Spectre

I just played Spectre and managed to hold it together for like two minutes. It’s a vector based tank game kind of like battlezone but prettier. It looks sort of like this:

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That giant checkerboard is the playing field, you gotta get all those yellow flags, the red tanks and the yellow tanks and some other tanks are trying to shoot you. You get points for killin’ tanks and getting flags, and you have a bunch of gauges that can’t go down or you won’t be able to shoot or you’ll lose.

It’s really simple, it’s hard to see how someone might get good at it. There are a lot of buttons that do things that aren’t super clear. There isn’t much I can say about Spectre, but there is a lot to say about manuals. Manuals aren’t really a thing anymore in video games, at least not paper ones. Almost every game just tells you how to play it now in a way that might not have been very easy or fun to do in old video games.

But it became crystal clear after about 30 seconds of playing Spectre that I was going to need a guide. A guide from spectre town. So I found a manual.

On the manual was a 1-900 number for their hint line, so I started by calling that. The number was out of service. I wonder what happened! Did cybersoft get phreaked? Phone-owned? It’s pretty clear that the manual is going to have to suffice.

So when I said that Spectre was a tank game back there? Total lie. Spectre is about roaming around the battlefields of the cyber-war, capturing flags and shooting cyber-enemies. Everything in the game that I thought was a tank thing was a computer thing. I messed up all the metaphors is I guess what I’m trying to say.

I went back and played a little bit more now that I had rich new metaphors to colour my cyber-war experience.

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It didn’t help.

But I can say that knowing what hyperjumps and grenades and mines and flags and Soft I.C.E is helped me think about spectre a little bit with all its cyberwar trappings, and that it’s pretty great that people thought that maybe war in the future would be just like regular tanks stuff but in computers and that if you just drove around fast enough you could just take over everybody’s computer.

Because right now taking over people’s computer is tricking them into clicking on things or pasting things that they shouldn’t click on or paste and then you encrypt all their files and steal their memories unless they can give you enough bitcoins. I don’t think that would be a super fun video game but maybe it would!

Maybe somebody stole all of Cybersoft’s memories for bitcoins. Maybe that’s why their hint line is not running anymore! Maybe they became a real cyberwar target because they got too close to what the real cyberwar is like.

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I think it might all be connected.

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Super Strike Eagle

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, eagle is a Noun defined as follows: “A small, but not too small, bird that eats up other birds, if it so chooses, and never without jam, yum, yum.” Yum.

But this game is not about eagles, at least not the regular kind. No, these are eagles of a rather metaphorical kind. The kind that people fly around in. And they shoot other people, but not with jam. With bullets, and missiles and other such things. Obviously, I was out of my element. I said to the game, I said: “But game! I do not have a pilots licence! How will I fly your aircraft.” And the game said, “Well, it’ll be tricky, but it’s not really that realistic.” And I said,  “But how realistic will it be?” hoping for jam.

“Really not very,” said the game. “But it will pretend to be realistic, which is all anyone ever asked for anyway.”

Take that, you commie, you!

It was right. Frankly, this is far and away the best Top Gun game I’ve played on the SNES, or (dare I say it?) ever at all. Well, maybe it’s not that good, but I’ve had a bit of caffeine, and I’m feeling pretty extreme, so I’d say it was extremely good. Everything in it was top notch. Even though there’s obviously a little bit lost without access to a manual, I was still able to get my plane off the ship and into the frickin air without much trouble. Although, I am an old hand at Microsoft Flight Simulator 98, which taught me the basics. Really, all planes are the same, guns or no. You wanna go up; you push down. After you get that, it’s smooth sailing. Why they don’t make up up is beyond me. Perhaps they’re sadists. Or maybe they’re hyper dimensional beings who have no truck with the whole up, down distinction.

But yeah. This game’s pretty hot. It manages to look pretty good, too. It flips between camera angles in a way that really works for it. It struts its stuff, baby. Like a jet.

Oh yeah.

Super Mario Kart

A word to the wise: do NOT under any circumstances get your flatmate hooked on Mario Kart. That means DON’T let them play it. At all.

Oh, you might think it’s terrific at first having a Player 2 at the ready, but you’ve got to understand – it’s a ‘bridge title’ in the truest sense of the word – it’s a gateway drug.

Marx was wrong. Mario Kart is the Opiate of the Masses.

It’s like being married to a nymphomaniac – you might think that’s an awesome problem to have, but wait until you’re red, raw, run down, and can’t get a damn thing done*; then let’s see what you have to say about it. Oh yes, you can most definitely have too much of a good thing. Try telling that to my flatmate, though, who’ll happily put “World on a String” (as performed by Michael Bublé) on repeat for the entire duration of the morning commute, simply because he likes it.

I’ve worked long and hard at expanding his horizons, but it seems he can only accommodate latch onto one new thing at a time before culture club is adjourned. Oh well, I suppose listening to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack on repeat instead of Billy Joel is progress. The thing is, if I wasn’t constantly introducing new cultural material, we’d be stuck on the latest obsession FOREVER.  Not even joking.

Thus far, I have failed to replace Super Mario Kart Wii. Can you see how that might be a problem?

I have another friend who’s stuck on Super Mario Kart. Not stuck as in “can’t finish it”, but stuck as in he keeps coming back to it. He uses the Classic Controller on Mario Kart Wii, if only to simulate playing it on a SNES. I’m pretty sure his frustration with the Wii version is parallel with my feelings “going back” to the SNES version. What he may see as impurities introduced to the Wii version, I see as tweaks missing from the SNES version. I’m progressive like that. Nonetheless, Super Mario Kart is an experience enshrined with very good reason.

I’ve seen it referred to as an abstraction of go-karting, but it’s more an abstraction of Super Mario Bros. Your adversaries may as well be the timer, as your driver jumps, hits ‘?’ blocks for powerups, throws shells, and avoids obstacles to reach the finish line [flagpole]. It’s Mario in 3D, essentially, and a testament to the primal strength of the Super Mario Bros. game design.

It’s Wacky Races: The Videogame, where everybody knows your name playing dirty is a virtue, and mischief is encouraged. So many great games revel in the fun of mischief made [see A Link to the Past, GTA, and my current obsession, The Saboteur].

For every time Nintendo has been berated for making “kiddie” games, they should be applauded for their timeless aesthetic choices. What separates Super Mario Kart (and indeed, any Nintendo game) from the rest of the dross is this thing we in the biz like to call “art direction”. This vibrant cast of characters wouldn’t look out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon, and I’m here to tell you that’s a good thing.  Donkey Kong, Luigi, Yoshi, Bowser, and Princess Peach have each become so familiar they can headline their own games and still sell a million copies.

I picked Yoshi because he looks like he has a thermometer in his mouth.

It blew the Mario game wide open – beyond platformers – into racers, sports, RPGs, and fighters. It was just a great idea.

Super Mario Kart deserves every bit of nostalgia lavished on it. Everything about it is memorable. Just don’t show it to your flatmate.

* This review was delayed by at least two days due to Flatmate Mario Kart Addiction.

Steel Talons

I am finding hard to review this game called Steel Talons. Not because it is bad. Actually it is pretty decent for a SNES flight SIM. You are a helicopter pilot and you have to shoot down targets. We will ignore the fact that the targets seem extremely random and placed just about anywhere. Overall the controls are solid and you can pilot your helicopter fairly easily with the dpad and shoulder buttons and X and Y buttons. Yes, the complex controls of a helicopter take up just 80% of your game pad.

The reason I am finding it hard to review this game is shown clearly in this screenshot here:

Warning: Loss of fuel may result in death

WHEN YOU GOT SHOT YOU LOSE FUEL! No physical damage occurs at all. You simply slowly run out of fuel. Luckily when you run out of fuel you get an instant refuel the indicated number of times. How fucking insane is that? That Is the equivalent of me getting sucker punched in the face and me losing fatty cells. Or maybe food just comes out. Like a cheeseburger.

But obviously this world isn’t the same as mine because it is super small. I mean really small. If you leave the area shown in the map you just reappear on the other side of the world. This means this fuel for health planet is only about four square kilometers. For that to be possible with all the seemingly normal gravity the density of the planet would be astronomical. Even a simple layer of rock dust covering you would be enough to crush your spine. Luckily the crushed spine would only result in you spitting out a taco.

Sports Illustrated Championship

It’s exciting to get to play a game that was spun off into such a successful long running TV show. Who knew a game based solely on watching sports and then writing up news stories for Sports Illustrated magazine could be so much fun. CBS did! That’s who!

In the game you play Ray Romano…..I mean Ray Barone, a successful sports writer for sports illustrated. The object of the game is to watch a sporting event of your choice. With endless options like football and baseball it is really hard to choose at times. I decided it was best to try both options to keep this a fair and honest review.

Ray is a lucky man. His job is to watch sports all day long AND he gets some of the best seats in the house. In the baseball version you actually get to stand where the first base coach does. Being this close to the action you won’t miss any details for your article. I swear Pierre McGuire must have played this game to get his idea to sit between the benches.  The challenge during the sporting events is to stay awake because all games are played in real time. Watching fake athletes the like of R. Alvomar and D. Bright takes dedication and stamina. If you miss any key plays in your write up after the game then you lose serious points. So you are best to get a beer and a comfy chair and enjoy the show.  A short game can last as little as three hours.

Ray Barone says You're OUT!

Once the game is over you have the fortunate ability to work from home. OR SO YOU THOUGHT! Little did you know but your parents live just across the street! And your Sasquatch of a brother is a cop and drops by all the time. You need to somehow balance your family life such as pleasing your wife sexually and raising twins all the while still making your deadline. Once again action takes place in real time so while you may have a week to complete your article most of your time will be taken up by nagging women and Neanderthal brothers.

Just before every deadline you must complete a series of challenges as mentioned but at the end you must complete the boss battle. Hints to who the boss will be are normally hidden around your house. For example once I noticed birth control pills on the bed side table. A few days after the pills ran out for the month I had to engage my wife is hand to hand combat before darting off to the office to hand in my article.

When you finally do hand in your article for the next issue of Sports illustrated you get a letter grade to tell you how you did. I never did very well because I spent most of my time failing to please my wife which meant I had to constantly play the “masturbate in the shower” mini game.

I highly recommend this game to anyone whose life sucks worse than the one I just described.

Prince of Persia 2

There’s this irritating thing that happens when reviewing for this site sometimes. A game is bad, but you want to get far enough to be confident in that fact, so you end up playing it far longer than expected. It’s no secret that some of these games get played for like 20 minutes, but when it came to Prince of Persia 2, I bashed my head against the wall for upwards of two hours on one stupid part of the game near the beginning. You have to somehow open a door, and there are vanishing platforms over some quicksand. I am pretty sure you need to jump on all of them except this one with a symbol on it. Too bad this game controls like garbage. I tried about 20 times before giving up in utter misery.

So, I can’t do it. I can’t put words together for this. It’s not even that it’s awful, in that way that The Room or Troll 2 is awful (which is to say, it has no heart in its junkfulness). It’s just nothing special. I am probably way off base, here. I recognize that. To someone, somewhere, (in fact, many people, many-where) this game is great. There are plenty of people who had one of those silly retro computers (Amiga or Tandy or Apple II or whatever other silly names that don’t sound like real devices there are) who love games like this. They get it, in some way, that I never will. Maybe it’s blind nostalgia speaking on their behalf, but maybe there’s something to it. I haven’t found it, though.

My apathy can be summed up as such: I like games to be pretty. This game isn’t ugly, it’s just plain-looking. It isn’t awful, it’s mediocre. Perhaps the most telling thing, though, is that it isn’t fun. It’s boring.

Power Instinct

Power Instinct is, pretty much, a waste of time. At least, on the surface. An Atlus-published low-quality fighting game in the vein of Street Fighter II and wahtever game SNK had recently crapped out, it pits two projectile-throwing (usually) fighters against each other in an all-out fight to be the slowest person to have their life bar turn entire red from yellow.

While virtually everything about this title is standard, it is worth mentioning that there is one amazing curio in this game: never have I seen a fighting game nail the CREEPY OLD WITCH LADY archetype so flawlessly. Observe:

Her projectile attack involves shooting her dentures at enemies.

Look how her face gets all floppy. She must be pulling her entire jaw out. IV-inject your heart out, Mr. Ebert (too soon?).

Don’t worry though, you can do this more than once: she has replacement teeth in endless supply.

Her shoryuken-style attack is the real piece de resistance, though. A giant fucking ghost head (which is her own head, only bigger, and translucent, and yellow) comes out of her eye and carries her into the air, damaging the enemy through a combination of fear, bludgeoning and confusion as to what the fuck kind of fighting tournament did I join oh God.

Of course, why would the ridiculousness end when the fighting does? When she wins a battle, she transforms into a big-titted anime lady. Makes perfect sense.

In conclusion: junk. But awesome, weird junk. The kind of junk that this site exists to get to the bottom of. Old lady who shoots her own ghost out of her eye junk.