My 2019 in Gaming inc. my GOTY

Yes, posts have trailed off here on Darkstalker90 Gaming but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t still being playing videogames. I’ve just been spending less time with them, and have had even less time to write about playing them. But I thought it would be a wasted opportunity NOT to look back at this year and the games I’ve played.

First of all, this might be first year that I’ve not played a single new release. Everything that I’ve spent time with or completed has been pre-2019. On the flipside, I’ve also not spent much time at all with retro games. 2019 has been about catching up on my backlog and playing stuff from recent years that I just hadn’t gotten around to until now.

My list of completed games looks like this (links to my reviews where available):

So, not very many then but that’s an accurate reflection of the sort of year I’ve had: not many games completed and most of those that were finished took me ages to get through, purely due to a lack of time and, in some cases, motivation. I can’t lie: I did fall out of love with gaming at several points in 2019 and simply couldn’t be bothered with it.

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But what I did play, I really enjoyed. Spyro Reignited Trilogy and Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy were two mighty fine remasters that I heaped praise upon. Spyro Reignited in particular impressed me no end. The Spyro games were, after all, some of my absolute favourites of all-time so I was concerned that the Reignited Trilogy might do too much meddling and piss all over my happy late-90’s memories. I needn’t have worried though. Yes, there were some unforgivable glitches and, yes, there were a few small alterations to pander to our overly-sensitive modern society, but otherwise this was how you remaster games.

I’m very much looking forward to getting around to the Crash Team Racing and Medievil remakes in 2020 when I finally pick them up. Hopefully, the positivity can continue (I haven’t read any reviews of either and I’ve mostly avoided gameplay videos).

Finishing Yakuza 5 after starting it years ago (literally!) felt like an almighty relief. I’m a completionist you see, and Yakuza 5 is possibly the most bloated of all the games in terms of 100% completion requirements. In the end, I had to just give up and complete the main game to get it out of the way but I did achieve well above 90% completion. I never did manage to catch that damn Ito fish nor beat the toughest difficulty of Winter Combat, though. As for the Japanese gambling minigames? I’ve decided that I’m never going to bother with these, even if it does mean forfeiting 100% completion in all Yakuza games going forward.

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[Image Source]
There was more Yakuza to come in 2019, however. After a little break, I decided to get into the PS4 generation of games and play Yakuza 0/Zero. What a game this was! First up, there was still a lot to do but Zero was nowhere near as vast as Yakuza 5 so it was definitely a less intimidating challenge. Again, I skipped the gambling games and just went for my own custom “100%” completion and did manage to complete everything else. The storyline – set in the 80’s bubble of real estate and excess – was fantastic and really helped flesh out the events of the Yakuza canon prior to the original game. The combat was much improved too with a selection of different fighting styles to master. All in all, Yakuza Zero was more of the same but, paradoxically, felt incredibly fresh, despite it being the sixth installment in the series that I have played. It’s a true testament to the quality and consistency of these games that I can play what is essentially the same thing for well over a decade and still be utterly absorbed by the experience.

So I give my Game of the Year award to Yakuza 0.

2019 was also the year in which I reacquainted myself with Platinum and their signature brand of off-the-wall, crazy action games. I started by replaying Anarchy Reigns (PS3) and finding – much to my pleasure – that I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around and, despite the many flaws, I was able to appreciate it for what it was. I then moved on to the Bayonetta games. Yes, I was well behind on playing these but that didn’t detract from the experience. The first game, for example, blew me away with its amazing style and challenging gameplay. The sequel was more of the same but not quite as impactful in my opinion. It was much more sedate near the beginning and, on the default difficulty, I didn’t die a single time, rarely having to dip into my swollen stash of health-restoring items. That said, I still got a lot out of Bayonetta 2 and, in a way, the lesser challenge allowed me to enjoy experimenting in battle a bit more. Overall though, I believe that the original is still the best.

Aside from games that I can actually say that I completed, I also put a lot of time into two fighting games this year: Soulcalibur VI and Street Fighter V. I won’t go into great depth about either here (because I’ve done enough of that this year on this blog) but suffice to say, I have really enjoyed both. Street Fighter V was a game that initially didn’t sit well with me at all and, while there are still numerous elements that I will likely never accept, I gave the game a second chance and did at last gel with it in terms of gameplay.

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I have put a considerable amount of time into gittin’ gud with Sophitia’s sister, Cassandra, since she was added to the game via DLC.

Soulcalibur VI, meanwhile, has retained its crown as my favourite fighting game of the current generation (out of those I have actually played of course…). The DLC has never failed to please me and the gameplay itself is just so much better for feeling closer to SCII/SCIII than the deflating SCV. The support shows no signs of slowing down either with a second season of DLC right around the corner kicking off with Samurai Shodown‘s Haohmaru, SCIV veteran Hilde, new moves and more customisation items. I can’t wait.

In closing, I won’t make any resolutions or promises for 2020 because I know that I likely won’t stick to them. However, I feel that I played far more games this year that I enjoyed as opposed to games that I didn’t, so if I can have a similar strike rate for next year then that would be enough for me.

Review – Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy [Playstation 4]

DSC_0395Earlier this year, I played, completed and reviewed the rather wonderful Spyro Reignited Trilogy. The remastered collection of one of my favourite series’ of games wasn’t perfect (largely due to unwelcome glitches) but it made me smile no end and really, that’s what gaming is all about. It wasn’t the first modern remaster of a beloved Playstation platforming series though; that accolade goes to the Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy – the commercial success of which can likely be thanked for Spyro’s adventures receiving a makeover. I actually received both collections for Christmas last year but made a beeline for Spyro as those games were my favourites. Now, I’ve had the chance to unwrap, play and complete Crash’s remasters so here is my review of the N Sane Trilogy.

A sympathetic makeover

In my review of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, I had this to say about the overall makeover of the original games:

My overall feeling is that Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a totally authentic and – more importantly – sympathetic remake. Everything from the level layouts to the word-for-word script is as I remember it. The individuality between games has also been retained i.e. the designs of the treasure chests, the shapes of the gems and the extra life systems. Immediately, there is nothing on a basic level to offend the traditionalists who demand the most minimal of changes…

The same is true here for Crash. Everything is as you remember – it just looks a hell of a lot better. The beauty of the original Crash Bandicoot and Spyro games is that, while their worlds were crafted from (then) cutting-edge polygons and 3D tech, it was done in a cartoon-like, exaggerated style. So while those games are clearly aged when viewed through a modern filter, they are still perfectly acceptable today. Pop the original discs into your Playstation or download the digital versions from the Playstation store and you won’t be offended by horrible textures or laughable “realism” because those original games were inadvertently future-proofed by not chasing realism. The visuals are still sharp, the games still move smoothly and the music remains timeless.

With that in mind, I was sceptical about what the remasters could achieve. After all, there are plenty of other Playstation games that I think would absolutely benefit from ground-up remasters because the originals are just difficult to deal with after several decades of videogame evolution and refinement. Crash on the other hand didn’t really need much in my opinion. That said, the N Sane Trilogy manages to impress regardless. We have realistic textures now, much more dynamic special effects and nice, detailed touches such as Crash actually having proper fur. All of this is achieved without taking away any of the original games’ cartoon appeal.

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It’s as you remember, just furrier and, er…plantier. Wumpa fruit looking good enough to eat though!

Audio-wise, the music has been updated too but again, it’s very subtle, a testament to how good the original soundtrack was. I think I prefer the original but only because I’ve played the Playstation originals so much that I miss some of the minute details (the more pronounced clanking sounds in the sewer levels for example). Overall though, it’s an on-point mix that I can’t grumble about.

As with Spyro, the individual games and level layouts themselves remain utterly unchanged which pleased this crusty veteran gamer. There were only a few small additions that I noticed. You can now switch between Crash and his sister Coco for example. I didn’t detect any difference between the two Bandicoots but it’s a nice surface-level update. Coco was, after all, only originally playable in specific levels in Crash Warped. You also receive useful hints on the loading screens to point you in the direction of the bonus gems and secrets. Some may call this “dumbing down” but many of the secrets in the Crash games were pretty obtuse and even I couldn’t remember how to reach some of the coloured gems.

“A smashing blast from the past!”

One thing that the N Sane Trilogy successfully reminded me of was how challenging the first game in the series was. This is where it all began and so Crash’s reportoire of abilities is restricted to just jumping and spinning, severely minimising the amount of tricks that the player can use to negotiate the levels. This is proper old-school platforming that demands pin-point accuracy, respect for hazards and practiced timing. A lot of so-called “hardcore” gamers like to scoff at the 32-bit Playstation era and proffer the elitist opinion that this was where games got too easy and while I cannot argue with the crushing brutality of the preceeding 8 and 16-bit eras, Crash’s debut is no walk in the park and Activision did nothing to soften the punches with this remaster.

The later castle-themed levels for example play out in a 2D style and feature a gauntlet of moving platforms, staircases that collapse into ramps (requiring perfect timing) and moving enemies that must be used as platforms. Then there is the natural hazard of the into-the-screen, forward-facing platforming that often makes it difficult to safely land Crash when jumping between platforms. Yes, you have Crash’s shadow as guidance but even then, it can be challenging to guage the relative height of other platforms. This is a recurring quirk of the Crash Bandicoot games that never really goes away throughout the series and is something that you simply have to get used to.

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You will learn to hate those stairs. [Source – Youtube]
Going for the 100% completion is also much harder here than in the sequels. To earn the bonus clear gem, you must destroy all crates within a level. This much is common between all three games. What makes this objective harder in the first Crash game however is that you must perform this feat without dying even once. You need that perfect run which can require multiple restarts as well as trial-and-error mastering of a level. I had expected Activision to nix this for the remasters but they didn’t, much to their credit. It provokes frustration and sweaty-handed, tense gaming on the more challenging levels but that challenge is what we all want from our games, right? My main nemesis when going for the 100% completion was the “Fumbling in the dark” level which must have taken me three-quarters of an hour of constant re-tries to nail. That feeling upon finally hitting that perfect run though? Priceless.

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is my favourite of the trilogy and this has always been so. The game remained challenging and laden with secrets but lost that brutal edge that the original game sported. For example, you can now collect the clear gem for smashing all crates without worrying about dying in the process. Crash also has some new moves such as the belly flop, crouch-jump and the uber-useful slide. Sliding then jumping allows Crash to fly further forwards for those trickier leaps of faith. You can also slide, jump then spin, a combo that requires lightning-fast inputs but launches Crash even further.

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Being able to play as Coco is a nice addition, even if she doesn’t bring any unique abilities to the game. [Source – Youtube]
Crash 2 is the perfect balance. The player will be challenged to achieve the 100% but it is nowhere near as demanding to do as the first game. Crash’s new moves give him enhanced mobility, the music is possibly the best of the series and the game saw the debut of memorable level designs such as the jetpack segments and riding the adorable polar bear.

For many gamers though, Crash Bandicoot Warped is their favourite. The game follows a similar hub-world structure to Crash 2 but this time, the levels center on real-world themes including medievil/fantasy, the Great Wall of China and Egyptian tombs. Underwater levels make their debut as do jet ski and aeroplane missions. The overall sense I get from Warped is that the traditional platforming challenge is traded off to a degree in favour of visually impressive set pieces. Here again, we have parallels with the evolution of the Spyro franchise which gradually reduced the difficulty in favour of side-missions and unique mini-games.

That’s not to say that Warped is a weak sequel – far fom it. It is undeniably the easiest of the trilogy to beat however. This is largely down to the fact that Crash gained even more special abilities and by the time you have them all, Crash is operating in Super Saiyan territory. If you had all of these abilities in the first two games for example, there would be no challenge at all. There is now an enhanced belly-flop that can destroy nearby crates with a shockwave. You can also keep pressing the spin button to fly a great distance through the air, dramatically reducing the threat posed by pits and ground-based hazards.

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Crash has the moves in Warped. [Source]
The number one offender however is the Fruit Bazooka. Once you have this, the game becomes a cakewalk. Crash can stand still and take aim at distant enemies with this weapon and eliminate all threats without ever having to get near them. Crates can be shot for easy collection as can TNT and nitro crates, removing those hazards from Crash’s path as well. Did I mention that the ammo is also unlimited? This weapon is just absolute overkill in my opinion and I still don’t know why Naughty Dog thought it was a good idea in the first place. Granted, the Fruit Bazooka is a welcome friend when you are chasing the 100% but it also feels like you are cheesing the game.

Warped is nonetheless a great game and was a great way for Naughty Dog to sign off from the franchise (CTR not withstanding) back in the day. The set pieces and variety in gameplay keep things interesting and at the end of the day, it is fun which is what matters.

Conclusions

Like the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, these Crash Bandicoot remasters are a warm, welcoming nostalgia trip. They will raise a smile and take your mind back to the late 90’s, a time where life was – possibly – simpler and the future was teeming with possibilities. Gaming was simpler back then too but despite the aged formula, the Crash Bandicoot series has stood the test of time. Clever platforming design, an unmistakable visual direction and loveable characters are the key. The N Sane Trilogy brings it all back for gamers old and new without stepping on Naughty Dog’s toes and altering their work. In short, this is the perfect example of an ideal remaster.

My Playlist for April-May 2019

We’re only five months into 2019 but I can already say that this has been my most barren year for gaming so far. Not a great thing to publicise on a gaming blog, huh? Well, a combination of things has stunted my gaming enthusiasm:

  • Being stuck on ‘big’ games for too long
  • Less available time than before
  • A general lack of desire

With that said, I have still managed to get my game on during April and May and play a few things…

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round (PS4)

doa6-1Earlier in the year, I posted about why DOA5 was such a great fighting game in my opinion. With the arrival of DOA6, I decided to get back into its immediate predecessor again. There are a few aspects of 6 that I’m not overly happy about hence why I haven’t purchased a copy yet. That and the fact that I didn’t ever get the most out of DOA5 despite playing all of its revisions. I tend to stick with Ayane and a few other characters for the most part so there is still a lot for me to get from the game which is why I wanted to get back into playing it. I think, as a gamer, you just KNOW when you haven’t mentally finished with a game and this is certainly the case with me and Last Round.

Soulcalibur VI (PS4)

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Fighting games have always been my favourite genre but I seem to have fallen behind lately. Thankfully, the wonderful Soulcalibur VI has reignited my passion for fighting games and even though I haven’t sat down with a controller nearly as much this year, this is probably the one game that has hooked me enough to lose track of time on numerous occasions. To tell you the truth, I’m still in shock at how good this game is and how we came from the awful Soulcalibur V to this, a sequel which is right up there with SCII and SCIII for me. Every time I take a bit of a break, Namco drop some more DLC for the game that gets me all excited again and makes me feel the way I did earlier in my gaming life when I wasn’t so jaded. I love creating characters for example and Namco keeps adding new customisation parts that encourage me to make more new characters and go back to my older ones to update them. Oh and as of typing this, they just added in the OSTs from SCII and III to customise the game with! SCVI has pretty decent music in fairness but II and III were the high points for me so this was AMAZING.

Metal Slug Anthology (PSP)

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Last month I decided to charge up and use my handhelds just to look after the batteries. What I didn’t expect was to end up playing a fair bit of Metal Slug Anthology on the PSP, a game that I sold a long time ago but had had the foresight to retain on my custom firmware-enabled memory stick. Of course, you can’t just have a “quick go” on a Metal Slug game; they are addictive and it just doesn’t work that way! So I ended up playing all of the games and reviewing the compilation. What I re-learnt was that the classics don’t age and neither does Nazca’s mind-blowing art style. I adore these games and playing them granted me a strong hit of love for videogames in general.

Yakuza 5 (PS3)

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This was the “big” game that was bogging me down and had been for over a YEAR now. Yakuza is one of my most cherished videogame series’ and so it must be stressed that I wasn’t burnt out on it and I hadn’t had enough. The problem was that I had decided to go for 100% on Yakuza 5 which turned out to be a bad decision. Eventually (for my own sanity) I had to turn back and be satisfied with 95% completion. So I finally, FINALLY completed the game after 170 HOURS of playtime. Fucking hell; how did that happen? All the wandering around, fighting and trying to get the 100% I guess. This is easily the hardest game in the series to 100% in my experience and so I don’t feel too bad about abandoning my quest as much as it hurts the obsessive part of me. I don’t enjoy or understand the Japanese gambling games, the Ito fish is impossible to catch (seriously, fuck that fish – it doesn’t exist!) and the hardest level of Winter Combat is something I ran out of SOUL to continue attempting. It was a superb game though and it’s a shame that it was a digital-only release here in the West as my Yakuza shelf looks incomplete without a box showing the number ‘5’ on the spine. I have Yakuza 0, Kiwami and 6 all ready to play on the PS4 (still need to pick up Kiwami 2…) but I think I will take a bit of a break from the series to avoid burnout.

3D Streets of Rage 2 (3DS)

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As part of charging up my handhelds, I played this again on my 3DS since I have very few retail games left in my collection and have nothing new to play. This is no bad thing however as Streets of Rage 2 is one of my all-time favourite games and a masterpiece of design. These days I tend to stick with the mighty SoR Remake on PC but there’s still something nice about going ‘pure’ and playing the second game as it was intended. M2 did a sterling job with the 3DS port and all the lovely options/settings it comes with and so I always have a blast coming back to SoR2. As with Metal Slug, games like this make me feel happy without even trying. I can’t wait for SoR4

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

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This has been sat on my shelf since Christmas and I’ve only just taken the wrapping off the box. I’ve played Activision’s remasters in the “wrong” order and completed the Spyro Reignited Trilogy right after receiving it (also a Christmas gift) but then I got distracted by other games and the mountain that was Yakuza 5 so Crash got neglected. Spyro was always one of my Playstation favourites though so those remasters were ALWAYS going to get played first. I finally got stuck into the N.Sane Trilogy yesterday and so far, so good. I’ve aways considered the original Crash Bandicoot to be the trickiest of the original trilogy with a more merciless level design that holds little room for error and I’m not finding it much easier this time around. That’s probably because the OG game was tight and short of dumbing down the game and level design, there wasn’t anything else that could be done. I’m glad that they didn’t meddle however because otherwise, I simply wouldn’t be interested in these remasters. It’s nice to be playing these games again in lovely PS4-o-vision but at the same time, I’m feeling a bit ‘meh’ about revisiting the original Crash Bandicoot. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore it but I feel like I’m going through the motions. It probably doesn’t help that I downloaded the first game on my PSVita not that long ago so the game is still relatively fresh in my head. Still, it’s fun enough and the 90’s PS1 fanboy in me is enjoying the nostalgia hit. I played these games when they were new back then and I can’t understand where the time went!

That brings me up-to-date with my gaming situation so far in 2019. I plan to take a break from the bigger, more time-consuming stuff for a while now so that I can focus on having a greater variety of gaming experiences rather than slogging away at the same few games for an eternity.

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!

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?