Home > Chronological Challenge, Clearing The Backlog > Chronological Game Challenge: 1996

Chronological Game Challenge: 1996

October 28, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Hello! We have finally reached the end of 1996 in my Chronological Challenge, so it’s time to take a look at what I really thought of the selection of games on offer. We already saw the first two in the last update, so here are the rest of 1996’s offerings.

Resident Evil
Publisher: Capcom (Virgin Interactive in EU) | Developer: Capcom | Year: 1996
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: Survive the horrors of Spencer Mansion

Actual Outcome: Escaped the World of Survival Horror

RE1 Screenshot

So we’ve had a little jaunt back to the 4th gen again, but we’re finally back on the PS1. I haven’t been impressed with the system’s Western launch output, so what does it have to offer in 1996?

Only one of the most influential games in defining the survival horror genre. No biggie.

Now, some people will be quick to point out that Resident Evil was not the first game of its kind. Alone in the Dark already existed, and horror games had been around in one form or another. But what Resident Evil did was refine the horror genre and popularise it. The term “survival horror” is explicitly used upon loading the game, and may or may not be where the genre got its name from.

Truthfully though, Resident Evil has never scared me. The moment the game loads up with its cheesy student movie intro and the hokey voice acting kicks in (“hope this isn’t CHRIS’ blood”), all hopes of taking this seriously are lost. It’s a wonky b-movie production of the highest order. The dog smashing through the window is an effective jump scare that shocked me as a twelve-year-old when seeing a friend play the game, but that’s the extent of it. Resident Evil is not scary. I said it.

It’s an awesome game all the same though. In fact, the shaky b-movie voice acting is part of the charm, as it reminds me of the kind of terrible horror movie that made appearances on Mystery Science Theater 3000. As laughably bad as the “Jill Sandwich” line is, you can’t deny that it’s memorable. It’s quotable and it’s silly and it’s charming. And let’s be honest, Shinji Mikami’s main Hollywood influence – Romero’s Dead movies – had their fair share of amateurish silliness too, so it’s perfect.

Resident Evil is something beyond a game about spooking you. It’s a point-and-click adventure with zombies and a 3D control scheme. You explore, solve puzzles, gain items, use those items with other items and you progress. And it does a wonderful job of being an advanced point-and-click adventure. Exploring the mansion is fun as you slowly uncover mysteries, and puzzles often result in moments of joy when you solve them.

This is a game that has aged, and yet it still has its charm. From the subtle spooky atmosphere running through the game to the fantastic spiralling game design that opens up as you progress, Resident Evil is a complete package that holds up as a true classic.

And hey, if you wanna see my playing this one, I actually recorded it for a special Halloween special running right now on my YouTube channel!

Super Mario 64
Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Nintendo | Year: 1996 (Japanese release)
Original System: Nintendo 64
Played on: Wii Virtual Console

Goal: See how far I can get in a single sitting without losing all lives

Actual Outcome: Made it into the second area, got roughly 11 stars

I’m going to come right out and say something controversial – Super Mario 64 is probably one of my least favourite Mario games.

Put your pitchforks away, because there is a lot that I genuinely love about the game. There are just too many things that bother me about the game for me to truly love it.

Super Mario 64 is massively influential and it’s hard to deny that. It’s a standout game from a time when 3D games were still finding their footing, and set a lot of standards for the 3D platformer genre. Nintendo did a wonderful job of translating Mario into 3D, adding and removing elements where necessary, and tweaking signature aspects of the series so they didn’t feel awkward from the altered perspective.

Mario himself is animated extremely well for an early N64 title. The attention to detail is phenomenal, and they made the most of the limited tech of the time. The level design is also excellent, with exploration actively encouraged, and plenty to reward you for doing so. It’s really hard to get lost, and even the hub world of the castle is factored into the exploration and design, which rarely seems to happen.

Now, while I praised Mario’s animations, this is also a factor in why I don’t like the game as much as I feel I should. Nintendo did put a lot of work into the animations, but sometimes it feels like the game is so determined to show off those animations that Mario can become a little stiff and unresponsive to your inputs. There are far too many times when I’ve been caught out simply because Mario’s 3-hit combo has a really long cooldown time. There are times when walking precisely across thin ledges gets tricky because when Mario turns he wants to run in a wide circle instead of turning on a dime like in most similar later games. There were moments where quick jumping was troublesome just because Mario was facing slightly the wrong way and he only wanted to jump straight ahead of where he was facing.

The camera also frequently gives me a headache every time I play it. While revolutionary for the time of its release, there are too many instances where the camera does whatever the hell it wants, and usually it wants to be somewhere you don’t want it to be. Walls are given too much consideration, and sometimes when you want to rotate the camera behind Mario, it’ll get stuck on said walls and give you an awkward view. This even applies to the Mario-cam, which tends to be useless at the best of times anyway.

Now, some of you might look at the outcome and think “well, you just didn’t spend enough time on it”, but the reason for the short playthrough for the challenge is because I’ve already beaten this game with all 120 stars. Fairly recently, in fact, and many of my major complaints stem from that playthrough. I’m not expecting things to be super-easy, but it’d be nice if Mario would quickly face the direction I wanted without running off to the side, or if the camera wasn’t actively working against me in some of the trickier sections.

Essentially, Super Mario 64 is a product of its time. 3D gaming was new and exciting, the game itself was designed to show off Nintendo’s new system more than anything else, and tech was limited. No one had done a free-floating camera system like this before, so it was bound to have flaws. The over-animated movements of Mario stem from Nintendo’s desire to impress. The flat textures throughout the game are the result of 3D gaming being in its infancy. And so on.

While I recognise Super Mario 64’s impact and influence, and respect it for that, I have a hard time enjoying myself while playing it sometimes. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I stand by my opinion.

Pilotwings 64
Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Paradigm Simulation | Year: 1996 (Japanese release)
Original System: Nintendo 64
Played on: Nintendo 64

Goal: Successfully complete all the tests

Actual Outcome: Passed all Hang Glider tests, struggled to pass Class B Rocket Belt and Pilot Class Gyrocopter

I’m not much of a flight sim kinda guy, so the existence of Pilotwings 64 in my collection is probably somewhat surprising. Matter of fact, I was bought an N64 fairly recently because I bemoaned the fact I could no longer play Perfect Dark, and this just happened to come with it. How did I fare with it?

It’s good for what it is. It’s a chill arcade flight sim that gives you three main vehicles – a hang glider, a rocket belt (or jetpack), and a gyrocopter. The point of the game is to complete a variety of challenges using these flying vehicles, earning points and medals to progress. It’s a very laidback game that allows you to experience the joys of flying and to show off the leaps and bounds of 3D gaming with the launch of the N64.

The hang glider is the best example of the game’s laidback presentation. Floating around at a gentle pace while soothing music plays, these are some of the most relaxing challenges in the game. Like other vehicles, the difficulty does increase as you progress, but generally it tends to be fairly easy-going. I enjoyed it.

The gyrocopter is a lot of fun. This is the closest the game gets to actually having a plane, and it’s where some of the most enjoyable moments are tucked away. It’s also where some of the most difficult moments appear, but generally it feels like practice makes everything better. Again, I enjoyed it.

And then there’s the rocket belt. Oh boy. This I did not get along well with. It’s floaty, it’s fiddly, and the challenges typically require a lot more precision than the controls and the physics allow. It’s why I gave up so much earlier on those challenges than the other vehicles, because it became a chore to control.

But despite that, I still liked two thirds of Pilotwings 64. However, my biggest issue with the game was its presentation. I know this was an early N64 title, but the UI for much of the game felt amateur. Most of the menu fonts looked like default placeholders, and loading the game up felt a little like I was loading up a half-finished Powerpoint presentation.

I also didn’t feel the multiple characters added much to the experience. Apparently they all had different stats, but it was hard to tell what the differences were at any given time. This, combined with the lack of actual on-screen stats, made the character selection seem pointless.

Pilotwings 64 was a mixed bag for me. I liked some of what it did but the presentation and occasional wonky difficult meant it didn’t entirely win me over.

Crash Bandicoot
Publisher: SCE/Universal Interactive Studios | Developer: Naughty Dog | Year: 1996
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: See how far I can get in a single sitting without losing all lives

Actual Outcome: Made it to Slippery Climb

Crash Bandicoot was one of the games that got me interested in the PlayStation (but nowhere near as much as the next game we’ll be talking about). Seeing a friend playing the demo got me curious and while it ultimately wasn’t the first Crash Bandicoot game I played, I got it eventually and was baffled at how much clunkier it was.

In fact, my general opinion of the original game, after having played the second game beforehand, was that it was way too hard. I remember having serious trouble with certain levels and I found gems far too difficult to obtain. Not that I didn’t eventually achieve that – a determined slog with lots of controller-throwing frustration ultimately led to 100% completion, a feat I was proud of.

Coming back to it now, it’s clear that Crash Bandicoot isn’t as hard as I remember. Maybe that determined run years ago fused the game into my memory and made me a better player as a result, or maybe my recent fumblings with harder games from the SNES/Mega Drive have made this game easier. I can’t say for sure, but this certainly wasn’t the rage-inducing test I remember it being.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s no walk in the park. There’s plenty of challenge here, but some of the things that drove me crazy before didn’t this time. I didn’t have issues with the jumping puzzles or bat-dodging of Sunset Vista. I beat Hog Wild in one attempt. I didn’t die to Pinstripe. Again, maybe memories of many failures against these things has engraved the game into my brain and made me impervious to failure, but it was so much more enjoyable.

Because Crash Bandicoot holds up incredibly well. Its highly-stylised graphic style still looks great today. It’s still a wonderfully fluid game with a decent level of challenge. And it’s every bit as deserving of “unofficial mascot” status as it was back in the 90s.

So, certainly not the hardest game ever made for me anymore, but still definitely a game I can continue to love.

Tomb Raider
Publisher: Eidos Interactive | Developer: Core Design | Year: 1996
Original System: Sega Saturn, PC, PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: See how far I can progress in one sitting without dying

Actual Outcome: Made it to Palace Midas

Those of you who know me well will know that I love Tomb Raider. It’s my favourite game series of all time. So this entry is going to be a bit of a nostalgic chat more than a mini-review, because this game is possibly the game that shaped my gaming tastes forever.

The PlayStation had come out in the UK, and initially I wasn’t impressed. I was too busy playing stupid cartoon tie-in games (which I also assumed Earthworm Jim was until I learnt later the opposite was true) and Mario to really care about the next gen, which was too busy appealing to the hardcore raver than a kid like me.

And then I went to a friend’s house, and they had Tomb Raider. And it changed everything. Tomb Raider captivated me in ways games hadn’t done up until that point. Seeing this woman move through eerie and mysterious locations made me think there might be something to these mature 3D games after all.

Tomb Raider ended up being the third game I owned for my PlayStation when I finally got one in 1998. Rapid Racer had come bundled (it will not be appearing in this challenge), and Crash Bandicoot 2 was a game relatives had bought me to go with the system, and then I used my birthday money to buy Tomb Raider.

My child mind was blown. The atmosphere and the puzzles and the environments enchanted me. And while I got stuck a lot, the adventures of Lara Croft were a big deal to me. I wanted to play more games like this. This was the game that finally got me buying original games and not just cartoon tie-ins. And ultimately this is what got me my YouTube audience, with an ongoing love of the series turning into a bunch of ongoing jokes about Lara Croft’s vast wealth and her subsequent disdain for anyone who lacks wealth. I regret nothing.

Going back to the game now, it’s still easy to see why I loved this game so much back in the day, and why it started such a long-standing love affair that’s now being tested with Rise of the Tomb Raider. The puzzles and environments are engraved in my mind. The empty caverns and dusty ruins bring back feelings of joy as I finally beat the challenges I faced. The T-Rex in Lost Valley still sends a chill down my spine (although I no longer drop my controller when it appears – that happened exactly once).

It’s showing its age, of course. Lara runs like she’s walking through treacle. The enemies are generally masses of obvious polygons. Aspects of later games that became standard are absent, endlessly confusing me (no underwater roll, can’t sidestep with the walk button, lack of a sprint button). But on the whole, it’s hard to fault Tomb Raider.

I’m biased, of course. This is the game that shaped my gaming tastes forever. I can never completely badmouth it. I make fun of it in the way someone makes fun of a dear lifelong friend – affectionately and without a hint of malice. I share great memories with it. And without it, I don’t know what kind of gamer I’d be today.

Sonic 3D Blast
Publisher: Sega | Developer: Traveller’s Tales | Year: 1996
Original System: Sega Mega Drive
Played on: PS3 (part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection)

Goal: Defeat Dr Robotnik (of course)

Actual Outcome: Defeated Dr Robotnik

Oh god, we’re back on the Mega Drive. Yes, the 4th gen still hasn’t quite disappeared, as we still have two more games to cover. This is the first – an attempt to move Sonic into 3D, albeit in a way that used “3D” very lightly.

Sonic 3D is still a sprite-based Mega Drive game above all else. The difference is that now we’re viewing the action from a diagonal isometric view that gives the illusion of moving through a 3D space. An isometric view that acts as a hindrance more often than anything else.

This is the problem with Sonic 3D. It tries to change the angle on traditional Sonic gameplay, and while it works decently when you’re just wandering around, when you have to do any jump more complex than hopping onto a nearby ledge it becomes a thankless task. A series of jumps across a bunch of collapsing platforms results in you falling in the gaps more often than not. A boss fight that requires precision jumping in a 3D plane inspires angry cries of anguish. A sequence that involves dodging flame pipes and jumping into a tiny hall in a pool of lava causes a level of insanity that would make Cthulhu jealous.

Doesn’t help that Sonic’s momentum hasn’t changed to suit the new environments. A slow start with a fast acceleration into BLAST PROCESSING speed was fine in the main titles, but here it’s awkward and unwieldy at the best of times. Especially when you’re trying to gather up Flickies and they’re bouncing around in spike traps and won’t leave.

Ah yes, that’s the other complaint. Sonic 3D forces you to free the Flickies from Flicky and won’t let you progress until you’ve found them. You can lose them if you get hit, forcing you to have to round them up again. They also get lost if they get hit, resulting in many moments of trap dodging where you get through fine but your bird disciples fall behind, forcing you to jump into dangerous situations to save them. Only to then lose them again when you try and leave.

Basically, Sonic 3D is not a very enjoyable game for the most part. It has some good ideas and starts strong, but then makes far too many design decisions that act as a detriment to the overall enjoyment.

Vectorman 2
Publisher: Sega | Developer: BlueSky Software | Year: 1996
Original System: Sega Mega Drive
Played on: PS3 (part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection)

Goal: Defeat Warhead a second time

Actual Outcome: Died in the swamp very early on

Hi I didn’t play much of this game because I died very quickly because of the same camera complaint I had from the first game.

Basically, it’s more Vectorman. Read my review of that to gain some insight into Vectorman 2. Only now imagine I’m describing a swamp.

Parappa The Rapper
Publisher: SCE | Developer: NanaOn-Sha | Year: 1996 (Japanese release)
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS2 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: Achieve U RAPPIN COOL on all six stages

Actual Outcome: I RAPPING COOL!!!

Parappa Screenshot

I was late to the Parappa party. Well, sort of. I remember playing the demo as a kid, and initially not understanding what the hell it was. I sat waiting for the cutscene to end only to be told I failed because nothing explained that I had to press the onscreen buttons in time with the music.

Once I figured that out, I remember being very bad at the demo but finding the music very catchy. However, for the longest time I didn’t like the idea of playing a game like that. It seemed dumb to me, but then I was a dumb kid.

Then Parappa 2 came out and suddenly my opinion had changed. The idea of a rhythm game seemed more appealing due to growing up and recognising the fun of them, and I eventually got the game. I always had my eye on getting the first game someday, but that didn’t happen until Parappa turned up in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and I needed the game to make his History video.

Parappa is a weird game that’s hard to describe. You either get it or you don’t. You are Parappa, and you a rapper. A dog rapper, specifically.

No, not him. You’re an actual dog who raps. Or rather, repeats lines rapped at him by instructors in various shapes and sizes – a karate-teaching onion man, a moose driving instructor, a chicken TV chef, and a rasta frog who runs a flea market. As Parappa, you learn life skills by repeating catchy raps back at your instructors. Merely rapping “step on the gas, step on the brakes” a few times gets you a driving license. Repeating “money, money, money is all you need” earns you enough cash to buy a new car. And so on.

Parappa does all this because “I gotta believe!” and because he’s in love with a flower named Sunny Funny. His best friend is a DJ bear who’s always eating. Limos in this world are apparently longer than the average street and have built-in hot tubs. A cake reaches space. An entire stage is dedicated to rapping well enough to prevent you crapping yourself. In other words, Parappa is crazy.

It’s also notable for being one of the first rhythm games, and this early experimentation with mixing music with gaming (beyond WipEout swiping its soundtrack from a DJ crate in Ibiza) is as flawed as you’d expect. The timings in Parappa are very odd, with on-screen instructions never fully matching up to the music, and different tracks seemingly having different note hitboxes. I’m willing to accept this being a symptom of the universal HD input lag problem, but I vaguely remember the demo being just as janky back in the day on a CRT.

That said, Parappa is still fun once you figure out the timings. It’s a very simple game that offers up no more than six stages, but they’re so catchy and enjoyable you don’t mind replaying them.

If you can get past the weird timings, the bizarre storyline and the fact that, again, one stage involves not shitting your pants, Parappa is a great game that helped bring about a major new genre shift, and therefore is hugely important.

Wild Arms
Publisher: SCE | Developer: Media.Vision | Year: 1996 (Japanese release)
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (PSN release)

Goal: Defeat the demons and save Filgaia

Actual Outcome: Filgaia has been saved!

WildArms1

Opinion: I first came across Wild Arms in the very first Official UK PlayStation Magazine I ever bought. In that issue, Wild Arms was the lead review, where it got a generous 9/10. They described it as a mixture of Final Fantasy VII and Alundra (a description only possible because all of those games got released in reverse-order in Europe when compared to their Japanese releases) and that’s largely true. Largely because Wild Arms is every JRPG.

The game offers a lot of promise. There’s a unique Western-themed aesthetic to the game, and the typical JRPG gameplay is augmented with the kind of dungeon puzzles you’d expect in a Zelda title. In fact, a more accurate description than OUKPSM’s is probably Final Fantasy VI meets A Link to the Past. You control a party of three, and each of them have unique skills that you have to make use of in dungeons – for instance, silent protagonist Rudy can use bombs, treasure hunter Jack has a little mouse buddy who can be chucked about to fetch far-off items, and obligatory princess Cecilia has magical items that help open sealed doors.

With this strong start, it’s such a shame that Wild Arms is really kind of bland. It’s not a bad game, but it also does so little to stand out. For instance, that Western theme I touched on. In principle, you’re navigating a desert world like Clint Eastwood in a Leone film. In practice, the soundtrack is an homage to Ennio Morricone (and an excellent one at that) and some NPCs wear Stetsons…and that’s about it. Beyond that, nothing in this game feels a lot like it’s set in an Old West inspired land.

The storyline, for instance, is Typical JRPG Story 101. A sealed evil existed thousands of years ago, it’s reappeared now, light vs. dark, sacrifices must be made, power of friendship, power of hope, yada, yada, yada. The problem is, the game tries so hard to fit as many clichés of JRPG storylines into one space that it ends up being a horrible mess. An ancient race called the Elw, mystical Golems, evil Demons who are also robots apparently, an ancient advanced technology, castles next to saloons; it all comes together in a bizarre mixture of everything.

Even the protagonists suffer from this mishmash of ideas – Rudy fits the Western theme of being a lonely wanderer with a sidearm, while Jack is Indiana Jones with a sword, and Cecilia is the innocent medieval princess with magic powers of every JRPG in existence. It tries to do too much, and ends up not succeeding very well at any of it. In fact, the FF6 plus ALttP comparison works a little more here – imagine Hyrule and the World of Ruin mashed together with the soundtrack from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and you go some way to picturing what a tangled mess of ideas this world is.

Well, okay, maybe the unique gameplay makes up for it? For the most part, the idea of having different party members that you cycle through depending on tasks you need to perform is an excellent one. In theory, it’s very much like a Zelda game, and there are times when certain paths in certain dungeons are locked off until you find a specific ability within that dungeon, making the comparison even more apt. But the problem is, while it’s interesting, it doesn’t get used nearly enough. There are a few token nods to some of the abilities here and there, and some puzzles to test you, but overall, there doesn’t seem to be enough of it.

On top of that, sometimes solving these puzzles can become a chore as the game uses random battles, so in the midst of solving certain things, you can lose your train of thought when you’re thrust into a random fight with yet another enemy that sounds like a dying cat. And then some puzzles like to be a little too obtuse – like the dungeon where you need to find an Eye to use as a key, but there are five of them, and no clues as to which one is real.

Speaking of unintuitive nonsense, there are parts of the game where it outright refuses to tell you where to go next. There’s a part in the story where in order to advance, you’re told to visit every town you’ve ever been to so far and speak to everyone you meet in the hopes you’ll get some info. This is at a time when you have no teleport spell, and the game doesn’t provide a useful world map to help you find your way around. I’m not asking you to hold my hand here, but please don’t force me to trudge around the entire world map on foot when everything looks the same and I have no map for reference.

I’ve been complaining a lot, I know, but Wild Arms was an awkward experience. I don’t believe it was a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets bogged down in too many ideas and does too many maddening things that could be avoided with a little more focus. Oh well, onto 1997, where I have yet another JRPG waiting for me – The Big One. So that’ll be interesting…

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  1. November 3, 2015 at 3:08 am

    Stumbled onto your blog, and I really like the unique format of this post. I’ll need to try a similar system (with your goal setting) just to re-live some of the classics I don’t otherwise play. Enjoyed the write up.

    • November 4, 2015 at 6:43 pm

      Thank you! I seem to be getting a lot of good attention for this challenge, which is encouraging! There are currently no updates for it right now because what I’m playing is pretty damn long, but there’s definitely more to come!

      And while I’m at it, I may as well check out your blog too. Always happy to encounter other gaming blogs! 😀

  1. November 10, 2015 at 1:42 pm
  2. March 31, 2016 at 4:46 pm

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