enough. Especially if you’re still the sceptical non-player that I was until a couple of months ago.

4. Everybody’s Golf (PS4)

I’ve never really played as much Everybody’s Golf as I should have, given I’ve owned iterations on various platforms since the original Playstation release. I have made up for that a bit with the latest one though. It’s still instantly familiar, albeit with a PS4 sheen and all kinds of modern gaming depth, maintaining a very simple mechanic that makes it very easy for a quick nine holes to turn into ninety!

5. Pokemon Gold (3DS)

Okay, it’s another pure re-release (but definitely not the last one in this list), this time of an ancient GameBoy Colour game with no 21st century bells and whistles added, but it was my first ever Pokemon game, I’ve sunk dozens of hours into it and its fantastic immersive world hasn’t aged a day, so definitely deserves to be in the top half of this list. Check out a more detailed post I did on this here.

6. Wipeout Omega Collection (PS4)

Before you think it, it’s a remaster and not a re-release! But anyone, I’m playing by my rules here so anything that came out this year goes! This collects some of the more recent titles, updating them with incredibly fast moving and great looking graphics, but the core gameplay remains, meaning it’s still the best futuristic racer out there and was a joy to come back to.

7. Fire Emblem Heroes (iOS)

For a free-to-play game built around loot crates, this is an incredibly generous, very focussed tactical fighting game. Production values are off the charts; it’s accessible but deep; there’s some very saucy characters, and in my 30+ hours with the game I collected the strongest possible units and rinsed every mode in the game without ever feeling I was grinding for it; without ever spending a penny.

8. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp (iOS)

This game is pointless. And that’s most of the reason I love it. I don’t care that it’s constantly (though completely unobtrusively) reminding me that I can spend money that I won’t spend. I’m quite happy waiting for stuff to appear that I can use to help out the animal people hanging around my campsite who give me money and materials to buy more stuff then wait for that to appear while I fish and catch bugs and rearrange things. The most casual, relaxing, mindless and fun waste of time I’ve played this year.

9. Resident Evil Biohazard

I’d have loved it if this didn’t have the word “Biohazard” in the title and been able to maintain the feeling of Texas Chainsaw inspired anxiousness that built up in the first few hours before the ooze started appearing. I’d also have appreciated it being a few hours shorter. But all the same it takes the series back to its horror roots, even including a nice nod to the dogs jumping through the windows in the original. It’s a lovely looking game, great attention to detail with surprisingly varied settings, and happily the puzzles aren’t too obscure, the inventory system isn’t too restrictive, and the save points aren’t too far apart.

10. Rogue Trooper Redux (PS4)

Some of the mechanics are creaking a bit by today’s standard, but this remaster (the last on this list I’m proud to announce) will bring a tear to the eye to anyone that’s not read Rogue Trooper since they were a kid in the 80’s! Okay, it’s not a patch on the Spectrum version that everyone’s forgotten ever existed first, but just to spend a few hours running and gunning across Nu-Earth and bringing back all those 2000A.D. memories makes it essential!

My Life With… WWF Attitude – PlayStation 

My Life With… WWF Attitude – PlayStation 

When I get to a post about Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, remind me to mention the year this game came out, 1999. But you might be able to work out the link already! And it turned out not to be a lifetime away…

My future wife and I were living in a brand new, two bedroom flat in East London – I dread to think what it’s worth now, but never regret something that made you smile! Since moving out of my parent’s house, the PlayStation now had its own room, which was shared with the insane horror video collection I’d amassed by then; DVD was still over a year away for me, as was the crazy expensive desktop PC that would introduce me to the format (in partnership with The Blair Witch Project). In the meantime, there it sat, connected to the red portable TV that once hosted my VIC-20, amongst nearly a thousand neatly stacked VHS titles such as Death Curse of Tartu and A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell. As an aside, that collection is now more than three thousand, with storage very much benefiting from the advancement and miniaturisation of viewing technology, and a much bigger house!

VHS was still playing a big part in my appreciation of wrestling too. The Sky box was still many years from being something that recorded stuff as well, and setting something to record every week on the 9-year old video recorder that I’d got for my 18th birthday was still a major pain in the arse – no series link on there! But it was worth the effort. This was the heyday of Stone Cold and The Rock, Triple H, Mankind and, of course, my all time favourite The Undertaker. You also had the emergence of innovative tag teams like The Hardy Boys, The Brood and The Dudleys. And it was WWF at its sleaziest, with The Kat going no holds barred, getting her knockers out after winning one of the best evening gown swimming pool matches ever.  But 1999 is probably always going to be remembered for Owen Hart falling 70 feet onto the turnbuckle and dying in the ring at Over the Edge. Tragedy. 

I probably played the previous year’s WWF War Zone more than Attitude – Becky was far more tolerant of both the PlayStation and wrestling before we moved in together – but Attitude took what was probably the most atmospheric and complete wrestling game at that point to another level. 

All the characters were there, including the recently deceased Owen Hart and some subtle tributes, with multiple outfits and realistic entrances, complete with wrestler voicing, that in reality you probably only ever watched once at most! Spend enough time with your favourite (The Undertaker, obviously) and the vast array of grapples, moves and reversals became second nature as you worked your way through the various modes; career mode was great in Attitude as you worked climbed the ranks and the WWE show calendar. Despite there only being four wrestlers in the ring at once, you even had the full 30-man Royal Rumble, where the risk-reward thrill of going for a throw over the top ropes was the highlight of the game for me. 

There was so much content in this game! You could create a pay per view, where you could go into incredible detail right down to choosing the lighting, logos on the ring apron  and even the turnbuckle colours. Create a wrestler used an RPG style attribute system where you could assign a certain number of points to speed, power, mat skills, etc. You could choose from names that would translate into the game commentary and crowd chants; the crowd noises were a huge enhancement over War Zone and more than made up for the lack of atmosphere generated by the rather mundane commentary. You even could put dirty words on the character’s clothes. And this all resulted in some great looking freaks that could pull off the most bizarre entrances and exotic finishers!

As you can tell, I could go on about this all day, and whilst in gameplay terms it may have been quickly superseded by Smackdown and Smackdown 2: Know Your Role, this one took a groundbreaking template, blew it out of the water, and could keep you going for months and months. And for me it did! 
 

Can You Name Your Top 50 Games?

Can You Name Your Top 50 Games?

Can you name your top 50 video games? That’s the question that prompted what you’re now reading. The top ten came pretty quickly; I’ve maintained a top 3 of games, films, songs and albums in my mind for years. That’s not too weird for this stage in our relationship, is it? The other seven took thirty seconds to list and two minutes to put in order. The other forty probably occupied me for an hour or so.

Ten seconds after that, as I proudly surveyed my fondest gaming memories, I realised that this wasn’t just list of games, but the history of my life, at least as far as I could remember.

Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve never considered myself a massive gamer. It’s just one of several constants that have tracked my life to greater and lesser degrees – rock music, horror films, Arsenal FC, the paranormal, Jim Morrison, Jack the Ripper… What my list made me realise, though, was that video games had framed my life for longer than any of these, most of which are greater passIons, if not obsessions; which gaming certainly isn’t.

What I also realised was that my history and that of popular gaming run very much in tandem, starting in the mid-1970’s to the present day.

This is where we begin to jump into, in no particular order, some of these games. And it’s now a lot more than 50 in my list, but we’ll get to that some day.

I’m not going to go nuts, I’m not a great games reviewer, and I’ve got no special qualifications to do this beyond “I was there.” I hope you enjoy this blog all the same though. First post, first game tomorrow.

But before we start, do you recognise my No. 1?