A Surefire Gamechanger: Golden Sun

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Believe it or not, I don’t devote all of my time to this magazine *laughs*. Most of my life is spent either at my day job or writing—fantasy fiction, preferably. And yet, like I said in a post on my personal blog, the main influence in my writing is not other fantasy fiction. It’s video games. And among these video games, there are some that stand out and shine with a special, bright light.

Such is the case of Golden Sun.

So what is it about this game that so grips the imagination, that catches you and doesn’t let go? Is it surprisingly good graphics at a time when most handheld games were 2D? Is it an outstanding soundtrack? Is it playability that goes well beyond what most RPGs had tried before the turn of the millennium?

The answer to all these questions is ‘yes, and so much more’. But let me tell you about it.

Let me tell you about Golden Sun.

Continue reading “A Surefire Gamechanger: Golden Sun”

A Surefire Gamechanger: Medal of Honor (Sony PlayStation, 1999)

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Unusually, I can still remember the exact day I bought Medal of Honor. It was a Saturday afternoon in Cambridge on a cold winter’s day and my mother and I had gone to see Choral Evensong at St. John’s College (I can still recall the wonderful music too). Before that was due to begin, we had some time to kill so we wandered around the shops. After stopping at the famous Heffers bookshop, where I bought Anthony Beevor’s book on the Battle of Stalingrad, we found a videogame shop nearby and bought Medal of Honor. I had read a very favourable review in a magazine which compared the game to the legendary GoldenEye 007 and with my growing interest in World War Two, I was sold. The game had been developed by Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks and after Saving Private Ryan, one would expect some historical authenticity. The plot was based around Jimmy Patterson, a new recruit for the OSS, being dropped behind Nazi lines in France and being given various covert missions in order to further the Allied cause. Like Metal Gear Solid, there was an element of stealth that was still fairly unusual in games.

The weapons available to the player were all true to those issued to American soldiers at the time and ranged from a Browning automatic rifle to a Colt 45 pistol. You could even commandeer the machine gun posts the Nazis had built and use them against them. The opening few levels were fairly standard fare for a first-person shooter but the later ones were really creative and involved sneaking around with silenced pistols rather than risk a full-on firefight. At times you even needed to disguise yourself in order to gain access to restricted areas! The level design was quite varied and always kept you guessing as to what was coming next. Although things have moved on so much since then, the A.I. of the enemy soldiers was good for the time and offered a decent challenge.

One of the advantages of the CD-ROM format used by the PlayStation was the space it allowed for sound and Medal of Honor took full advantage of this with a proper orchestral score. This greatly added to the tension of the game and created a really dramatic atmosphere. A lot of thought had gone into the presentation, too, with the newsreels used to introduce each mission enveloping players into the world of the 1940s. All of this really captured the imagination of a young history buff… The graphics weren’t particularly impressive with some very pixelated textures but it didn’t really matter when the gameplay was this good. The game became a bestseller and deservedly so, eventually spawning another 15 titles in the franchise (including Medal of Honor Underground which focused on the French Resistance and is also pictured above). No doubt it helped popularise the idea of first-person shooters with military themes as well…

A Surefire Gamechanger: NBA 2K (Sega Dreamcast, 1999)

This is the first instalment of a new series where Miguel and I look at the games that both changed our lives and their respective genres. This time I take another look at one of the key sports games of its era and one that spawned a best-selling franchise that continues to this day… Electronic Arts’ strong relationship with Sega during the early 1990s saw them release various iterations of the Madden and FIFA franchises on the Mega Drive/Genesis. The considerable success of John Madden Football in particular is often credited with boosting Sega’s market share and making the Genesis a must-have console in North America. EA’s support for Sega machines continued during the Saturn era but that console’s failure to gain traction in the American marketplace saw disappointing sales. Indeed by 1997 Sega were already hard at work on the Saturn’s successor which was to become known as the Dreamcast. Major developers were uneasy, however, about another Sega console so soon afterwards and Electronic Arts and Square decided not to support the new machine. Sega knew that the Dreamcast would struggle in North America without sports games and so they formed Sega Sports in order to fill the void and NBA 2K was one of the first games developed by the new studio.

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Ironically, the NBA itself had a major void to fill at the time. Michael Jordan’s retirement after his sixth championship with the Bulls in 1998 had seen TV ratings dip but younger players such as Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan were gaining recognition and stalwarts such as Gary Payton and Karl Malone were still growing strong. But the man of the moment and the obvious choice to be the game’s cover star was Allen Iverson. Possibly the greatest natural talent to ever play the game despite playing on a relatively mediocre 76ers squad, A.I. was a joy to watch and even better to play as (and a cultural icon – check out the Reebok commercials he did with Jadakiss on YouTube). An inspired decision to have him introduce a new series to gamers then.

The graphics were remarkable for the time and the players were more recognisable than any other game to that point (I will never forget Bo Outlaw’s goggles). The commentary was pretty realistic too and the whole presentation of the game was fairly believable as a TV broadcast. The gameplay was where 2K really stood out, though. The teams’ tactics in the game were true to their real-life counterparts and it was incredibly satisfying laying the ball up after a fast break or completing an alley-oop to someone like Kevin Garnett. Even the infamous glitch which saw you land buzzer-beaters from inside your own paint nearly every time didn’t spoil things at all.

I remember being engrossed in the game for a good couple of years in the early 2000s. The Celtics were my team of choice as I loved the Paul Pierce-Antoine Walker tandem though I’m sure the Hornets and of course the Sixers got some burn, too. I’m not actually sure whether 2K1 or 2K2 were ever released in Britain – I certainly never saw them for sale at the time though I did see them both reviewed on IGN. The next NBA game I ended up buying was actually 2K3 for the Nintendo GameCube after Sega became a multi-platform developer (and later sold the series to Take-Two Interactive). Even though I don’t play basketball games anymore, part of me feels pleased to see the continued success of the franchise now that it is a sales phenomenon on the PS4 and Xbox One and I will always have very fond memories of the very first NBA 2K game on Sega’s final home console.

Breath of the Wild Delayed: Good or Bad?

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There have been recent rumours that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been delayed and will miss the Nintendo Switch launch. According to Emily Rogers, the reason for this is that the game, which is arguably the biggest Nintendo has ever worked on, still needs to undergo testing.

There are, of course, many factors to consider here.

Shall we discuss them?

Continue reading “Breath of the Wild Delayed: Good or Bad?”

Poochy & Yoshi’s Wooly World

For all you Yoshi fans who missed this on the Wii U, this looks exciting. The original received some stellar reviews and the 3DS port includes some new features such as the Poochy-Pups which players can call upon in order to find all the hidden items scattered across the levels (lots of collectables being an integral part of any Yoshi game) and the ability to customise the appearance of our favourite dinosaur. There will even be a new Poochy amiibo which can be used to add him into the game as Yoshi’s companion. Poochy & Yoshi’s Wooly World will be released in early February but for now look at this trailer…

Sonic Mania

We all know how disappointing some of the more recent Sonic games have been – we’re looking at you, Shadow The Hedgehog. Even though I personally loved the two Sonic Adventure games on Dreamcast, many fans have never been entirely convinced by our hero’s move into three dimensions and games like Sonic Generations have tried to cater for these old-school gamers reared on traditional platformers with mixed results. Some of the 3D games like Sonic Heroes simply felt too gimmicky to me and we simply don’t need more and more playable characters, just stick to Sonic, Tails and Knuckles.

Now, though, hopes are high that the long-running (ha) saga might finally be getting back to where it belongs. The new 2D entry in Sega’s flagship franchise has been developed by Christian Whitehead who, after making his own Sonic fan-games, was asked by Sega to port the classic Genesis/Mega Drive titles for Android and iOS. I actually played Sonic CD for the first time on my iPod Touch. Unfortunately, I can’t tolerate playing anything on a touchscreen for long but even I could see that this was an impressively faithful version of a classic game. Once I watched the trailer, I was convinced that this may well be Sonic’s answer to New Super Mario Bros. More of the same essentially but done right, with the appropriate reverence for the original graphics and music, and a few new twists. Take a look here…

Watch Pokemon Generations Here!

You may be wondering where to find the new Pokémon anime by Nintendo—after all, there are many websites who are posting some of these episodes but do not keep updating them as new ones come out.

If that is the case, look no further! This is a definite list of all the episodes that have been aired so far. It will be updated every time The Official Pokémon Channel uploads a new one, so you won’t ever miss a single episode!

Without further ado, here they are…

Continue reading “Watch Pokemon Generations Here!”