Home > Chronological Challenge, Clearing The Backlog > Clearing The Backlog: Chronological Game Challenge pt 12

Clearing The Backlog: Chronological Game Challenge pt 12

September 20, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Hello and welcome to this week’s update on my Chronological Game Challenge. For those who don’t know, I have been steadily playing through my game collection in order of original release, and giving my thoughts on the games as I play through them.

Last week, we finished up 1994 and I excitedly mentioned that we’re moving into the 5th gen of consoles in 1995. But don’t get too excited yet! We still have a couple of Mega Drive games to get out the way first.

Ristar

Publisher: Sega | Developer: Sonic Team | Year: 1995
Original System: Sega Mega Drive
Played on: PS3 (part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection)

Goal: Defeat Kaiser Greedy

Actual Outcome: Defeated Kaiser Greedy!

Opinion: Here is Ristar, which is what Sonic Team were getting up to in between Sonic projects. It even uses assets and tech from the Sonic series, and the titular protagonist is based off one of Sonic’s original concepts. It is, on paper, a Sonic spinoff.

But hold on a second there. Is it really another Sonic game in all but name? The answer is, of course, no. Ristar is very much its own thing. Aside from a few notable sound effects and the lead’s somewhat cocky attitude, you wouldn’t know this was from Sonic Team unless someone told you. Like I just did. So let’s shut up about Sonic, and it’s the last you’ll hear on the subject for the near future.

So, Ristar is equal parts fun and irritating. I love the art design, and Ristar himself is kind of a cute character. The music’s nice too, with the Round Clear music being especially lovely and heart-warming. The central gameplay is good fun too, with its unique grabby-hands mechanic making it stand out from other 2D platformers of the era. It also helps put it on a par with the better games of the 4th gen rather than the Dynamite Headdys and Decap Attacks.

But my god, it likes to punish you sometimes. The game is split into zones, and one of these tends to be enjoyable, but the other one is consistently horrible to the player. These levels enjoy throwing up sudden obstacles, and they become almost trial and error in their execution. And there were some points where I was not happy.

There’s a level with an invisible water line, and you have to swim in certain places, and move normally in others, but sometimes it’s unclear which bits are which. The final boss was also a bit of a chore, with some attacks managing to hit me because I was a pixel too far into the hitbox despite my best efforts to not be.

So Ristar is a mixed bag. It’s a cute and fun platformer with a lot of charm, and it’s a great way to start winding down the Mega Drive. But it betrays its own cuteness with frustration far too often, and that’s a shame.

Comix Zone

Publisher: Sega | Developer: Sega Technical Institute | Year: 1995
Original System: Sega Mega Drive
Played on: PS3 (part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection)

Goal: Defeat Mortus

Actual Outcome: Failed to make it past the second page

Opinion: I remember reading about Comix Zone as a kid, just like Ecco The Dolphin. And because I was into cartoons and enamoured with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, anything that combined real people with an animated world was right up my alley. So a game about a cartoonist being sucked into his own comic got me excited, but I couldn’t play it because I didn’t own a Mega Drive.

And now it’s the future and I can play the game. Does it live up to my 9-year-old self’s expectations?

A little! Comix Zone is a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up, akin to Streets of Rage or Altered Beast, although with its own unique spin on things. And you know what? It’s a lot of fun. I’m bad at it, but I enjoyed my three attempts at trying to beat it. Gameplay is nice and smooth, and controls are responsive. There is a single attack button, but it allows for a surprising number of moves. What’s more, these moves are easy to perform and everything flows together.

But where Comix Zone shines is in its presentation. We were at the point where developers were getting the most out of Sega’s aging system, and it shows. The whole game has a comic book aesthetic that impresses at all times. Characters talk to each other through speech bubbles, attacks POWs and WHAMs pop up on screen during combat, and the frames of the comic book itself become parts of the level you have to deal with. And it gives this game personality in what is otherwise a repetitive side scroller.

There are some issues I have with the game, however. These things include how easy it is to drain Sketch’s health, which includes moments where you have to beat up scenery to progress. It’s something that sours an otherwise enjoyable, if simplistic, experience.

Kid me would have probably loved Comix Zone but gotten angry at not being able to beat it. Adult me feels the same, with less of the frustrations. Another great way to see off the Mega Drive.

Rayman

Publisher: Ubisoft | Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier | Year: 1995
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (PSOne Classics PSN release)

Goal: Defeat Mr Dark and recover the Great Protoon

Actual Outcome: Defeated the fifth boss only to discover that I needed to get 100% to finish the game, and really didn’t feel like doing that

Opinion: Here we go! Now we’re now finally moving into the exciting PlayStation era, where 3D polygons took over from sprites, and from then on, gaming changed forever.

And we start this era with a sprite-based 2D platformer. Wait, what?

Yes, Rayman isn’t much of a leap forward into the 5th gen. The graphics are crisper and the music is a little richer due to CD-ROM quality, but at the end of the day, this is another 2D platformer. This isn’t much of a step forward from Donkey Kong Country, Earthworm Jim or Ristar. And I mention those games because of how much Rayman reminded me of them all.

Some enemy designs recall Rare’s googly-eyed silliness. Some environments have the crazy angles and weird hitboxes of Earthworm Jim. Rayman’s hanging move recalls the many grabby puzzles of Ristar. So far, so familiar.

That’s not to say Rayman isn’t unique. Far from it. Rayman does all this with own strange brand of Frenchness that you’re unlikely to see from Rare or Shiny. I don’t know how to explain why it feels so French, but it does. Even without the knowledge that this is from Michel Ancel and Ubisoft, it just feels…French.

The game is charming and always stays fresh by throwing new challenges and puzzles at the player. It encourages you forward, and feels addictive to play. The environments are quirky and lovely, and Rayman himself is likeable despite the fact he never says a word.

But the problem is, this game is difficult. And not in the sense that it’s challenging, I mean it likes to pull out dick moves just to point and laugh at your misfortune. The gameplay relies on trial and error, but due to its lives system it doesn’t allow you to try things out or make errors.

And my god, there were times when I wanted to throw my controller out the window because of this game. There were moments where enemies would pop into existence when you have barely any time to react. There were bizarre sequences that you could repeat several times and get different results for each attempt, making them feel luck-based. And sometimes boss fights that feel like they need a manual to figure out.

And it actually detracts from the experience. Rayman is so charming, so it’s such a shame that it’s also so rage-inducing. There’s no real balance here, and there are too many times where you have to hope and pray you get through the game’s challenges.

And the final straw came when I beat a tough boss, only to discover I couldn’t access the final level. It turned out that I had to unlock every single hidden cage in a level in order to finish the game. Since there were too many times when I struggled to pass a level, I wasn’t exactly in the mood to play them all again, this time exploring every awkwardly-placed nook and cranny. So I ended the game right there.

Again, it’s a real shame that Rayman’s difficulty detracts so much from what is a fine game. If it knew when to tone down the bullshit once in a while, it’d be amazing. As it is, I have a love-hate relationship with it.

WipEout

Wipeout Screenshot

Publisher: Psygnosis | Developer: Psygnosis | Year: 1995 (EU release)
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (PSOne Classics PSN release)

Goal: Finish Championship Mode

Actual Outcome: Made it to Korodera before dropping out

Opinion: Okay, so this more like it. Now we finally do move out of the land of sprite-based 16-bit 2D gaming and into the scary world of polygons. And boy, are those polygons apparent in the original WipEout.

is, of course, the racing game of choice for hardcore UK raver. Some blokes from Liverpool really wanted to condense the “livin’ it large in Ibiza” lifestyle in video game form. They hired a design company to make in-your-face aesthetics. Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox was made to look like a drug addict in its marketing. The soundtrack is full of thumping beats and pounding bass. It’s a game designed to be played when coming home from the club with your mates and you’re too high on ecstasy to sleep.

It’s also a rough game. It was a UK launch title for Sony’s system, and it shows. The game has not aged well. This is a game that feels like an experiment with 3D graphics and, let’s be honest, it kind of was.

There’s a decent enough game in here, I will admit. The racing mechanics are relatively smooth, and for an early PS1 game it doesn’t look too bad. And I will admit having a fondness for 90s rave music, so I rather like the soundtrack. The game is just dogged by many issues that expose its age.

For a start, there’s not much to do. There’s a Championship Mode where you play through all the tracks, a Single Race mode where you play them one at a time, and a Time Trial where you play them all against the clock. And that’s it. It’s barebones, and it feels a little underwhelming as a result.

And there’s a problem with this being such an early experimental game for the PS1 – the graphics affect the gameplay in some significant ways. There are some issues with pop-up, where certain parts of the tracks remain invisible until you’re right on top of them. There are moments where the track disappears, usually while going over jumps. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where your opponents are, because they tend to blend into the track at a distance. And these are all minor things, but they add up to a game that feels a little unpolished, even for the PS1.

WipEout is still a fun game to play around on, but it’s a product of its era rather than an everlasting classic.

Vectorman

Publisher: Sega | Developer: BlueSky Software | Year: 1995
Original System: Sega Mega Drive
Played on: PS3 (part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection)

Goal: Defeat Warhead

Actual Outcome: Died on Day 3

Opinion: Just when you thought we’d finally moved into the 5th gen of consoles, we get dragged back into Mega Drive territory once more.

Vectorman is another 2D platformer/shoot-‘em-up, and another game that showed that developers were getting the most out of the Mega Drive by this point. Looking at this compared to some of the 80s Mega Drive games we saw, it’s easy to see a huge leap.

Like Donkey Kong Country, this game uses 3D models implemented as sprites, giving somewhat smoother movement and a vivid graphical style. It uses a ton of interesting visual tricks, the animations are fluid, and the level design is pretty nice. Vectorman himself surprises as a character you might actually like despite a collection of floating orbs.

Gameplay-wise, I definitely had fun. It’s a relatively simple game in its mechanics (it’s jumpin’ and shootin’), but the complex level design keeps things interesting. There’s always the feeling that there’s a ton of hidden stuff to find, and exploring the areas is a joy.

If I have a major gripe with Vectorman, it’s the camera. You see, we have these big, explorable worlds, but the camera is pretty much right in our protagonist’s face. We can barely make out much of the wider world. This means there are far too many instances of being forced to take a leap of faith. Sometimes you can’t even see enemies who are currently shooting your face off, which makes dodging and aiming tricky. I can’t tell if it was done due to technical limitations or to give the game a certain level of fake difficulty, but it was a little annoying.

I actually enjoyed Vectorman. If the camera zoomed out a teensy bit more, I might have loved it a lot more. Once again, another fine game for the Mega Drive’s final days.

Twisted Metal

TwistedMetalScreenshot

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment | Developer: SingleTrac | Year: 1995 (US release)
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (PSOne Classics PSN release)

Goal: Beat at least Sweet Tooth’s story

Actual Outcome: Died on the third battle – Freeway Free-For-All

Opinion: While Mega Drive developers were pushing the system to its limits, the PS1 developers were still trying to get their heads around this wacky 3D thing. In this challenge so far, Sony’s system hasn’t thrown up a lot of genuinely amazing games. Rayman was little more than a flashier version of a Mega Drive/SNES game, while WipEout felt shaky and experimental. And now we have Twisted Metal, which…also feels shaky and experimental.

I only have this game because of my PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale history project. Otherwise, based on what I played, this isn’t exactly a game I’d like to play voluntarily. Twisted Metal is showing its age badly, and feels like something thrown together by people with no experience of 3D gaming.

While WipEout was fun despite its jagged edges, it’s not so easy to get the same level of enjoyment out of Twisted Metal. The main problem is the graphics, which are so shaky and awful that it affects the gameplay at every turn.

The big issue is that everything blends in with everything else. The backgrounds have a lot of detail, but the PS1 couldn’t really handle this and so everything becomes a mass of pixels. And so do your opponents. And weapon pickups. And…well…everything. As a result, everything except your vehicle blends together. And in a game were you have to hunt out opponents to take them out before you do, you can probably see how that’s a problem.

There were far too many moments in Twisted Metal where I’d see my opponents pop into existence and drain my health bar in seconds before I could react. In fact, this was basically my entire experience – opponents popping into existence and blending into the scenery. Weapon pickups would do the same. Sometimes buildings would too, although this was less frequent.

The sound design is also just awful throughout. Each character in the game has a sound clip representing them, whether it’s a crazy clown laugh for Sweet Tooth or honking horn for Darkside. The problem is, these sound clips play OVER AND OVER, and it’s a horrible thing to endure. On top of the already muddy graphics that cause somewhat awkward gameplay, this just pushes the game into annoying territory.

It seems the PS1 has started off on the wrong foot, and it should go away and think about what it’s done before coming back with something better. For now though, the 4th gen still has some games left to show us, so we’ll be taking a look at those next week.

Until then, keep an eye on my YouTube channel as always for my ongoing Tomb Raider 3 Let’s Play, follow me on Twitter for news and opinions, and if you really like what I do, why not consider tossing me some money over on Patreon? Next week, we will likely finish off 1995!

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  1. October 28, 2015 at 4:31 pm

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