Month: December 2018

My 2018 in video games: a (short) review

I played a lot of video games this year. I’m not even sure how I’ve fitted them in. This probably means there’s something much more important I forgot to do.

Anyway, here’s a rundown. Sometimes reviews like this can get a bit rambly, so I’ve restricted myself to five descriptive words or phrases per game. This will be interesting.

The Cave (Double Fine, 2013)

TheCave-Monk

Expertly interwoven, multifaceted, well-built, colourful characters, smooth gameplay.

8/10

What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow, 2017)

Edith-Finch

Clever mechanics, engaging, sensible length, nice visuals, weak story.

7/10

Maniac Mansion (LucasFilm, 1987)

Maniac-Mansion

Classic adventuring, tricky puzzles, dark humour, fantastic theme music, mean dead-ends.

7.5/10

Thomas Was Alone (Mike Bithell, 2012)

Thomas-Was-Alone

Quirky, stripped back, insecure cuboids, relaxing, nice puzzles.

6.5/10

Midnight Scenes: Highway and The Goodbye Note (Octavi Navarro, 2018)

Midnight-Scenes

Moody noir, eerie, bitesize fun, simple puzzles, beautiful art.

8/10

The Secret of Monkey Island (LucasArts, 1990)

Monkey-Island

Laugh-out-loud humour, genius puzzles, no-die safety, great unfolding, must-play classic.

9/10

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (LucasArts, 1991)

MI2

Wet-myself humour, self-referential, ahead of its time, brilliant score, brave ending.

10/10

Inside (Playdead, 2016)

Inside

Dark humour, mysteriously dystopian, gory puzzles, oozing atmosphere, flat ending.

8/10

Little Nightmares (Tarsier Studios, 2017)

Little-Nightmares

Other-worldly horror, amazing graphics, great monsters, pulse-racing, slightly frustrating.

7/10

Hidden Folks (Adriaan de Jongh, Sylvain Tegroeg, 2017)

Hidden-Folks

Charming, light-hearted, amusing sounds, creative, mindless fun.

8/10

A great mixture, and I enjoyed every one of them. I’m looking forward to what games 2019 brings!

Postscript: my favourite video game music in 2018

First games on my first platforms

Over at I Played the Game! Rob wrote a great piece about the first games he played on new consoles. I thought that was a rad idea and he suggested readers write their own, so here we go.

I’m including desktops and handhelds, otherwise this would be very short.

Amstrad IBM CPC (MS-DOS): Battle Chess

Ah, sweet DOS. Nothing beats punching those command lines on the keyboard (until you’re punched back with Abort, Retry, Fail?)

I got my Amstrad for Christmas in the 1980s. I wanted a Mega Drive, but my parents went for something ‘educational’. On Christmas Eve, once I was tucked up in bed my parents retrieved the computer from its hiding place and had a sneaky game of Battle Chess in the living room. They loved it.

On Christmas Day when I opened my gift they relayed their excitement and I was quite intrigued. That’s undoubtedly why Battle Chess was the first game I played on my Amstrad, choosing it over the other preloaded ones (delaying my love affair with Prince of Persia). And they were right – the game was genius. I wasn’t great at chess, but I loved watching the animated characters battle it out in exceedingly graphic, bloody confrontations. Everything about it is so dark – the bishop has a blade concealed in his staff, for goodness sake!

I think my favourite kill is a queen attacking a pawn. When she zaps his spear he turns and looks at the player as if to say, ‘what the hell?!’

Sega Mega Drive II: The Lion King

The-Lion-King

My continuing pleas for a console were answered (thanks ma and pa!) and now I had the best of both worlds.

At the time the Mega Drive II shipped with Disney’s The Lion King, so naturally I played that first. Not quite the gritty ruthlessness of Battle Chess, but a fun platformer with some really nice graphics.

I remember finding it enjoyable but tricky to master. Moving from keyboard to controller, I guess my fingers were taking a lesson in dexterity. But the range of eye-catching levels and accompanying music tracks were great. Luckily I knew the cheat code so I could sample all of them (Right, A, A, B, Start!) I bought lots of other Disney games after that, including Fantasia, Aladdin, The Jungle Book and World of Illusion.

Since I played The Lion King, every cat I’ve owned has been subjected to a Lion King Lift. Everything the light touches… is our kingdom.

Nintendo DSi: Bomberman Blitz

Bomberman

I had my Mega Drive for a long time – I even took it to uni. So jumping ahead about 15 years(!) my next console was the Nintendo DSi. I always thought the ‘i’ stood for ‘interactive’ because it came with WiFi. I’ve literally just discovered it represents an individual person and also the camera’s ‘eyes’. Okay.

While I’m a Sega girl at heart, there were some good games on this fun little handheld. I jumped at the chance to revisit the classic arcade franchise, Bomberman. Kind of like Pacman with less contact and more strategy, I liked the challenge of trying to outwit your opponents using a range of special tactical items like the remote control bomb, power bomb and pierce bomb. Another bonus was that in this version, if you died you could commandeer a cart on the sidelines and zip up and down throwing bombs into the arena. Revenge from the grave.

I liked the ability to ‘build’ your own game and experiment with different custom parameters, such as setting the number of CPUs and their skill level, enabling and disabling certain power-ups and choosing from a range of level designs.

Playstation 4: CounterSpy

Counterspy

I’m cheating again, because this isn’t my console per se. It’s my husband’s.

But I had to give this mention because it introduced me to CounterSpy.  I’m not normally a fan of stealth games, but I fell in love with the artwork and feel of this one. Set in a cold war scenario with a Bond-worthy soundtrack and jagged, retro graphics, your objective is to stealthily take down spies and collect enemy plans before aborting the weapon launch at the end of each level. Get spotted, and an alarm will sound and you’ve got to get out of there!

This game did strange things to me mentally. I became quite on-edge, and the failed patience and intense nervousness I felt in the game started seeping into my real life, and in the end I had to stop playing it for the sake of my loved ones. But it was fun while it lasted. Maybe I’ll give it another shot one day, on my own, from a bunker somewhere in the hills, far away from humanity.

Interestingly, I’ve just discovered that Dynamighty (the indie team behind CounterSpy) was founded by John Elliot and David Nottingham, who previously worked at LucasArts.

Android OS: She Wants Me Dead

SheWantsMeDead

Remember that time you stepped on my tail? Elbowed me out bed?

I’ve included a mobile game because again, I rarely play them, but the premise for She Wants Me Dead was absolutely right up my street – your cat wants bloody, gruesome revenge.

I’d never played a rhythm game before, and this one really grabbed my attention. The atmospheric, noir visuals are mesmerising, on a par with games like Limbo and Little Nightmares. The splash of red when a sharp object slices you contrasts nicely with the colourless backgrounds, giving it an artsy, Sin City feel.

The gameplay is pretty unique – in order to defeat the multitude of gory traps set by your cat, you must time your movements with the music. This makes for really nice, smooth gameplay (if you get it right!) and that lovely, eerie juxtaposition of sinister action overlaid with a lighthearted ditty.

I think that wraps it up. That was a nice trip down Memory Lane!

So to continue to pay it forward: what were your first games?

Christmas musings

Toejam-santa

These days, I’m a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas. I don’t mean I stop being kind and refuse to give money to charity; more that I dislike the general consensus that it’s a time for celebration and reflection. That doesn’t work so well when the past year (and the year before that, and the one before that) hasn’t been great. Realising the hopeful Me of December 2017 is still in the same rut a year later is pretty galling.

But I do want to muse on the good things, even if they have been few and far between (bah humbug!)

Making connections

I love my husband, our home and our two cats. I love my family and friends. But I’ve always needed more than that to feel like a whole person in my own right. In the last few years I’ve made some great connections online – be it brief but fun exchanges on Twitter, or the longer-term friendships I’ve made through forums and other online spaces.

I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with my love for retrogaming and interacting with people who share that love. It’s amazing to see what a retrogaming community there is out there. A whole new world has opened up and given me a great life side-project to keep me balanced and happy. I know people will come and go, but that’s par for the course.

Writing

Incidentally, social media has got me back into writing. Who’d have thought it?

I used to write all the time, but in my adult years I’ve really struggled with motivation. It turns out blogging and writing articles about old games, films and TV shows is a respectable public activity. Not only have I found a new medium for writing, but it’s even better. It’s taught me I don’t have to shut myself in a room and churn out the next great novel – I can just write about the things I enjoy.

I’m been very lucky on that front, and feel forever grateful to the people who have helped me onto the train and encouraged me to stay there. In turn, I’ve discovered some great writers and bloggers whose content I really enjoy. Social media can be used for good! (But Facebook can sod off.)

So that’s it, really.

I’m going to make an effort to enjoy Christmas Day as just that – a day – not for what it ‘represents’. For the overeating, booze and spending quality time with family and friends. For the retrogaming, film-watching, trivia and long walks.

I hope you have a happy Christmas, in whatever way that means to you.