Home > Chronological Challenge > Chronological Game Challenge: Super Smash Bros / Silent Hill

Chronological Game Challenge: Super Smash Bros / Silent Hill

Hello! It’s been a while yet again, but this time around I’m not planning on posting reviews every day to catch up on where I am, and instead Wednesdays will be review time! For the time being, I’ll be posting double reviews until I get closer to where I currently am in playing games, and then revert to single updates again.

Now, with all that out the way, let’s start my first reviews of 1999!

Super Smash Bros
Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: HAL Laboratory | Year: 1999
Original System: Nintendo 64
Played on: Wii Virtual Console

Goal: Complete 1P Mode with every character, including unlockables

Actual Outcome: Completed a few characters, but didn’t have the enthusiasm to play as everyone

Super Smash Bros

We all love Super Smash Bros. The idea of characters from different franchises kicking the crap out of each other to settle those age-old arguments of whether Mario or Sonic would win in a fight is an idea that dates back to childhood for many of us. The fact that now we actually can have Mario and Sonic fight, while Pac-Man and Cloud from Final Fantasy VII toss in a few additional jabs, is a dream come true for many.

But that’s Smash 4. We’re in 1999 for the challenge, so rather than the slick Wii U and 3DS companion titles, we’re going back to where all this began – a bit of semi-experimental weirdness Masahiro Sakurai tossed together between Kirby titles.

And weird is the best description for Super Smash Bros 64. When you load the game up, an intro plays showing that all the characters are toys being played with by a disembodied hand. Then we land on the menu screen, where the music is some atmospheric spookiness that makes you wonder if you picked up the terrible creepypasta edition by mistake. It’s the first sign that something’s a little off about this game.

Things get back to normal in the character select, where a jaunty tune plays while you choose between the initial eight-strong roster, featuring Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Yoshi, Kirby, Metroid’s Samus Aran, Star Fox’s Fox McCloud and Pokémon mascot Pikachu. Then you’re thrown into the main 1P Mode where you kick Link off Hyrule Castle and continue through a series of battles.

And then the mini-games happen, where you’re suddenly dumped into an industrial nightmare realm where you must inexplicably break targets or jump onto specific platforms. Then there’s a run through a rejected Metroid room being chased by faceless abominations before you finally face off against the disembodied hand from the intro in a dark void. And when I played this when I was younger, I had no idea what was happening with any of this.

It’s clear from its presentation and weird design choices that this began life as an unrelated game before a bunch of Nintendo characters were dumped in. It’s clear that the developers weren’t sure how to expand a fighting game concept because the amount of content is rather small. It’s clear that Smash 64 is not a game that was going to age well, and surprise! It hasn’t!

Mechanically, Smash 64 is very awkward to play when you’re used to the Wii U edition. While Smash 4 is a sleek, speedy experience, Smash 64 is clunky and feels slightly laggy. It also suffers because rolling feels difficult to pull off, and air dodging is non-existent. And in a game series that tends to encourage being in the air, this lack of air dodging is alien to me now.

Graphically, things aren’t much better. Every character seems to be made from fewer polygons than their own games on the same system – compare Mario here to his model back in Super Mario 64, or Link’s model vs. Ocarina of Time – and as such the angular collection of cubes everyone turns into makes it seem like everyone’s a training dummy. Especially today, where even the 3DS Smash models are comparable to models in current Nintendo systems.

In the end, Smash 64 isn’t particularly worth playing any more. It’s clunky, it’s weird and it lacks the finesse and content of its sequels. A curiosity to see where the series began, but little more.

Silent Hill
Publisher: Konami | Developer: KCET | Year: 1999
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: Rescue Cheryl and escape Silent Hill

Actual Outcome: Got to the spoilery boss fight in the theme park and quit from frustration

Silent Hill

1999 is the year of survival horror, apparently. As we move through it, you’ll be seeing a lot of different survival horror titles in a variety of different forms. And where better to start this celebration of spookiness than with the beginning of the most beloved psychological horror series of all time?

Silent Hill is, of course, Konami’s attempt at taking the Resident Evil formula out of the b-movie shlock horror, and take it to darker, more unpleasant places. While the series has suffered a number of setbacks over the years, the sequel is still held up as one of the greatest horror games ever made, but what about this first one? Is it as terrifying as ever? Or has it lost some of its effectiveness over the years?

Silent Hill has aged fairly badly graphically. The large polygons, the awkward animations, the noticeable pop-up – all of these things mean that Silent Hill is a creaky experience that doesn’t hold up on a surface level. And yet, all of this seems to add to experience in very weird ways. The low-poly monster designs make them even more incomprehensible than they probably should be, the shakiness of everything makes it look like Blair Witch style found footage, and of course, the pop-up was nicely covered up by proclaiming it to be spooky fog that envelops the town. Silent Hill is that rare game that shows its age but somehow works better for it.

It helps that the design of the game is so beautiful in how disgusting and unnerving it is. The game carries a great sense of unease throughout your time with it, from the unfathomable architecture of the locations to the puzzles of twisted logic that you have to solve. Every part of Silent Hill has great thought behind it, and it’s clear that the team weren’t merely cashing in on Resident Evil’s success. They were making their own unique beast, that takes you to the darkest reaches of the psyche, chains you down and leaves you to deal with the demons. This is not campy. This is a measured attempt to burrow into your brain and lay parasitic eggs of discomfort. And it does this to great effect.

The sound design, for instance, is some of the best in video games. A horrifying soundscape of clanging metal, sirens, detuned guitars and noises that no man should ever hear, this soundtrack isn’t the most tuneful, but it does its job a hundred times better than many other games of the era. It’s an integral part of the experience and it would so much worse without it.

So, I have high praise for Silent Hill. Of course, as a mysterious exploration game, this gets everything right. Working out the game’s moon logic is part of the joy, if you can call it that.

It’s just a shame that all of this is ripped to shreds any time combat rears its gaping maw. Jesus Christ, was the combat added at the last minute to try and justify it as a PS1 game? While Resident Evil fights are worth skipping for ammo conservation, Silent Hill’s fights are worth skipping because they’re a pain in the arse. I don’t recall a single time when I thought “I’ll stop and try and take these guys out” in normal gameplay, and when I had to fight a boss, I died a little inside.

This is why I didn’t actually finish Silent Hill. It wasn’t out of fear or an obtuse puzzle, it was because the boss at the amusement park was capable of killing me from a distance with two hits, and I could barely get a shot in, or figure out the awkward sidestep mechanic. The animations were slow and unwieldy, and while I get this was because the developers were trying to concoct a way to make you feel like a helpless everyman, it was not fun.

And then there are moments where they just throw enemy after enemy at you. The harbour is a perfect example. A narrow space where every corner seems to feature something else determined to tear your face off. It’s less horrifying and more like that scene in The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob steps on a million rakes.

It’s such a shame, because Silent Hill is so fantastic in every other way, and I wanted to love it a whole lot more than I ended up doing. The combat damages all the good of the atmosphere, the level design, the sound design and the mysterious puzzles. And that is the true horror of Silent Hill.

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