Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse

For May the Retro Gaming Club played through the original Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse. Some played the Master System version, some the Game Gear release and others the Mega Drive one. Some played all three, I played the Mega Drive one via emulation on my PSP.

Castle of Illusion was developed and released by SEGA prior to them releasing Sonic the Hedgehog, in a way it was the SEGA consoles’ competitor to Nintendo’s Mario games due to the time in which it was released. SEGA at that point had relied on their mascot at the time, Alex Kidd but I don’t think that he was ever likely the one to take Mario’s crown. A good platformer featuring a character who was more renowned than Mario though? That’s more like it.

My recollection of the time was that it was another game in a long line that had me interested in the system, and I spoke in my Sonic 2 and Rocky throwbacks of how much I wanted a Mega Drive. I don’t ever recall actually playing Castle of Illusion, but I’m certain I played its sequel World of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck at a friends house a few times. So really, I went into this one fairly blind.

First off, it looks lovely, and I know I’ve said this often, and maybe its the PSP’s still pretty gorgeous screen or that 16-bit games have aged incredibly well, but it looks lovely. It obviously has its limitations and the animation obviously isn’t that of a Saturday morning cartoon but it definitely brought back memories of waiting at the airport when going on holiday in Jersey and reading comic strip panels with Mickey Mouse and co in from one of the pull out sections of my Uncles newspaper. Each level looks totally different with unique enemies in each so that visually it never gets boring, and the worlds behind each door way are interesting and fun with the odd hint to some of Disney’s own history (one boss is reminiscent of Pete’s Dragon), albeit this is a standalone tale of its own.

Level’s are short and sweet, although I definitely took advantage of my emulator’s Save State ability as the controls can feel a little imprecise and once Mickey’s lives are lost you’re sent right back to the beginning of the game, there’s no saving at all as far as I can tell and this definitely harks back to the “must complete in one play through” days of yore. There’s nothing wrong with that and maybe back then I’d be more inclined to keep trying as that was just how games were, now though we’re spoiled by saving structures, particularly autosave, and thus these types of games feel harder now than they did back then. Mickey can use two methods to defeat his foes, he can jump on them (however you have to press jump twice to pull of the bottom bounce required to defeat a foe, hitting one with a standard jump will deplete your health bar) or you can throw collectible items at them, a level is complete once you defeat its boss, again achieved by throwing items at them or bouncing off them. Due to the small area’s within these boss fights take place they often feel more difficult than they actually are.

It’s a charming little game though, its length means it never manages to outstay it’s welcome although this is probably a design decision based upon finishing in one sitting than it was the developers deciding they wanted that mood set. The story is uncomplicated, an evil with wants to steal Minnie’s youth and its upto Mickey to save the day, is typical of the time and particularly reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. which is probably what the team at SEGA were trying to emulate. Does it stand up as well as Nintendo’s defining platformer? I’d say no, it feels a little sluggish in comparison (despite the more primitive hardware that Nintendo’s game was on) and as I’ve mentioned the controls don’t feel quite accurate enough which is what makes Mario really stand up well today. It was still fun to play as a curiosity though.

Advertisement
bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Half-Life 2 (XBox)

For many Half Life was the greatest FPS ever made, the way scenes were played out in real-time in front of your eyes without the game having to switch back and forth between cut-scenes and gameplay hadn’t ever been done that well before, and the way it all worked added a great atmosphere to the game that made you feel as though you really were stuck in a scientific research facility where a dimension warp had occurred and this made you feel genuinely worried about what was around the next corner, scientists would be dragged into air ducts and you could do nothing but watch as they screamed.

Then Half Life 2 came along and PC owners were having to upgrade their machines all over again thanks to the games fantastic graphics and physics engine. It was the first truly “next generation” game we’d seen, so how ironic that the same month that the first of the next-gen consoles, the XBox 360, is released, its predecessor receives its own port of the FPS to own a PC for. And to look at it you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a first generation XBox 360 title, minus all the Mr Sheen that those games seem to be covered in. This is proof, if needed, that developers are only just getting the most from the 128-bit systems and that the next-gen has come a little bit too early.

The biggest issue with PC to Console conversions seems to be in the controls department, but with the sheer amount of FPS titles that are on the XBox this should never be a problem for any developer, in fact the only real problem most have faced is getting the sensitivity of the controls right, and Half Life 2 seems to hit the nail on the head here, although when you switch from running around to driving one of the games vehicles it does feel a little odd at first, but this was reportedly a problem some had with the PC version of the game, and in all honesty it might have been done on purpose as looking at the vehicles, they appear to be made of scrap and wouldn’t handle too well in real life so its been made this way within the game. The controls in the vehicles too, add to the games tension, especially when your in battle with creatures, helicopters or anything else the game may throw at you. For instance at the end of the hover bike section of the game, you have to take on a helicopter and due to the handling of the vehicle you really are the underdog in this battle, but once you do overcome this particular section, the sense of achievement is so worthwhile that you feel the game cannot challenge you anymore.

But its not just in terms of difficult sections that the game challenges you with, one particular area will have your nerves on edge so much you’ll question through it, it really is that scary and is where you are introduced to some new creatures.

This particular area is Ravenholm, and for me personally it was scarier than any Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Project Zero game created is farm and this isn’t even a survival horror title. The Poison Headcrabs and Fast Zombies in particular are what make this area especially scary, especially when they come at you at the time. But theres some fun to be had here too, although in a sadistic way, said fun involves throwing circular saw discs with your gravity gun and, my particular favourite, setting alight the gas tank traps while zombies are chasing after you.

This is one of the areas where you notice the quality of the sound, with the zombies moans transferring to the screams of those trapped beneath the headcrabs as they burn alive.

I could really go on forever about what makes Half Life 2 so great, from the physics (you can play on a roundabout in a park near the beginning) to the lighting of the areas and how natural the controls and how they respond feel. But I’d end up giving too much away, and probably boring you to death. I will say, however, that Valves only mistake was to not include any Multiplayer modes, offline or on. But considering what they’ve achieved here anyway, its really not needed.

Half Life 2 receives a 10 purely because it is the XBox’s most complete single player experience, it also scores higher than its PC equivalent because of the fete that Valve have achieved in transferring the game to the XBox in such good form. If your after a game to play on your own, without having Live there to distract you, look no further, I really can’t recommend this game enough.

Uncategorized

Niki Lauda 1949-2019

Tuesday May 21st 2019 was an odd day, my eldest daughter turned 15, so it was a cause for celebration and she went to bed that day very happy. However it was also a rather sad day as the world lost a genuine hero, a man who was given The Last Rites and yet came back and didn’t give up. Fuck Jon Snow, Niki Lauda was the last of the Targaryen’s.

I wasn’t even born when Niki Lauda was racing. Actually, thats a lie, he retired (for the second time) in 1985, I was born in ’84. I didn’t even get into Formula One until the tail end of the Senna/Prost/Mansell years (I remember Mansell’s 92 championship fairly clearly). I grew to know of the man through reading more and more about the sport through the mid to late 90’s. I learned of his rivalry with James Hunt and that he eventually became a triple World Champion, which at the time of his final title made him the second most succesful Formula One driver (alongside Jack Brabham and Sir Jackie Stewart, with only Fangio ahead), I knew he drove for Ferrari and McLaren (very few drivers have driven for both, off the top of my head theres Lauda, Alonso, Raikkonen) and of course I read all about the crash at the Nurburgring in 1976 when he was chasing his second Drivers Championship in an intense battle with Britains James Hunt.

For years drivers had been saying the Nurburgring was getting too dangerous for Formula One, Jackie Stewart even tried to organise a drivers strike one year as the death toll in the sport grew and grew and he was losing friends on a regular basis, but still the teams and drivers turned up and raced around a circuit where proper medical help wasn’t able to properly cover the circuit in case of an accident  (Lauda himself called foer a boycott of the race during that weekends Drivers Briefing but his appeals fell on death ears). Then in 1976, driving for Ferrari, Lauda lost control and crashed, his car bursting into flames. He was taken to hospital where the Doctors said that whilst the fire had caused alot of damage, the measures the marshalls had taken to put out the flames had caused just as much, if not more, damage to his lungs. The situation was so bad that a priest was called and he was given the Last Rites. They believed he wouldn’t recover from his injuries.

However, and this is why the guy is a hero (or stupid, but, really, there’s very small margin between the two). He missed two races before returning for Ferrari’s home Grand Prix at Monza six weeks after his crash, his wounds still bleeding and oozing through the bandages into his white balaclava, he finished the race in fourth! His battle with Hunt continued, and whilst there was a whole bunch of politics involved in that season (that I may go into another time, but Formula One is full of political backstabbing) Lauda ultimately finished the season only one point behind Hunt, he would maybe have won the title if he hadn’t have pulled in early during the final Grand Prix of the season at a dangerously wet Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway that only went ahead due to it being broadcast live and the powers that be not wanting to lose that sweet sweet broadcasting money.

I’ve only ever seen highlights of him race, but to even get back in a Formula One car, let alone go on to win a further two championships (1977 and 1984) makes him, in my eyes, one of, if not the, most heroic sportsmen to have ever lived.

Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday Rocky

Back in the early 90s I so wanted a Mega Drive, a bunch of my friends had them (as I mentioned last week when I covered Sonic 2) and I really wanted one too. I’d had an Atari (a 2600 junior) that a much older cousin had given me that I played alot of Centipede on, and I’d had my older brothers NES (which was stolen by a different cousin who was living with us at one point, he sold it before my Dad could do anything about it but was asked to move out shortly afterwards) when he had bought himself a SNES, but I wanted something the other kids at school were playing on and that was a Mega Drive. Instead one Christmas I opened up a cardboard box that had been wrapped up to find a second hand Master System II. I knew we weren’t well off and I was perfectly happy with it.

I don’t remember when I got Rocky, but I do know that at the time I was a little obsessed with Sylvester Stallone’s boxing franchise, I’d got one of those little punch bags that were on a plastic plate you stood on and I’d watch Rocky IV most weekends when I’d go over to my Mums house. When I got Rocky on my Master System I was incredibly happy and I played it a ridiculous amount (although compared to how most kids play games now it was hardly anything!), I must have worn down the d-pad on my controller as when I got a copy of Marble Madness I couldn’t get the marble to go right.

With this weekly feature in mind I returned to Rocky via an emulator on one of my PSP’s and just could not get past Clubber Lang. There’s actually only three fights in the entire game, Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago and you partake in some training mini-games in between fights which apparently improve Rocky’s skills but I couldn’t really tell any difference regardless of how I performed in the training sessions, although if you don’t meet the qualifying score at the bottom of the screen you aren’t allowed to progress to the next fight. The fights themselves are mostly about hammering the punch button to jab your opponent, you do have a hook and uppercut available to you too and both are easy to pull off, although their usefulness often feels as random as blocking does. The fights are over quite quickly, its possible to go to 15 rounds but its not something I achieved when returning to Rocky nor remember getting to when I played it around twenty-five years ago.

It looks good though, especially for a game made in 1987 (making it 32 years old, I got my Master System very late on, although I discovered recently that SEGA supported the console upto the mid-90s in the UK and I know they supported it much, much longer than that in the likes of Brazil!) and for such a simple game its still kind of fun to play.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Gitaroo Man (PlayStation 2)

Aside from the Dancing Stage series, Rhythm games are a bit of a niche market, although, generally they do make fun games that anyone can just simply pick up and play. Normally they’re peripheral based,like the previously mentioned Dancing Stage games (a Dance mat) or Samba De Amigo (a pair of plastic Maracas), but occasionally you get one thats a little different. Generally though, the genre has become a bit stale in terms of gameplay, with nearly every title just featuring licensed songs that you press various button combinations in time to, although its thanks to games such as Frequency that keep the genre ticking over by being that little bit different, despite the fact its commercially ignored.

With this in mind, someone else was always going to innovate, this time in the form of KOEI’s rhythm game dev team 326, and their effort titled Gitaroo Man.

From the off its obvious Gitaroo Man is something different, offering a odd anime/western cartoon done in 3D visual style and featuring some odd-ball charactes in its opening stages such as a talking dog that turns into a robot and a blakc devil like creature that has an incredibly squeaky voice. Thats without mentioning the main protagonist, U-1/Gitaroo man, who comes across as a bit of a waste of space, but eventually grows on you as he begins to find his own confidence.

Everything in the game is well animated and the camera is very rarely static, focusing on various parts of the level your currently on, moving from Gitaroo Man, to your enemy and showing various background features along the way. Not that you’ll really notice this while playing as your main focus will be on what instructions your being given to get through that particular stage.

Gitaroo Man is a difficult game to describe to someone in gameplay terms, as it features the normal “press this button as it hits a certain marker” gameplay that features in all Rhythm-Action games, this is used when your enemy is playing their part in each level, and getting each button press right results in you dodging their attack. When it comes to your attack however, your given a theoretically simple method of control. Using the X or Circle button, plus the left analogue stick, you follow a line through various pitches, while using a button to simulate you plucking/strumming the strings on a guitar. This sounds easier than it really is, as you soon have to start varying the tempo of play during each song, sometimes resulting in soft ballad’s with long button presses or thrash metal style numbers that involve complicated combinations of short and long button presses that quickly change and require a high amount of concentration.

Gitaroo Man then, brings something a little different to a genre thats pre-occupied with attracting young girls from the bowling alley dancing machines to playing the same game in their homes, it offers something that many people who have played a Rhythm game before will be used to, but also offers something slightly fresh and new. Its difficulty will no doubt put some people off, as may its visual style. But if you stick at it, you will uncover a real gem of a game.

Gaming, review

Descenders

I think we’ve established by now that I like racing games, so my initial thoughts when I saw tweets regarding RageSquid’s Descenders was “oo that looks like a great racing game”, so once it hit Game Pass on XBox One I gave it a download and have spent the last week playing it and I was wrong, its not a “great racing game”.

I was however to use the term “great” because Descenders is really, really good, but its not a racing game. It’s also not a Tony Hawks style game, which is another assumption it is easy to make when you look at screenshots or watch videos. It actually has both elements, there is a race to the bottom of the hill and you can do tricks, but overall, at least in single player where I’ve spent all of my time, there’s no right way to play Descenders. There’s no position markers, so its not about beating your “opponents” (who, depending on if you’re connected to the internet or not) are all humans, thing is, “opponents” is the wrong term, they all occupy the same space as you, but you’re not pitched against them and people drop in and out of your instance on a consistent basis. Likewise, your Rep score isn’t compared to these players whilst your in a particular event (which are all procedurally generated based upon stats set when you choose an event).

Which makes Descenders difficult to describe to others, but I keep returning to it. Why? Well, aside from it being really good fun, its cathartic too. There’s something to be said about just throwing a Mountain Bike down the side of a hill, popping off tricks whilst the excellent EDM soundtrack plays, its incredibly cathartic and thanks to the fact its only a ragdoll physics based representation of human who’s bones are at stake I don’t have to worry about being rushed to the hospital or being left to die (which is one of a few reasons I’m unlikely to really get into mountain biking as a real world hobby even if I could do with some excercise thats less damaging to my knees than jogging would be).

I mentioned before that the game was instanced, it has a similar kind of structure to RICO that I reviewed a couple of months back in that theres branching paths for each of the games four locations. Each branch leads to a new event that is randomly generated and the map gives you an idea of what kind of terrain to expect using gauges that show you the routes steepness, how twisty it is and whether it is trick intensive or not. You’re given a pool of attempts to get as far through all four environments as you can and you can increase that pool by completing the (also randomly generated) bonus objective for each event. As you progress and also gain more rep (earned via doing tricks) you’ll also build a Team, these are essentially stat buffs that allow you to land from greater heights, loose less life points when you’re bailing, make you spin faster when doing tricks and a whole host of others than you can pick from to tailor the game to your own abilities. Each environment finishes up in a “Boss Jump”, an almost Evel Knievel style jump (i.e. over a viaduct with a steam train going over it) that you need to land in order to move onto the next environment.

What makes all this work though is just how great the game is to control, the weight and momentum of your bike as you hurtle downhill and the speed with which the game can shift along is exhilarating and its rare that the frame rate begins to struggle. It all feels incredibly simple to begin with, RT gets your guy peddaling, LT is your break, left stick steers whilst the right stick allows you to pump and bunny hob the bike in a similar manner to EA’s old SKATE games. Personally I feel that having to hold the left bumper button and then use the right stick to perform tricks is a bit cumbersome but you soon get used to it, although I’ll admit that I was less focused on doing tricks and more on riding as fast as I could down the hills.

Circuits are lined by tape with checkpoints as you go, but you’re never forced to stick to the route, the checkpoints are merely there to give you a new starting point if you crash, and in fact some events do away with a route completely and merely ask you to head in the direction of the finish line as told to you by a compass at the top of the screen, and its this level of freedom that gives the game its almost meditative feel.

Its not perfect though, the load times can sometimes feel a little too long and theres an argument to be made regarding to its repetition, but on that last point, in a medium where far too many games can feel overblown and bulked out Descenders offers a nice counter in that its unlikely you’ll ride the same series of corners more than once and just setting out to “get to the next environment” offers a great 20 minute play thats perfect for just unwinding. I’ll happily admit that I was worried during my first play of Descenders that me getting the wrong impression of the game from its trailers would damage how I felt about the game, but further time with it as shown it to be a hidden gem of a game that I’ve grown to want to recommend to everyone that states there aren’t enough console exclusives on the XBox One, that its (at the time of writing) available on Games Pass means that everyone subscribed to that service, in my opinion, owes it to themselves to give it their time.

Formats:  PC, XBox One (Version tested)
Release Date: 9 February 2018 (PC), 15 May 2018 (XBox One)
Publisher: No More Robots
Developer: RageSquid

Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

After the recent trailer for the godawful looking Sonic the Hedgehog live-action movie, I decided that I’d go back and play what is mostly regarded as the best Sonic game, Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Yes, I know theres an argument to be made that the best Sonic is Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but I’ve never actually played that.

In actual fact the most I’d ever played Sonic 2 was at a friends house as a kid. Well, a couple of friends actually, as I didn’t own a Mega Drive for myself until about 2008 when I got one off a car boot and thats spent a good few years sat in my loft as I don’t have the space to have my collection set up and on display. We mostly played the 2 player special stages when I visited friends’ house, although I did “help” occasionally as Tails on their play throughs, but only ever saw bits of levels at a time. I remember the first four levels, although I may have gotten through those via emulation in the years since it came out, and I remember controlling Tails’ plane on Sky Chase then watching a friend on Wing Fortress, but beyond that I don’t remember much of whats in between or after those zones until this recent play through.

For Sonic 2, Sonic Team introduced two new key features, the most obvious is Tails, whom either runs along behind Sonic or can be controlled via a second player (always my role as a kid), the other introduction was the Spin Dash, a move that has become such a part of the Sonic experience that many forget that it wasn’t there from the start. Emerald Hill Zone, much like the games predecessors Green Hill Zone, gets things off quickly and its very easy to get through to the end of both Acts without incident and a fast pace but as the game progresses the area’s become more technical and call upon the player to combine both Sonic’s speed and his maneuverability to traverse the levels. Some of the Acts are almost maze like, according to the timer in the top left corner of the screen I spent around 10 minutes working my way through Act 2 of Metropolis Zone, and whilst I enjoyed the zone’s music at the start of Act 1 by the end of its third Act I was finding it really annoying.

On the subject of the music, none of Sonic 2’s offerings are as iconic as Green Hill Zone nor as wonderful as Starlight Zone (which I think is still my favourite piece of Sonic the Hedgehog music, Open Your Heart from Sonic Adventure is wonderfully cheesy but its just not as good as Starlight Zone imo), but whilst Metropolis Zone’s music outstayed its welcome it was mostly because it would repeat itself so quickly and so often and there weren’t many Invincibility boxes scattered in the level (which is fine) to break up the monotony of the tune.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is still a brilliant platformer. Purests will say its not as long, nor as deep as Super Mario World which was released two years before Sonic Team’s game, and despite going head-to-head with each other, Sonic 2’s goal was always to continue SEGA’s edgy, cool and exciting approach to gaming. Has it aged as well as Super Mario World? You know what, I think it has, it still looks wonderful and when you’re good at it it provides the same assault on your senses as it always did. Theres a few enemy designs later on I wasn’t keen on (again, Metropolis Zone, which has a habit of putting its punching crabs and praying mantis enemies in exactly the wrong places) and there is sometimes an over-reliance on intricate platforming and small platforms that require dexterity to overcome (I properly abused the PSP SEGA Mega Drive Collection’s save game feature to get through some of them), but, importantly, its still really good fun to play through now. Which bodes well for the Mega Drive Mini’s release later in the year.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Dead to Rights 2 (PlayStation 2)

Dead to Rights 2 is a strange beast, it seems intent on distancing itself from the original game but also wants to be associated with it. This may sound contradicting, but thats how Dead to Rights 2 plays.

The original didn’t receive favourable reviews when it was released 2 or 3 years ago, so its understandable that the developer wants to change things around a bit and take a slightly different approach, although, with it being a sequel, or in this case a prequel, it has to be the same style of game, and in this case its a generic third-person shoot-’em up.

Although the game offers nothing new, it is a fairly decent shooter at times. The game is fast and frantic and isn’t complicated to get to grips with at all, and is ideal for the odd quick play when you cant think of anything else to play. This short play method is accentuated by the level design, which at best is repetitive and almost purely corridor based.

It literally gets to the point where every 5-10 minutes you are confronted with a loading screen thats lasts just as long as each section of level. So on average an entire level can take between 15-30 minutes including 3 loading screens which makes the game feel like a throw back to some early PlayStation titles, especially when you look at titles such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which use disc streaming to create and entire State that only has 3 or 4 load points. This is also a problem when it comes to the graphics, as although the graphics in the GTA titles aren’t great, they’re quite a number of rungs above those of Dead to Rights 2, which at best looks like a high-end PlayStation 2 launch title.

No shoot-em up would be playable if the targeting system was terrible, and while Dead to Rights 2 isn’t awful, its nothing special either. Holding down a shoulder button will lock onto the nearest enemy with either a green, yellow or red icon depending on how likely your bullets are to hit the guy. This would be great if it actually made an impact on your shots, but Jack Slate seems so cock-handed with a gun that you miss just as many shots when the target is green as you do when its red. Its just as well that you recieve plenty of ammo whenever you kill someone then.

Books

What “Solo” could have been

I quite liked last years “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. I genuinely thought it was a fun little story, however, and you’ll notice this is a bug bear of mine, I feel it bogs itself down in fan service too much. Do we need to know how he got his gun or see him winning the Falcon from Lando? And the Kessel Run being included was always going to be on the cards. I know it sounds like I’m complaining, again, about Star Wars and that I’m not a fan. I assure you I am, but I’ve just read Marvel’s “Han Solo” by Marjorie Liu and Mark Brooks and genuinely think it could have made for a great standalone movie for the character.

We’re re-introduced to Han and Chewbacca after the events of Star Wars, Han is trying to pay off Jabba but turning down job after job (much to Chewie’s concern) because “they dont feel right). He’s ultimately coaxed into a job for the Rebellion, mostly as he doesn’t want someone else to use the Falcon, which involves retrieving some informants, using an inter-planetary race as a disguise. Its the perfect setup for an excellent adventure featuring Han and Chewbacca, and whilst Leia appears at points throughout (plus gives Han the job anyway), it doesn’t feel the need to name drop characters from the movies at all (Luke gets mentioned once, Jedi aren’t mentioned at all).

So, instead of having a story that feels the need to nudge and wink at its audience on a regular basis, as we got with Solo, what we have is a race across space in the Falcon, with occassional planetary visits that help move the mission along. Han meets some characters from his and Chewie’s own past along the way, and like with our introduction to Lando in Empire, we’re given just enough information to understand the relationships between these characters. The Empire play a large part in proceedings, indeed, they pursue Han (and the other members of the race he is taking part in) throughout the journey and its only down to Hans wile and (typically) alot of luck (all part of the plan!) that Han achieves his mission unscathed with the closing panels giving us a nice pathway into Han and Leia’s relationship, plus Han’s further involvement in the Rebellion, at the beginning of Empire.

So, as good as the comic book is, and as fun as Solo: A Star Wars Story is, I think the two would have better served the franchise as a whole of their creation was switched. A chase movie featuring Han questioning his own morals and beliefs, new characters that don’t shrink the Universe plus some familiar sights (Stormtroopers, Twi’leks, a Dug) that all help tie its involvement into the Star Wars Universe beyond it being a story featuring Han Solo, plus the growth of the Rebellion and how hard its key leaders have had to work in secret, for me, would have made an incredibly compelling movie. Instead, I urge you to pick up Han Solo from your local comic store, it contains a second story but that one spends alot of time with Luke and Leia too.

Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday – Metal Gear Solid

Back at the beginning of 1999 Future Publishing released Official PlayStation Magazine UK issue 42, which was a big deal. The front cover depicted a robot ninja, the cover disc had the logo for Metal Gear Solid on it. There were other games on that demo disc, but as far as a 14 year old me was concerned they didn’t even exist. I got home from the Co-Op I’d bought it from, put the disc in the PlayStation (I’d read the MGS feature on the way home) and jumped straight into the demo. The following day I had French, I was in the first year of my GCSE’s, but instead of listening to the teacher a group of us were sat at the back of the class, talking as quietly as possible about sneaking past guards, Hind D’s and the DARPA chief. I’ve no idea how much I played that demo, but it was alot.

Later a friend of mine, who had a chipped PlayStation, got a bootleg copy of the US release, I went over to his straight after school and we spend the next week or so playing through. We were obviously hampered by not having a game case with Meryl’s codec code printed on the back and also that elevators would occasionally crash the game, but we got through it, taking it in turns to play, swapping the pad when the other died.

I didn’t get the PAL release on launch day, which was shortly after the magazine was published, I think I rented it from Blockbuster first and eventually persuaded my Mum to by me a copy of it and finished it on each difficulty multiple times (the only time I’ve ever done that for any game, aside from Phantasy Star Online on Dreamcast but that’s totally different), but I’d still say getting that demo was a pivotal moment in me becoming so enamored with video games as a medium. I’d been playing them for a long long time before then, and it wasn’t the first game that became an obsession (I think that would probably be SEGA Rally, but I didn’t own that for myself till much later, it was my brothers copy that I would play as much as I was/wasn’t allowed, but thats a story for another time), on the PlayStation it may have been Gran Turismo, but it was definitely a moment where I just wanted to know as much as I possibly could, I later got hold of MSX emulators for my PC to run the older Metal Gear games (although I bounced off of those) and picked up the Special Missions bonus disc when that came out (which my Step Brother from my Mums second marriage stole, well I blame him for it going missing but was never able to prove it). I made a fansite with as many video’s and pictures I could store on GeoCities when I started college, which then fuelled an obsession with finding out every little bit of information about Metal Gear Solid 2 as I possibly could.

I’ve loved every instalment I’ve played (so the main line titles up until and including Ground Zeroes) but none of them have grabbed me like Metal Gear Solid did where I’d find any reason I could to play through it again, including on two other occassions at other friends’ houses, taking over their playthroughs and showing them how to finish the game in a day (but still watching each and every one of the amazing cutscenes and codec sequences).