Spy Hunter

With its smart weapons, awesome cars, Spy Hunter was viewed as a very stylish game back in the arcades on the early 1980s. It was a title that playing into any boy's fantasies- secret agents, nasty weaponry, and a driving lincese. Make no mistake though, it was the action packed gameplay that kept people coming back for more again, again, and again...


The year that the war ground on may have been 1943, when rationing continued to bite down hard, construction work on the Pentagon was completed, and the Japanese forces were driven back from Guadalcanal, but it's a whole lot more enjoyable if you think of it as this wonderful little vertical-scrolling shooter from Capcom, released for the delight of the arcade-going populas in 1987...


The game isn't just a good looking isometric dungeon crawler, it is THE best dungeon crawler. A simple - almost brainless trek through caverns and catacombs filled with vile creatures, not to mention all the loot. Blizzard spent a lot of time working on the generation of the game's spaces, making items, enemies, and geography be different every single time you load up the game...

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

The Elder Scrolls games are best known for the fourth chapter in the series, Oblivion, released in 2006. In comparison,The Elder Scroll's Morrowind is altogether more of a curate's egg, neither as commercially successful nor critically applauded as it's successor. Perhaps because of that, however, it's also a much more interesting game...


Rogue first appeared on college Unix systems in 1980. It contains an infinite variety via a series of randomly generated, ASCII-rendered dungeons that must be explored in a bid to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor (Rodney spelled backwards) from somewhere behold the twenty-fifth level -- an unlikely achievement given the imposing difficulty of even the earliest dungeon layers.

24 December, 2011


  • Release Date: 1981
  • Platform(s): Arcade
  • Developer: Konami
  • Genre: Action

In theory, you should never lose at Frogger. The gaming world's first frog superstar has a straightforward task: to get across a highway, and then a river -- dodging vehicles in the first stretch, jumping across logs and turtles on the second. The surrounding world is obvious to its struggle: The cars speed along on their own, and the alligators and poisonous frogs that patrol the river come and go regardless of where it hops. All you have to do is spot the path through the obstacles and complete it. If you find the right trail, you can make it in seconds. The whole thing should be a cinch, because only you can put yourself in trouble; the game hardly notices you're there.

Keep your head up.
That, however, is all easier said than done. Moving too quickly is one of the things that leads to mistakes. Panic is another. The obstacle course gets harder as cars speed up and sections of the river change their flow.  You're tempted to make a jump onto a turtle when you know it's about to sink underwater -- dragging you to your doom. And it's easy to get impatient around the slow-moving cars, even though the game counts you as dead if you hit the front or the rear. You're led to make errors by fearing your own vulnerability, by your eagerness to grab that difficult far-left berth on the safe end of the board, or by the chance to grab a fly for extra points.

A monster hit of the coin-operated arcade era, Frogger anticipates the pleasure of platformers like Super Mario Bros., and it appeals to players who would rather keep themselves alive than kill everything else around them. The frog's predicament draws the player into an environment that may be colourful and pleasing but is also full of threats. It's a place where shiny opportunities are put there to tempt you off the safe path, and where mastering the world breeds ridiculous joy.

22 December, 2011

Daytona USA

  • Release Date: 1993
  • Platform(s): Arcade
  • Developer: Sega
  • Genre: Driving

The first time you successfully drift around a turn in Daytona USA, it all makes sense. First, steer into the curve. Then hit the brakes -- you'll learn how hard you need to push on the pedal -- and correct against the turn just so . You'll find yourself sliding sideways at high speed, your car in a delicate equilibrium between spinning out and bolting off the course, poised to explode onto the straightaway. Realistic? Not exactly, but so natural that any other racing game you play afterward will feel stilted and awkward.

Among its many technical innovations, Daytona USA is credited as a pioneer of texture-mapped polygons, giving its 3-D models a more organic look than those of Sega's earlier efforts, Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter, with their plain, flat-shaded polygons. Texture mapping is used to great effect here, framing the racetracks with lush greenery, imposing cliff formations, and varied cityscapes. Up to eight competitions can be networked locally for epic in-person battles, which is where drafting -- riding the slipstream behind another player's car to create a slingshot effect out of turns-- can really make a difference.

Daytona USA also has its share of infamy. During the attract mode and on the Dinosaur Canyon racetrack, you are subjected to a cheesy, lounge-style song called "Let's Go Away," sung in English by a heavily accented Japanese man. You won't be able to get it out of your head.

A disastrous home version for the Sega Saturn in 1995 is reviled for its choppy frame rate and flickering polygons. In 1996, Sega would rectify the situation with Daytona USA Championship Circuit Edition, which sports improved graphics, truer handling, and three new racetracks. More faithful to the arcade original -- except for its instrumental only version of "Let's Go Away" -- the Championship Circuit Edition is the definitive home version.

20 December, 2011

Command & Conquer: Red Alert

  • Release Date: 1996
  • Platform(s):  MS-DOS, Windows, PlayStation
  • Developer: Westwood Studios
  • Genre: Strategy

Real-time strategy games tend to be fairly serious sorts of experiences. They're about war, for one thing, which is already serious enough, and they're generally enormously taxing and demanding, requiring players to take in an entire battlefield's worth of information, to isolate threats very quickly, and react to devastating changes on the fly.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert features some hectic conflicts
So it's no surprise that Command & Conquer is a fairly serious real-time strategy game. Series offshoot Red Alert, however, really isn't. Red Alert is a counterfactual real-time strategy, turning on the notion that Einstein went back in time Adolf Hitler when he was still a nobody (already things are becoming fairly unserious), only to return to his own to find the Allies hard at war in Europe, fighting against a massive Soviet war machine that has sprung up in the absence of Nazi Germany. It could happen. What's less likely to happen, however, is the development of some of the units that Red Alert lets you mess around with. These include science-fiction standards like Tesla Coils, capable of zapping troops in a flurry of electricity. Subsequent games would take this concept further until, in Red Alert 3, you were firing armoured bears at enemies or dispatching tanks that transformed into fighter jets.

That said, despite the wobblier sets and campier acting, Red Alert remains serious about being a game. Factions and units are well balanced, maps are clean tactical spaces, and the user interface sets the genre's standard. With the series getting loopier and loopier with every installment -- the Russian shock trooper in hot pants -- Red Alert remains a necessary antidote to the glum world conflicts of the main Command & Conquer plotline, providing an explosion of colour in a heavily cratered landscape.

15 December, 2011

Star Wars: TIE Fighter

  • Release Date: 1994
  • Platform(s): PC
  • Developer: Totally Games
  • Genre: Shoot 'Em Up

Star Wars: TIE Fighter features visceral space combat
It was perfect symmetry. Before making Star Wars: TIE Fighter, designer Lawrence Holland of Lucasfilm Games created a suite of World War II dogfighting games, including Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. For Star Wars' space dogfights, George Lucas looked to The Dam Busters and 633 Squadron for inspiration. When Holland was asked to think about creating a space combat game, he quickly realized that he and Lucas were already looking squarely at the same sources. The result was a series of games that represent some of the best file tie-ins ever created.

The secret is in the subtle blend of strict adherence to Star Wars lore and a willingness to design imaginatively on top of them. Immediately striking are the intense, twisting dogfights against star fields streaked with beams of bright, green and orange laser fire, as well as the iconographic lines of Star Wars' distinctive spacecraft. But the meat lies in one of gaming's most beautiful mechanics: your craft's power system. Demanding that you delicately balance your finite energy supply between lasers, engines, and shields, you are continually asked to think about how to approach each situation. Dump all your power into engines for speed, and you'll risk running out of lasers and having no protection when you meet trouble.

Star Wars: TIE Fighter, which has you fight for the Empire, features smoothly shaded fighters and meticulously designed missions. And though you might assume you'd always want to fight for the plucky Rebellion, the game's vision of dark political intrigue oozing below a veneer of mundane bureaucracy is gripping. It remains a terrible thrill to pilot a craft as fragile and feather-light as a regular TIE. Showing Star Wars from the dark side resulted in one of the most enthralling visions of its universe.

Mario Golf

  • Release Date: 1999
  • Platform(s): Game Boy Color
  • Developer: Camelot Software Planning
  • Genre: Sports

As Mario's unlikely shadow career as the world's most versatile sportsman evolved with the glorious playable Mario Kart games, golf was perhaps the most likely candidate for further expansion. The rolling hills of the Mushroom Kingdom would be an ideal location to sink a few holes. Golf games already had an established formula to riff on -- Nintendo had already made a couple of stand-out entries -- and Mario's crazy cast of friends and enemies would probably look delightful in plaid slacks, polo shirts, and funny little hats.

Who knew it would turn out as well as this, however? Camelot's game has (exceedingly light) elements of an RPG as you explore the local clubhouse, learning the ropes, setting up matches, and making friends, but it's also a smart, calculated, gold sim for one or more players. It may be easy to play but Mario Golf is filled with variables that affect play, as well as charming, rich details, such as a suite of brilliantly structured courses; nice physics and ball effects; and a lovely, comprehensive leaderboard made for keeping track of your best shots and bragging about them to your friends. Visual and aural feedback is absolutely great too, as you might expect, and the whole thing basks in the warm glow of the Mario universe -- even though you spend a rather large part of the game unlocking a range of characters who aren't the famous plumber.

Some of Mario's later excursions into sports have seemed a little tired at times as the branding, special moves, and general gimmickry became increasingly desperate and shrill, but here, on the Game Boy Color, the whole thing meshes perfectly together, and Mario is as at home on the emerald greens with a putter and sand wedge as he is dressed as a raccoon soaring over a gaggle of Koopa Troopas.

11 December, 2011

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II

  • Release Date: 1997
  • Platform(s): PC
  • Developer: LucasArts
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter

Imagine the pressure. The original Dark Forces successfully coats a doom-like first-person shooter with the veneer of the Star Wars universe, it delights gamers, sells well, and a sequel goes straight into production. The anticipation for the next installment of Kyle Katarn's adventures was through the roof, and LucasArts delievered a stunning shooter experience that integrated role-playing style, Jedi power progression, and story choices into a more traditional run-and-gun action product. And it introduced lightsabers, Oh, yes, the lightsabers.

A Fierce Looking ATAT
Building a system that would fluidly switch to a third-person perspective when Katarn draws out the big stick proved to be a significant technical hurdle that was executed perfectly. Katarn's story as a former Imperial officer turned mercenary takes a huge leap forward when he uncovers the force. Now he can learn new Force powers and choose whether to follow the Light or Dark path on a quest to find his father's murderer.

It's a gripping progression that invests the player with an important role in this post-Return of the Jedi story-line. Even after the single-player plot-line is exhausted, it's easy to replay, choosing different Jedi powers and experiencing the story from the other side. Then you can take those skills online in a multiplayer mode that pits Light against Dark Jedis in classic four-player match-ups.

This package set a new ambition bar not just for all future Star Wars games, but for the first person shooters in general. As three-dimensional graphics cards were gaining a foothold, this game was one very good reason to join the revolution, if you hadn't already. For fans of the series, all it takes is for that famous score to start playing, and the chills run down their spines.

02 December, 2011


  • Release Date: 1987
  • Platform(s): Arcade
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Genre: Shoot 'Em Up

The year that the war ground on may have been 1943, when rationing continued to bite down hard, construction work on the Pentagon was completed, and the Japanese forces were driven back from Guadalcanal, but it's a whole lot more enjoyable if you think of it as this wonderful little vertical-scrolling shooter from Capcom, released for the delight of the arcade-going populas in 1987.

The sequel to Capcom's cracking 1942, 1943 is set in the Pacific as the player fights off waves of oncoming enemies to take the battle to the heart of the Japanese fleet. Once again, victory depends on mastery of standard and special attacks, as you take down spinning, cycling, warping, and flipping waves of oncoming aircraft and ground troops, fighting elaborate boss battles and collecting brilliant power-ups. The health system has been modified somewhat, but the game remains as challenging as ever, and overall success is still as unlikely. (Although the introduction of two-player cooperative action evens out the odds a little, especially during the larger boss confrontations.) Like the previous title, 1943 is now considered one of the kings of the one-credit-play-through challenge, popular among a particularly hardcore group of the game's fans.

Having created the arcade iteration, Capcom handled a home version for the NES, but a cast and unwieldy range of ports across different platforms range widely in terms of quality and degrees of fidelity. Faced with such a compromised muddle, if you're itching to re-stage the Battle Of Midway in entirely unrealistic terms today, you'll probably want to hunt down the mighty Capcom Classics Collection -- a generous PS2/Xbox compilation -- which features this game, along with many other greats, and has some rather delightful menus to boot.

They just never stop coming

22 November, 2011


  • Release Date: 1980
  • Platform(s): Unix
  • Developer: Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, Ken Arnold
  • Genre: Strategy / Role-Playing

Rogue first appeared on college Unix systems in 1980. It contains an infinite variety via a series of randomly generated, ASCII-rendered dungeons that must be explored in a bid to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor (Rodney spelled backwards) from somewhere behold the twenty-fifth level -- an unlikely achievement given the imposing difficulty of even the earliest dungeon layers.

Practically no information is disclosed to the player, so every new game is a voyage of discovery, not just the dungeon's layout, but also of the monsters and items within. Progression to the deeper parts of the dungeon is such a rarity that there are inevitably new monsters to meet. Quaffing potions and reading scrolls along the way is always a calculated risk; you might discover that you've just gulped down a potion of strength ("You feel stronger. What bulging muscles!"), but if you've guzzled a potion of blindness ("A cloak of darkness falls") you can kiss goodbye to any chance of surviving to the later levels.

Other obstacles include simple hunger, which can wipe out even the bravest of adventurers;dead ends; and a cruel variety of traps.

One of Rogue's Many Randomly Generated Dungeons (Click to Enlarge)

20 November, 2011

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

  • Release Date: 2004
  • Platform(s): PlayStation 2, PC, Xbox
  • Developer: Rockstar
  • Genre: Action

With sales of more than 20 million copies since ts launch in 2004, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the biggest-selling PlayStation 2 game of all time, and not without reason. Though initially a game about gang bangers and turf wars in a fictional Los Angeles (Los Santos), channeling scenes from Menace II Society and Boyz N the Hood, it blossoms into an ode to the entire West Coast. Three whole cities -- the others being San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas) -- create a game four times bigger than Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, home to just about every idea from Rockstar's whiteboards. Weight gain, pimping missions, robberies, drive-bys, swimming, clothes shopping, martial arts, casino games, horse racing -- the list goes on and on.

The hero this time is Carl "CJ" Johnson, a Los Santos native who returns for his mother's funeral after five years in Liberty City. Chaos greets him, his neighbourhood falling to gang violence while rivalries and suspicions break up his family. Blackmailed by the crooked Officer Tenpenny (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and distracted by girlfriends, hippies, and everyone in between, he gradually unearths the secrets behind his mother's murder, following the clues to the far ends of the map.

Just as important as the urban centers of San Andreas are the spaces in between: the rural
retreats and vast open roads that turn the game into a road movie. No Grand Theft Auto before or since has let you point toward a random horizon and just keep on driving, capturing that post-Woodstock spirit of movies like Easy Rider and Vanishing Point. None has featured a more star-studded cast, either, or so many ways of getting from point A to B via X, Y and Z. Though it lacks an occasional dab of polish, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is an embarrassment of riches.

04 November, 2011

The Incredible Machine

  • Release Date: 1992
  • Platform: MS-DOS, 3DO, Macintosh
  • Developer: Dynamix
  • Genre: Puzzle

Emergent game play and physics-based interactivity may seem like fresh concepts, but it was The Incredible Machine that really introduced these major game components almost twenty years ago.

Without a doubt inspired by the ridiculously elaborate contraptions imagined by cartoonist Heath Robinson and Rube Goldberg, The Incredible Machine tasks players with inventing their own devices to carry out a series of simple actions. On each level an objective is give, ranging from popping a series of balloons to launching rockets to re-housing goldfish. A range of "useful" components is provided in limited quantities, which can be dragged and dropped onto the game space to construct the relevent machine. Basketballs, flashlights, and pulleys all figure -- as do mice, cats, and monkeys on bicycles -- and all can be variously combined to complete the tasks.

The beuty of the game is its accurate simulation of gravity, inertia, and other vital physical processes. Just as important, there is no one way to complete each level, and emergent approach that encourages endless exploration. The game also comes with a sandbox mode in which users are free to construct their own machines from scratch.

The game was a huge success on the PC (later appearing on the Mac and 3DO console), and creators Kevin Ryan and Jeff Tunnell would carry on to oversee two sequels, as well as a range of spin-offs, before their company, Dynamix, was dissolved in 2001. The series would surface again in 2007 as a mobile adaptation, courtesy of Vivendi. Two years later, Tunnell brought back the rights and further titles were planned. After a decade-long hiatus, the machine is finally being switched back on.

Incredible Machine can get wild sometimes.

27 October, 2011

Age Of Empires

  • Release Date: 1997
  • Platform: PC
  • Developer: Ensemble Studios
  • Genre: Strategy

While advances in video games are typically characterized by leaps in technology or game play innovation, lateral crossover is also important. Like some novel technology concocted in one of its temples, Age of Empires crossed two existing game play templates and boiled down the result to produce a new branch in strategy gaming.

The first parent was Civilization, Sid Meier's brilliant 1991 title. Devotees loved it, but its complexity and turn-based mechanics put off many more. By the mid-90s, real-time strategy offered a more accessible way for armchair generals to marshal their forces. The best-selling strategy games -- Command & Conquer and Warcraft -- and their copycats were science-fiction or fantasy affairs. What Ensemble Studios (including designer Bruce Shelley, who worked on Civilization with Meier) did was meld Civilization's historical trappings and empire building idea with the genre's game play and pretty graphics.

The result, Age of Empires, was an approachable take on dictatorship with enough historical finery to satisfy all but the most bookish rulers. Assuming leadership of one of a dozen peoples, from the Greeks and the Babylonians to the Japanese Yamato civilization, you guide your race from being hunter gatherers through several transitions to create a dominant Iron Age culture. The twelve civilizations are divided into four main group, each one with its own distinctive architectural style. The emphasis is on military progressions, though victory conditions include building a Wonder, such as an Egyptian pyramid. On the fighting front, dubious artificial intelligence, later patched, and Age of Empires launched a globe-conquering franchise that eventually sold twenty million units.

Camels, Elephants, and everything in between. Age Of Empires features a large  variety of units.

19 October, 2011

Dr. Mario

  • Release Date: 1990
  • Platform(s): SNES, NES, Satellaview, Game Boy
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Genre: Puzzle
In Nintendo's rush to create a Tetris clone unencumbered by the legal disputes of the original, it seems nobody stopped to ask a few fundamental questions. For example, when did this world-saving plumber find the time to acquire a medical degree? Perhaps the reason no one raised such pressing issues is that they were too busy playing Dr. Mario.

Instead of the blank slate that beings most Tetris-like games, each level of Dr. Mario is contaminated with red, yellow, and blue viruses. Mario attacks them by way of double-sided capsules, each half coloured either red, yellow, or blue. Stack like colours atop or next to one another to eliminate them, match for or more in a row and they disappear.

One major difference between Dr. Mario's capsules and Tetris's tetrominoes is that the coins of Dr. Mario's realm are much more manuverable. The result is a greater focus on agility: if you want to succeed, you'd better master split-second reactions. For a Tetris knockoff, Dr. Mario is remarkably original. The game spawned a thriving branch of the falling puzzle genre, and without it there might have been no Lumines or Bejeweled.

04 October, 2011


Release Date: 1993
Platform(s): Arcade, SNES, SEGA Genesis, SEGA CD, Gameboy, SEGA Game Gear
Developer: Midway
Genre: Sports

The catchphrases are legendary: "He's on fire!" "Is it the shoes?" "From downtown!" You're apt to hear all these and more during a single game of NBA Jam, and if you need proof of the game's cultural currency, walk up to somebody, say any of these one statements, and see how the react. Most likely, they'll respond with the immortal, "Boom shakalaka!"

NBA Jam is the game of basketball as seen through a funhouse mirror. It uses real NBA teams and superstar players, such as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, although that's about where similarities to the real thing end. (One notable omission is Michael Jordan, whose likeness was too pricy for Midway to license.) Teams take each other on in games of two-on-two, which leads to fast paces, high-scoring games without a lot of passing or strategy.

The game's true inspiration is to exaggerate the sport's traits beyond the limits of credulity. When a player hits three buckets in a row, he's said to be on fire, and from that point until the other team scores, he won't miss a shot, and the ball will scorch the net. The centrepiece of the game is its monster dunks -- the player can jam it in with a variety of long-distance tomahawks, behind-the-back moves, and aerial somersaults that take them outside the frame, each one lustily narrated by a Marv Albert soundalike.

NBA Jam's sense of fun knows no bounds. Fourth quarter dunks have the effect of shattering the glass. A bevy of unlockable secret characters creates hilarious match-ups. Between the various arcade and home versions of the game, it's possible to play as actors, mascots, athletes from other sports, and even President Clinton. Slick Willie throwing down a baseline jam on Hakeem Olajuwon's head? Boom shakalaka!

02 October, 2011


Release Date: 1991
Platform: PC
Developer: Microprose Software
Genre: Strategy

Want to make a PC gamer of certain age cry? Whisper "Civilization" in his or her ear. There are any number of reasons why the tears might flow, but it's likely because more sleep, weekends, job, and relationships have probably been lost to Civilization than any other game.

This seminal strategy experience is vast. Beginning with just a settler wandering a hostile world 4,000 years before Christ, you found first a city and, through your choices, a civilization capable of defeating all its rivals or of sending a spaceship to distant Alpha Centauri. Blocking your path is the land unknown, barbarians, and rival civilizations, and the tools at your disposal to run the gamut from trade and diplomacy to all out hostilities.

You decide what civilization you'll play, choosing from the Mongols, the Romans, and other past and present contenders for the title of global superpower. Your choice affects trivial matters such as the names of your cities  or the colours of your army: Civilization's genius is that this decision does not determine the paths your people follow.

The technology tree does that; a brilliantly conceived flowchart of human progress that has been copied by most strategy games in the wake of Civilization. By researching, for instance, the wheel, you can unlock further related technologies, such ass transport or vehicular combat units. Few areas of human endeavour are ignored, but since you can only research on thing at a time, your civilization is shaped by the order of the choices you make.

With day-to-day tasks ranging from war to farming to transport planning to developing the Wonders of the World, the demands on the player are immense. What's incredible then, is how the game manages to make time disappear as you play. If you've got a night to kill, the set it aside to play Civilization.

26 September, 2011

Metal Gear Solid

  • Release Date: 1998
  • Platform: PC, PS1
  • Developer: Konami
  • Genre: Stealth

When designer Hideo Kojima brought his Metal Gear series to PlayStation, he did more than just kick-start the most popular stealth franchise in gaming history. He began a conversation that continues today, sharing his fears of nuclear holocaust, his distrust of the industrial-military complex, his love of movies like The Guns of Navarone and You Only Live Twice, and his sympathy for the soldiers discombobulated by war. "Ghosts of the battlefield," he would call them, putting a fresh slant on the tired old cliché of the video game action hero.
Egoraptor's parody: Metal Gear Awesome

Retired special agent Solid Snake has been dispatched to Shadow Moses, a remote fortified island in Alaska. His mission is to quell and uprising staged by FOXHOUND, a terrorist cell in control of the island's secret: a walking nuclear doomsday weapon called Metal Gear Rex. Little does Snake realize that its mastermind, codenamed Liqud Snake, is actually his genetic twin, part of a government project to breed the ultimate soldier. His lieutenants, furthermore, are psychopaths and assassins with their own twisted agendas. The government calls them traitors, but can anything be that simple in this new world order?

If you think that sounds convoluted, wait until it gets going. Kojima isn't a man to use five words when fifty will suffice and didn't make a game to be played only once. The threads established here would multiply tenfold in games to come, as would the options for combat and stealth. Officially a "sneaking" game, Metal Gear Solid is fast and relatively forgiving; escape often as simple as hiding under a cardboard box. Intensely cinematic with its reaction shots and cut scenes, it's more fondly remembered for toying with that illusion: one boss's weakness being a quick change of controller port.

Metal Gear Solid revolves around stealth combat.

24 September, 2011

The Legend Of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Ages

  • Release Date: 2001
  • Platform: Game Boy Colour
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Genre: Action / Adventure

The follow-up to the Game Boy's brilliant The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was always going to have its work cut out, even before you consider that, for the first time, third-party developers were handling the most delicate of Nintendo's children. And although Capcom can't compete with the master company's own designers, it does a pretty decent job of playing babysitter to greatness, with a couple of games that certainly cover very suitable territory and repeat all the right moves.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages are a pair of complementary interconnected games. The two games, released simultaneously, interact via a Nintendo Game Link Cable, enabling the two titles to be played on two different Game Boys at the same time. Each game transports our hero Link to a different magical land, where a powerful oracle has been kidnapped. While the larger story can only be understood when both games are completed, each title can still be enjoyed as a standalone adventure in it's own right. And, helpfully Capcom has been taking notes, with adventures that unfold in a familiar progression of item-gathering, over-world exploration, and dungeon crawling. It's not a bad copy of the previous games, and the development team manages to throw in enough new magical twists and ideas to keep you chugging along on a series of journeys that only just fall short of what Zelda fans traditionally expect.

With visuals and controls almost identical to The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, the Oracle games never quite reach the heights of Nintendo's own work, though they still do a decent job. Heartfelt, varied and often clever, they serve as a reminder that the right property has the power to lift everyone associated with it.

16 September, 2011

Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy

  • Release Date: 2001
  • Platform: PlayStation 2
  • Developer: Naughty Dog
  • Genre: Platformer

Jak and Daxter's own precursor was Crash Bandicoot, a character who became something of a mascot for the original PlayStation and an example of Naughty Dog's technical skills. Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy is similarly demonstrative of the developer's talents when it comes to character design and the manipulation of Sony's hardware: players are treated to a high level of detail, charismatic animation, and a streaming world with no loading screen in sight. The game also paved the way for Nolan North's later proliferation of vocal appearances by caster Max Casella (an actor who nowadays also has The Sopranos and Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony on his resume) as the voice of Daxter.

As 3-D graphics had been well exploited for the previous generation of consoles, standing out from the crowd in the 128-bit landscape required new tactics. Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy's main innovation is the aforementioned lack of loading. Before this, games were predominantly discrete experiences lacking in holistic permanence, but here players could travel to locations visible in the distance, and challenges begun would remain in the state they were left, rather than requiring restarts. The stage props used by preceding platform games had been transformed into a living, breathing world.

That the mechanics of the game are heavily evocative of classics like Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie is simply another reason to recommend it; the polished, fluid controls ensure that simply moving Jak around is a joy. Thought is also put into the reinvention of genre cliches: The collectibles here aren't as abstract tokens but energy orbs, which make sense in the context of the plot, setting a new bar for consistency and motivation.

13 September, 2011

Super Mario 64

  • Release Date: 1996
  • Platform: N64
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Genre: Platform

Mario would seem to have come to the end of his natural life as games embraced the third dimension. Nintendo's mascot was getting on a bit, and he was so emphatically linked to the suddenly rather tired world of two-dimensional scrolling that many fans suspected either retirement or, worse, irrelevance awaited him on Nintendo's new console, the N64.

In fact, neither was the case. Mario's first three-dimensional adventure saw the plumber as trailblazing and trendsetting as ever, showing competitors how it's done, and throwing analog controls into the mix (a little push forward to walk, a push all the way to run) to create an adventure no one would forget in a hurry -- particularly Mario's rivals on other platforms.

Certain things had to change. Rather than a long travelogue quest heading from the left side of the map to the right, Super Mario 64 introduces Peach's castle as a hub from which other levels would be accessible once enough stars had been collected from the game's various challenges. The means of entering these themed levels -- leaping through paintings -- is still a genuinely magical piece of design. The worlds found beyond, all of which have room enough for a handful of different tasks, are masterpieces of thrifty imagination, providing the space for a coin hunt one minute and a boss fight the next.

Like the hub itself, the levels become non-linear arenas, and from the mountainous peaks of Cool, Cool Mountain to the tangle of pathways that make up Big Boo's Haunt, Super Mario 64 almost feels more like a theme park than a series of themed courses. No matter where exactly it's getting its inspiration from, however, Super Mario 64 remains one of the most influential -- and one of the best -- video games ever made.

05 September, 2011

Battlefield 1942

  • Release Date: 2002
  • Platform: PC, Mac
  • Developer: Digital Illusions CE
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter

Battlefield 1942 puts intelligence into multiplayer team-based shooters. PC players had been ganging up since Half-Life Team Fortress, and limited coordination was hinted at as early as Starsiege: Tribes. But by placing multiclassed team combatants within cunningly designed Word War II arenas, Battlefield 1942 forced the issue, making for an epic multiplayer behemoth that rolled over and crushed the opposition.

The core action takes place in loosely authentic theatres of war in the game's "Conquest" mode, which pits two historically appropriate armies against each other: the British versus the Germans in Europe, or the Japanese versus the United States Of America in the Pacific. Each team is assigned control points, typically villages or islands, where action begins, from which fallen soldiers can re-spawn as one of several specialized character classes. Fighting side-by-side with other players -- up to thirty-two in total -- you battle to seize control of these strategic points, forcing back the enemy and depleting the tickets that end the game at zero. Every death reduces tickets too, nearly forcing players to fight for their lives rather than go on suicide missions or camp at home.

The game also plays smart by dumbing down, enabling you to drive, pilot, or plunge to your death in dozens of vehicles -- from jeeps and tanks to aircraft carriers and airplanes -- but it rids fussy control variations in favour of a cartoon-like equivalence. The graphics engine copes well, with ceaseless cinematic moments emerging from the random actions of you and your comrades.

It all conspires to unite far-flung and (often idiotic) online gamers to give the illusion of a cohesive fighting force locked into battle. Think Wacky Races meets Medal Of Honor -- and don't get too snooty, because the result is a blast, and it spawned a true masterpiece.

03 September, 2011

Age Of Mythology

  • Release Date: 2002
  • Platform: PC, Mac
  • Developer: Ensemble Studios
  • Genre: Strategy

Ensemble didn't take risks. It didn't have to. From the moment the historical strategy game Age Of Empires launched in 1997, its course was set: It would be king of real-time strategy, absurdly successful, regardless of whatever naysayers might claim about the PC and Mac platforms. The studios owner Microsoft closed the studio in 2009, and it didn't seem to add up. No developer knew how to be a reliable money-factory quite as well as Ensemble.

Age Of Mythology, the studio's first game for Microsoft, doesn't take risks either. It does quite the opposite, dragging the fantastical elements that less successful rivals tend toward into its own straitlaced but highly polished strategy structure: harvesting wood and stone, building bases in exact order, deftly making every unit a precise rock to some other soldier's paper or scissor. Ensemble took someone else's risk and made it into the most sensible thing in the world. It has Minotaur and sphinx and Valkyrie, but somehow they arn't an outlandish pretense among the more familiar cavalry, swordsmen and archers. Instead, they're smart, strategic high-end units, vital to tipping the game's mathematically precise balance into your favour. Age Of Mythology knows exactly what it's doing, and being in the company of mythical beasts doesn't change the solid formula one bit.

Age Of Mythology may have played it safe, but it did suggest Ensemble might be a little more playful from thereon in. That didn't happen. Next in line came the button-downed Age Of Empires III, and then Halo Wars as the studio's last dying breath. That leaves Age Of Mythology as an aberration; perhaps the only game where this one-time king of studios allowed its own character to appear alongside its unsullied strategy-design skill.

The Trojan Horse

01 September, 2011

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

  • Release Date: 2002
  • Platform: PC, Xbox
  • Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
  • Genre: Action/Role-Playing

The Elder Scrolls games are best known for the fourth chapter in the series, Oblivion, released in 2006. In comparison,The Elder Scroll's Morrowind is altogether more of a curate's egg, neither as commercially successful nor critically applauded as it's successor. Perhaps because of that, however, it's also a much more interesting game. This isn't the traditional fantasy of the later version; instead it is a weird blend of traditional fantasy with people and places that are characterized by an almost eerie other-worldliness.

One thing that is true of both games is the unparalleled freedom that their creators have blessed upon the players. More than many other similar games, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind contains entire societies and cultures that are completely convincing (and, by including the Elder Scrolls construction set, even allowed players to create their own).

In one inspired piece of design, the tutorial contains the entire character creation process as part of the narrative, with attributes and skills generated by the choices the player makes while describing their character's background to a prison bureaucrat. In another, character skills advance as players use them. If you want to become good at say, sword-fighting, you simply keep sword-fighting.

For a set of rules designed to let gamers play without worrying about the numbers, the latter system is easy to exploit by anyone who wants to artificially inflate their abilities. In this, however, it is also a well-intentioned, albeit a bit flawed piece of design -- but flawed in such a way that it enriches the experience. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind grants players the freedom to play it as an experience, absorbing the story and forging their own, or as a set of rules, to be ransacked with an obsessive-compulsive eye for exploits in a bid to "beat" the game.

28 August, 2011

Baldur's Gate II

Release Date: 2000
Platform: PC
Developer: BioWare
Genre: Role-Playing

In 1988, SSI's Gold Box series redefined the Western idea of the RPG genre. They took the single most important set of pen-and-paper rules -- Advanced Dungeons & Dragons -- and tied them to an epic series of campaigns that spanned entire continents and several games, breathing life into Gary Galax's legendary creation. Running out of steam in the early 1990s, however, the D&D franchise was left to languish. Until, that is, BioWare created Baldur's Gate. The effect was like stepping through the rainbow, like moving from black-and-white to colour.

Baldur's Gate was teaming with life in a way that no other RPG had ever been. Where the Gold Box games had provided hack-and-slash gaming supported by blocky graphics, Baldur's Gate offered would-be adventurers an abundance of quests and meaningful interactions across huge playing fields;across intricately detailed, beautifully rendered isometric recreations of a completely convincing fantasy medieval world.

The transition between Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn was every bit as pronounced. The sequel may have streamlined the interface, but it bulked out the playing experience. Like the Gold Box games, players could import their characters and items from a previous game, and as those characters grew in power, so the game changed to reflect their newfound influence. Building up their own strongholds and followers, they were free to lead their own way through a labyrinthine plot that weaved together divergent and mutually exclusive subplots and quests -- indeed, some subquests were as weighty and complex as the entire first game.

As far as gaming goes, it's a satisfying complexity that has yet to be eclipsed. Indeed, Baldur's Gate II is probably still the pinnacle of the Western RPG.

05 August, 2011


  • Release Date: 1996
  • Platform: PC
  • Developer: id Software
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter

Despite being a pioneer of full three-dimensional graphics in the first-person genre-- or perhaps because of it--Quake is a master class in level design. It's brightly confident in it's grasp of space and solidity; even the difficultly and episode selection is its own memorable environment. The game crams in jumping puzzles, a secret area, and is also capable as serving as an unlikely death match arena. In fact, if you pick any of Quake's two dozen or so levels, you'll find that the critical path is less a line than a rabid dance lesson.

Chiseled into rock or beaten out of metal, Quake's forbidding angles remain unique, haunted by the ghosts of the games it could have been as id's designers fought between a dark fantasy RPG and a science fiction shooter. Though it was the instigator of the "brown corridor" visual treatment, there's art and intention to the oppressive monotone. Its disconnected areas are thick with a sense of place, of eye-catching incidental detail, stranded in crushing blacks: vaults hemmed with silver crosses, the massive embossed metal Jesus, charnel house window settings for apocalyptic stained glass.

All anchored by one of the great pre-music collaborations between developer and composer. Nine Inch Nail's front man Trent Reznor's amazing soundtrack is at turns deafening, oily, and pitiless, and never less than part of Quake's texture. Aural cues sound out environmental hazards and forwarn of enemies well enough to play blind (or a blind panic). In a Quake level, Run isn't a toggle, it's a commandment, and the numerous strengths within this title turn a game that should have been a "what if" into a "this is".

06 April, 2011

Super Mario Bros.

  • Release Date: 1985
  • Platform: NES
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Genre: Platform

The problem with classics, is that they are old. They usher in great changes and they redifine the landscape, but less influential games perfect the trends they started and end up being a lot more fun to play. For example, StarFox isn't as ground breaking as Asteroids as far as space games go, but anyone stuck in an elevator would undoubtedly prefer it as a means to pass the time.

And yet, while Super Mario Bros. did so much to define the side-scrolling platformer, twenty-odd years on its still one of the best there is. It's colours may seem a little muted by today's standards, and its ironic plumber's mustache lacks definition, but this has excellent enemy design, tricky, secret-packed worlds, and an unforgettable soundtrack.

Most of all, Super Mario Bros. has a sense of believable physics - something still missing from modern day platformers. Set Mario running, and you'll need time and space to get him to slow down; attempt a big jump, and you're going to have to get a running start; bounce on an enemy, and you may still need to fine tune your landing while still in the air. All of which gives the game the precision necessary to allow for a cluster of tightly paced underground and overworld levels, with their gloriously destructable environments and famous power-ups, like the growth mushroom and the fire flower. Super Mario Bros. is venerable, then, but not remotely rickety: a simple delight that can still give far more complex games a comprehensive run-around.

03 April, 2011


  • Release Date: 1998
  • Platform(s): PC
  • Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Genre: Real-Time-Strategy

StarCraft was the first western title to pin it's success on South Korea. There was something about this real-time sci-fi strategy game that touched a nerve, making StarCraft a staple of the country's multi-player PC cafes, which were emerging in the 1990s, leading to the sale of 4.5 million copies in the territory. It also helped to establish South Korea's professional gaming scene.

Of course, with more than 11 million sales worldwide, StarCraft is one of the best-selling PC games ever made. Yet while initial reviews were unanimously positive, it's fair to say that no one foresaw StarCraft as being quite the success that it has become. Despite the isometric graphics, the game isn't especially impressive, and less successful rival games have an edge in RTS innovation with unit control and resource management.

But StarCraft has a very special trick up its sleeve: three completely distinct and playable races. The Terrans (Humans), the Zerg (nasty, swarm aliens), and the Protoss (high tech, religious warriors) all have their own units that don't just look different but play diffferently too. For instance, as Zerg you can burrow underground and attempt to overwhelm your opponent with sheer numbers, while as Protoss you have fewer units, but much more powerful weapons at your disposal. Upon release, no reace was blatently over powered, and Blizzard has maintained this balance very well with occasional patches that address multiple tatics.

The combination of diversity and balance is extremely difficult to achieve, Blizzard overcame this challenge with StarCraft and followed it up with a well deserved sequel, StarCraft II.

30 January, 2011

Harvest Moon

  • Release Date: 1996
  • Platform: SNES
  • Developer: Natusme
  • Genre: Role-Playing

What role would you want to play as in a video game? A spaceman? A God? A soldier? A knight on a perilous quest? Okay... How about a farmer? Tilling the land, tending the livestock, looking after crops, and basing your life around the passing seasons. Not so keen? Are you sure?

Harvest Moon is a farming simulation, but a farming simulation in which the nasty bits of farming, such as wrenching chicken's heads off and putting bolts through cow's brains, are taken back a bit to make way for a gentle anime depiction of the countryside lifestyle in all it's glory. The game will have you feeding and looking after your animals, watering your crops, milking your cows(and talking to them while you are at it) and other farming activities in the most timely manner imaginable in order to maximize your farm's potential.

As unlikely as it sounds, the game's agenda will cast a strong spell on you until you are so hooked into the game that you can't escape it. With time management mechanics at it's heart, Harvest Moon is capable of dressing it's bare clockwork up in such a way where you don't really mind being rushed around or sent on a series of what are, essentially, thankless tasks.

Fans certainly don't seem to mind, as they buy near identical sequels by the boat-load. They ensure that every season of gaming has a Harvest moon release or two. While the recent titles in the series are only for the hard-core pretend farmer, the original was a title that anyone could pick up and enjoy. The game is available on the Wii's virtual console service. So what are you waiting for? Give this unique game a try!

When Farming Didn't Involve Facebook

27 January, 2011

Grand Theft Auto II

  • Release Date: 1999
  • Platform: Various
  • Developer: DMA Design
  • Genre: Action
Grand Theft Auto 2 has been unfairly marginalized by the success of both its predecessor and it's successor. Keeping the top-down view of the first game in the series, it has been judged to be a minor iteration on an old formula, before the series' huge leap to 3D. But the game's innovations are far from insignificant. As with Grand Theft Auto, the game launches the player as a free agent in an open city, full of criminal potential. The sequel breathes life into the game with the addition of pedestrians. They get on buses, call on taxis, and even get in fights with the local gangs.

The gangs, too, present an important step, although not one Grand Theft Auto III would follow entirely. Multiple missions are on offer from the three competing gangs in the area, and each one, when successfully completed, will increase the favour of that gang and decrease that of it's competition. The player must continually juggle the satisfaction of each so as not to get gunned down when entering their territory.

Perhaps the game's greatest mix-up was to set the game not in contemporary America, but in the near-future dystopia, the cyberpunk feel which undoes a lot of the game's effort to build a credible living city. Nonetheless, the game still displays the developer's effort for biting humour, with it's cast of pervert scientists and vengeful Hari Krishnas. 

Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto II are available for download (completely free) directly from RockStar Games, here: http://9.bb/235785/rockstargames

26 January, 2011


  • Release Date: 1997
  • Platform: Various
  • Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Genre: Action/Role-Playing

If it's an online quiz you're working with, clicking on things is quite boring and monotonic. However, if it's Diablo, the simple game mechanic turns into something magical. Enemies explode in bursts of blood or collapse into piles of bone, heroes race across the screen to the indicated spot to await your command.Everything you click on in Diablo rewards you in some form or another.

The game isn't just a good looking isometric dungeon crawler, it is THE best dungeon crawler. A simple - almost brainless trek through caverns and catacombs filled with vile creatures, not to mention all the loot. Blizzard spent a lot of time working on the generation of the game's spaces, making items, enemies, and geography be different every single time you load up the game. The game that results from this is a game that keeps on giving.

By todays standard, Diablo's classes, characters, and piles of rewards are actually rather shallow and inferior, but the game still radiates a wonderful fascination each time you return to it's caverns. It's so simple anyone could  learn the basics, and so rich and vibrant that even the pros will find themselves coming back for more.

The game has spawned countless clones, and to this very day, the skeleton smashing formula has not changed.

Diablo's infamous "Butcher"

23 January, 2011

Spy Hunter

  • Release Date: 1983
  • Platform: Arcade
  • Developer: Midway
  • Genre: Action
With its smart weapons, awesome cars, Spy Hunter was viewed as a very stylish game back in the arcades on the early 1980s. It was a title that playing into any boy's fantasies- secret agents, nasty weaponry, and a driving lincese. Make no mistake though, it was the action packed gameplay that kept people coming back for more again, again, and again.

In Spy Hunter, you play as a secret agent with a car that shoots bullets from the front grill, and you are tasked with the simple task of mowing down countless amounts of enemies on an endless, linear highway. From stretch cars with side-machine-guns, to buses with spiked wheels, and even the occasional helicopter,  Spy Hunter had a unique and incredible selection of foes to destroy. Even upgrading your ride was cool; driving into the back of passing vans to upgrade your car with smoke-screens and oil slicks every now and again.

All of this was pretty slick, but Spy Hunter's most epic moments comes when the game's incomplete bridges force you to take your ride off-road, where it transforms itself into a boat, and taking the road based battles to the sea.

Fit to the obsessions of the 1980s, having a mixture of espionages and cars, Spy Hunter is a delightful memory for everyone who played it.

18 January, 2011

Donkey Kong

  • Release Date: 1981
  • Platform: Arcade
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Genre: Platformer
Donkey Kong was truely a game-changer (no pun intended)  when it was first released back in 1981. It's elaborate cartoon graphics set it apart from the industry standard of a scene filled with aliens and space rocks. It came at a time where the "great" protagonist was merely a yellow circle who seemed to suffer from a chronic drug addiction.The game had decent animation when other games had blips that just moved around the screen.

It also introduced two characters who would go on to dominate the gaming realm for years to come. As welll as Donkey Kong, we were introduced to a carpenter named Jumpman. After a name change and a career transition, Jumpman would go on to become one of the most iconic characters in gaming to date - Mario the plumber.

All of the mechanics that made the Mario games so successful, originated from this title. Leaping from platform to platform whilst dodging obstacles, on an endless quest to save his woman.

Donkey Kong launched Nintendo into the God-tier of game development. The company's president Hiroshi Yamauchi made the right decision in tasking the young employee Shigeru Miyamoto to crack into the US gaming market. It still a fun game to play today!