Posts Tagged ‘ Feature ’

Top Ten Cinematic Scenes….With A Twist

Well, it’s that time again. Here we are, ten writers, ten opinions and ten great games. If you haven’t been with us for the last two editions of Top Ten with a twist, for shame. But you’re here now and we’ll let you off. The premise is simple, many gaming sites across the internet regularly publish Top Tens, usually written by one person. We have changed things up a bit at Hi-Score and we regularly ask many writers to get together, give them a subject (try to avoid doubles) and bring you ten opinions from ten great people. They are in no particular order, we just write to entertain.

This month we have chosen Top Ten Cinematic scenes, so allow our writer friends to tell you a story. Let them tell you why they love the scenes they’ve chosen and why you should love them too. As usual we have some mainstream games and some more obscure titles and Bioshock delivers two favourite scenes, so once again the power of Rapture is mesmerising. So, let me hand you over to this editions ten writers; Adam Standing, Jared Newman, John Cranston, Lewis Denby, Jennifer Allen, Christos Reid, Brad Gallaway, Thomas Worthington, Steve Wright and Dillon Andrews.

Adam Standing – BioShock

Writer for Game People –Soulful Gamer

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No-one cut a more imposing figure in the game of Bioshock than its founder, Andrew Ryan. From the moment you set foot onto the lighthouse that takes you down into Rapture he’s there, his proud statue declaring, ‘No Gods or Kings. Only Man.’ it might as well of said ‘Only Andrew Ryan’. His confident, arrogant tone follows you every step of the way as you descend into his underwater utopia, ever patronising, always accusing and yet oddly charismatic. It’s impossible not to be swept up in every dramatic speech that he delivers. What would his next sneering remark be? What threat would he dare to unleash as I tried to unravel the mystery of Rapture and the vision of perfection he so desperately clung to?

All this culminated into an epic meeting with the man – the perfect denouement of the previous hour’s tension and drama wrapped into a brief minute of in-game cinematic. What made this so impressive was how well it stayed within the confines of the world. There was no 3rd-person highly-rendered cut-scene to take you out of the moment, no dramatic camera angles or swelling music, just the same view you’ve been used to but with one critical aspect changed. For those brief moments when Ryan opens his office door, control is suddenly taken away from you. But he demonstrates that although you’ve had free movement in the past you’ve been nothing more than a pawn in a power struggle, going from objective to objective under Atlas’ ‘guidance’, and fulfilling the role of a mindless assassin.
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So when he tells you to run, and then to stop and face him, all by using the ‘would you kindly’ phrase, it suddenly threw the last few hours of gameplay back in my face. The curtain was pulled back and I realised how utterly I’d been fooled by my own assumptions.  It was this stroke of genius that made me squirm as Ryan handed me his golf club. Although my aim all along had been to kill him, I was suddenly disgusted with the thought of carrying it out.

‘A man chooses, a slave obeys.’

Being forced to watch as I beat Ryan to death against my will was a shocking moment. I have never felt so useless within a game before and the emotional weight of this moment made it the most powerful in-game cinematic I’ve experienced.

And just as Andrew Ryan loomed large over the entire city of Rapture like a steely father, this scene eclipsed the rest of the game. But for me Bioshock was always about this moment; a meeting that revealed so much about the game and left me in awe.

Jared Newman – No More Heroes

Writer at Gamercrave – Gamercrave

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Amped up and showered in blood, Travis Touchdown points his beam katana at the last of three suit-clad henchmen, who is now crying in fear, arms raised in surrender. Travis demands: “Where’s this Heavy Metal dude?” And when the henchman can only manage a frightened whimper, Travis wields his katana and cuts through the baloney that so many other video game cutscenes put on display.

Normally, I don’t envy the makers of cutscenes. Somehow, they have to weave a thread of humanity into characters who are mostly preoccupied with killing everything that moves. This is especially true when the opponents are human, for instance in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. As Penny Arcade so eloquently put it, Nathan Drake suffers from “his unique sociopathy, the one which allows him to crack wise between genocides.”

But while Uncharted 2, Grand Theft Auto IV and so many others simply hope you won’t notice the glaring discrepancy between the emotional character in the cutscene and the one who’s piling up dead bodies by the hundred, No More Heroes balances the scales. Travis Touchdown isn’t a sociopath, he’s just not human. He’s a construct, a vessel that delivers the player to the game.

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Accordingly, Travis acts more like a gamer than a character. The phrase “this Death Metal dude,” and earlier in the cutscene, his referral to Sylvia Christel as “an agent of this whatchamacallit association” illustrates how a player can disregard the finer details of a game’s story and still have a good time. No More heroes is different because it forgets the details intentionally. I won’t argue that video games don’t need narrative, but if you can’t throw away a game’s plot and still enjoy the remainder, it’s probably not worth playing.

Think I’m blowing hot air? Consider also the many instances, in the game’s first cutscene and beyond, where Travis takes a sledgehammer to the fourth wall. “I know a lot of gamers out there don’t much patience, at least that’s what Bishop the dude at the video store said,” he remarks before speaking of “the deathmatch bar” and compelling the player to join him and “just press the A button.” Again, he’s  not so much a hero as he is one of us.

All this brings us back to that brutal moment where Travis arrives on the scene of his next assassination. I really expected Travis to let that last henchmen go, because that’s what happens in a cutscene where the protagonist’s humanity is under a microscope. Instead, Travis splits the man along the torso, kicks open a door and yells, “It’s game time!”

At that point, I was thinking the same thing.

John Cranston – Lost Odyssey

Blogger – Blog

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As a gamer of over twenty years, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of cinematics, from the explosive action of futuristic battlefields in Dawn of War, to the cheesetastic Resident Evil with its hammy dialogue and terrible acting. Today’s technology means cinematics can now be infused with almost life-like reality.

So, when I settled down to play Mistwalkers second game, Lost Odyssey, I almost didn’t know what to think, feel or believe when introduced to the first of their “Thousand Years of Dreams” sequences. It was unlike anything I’ve come across before and has become my most important cinematic moment in gaming.

Let me add some context. Lost Odyssey is a Japanese RPG by Hironobu Sakaguchi, in which you play as Kaim Argonar, an immortal mercenary travelling the world in search of a purpose. After meeting other immortals and questing with them it becomes clear that they are all suffering from the same problem – they are missing portions of their memory.

As you venture out onto various missions there are inevitable cut scenes dealing with the exposition of the situation at hand. However, whilst exploring towns and villages, Kaim and the other immortals can sometimes find an item or overhear a fragment of conversation which will trigger one of their lost memories.

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These memories are presented in the form of an interactive short story, with transitional animation, animated backgrounds and expressive music (by Nobuo Uematsu) that reflect the tone of each section of text. You can read through these stories at your own pace, and at first they seem bafflingly obscure. I first thought to myself “why is this game making me read?”

But despite this initial objection, the first flashback was able to do something no game has ever done before – it made me cry.

“Hanna’s Departure” is the tale of a young girl, born with a degenerative illness. She is housebound at her parent’s inn and will not live to become a woman. Travellers that stay at the inn tell her tales of the world she will never experience, with any of her limited senses. Kaim is one of these travellers.

Having an immortal life and in his capacity of a mercenary, he has travelled far and wide, first hand experiencing the beauty of the world and the depths of human ugliness. You can’t help but warm to this aloof and initially bland character as he recalls his final trip to visit Hanna, and the story he tells her as she lies sleeping in her death bed.

To some it might seem like an overblown PowerPoint presentation, but I admire the way this game deals with real human emotions – the sadness of a loved one dying, the regret of a life not lived to its potential, the humility of your own actions and the loathing of the seedier side of the human condition. It truly struck a chord with me and I’m not ashamed to say I wept.

Lewis Denby – Pathologic

General Freelancer and Editor of Resolution Magazine – Resolution

screen_11I suspect this may be something of an oddity on this list, as it’s a cinematic that doesn’t actually appear in the game.

Remember the good old days when a game’s opening cinematic came before the menu screen?  That’s kind of the case here, except that there’s another, more relevant one at the start of the game proper.  This one, the one that plays as soon as you double-click your way into the application, is actually rather arbitrary, and has very little to do with the marvellous, philosophical and terrifically disturbing plot that emerges once you get really stuck into the broken but beautiful gem that is Pathologic.

But what’s so thoroughly excellent about this half-minute introduction is that… well, it serves as just that.  It’s not cluttered by exposition, and you won’t really miss anything should you choose to skip it.  What it does is cement a bleak atmosphere from the outset, while tapping into some of the aesthetic themes from which Pathologic cancerously grows throughout its turbulant duration.

A funeral procession ambles through the rain.  As the camera focuses, we see that the procession is made up entirely of children, suits and ties replaced with torn, tattered rags.  They carry no coffin.  Instead, it’s a ragdoll, equally torn and tattered.  Ragdolls become a significant element of Pathologic’s twisted approach, but that’s not relevant for now.

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The kids bury the doll.  They walk off.  The menu screen beckons.

What does it all mean?  Well, on the surface, not a lot.  But pretty soon we understand that Pathologic’s self-destructing village is home to an enormous orphanage, and that a terrible disease is sweeping the area, with hundreds of people dying every day.  The children, with no homes to go to and nothing else to do, are partaking in their own version of the terrible situation that the town’s adult population has no choice but to deal with.

It’s subtle, but brutal and tragic.  It is exemplary of the game as a whole – exactly what the best introductions should aim for.  Marvellous.

Jennifer Allen – Bioshock

Writer for many places – Blog

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I was a strange one back in August 2007. Bioshock’s demo had just been released and every gamer on the planet seemed to be excited about it, except for me. I’m desperately trying to remember why but I can’t come up with a good excuse other than it just seemed to have slipped my radar. Fortunately a friend ensured that I didn’t miss too much by loading up the demo in front of me. Within seconds I was hooked and knew that I had to buy this game no matter what.

The opening cut scene really wasn’t very long at only a couple of minutes long, but it gave away just enough to make me very intrigued. Starting out on a plane in 1960 going across the Atlantic Ocean, you see the protagonist looking at photos of his family and then a blue package with a gift tag stating ‘Would you kindly not open until…’. Something that seems very innocuous at the time but is instead extremely sinister as events unfold. The next second the plane plummets out of the sky and into the Atlantic Ocean. Miraculously you survive and you come up from the water to see fire everywhere and the plane’s tail sink further into the murky water. At the time I was surprised to see how quickly the game had gone from pure cut scene to being able to control the action and swim to safety. It was a great example of just how hooked I was to the action unfolding before my eyes, I’d nearly forgotten it was a game. The first person perspective helped hugely, I wasn’t watching a man on a plane, I was the man on the plane. It all made things feel so much more personal and I had to see what would happen next, which is exactly what an opening cut scene should do: hook you and never let go.

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I was a little worried that it wouldn’t hold up having not returned to Bioshock in a long while. But as soon as I loaded up the sequence again on my 360, I was hooked once more and I’m strongly contemplating experiencing the game again. It is amazing how one small cut scene can change your view of a game so hugely from total disinterest to a near addicted urge to find a copy. I dare anyone reading this who somehow hasn’t played Bioshock yet (shame on you if so) to view the opening scene and not have a desire to play longer. It might be brief but it does everything required of a good opening. It gives you reason to keep playing by tantalising your curiosity.

Christos Reid – Grim Fandango

Freelancer and wordsmith – Blog

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Have you ever thought about what it’s like to die?

In fact, have you ever thought about what it’s like after you die?

Grim Fandango, as a concept, is pretty dark. You’re essentially a travel agent for the souls of the dead, stationed in the afterlife working endlessly to pay off some horrible misdeed you committed whilst in the land of the living. Your job sucks, your customers hate you, and you’ve got no friends, because, well, everyone hates you, and you’re dead.

This is life for Manny Cavalera, the poor schmuck who finally wrangles himself a great client, fluffs the job, and ends up making a four-year pilgrimage across the land of the dead to save the person whose case he mishandled.

The cutscene takes place near the end of the game, so it’s quite a controversial choice; it’s not completely spoiler free, if you count bad people going to Hell as a spoiler. Manny begs the gatekeeper to stop a train granting criminals access to Heaven, but is told to wait, as it is revealed that the train will pass its own judgement on whether or not its passengers deserve to enter.

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The train gleams in the winter sunlight, frosted windows giving way to the sight of one of the game’s many antagonists before the camera pulls back to give us an idea of how few moments there are left before judgement is passed by the wheeled beast. Suddenly, the train glows red, and the engine turns into a leering daemon, before leaping from the tracks into a fiery pit that opens up to let it through.

It’s hard to describe, simply because so much happens in the space of ten seconds. But it’s an amazing cutscene because it’s a relief for the player whilst still being a terrifying experience if you’re willing to immerse yourself within the collective consciousness of the criminals on the train. As the train soars into the depths of Hell, frantic faces and hands are pushed against the windows, decrying their sins as they are taken, mere yards from the paradise they stole from others.

Tim Schafer has something of a gift, when it comes to dialogue, but for once, it’s not really necessary. Every aspect of this half-minute of cinematic tension is purely visual, a rare treat after three years of guiding Manny through the various pitfalls and misadventures of the afterlife. It begs the question: are those who are morally tainted – but keep quiet about it – really safe from judgement? Or are the fates saving their ultimate retribution against those who would disadvantage others to further themselves for the last possible moment?

In a game all about morality being a very grey area, it’s reassuring to witness such a strong, visual statement indicating that the difference between the two isn’t so hard to perceive after all.

Well, that and the idea of daemon train is completely fucking awesome.

Brad Gallaway – Shenmue 2

Writer and Editor at Gamecritic.com – Blog

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I have to admit that I cheated a bit when I selected a series of scenes from the end of Yu Suzuki’s masterwork, Shenmue II. The images that sprung to mind hearing of the ‘Twist’ topic are technically gameplay, yet are so calm and expository that I think it’s entirely fair to say that they’re closer to being cinematics than anything else.

For those not familiar with the Shenmue series, it tells the story of Ryo Hazuki, a young man whose father was murdered before his eyes. Over the course of two games, Ryo struggles to unravel the events that drove the killing, and in doing so, is led on a journey of personal discovery and maturation into adulthood. Although Shenmue is frequently misunderstood by players who wanted it to be something it wasn’t, some of its most powerful moments are not of action, but of stillness; of introspection and of being part of a larger whole.

The perfect example? After an exhilarating end-boss conflict, most players (including myself) expected to see credits roll and have the adventure come to a close. However, Suzuki surprised everyone by slamming on the brakes and taking Ryo to a remote rural area where he must walk a considerable distance to a village deep in the mountains. There are no shortcuts, no passing cars to commandeer, and no warp areas to expedite the player from point A to point B. There is no way to ‘hurry up and get to the good part’. Simply being there is the good part.

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Much like anyone would be wont to do after significant events in real life, Ryo counts his footsteps by contemplating things that have occurred along the way; where he’s been, and where he’s going. What it all means.

After searching, struggling, and enduring the violence necessary to achieve Ryo’s goals of bringing peace to his father, I felt as though this simple, idyllic trek through verdant fields and across bubbling streams was the best possible reward, both for Ryo and myself– slowing the pace down and featuring an entirely different, almost meditative experience for the player to participate in was Suzuki’s way of addressing that the character he created is multifaceted, just as we are in life, and deeper than the simple series of actions and reactions games require players to perform.

The richness on display is comprised of no more than discussions with a girl who acts as his guide. There’s no fighting or conflict. No struggle, save perhaps an internal one. Really, these scenes are never anything more than two people communicating and discussing life, but in them, Shenmue II provides more in a moment contemplating the intrinsic beauty of flowers than most games do with hours of bleeding-edge CG and top-dollar voice acting.

Thomas Worthington – Majoras Mask

Nintendo Editor – That Gaming Site

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As with any list or top 10, when it comes to the Zelda series, the words ‘Ocarina of Time’ are never far behind. In contrast, Majora’s Mask is the under-appreciated younger brother of Link’s Nintendo 64 debut. Starved of the respect it’s deserving of, I couldn’t refuse it a mention here.

Allow me to set the mood for you by briefly re-telling the events leading up to this classic introduction. Travelling back and forth through time to defeat Gannondorf, save the princess and Hyrule, accepting his destiny as Hero of Time, the events that transpired in Ocarina of Time might have been a little too much for young Link to deal with.

Stepping out of the lime light and into the foggy depths of the Lost Woods, we find our hero atop his trusty steed Epona strolling cautiously in search of an old friend. From a nearby tree, two fairies are watching Link and plotting away. It isn’t long until the mischievous duo startle Epona knocking Link to the ground and into unconsciousness.

In the distance, the outline of a mask and shadow of its owner appears revealing the ringmaster in this master plan, the Skull Kid. It’s here we’re introduced to the strange but hilarious mannerisms of the antagonist. He’s a change of pace from the traditional Gerudo tyrant, Gannondorf. He shuffles towards his prey, prying the Ocarina of Time from Links’ pockets, giggling at the sounds it makes and playfully hiding it behind his back when our hero awakes to find this obscure scene.

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Scoring a quick getaway by stealing Link’s horse, our hero chases his foe through the forest and into a dark cave not seeing the ledge and falling into a dark abyss. Landing in a dimly-lit cave, the Skull Kid is basking in the spot light. Epona is nowhere to be seen. The Skull Kid tells Link that his horse was useless so he disposed of it from him. The Skull Kid now bemused by Links anger decides to knock him down a peg.

Sending Link to a nightmarish world, surrounded by Deku Scrubs, Link runs for his life trying to shake off the echoing sound of rustling. The horror isn’t over for Link however, as he awakes to discover the Skull Kid has transformed him into a Deku Scrub. Peering at Link’s new look, the Skull Kid falls back laughing uncontrollably.

No longer in the world that held him up as the hero of time, reduced to a mere Deku scrub, no horse, no Ocarina and with a foe for a companion, Majora’s Mask is an introduction that tears its hero down to rags. It’s a storytelling device used over and over by Nintendo, (for reference see the opening of every Metroid Prime game) but Majora’s Mask did it with such style and emotion that falling from hero to zero never felt so brutal. It paints a picture of how dark, twisted and at times haunting Link’s adventure is going to be.

Steve Wright – Final Fantasy 7 (There had to be one)

Budding writer – Hi-Score

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Let’s rewind back to 1997. I was a 12-year-old lad who, when not playing footy in the rain, would waste many an afternoon on my Playstation. I had played and loved many games, but no game had affected me as much as Final Fantasy VII did. I remember playing FFVII through summer and winter, friends pleading me to play football, but I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to get my hands on that black Chocobo.

As all gamers know (who has not played this? Seriously) FFVII is filled with majestic moments and great cut scenes – Sephiroth walking through the flames, explosion over sector 7, oh, and that girl dying – but the one memory that stands out as clear as day is the escape from the Shinra headquarters.

After rescuing Red XIII and escaping Sephiroth, Cloud and his band of misfits have to escape. Cue what Christos Reid called “Cloud’s most badass moment in the FFVII universe”. While the rest of the team mount into a strange-looking blue pickup truck, Cloud comes flying down the steps in a rather awesome looking motorbike. They smash through the window and (in a Michael Bay fashion) speed onto the freeway to fight off the pursuing enemies.

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Why do I love this scene so much? I think Christos could have been spot on in his quote. For a hero, Cloud was, well, a bit of an emo. Up until this point Barrat was the man, he had more machismo in his left elbow. Like an average 12-year-old boy I was drawn to heroic muscle-bound men…this is sounding a little wrong. What I’m trying to say is there was not much to inspire you about Cloud; he had a big Sword, yes, but as for sheer badassness (sorry), he was solely lacking. That was until he came thrashing down those steps in that bike, stopping only to strut heroically. Now he is a hero, now he is cool, now he can take down Sephiroth.

Before writing this piece I went back and watched this scene again. What was once jaw dropping, friend impressing visuals is now very underwhelming. It’s a great testament to how far gaming has come in terms of graphics, but also how many moments in our gaming careers will never be forgotten, no matter how rough around the edges they are.

The cut scene has taken a bit of flack in recent years but I say keep it. Cut scenes should be used to convey something that can’t be shown in gameplay: epic explosion filled endings, character deaths, character romance etc. Simple. When you find yourself trying to skip a cut scene by pressing every button on the pad like an uneducated Tekken player then it’s not needed. Developers need to look back to games like FFVII, where they were used to perfection, and stop giving cut scenes a bad name.

Dillon Andrews – Dungeon Keeper

Co Editor of Ve3tro.com – Ve3tro

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What makes a cinematic great? What is it that causes a cinematic to standout from the rest and stick with us like childhood memories so that when asked “what is the greatest cinematic ever?” we can reply with a grin and a re-telling of our favourite video game cutscene. For me (a cinematic enthusiast), I get pleasure from anything containing comedy, good graphics, excellent writing, and of course nostalgia.

Like wine, good cinematics age gracefully and can be enjoyed after many years have passed. Let’s select a 12 year old gem, taking us back to June 26^th , 1997 for my selection; Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper. What scene sticks out the most? Well I can’t say any in particular as all are relatively short and all excellent in production, so I’m going to break the rules of this top 10 list and expand my selection of ‘favourite’ to ‘favourites’ and select them all. However, to confine and limit myself from an endless ramble, I will simply choose the one that started them all, the Dungeon Keeper Introduction.

Running a quick breakdown, you can see why I look to this game with such high regard. Allow me to take your hand and walk you through the beginning 2 minutes of Dungeon Keeper.
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A knight gallops towards the castle gate with torch in hand and a burning desire for conquest in his heart. Wind gusts shake a corpse silhouette in front of the moon as the illustrious Bullfrog sign swings from the local tavern. Fighting the temptation for a brew, the knight marches onward through a forest littered with rodents and decaying bodies.

Finally the knight reaches his destination and kicks in the door, startling a little imp who scampers past troll guards who prepare for the confrontation and epic battle. The knight hastily slays the patrol (whose backup are indulging in a game of cards), and then heads towards the core of the building—the dungeon.

Fortunately the big badass, Horny—the Horned Reaper sneaks in and beheads the crusading hero, ushering in a new level of confidence to the evil minions in the Dungeon Keeper universe… and of course riling up me, the player.

Tell me how that doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, your inner self sinisterly rubbing your hands together as you let out a unruly ‘Mua ha ha ha’!

Note from Editor – Well there we are, that’s all ten entries for this month. I’m sure you’ll agree that there were some great choices in there. I hope you join us next time around, where we’ll have more great writers tackle their favourite moments in videogames. Follow everyone on twitter (Except Christos, he’s not on Twitter yet and may never be) and let us know what you thought of this edition, do you agree? Disagree? Or have your own choice to put forward? Tell us on Twitter or in the comments here.

Who is in control?

In this feature, Christos Reid, general freelancer, joins me on discussing control within games, whether we have too little, too much or just enough. What is your opinion? Let us know once you’ve read out little debate. NOTE – This feature is full to the brim of spoilers for Gears of War 2, Call of duty 4 and Mass Effect! You’ve been warned!

Daniels thoughts:

Are we as gamers given enough control in games? I don’t mean in terms of the controller in your hand or the keyboard and mouse that sits on your desk. I mean control over the characters and situations that we find in our adventures. Let me paint you a picture – and I’ll warn you, my pictures show the full picture, in other words they contain many spoilers.

When I finished Gears of War 2, I’d played with a very good friend of mine on Co-Op, he as Dom and myself as Marcus. Around halfway through the story, Dom’s main storyline comes to head, after trawling the underground locust city Dom finally finds Maria, his wife. We’ve followed Dom through the initial game and seen his heartache at Marias absence; this is culminating in just one cut scene. Dom opens a casket style prison/torture cell and Maria falls into his arms, a beautiful woman, the love of his life in his eyes, in ours, a hideously disfigured husk of a human being. After the realisation that his wife has been tortured, mentally and physically he has no choice but to put her out of her misery.

Despite the fact that this is an emotional scene, there was a sense of emptiness on our part. There is a distinct lack of control in this situation. On one hand a dramatic climax to a rollercoaster, on the other, an empty disconnection to the drama unfolding. What’s my point I hear you say? I’ll get to that. The fact that we all knew as soon as Maria fell out of that casket that she would be a mess of a woman and that due to the style of the game and story being told that Dom would have to make a decision on her fate. But we’ve spent years with Marcus and Dom, years waiting for the moment that Dom would find his wife, we’ve fought the Brumaks, and we’ve lost teammates along the way. So why couldn’t we, the player, pull the trigger?

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It’s simple really, the person playing as Dom in the campaign is watching their character that they’ve spent all this time controlling and in the one moment that has to be the highest point (relatively speaking) of Dom’s journey and at the crux point all of the control is taken away. Close your eyes and imagine that scene again, picture yourself playing as Dom and looking into Marias eyes, a hand raises a pistol to Marias temple and the symbol for the right trigger pops up on the screen. Now YOU have to pull the trigger, YOU found your wife; YOU are putting her out of her misery.

Now is this a good thing? It could be argued that this is a step too far in gaming; it’s bad enough that as gamers we have to deal with criticism in the press for games being too violent. You could also say that after the act, you the gamer would feel an even closer connection with Dom, his character and his story. After all isn’t that the point of having an emotional story that attempts to stir up feelings inside you?

There’s an opportunity to use a comparison and look at the “Megaton” scenario in Fallout 3, do you detonate a nuclear bomb and destroy a town and all of its inhabitants. After all, you are the one who pushes the button. However the game doesn’t push you to do it, you still have a choice and the characters in Megaton likely don’t mean much to you. But what if Fallout 3 had more of a character driven story? Let’s say you formed closer relationships with the inhabitants of the dusty town and then you were forced by the story path, to push the detonate button. To destroy those people who you’d just spent hours getting to know and learning to love. This would stir up more inside the player than “wow. That was a cool explosion.”

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With videogames constantly striving to bring you a more in depth and intense experience, this option of control could well be a good idea. However an argument could be made that games are advancing in this way regardless. Quantic Dream is attempting this kind of attachment with their characters in Heavy Rain. Having introduced Madison Page in their demo at Leipzeig 2008, the female journalist was shown performing a striptease in order to gain information on the killer in the story. The scene is known for making people feel uneasy, watching this young woman humiliate and degrade herself just for a big break in her investigation. It would take a genius in game design to allow control for this moment to flow seamlessly, so the choice for a cut scene is a logical one.

My concern is that in such narration heavy scenes, a lack of direct control can break the telling of the story and exploration of the plot. Fellow journalist and general freelancer Lewis Denby agreed on the subject. “Games are unique because of their interactivity, but we’re still obsessed with telling stories through cut-scenes.  Valve is the only mainstream developer that seems to understand (2K as well, to an extent, with their work on BioShock).  If we’re looking to make powerful, evocative videogames, we need to be doing so through the very thing that defines the medium, not by replicating other forms of entertainment.  Human control is a very powerful thing”.

Lewis has a great point here; gaming is a media form in itself. While it does borrow largely from film, it is a unique beast, no other media form allows for the control that gaming does, save for choose your own adventure books. Although giving more control to the player wouldn’t necessarily change the path taken by the character it could add an attachment. Say for example allowing you to move the avatar during a scene that sees you conversing with another character whilst walking down a hallway. It may only be a minimal amount of control, but there is still a connection, no matter how tangible.

One of the better examples of this integration would be the opening scene to Call of Duty 4, which saw you being able to control the head of the captured Yasir Al-Fulani whilst on a car journey to certain death. Although you’re given minimal control over this situation, the shock of the killing at the end of the scene hits home harder as YOU were looking through his eyes, YOU were looking around frantically to find an escape and YOU were the one that eventually met their demise at the hands of terrorists. This scene would perhaps have had less of a dramatic effect if played out as a cut scene, but that small amount of control gave the scene a different feeling.

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Christos’ Thoughts:

Taking the control away from the player at a crucial moment in the story dredges up an interesting memory, for me. I was out late one night with a friend in a particularly unsavoury area of North London, waiting for a bus. Finally, it turns up just as we’re getting a tad too uncomfortable with our immediate surroundings. The doors align themselves with me exactly, and the bus driver turns to regard my companion and I with a look akin to pity, before failing to open the doors. Driving away, we are left in shock as the bus rolls onwards to its inevitable destination without us. What a bastard, right?

Well, exactly the same goes for games design, in my not-so-humble opinion. Take Mass Effect, for example. There are several scenes in the space-trilogy’s first instalment that simply beg to be interacted with, so I’ll take an example and show you why, against all logic (and my previous argument, admittedly), that it’s a bad idea for the developers to give you control.

As you rest up at the base on Virmire, preparing to storm Saren’s proverbial dark castle, Wrex stands alone, unleashing round upon round of shotgun ammunition at high velocity into the picturesque coast on which the base stands. Approaching gingerly, you engage in one of the most important conversations in the entire game, especially if you, the player, have taken Wrex on board for most of it. Wrex has to make a choice; follow his new friends (a hard task to accomplish given that the Krogan is a sociopath by nature) and destroy any chance his race has of staving off inevitable extinction, or rebel and kill Shepherd.

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The conversation choices are yours. There are scenarios where he dies, doesn’t die, you kill him, someone else does… many different options, all playing out within thirty seconds of emotionally charged player-driven dialogue. But imagine if you were outside the conversation-wheel system and simply talking to him whilst maintaining freedom of movement, and for that matter, freedom of fire. You clench your controller in anticipation, hoping Wrex will see sense. Clench too hard, and your gun goes off, decapitating your good friend and despatching him to whatever never-realm awaits him post-mortus. See? This is why developers hold some choices away from players, in the same way the staff at Disney World would never let the public control their own rollercoaster carriages. Because we’re the public, and we have a glorious tendency to fuck everything up.

Now let’s look at Dan’s Gears of War 2 example. Me and my girlfriend played this on release week, and we’ve settled on a pattern. We always play on Hardcore to start with, and I’m always Dom. I’m also the cry-baby out of the two. When Maria died, I was teary, simply because it was a scene that really didn’t fit into Epic’s design portfolio of guns, muscles, and homo-erotically charged narrative. Call it weakness, call it shock – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is how it could have been changed for the better, to give the player more control over what happens.

First off, don’t simply offer the player the option to pull the trigger. That’s not emotionally involving, that’s simply irritating. This is the Karl Marx school of thought; wear any colour shirt you like, sir, as long as it’s red. Secondly, do it off-camera, and keep it off-camera. I don’t need to see his wife die, and no one else does, either. The situation is depressing enough, and as you’re technically following Marcus, showing anyone apart from Marcus reacting to the situation in hand would be a little ridiculous. The supporting cast will always have their little moments, but if these get out of hand we lose our natural association with the protagonist, and this is vital to providing that crucial sense of immersion for the player.

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In fact, don’t let the player interact with that scene at all. It was perfectly framed, shot, and written, and I can’t think of any better way to have left it. The gameplay is our realm, the area of the game world the protagonist is not aware of, because, to Marcus Fenix, there is no Earth, simply Sera. There are no achievements for completing his missions, simply an odd medal now and then. In order for an emotionally charged scenario to be rendered valid, we have to first accept that the protagonist needs a degree of independence in order to communicate how he or she is feeling to us, the player. Can you imagine the stream of YouTube videos? Dom teabagging his late wife, whilst a thirteen year old tribe of online miscreants up past their bed time wet themselves laughing? That’s not good narrative, that’s farce, and that’s what you let yourself in for. I’m not going to kid myself, and I don’t think you should either. Humanity, in the vast majority, is an incredibly clumsy animal, and I willingly include myself in that derogatory demographic.

The legendary German philosopher (and now emo icon of the world thanks to Little Miss Sunshine) Friedrich Nietzsche once said “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” This seemingly offhand quote helps to explain what I’m getting at, here. There is nothing more important than being a singular entity as opposed to one of the masses.

However, this doesn’t mean you should always emotionally separate yourself from the characters you play in videogames. This is in fact the opposite of what you should be doing, as you are then one of a legion of people simply enjoying the latest Gears title from Epic. But to allow Marcus enough freedom, through cutscenes, through independence of self, whilst still holding a controller in anticipation of guiding him to his goal during the more bullet-heavy moments in his life, is true immersion. Don’t deny yourself emotional attachment to characters simply because you’re too impatient to let them be themselves. If you controlled Shepherd 100 per cent of the time, he’s no longer Shepherd. He’s you.

This has somehow transformed from an opinion to a call for help from the gaming masses, but I digress. My point is simply that we cannot allow players full control of characters in games that rely on an immersive experience. Full control without any un-interactive, cinematic elements is immersive, definitely.

But is it emotional? Are we truly on the same psychological wavelength as Fenix as he strides through smoke and flames? Or are we simply waiting until we can finally get to the next save point and flick over to the X Factor? Treat your limited ability to influence events with something akin to reverence, as opposed to impatience. Good things come to those who wait. And to watch someone lose his wife, only to be allowed to help him as he enacts vengeance on those who denied him eternal joy and romance, is something truly magical.

Conclusion:

The comparisons we’ve discussed can be aimed at many games in this generation and a generation where control methods are a hot topic. Rather than offering so many ways to control the character, why not expand on the way we control them presently? I am however interested to see if Project Natal could eventually add more substance to these moments in games. Even though I’m a firm believer in control pads for our games I do feel that Natal could add flair to certain scenes. Perhaps being able to control your protagonist with the controller and using the camera to sense your head movement, which could then be reflected in-game.

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Christos brought up some great points, the major one being grounded in the maturity of gamers in this generation. In a world of teabaggers, trolls and flamers can we really act within the game and take that control over? Yes it’s possibly an ingenious solution to sticking points in the narration of games but it could also be too much for some gamers or even go over their heads.

Game designers will forever back and forth with ways to engage gamers, neither I nor Christos is in their shoes, heaven forbid. But we are gamers and we both know what we like, although the opinions differ greatly. Interactivity will likely stay a ‘hot topic’ throughout this generation and we’ll see where the future lies as it becomes the present.

Top Ten Platformers….with a twist

Well, the second edition of our Top Ten with a twist will be going up very soon. We have some great writers working on it and our topic of discussion is very interesting and throwing up some great choices! So for those who haven’t seen the original feature I have combined the two parts into one so you can have a long read of it in preparation of next weeks. Enjoy!

First up, is part one, featuring five games by five writers; Christos Reid, Matt Armstrong, Lauren Wainwright, Sinan Kubba and John Cranston.

Psychonauts – PC, XBOX, PS2

Christos Reid – Freelancer – For The Gamer Good

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When calling into question the various reasons I’d choose Psychonauts as my personal platforming masterpiece, you may think me slightly psychologically unhinged. The prospect of delving into the various aspects of a person’s subconscious, represented aesthetically as a rather neon-filled platforming arena, isn’t so much a visual representation of the Jungian “shadow-subconscious” as a mess filled with bright lights and even prettier bright lights.

But we’re forgetting one vital organ in this body of work – Tim Schafer. Time and time again, the man has proven that storytelling is key in helping the player to overcome the loss of realism they encounter on a second-by-second basis inside the game world. In the case of Psychonauts, we follow Raz, a psychically gifted young individual who sneaks into a summer camp for children with other brain-boosted abilities of varying degrees. Simple enough, but when their tasks involve solving the inner hurt inside each other by slapping a small door on their target’s head and jumping in, it begins to fall down the rabbit hole so very enjoyably.

And it’s down this rabbit-warren of a game that Psychonauts shines – the boss characters can be anything from a suppressed memory of an abusive parent, grown monstrous in size due to the infantile concept of the parent allowed free reign in terms of evolution and growth, to censorship itself. That’s right. Censor representatives are the meat you’ll grind inside the subconscious, attempting to both boot you out of the subconscious you’re so happily jumping around and punching things in, and sealing away the more hideous, real problems that really do need to be dealt with.

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Don’t think of yourself as a player, think of yourself as a therapist. You have the ability to save these people, and if you can’t, well, things are going to go sour pretty quickly. Some are heartbroken, and some are mentally scarred – The Milkman in particular is an interesting example, his subconscious a suburban neighbourhood infested with intelligence agents disguised as residents, a visual representation of the conspiracy theorems and paranoia that have driven him into a single-minded, boring profession, delivering milk that no one ever drinks to an insane asylum.

Your abilities rely largely on Raz’s uncanny evolution above the other camp-fiends – he takes the best aspects from the various X-men cookie-cutter stereotypes around him and turns them into weapons, defences and boosts to his own puny physical abilities. Telekinesis, pyrokinisis and more, all blended into the body of our saviour, “the boy who dreamt.” The only thing you are barred from doing is reading the minds of others, and why? Because you’d know the bad guy in the first half an hour, and hiding him is the very reason you stumble around the repressed urges and scars that comprise the platformer’s landscape.

This is beyond a game that simply requires the collection of coins and saving a princess; this is a masterpiece of Schafer’s, the devotion to the suggestion that, through exploration of the psyche we can finally explain all the military stereotypes, the derogatorily oversexed female icons, and of course, ourselves.

Sonic The Hedgehog – Every blinking platform

Matt “SnakeLinkSonic” ArmstrongMisanthropic Gamer

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Through design, Sonic the Hedgehog has always been served to me as a rowdy, impatient, and delinquent little mascot. It’s a common understanding these days that those of us who grew up with a Sonic preference (as opposed to a certain Italian plumber) have dwindled to nothing more than an abused bunch of fanboys. From what I’ve been able to conclude however, the most responsible catalyst for this abuse was not so much Sonic’s shift to 3D (that was just an after-effect), but the fans/developers ineptitude to recognize the problems he had in a 2D plane to begin with. That’s not really such a bad thing though, considering we were all young at the time and were absolved of trying to pick games apart to the degree that we often tend to now.

One thing of interest though is how the young mascot fares today, within wavering titles of varying enjoyment. Despite problems that have even been recognized by Sega themselves, Sonic still sells. This could easily be seen as the problem I skated around above simply repeating itself. Children and young adults have now been presented with problematically designed 3D games that will continue to move forward without evolving, which is exactly what the 2D games did in the first place.

A lot of people have either simply given up on the franchise or are content enough with it to keep buying into it as a game without serious fault. Spoiled and neglected at the same time, the games will continue to travel down a slippery slope until somebody decides to catch it (or at least attempt to do so). I personally find the whole process fascinating because as a platformer, Sonic has always been an explosive experience; far off kilter from what his once-rival Mario always seemed to offer in a far more well-rounded package.

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A perpetual problem for Sonic has also been centered on developers somehow raising his game’s design to match our hyper-acuity for what we don’t like. Unfortunately, there has been little discipline to fundamentally reestablish his stance in the ‘big picture’ because there are multiple parties contributing to his overexerted legacy:

1 >>> New fans, which are primarily children that are repeating the same mistakes that many of us made when we were young.

2 >>> Old fans that refuse to admit that there may not be a problem with the games.

3 >>> Those of us who grew up and have resorted to calling foul on every single thing that the titles don’t absolutely nail.

4 >>> Developers that continue to pedal the games to groups 1 & 2, while condescendingly (albeit silently) ignoring the third group.

5 >>> The marketing folk that are amusingly distorting his image slightly askew since they know that group #1 are what still put meals on their tables.

6 >>> Did I miss anyone?

I love Sonic because he and his games have baggage in the truest sense. That’s something I can’t get with any other platformer, so I stand behind it finding some sense of solace in design, appearance, and reception…someday…maybe?

~sLs~

Tomb Raider – PS1, PC, Saturn

Lauren Wainwright – Writer – Viera.nu

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In 1996, a game called Tomb Raider was released to an audience of salivating males and impressionable girls. Its lead, a large breasted-British-brunette, not only managed to conquer the hearts of millions with blend of witty charm, and sexy looks but also became the most successful video game media darling of all time.
It’s 2009 now and Joe publics’ excitement for Lara and her dramatic archaeological discoveries has dwindled. She’s now played by more female gamers than ever before and her breasts are getting marginally smaller by the year.

Time warp back to 1996, I was 10 or 11 and life was pretty simple. All I had my video games, family life and an awkward school life to deal with. Suddenly, Lara Croft becomes an important icon in my life, and even as I hit my 23rd birthday, I still get as excited about a new Tomb Raider game as I did back then.

What was so special about Tomb Raider anyway? First of all, I had never really sunk my teeth into a decent action adventure title for quite as many hours as I did with the original TR. I really felt I have full control over Lara, even if she was dubbed as a tank. I spent hours playing around in her newly moved in mansion, the reception filled with giant brown crates to climb over. The glorified swimming pool where I developed severe Aqua Phobia, watching as Lara twitches to death and float lifelessly in the pool.

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Even small touches like holding the R1 button (PlayStation version) when Lara hulks herself up on a surface to pull off a rather pointless, but at the time highly amusing, handstand. Tomb Raider just blew me away!
The main reason Tomb Raider really captured my heart was that I really felt I was there with Lara, exploring these long forgotten tombs. Everything felt so unique and real and it really brought out the collector in me, spending hours swimming in small pools looking for secrets and medipacks.

I jumped when wolves and tigers appeared out of nowhere, when those bloody bats hit me just when I was about to take that jump over the pit, resulting in a frustrating death. Sat mouth wide open and marvelled at the intricate level design, and sheer size of environments.

Oh and remember that MASSIVE T-REX!? That thing was going to eat me and I was having none of it! Running backwards, occasionally jumping, all while pummelling lead from my trusty dual pistols until it finally dropped dead. Now I look back and laugh a little, the T-REX is quite cute now.

It really depresses me that the Tomb Raider machine has lost a lot of its public momentum. I can honestly say, bar 1 or 2 titles, the series has been fantastic so far. The latest game, TR: Underworld is probably one of the most beautifully designed adventure titles I have played in the last 2 years, and even though it reviewed well it still has sold less than the first Tomb Raider.

And you know what? I really miss walking to the edge, jumping back and taking a run up. Those were the days!

Rainbow Islands – Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Amiga, NES, Master System

Sinan Kubba – Writer and Features Editor – You Have Lost! and TheGameReviews

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There may well be 2D platformers better than Rainbow Islands. It lacks the accommodating difficulty curve of Super Mario World, instead opting for an intimidating surge of impossibiltiy in its final quarter. Rather than featuring Bionic Commando’s array of stirring 8-bit beats, it settles for something repulsively bubbly and then sets it to loop. But when it comes to individuality, sheer eccentricity, and clandestine depth, nothing beats Taito’s 1987 arcade classic, even to this day.

What was most distinctive about Rainbow Islands was its base mechanic, namely the player’s ability to shoot rainbows. These were used to defeat enemies and as the platforms for moving up – yes, up – through the game’s levels. This unusual form of both movement and ability gave Rainbow Islands an edge over the wealth of competing platformers that were aligning themselves with the successful Mario template at the time. As the sequel to Bubble Bobble, it’s unsurprising that Rainbow Islands replicated that game’s unusual platforming elements.

And just like its predecessor, Rainbow Islands was nauseatingly cute, right down to the cutesy enemy critters that moved around with the trademark bobbing eyes and shuffling feet. But, as someone who played Bubble Bobble, I knew that Taito didn’t specialize in simplistic, childish platformers. Like Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands betrayed its charming visage with depth, vigour and mystery. In those regards, however, Rainbow Islands made Bubble Bobble look like childsplay. For me, it remains the most intricate, secretive platformer ever made.

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Its bottomless depth lied primarily in its power-ups. On my first play through Rainbow Islands, it felt like it was handing out its items randomly. But every third item that appeared was tied in to the player’s actions. If you killed a certain number of enemies, you’d get a certain item. If you walked a certain number of steps, if you’d jumped a certain number of jumps, if you’d collected a certain number of a certain item – you get the idea. For a game made in 1987, the code within Rainbow Islands must have been disturbingly complicated. To this day there remains speculation on the requirements on some of its vast array of power-ups. And as for the power-ups themselves, they were simply awesome. The game became transformed by the ability to shoot lighting bolts across the screen, having a potent pixie bodyguard, or even being able to fly right to the top.

Then there’s the game’s wealth of secrets, way too many to go into here. If you thought Super Mario 3 had lots of secrets, then you simply haven’t played Rainbow Islands, and only the very skilled were able to unlock the Narnia held within the secret doors of each Rainbow Islands world. But for me, just completing the game was an achievement. The final two worlds represent some of the most challenging gaming to be found. I’ve only ever completed the game once, and I never will again. But I’ll keep on playing Rainbow Islands regardless, because every time I do I can’t help but let out a knowing smile. Maybe the best summary of the game’s eccentricity is its sixth world, entirely an homage to the classic game Arkanoid, and its boss is a giant Tron-esque, computerized head that shoots blocks at you. Like I said, there may be better games than Rainbow Islands, but when it comes to personality it’s right up there with the best.

Super Mario World – SNES

John Cranston – Writer – Johnus Maximus

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I won’t lie to you, in my early gaming days I was a complete Sega (ergo Sonic) fanboy, swearing that anything to do with moustachioed plumbers, mushrooms and princesses was nothing but utter tat. All that changed when I played Super Mario World.

In the halcyon days of the early 90’s, before Britpop and girl power, there used to be an exciting TV show for gamers – Gamesmaster. It was on that show that I remember watching clips of SMW with envy, thinking how it amazing it looked and wondering how many paper rounds would I have to do to get my hands on a Super Nintendo.

In the summer of 94, I was finally able to come to mutual understanding with a playground friend that allowed me use of a SNES for two weeks during the school holidays, and so was finally able to play what I now consider one of the most timelessly exciting and fun platform games in the history of video gaming.

I remember fondly that whimsical introduction music and a few lines of text to set the scene – Mario is in Dinosaur Land and wouldn’t you believe, that crafty rascal Bowser has kidnapped Mario’s favourite female friend. Okay, so no points for originality in the plot (boy meets girl, boy loses girl to giant dinosaur, boy goes on quest to get girl back), but it was the many other aspects of the game that just blew me away.

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The environment art, the sprites and the animation were so beautifully vivid and really brought each stage to life, from the Donut Plains to Chocolate Island. Accompanied by Kōji Kondō’s enchanting soundtrack this was a revelation in 16-bit gaming. The sheer volume of missions, side quests, bosses and unlockable secrets was enough to keep you busy for hours on end (thank the gods for the robust save-game system).

There were Ghost Houses with creepy music and terrifying Boo’s, Switch Palaces to make previously unattainable paths possible, hidden exits which led to Star World and Special World that upon completion altered the game in many strange ways, yellow capes to let Mario fly and glide round the stages, challenging boss castles with plenty of traps and home to the Koopalings, the dastardly Reznor and of course Bowser in his clown-like flying machine.

But let’s get on to the best bit – the unsurpassed enjoyment of riding Mario’s epic mount Yoshi. During the second stage you are greeted with the site of an egg cracking open and a small green dinosaur appearing. Similarly aggrieved by Bowser they form an alliance, allowing Yoshi to eat Mario’s enemies to gain special powers and letting Mario stomp on enemies that would previously have killed him.

To say that this game changed my life is an understatement; it changed my fanboy ways forever and opened my eyes to loving all games, no matter the system. Thanks to Shigeru Miyamoto and the fifteen other people that worked on it, I will cherish its memory always.

And, here’s part two!

Here’s five more games for you to absorb. Writers this week include; Scott Munro, Lewis Denby, Me, Sam Morris and Barry White. Enjoy, you lucky people!

Knytt Stories – PC

Scott Munro – Journalist – Kilted Moose

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From the subterranean treasure collecting of Manic Miner on the humble ZX Spectrum, to the crayon-daubed beauty of the Super Nintendo’s Yoshi’s Island, I’ve spent the past 25 years indulging my passion for platform games.

However, it’s Nicklas Nygren’s magnificent Knytt Stories on PC which holds a special place in my heart.
Nifflas – as he’s better known – has produced several wonderful games, such as Within A Deep Forest, but it’s Knytt Stories which transcends the others with its simple play mechanics, attention to detail and spellbinding atmosphere.

To merely call the game a platformer would be doing Knytt Stories a great disservice, however. While it is true your character performs standard platform moves and learns new abilities as progress is made, Knytt Stories is there to be savoured, not rushed through.

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You see, the real draw of the game is in the remarkable and beautiful atmosphere it evokes. Exploration is part of the fun, and you will want to explore every nook and crannie in the hope of finding a new shiny bauble to enhance your character’s abilities.

Visually, the game is simple, but full of charm. Cheery villages and verdant forests give way to dank passageways and cavernous chambers, while soothing acoustic strings, chilled-out electronic soundscapes and the gentle sound of falling rain wash over the player, bringing to life the stylised visuals.
While the game won’t last long, dozens of new player-created levels are available to download to extend the experience, each one bringing a new take of Nifflas’s vision.

It may not be one of the most recognisable platformers ever made, indeed, many will never have had the joy of experiencing Nifflas’s masterpiece.
However, it’s free to download, so there’s really no excuse not to give it a go. It even manages to eclipse the darling of the indie scene, the mighty Cave Story.

In a console generation where smaller developers are being encouraged to show off their wares via downloadable services, wouldn’t it be nice if either Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo were to take a chance on this wonderful title, thus bringing it to a new, larger market.
We can but dream.

Braid – 360, PC

Lewis Denby – Freelancer – Resolution Magazine (and about a thousand others)

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Braid is wonderful.

It’s wonderful for a whole host of reasons. There’s the much-touted – and baited – depth to its story, which is probably one of the most obvious things about it. It’s a game about a man searching for his lost love. It’s a game about the atomic bomb. It’s a game about the videogame itself. But none of it is ever too mysterious. Leaving the big reveal to the end works wonders. It’s like a modern day fable. You don’t learn the moral until the end, and when you do, it has all the more effect for your wait.

It also ties its story so wonderfully into your actions within the game that I almost want it to go even further. I don’t know how that would be possible, but there are a couple of occasions where the link’s… well, not /breaking/, but straining a little. It doesn’t matter, though. It’s a game about regret, and wanting to change the past and shape the future. What better method through which to tell such a story than evolutionary time-shifting mechanics? That’s a slice of genius in itself.

It’s wonderful because of how utterly beautiful it looks and sounds. Its distinctive, hand-painted style always did strike a real chord with me, and the music flows beautifully with the theme of each individual area. When time first reversed, and the music did too, I think I let out a little squee. It’s that sort of attention to aesthetic detail that lifts Braid up even higher.

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It’s superlative as a platformer because, well, it’s not /really/ a platformer. I mean, it is – in one sense, it’s totally a platformer, riffing entirely off Mario and assorted others and providing a clever spin. But really, instead of just running and jumping, it’s about careful planning, about lateral thinking and environmental observations. It’s about learning to work within the template provided; about understanding your limits and how to play within them. That in itself is a brave move in a genre so commonly associated with carefree gaming.

Honestly, though? The real reason Braid is so wonderful is just the default on. As in, there’s nothing actually wrong with it.

Oh, a couple of the puzzles grate a bit compared to others. And yeah, it’s quite short. Some might say it’s pretentious, but they’d be being the worst people in the world (“pretentious” is an ugly, cowardly word, in its most common usage). But if you really take the time to think about things that are actually /wrong/ with Braid, as opposed to just things you didn’t like about it… well, I’d be really interested to hear what people would come up with. I don’t think I could name one actual problem.

It’s a masterfully crafted game, one that knows exactly what it’s set about to achieve. It understands the genre it’s evolving. It fully comprehends the effect it’s having. Every single element of Braid is in place for a carefully considered reason, one that contributes towards its ultimate messages – be they about love, regret, obsession, evil or the nature of the medium within which this glorious work has been created.

Braid is wonderful. If I didn’t need some sleep, I’d totally be heading off to play it right now.

Super Mario Bros 2 – NES

Daniel Lipscombe – Editor of Hi-Score and Freelancer – This very site

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If anyone said to me, hypothetically of course, that they want me to choose ONE Mario game for them to play it would be a tough choice. In terms of adventure and game mechanics I’d have to side with Mario 3. In terms of breaking barriers and marketing Mario to a wide audience whilst delivering superb platforming, Super Mario World would be the one. So why oh why would I want to say Mario Bros 2 for the NES?

As a child I spent a lot of time playing Mario 2, I’d loved the original side scrolling platformer and Mario was becoming a favourite of mine. However the second game in the series would defy all logic and flip the series on its head. Changing the standard jump on a head to pop the baddie to picking them up and throwing them around. We were given new characters to play with, namely Toad and Princess Toadstool, each of the characters had a graphics overhaul and featured great detail.

It was in these new characters where the game mechanic of jumping on enemies changed, each character had different play styles. Mario was an all rounder, Luigi could jump the highest, Toad was the fastest and Princess would float through the air. Princess was my favourite as a child, mainly because she made the game slightly easier for my little hands. But it wasn’t just the characters that changed the game so to say.

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We still had themed levels but now they had plants to pull up and use as projectiles, 1up blocks from the first Mario Bros reappeared to shake the ground of enemies and all drainpipes were removed in favour of tall vases. Of course you also had the shadow world in which you entered via magic potions smashed on the floor, in this world you would collect your coins (gambled in slot machines at the end of each level) and use mushrooms to gain sections on your energy bar.

All of this of course is drastically different to the first NES game. I think this is why it appeals to me so much, it’s the black sheep of the family, the bastard child that should be standing in the corner but instead stands proud. With a radical art style and bosses that seem to have walked in from the end boss reject society, it’s a wonder anybody likes this iteration of Mario. – But there is a reason.

Charm, you have no choice but to smile coyly at the mention of Super Mario Bros 2. It dared to be different; Nintendo slapped your face and pulled the rug from under you. It’s all so pleasant and lovely, a wonderland of bizarre creatures, a true adventure. So if that person ever asks, to hell with convention, I’d say Super Mario Bros 2.

PixelJunk Eden – PSN/PS3

Sam Morris – Writer – Nidzumi

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In Modern times the Garden of Eden is looked upon either as a metaphor that symbolises God’s love or an idealistic view of Paradise. This game wasn’t brought to you by Criterion though, rather a smaller bunch of developers known as Q-Games. The didn’t conjure up this masterpiece within seven days but they’ve definitely created something that could be likened to the work of… Actually let’s cut the biblical references and hyperbole. Pixeljunk Eden is just a brilliant experience.

One second within a level though and you’ll realise you aren’t playing a game you are having an experience. Mainly one brought about by Baiyon who designed the visuals and especially the audio for Eden.

Well-sustained calming synths play over a calm menu that mimics the in-level experience its self. Don’t get too comfortable though. The soft appeasing sounds are suddenly broken when you enter a level. It starts with kick drum and then soon the initially simplistic audio builds along with the volume, stage and challenge.
That’s kind of a mantra that the whole game follows, evolution.

The levels start off simple, almost barren, until you sprout the first seed. Soon you are climbing up and growing more platforms until you reach your goal. These aren’t just throwaway rectangular platforms however, as from each seed grows an underwater-plant inspired ladder that realistically sways and moves as it reacts to the wind and your movement.

Pixel_Junk_Eden-PlayStation_NetworkScreenshots15132pixeljunk_eden_wip_0003

You would be forgiven for feeling underwhelmed after the first few stages as they strictly stick to these basics. They are simplistic, calming, learning areas, tutorials if you will. They let you feel comfortable with the controls and the swing mechanic without beating you over the head with pop up messages and childishly voiced training exercises. The reason they don’t need to do this because Eden is so instinctive and rewarding for curious minds that it doesn’t have to. Either that or they thought maybe we should actually treat people as an adult playing a platformer for the first time since… well ever.

Once you’ve gotten to grips with the basic premise of collecting pollen to fill seeds, which allow you to collect the seldom seen Spectra, you are ready to evolve. Or at least the game is ready to evolve with you. Moving platforms, transporting holes, switches, wind, gravity and anti-gravity make up just a few of the game changing alterations you’ll encounter. It keeps the game moving and gives each stage it’s own unique premise that you’ll want to rush ahead to experience.

Experience along with evolution must have been the first two words on the white board for this one. The truth is that they’ve nailed both of them to a tee.

You simply won’t play a platformer like Pixeljunk Eden for a long time. One that treats you as an adult, one that let’s you learn in your own time, one that evolves in new and interesting ways. But more importantly, Pixeljunk is one platformer that indulges you with a unique experience built upon instinctive familiarity.

That’s why I love Pixeljunk Eden. And I didn’t say audiovisual once…

Bionic Commando Rearmed – 360, PS3

Barry White – Freelancer – Creeds Blog

(which looks strangely familiar, hehe)

Single_Player_7

People complain that this game is too hard. Rubbish. It only appears hard to anyone not lucky enough to have played the original Bionic Commando on the NES back in the day. Now there was a hard game – ruthless, unforgiving and at times totally unintelligible. I owned it and I hated it. Compared to Super Mario Bros., which was about the only other game I had, it was a horrible trial and error mess where the slightest mistake would see you dead and your progress reset. It frustrated me for months. The game would kill you without hesitation and it acted like it didn’t ever want to see you to succeed. Rearmed has no truck with than attitude, managing to be one hundred percent less horrible than its predecessor.

As a nostalgia piece, it’s impeccably put together. Your magic extend-o-arm is still your weapon of choice, able to take out enemies and grab power ups as well as fling you about levels. The wonderfully muddled communiques are still present, as are the tactical map progression and (still) slightly pointless ground engagements mid-transit. The new tweaks like puzzle-based hacking slot seamlessly in, giving the whole package a much needed modern twist. It’s still big and bold and unashamedly silly mind, and it’s an excellent blueprint to follow for any modern adaptation of an older game – the important bits are preserved and polish, the rest ripped out and replaced with buckets of HD sheen and a thumping modern soundtrack. It was a joy to play and I still rave about it to anyone who gives me a chance.

Co-op_play_1

But I love it for the co-op. In one fantastic weekend the girlfriend and I sat down and absolutely blitzed through BC:R with callous disregard for anything else that might have been going on. I’d always struggled to find games that we could play together, and had great success with Team Fortress 2, but when it came to games that we could both enjoy while sitting on the couch together there were precious few options at the time. Rearmed was the perfect solution: once you got past the characterful idiosyncracies (no jump button, for a start, which inexplicably infuriates some people), it was extremely easy to pick up and play. And it really let you work co-operatively too, with certain enemies and bosses much easier to take on when you worked together. It could be tremendously funny too, with portraits of boss enemies clutching lollipops and recurring awkward exchanges between an enemy commander and his subordinate, all smothered under a massive chunk of cheesy. Oh, and the final boss is a resurrected Hitler in a fighter jet whose head explodes gruesomely when you finish him. Absolutely lovely.

Games are the Killer

Lets start with some honesty, games are violent and most journalistic media outside of specialist press, hates games. They’re corrupting the youth of today, pushing their minds to think and then later act out despicable things. In a recent school shooting in Germany, Far Cry 2 has received blame for being the root of the problem. Apparently 17 year old Tim Kretschmer spent two hours and ten minutes playing the shooter on the night before his rampage in which 15 people were killed with his ‘Fathers‘ Beretta pistol. This is of course after he spent his evenings in chatrooms talking about school shootings under the guise of “JawsPredator1” and he most likely spent time downloading bondage based pornography, He was seventeen.

I have to admit, yes, there are violent games on the market. Yes there are games in which YOU, the person “in real life” are asked to shoot, stab and kill in a “virtual” world. So, through our XBOX’s and PlayStations we are going to war, exacting revenge and assassinating and declaring it a hobby or pastime. It’s true that violent games are beginning to out weigh other genres in the industry.

FC2_Screen_1

But let’s look at other childhood pastimes throughout the years. Spudguns, plastic M16s and bow and arrows, toys all designed to allow children to “play war” There is nobody who can defend these toys as being non-violent. Plastic swords emulate real swords that are and were used to kill or maim people in horrific ways. For generations of children these toys have been enjoyed, but is this not a similar act to using a virtual sword to vanquish enemies. When you were playing out on the local green, even without toys, were you not pointing out two fingers in the shape of a gun and “killing” your friends?

This form of entertainment has been with us for centuries, violence is a part of society and it’s the elders of this society that should teach the truths behind war and violence. Even as a child, whilst making an unconvincing machine gun sound while my friends clutched their chests and fell to the ground, I knew the real outcome of violence. Taught to me by my Mother.

It’s quite obvious that the media is constantly looking for scapegoats in these situations. It’s terribly easy to blame a videogame or movie or piece of music for polluting our children’s minds rather than blaming parents for not cleansing said minds. The thousands of Daily Mail readers can shake their heads and tut quietly whilst accusing videogame makers for creating Manhunt or Far Cry 2, all the while forgetting their own teenage years. The times that they gathered round someone’s house to watch the latest horror movie or experiment with drugs and casual sex.

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Let’s look at Kretschmer and his disgusting actions that would make even the most hardened Christian doubt Gods plans. Kretschmer kitted himself out in black camouflage gear, bought from a store I would assume. Picked up his Fathers Beretta, from the unlocked gun cabinet and Hijacked a car whilst aiming the gun at the drivers head. All of these actions ARE featured in Far Cry 2, but are they not ALL featured in many movies nowadays?

Was it not down to the shopkeeper to refuse service to a 17 year old child and not sell him camo gear? Was it not the Fathers responsibilities to teach gun usage and keep them hidden away? Let’s also look at the fact that Kretschmer had recently been rejected by a girl he obviously cared for. But let’s also look at the fact that he had as little as 200 porn images on his computer, 120 of which were of female bondage. Oh and please don’t forget the fact that he roamed chat rooms openly discussing school shootings.

Regardless of any games that this boy played, he may have had an underlying mental health problem that adjusted his views on reality. This again is another stigma of society, anyone who has no control over their thoughts are swept under the rug and zipped up, never to be seen again. So why would the papers print the headline, “Boy of 17 guns down 15, but he had mental health issues, access to guns, a penchant to violent porn and was just rejected by a girl who he may have loved”

The argument of violence in games will carry on until the media realises that parents need to be just that, parents. As a father of three girls I would never allow my children to grow up and not know the consequences of violence, war and other harmful elements of this world. Is that not my job?

I’ll leave you with the words of someone who seems to have their head screwed on, Walter Hollstein, a sociologist working with the Council of Europe, disagreed. “It’s nonsense to assume they turn adolescents into school shooters,” he said.

“A variety of factors, such as helplessness, anger and loss of control, must come together for them to become the trigger, but the games themselves don’t make anyone a killer.”

From the mind of Daniel 'Strybe' Lipscombe, may contain opinions

From the mind of Daniel 'Strybe' Lipscombe, may contain opinions

Top Ten Platformers…with a twist – Part 2

Well, here we are again. Part two of our Top Ten with a twist. Here’s five more games for you to absorb. Writers this week include; Scott Munro, Lewis Denby, Me, Sam Morris and Barry White. Enjoy, you lucky people!

Knytt Stories – PC

Scott Munro – Journalist – Kilted Moose

image1

From the subterranean treasure collecting of Manic Miner on the humble ZX Spectrum, to the crayon-daubed beauty of the Super Nintendo’s Yoshi’s Island, I’ve spent the past 25 years indulging my passion for platform games.

However, it’s Nicklas Nygren’s magnificent Knytt Stories on PC which holds a special place in my heart.
Nifflas – as he’s better known – has produced several wonderful games, such as Within A Deep Forest, but it’s Knytt Stories which transcends the others with its simple play mechanics, attention to detail and spellbinding atmosphere.

To merely call the game a platformer would be doing Knytt Stories a great disservice, however. While it is true your character performs standard platform moves and learns new abilities as progress is made, Knytt Stories is there to be savoured, not rushed through.

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You see, the real draw of the game is in the remarkable and beautiful atmosphere it evokes. Exploration is part of the fun, and you will want to explore every nook and crannie in the hope of finding a new shiny bauble to enhance your character’s abilities.

Visually, the game is simple, but full of charm. Cheery villages and verdant forests give way to dank passageways and cavernous chambers, while soothing acoustic strings, chilled-out electronic soundscapes and the gentle sound of falling rain wash over the player, bringing to life the stylised visuals.
While the game won’t last long, dozens of new player-created levels are available to download to extend the experience, each one bringing a new take of Nifflas’s vision.

It may not be one of the most recognisable platformers ever made, indeed, many will never have had the joy of experiencing Nifflas’s masterpiece.
However, it’s free to download, so there’s really no excuse not to give it a go. It even manages to eclipse the darling of the indie scene, the mighty Cave Story.

In a console generation where smaller developers are being encouraged to show off their wares via downloadable services, wouldn’t it be nice if either Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo were to take a chance on this wonderful title, thus bringing it to a new, larger market.
We can but dream.

Braid – 360, PC

Lewis Denby – Freelancer – Resolution Magazine (and about a thousand others)

Braid_screenshot01

Braid is wonderful.

It’s wonderful for a whole host of reasons. There’s the much-touted – and baited – depth to its story, which is probably one of the most obvious things about it. It’s a game about a man searching for his lost love. It’s a game about the atomic bomb. It’s a game about the videogame itself. But none of it is ever too mysterious. Leaving the big reveal to the end works wonders. It’s like a modern day fable. You don’t learn the moral until the end, and when you do, it has all the more effect for your wait.

It also ties its story so wonderfully into your actions within the game that I almost want it to go even further. I don’t know how that would be possible, but there are a couple of occasions where the link’s… well, not /breaking/, but straining a little. It doesn’t matter, though. It’s a game about regret, and wanting to change the past and shape the future. What better method through which to tell such a story than evolutionary time-shifting mechanics? That’s a slice of genius in itself.

It’s wonderful because of how utterly beautiful it looks and sounds. Its distinctive, hand-painted style always did strike a real chord with me, and the music flows beautifully with the theme of each individual area. When time first reversed, and the music did too, I think I let out a little squee. It’s that sort of attention to aesthetic detail that lifts Braid up even higher.

Braid_screenshot05

It’s superlative as a platformer because, well, it’s not /really/ a platformer. I mean, it is – in one sense, it’s totally a platformer, riffing entirely off Mario and assorted others and providing a clever spin. But really, instead of just running and jumping, it’s about careful planning, about lateral thinking and environmental observations. It’s about learning to work within the template provided; about understanding your limits and how to play within them. That in itself is a brave move in a genre so commonly associated with carefree gaming.

Honestly, though? The real reason Braid is so wonderful is just the default on. As in, there’s nothing actually wrong with it.

Oh, a couple of the puzzles grate a bit compared to others. And yeah, it’s quite short. Some might say it’s pretentious, but they’d be being the worst people in the world (“pretentious” is an ugly, cowardly word, in its most common usage). But if you really take the time to think about things that are actually /wrong/ with Braid, as opposed to just things you didn’t like about it… well, I’d be really interested to hear what people would come up with. I don’t think I could name one actual problem.

It’s a masterfully crafted game, one that knows exactly what it’s set about to achieve. It understands the genre it’s evolving. It fully comprehends the effect it’s having. Every single element of Braid is in place for a carefully considered reason, one that contributes towards its ultimate messages – be they about love, regret, obsession, evil or the nature of the medium within which this glorious work has been created.

Braid is wonderful. If I didn’t need some sleep, I’d totally be heading off to play it right now.

Super Mario Bros 2 – NES

Daniel Lipscombe – Editor of Hi-Score and Freelancer – This very site

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If anyone said to me, hypothetically of course, that they want me to choose ONE Mario game for them to play it would be a tough choice. In terms of adventure and game mechanics I’d have to side with Mario 3. In terms of breaking barriers and marketing Mario to a wide audience whilst delivering superb platforming, Super Mario World would be the one. So why oh why would I want to say Mario Bros 2 for the NES?

As a child I spent a lot of time playing Mario 2, I’d loved the original side scrolling platformer and Mario was becoming a favourite of mine. However the second game in the series would defy all logic and flip the series on its head. Changing the standard jump on a head to pop the baddie to picking them up and throwing them around. We were given new characters to play with, namely Toad and Princess Toadstool, each of the characters had a graphics overhaul and featured great detail.

It was in these new characters where the game mechanic of jumping on enemies changed, each character had different play styles. Mario was an all rounder, Luigi could jump the highest, Toad was the fastest and Princess would float through the air. Princess was my favourite as a child, mainly because she made the game slightly easier for my little hands. But it wasn’t just the characters that changed the game so to say.

super-mario-bros-2-nes-potion

We still had themed levels but now they had plants to pull up and use as projectiles, 1up blocks from the first Mario Bros reappeared to shake the ground of enemies and all drainpipes were removed in favour of tall vases. Of course you also had the shadow world in which you entered via magic potions smashed on the floor, in this world you would collect your coins (gambled in slot machines at the end of each level) and use mushrooms to gain sections on your energy bar.

All of this of course is drastically different to the first NES game. I think this is why it appeals to me so much, it’s the black sheep of the family, the bastard child that should be standing in the corner but instead stands proud. With a radical art style and bosses that seem to have walked in from the end boss reject society, it’s a wonder anybody likes this iteration of Mario. – But there is a reason.

Charm, you have no choice but to smile coyly at the mention of Super Mario Bros 2. It dared to be different; Nintendo slapped your face and pulled the rug from under you. It’s all so pleasant and lovely, a wonderland of bizarre creatures, a true adventure. So if that person ever asks, to hell with convention, I’d say Super Mario Bros 2.

PixelJunk Eden – PSN/PS3

Sam Morris – Writer – Nidzumi

Pixel_Junk_Eden-PlayStation_NetworkScreenshots14456pixeljunk_eden_wip_0000

In Modern times the Garden of Eden is looked upon either as a metaphor that symbolises God’s love or an idealistic view of Paradise. This game wasn’t brought to you by Criterion though, rather a smaller bunch of developers known as Q-Games. The didn’t conjure up this masterpiece within seven days but they’ve definitely created something that could be likened to the work of… Actually let’s cut the biblical references and hyperbole. Pixeljunk Eden is just a brilliant experience.

One second within a level though and you’ll realise you aren’t playing a game you are having an experience. Mainly one brought about by Baiyon who designed the visuals and especially the audio for Eden.

Well-sustained calming synths play over a calm menu that mimics the in-level experience its self. Don’t get too comfortable though. The soft appeasing sounds are suddenly broken when you enter a level. It starts with kick drum and then soon the initially simplistic audio builds along with the volume, stage and challenge.
That’s kind of a mantra that the whole game follows, evolution.

The levels start off simple, almost barren, until you sprout the first seed. Soon you are climbing up and growing more platforms until you reach your goal. These aren’t just throwaway rectangular platforms however, as from each seed grows an underwater-plant inspired ladder that realistically sways and moves as it reacts to the wind and your movement.

Pixel_Junk_Eden-PlayStation_NetworkScreenshots15132pixeljunk_eden_wip_0003

You would be forgiven for feeling underwhelmed after the first few stages as they strictly stick to these basics. They are simplistic, calming, learning areas, tutorials if you will. They let you feel comfortable with the controls and the swing mechanic without beating you over the head with pop up messages and childishly voiced training exercises. The reason they don’t need to do this because Eden is so instinctive and rewarding for curious minds that it doesn’t have to. Either that or they thought maybe we should actually treat people as an adult playing a platformer for the first time since… well ever.

Once you’ve gotten to grips with the basic premise of collecting pollen to fill seeds, which allow you to collect the seldom seen Spectra, you are ready to evolve. Or at least the game is ready to evolve with you. Moving platforms, transporting holes, switches, wind, gravity and anti-gravity make up just a few of the game changing alterations you’ll encounter. It keeps the game moving and gives each stage it’s own unique premise that you’ll want to rush ahead to experience.

Experience along with evolution must have been the first two words on the white board for this one. The truth is that they’ve nailed both of them to a tee.

You simply won’t play a platformer like Pixeljunk Eden for a long time. One that treats you as an adult, one that let’s you learn in your own time, one that evolves in new and interesting ways. But more importantly, Pixeljunk is one platformer that indulges you with a unique experience built upon instinctive familiarity.

That’s why I love Pixeljunk Eden. And I didn’t say audiovisual once…

Bionic Commando Rearmed – 360, PS3

Barry White – Freelancer – Creeds Blog

(which looks strangely familiar, hehe)

Single_Player_7

People complain that this game is too hard. Rubbish. It only appears hard to anyone not lucky enough to have played the original Bionic Commando on the NES back in the day. Now there was a hard game – ruthless, unforgiving and at times totally unintelligible. I owned it and I hated it. Compared to Super Mario Bros., which was about the only other game I had, it was a horrible trial and error mess where the slightest mistake would see you dead and your progress reset. It frustrated me for months. The game would kill you without hesitation and it acted like it didn’t ever want to see you to succeed. Rearmed has no truck with than attitude, managing to be one hundred percent less horrible than its predecessor.

As a nostalgia piece, it’s impeccably put together. Your magic extend-o-arm is still your weapon of choice, able to take out enemies and grab power ups as well as fling you about levels. The wonderfully muddled communiques are still present, as are the tactical map progression and (still) slightly pointless ground engagements mid-transit. The new tweaks like puzzle-based hacking slot seamlessly in, giving the whole package a much needed modern twist. It’s still big and bold and unashamedly silly mind, and it’s an excellent blueprint to follow for any modern adaptation of an older game – the important bits are preserved and polish, the rest ripped out and replaced with buckets of HD sheen and a thumping modern soundtrack. It was a joy to play and I still rave about it to anyone who gives me a chance.

Co-op_play_1

But I love it for the co-op. In one fantastic weekend the girlfriend and I sat down and absolutely blitzed through BC:R with callous disregard for anything else that might have been going on. I’d always struggled to find games that we could play together, and had great success with Team Fortress 2, but when it came to games that we could both enjoy while sitting on the couch together there were precious few options at the time. Rearmed was the perfect solution: once you got past the characterful idiosyncracies (no jump button, for a start, which inexplicably infuriates some people), it was extremely easy to pick up and play. And it really let you work co-operatively too, with certain enemies and bosses much easier to take on when you worked together. It could be tremendously funny too, with portraits of boss enemies clutching lollipops and recurring awkward exchanges between an enemy commander and his subordinate, all smothered under a massive chunk of cheesy. Oh, and the final boss is a resurrected Hitler in a fighter jet whose head explodes gruesomely when you finish him. Absolutely lovely.

And that’s it, top ten platformers is over. Let us know what you thought of the feature and whether you’d like to see more top tens with ten writers in the future. xx

A life in games

Who am I?

 

No, I’m not referring to a Jackie Chan film, nor am I suffering an existential crisis.  My name is Sam, and I’m a games addict.  I’m also a new writer here on the wonderful site you know and love as Hi Score – so you can expect to see plenty more from me over the coming months, you lucky people.  So, without further ado, let me explain a little bit more to you about my experiences in gaming.

 

Halcyon days

 

I have often thought of myself as a casually obsessive gamer – games are something I come back to after spending years away from them.  While this might be true-ish, I recently looked back down the years and found surprising evidence to the contrary: I am probably not a casual gamer at all.  As young as four years old, I remember being transfixed by the very idea that machines could transport me to another world, create entire fictions for me to explore and inhabit.  When I got my first home computer – an Amstrad CPC 464 – on Christmas Day, I was left shocked, amazed, ecstatic and goggle-eyed.  Roland in Time was, quite frankly, a masterpiece, as was the amazing Jet Set Willy.  Computers seemed to open up a world of endless possibilities, doorways to fantastical realms.   A bit like interactive books, perhaps.  Many were like books, in a way – playing Granny’s Garden on the BBC Micro was even part of school lessons.

 
Granny's Garden: every scoolboy's dream

During my life, computers and consoles have always been there in the background: I’ve owned an Amiga 500 (I was convinced graphics would never get any better!), a Megadrive, a Playstation, a Nintendo 64, a Playstation 2, and now an Xbox 360.  I have played even more than that, and owned several PCs.  Despite this, there is still something even now that makes me smile like a schoolboy when I fire up a disc and enter an entirely new world for the very first time.

 

Perhaps one of the reasons I like gaming because it is truly nostalgic, a direct link straight into my past.  I also like it for many other reasons now – unlocking a difficult achievement or trophy, chatting to my friends online, besting my virtual opponents in an FPS; the list goes on.

 

The long and winding road

 

I have loved so many games for so many reasons over the years, that perhaps it is unwise to list them all here – each such game is like a classic album to me, transporting me back to a simpler, happier time, where rose-tinted glasses aren’t optional.  It conjures up associative memories and makes me think of other things, not just the game itself.  An example of one such game is Super Metroid.  Perhaps it is as much down to the heady nostalgia of the warm summer I spent dedicated to it with my friend Tony, but it will always have a special place in my heart.  It’s also why I’ve been so excited about the prospect of Shadow Complex this week on XBLA.  And without further ado, I shall take my leave of you to go and get stuck into Shadow Complex.

 
The grand old days of yore

Auf Weidersehen, Monty

 

That’s all from me for now, but I’ll catch you guys and gals around.

 

Billy Goodgun

AKA Sam.

Top Ten Platformers…..with a twist

Hi-Score is bringing you a new feature this week that will see a Top Ten but with a twist. This first edition sees a Top Ten of platformers, but what’s the twist?

Each entry in the Top Ten will be chosen and written by a different writer, they will talk about the game in their own way. These ten games are in no particular order, we’re just ten people talking about games we love. Please feel free to tell us YOUR favourite platformer in the comments section or of course tell us if we’re wrong.

This week is part one, featuring five games by five writers; Christos Reid, Matt Armstrong, Lauren Wainwright, Sinan Kubba and John Cranston.

Psychonauts – PC, XBOX, PS2

Christos Reid – Freelancer – For The Gamer Good

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When calling into question the various reasons I’d choose Psychonauts as my personal platforming masterpiece, you may think me slightly psychologically unhinged. The prospect of delving into the various aspects of a person’s subconscious, represented aesthetically as a rather neon-filled platforming arena, isn’t so much a visual representation of the Jungian “shadow-subconscious” as a mess filled with bright lights and even prettier bright lights.

But we’re forgetting one vital organ in this body of work – Tim Schafer. Time and time again, the man has proven that storytelling is key in helping the player to overcome the loss of realism they encounter on a second-by-second basis inside the game world. In the case of Psychonauts, we follow Raz, a psychically gifted young individual who sneaks into a summer camp for children with other brain-boosted abilities of varying degrees. Simple enough, but when their tasks involve solving the inner hurt inside each other by slapping a small door on their target’s head and jumping in, it begins to fall down the rabbit hole so very enjoyably.

And it’s down this rabbit-warren of a game that Psychonauts shines – the boss characters can be anything from a suppressed memory of an abusive parent, grown monstrous in size due to the infantile concept of the parent allowed free reign in terms of evolution and growth, to censorship itself. That’s right. Censor representatives are the meat you’ll grind inside the subconscious, attempting to both boot you out of the subconscious you’re so happily jumping around and punching things in, and sealing away the more hideous, real problems that really do need to be dealt with.

LiPo_SS_12

Don’t think of yourself as a player, think of yourself as a therapist. You have the ability to save these people, and if you can’t, well, things are going to go sour pretty quickly. Some are heartbroken, and some are mentally scarred – The Milkman in particular is an interesting example, his subconscious a suburban neighbourhood infested with intelligence agents disguised as residents, a visual representation of the conspiracy theorems and paranoia that have driven him into a single-minded, boring profession, delivering milk that no one ever drinks to an insane asylum.

Your abilities rely largely on Raz’s uncanny evolution above the other camp-fiends – he takes the best aspects from the various X-men cookie-cutter stereotypes around him and turns them into weapons, defences and boosts to his own puny physical abilities. Telekinesis, pyrokinisis and more, all blended into the body of our saviour, “the boy who dreamt.” The only thing you are barred from doing is reading the minds of others, and why? Because you’d know the bad guy in the first half an hour, and hiding him is the very reason you stumble around the repressed urges and scars that comprise the platformer’s landscape.

This is beyond a game that simply requires the collection of coins and saving a princess; this is a masterpiece of Schafer’s, the devotion to the suggestion that, through exploration of the psyche we can finally explain all the military stereotypes, the derogatorily oversexed female icons, and of course, ourselves.

Sonic The Hedgehog – Every blinking platform

Matt “SnakeLinkSonic” ArmstrongMisanthropic Gamer

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Through design, Sonic the Hedgehog has always been served to me as a rowdy, impatient, and delinquent little mascot. It’s a common understanding these days that those of us who grew up with a Sonic preference (as opposed to a certain Italian plumber) have dwindled to nothing more than an abused bunch of fanboys. From what I’ve been able to conclude however, the most responsible catalyst for this abuse was not so much Sonic’s shift to 3D (that was just an after-effect), but the fans/developers ineptitude to recognize the problems he had in a 2D plane to begin with. That’s not really such a bad thing though, considering we were all young at the time and were absolved of trying to pick games apart to the degree that we often tend to now.

One thing of interest though is how the young mascot fares today, within wavering titles of varying enjoyment. Despite problems that have even been recognized by Sega themselves, Sonic still sells. This could easily be seen as the problem I skated around above simply repeating itself. Children and young adults have now been presented with problematically designed 3D games that will continue to move forward without evolving, which is exactly what the 2D games did in the first place.

A lot of people have either simply given up on the franchise or are content enough with it to keep buying into it as a game without serious fault. Spoiled and neglected at the same time, the games will continue to travel down a slippery slope until somebody decides to catch it (or at least attempt to do so). I personally find the whole process fascinating because as a platformer, Sonic has always been an explosive experience; far off kilter from what his once-rival Mario always seemed to offer in a far more well-rounded package.

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A perpetual problem for Sonic has also been centered on developers somehow raising his game’s design to match our hyper-acuity for what we don’t like. Unfortunately, there has been little discipline to fundamentally reestablish his stance in the ‘big picture’ because there are multiple parties contributing to his overexerted legacy:

1 >>> New fans, which are primarily children that are repeating the same mistakes that many of us made when we were young.

2 >>> Old fans that refuse to admit that there may not be a problem with the games.

3 >>> Those of us who grew up and have resorted to calling foul on every single thing that the titles don’t absolutely nail.

4 >>> Developers that continue to pedal the games to groups 1 & 2, while condescendingly (albeit silently) ignoring the third group.

5 >>> The marketing folk that are amusingly distorting his image slightly askew since they know that group #1 are what still put meals on their tables.

6 >>> Did I miss anyone?

I love Sonic because he and his games have baggage in the truest sense. That’s something I can’t get with any other platformer, so I stand behind it finding some sense of solace in design, appearance, and reception…someday…maybe?

~sLs~

Tomb Raider – PS1, PC, Saturn

Lauren Wainwright – Writer – Viera.nu

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In 1996, a game called Tomb Raider was released to an audience of salivating males and impressionable girls. Its lead, a large breasted-British-brunette, not only managed to conquer the hearts of millions with blend of witty charm, and sexy looks but also became the most successful video game media darling of all time.
It’s 2009 now and Joe publics’ excitement for Lara and her dramatic archaeological discoveries has dwindled. She’s now played by more female gamers than ever before and her breasts are getting marginally smaller by the year.

Time warp back to 1996, I was 10 or 11 and life was pretty simple. All I had my video games, family life and an awkward school life to deal with. Suddenly, Lara Croft becomes an important icon in my life, and even as I hit my 23rd birthday, I still get as excited about a new Tomb Raider game as I did back then.

What was so special about Tomb Raider anyway? First of all, I had never really sunk my teeth into a decent action adventure title for quite as many hours as I did with the original TR. I really felt I have full control over Lara, even if she was dubbed as a tank. I spent hours playing around in her newly moved in mansion, the reception filled with giant brown crates to climb over. The glorified swimming pool where I developed severe Aqua Phobia, watching as Lara twitches to death and float lifelessly in the pool.

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Even small touches like holding the R1 button (PlayStation version) when Lara hulks herself up on a surface to pull off a rather pointless, but at the time highly amusing, handstand. Tomb Raider just blew me away!
The main reason Tomb Raider really captured my heart was that I really felt I was there with Lara, exploring these long forgotten tombs. Everything felt so unique and real and it really brought out the collector in me, spending hours swimming in small pools looking for secrets and medipacks.

I jumped when wolves and tigers appeared out of nowhere, when those bloody bats hit me just when I was about to take that jump over the pit, resulting in a frustrating death. Sat mouth wide open and marvelled at the intricate level design, and sheer size of environments.

Oh and remember that MASSIVE T-REX!? That thing was going to eat me and I was having none of it! Running backwards, occasionally jumping, all while pummelling lead from my trusty dual pistols until it finally dropped dead. Now I look back and laugh a little, the T-REX is quite cute now.

It really depresses me that the Tomb Raider machine has lost a lot of its public momentum. I can honestly say, bar 1 or 2 titles, the series has been fantastic so far. The latest game, TR: Underworld is probably one of the most beautifully designed adventure titles I have played in the last 2 years, and even though it reviewed well it still has sold less than the first Tomb Raider.

And you know what? I really miss walking to the edge, jumping back and taking a run up. Those were the days!

Rainbow Islands – Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Amiga, NES, Master System

Sinan Kubba – Writer and Features Editor – You Have Lost! and TheGameReviews

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There may well be 2D platformers better than Rainbow Islands. It lacks the accommodating difficulty curve of Super Mario World, instead opting for an intimidating surge of impossibiltiy in its final quarter. Rather than featuring Bionic Commando’s array of stirring 8-bit beats, it settles for something repulsively bubbly and then sets it to loop. But when it comes to individuality, sheer eccentricity, and clandestine depth, nothing beats Taito’s 1987 arcade classic, even to this day.

What was most distinctive about Rainbow Islands was its base mechanic, namely the player’s ability to shoot rainbows. These were used to defeat enemies and as the platforms for moving up – yes, up – through the game’s levels. This unusual form of both movement and ability gave Rainbow Islands an edge over the wealth of competing platformers that were aligning themselves with the successful Mario template at the time. As the sequel to Bubble Bobble, it’s unsurprising that Rainbow Islands replicated that game’s unusual platforming elements.

And just like its predecessor, Rainbow Islands was nauseatingly cute, right down to the cutesy enemy critters that moved around with the trademark bobbing eyes and shuffling feet. But, as someone who played Bubble Bobble, I knew that Taito didn’t specialize in simplistic, childish platformers. Like Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands betrayed its charming visage with depth, vigour and mystery. In those regards, however, Rainbow Islands made Bubble Bobble look like childsplay. For me, it remains the most intricate, secretive platformer ever made.

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Its bottomless depth lied primarily in its power-ups. On my first play through Rainbow Islands, it felt like it was handing out its items randomly. But every third item that appeared was tied in to the player’s actions. If you killed a certain number of enemies, you’d get a certain item. If you walked a certain number of steps, if you’d jumped a certain number of jumps, if you’d collected a certain number of a certain item – you get the idea. For a game made in 1987, the code within Rainbow Islands must have been disturbingly complicated. To this day there remains speculation on the requirements on some of its vast array of power-ups. And as for the power-ups themselves, they were simply awesome. The game became transformed by the ability to shoot lighting bolts across the screen, having a potent pixie bodyguard, or even being able to fly right to the top.

Then there’s the game’s wealth of secrets, way too many to go into here. If you thought Super Mario 3 had lots of secrets, then you simply haven’t played Rainbow Islands, and only the very skilled were able to unlock the Narnia held within the secret doors of each Rainbow Islands world. But for me, just completing the game was an achievement. The final two worlds represent some of the most challenging gaming to be found. I’ve only ever completed the game once, and I never will again. But I’ll keep on playing Rainbow Islands regardless, because every time I do I can’t help but let out a knowing smile. Maybe the best summary of the game’s eccentricity is its sixth world, entirely an homage to the classic game Arkanoid, and its boss is a giant Tron-esque, computerized head that shoots blocks at you. Like I said, there may be better games than Rainbow Islands, but when it comes to personality it’s right up there with the best.

Super Mario World – SNES

John Cranston – Writer – Johnus Maximus

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I won’t lie to you, in my early gaming days I was a complete Sega (ergo Sonic) fanboy, swearing that anything to do with moustachioed plumbers, mushrooms and princesses was nothing but utter tat. All that changed when I played Super Mario World.

In the halcyon days of the early 90’s, before Britpop and girl power, there used to be an exciting TV show for gamers – Gamesmaster. It was on that show that I remember watching clips of SMW with envy, thinking how it amazing it looked and wondering how many paper rounds would I have to do to get my hands on a Super Nintendo.

In the summer of 94, I was finally able to come to mutual understanding with a playground friend that allowed me use of a SNES for two weeks during the school holidays, and so was finally able to play what I now consider one of the most timelessly exciting and fun platform games in the history of video gaming.

I remember fondly that whimsical introduction music and a few lines of text to set the scene – Mario is in Dinosaur Land and wouldn’t you believe, that crafty rascal Bowser has kidnapped Mario’s favourite female friend. Okay, so no points for originality in the plot (boy meets girl, boy loses girl to giant dinosaur, boy goes on quest to get girl back), but it was the many other aspects of the game that just blew me away.

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The environment art, the sprites and the animation were so beautifully vivid and really brought each stage to life, from the Donut Plains to Chocolate Island. Accompanied by Kōji Kondō’s enchanting soundtrack this was a revelation in 16-bit gaming. The sheer volume of missions, side quests, bosses and unlockable secrets was enough to keep you busy for hours on end (thank the gods for the robust save-game system).

There were Ghost Houses with creepy music and terrifying Boo’s, Switch Palaces to make previously unattainable paths possible, hidden exits which led to Star World and Special World that upon completion altered the game in many strange ways, yellow capes to let Mario fly and glide round the stages, challenging boss castles with plenty of traps and home to the Koopalings, the dastardly Reznor and of course Bowser in his clown-like flying machine.

But let’s get on to the best bit – the unsurpassed enjoyment of riding Mario’s epic mount Yoshi. During the second stage you are greeted with the site of an egg cracking open and a small green dinosaur appearing. Similarly aggrieved by Bowser they form an alliance, allowing Yoshi to eat Mario’s enemies to gain special powers and letting Mario stomp on enemies that would previously have killed him.

To say that this game changed my life is an understatement; it changed my fanboy ways forever and opened my eyes to loving all games, no matter the system. Thanks to Shigeru Miyamoto and the fifteen other people that worked on it, I will cherish its memory always.

Well, that’s part one over………Phew that was long, but so worthwhile. Check back very soon for part two of this Top Ten!