Home > Chronological Challenge, Clearing The Backlog > Clearing The Backlog: Chronological Game Challenge pt 8

Clearing The Backlog: Chronological Game Challenge pt 8

Welcome to the latest in my adventures in video game history, where I play every game I own in order of original release. Last week we reached 1994 with Sonic 3, and so this week we continue on from there. Seriously, 1994’s going to be a good year. I can sense it.

So let’s start with some good old-fashioned dystopian sci-fi.

Beneath A Steel Sky

BASS Screenshot

Publisher: Virgin Interactive | Developer: Revolution Software | Year: 1994
Original System: DOS, Amiga
Played on: PC (freeware SCUMM VM download)

Goal: Escape Union City and figure out the mysteries of LINC

Actual Outcome: Escaped from the city!

Opinion: It was the mid-90s, and we got our first family PC with a CD-ROM. It was an exciting time to be a geeky child because, come on, how exciting was CD-ROM?! The PC came with a variety of software, most of which I don’t remember, but one game that stuck with me was a curious point-and-click called Beneath A Steel Sky.

I never beat the game as a kid, because I was stupid and couldn’t figure things out. But something about the game stuck with me. This dystopian cyberpunk story set in a future Australia where no one had an Australian accent and the protagonist had a sarcastic robot sidekick never left my head, even after we replaced the computer and none of the old software worked anymore.

So imagine my joy when I discovered the developers had released a free emulated version of the game for anyone to download on modern PCs. Yes, please! (And for the curious, it’s on GOG now too, and yes, it’s still free)

Beneath A Steel Sky is a curious beast. It’s a DOS game from 1994, yet features full voice acting and a protagonist with defined character motivations from the outset. It’s a dark dystopian thriller with elements of body horror and oppressive politics while simultaneously being a black comedy that somehow draws humour from all those dark subjects. And you have a robot sidekick named Joey who goes gleefully mad with power when you give him a welding torch.

And it’s amazing. When it’s dark, it’s chilling, and when it’s joking around, it’s hilarious. And it makes these two seemingly separate moods gel perfectly. Much of the game’s humour is partly what makes the game’s oppressive city setting so effective – workers who are obsessed with their clipboards, a back-alley surgeon talking casually about trading organs on the black market, a bizarre court scene where the judge thinks he’s a game show host, and other hilarious instances that get creepier the more you think of them as evidence of a population worn down by the horrors around them.

Gameplay-wise, it’s incredibly simple to get to grips with. Left-clicking sees Foster look at things and comment on them, while right-clicking allows you to interact. That said, the game can be a little unintuitive on some things, such as always requiring you to drag an ID card onto a slot to open an elevator or use an info terminal (two things you have to do frequently to progress) and sometimes having to traverse from place to place can get a little tedious.

The game is also very tricky to figure out. Point-and-click games are notorious for this, but Beneath A Steel Sky feels especially obtuse. There are points where you have to return to places you haven’t been for ages to follow a puzzle chain, with very little to indicate why you have to go back. There are at least two occasions where a necessary item is only a pixel big and easily missed. And yet, despite these frustrations, BASS remains consistently charming and entertaining.

I love this game. It’s got a great story, surprisingly good acting for its age, and its puzzles are fiendish enough to keep you busy. Seriously, download this right now if you’ve never come across it before. It’s free. There’s no excuse.

Do it or I’ll turn you into a vacuum cleaner.

Streets of Rage 3

Publisher: Sega | Developer: Sega | Year: 1994
Original System: Sega Mega Drive
Played on: PS3 (part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection)

Goal: Defeat the Syndicate (yet again!)

Actual Outcome: Died on stage 2

Opinion: Streets of Rage was a fun arcade game about punching people in the face in order to rid a city of crime, although it was fairly unremarkable. Streets of Rage 2 was more of the same but intensely sillier, and therefore grabbed my attention a lot more. Did Streets of Rage 3 ramp up the silliness even further and make it even more entertaining?

Well, they put in a kangaroo as a playable character…but sadly, everything else took a tonal step backwards to the first game.

Don’t get me wrong, Streets of Rage 3 is still a fun game, but it feels a little flatter than the previous game, which chucked a ton of very silly things my way without explanation which gave it a charm it otherwise would have lacked. This game definitely lacks that same charm, and aside from the kangaroo, I wanted more.

Gameplay, however, has been tweaked massively, increasing the range of moves a character can do without making it awkward like Golden Axe 3 did, and just generally feeling smoother and more tactical as a result. So for that it gets points.

But man, I wish I was still fighting ninjas on a pirate ship and riding a lift down into a baseball field. I guess for that I still prefer the second game. Oh well.

Super Metroid

Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Nintendo / Intelligent Systems | Year: 1994
Original System: SNES
Played on: Wii Virtual Console

Goal: Take down Ridley and Mother Brain

Actual Outcome: Took down Mother Brain and destroyed Zebes in the process! YEAH! PROPERTY DAMAGE!

Opinion: Ever since I finished the first Metroid near the start of this challenge, I have been eagerly awaiting this game. I bought it with some leftover Wii points I noticed I had when I transferred my Wii data to my Wii U, and I’ve been waiting for the perfect time to play it. I loved the first game, and this game has been praised extensively since its release, and for that, I was hyped.

I’ve played it now. I’m still hyped. Super Metroid is amazing.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Super Metroid is barely different on a fundamental level to the original game. It is the same game at its heart. It even features some of the same locations and repeats the final boss (although a new phase has been added, admittedly). And yet, maybe that’s because the original Metroid was such a great experience that it didn’t need to deviate too much. They just refined it in every way possible.

Super Metroid is the original Metroid with all the fiddly annoying things removed. Enemies rarely spawn on top of you. There’s an actual in-game map. You have a lot more toys to play with. There are actual checkpoints that RETAIN your health! There are health recharge points! Hallelujah!

I barely have any complaints. This is a fantastic game full of exploration and atmosphere, with challenging boss fights that you always want to beat no matter how frustrated you get with Ridley bouncing on your head for a million years. Progression feels so much smoother and tools like the X-Ray Scope certainly help with this. And graphically it’s a huge step up from the original’s blocky glory.

Super Metroid is one of the big reasons I’ve been looking forward to 1994. It did not disappoint. SEE YOU FOR THE NEXT MISSION, indeed…in 8 years’ time…

And that’s it for this week. No idea when you’ll get another update since the next game is  JRPG. Quite a classic one, in fact. So if I’m not done with that next week you might see me posting something completely different. See you then!

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