Video Games / Retro

Bring Back Golden Sun

Bring Back Golden Sun

When people talk about classic JRPGs, the usual suspects are mentioned: Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Earth Bound etc. But there’s one brilliant JRPG that set the Game Boy Advance alight: Golden Sun. Traditional in nearly every sense, Golden Sun was an utter treat. The visuals, the music, the gameplay, the Djinn system–all of it is sheer quality. Sure, the story was a little weak, but this was more than forgivable. Despite the above, however, Golden Sun has oddly been forgotten by the masses, seen more as a cult hit. It’s a shame the game never truly got the love and attention it deserved, seemingly trapped in the shadow of more popular JRPG franchises. On a personal level, Golden Sun represented the perfect mix of classic gameplay, fantastic game mechanics, tricky but rewarding puzzles, and an overall challenge that never felt unfair. Golden Sun was truly one of the games that defined a console–and a genre–for me, and for a few others, I suspect.   Golden Sun: The Lost Age was pretty much more of the same only with additional spells/skills and even more Djinn’s to collect. The game maintained all the qualities of the original while furthering the plot. While The Lost Age felt rather safe, it was a top-notch JRPG experience, which has also earned more of a cult status than wide appreciation. The same can be said for Golden Sun‘s debut on the DS in the form of Dark Dawn. The visuals may have improved, but little else was added to truly give the game a next-gen feeling. This wasn’t to say the game was bad, however. Golden Sun has yet to make an appearance on the 3DS. Series developer Camelot Software were impressed with the 3DS and thus people assumed we’d see Golden Sun hit Nintendo’s nifty handheld, but alas, nothing has yet to arrive. Given the 3DS had a rocky  first few months upon its release, it’s understandable that we did not see the release of Golden Sun 3D. (Let’s just use that name for example sake). The 3DS has now earned its place in the hearts and minds of the masses, so surely this would be a golden time for Golden Sun to return? The 3DS has a fantastic library of games, including franchises that became much more known in the West thanks to their release on the GBA. Golden Sun may be a mostly forgotten cult franchise, but there’s still an element of desire, albeit selfish, in seeing it return.    ...

Forgotten Gems: Future Cop L.A.P.D

Forgotten Gems: Future Cop L.A.P.D

If there’s one thing the ’90s loved, it was visions of the future…and Robocop. The Playstation played host to many visions of the future, most notably Wipeout, but there’s one game that stands out in my mind. It’s somewhat obscure, and looking back it was clearly inspired by Robocop‘s Ed-209, and it was full of cheesy charm and brainless action. Future Cop L.A.P.D remains one of the most mind-numbingly enjoyable titles on the Playstation that everyone has seemingly forgotten. But what if I told you the hugely popular MOBA genre has Future Cop to thank for its core rule-set? Released in 1998, Future Cop L.A.P.D started life as an entry into the Strike series of games (Jungle Strike, Desert Strike etc), before becoming its very own standalone game. Developed by EA, Future Cop was a straight-laced third-person/top-down shooter which was all about big guns and even bigger explosions. Players were given control over the future of law enforcement, i.e. a large mech equipped with machine guns, missiles, and various other party tricks. Each mission played out in pretty much the same manner: go here, blow this up, and move on. It was repetitive to its very core, but my God was it fun.   Even today there’s a sense of sheer joy that emanates from the game as its typically ’90s techno-infused score blasts out of the speakers. It’s disgustingly nostalgic but it’s fantastic at the same time. The sense of power the gameplay gifts its players in undeniably engrossing, even more so when taking on wave upon wave of foot soldiers. Future Cop doesn’t take itself too seriously either, as its goofy storyline and some wonderfully self-aware one liners demonstrate. The game may be silly but that doesn’t stop it from being brutally hard on occasion, to the degree that it’s easy to forget the times before quick saves and generous checkpoints. But each challenge comes with a sense of satisfaction to make the difficulty less problematic. Future Cop has a surprising relevance, even today, thanks to its game mode known as Free Combat. This arena-based combat mode holds strong similarities to that of the MOBA genre, whereby players are given a based to defend and must attack the opposing player’s base with the support of AI units (much like minions) with victory going to the first player who invades their opposition’s base. There’s various nodes dotted around the map that can be captured and used as turret locations or additional spawn points for minions. Anyone familiar with MOBAs will be able to appreciate how ahead of its time the game was, and how incredibly well the game stands out to this day.   Future Cop has aged well, at least in terms of gameplay, though its visuals were never its strong point but they were by no means ugly so they, too, have survived well. There’s a ‘dirty future’ aesthetic to the game in the same vein as Judge Dredd for example, and it serves the game’s tone honorably. Future Cop is one of those games that remains in a by-gone era, often swept under the wave of other, more well-known PS One classics. The game’s original release was met with poor sales that spelled the end for the studio attached to it, so perhaps this is the primary reason for its relative obscurity. Fun, stupid, and typically late ’90s, Future Cop L.A.P.D was and continues to be one of the lesser known PS One games that truly deserved more love and attention than it got. Strap in, turn off your brain, and enjoy the carnage.  ...

The Light Gun…I Miss You

The Light Gun…I Miss You

The light gun is something I miss quite dearly. Its time has come and gone and in its place we now have the likes of Playstation Move, Wii Motes and Kinect. But all of these lack a certain something. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the modern day equivalents to the light gun seem to be missing the charm and feel of a true light gun. Of course, light guns showed their true worth in the days of the arcade with titles such as Time Crisis and House of the Dead. Both games offered a fantastic video game experience as well as the social aspect of a busy arcade.   Light gun games on consoles were a mixed bag, obviously the buzz of the packed arcade was detracted and the social aspect lowered, with games either feeling too light in content or just feeling rather dull to play. But there were some sparkling examples of games that made the cross over well, such as House of the Living Dead 2 on the Dreamcast, this was always a great game to pick up and play either solo or with friends. Its  unique co-op experience is under appreciated in today’s modern multiplayer formalities. Booting up House of the Living Dead 2 armed with my light gun is a memory I’ve always looked back on when talking about light guns and arcade shooters.  The game was a fantastic light gun experience that played just as well on the Dreamcast as it did in the arcade. The official Dreamcast light gun was nothing short of brilliant (the VMU unit added some nice little touches). It had a good weight to it, it was able to take punishment (rage throws to the floor after a cheap death) and was responsive.  Playing light gun games with Playstation Move and the Wii motes feels like a pale imitation. This isn’t to say the Move or the Wii doesn’t work or is particularly bad, they just feel rather soulless compared to using a brightly coloured light gun, which feels almost natural while playing the game. While light gun games are disappearing and/or are merged into the first person shooter genre (for example Killzone 3) it would be nice to see a little more activity in the genre.  There are of course the few bastions carrying the torch for light gun titles in today’s market, such as the fantastic House of the Dead: Overkill, but these games are far and few between. While the light gun is set to become something of a relic, and the genre either obsolete or merged into another genre, it should be remembered and treasured for being one of the most fun video game experiences to date. While the arcades have all but gone (in the UK anyway) and video games now strive towards motion control, I will always look back at the light gun with a sense of joy and regret. Joy for the great times I had with a light gun in my hand, be it in the arcade blasting zombies in House of the Dead with my father or playing the Dreamcast equivalent alone in my room, it was always fun to play. The regret is that within a year or so light gun games will be all but gone; a mere relic of days gone by. While this realization is disheartening, I can rest in the knowledge that playing my light gun collection is merely a press of a button away.    ...

A Love/Hate Relationship With The Fighter Genre

A Love/Hate Relationship With The Fighter Genre

The fighting game genre has always been a harsh mistress for me. For every happy memory I have of the genre there’s about 3 bad memories that shortly follow. From a young age I became interested in fighters and my first experience with the genre was (unsurprisingly) Capcom’s Street Fighter 2 on the Super Nintendo. From the first minute of the game I was hooked. The characters looked visually interesting, the environments dazzling and the action thrilling. Playing solo was fun but lets face it, fighters are meant to be played against people and not AI. Playing Street Fighter 2 against friends (and some times family) is still one of my most treasured video game memories. Booting up the game and selecting our favourite characters before arguing over which level to fight in was tradition. Button mashing in a desperate panic was also tradition. In the process of pressing all the buttons in any given order a special move would normally be unleashed, leaving me and a buddy in a stunned silence. ”HOW DID YOU DO THAT?!” was often the question on our lips, and the answer to that question was ALWAYS ”no idea’. Even with a limited knowledge of the game and its controls each match was always a great slice of fun. These sweet natured days were numbered however as I began to grow up. As time went on, and I played more and more fighters, my longing for victory became stronger. Button mashing was no longer a style I felt happy to use, it had become ‘messy’. Instead I would try a few characters out and learn the move sets. By time I came into possession of Dreamcast I had a decent amount of knowledge of Soulcalibur. I wasn’t a master by any means but I had learned at least a few moves for each character. Suddenly playing against friends had become more of a practice session than just a few games in the name of fun. Losing felt a lot worse, victory felt less meaningful, it was a strange feeling. For the most part I would be able to take down most of my friends, this resulted in the game becoming a little boring for them to play. Understanding the game had ultimately led to the ‘fun’ of the game being drained away. The likes of Capcom Vs SNK, Street Fighter 3 alpha and Marvel Vs Capcom had returned all the fun of fighters. I applied a much more laid back approach to these fighters in order to keep the game fun for my friends to play against me. By this time in our lives we preferred to learn the game rather than button mash, this led to competitive, but fun, matches. It seemed the perfect middle ground and a great time to enjoy some top class fighting games. The enjoyment of the genre (and fighting friends) hit its peek with Marvel Vs Capcom 2. Given the popularity of the PS2 all of my friends owned the system and Marvel Vs Capcom 2. This allowed everyone to stand a fair chance of learning the game and forming an effective team. Many a battle was fought, plenty a laugh was had, this was the highlight of my time with the fighter genre. There was always a giddy feeling when it came to each team being down to their last member. A single hit would decide the match, the aftermath involved boasting and looking back at the action. I had went from casual matches with friends, that were all about the fun, to competitive games of knowledge and technique. One day (well when I got my own computer) I just stopped playing fighters. From 2004 to 2008 I honestly cant remember playing a fighter for more than a few days. I kept an eye on the genre, watched it develop, but I never got back into the swing of things. 2009 saw the return of the franchise that started it all for me, I am of course referring to Street Fighter. The fourth entry into the franchise was a first day purchase for me. After a first few runs on arcade I decided to hit up the online options. This is where things got rough. A large segment of players from overseas had been playing Street Fighter 4 for roughly a week. This earlier release date had created a huge divide it terms of player skill. Time after time I was matched up with players who had already learned the mechanics and moves of a number of characters. My arse was getting well and truly kicked. I was now feeling the way my friends did when they used to play Soulcalibur against me; it wasn’t fun. I tried to learn the game, learn some strategies, but alas my efforts were met with more defeats. Only a few of my friends had bought Street Fighter 4, this limited my chances of casual fun matches. When they did happen, more often than not, I’d end up winning purely because I had learned some easy moves of a certain character. My friends soon began to grow tired of playing me and I was once again forced into playing online. While I did improve my overall play, the huge gulf in skill and experience was still too much to overcome. I enjoyed Street Fighter 4 a lot, I kept it in my collection in order to play when friends came over or my father fancied a game. Online I was nothing short of a easy win for any given player. For a large length of time I kept my activity within the fighter genre strictly offline. Marvel Vs Capcom 3 and Mortal Kombat (reboot…or 9 as some wish to label it) became my fighter of choice. While Marvel Vs Cacpom 3 was a little light in terms of content, Mortal Kombat was jam packed. With plenty to do in terms of single player I was more than happy to play Mortal Kombat offline. The lure of playing online is hard to resist however, and yet again I found myself being beat down by veterans. All the enjoyment I had experienced with Mortal Kombat offline was now being replaced with defeat and defeat. The sheer amount of spam I became the victim of was heart breaking. Seeing Stryker spam his ranged attacks over and over killed my motivation to play Mortal Kombat online, it was nothing short of brutal. I was awful at the game, but my lack of enjoyment online killed any motivation to improve. Fast forward to EVO 2012 (and again in 2013). I’m sitting at my desk browsing Twitch TV, and I’m once again interested in fighters. After watching the majority of the Marvel Vs Capcom 3 tournament my interest in the game re-surged. I knew for a fact I was going to lose, and lose hard, but either way I was going to try my hand at the online portion of the game. My assumptions were proved to be correct, I did in fact get my arse kicked (again), but I didn’t mind. I oddly didn’t mind losing. My competitive nature had taken a back seat. With my rediscovered relaxed nature towards the game, I began to sit and learn…how to lose. While defeat is never fun it did allow me to experiment and tinker with my team selection. Before I knew it I was presenting a viable challenge to some players, some times even winning. The thrill of the fighter genre rushed back, everything I remembered had returned. In a moment of nostalgia I dragged my father into a game and began to play. It was like being young again playing Street Fighter 2 for the first time. My love affair with the genre has been long and eventful. It’s had highs and lows; at times I had fallen out with the genre only to make up with it some time later. Learning to handle defeat is key to enjoying the fighter game genre, whereas expecting victory is a recipe for frustration. Remembering why I loved the genre in the first place was key to recapturing the thrill, enjoyment and fun that I had all but lost....

Forgotten Gems – Star Wars: Republic Commando

Forgotten Gems – Star Wars: Republic Commando

Star Wars games tend to either great or terrible. For every X-Wing there’s a Masters of Teräs Käsi, its a inconsistent line of quality. More recent Star Wars title have tended to fair better thanks to more focus on new story lines rather than using ones from the films. The Star Wars games have covered pretty much every genre in existence with various amounts of success, and failure. The first person shooter genre has generally been a favourable stage for Star Wars throughout the years. Yet there’s one quality title that tends to get forgotten, mainly through association.Star Wars: Republic Commando expanded upon the Star Wars universe by placing players in the boots of a Clone squad leader. Marketed as a tactical squad based shooter,the game saw players visit a number of worlds and take on various enemies ranging from the familiar to the new. While the tactical part of the game was a little shallow, the overall experience was anything but. The action was intense and oozed of that Star Wars feel and atmosphere. The controls were tight allowing the game to flow well, resulting in a satisfying experience. The core gameplay was kept fresh by mixing up enemy types that each required a different approach. Republic Commando had a number of minor touches to it that gave that sense of polish. Little things like the visor being splattered with blood and oil added that nice touch of immersion. Witnessing the wipers clean the visor of blood and oil is oddly fascinating. Exploring new planets only mentioned by name in other Star Wars media also had plenty of appeal. Republic Commando had a surprisingly solid narrative behind it, along with some decent voice acting. The plot provided a decent viewpoint into how the Clone squads operated and effected events seen the film and extended Star wars universe. Throughout the course of the story familiar characters would make cameos or deliver mission briefings.   The only real issues Republic Commando suffered from was how the game ended, and its association with the Star Wars prequels. The concept of playing as a Clone squad directly after the climax of The Clone Wars had some fans instantly turned off. It’s hard for any Star Wars product to shake off the overall disappointment and stigma of the prequels, Republic Commando had that very problem. It’s a real shame the game came attached with the underwhelming nature of the prequels. Republic Commando had everything a Star Wars fan could of wanted while being enjoyable to non-Star Wars fans. Slick presentation and a fantastic soundtrack, along with decent gameplay, should of made Republic Commando a smash it, but things did not turn out that way.   While the game did not flop in terms of sales, nor did it flop with critics, it was not deemed worthy enough for a sequel. A follow up was planned well ahead of production of the original (as the ending reflected) but the game only made it to concept stage and was canned in 2004. It still remains a great shame that a follow up did not grace last generation, or for that matter this generation. Even in 2012 Republic Commando still provides a utterly enjoyable experience, even more so for a Star Wars fans (both new and old). The next time a craving for Star Wars arises, remedy it with a dose of Republic Commando....