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.

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.

Review – Spyro Reignited Trilogy [Playstation 4]

spyro-2I’ve been gaming for a hell of a long time now and so you’d be forgiven for thinking that some of my viewpoints on modern gaming are somewhat cynical and the unfortunate victim(s) of rose-tinted vision. For example, I am about as interested in remakes and remasters as I am in that scene in Terminator Genisys where Emilia Clarke gets naked but the smart troll-ish 12-rated camera work denies you a glimpse of the goodness. Either I have no enthusiasm for retreading old ground in HD-o-Vision or I get all old-man grumpy and ignorantly presume that the developer will remix everything too much.

However, that has all changed very recently and my attitude towards a remake has softened a little. The game responsible for this shift is Spyro Reignited Trilogy, a full remastering of one of my favourite videogame series’ of all-time (pre-Enter The Dragonfly of course). Younger readers or newer gamers might not understand the big deal but I had the originals on release and still regularly play through all three most years. I adore these games and no amount of mowing down hookers in GTA (after purchasing their wares of course) has succeeded in dulling my enthusiasm for whimsical fantasy worlds and cutesy characters.

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The games look amazing now, all without any alterations to level layout or loss of the original charm [image: forgetoday.com]
As you might imagine then, I was gravely worried about what Activision and Toys For Bob might do to my childhood memories when Reignited was first announced but I needn’t have been concerned because the boys ‘n girls at ‘Bob did good and managed the near-impossible task of impressing this old-school gamer with a remake of all things. It isn’t all good news but the positives definitely outweigh the crappy stuff so I’ll talk about why this is such a great remake first and foremost.

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 and this is nice because Toys For Bob could have easily decided to bring each game in line and go for a uniform approach. The only big alteration to the trilogy as a whole is that the sideways roll feature that was originally canned for the sequels has been carried over to Gateway to Glimmer and Year of the Dragon for the remakes. This is actually a welcome change because many fans bemoaned the way that Insomniac took the roll away back when these games were first released. Now though, you can showboat to your heart’s content while avoiding enemy attacks.

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One for the ‘Furries’ out there. Bianca looks a lot foxier this time which ironic since she’s a rabbit [image: Youtube.com]
Then there is the all-important music, originally composed by Stuart Copeland of The Police and adored by fans ever since. The soundtrack of the first game in particular is especially good since each level has a distinct sound influenced by the theme of its home (or ‘hub’) world but the same set of instruments used throughout results in a very cohesive OST. The mix in Reignited is extremely gentle and in all honesty, it didn’t need to be dramatic anyway; the original OST was fantastic as it was and in some respects was ahead of the games themselves and what the technology of the time allowed them to do visually and technically. So it sounds very similar to the original tracks but with a bit of added depth in places. There is an interesting ‘dynamic’ effect too which alters the tone of the music when underground or in tunnels/caves. Stand stationary for a few seconds and the tone will shift to a more ambient, trippy chilled-out zen-like sound that I really enjoyed. You can switch the dynamic mode off and also revert to the original soundtrack if you wish so everybody should be satisfied.

All of that important preservation work acknowledged, we come to the new stuff. Most obvious are the brand-new visuals which really are beautiful. The dragon worlds and Avalar now look utterly sumptuous with so much more detail than was possible before. Obviously we cannot say for certain but this is perhaps what Insomniac would have wanted their games to look like if the technology had been available at the time. On the Playstation, they had to make do with simple colour schemes and basic textures to simulate the real things and define a level’s identity. Not so in Reignited. Flat greens are now proper grass with long blades that sway in the breeze, water looks good enough to drink and the smudgy, minimalistic backdrops now have some detail. It really was a joy to take my time exploring the familiar while absorbing the new.

Some levels in the sequels look like they have been revamped more than others but that’s down to their original designs. After all, some (especially in Year of the Dragon) felt a little uninspired back in the day and a retread of previously-utilised themes.

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The revamp is dramatic yet respectful [image: silconera.com]
The dragons have all been given unique, detailed looks and personalities too which is a massive upgrade over the original designs. Some of these look a bit too comical and over-the-top to me but otherwise it is a nice injection of variety and individuality which wasn’t present before. As mentioned earlier, the dragons still retain their original speech so it’s a nice little compromise between old and new in my opinion. Overall on the graphics front, I felt that Reignited had an almost Pixar-esque quality to its aesthetics and all three games were just so enjoyable to play through for that reason alone, let alone any others.

Obviously the only issue with these remakes being so authentic and true to the originals was that I absolutely caned them and literally had to impose play time limits on myself in order to refrain from completing them too quickly! The original trilogy was released between 1998 and 2000 and I’ve been playing them on and off via my original PS1 discs or the digital versions from the Playstation Store ever since so I know all of the secrets and solutions. Handily, Toys For Bob did attempt to add a little extra longevity with ‘Skill Points’. Skill Points first appeared in Spyro 2 and rewarded the player with an extra life for completing bonus tasks such as flaming all of a specific object within a level or beating a boss while taking no damage.

Similar challenges await in Reignited but this time around, many of the ‘flame all of X object’ Skill Point requirements have been replaced by new targets for variety’s sake. These include burning hidden objects (some of which are genuinely difficult to find) in the first game, completing three perfect laps of the supercharge circuit in Spyro 2‘s Fracture Hills level and beating the course records for the skateboard parks in the third game. Each game features two pages worth of challenges and these are worth doing to unlock the concept artwork which I quite liked the look of. There are trophies too of course and I assume that the Reignited Trilogy will be a relatively easy platinum. I achieved around 80% trophy completion without trying for example.

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Speedways look awesome and provide a nice challenge as usual but the controls feel a little off to me [image: gamepressure.com]
So as a remake of a fan-favourite set of games, Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a resounding success that managed to make me feel rather moist in a sexy way. Perfection is an impossible destination to reach however and so I must now – regrettably – lower the tone and talk about some of the what I didn’t like as well as what nobody will like.

The first collection of criticisms will probably only be relevant to those of us who played the original games and it’s to do with controlling Spyro and some of the hit detection. To me, Spyro felt more difficult to control at charging speed with slower rotation and a less compliant turning circle as opposed to the super-sharp handling in the OG games. Flames don’t seem quite as wide-reaching as before (feels like you have to be just a touch closer to actually make contact) and – most frustratingly – the gliding felt “off”.

It’s difficult to describe properly but I noticed that many of the glides between platforms were now more strict. I wouldn’t have thought twice about these glides in the original games but now it’s almost as if they are only just possible and on the very edge of Spyro’s capability. It’s almost as if he loses altitude that much faster and it’s only really a big issue in the first game which wasn’t equipped with the hover ability that afforded Spyro a little extra reach in the sequels. I experienced many annoying deaths in this way but I will admit that a lot of this was probably down to my instinctive behaviour (learned from years of memory-mapping the originals) being challenged by the remakes. I’m not sure if newcomers or those who didn’t play their PS1 copies into oblivion over the last two decades will feel the same but I thought it was worth noting.

Flight in the ‘speedway’ levels also felt a bit weird and not as tight as before. There were many times when cornering or making a sharp turn that Spyro felt like he was drifting wide or ‘sliding’ in the air like a racecar would when drifting around a corner, causing me to miscalculate and miss a target. Again, it’s no disaster and just took a little getting used to but even so, I’m not sure that understeer and a loss of traction is possible in mid-air…

There are a few other niggles with fiddly controls in some of the third game’s many unique missions/mini-games, some of which used custom mechanics and viewpoints. Skateboarding is one of the biggest culprits with the occasional bizarre collision detection and the game failing to register some of the more complex tricks. The other example that immediately springs to mind are the hideous controls for the speedboat in Seashell Shore which seem to continuously change depending on which way the boat is facing.

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Excuse the language but fuck the controls of this boat. Seriously. [image: gamepressure.com]
The game has also fallen foul of the need to be a little more politically sensitive in order to achieve a family-friendly age rating to slap on the box cover. The enemies in Twilight Harbour no longer resemble guerrilla fighters for example and their machineguns have been exchanged for comical paint guns; their grenades for explosive barrels. Guns were also taken away from the enemies in Spyro 2‘s Scorch level and replaced with catapults. Lastly, the fairies and various female characters are a lot less busty and sexualised this time around, particularly noticeable in the third game’s Desert Ruins level where the Lara Croft-imitating character of ‘Tara’ no longer has the titantic breasts to match her inspiration.

These alterations are not really “negative” changes that should affect your feelings towards Reignited but they stood out to me personally as a staunch anti-Political Correctness kind of guy. Other little differences that I wasn’t so excited about were Hunter’s new voice actor and a tiny portion of the updated soundtrack for Year of the Dragon. A few tracks sound very different (not bad just less recognisable vs the majority of Reignited‘s mixes) and I feel that Bamboo Terrace – one of my favourites – loses something without the chilled chanting in the background.

These are trivial moans that won’t apply to everybody. The universal gripes that should unite all players are the glitches however. It’s worth mentioning that I was lucky and managed to complete all three games without any major issues but looking around online, many have complained about game-breaking problems that render levels impossible to complete amongst other horror stories. Personally, I encountered some dodgy collision detection and occasional (but dramatic) framerate drops as well as a glitch at Lost Fleet’s skateboard race where crossing the line didn’t trigger the next lap (I had to keep trying and eventually I overcame it).

The blame for all of these technical issues can be levelled squarely at Activision and their insistence that the game be on store shelves in time for Christmas, pushing Toys For Bob hard in the process. They had already intended for Reignited to be released in September 2018 before pushing the date back, don’t forget. It’s the same reason that Spyro 2 and 3 don’t even ship on the physical disc and have to be downloaded as a 20GB+ “update”. My internet is perfectly fine for regular web browsing but too slow for fat-ass downloads like this and so I had almost completed the first Spyro before the rest of it had finished downloading in the background (it took FOUR DAYS). Worse still, there are (at the time of writing) no patches or word on forthcoming fixes for the bugs in this game.

All of which is a massive shame because Spyro Reignited Trilogy did pretty much everything right for me and was the first game in a long time that I couldn’t pull myself away from. To have such a good thing slightly spoilt by bugs and a game disc that may as well be a download code on a piece of paper is like enjoying a particularly tasty sandwich only for a seagull to swoop down and snatch the last mouthful. Shame on Activision and their pushy policy but much kudos to Toys For Bob for reviving a much-loved series in such an accomplished manner.

Consistency is Key

If there’s one thing we don’t see enough of in gaming, it’s consistency. With which franchises and developers can you safely place your hard-earned money for a day one purchase without waiting for the reviews to come in or the Youtube streamers to show you the truth of the final product? The answer is “not many” and it has always been this way. Games that hit the big time and spawn sequels will inevitably fall into one of several traps:

  • Eventually the series will go for a sequel too far and interest will drop off once consumers have finally had enough of the same formula.
  • On the flipside, a spin-off or radical revamp of a much-loved series will change too much and get universally condemned or – at best – become a “meh” title that purists shun.
  • The publisher milks a good thing and turns it into a yearly series. Originality and consistent high quality become diluted and suffer as a result.
  • A different developer/publisher takes the reigns and fails to capture the magic of the originals. See the likes of Spyro and Crash in the PS2 era for example.
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Unforgiveable glitches and performance issues aside, Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly wasn’t a terrible game…it was simply bland and lacking any of the charm of the Insomniac games.

So what is the secret formula that can produce consistency over a long period of time? I’m not sure that there is a concrete answer and there is perhaps an element of circumstance and dumb luck involved. Additionally, it’s important to remember that quality and consistency are also subject to personal taste/opinion. For example, mainstream gamers may say that the Onechanbara series is consistently a load of weird shit with terrible production values but avid fans of the series will say that as long as the games stay as they are then they are consistent in a positive way.

These things aside, I have decided on three ingredients of videogame development that I believe can contribute to consistent high quality plus a developer and series to help illustrate each point.

“It’s done when it’s done”

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Say what you will about Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series but the developer doesn’t rush the next game out, no matter how loud the fanbase is calling for a remake of Vice City or a game that is even bigger than the last one. A new GTA simply arrives when it arrives and the consistency in the results is staggering. Each new game is bigger than the last, more feature-packed than the last, prettier than the last and all of this without sacrificing quality. Every game has small glitches but GTA games don’t arrive as buggy messes that need enormous day one patches to repair. They also manage to remain relevant and the series has avoided stagnation over the years as a result. The only deal-breaker is personal preference and for some gamers, the violence and outrageous moments are a turn-off but this aside, you cannot deny the quality of the completed product. Truly a safe bet for a pre-order.

Love

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I’m technically cheating here – since I’m not focusing on one single game/franchise but a developer’s entire output – but this is my blog so screw the rules. You may recognise Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown up above and that’s because Vanillaware are a developer that clearly pours a lot of love into their games. The art is always beautiful and the team make the games that they want to make based on influences close to their heart. There is also an element of “it’s done when it’s done” with this developer in particular because there is always a long wait between new releases given that the team is relatively small BUT the wait is always worth it. Basically, if you adored the likes of Odin Sphere, Dragon’s Crown and Muramasa: The Demon Blade then you can safely slap your money down on day one, whatever comes next.

This long gestation time allows Vanillaware to put a lot of themselves into the game(s) and ultimately, they are making said games because they want to, not because some marketing bloke in a suit has ordered them to get to work on whatever’s hot right now. Of course, this way of working can also go the opposite way when a superstar developer uses his position to indulge personal fancies and the results are interesting games that suffer with horrible mechanics or dull gameplay, all the originality being confined to plot and wacky characters (see some of Suda51’s less critically acclaimed releases for example). On the whole however, I see love as absolutely essential for a series to remain of a consistent high quality. After all, if a developer truly loves a game then they won’t be satisfied with a shoddy hack job.

Constant Enhancement

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Sega’s Yakuza series is almost a contradiction to the very factors that cause the stagnation of videogame franchises. After all, they have been pumping these games out at a crazy rate for a good while now with the older titles being completely remade at the same time that brand-new sequels are in development. We already have four Yakuza games on the PS4 for example which is noteworthy given how the first five (not including the two Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan spin-offs and Dead Souls) were spread across two hardware generations. How many will we have on the PS4 by the time the platform is obsolete? Who knows.

Additionally, while the games improve technically and visually, you are basically doing the same thing every time: working through a cinematic, Japanese crime saga with many, many sidestories and distractions, beating up thugs and exploring Japanese cities/culture. Yakuza avoids the repetition factor however because each new game remains familiar enough to veterans whilst constantly introducing enough new stuff to surprise. These enhancements range from significant updates to the combat engine to smaller details such as new mini-games. Yakuza 4 introduced multiple characters/storylines for example while Yakuza 5 pumped even more fresh content into the game in the form of in-depth, character specific sidestories such as Kiryu’s taxi racing and Shinada’s baseball missions. Basically you know what you are getting but there are always enough enhancements and additions to keep the series feeling fresh. How Sega consistently maintain the overall quality and production value of the series while their other franchises (Sonic for example) are all over the place is something even I cannot answer properly however.

This constant, gradual enhancement is necessary for a long-running series to endure. Too much too soon and hardcore fans run away. Change too little and consumers will eventually ask “what’s the point” and not rush out day one.

These are just my thoughts on how to achieve consistency. Are there any other major contributors that I’ve overlooked? Let me know in the comments!

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!