What a fool believes, he sees…
-The Doobie Brothers
On this first day of April, 2019, let the following opinions forever be cast into the endless ocean that is the internet. For historians, extraterrestrials, and even possible gods, let this record be a testament to the successes of the human race and our conquering of technology, even in a distant future where the human’s extinction event has long come and gone. Let this document be proof that man truly ruled the Earth. Let… me shut up with this introduction already so we can get on with this collaboration. MASSIVE thanks to the contributors for helping put this together on such short notice. Mages really are magical.
-The ABXY Mage
Imagine you’re a child again and going to your local video game store. On the shelf, you see a bright orange box. The cover has the image of a Chinese dragon; it looks menacing and fierce. The title–“Tagin’ Dragon”– brings forth a feeling of need that wells up deep inside your soul, convincing you from first glance that this game will be epic. Turning to your mother with big puppy dog eyes, you beg her to buy it, and reluctantly she obliges. You watch closely as the cashier pulls it off the wall and slips the package into a plastic bag.
Finally, you arrive home after what seems like the longest car ride of your life, the length of which you spent gripping tightly onto your new-found treasure. Standing in front of your Nintendo Entertainment System, you peel back the cellophane and pop open the top of the box to find an oddly-shaped, baby blue cartridge. Feeling a growing sense of anticipation that is ready to burst out of your fingertips, you place the cartridge in the console and press down. Finally, the moment of truth.
When you are greeted with the title page of the game, your hopes and dreams are NOT immediately torn violently from your heart like a tiger tearing through the flesh of a fresh kill. The image before you is NOT a drawing of a dragon that a chimpanzee with access to Microsoft paint would be embarrassed to make. The dragon on the front cover is NOT merely a trick, and you’re NOT left looking at what could be a rendition of Jabba the Hut’s cousin.
NOT overcome with extreme disappointment, you DON’T think to yourself: “Hey, the game could still be good.” WISELY you press the start button and are most definitely NOT introduced to the lousiest action-style maze game you have ever witnessed. You ABSOLUTELY DID YOUR BEST to love this game because you asked your mom to buy it, and it definitely DID NOT haunt your dreams for years to come.
Yep, that’s how it happened! It was great!
(Man, could someone loosen this straight jacket? It’s starting to make typing really difficult…)
…Okay, my sanity has returned. Now let’s take an honest look into Tagin’ Dragon.
I’ll be frank…this game is one of those items in the retro gaming collector’s community that only serves one purpose: shelf candy. The developer of this game, Color Dreams (a.k.a. Bunch Games or Wisdom Tree) is renowned for making 3rd party hot garbage, and Tagin’ Dragon is no exception.
Based on the packaging, this game looks like it should be a bullet hell shooter, a tough as nails platformer, or a dragon-inspired run-and-gun. Instead, it is a maze game where your objective is to slowly chase and eat the tails of other dragons.
Believe me, it’s as boring as it sounds.
Once you eat the tail of an enemy dragon, you sprout an extra section of tail, which of course makes you more vulnerable to the rest of the enemies. Once you have killed all the other dragons, you move onto the next stage, and this typically means either more dragons, more obstacles, or both.
The controls make you feel like you dipped your hands in Crisco before you played, yet at the same time they require you to be extremely precise with your bites. Speaking of dragons, I might have found it fun if they at least looked like they do on the label. But no, they look like morbidly obese salamanders waddling to and fro onscreen.
Overall this abomination makes me appreciate games like The Legend of Zelda or Bomber Man–games that used the mechanics of a maze, but did it right. The NES is full of simple games, but Tagin’ Dragon feels like just plain lazy game design. If there is a hell, I am assuming they make you play this anathema of a game for all eternity. I can only hope you heed my warning and avoid this repugnant game.
The 90s were an unparalleled time for mascot games. Everyone had ideas for the next one that would surely be the Mario Killer, the one to dethrone the king, the one that would survive the test of time and keep coming back for more. Among the ranks of icons, there was one clear winner and his name… is Bubsy. While no one can forget the iconic Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, the cream of the catnip crop is unarguably Bubsy 3D. The fourth game in the series, Bubsy 3D sprang into the deep end as other games were just testing the waters for 3D platformers, and what a splash it made. The bright, unusual colors of the Woolie homeworld! The extensiveness of the levels, both in size and numbers! Bubsy’s endless one-liners that no one ever gets tired of! And, let’s not forget the brilliant decision to use tank controls. It also borrowed and improved beloved elements from earlier platformers, like the ring stages of Sonic and the rocket part collection of Toejam and Earl.
Truly, a love letter to the predecessors while breaking new ground with the format and style. And for once, for ONCE, Bubsy is more than a one-hit-wonder. They bumped his sturdiness up to allow for more than a single bonk from a Woolie. Four hits! He can take four whole hits now! What a gift! Basically, everything put into this game made for a unique experience unlike any other 3D platformer before or after. Bubsy 3D boldly set the stage for the genre alongside Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot. While Bubsy has yet to venture back into the realm of 3D, this groundbreaking game has survived the test of time. It may not have become a Mario Killer and went for twenty years before a 2D follow-up, but it’s impossible to deny one fact: anyone who plays Bubsy 3D will never forget it.
The Call of Duty series has, since 2003, become one of (if not the) most lucrative, money-spinning franchises in the history of gaming, starting from a strong WW2 base, reaching it’s heady heights with the Modern Warfare era and then going a little crazy and mucking around in the future. The draw for many has always been the frantically paced, chaotic multiplayer scene, though there are those, like myself, that appreciate some of the series’ better campaigns. But if Modern Warfare is widely considered to be the best, which is the worst? Despite a few stinkers in recent years (Ghosts, anyone?) I would say that looking all the way back to 2006’s Call of Duty 3 could be an interesting move…
Call of Duty 3 is, much like most of the formative Call of Duty titles (and that one recently) set during World War 2 and is mostly seen through the eyes of (wait for it, you’ll never guess) an American soldier as he takes part in missions across Europe in the latter half of the war. There’s also a Canadian fellow one can play as too (he’s pretty cool, even if that accent is hammed up to the max!) If an American and a Canadian don’t do it for you, there’s also a couple of slow, ponderous tank missions where you play as a Polish dude and his buddies. It’s about as fun as real tank warfare and, thanks to the game’s sloppy physics and pacing, about as painful as being hit in the face with a 75mm sabot round. There’s even the (done to death) British SAS missions, where moustachioed, gritty British blokes aid the French Resistance and drink tea a lot (probably)
You know what, let’s talk more about the physics, shall we? There are several occasions in this game where, upon being hit by a bullet, the unfortunate German soldier will flip several metres into the air, like a doll thrown away by a petulant and evil child. The first time you see it it’s hilarious and, I’m ashamed to admit, it never stops being funny, having the gritty immersion of a dirty, desperate battle smashed asunder as a case of the giggles is set off by poor Hans almost reaching the moon far before Iron Sky and Wolfenstein ever made it possible.
Then there’s the bloody button bashing segments. If taking part in janky, Cirque De Soleil styles gun battles isn’t bad enough, poor Mr American or Mr Canadian or Mr Brit must also take part in some mind-numbing drudgery like rowing a boat or having a tedious slap fight with an enemy soldier, like Tifa and Scarlett in Final Fantasy VII only nowhere near as fun. If you’re really lucky, you might even get to arm a bomb by twiddling the sticks and following some button prompts!
“Hey, private Whatsyerface, stop having a tense gun battle and ROW THAT WOODEN BOAT BY PRESSING A SERIES OF BUTTONS!”
Thankfully the game is redeemed by an excellent range of levels, such as France, France and, oh, what was that last one? Oh yeah, France! Sounds a little bitter I know, but prior (and indeed latter) games in the series often saw the player fighting across Western Europe, Russia, North Africa and, if you were very lucky, maybe even on a ship or a submarine. I understand that Call of Duty 3 is trying to tell a story about a single campaign in the war, but a little diversity would’ve been welcome!
All in all, Treyarch’s first foray into this franchise was a buggy, anaemic addition to the series, bloated by ridiculous button bashing segments and boring tank combat. The inclusion of the Canadian and Polish characters was certainly welcomed by me (both nations are often unfairly overlooked for the parts they played in the war) yet the American and British campaigns played exactly as they always do (big set pieces for one, special forces skullduggery for the other). Thankfully Treyarch’s next game in the series, World at War, would make for a better experience.
A true work of art is rarely accessible. War and Peace isn’t a fun read; Citizen Kane is hardly entertaining; the Mona Lisa isn’t, like, fun–it doesn’t have any explosions or anything. Yet each of these is a great artwork, not because they’re crowd-pleasingly enjoyable, but because they present themes, messages; they ask thought-provoking questions about human nature using the unique tools of their medium. Sonic The Hedgehog (the 2006 title for PS3 and Xbox 360; hereafter ‘Sonic 06‘) has this in common with the greatest examples of art. Never has there been anything considered ‘great’ which didn’t take some risks, challenge some conventions, in service of a greater purpose. What, then is Sonic 06‘s greater purpose? Why, only to be the most verisimilar experience a human could ever have to actually being a super-fast hedgehog. Such a thing would be terrifying, disorienting, and quite possibly universe-breaking, and so Sonic 06 causes the player to feel all of those things in order to achieve a sort of emotional resonance and allegorical realism that other games could only dream of.
To illustrate what I mean, imagine that you are, right this moment, turned into an incredibly speedy hedgehog. In surprise and confusion, you try to take a single step forwards, and without meaning to find yourself propelled dozens of feet in an arbitrary direction. You can’t control this newfound speed; it controls you. That is very much how Sonic 06 goes the extra mile and causes Sonic’s unearthly speed to make him pass through walls or other amusing things that would almost certainly happen if this physics-breaking hedgepig were really to exist. It’s a truly powerful exercise in connecting the player to the character, ensuring an emotional reaction of the strongest degree, and really I think that’s what good art should be about. There’s also the bizarre decision to have a romantic subplot between Sonic and a human, which I just think is commendably brave storytelling; the pointless, loading-screen-filled sidequests, which communicate the true despair of being a hedgehog in a world of uncaring, probably slightly hedgehog-racist humans; boss fights (‘IT’S NO USE’) express the horror of the power imbalance between these terrifying creatures and the rest of nature; the skittish, determinedly useless camera only reinforces the feeling that a creature like Sonic would be an uncontrollable force of nature.
It’s a truly powerful exercise in connecting the player to the character, ensuring an emotional reaction of the strongest degree, and really I think that’s what good art should be about. There’s also the bizarre decision to have a romantic subplot between Sonic and a human, which I just think is commendably brave storytelling; the pointless, loading-screen-filled sidequests, which communicate the true despair of being a hedgehog in a world of uncaring, probably slightly hedgehog-racist humans; boss fights (‘IT’S NO USE’) express the horror of the power imbalance between these terrifying creatures and the rest of nature; the skittish, determinedly useless camera only reinforces the feeling that a creature like Sonic would be an uncontrollable force of nature. Also, you barely even play as Sonic. That’s, uh, also a metaphor for helplessness and existential dread, probably. In Summary, it’s rare that a game should be as brave in its striving for emotional impact and character-player connection as Sonic 06, and I think that bravery is to be commended. Play the game, and I guarantee you will experience a true emotional reaction. And, if that’s not art, I don’t know what is
DRIVER Speedboat Paradise is the best game in the DRIVER series so far, although that’s not saying much. Until now, the series has left me pretty cold – especially the initial installment, which I thought was generic and dull. But now, they’ve finally cracked it. It took them several attempts, but they’ve finally figured out how to make a DRIVER game that I actually want to play.
Since the beginning, there’s been the impression that the DRIVER series focused far too much on driving – a genre that will never have anything worth saying about it – when they should’ve been focused on speedboats. Installment three teased a move toward speedboat piloting by making it an element of a few missions, but these turned out to be nothing more than mere appeasement which all but disappeared by the next game. Having come to accept that there was never going to be anything other than driving in DRIVER, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that at long last, my wish had finally come true: they’d made a DRIVER game exclusively about speedboat racing, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Plus, it’s a mobile game, which means I don’t have to install it onto a specially built system that’s far too overpriced, or, for that matter, use a special handset just to play it.
And as soon as I did start playing this game, I knew that it represented all the things I respect in a developer. None of this feels forced, this game has not been made simply as a soulless cash grab. Most developers just throw a dart to decide what sequel to develop next, but a developer as respected as Ubisoft only ever decide such a project with careful consideration. They’ve never made a game they can’t stand by, and DRIVER Speedboat Paradise is the release which best embodies this virtue like none of their other games ever have.
DRIVER Speedboat Paradise embodies everything I love about this current golden age of gaming, and reminds me of why I’m thankful to have missed out on the elitist snobbery that made it far too elitist in the past.
Sure, if you want to play a game that “has instructions” and “makes sense,” you can go line up at the back of the room with all the baby wanna-be gamers. The real gamers will be here at the Big Boy table, playing Milon’s Secret Castle.
Released in Japan in 1986 for the Famicom and in North America in 1988 for the NES, Milon’s Secret Castle is dev/publisher Hudson Soft’s magnum opus. Set in the land of Hudson (yes, they were so proud of the game that they used their company name) where people speak to each other via music rather than talking, the game follows Milon, a music-less outcast in his homeland. Really heartbreaking, dramatic stuff here.
But one day, the evil warrior Maharito attacks Castle Hudson, wherein resides Queen Eliza. When Milon volunteers to go inside the castle and rescue the queen, he is gifted with the ultimate magical weapon: bubbles.
Now if you think any of this story is actually told in the game, you’re just being naive. With these kinds of universal themes, Hudson Soft knew they didn’t actually have to give you any backstory. They can just drop Milon outside of Castle Hudson and whisper, “Go, young hero! Follow your heart!” Not audibly, of course, but definitely in spirit. What further explanation do you need?
As you begin exploring Castle Hudson, one of the first things you’ll notice is that the obvious path is a dead end. In order to progress, you have to shoot magic bubbles. “Shoot them at what?,” I hear you ask. At everything. No, literally–everything. While other, more ordinary games use secrets to enhance the player’s experience, in Milon’s Secret Castle, the secrets ARE the experience. And they can be hidden absolutely anywhere: behind any block or any open space of air. Hudson Soft does not offer any hints either. That would just cheapen the experience.
This is a metaphor for life. In fact, Forest Gump basically plagiarized Milon’s Secret Castle with his whole “life is like a box of chocolates” spiel. What he really meant is that life is like Castle Hudson, where you just have to methodically shoot magic bubbles at every grid space in the level until you find what you’re looking for. There is no rhyme or reason, only chance. Skill will not save you. Logic is not your friend. Instead, you must humble yourself before Castle Hudson and realize that you are nothing. Once you fully accept this truth, then the castle might (emphasis on might) grant you passage.
But do not ever make the mistake of thinking the castle is your friend. If you linger too long outside, lightning bolts will quickly dispatch you. Even inside, when you kill a monster, it simply regenerates. Your efforts are, in a very real way, meaningless. And if one of those monsters touches you, you do not get any invincibility grace period. Do you think such a thing exists in real life? No siree, it does not, and so Hudson Soft does not grant you one in the game. This means that the careless will perish almost instantly.
Oh yeah, and Milon also only gets one life. Die even once, and you must start over from the beginning. Also, check out your health bar when you first start the game. It’s not even full. Soulsborne games could learn a thing or two from Milon’s Secret Castle.
But again, this is a metaphor for life. You must accept the inevitability of your death. Accept that you will wander through life lost, unsure of where you’re supposed to go or what you’re supposed to do. And finally, accept that no one will help you. For example, on the first floor, you can buy shrinking potion from the regular shop, but you are prohibited from progressing until you find the secret shop, accessed by pushing aside a random block. If at first you don’t succeed, keep pushing. Push for three, four, or even five seconds. If you give up too early and think, “Well, the block’s not moving, so there must be nothing here,” you’ll never find the secret shop where you can buy the jump boots, and you’ll never save the queen.
The secret shop was there all along. You just had to keep walking headfirst into that brick wall.
The wizard in the shop knows this, but does he tell you? Or does he just give you the jump boots, seeing as how you’re trying to rescue the queen and all? Oh no, he needs to keep you guessing so that he can make a profit by selling you stuff.
This is also a metaphor for life.
It is only by rote memorization and the stacking of experience over the course of dozens of lives that you may finally succeed through brute determination alone and conquer Milon’s Secret Castle. It is a challenge made for pure gamers only. Poseurs need not apply.
If you’re anything like me, and millions of other gamers, then you love a good RPG. Even so, sometimes the classic style of games like Chrono Trigger and Breath of Fire III can get tiresome. For a little variety, there’s the “tactics” subgenre. These games take RPGs to a whole new level (get it?) by drawing the enemy encounters out into elaborate, strategic, fights requiring attention to detail and battle rule awareness.
If you know anything about tactics games, then you’re probably familiar with or have played Final Fantasy Tactics. Everyone has played and praised that game. Enough already. It’s like the movie Birdman, everyone saw and loved that movie for some reason, but we all know things are only good and cool if you’ve never heard of them. So instead, go see Birdemic: Shock and Terror. Now THAT’S art.
Anyway, games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre have large ensemble casts and complicated storylines full of twists and turns. It’s really confusing and rather boring. Those games don’t even have voice acting, if you can believe it.
Rainbow Moon to the rescue! Well, not in the voice acting part. The characters sound a lot like that old toy, Jibba-Jabber, when they talk. It’s adorably repetitive and constant. It never gets old, no matter how many dozens of hours the game may take you to complete.
However, in terms of story, it’s so refreshing to have a tactical RPG with a story so bare and meandering. After being sucked through a random portal for no reason, you and your archenemy wind up on Rainbow Moon. In order to get back home, you have to find a bunch of missing pieces to a thingamajig, and defeat your rival. Along the way, you meet like, three other characters who join your party out of boredom, and luckily, you form no emotional attachment to any of them.
The battles in tactics games have been compared to chess matches. But, we all know chess is for NERDS. Checkers is a game for laid back, chill bros, and Rainbow Moon is 100% the checkers of video games. With minimal upgrades to weapons and armor available, you are able to focus all of your energy on the half-dozen or so special moves you can learn for each character.
As you would expect, your success in battle depends on choosing the right characters for the right circumstances. Of the three or four party members you acquire, you can only have two at one time. This is great because it makes it super easy to just pick the ones who are the strongest and die least. You also need to know your enemies. This is also made very nicely easy for the player since even though there are well over ten different enemy designs in the game, they really all boil down to a handful when it comes to battle. So, you just have to learn a few survival techniques.
Wonderfully, the game is still brutally difficult, especially the final boss, no matter how leveled up you think you are. No. Matter. In between the absolutely incredible battles that frequently seem, unfairly, to defeat or deplete you, you get to do several dozen fetch quests. Since the developers of this game knew that fetch quests are often referred to as the “holy grail” of gaming design, they decided to make LITERALLY every quest in the game eventually become a fetch quest. *chef kiss*
Anyway, I don’t want to spoil everything for you. Besides, I have a sequel to play…
Thank you, again, to the talented writers that contributed, and thank YOU so much for reading this collaboration.
Happy April Fool’s Day!
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