My Bespoke Playstation Classic

By now, I’m sure you (and everybody else on the planet) has heard all about Sony’s upcoming Playstation Classic device, the “mini” set to capitalise on the popularity of similar products by Nintendo. I’m not going to go into massive detail on my thoughts because let’s face it: that’s already been done to death on the internet by countless people with greater influence and popularity than me – jus’ sayin’. All I will say is that I think the Playstation Classic will sell very well. The nostalgia boundaries have shifted over the last decade and whereas before it was Atari and Nintendo stuff that people wanted to go back to and revisit from their childhood, now it’s the time of 90’s systems such as the original Playstation.

Anyway, this is going to be a list of the fifteen titles that I would PERSONALLY put on the Playstation Classic (to complete the line-up of twenty) if it were to be tailor-made to me. This isn’t a list of the best games or the most marketable options but just a reflection of what I enjoyed the most on the original Playstation.

Go!

Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer

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Honestly, this is a tough call because while most people say that Gateway to Glimmer (or Ripto’s Rage if you live in the US) is the best of the original trilogy, I have a massive love for the original game. In fact, the two are almost on par with one another but I have to give the edge to Spyro 2 simply for its greater depth and versatility. I never tire of revisiting this game either with my original PS1 copy or Vita download.

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

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The best of the original trilogy for numerous reasons. Challenging while not being as brutal as the original and slightly more ‘pure’ than Warped, Crash 2 is just right and like the Spyro games, the original style of graphics and the polish originally worked into them by Naughty Dog hasn’t aged badly at all.

Resident Evil 3 Nemesis

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This one may be a bit controversial because the original game has the nostalgia factor and the sequel is widely touted as the best game of the series, so much so that a much-demanded full-on remake is at last happening. Resi 3 was not as well loved due to the abundance of ammo removing that resource management factor and also the apparent lack of scares compared to its forerunners. I say “apparent” because as far as I’m concerned, there WERE plenty of crap-your-pants moments. I also much preferred exploring the decimated city itself. Hopefully Nemesis gets a remake too in the future but until then, I’d love to see it on a Playstation Classic.

Final Fantasy VIII

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FFVII lovers gon’ hate but they can suck it because FFVIII is better in my opinion. In fact, Final Fantasy VIII is my favourite game of all-time so it has to have a place on this list. Love the gameplay, love the characters, love the music – I love everything about it. Well, not the Malboro monsters and their evil “Bad Breath” attack but nobody likes those in any edition of FF.

Medievil

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I’ve spoken about Medievil here on the blog before, back when a remake was announced. Unlike the games above, this is a case of the original being nominated over sequels because while Medievil 2 carries some heavy nostalgia for me, a recent revisit proved to be frustrating and not as enjoyable as I recalled. The original however is absolute classic and while the gameplay itself is merely average, it’s the twisted gothic visuals, haunting music and the lore of Gallowmere itself that make the game so great. As with Spyro and Crash, I could happily play Medievil until doomsday and that’s why it needs to be on this list.

Driver

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The Driver series has had some serious ups-and-downs over the years. The first two were highly enjoyable games while Driv3r (worst title for a game ever) tried to capitalise on the GTA craze and include on-foot shooting sections in addition to the titular driving. Unfortunately, it was an awful, glitchy mess that could have fatally torpedoed the franchise for good. Parallel Lines persisted with the on-foot bullshit (but was at least a far more polished game that WORKED) before the most recent installment – San Francisco – made Driver great again. Anyway, the original is a true classic that many like myself will remember fondly for the crazy ‘Take a Ride’ mode with its murderous cop cars and fantastic smashes. The less said about the opening parking lot level though, the better. Could the kids of today even be bothered to get through that?

Tombi

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I absolutely adore this 2D platformer. Full of humour and luscious design, it was the kind of game that made the mainstream death of 2D platforming titles seem all the more a tragedy. After all, the PS1 and Sega Saturn often showed us what was possible with more powerful hardware than the 16bits but when these games came along, nobody bought them. Tombi was – thankfully given a digital PSN re-release because otherwise, the only way to play the game would be to shell out on expensive, original copies. To have a Playstation Classic without this would be against the law in my opinion.

Tekken 2

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Tekken 3 is set to be on the actual Playstation Classic but while I do very much enjoy the third game in the series, it’s Tekken 2 that does it for me. Today it is a blocky, simplistic fighter compared to the current Tekkens but don’t be fooled because the gameplay here is utter gold. The Playstation version of the game ran at a super-smooth 60fps and the character roster was perfectly formed with many iconic faces. More importantly, the backdrops were beautiful in their simplicity and the music is easily the best of the series with tracks that suit each character’s personality to a T.

Ghost in the Shell

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This is another hidden gem of sorts. Rather than playing as the iconic Major Motoko herself, the player pilots one of the Tachikoma spider tank things. You can walk up vertical surfaces, shooting down helicopters and taking out epic bosses. It’s just a really fun game that anybody can enjoy regardless of how much they know about Ghost in the Shell. The game is challenging enough but also immensely satisfying largely in part to the versatility of your vehicle. I’m not sure about the US version of the game but the PAL edition is relatively uncommon and commands a small premium. I own a Japanese copy that I managed to complete (thanks to English-language menus) but I’d certainly be up for playing through it again with the pleasure of having the English VA for the story cutscenes.

Ray Tracers

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Ray Tracers is the result of the following formula: Chase HQ + anime characters + 90’s arcade racing games and it’s as good as it sounds. The game is quite short but challenging during the later stages to make up for it. I really enjoyed the 90’s arcade feel to the game with the music and handling of the cars and Ray Tracers just has that general pick-up-and-play goodness going on so it would be a perfect companion to the longer time sinks on a Playstation Classic device.

Einhander

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Rarely has a developer deviated from their safe zone which such amazing results. Einhander was the result of Squaresoft taking a break from JRPG’s and randomly releasing their first and last shoot ’em up. And what a shmup it is. I’d heard all of the hype over Einhander for years and was ready for an OVERhyped experience when I got hold of a Japanese import but the game is simply amazing. The futuristic setting is very nicely rendered, the bosses are epic and being able to switch between two different stored power-ups is immensely satisfying.

Toca Touring Cars 2

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I may be a bit biased here since Toca 2 perfectly captured my favourite era of the British Touring Car Championship, now looked back on as the “Super Touring” era. The game itself is a fantastic racer though with an incredible amount of polish that really proved why Codemasters had the reputation they did. I would actually take this over Gran Turismo so it’s a shame that the real Playstation Classic’s pads don’t come with analogue sticks…

Kula World

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Kula World (also known as “Roll Away” in other territories) was a prime example of creative thinking in an era that many bemoan due to a flood of identikit games and the birth of overly-cinematic gaming. The game is minimalistic but doesn’t need fancy backgrounds or super-duper graphics. What you get is a fiendish puzzler that starts off easy before gradually morphing into a brain-taxing experience that will have you tearing your hair out. There are a 100 levels in Kula World and I only managed to get to 60-something before throwing in the towel. That said, I can’t resist another go.

Space Invaders

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Another game with multiple names. In Japan, this was called Space Invaders X. Outside of Japan, it came with the rather more generic title of “Space Invaders“. This was a remake of sorts, not produced by Taito this time due to some sort of licensing deal which saw multiple 70’s/80’s arcade classics revamped for the Playstation era by Activision. Anyway, I really enjoy this game in either single player or co-op. There are some awesome power-ups (acquired by destroying four of the same colour invader in a chain) and massive bosses to test your reflexes. The game doesn’t get a lot of love (it doesn’t seem to be liked that much by the Space Invaders faithful) but I’ve always got a real kick out of playing it.

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos

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Crash and Spyro may get the lion’s share of the plaudits when it comes to PS1 platforming but for me, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos was right up there with the big hitters from Naughty Dog and Insomniac. Like those other, more popular platformers, Croc‘s 3D visuals adopted a more cartoonish approach and have aged similarly well with outdated textures and the like not being overly distracting in 2018. The game was actually quite challenging as well, especially if you were going for 100% completion and finding all of secrets. I rate Croc highly and would love to see it get a second chance.

So those are my picks. Of the five games that Sony have already confirmed for the Classic, I have to say that I am pretty interested in Wild Arms since it was an RPG I didn’t play and an original copy sells for anywhere between £20-£40 here in the UK at the time of writing this. Ridge Racer Type 4 is a solid racer with a meaty career mode and Final Fantasy VII is also an amazing game, albeit one that has been re-released a bit too much in recent years so its inclusion on the Classic is decidedly less-than-special. Tekken 3 is one of the high points of the fighting game genre (I just prefer Tekken 2) and Jumping Flash…well, it’s a well-known Playstation game but has it aged well?

Obviously this list could have been 2-3 times longer and there would still be many popular games/series’ I didn’t get around to on the PS1 that I’m sure would make the cut on other gamers’ wishlists.

What would you have chosen? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

The Golden Age of Fighting Games: When it happened and why it ended [Part 3]

It’s well past time that I published this third and final part of my look at the fighting game’s “Golden Age” but, well…life/shit happens and I’ve been a bit lacking when it comes to those all-important creative juices. With that said, I’m back now so I apologise to anybody who has been waiting for Pt.3 but here it is – at last. So far in parts one and two, I have declared that the genre was at its peak from 1991-2000/01 and have discussed the reasons (as I see them) for its eventual, disappointing downfall. All things have to come to an end after all but worry not for Part 3 of this mini-series will focus on the happy stuff, namely what made this point in time so bloody fantastic for fans of fighting games…

A decade of innovation

It would be an outright lie to say that modern-day fighting games don’t bring new ideas to the table but it’s a stone-cold fact that the majority of genre staples and general mechanics (that are now taken for granted) were introduced throughout the 90’s and thus is was a very exciting time to be a player of fighting games. What we tend to see in modern fighting games by contrast are refinements, gimmicks (not necessarily always a bad thing) and attempts to be as flashy as possible.

Street Fighter II kicked things off in ’91 and while I have previously said that SFII cannot take any credit for being the original one-on-one fighting game (a statement I stand by), it certainly created a template that is still in use today. Best-of-three, special move inputs (now commonly used across the majority of fighting games), play styles (grappler, charge, projectile etc.) and character archtypes were all either born or made mainstream with SFII. SNK’s Art of Fighting would introduce ‘Super’ moves to the genre (before Super Street Fighter II Turbo popularised them) and Capcom’s other fighting game, Darkstalkers, debuted air-blocking. It’s actually astonishing that for all the visual and mechanical evolution of fighting games, Street Fighter II is still running in the background.

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How easy is it to forget that air blocking/guarding originated in Darkstalkers?

The next important innovation was already happening at the very same time that Street Fighter was dominating the scene however. Sega released Virtua Fighter in 1993, creating the first 3D fighting game. Comical moon-jumps aside, VF also championed more realistic fighting styles as opposed to the pyrotechnical wizardry and unlikely gymnastic feats of Street Fighter and began to carve out a niche of its own that would see major fruition with Virtua Fighter 2, a sequel widely regarded as one of the all-time greats within the genre. The likes of Tekken and Dead or Alive would follow (and overtake Virtua Fighter in terms of popularity) but Sega had got there first and created the genre’s second ‘main’ style.

So many smaller innovations were happening at the same time however. Fatal Fury experimented with plane-swapping, The King of Fighters brought team battles to the mix and Capcom’s Vs series would kick off the concept of crossovers between more than one company. Namco’s Soulblade (or Souledge in other territories) gave us weapons-based fighting while developers also experimented with taking fighting games into a more arena-based environment with the likes of Capcom’s Powerstone and Taito’s Psychic Force. Meanwhile, Super Street Fighter II X For Matching Service and Vampire Chronicle For Matching Service were quietly introducing online play to Japanese console gamers via their Dreamcast modems.

Obviously you can point out that it’s unfair to criticise modern fighting games for their lack of innovation due to the fact that there is only so much you can do with the genre and so the 1990’s would always boast the bulk of new, core mechanics. Regardless, the 90’s has to be remembered with greater fondness for this period of rapid evolution.

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Virtua Fighter 2: the sort of huge leap forward that will likely never be seen again within the genre.

Art that blew us away

Outside of  the technical stuff, this was THE most incredible period in terms of artistry for fighting games. Hand-drawn backgrounds and sprites were often beautiful to behold with the absolute zenith emerging towards the latter part of the decade. The likes of Street Fighter III, Vampire Saviour, The Last Blade 2, Marvel Vs Capcom and Arc’s Guilty Gear series boasted gorgeous 2D sprites that were a joy to behold and it was fascinating to imagine how many hours of painstaking work and skill we were witnessing on our screens. Today, the same developers behind these games are using 2.5d character models and ‘2D’ characters that are actually layered over polygons as well as cinematic super move animations with multiple camera angles. All of this is far from offensive and does actually look pretty nice but it simply cannot awe in the way that fully hand-drawn characters once did.

Backgrounds and backdrops were just as mind-blowing with the very best featuring ridiculous levels of detail and – in the case of larger crossover games – lots of hidden easter eggs and cameos to pick out. These were often more impressive than the characters themselves and even earlier 3D fighting games featured some lovely, static backdrops that were appealing in their simplicity without needing to rely on distracting background action. Below is a small selection to illustrate what I mean because art speaks for itself…

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Savage Reign [Neo-Geo]. Incredible levels of detail.
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Tekken 3 [Arcade]. King’s stage. The distant, cloud-topped mountains in the background are a simple yet beautiful backdrop.
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Tekken 2 [Arcade]. Jun’s ‘Morning Fields’ stage. So, so basic yet so beautiful. The peaceful countryside is a stark contrast to the bone-snapping combat but works so well.
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Street Fighter Alpha 2 [Arcade]. One of the most atmospheric stages in any fighting game.
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Samurai Shodown IV [Neo-Geo]. Ridiculously beautiful. Capcom were the masters of sprites but SNK were the GODS of backgrounds.

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More Samurai Shodown IV because why not when it’s THIS pretty?

And this amazing, transitional stage from The King of Fighters ’99 that never fails to blow me away…

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This is just the tip of a very large iceberg and if you (like me) have spent countless hours exploring the full spectrum of fighting games from this era of hand-drawn artistry, you will very likely have your own nominations and personal definition of the term ‘impressive’. Given the vast quantity of fighting games that were produced in the 90’s, there is so much to see and many, many hidden gems when it comes to stunning backgrounds.

Sounds good to me

Of course, tight gameplay and pretty aesthetics need suitably good audio to match and this golden age of fighting games just so happened to represent developer sound teams at the peak of their powers. Modern fighting games tend to have very orchestral ‘epic’ soundtracks, pulse-pounding techno or mixes of older themes. The former work within the game(s) and are of good quality but are usually not that memorable. The latter – to me at least – demonstrates a distinct lack of confidence on the part of the developers when it comes to composing original, catchy themes that will be remembered in years to come.

Fighting game music from the 90’s though? It stuck in your head and is the kind of stuff that gamers flock to Youtube to listen to again all these years later. Importing expensive soundtrack CD’s from Japan is WORTH it for these OST’s. This was also an era when console ports of arcade fighting games such as Virtua Fighter, King of Fighters ’96 and the Playstation Tekken trilogy featured arranged versions of the entire soundtracks that took advantage of the CD medium. Clear effort was put into re-arranging soundtracks and catchy arcade riffs suddenly gained transitions, extra layers of instrumentation and more depth in general. The best part was that BOTH the arcade and home arrangements were usually worth listening to and I can’t have been the only one who regularly switched them about in the options menus!

There are literally hundreds of amazing tracks to choose from so below are (Youtube) links to just 10 of my favourites from the era.

Those are just a fraction of my favourites and if I’m being honest, I feel that the list does a major disservice to some of the more obscure fighting games of the era as well as some of the major ones but I could genuinely sit here linking away forever to what I consider to be amazing pieces of music.

Heart and Soul

All of this – the innovation, art, music – are however, all mere ingredients that come together to form the biggest characteristic of the fighting game genre in ’91-00/01 that gives it the Golden Age status. That characteristic is SOUL. This was an era when developers were battling to outdo one another at a terrific pace, developing bigger and better arcade boards, fighting fire with fire and racing to be the first to introduce their new innovations to the market. Capcom and SNK slugged it out for the decade (before the incredible Capcom Vs SNK series paid tribute to their war), 3D fighting games evolved at a great pace and bigger and bolder sprites vied for our attention on a constant basis.

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Let’s be honest: do modern fighting games feel as colourful and creative as this?

When the dust settled though, it was us – the fans – that were the real winners. Fighting games during this period felt like more than just simple money-making products (which they obviously were intended to be). They felt alive and you could feel how the developers had put so much creativity and artistry into trying to make the best possible product, pushing the available hardware to the limits and beyond (see the necessary RAM expansion cartridges for Sega Saturn ports of several Capcom and SNK games). The graphics, sound and even conceptual character artwork just kept getting better and better as each year passed and it was a real treat to behold.

Modern fighting games are still very enjoyable but there is a lot of focus on the almost clinical tournament play (as it is streamed over the internet as en E-Sport), online play and DLC. The creativity is still there but computer modelled characters and environments simply cannot stop the heart in the same way that hand-drawn animation once did. There is also so much recycling and updating of old music and stages from the past with an over-reliance on the glory days. True, fans don’t help this matter at times when they demand to see throwbacks in order to feel comfortable with a new generation of their favourite series but even so, the current fighting game scene certainly doesn’t feel innovative or aesthetically special (rare exceptions aside of course).

Taking one final, quick look at the stages and music for example, it felt like developers created these specifically to describe the characters that they belonged to, conveying their personalities wordlessly through the tone of the music and themes of the stages. Things are a lot more generic today by contrast.

This was actually a difficult topic to tackle because rose-tinted vision is a very real threat and we – as humans – love to tell the next generation how the old days were better (before they themselves do the same to another younger generation, despite believing that they won’t!). On the subject of fighting games however, I do genuinely believe that 1991 through to around 2000/2001 was the defining Golden Age for the genre. It was when fighting games had the most soul and a capacity to thrill with their visuals and move the heart with their sound. It was the birth of countless icons and still the place for superb gameplay.

And that concludes my three-part look at why I believe this was the one, true Golden Age of fighting games. I’d love to hear what others think!

Pigs Fly as Streets of Rage 4 is announced

Us grizzled, old-school gamers have waited a very long time for this day: the day that an official Streets of Rage 4 is announced. It was one of those most-wanted sequels that seemed doomed to never happen but as the likes of Shenmue III have proven in recent years, never say never.

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Sega themselves aren’t on development duties this time around. That honour falls to a conglomerate of developers/distributers consisting of Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games and Dotemu who – between them – are responsible for the remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, Irem Arcade Hits and Streets of Fury to name just three projects.

The initial trailer shows SoR mainstays Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding back to doing what they do best: beating the shit out of hoods in an urban 2D environment. Not much is given away but it has to be said that the art style is utterly drop-dead gorgeous as well as completely hand-drawn which is a serious turn-on for me in an age where even 2D fighting games have polygons hidden in the background.

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There’s no sign of Max, Adam or any of the other classics as of yet but this is very early days so I see no need to start getting concerned. What I can see is that Blaze looks sexier than ever while Axel’s new facial fuzz has made him look more than a little hobo-esque. But otherwise, the art is beautiful, the animation superb and it’s amazing just to be able to have a brand-new Streets of Rage on the way at last.

The original fourth installment was to be a 3D game back in the 90’s (since going 3D by default was THE law in the 32-bit era) before it hit troubled waters due to a disagreement between developers Core Design and Sega, the game morphing into the lacklustre Fighting Force. A further demo by original SoR developers Ancient was put forward for the Dreamcast but this too came to nothing.

Ironically, it was an unofficial fan-made project that was arguably the greatest sequel to the SoR saga. Streets of Rage Remake was an incredible achievement that fused all of the levels and characters together for a huge, branching game with lots of new features. You could now play as enemies such as Mr.X, Shiva and Electra and mess with the expansive settings to pick and choose the best bits from each of the original games to create a truly enjoyable custom Streets of Rage experience. Sadly, Sega missed a trick by not picking the game up and officially releasing it, deciding instead to put the corporate boot down and ensure that Remake was pulled from the internet which is a shame because many will not have experienced this love letter to a series that Sega (at the time) had left to die in the gutter. I imagine that Remake is still available somewhere however; this IS the internet after all…

Anyway, Streets of Rage 4 certainly has a lot to live up to with both its official and unofficial predecessors raising the bar so high. What I have seen so far looks very promising however and I genuinely cannot wait to get my hands on the game.

Linky Linky to the trailer!

 

Retro Re-Release Wishlist [Part 1]

Gaming is a vast medium with an enormous history, some of it mainstream but much of it niche or obscure. However deep you choose to delve into our hobby however, there will always be great games that never get a modern re-release on the likes of PSN, XBLA or Steam due to licensing issues, a perceived lack of profit potential for the IP owner (often a legitimate reason) or for more bizarre reasons such as Sega claiming to have lost the source code for such classics as Panzer Dragoon Saga and the original House of the Dead (arcade version). Ignoring ALL of these boring, technical explanations for a moment, I’d like to kick off a new series where I look at some retro titles that I’d love to see re-issued for modern platforms. Take my money!

#1 – Outrun and its sequels

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The original 1986 Outrun has been re-released several times and is fairly easy to play. Discounting period conversions that all differed wildly in accuracy, some ‘arcade perfect’ ports eventually appeared including the Sega Ages edition for the Saturn and – more recently – a handheld version for the 3DS under the ‘Sega 3D Classics’ umbrella. Outrun‘s sequels haven’t been shown the same love however and that’s a shame. My personal favourite is Turbo Outrun which swapped the Testarossa for the mighty Ferrari F40, added a turbo boost feature, more hazards (such as oil slicks and wet surfaces) and fantastic music. Japan were lucky enough to receive a 3DS conversion of Turbo Outrun but that’s it as far as accurate arcade conversions go. Then there was the visually-thrilling Outrunners, a further sequel that seems – bizarrely – all but forgotten by Sega despite it channelling the essence of the original game and being a lot more exciting to behold.

To go even further, there were also the console-exclusive sequels like Outrun Europa and the divisive Outrun 2019 but I would be stoked just to have a digital collection containing arcade-perfect conversions of Outrun, Turbo Outrun and Outrunners. If the (long expired) Ferrari license is an issue then Sega could just slightly alter the details on the cars as they have been known to do before.

#2 – Capcom Vs SNK (and other Capcom VS series fighting games

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Capcom VS SNK 2 is a near-universally loved fighting game that brought the curtain down on the 1990’s and a fabulous era for fighting games. The game deserves the love it receives and it is a firm favourite of mine BUT the original Capcom Vs SNK is also a tremendous fighting game that is – in some ways – superior to its lauded follow-up. The stage backdrops for example were among the last to be hand-drawn and animated by Capcom for example (the sequel uses 3D and while perfectly attractive, aren’t as impressive) and the music is superb as well as exclusive to the original game. Sadly, the original CvS only saw period Dreamcast and Playstation conversions with the latter being the only way to play the ‘Pro’ update outside of Japan without resorting to importing the Dreamcast version. Even worse, CVS: Pro on the Playstation suffered (like with many of the VS series) from downgraded animation + audio as well as frequent load times as Sony’s machine struggled to host the game. The PS2 version of the sequel has been re-issued on PSN but the original game is mysteriously forgotten about. As somebody who no longer owns a DC, I’d dearly like for Capcom Vs SNK to get a re-release.

And while on the subject, not many of the Marvel VS series entries have been re-released. Marvel Superheroes and the original MvC had their arcade editions packaged together for an ‘Origins’ digital re-release but the other early entries in the series – X-Men: Children of the Atom, X-Men Vs Street Fighter and Marvel Superheroes Vs Street Fighter – remain exclusive to the arcade, Playstation or Sega Saturn. Capcom began producing VS games again with MvC3, Ultimate MvC and the recent-ish Marvel Vs Capcom Infinite so the sensible time to whack the older games on PSN/XBLA seems to have been and passed. Add in the poor performance of Infinite and it would seem that the window of opportunity may have disappeared which is a shame. A compilation of all the older games would be an instant purchase as far as I am concerned.

#3 – Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

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The debate over which Golden Axe game is the best is a popular one. Some say that the arcade original is the only answer to the question while others have a fierce, nostalgic sentiment towards its Mega Drive conversion. Golden Axe II floats the boat of others while almost nobody opts for Golden Axe III or the spin-off, Golden Axe: The Duel. And if you try to claim that Beast Rider on the PS3/360 is the best? Get out of here! The tragedy of this once great side-scrolling beat ’em up series is that its best installment remained exclusive to arcades. The Revenge of Death Adder is bigger, brighter and so much more expansive than any of its predecessors with new characters, fantastic effects and more depth than ever before yet it has never been re-issued on anything at all, not even receiving an obscure port in some form on a Japanese-only computer. It’s understandable that Sega would see little merit in watering everything down to cram Revenge onto the Mega Drive or even the 32X but a belated Sega Saturn conversion would have been perfect. A counter argument would be that interest in 2D gaming and beat ’em ups was waning by the time of the Saturn but you only have to look at how revered the likes of Guardian Heroes have become to see that Revenge would have fitted the Saturn like a particularly snug glove. Besides, how many other styles of games that were perceived to be of little consumer interest were nonetheless released for the Saturn and Playstation in the 90’s?

#4 – Snatcher & Policenauts

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It might seem odd now but Konami actually used to make a lot of great games. Even typing that feels wrong but unfortunately, they have lost their way with high-profile stories about poor treatment of employees and severe scaling back on active use of their wealth of enviable IP. Yes, Konami may be a Metal Gear Solid/Pro Evolution creature propped up by pachinko machines and the Yu-Gi-Oh!! card game but in the past, they put their name to such games as Snatcher, a distopian cyberpunk graphic adventure that remains frustratingly difficult to play by conventional means (emulation and bootleg fan translations notwithstanding). The only English-language version of the game was released on Sega’s Mega-CD (Sega-CD in the US) and now commands insane prices due to it’s desirability and notoriety for being a game very much worth playing on a system where the quality of the software library otherwise borders on being schizophrenic. At the time of making this post for example, copies are selling on ebay UK for between £250-£300 with ease. Higher condition copies with the spine card are pushing £500 while even loose discs have been snapped up for close to £100.

Spiritual follow-up, Policenauts, suffers an even harsher fate having never received an official translation of any kind. Both games were released for the Playstation and Saturn in Japan (along with various native home computers and – with regards to Policenauts – the 3DO) and language-patched translations are available for emulation or chipped consoles capable of playing back-ups but wouldn’t a proper, digital release be nice? Translate both games and I wouldn’t be able to hand my money over fast enough for the double pack.

#5 – Violent Storm

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I’m ending part one with another old-school Konami game: 1993’s Violent Storm, an arcade beat ’em up designed (like so many games of the period) to capitalise on the popularity of the likes of Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Thing is, Violent Storm is every bit as slick as Final Fight but manages to be a bit more light-hearted despite the main attraction still being smashing in the faces of thugs. The characters are big and bold while the crazy music and questionable enemy designs help Violent Storm stand out from its peers as an amazing beat ’em up in its own right. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t ever converted to a home system and – for some reason – it is quite obscure and unknown today outside of those in the know. Yes, I play it on MAME but I’d still happily pay for an official re-release.

Well, that’s part one done and dusted (with many more still to come no doubt). Please feel free to comment with your thoughts on my choices or for any suggestions for other games that are crying out for a modern-day re-release. We can but hope that some of these wishes may some day become a reality!

DS90 Plays: Crash Bandicoot [Playstation]

…or to be more precise, I’ve been playing Crash on my Vita but before I get into the game itself, I feel a mini rant coming on that needs to be vented and said rant regards the mess that is the Playstation Store. I already have Crash Bandicoot 2 on my Vita and I know that Crash 3 and CTR are also both available to download but the original? I had to find the game on the website version of the store (where it is marked up as only being compatible with the PSP and PS3), pay for it then dump it on my Vita by accessing my download list from the Vita. What a ball ache! So not only does the game not show up on the Vita version of the Store but it also doesn’t list the Vita as a compatible platform (when it is). I had to go through the exact same process to download Medievil to my Vita and it highlights how poorly organised the store is. In fairness, it does serve the PS3, PS4, PSP (through no longer directly) and the Vita but the whole thing needs updating and putting into some kind of order without the need for the daft download methods I have had to endure simply to get hold of an old PS1 game.

The positive side is that the store does at least still have all of these crusty old games to download unlike Nintendo’s versions of their e-shop which eventually get removed from existence once a superceded console is no longer worth supporting in the eyes of its creator. Plus, I have read that US gamers can’t even get the original Crash via the workaround (due to licensing issues) so as a British gamer, I must count myself lucky in that respect.

But anyway: Crash Bandicoot!

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I did of course play this game (as well as the sequels) back in the day so me downloading the original to my Vita was because I fancied a nostalgia trip. I’d already downloaded Crash 2 for convenience’s sake and completed it but I no longer have my original copy of the first game so it was a case of necessity rather than convenience this time. Plus it was £3.99 which is a complete steal versus the price of used physical copies of Crash Bandicoot. I do always prefer an original hard copy (as my physical PS1 collection amassed over the last twenty years affirms) but I’m also no longer so snooty about going digital when I feel like it.

The biggest thing that my modern-day play-through of Crash Bandicoot has revealed however is that this game is tough! I certainly didn’t remember it to be so unforgiving but compared to the sequels, the original Crash is definitely a much crueler game that often demands the sort of platforming skills of a player that 8 and 16-bit games in the genre did. Most of the time though, I would say that losing lives is entirely avoidable and purely the player’s fault. In this respect, I’ve cursed at the screen and gritted my teeth on many occasions but I’ve also known that failures are my fault and not due to cheap game design. This is what the Mario games do so well and we can rage about how demanding old games are/were but this is what we were used to at the time. Games have become – to an extent – very easy and hand-holdy with safety nets everywhere, greater concern being shown to keeping the player happy rather than giving them a challenge. Both approaches to entertaining a gamer are valid (because sometimes I don’t want an aldrenalin-fuelled experience after a long day at work) but I do sometimes lament the loss of actual, fairly-weighted challenge in games.

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The opening jungle levels are perhaps the most iconic in the first two Crash games. General gameplay mechanics are introduced at a reasonable pace.

The most prominent issue relating to the difficulty is the game’s save system. You can only save your progress by reaching the end of the bonus round (which you have to access from within a stage by collecting a set of three pick-ups from crates) or by breaking every crate in a stage and collecting a silver gem as a reward. The game also features a password system because this was an early Playstation release that didn’t demand the ownership of a memory card but even so, you can’t retrieve a password without actually reaching save point in the first place. What this means is that failing on a bonus stage puts a fair bit of pressure on the player to ensure that they reach the next one and don’t screw up a second time. If you are attempting to smash all of the crates within said bonus rounds then plummeting to your doom is easily done and you only have one shot of clearing a bonus round so there is a distinct lack of forgiveness.

As for genuinely unfair game design, it only really rears its head on the warthog stages where Crash leaps stop said beast and you have to steer them through all obstacles in your way. I say that these stages can be unfair because there is some trial-and-error involved with the timing of some of the moving obstacles and it can take a few failed runs before you know in advance whether to move left/right or jump/duck out of the way of something. The stages where Crash must run towards the screen with a giant Indiana Jones-style boulder of doom in hot pursuit are similar but I managed to clear them pretty easily with reflexes alone.

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These levels (with their distinct lack of footing!) will really test your reflexes…

Otherwise this is just pure platforming action that tests reflexes, timing and accuracy. The controls are spot-on so it’s all down to the player to get right. The game does a very good job of introducing new forms of hazards and giving the player a fair chance to see how they work before gradually throwing more and more for them to deal with. For example, you won’t be expected to jump across three flaming torches in a row without first being given one to handle on its own with lenient timing between the flame switching on and off. The same goes for rolling millstones, falling platforms and all manner of hazards. This is why the game is – aside from the few bits I previously picked out – completely fair: it introduces new obstacles and gradually ramps up the quantity that you must deal with in one go or the strictness of any timing involved.

It’s also worth mentioning that Crash’s reportoire of moves is much more limited here than in the sequels so there’s no sliding or belly-slamming – just jumping. This makes for a very pure platforming experience that blended (at the time) the old-school 2D traits that we’d just left behind with a fresh, into-the-screen 3D perspective. There are many 2D stages however which betray the transitional period between the 2D and 3D eras of gaming but the mix of both styles helps keep things varied. The only negative aspect of the 2D sections in my opinion is the fact that Crash isn’t ‘locked’ to the ground so despite being asked to walk left/right, you can still slip on the controls and end up walking over the edges. This is especially frustrating in the bonus stages where you are desperate not to fall! Thankfully (in this specific case) the game doesn’t support analogue control so if you are careful and stick to the left/right buttons on the d-pad then you should be safe.

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Slippery ramps, spikes, elevators…what could possibly go wrong?

What I really enjoy about the original Crash Bandicoot is the sense of achievement (and relief!) upon clearing a stage, especially with all crates smashed which is a pretty smug moment. I also really enjoy the challenge of the later levels where checkpoints are spread out further, one mistake = doom and you feel as if you are being pushed to your limits of endurance and reflexes with some of the stages and what they demand of you. But getting through these stages after many attempts (and much swearing) is what makes that sense of achievement all the sweeter. After all, isn’t it better to really earn something than have it given to you?

It would also be a sin for me to wrap up this review without mentioning another of Crash Bandicoot‘s defining characteristics: the humour. From Crash’s facial expressions to the general cartoon-like vibe of the game, everything feels fun and playful even when the difficulty is up and the stages do their best to appear dark and menacing later on. The audio is simple but classic with funky backing music and charming sound effects that are unmistakably from a Crash game. This is also one of those rare 32-bit games that has clearly aged but done so with grace. Like with the Spyro games, Crash Bandicoot didn’t push for realistic graphics and so the exaggerated cartoon-like approach still looks great today and pretty sharp. Contemporaries from the same period that tried to look “real” can often be shocking to behold in retrospective with jagged edges, awful smudgy textures and laughable (by today’s standards) attempts to get near photo-realism. Not so here.

Overall, I have very much enjoyed returning to Crash Bandicoot. It’s probably my least-played of the original Naughty Dog-developed games so there’s the added bonus of not being overly-familiar with it. It’s also a perfect fit for the Vita so if you are able to get it on there then I highly recommend doing so. PS4 remasters next?

Crystal Dreams

This last week saw me finally polish off the e-shop download of Pokemon Silver Version for 3DS. I ended up spending around 60hrs with the game and in truth, that figure could have easily been shaved by a considerable amount had I not spent ages hunting out my favourite monsters and training them up even though I had no space for them in my final/ideal team. I felt like a bit of a boss taking a Lv60+ team of Lugia, Typhlosion, Tyranitar, Dragonite, Raikou and Gyarados into the final showdown with Red (I would have also taken Ho-Oh but I needed Gyarados as my ‘HM slave’ to navigate Silver Cave) and I managed to beat the toughest trainer in the game on my first attempt. That Snorlax that bothered me so much back in the day? No problem! Typhlosion ended that sucker with a few Dynamic Punches. Yeah!

It was a very nostalgic experience overall and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the classic sound effects, sprites and simpler Pokemon mechanics that I’d been missing with the newer games. Despite the amount of hours I invested into Silver, I’m still keenly waiting for January 26th and the next classic re-release that I’d been hoping for…

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Pokemon Crystal Version was the edition that everybody had really been clamouring for when the Gold/Silver re-releases were initially announced and I can only presume that Nintendo held it back on account of it being so similar to G/S that nobody would buy either of those versions. This way, gamers like me will double-dip and I can’t deny that I have fallen for their nefarious marketing tactics! Yellow Version was re-released alongside Red/Blue but that was likely a different scenario given how Yellow had quite a lot of differences compared to the games it was updating and was changed-up to follow the TV show more closely.

Crystal is more of a subtle update over its direct predecessors but is – in my opinion anyway –  the definitive edition of the second generation of games. When this game was originally released, the introduction of animated sprites was incredibly special for example. The first iteration of the Battle Tower debuted in Crystal too (and boy was it brutal!) and a slightly tweaked storyline put Suicune into a position of prominence, allowing the player to eventually battle the legendary Pokemon without worrying about it fleeing as it, Raikou and Entei would immediately do in Gold/Silver.

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Gotta love those old sprites!

Crystal is – like most of the early Pokemon games – quite nostalgic for me as I clearly remember receiving it for Christmas on the year of release along with a brand spanking new Gameboy Advance. How ironic that the first game I played on a new system was one via the backwards compatibility! The more advanced (see what I did there?) aesthetics of those shiny new GBA titles didn’t deter me from embarking on a second tour of Johto however and in 2018, history is set to repeat itself. I really cannot wait and I’m fortunate enough to have received a £15 e-shop voucher from my sister at Christmas so I’m saving that for the 26th!

It’s also worth mentioning that Nintendo have slightly tweaked this version of Crystal in a rather special way. Aside from Pokemon Bank compatibility, they have also included a way to battle and capture Celebi without the need for any sort of special ‘event’! Wow! Celebi has long been one of those Pokemon that has been impossible to capture without being fortunate enough to attend a special event and outside of said event for Gold/Silver/Crystal (or the Japanese bonus disc for Pokemon Colosseum), I don’t believe Celebi has been made available since.

Roll on the 26th!