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Chronological Challenge: Pokemon Snap / Rollcage

Hello! Another week, another double bill of games from my endless challenge to play every game I own in order of release.

This week, we move into March 1999, where we have two games about travelling around in a vehicle that couldn’t be more different. They’re also both pretty good.

Pokémon Snap
Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: HAL Laboratory | Year: 1999
Original System: Nintendo 64
Played on: Wii Virtual Console

Goal: See how far I can get in a single session

Actual Outcome: Played around in every level a little

Pokémon Snap is an unusual game. Hopping off the back of the huge international success of the Pokémon franchise (which has so far been absent from the challenge due to me no longer owning my Game Boy and the 3DS releases coming out too late), this game took the concept of “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” and decided that the words “on film” needed to be added to the end.

This is a photography sim, with the entire purpose to snap pictures of every Pokémon you can, and get them all on their best side. You achieve this by badgering them with food, music and gas bombs, and sometimes they’ll do cute poses and actions that Professor Oak thinks are WONDERFUL. Oh, and Pikachu is naturally a camera whore who shows up in every level to hog the limelight. But you expected nothing less, I’m sure.

And wow, this game is still as fun as it was back in the day. It’s such a sedentary game, but also an incredibly tense one. There’s no threat of being eaten by a Charizard, but there is a threat of snapping one too far or too close, or Magikarp disappearing into the water too quickly, or Haunter not showing up on camera properly because goddammit why do you have to be awkward and show up as a floating orb until the film is developed?!

There’s a fierce addictiveness to getting Professor Oak’s approval. And he’s a picky man. A perfectly centred shot of Jigglypuff singing a jolly tune is all well and good, but if it’s too small, it’s right in the trash. Just love me, Oak. Tell me I’m WONDERFUL.

It also helps that Pokémon Snap is so polished in its presentation. Despite its age, it hasn’t lost any of the charm and cuteness that got me hooked in 2000, and I almost felt sad to move on with the challenge and actually finish games I’ve never finished, unlike this which I obsessively played until I got the most WONDERFUL shot of Mew in the world.

It’s a quirky unique game that thoroughly deserves a Wii U sequel that uses the Gamepad but probably won’t get one now with all the NX stuff on the horizon. In conclusion, I think it should be obvious that I think Pokémon Snap is WONDERFUL.

Rollcage
Publisher: Psygnosis | Developer: Attention to Detail | Year: 1999
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: Win the Leagues

Actual Outcome: Came out top on the Leagues

Rollcage

Rollcage is one of the PS1’s lesser-known racing titles, yet it’s seemingly beloved by everyone who did play it. I remembered enjoying this back in the day, but it had been way too long and I couldn’t remember too many specifics about it or even how well I’d done at playing it.

Rollcage is basically WipEout on wheels. You drive incredibly fast futuristic vehicles around twisty tracks and fire weapons at each other to the beats of a pounding club soundtrack. Where Rollcage differs, however, is that the vehicles have wheels with immense grip, and they’re large enough that a car can be flipped on its roof and it can carry straight on without issue.

And it is a BLAST. The sense of speed is impressive, and not just by PS1 standards. The cars are nippy little buggers, and there are constant efforts to push that speed higher through boost pads on the track, turbo powerups, or best of all, riding explosions like the coolest motherfucker in the land. As well as speed, the game encourages destruction, and some weapons actively target the scenery instead of other racers. You can drop buildings or explosive space billboards on your opponents then ride through like nothing happened. You can fire a missile as you pass a power plant, blowing it up in your wake and leaving debris for opponents on your tail to deal with.

There are some moments of frustration as your opponents aggressively hurl missiles around and hinder your progress as much as you hinder theirs, and at times this threaten to spoil the fun of the whole experience. But even listing this as a flaw now, I struggle to say more than that. It’s a minor frustration, and one of those that improves as you play more. You get used to how the handling works, how best to steer out of danger, and where the shortcuts are. What’s more, for every loss, the game just makes you want to try again and again because of how much fun the whole experience is.

Because that’s the key thing to take away from this. Every aspect of Rollcage was designed with fun in mind, and fun it is. This is one of the most enjoyable racing games ever made, and it’s a shame it’s not as well-remembered as it should be.

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