(Unrelated: Last week I quoted web comic author John Campbell of Pictures for Sad Children. Since then he has apparently gone completely insane and lashed out in all directions. Had I known about his depression fueled breakdown I might not have been so eager to sing his praises. Let us hope that he/she gets the help they need to get through this.)
Sometimes a game comes out that connects with you on such a level you’d swear it was made just for you. Even those of us who play games heavily know that this happens once, maybe twice in a lifetime. I’ve made no secret of my unwavering love for Platinum Games in the past so I felt it was a little unfair of me to review this as I would lack objectivity. But what the hell, its been so long since launch what effect can I possibly have on the games sales?
Platinum always brings their A game when developing, probably because each game is a manifestation of their passions. Kamiya loves the silly, the arcade, and the unflappably confident. These make for memorable and charismatic games that tragically don’t get the attention they deserve. But they must be doing something right, half the damn Capcom side of “Marvel vs Capcom 3″ comes from games he made.
Viewtiful Joe won huge praise when it debuted back in the day for its unique approach to side-scrollers by adding in an action flair and a colorful story. Kamiya really worked well with the masked superhero setting because he knew that superheros weren’t about darkness and seriousness, they were about taking down two dimensional villains in outrageous ways and getting people to pump their fists in the air while cheering. The Wonderful 101 is that kind of hero story.
Set in a Super Sentai world of futuristic masked superheroes, each with their own theme , who join together to like ants to form giant working weapons to battle aliens and save civilians. If they don’t have enough heroes they recruit everyday citizens from nearby, give them a mask, and make them deputy superheroes. A lot of reviewers have said the game is like Pikmin because you control a mass of characters but really its nothing like it.
Kamiya and Platinum games have consistently done an excellent job of creating new and interesting game play with each game they release, usually taking a somewhat familiar system and twisting it around into something new. With that in mind it’s really hard to pin down the fighting system in Wonderful 101. The zoomed out camera angle certainly gives people the impression of Pikmin, especially with the amoeba-like mass of people you are controlling. But that’s pretty much where the comparison ends. W101 actually does a commendable job of utilizing the WiiU gamepad but only IF you choose to. In addition to the basic jumping and moving you’ll be doing with the controls the meat of the game play comes from drawing shapes with your mass of people to form giant weapons that you’ll be using to crush your enemies and interact with the environment. You can use the stylus but its much faster, and better in my opinion, to just use the second joystick. It sounds like a weird and confusing concept, and in all fairness it is. But it makes sense once you start using it and before long it’ll be second nature to you.
And if nothing else the games towering charm and charisma will encourage you onward to keep trying. The game is just so damn likable. Like all Platinum games the game takes cues from familiar settings and makes sure you are truly experiencing it. In this case its the Super Sentai/Power Rangers setting I mentioned earlier, but also acting as a deconstruction of the genre. Wonder Red, arguably the main character, is the fearless leader prone to lengthy over introductions. Wonder Blue is the cocky, wreck-less cool guy. Wonder Pink is the fabulous female fury. Wonder Green is the fat kid. Wonder Yellow is the musclebound foreigner who is also adorably bashful. Wonder White is the noble ninja who never shuts up. And Wonder Black is the silent tech wiz. W101 isn’t breaking new ground in terms of characters with this cast. Hell they are the kind of cliches places like TVtropes and the like bitch endlessly about and are unable to look past. And that’s a damn shame. At this point cliched characters don’t exist for no reason, and Platinum is well aware of that. They exist here to make fun of the Super Sentai genre, but with love. Think Hot Fuzz.
And once again Platinum sneaks in some breakups to the game play with some sequences referencing Kamiya’s favorite games. In this case shoot-em-ups and Punch-Out! The shoot-em-up parts I’m not wild about but holy damn are the Punch-Out! parts an absolute blast. It’s hard to say why, maybe because Punch-Out! is such a well made game to begin with or maybe because I’m already familiar enough with the game that I had no problem transitioning to it. Overall the game is a great experience, only losing momentum for a few moments and ending in the most satisfying way possible, with the final boss having 7 stages followed by a playable “credits” level that also has hidden sections and contributes to your final score. When the game was about to come out people were panicking that the game was only 8 hours long, Well by the time I %100ed the game I was clocking in at over 90 hours. This was the first Platinum game I %100ed too, I just couldn’t get enough until I got it all.
If you are one of the few, the proud, the WiiU owners, then this game is a must have. If you want to improve as a gamer this game is also a must. Yes I’m biased but for good reason. Filet Mignon isn’t popular for no reason. I’m not done with this game yet though. Next week I’m going to go in-depth for you fine people. Stay Tuned…
With Age of Wonders III just around the corner, I thought it would be nice to go back to the series’ roots before jumping into the latest instalment.
February is the snowiest month here in the glorious American Midwest. This year has been a particularly crappy winter here and a week after the last blizzard the snow has packed into an impenetrable sheet of ice over the roads thus tripling the suckage factor of life. So since its not safe to go outside what better time to sit in the relative safety of the great indoors and fritter away time playing video games while you wait for the city to thaw. And while you are at it why not belt out a few zingers about how “winter is coming/has come” so we nerds can maintain out insufferable status. I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. The cold is getting to me and I’m lashing out in all directions. So to make good on my pledge to play my steam backlog and to vent some anger with fictional violence, I whipped out Typing of the Dead: Reloaded.
As I sat down to write this piece, I initially planned to write this as a straight retrospective piece on the first destruction derby game, reflecting on the game as a whole and reminiscing a bit about an old favourite. I mean, everyone will have heard about Destruction derby right? It was a big thing when it came out during the PlayStation era and was, for a while, a major title.
But that’s the thing, it was the PlayStation era and that’s 4 consoles ago, generationally. While the PlayStation era might not feel like that long ago to me, in reality it was aaagggessss ago. The console came out in 1995; nearly 19 years ago. Wow, that’s a reality check; Destruction Derby is now old enough to drink legally in the UK…
Suffice to say that, while I remember it and at 28 I’m, by no means even close to being considered middle-aged (hell I barely qualify as an adult depending on who you ask!) 18 years is long enough for a great many of our readers to have never heard of.
Right then, surely the later entries of the series will at least vindicate my assertion that everyone will have heard of the Destruction Derby series? Destruction Derby Arenas was the last game in the series and, while it was a bit… rubbish… it at least continued the name right? So when did that come out?
2004?? Ah…ok then…
So then, Destruction Derby…
Destruction Derby was released, as we’ve established, in 1995 by Psygnosis (after being developed by Reflections Interactive) as part of the first wave of PlayStation games. Indeed, Psygnosis were rather prolific in their racing/driving games and were also responsible for Wipeout, which I covered previously.
The game, as you may guess from the name, tasks the player with competing in stock car races, eschewing the traditional jockeying for position, lap times and overtaking lanes for all out violent destruction. Starting to see why it was so good yet? Pretty much anything went when it came to battling for position in the game, with players actively encouraged to bash, smash and crash competitors off the track in a bid to finish first. While hardly endowed with finesse, subtlety or, admittedly, much variety, the stock car race mode was certainly entertaining.
To add a layer of tactical consideration and some level of realism, the cars had a level of destructibility, with areas of the car having a finite limit to the damage they could absorb before your car broke down. This was represented by an image of your car on the HUD with various parts that would change colour progressively from green to red as you took damage, finally changing to black when the limit was reached. Along with the progression of damage levels, the vehicle became more visually damaged, which was something new to players at the time and drew a lot of attention.
While the stock car racing was the more extensive aspect of the game, the second, eponymous, Destruction Derby mode was the one that really gained the most favour with the fans. This mode placed the cars in a large circular arena, inspiringly named ‘The Bowl’ with the target of wrecking the most cars before everyone was damaged beyond repair. This mode, while consisting of a single track and little to no variety was the standout aspect of the game and pretty much the reason the game gained the following it did. The was also a Wreckin’ Racing mode, which took the stock car mode and added the awarding of points for wrecking other cars, but that was rather hit or miss compared to the guaranteed action of the main Derby mode.
Following on from the success of the first game, its sequel, Destruction Derby 2 arrived hot on its heels the following year. Differing little from its predecessor, Destruction Derby 2 essentially offered more of the same. Basically, for a review of the 2nd game, just re-read the above paragraphs and add a 2 to the name. Everything from the race modes to the mechanics was the same. The main difference from a race perspective was the addition of several jumps on various tracks, which delivered even more carnage to proceedings.
The reception for the game was on a similar level to that of its predecessor, though on a slightly lower trajectory, most likely due to the aforementioned lack of any real progression in gameplay.
This was not the case for the slightly belated sequel, Destruction Derby Raw. Released in 2000, the game was the first to be developed by a different studio, being taken up, as it was, by Studio 33.
Graphically the game was a step up, as you would expect, but the main change was in the development of the game modes. The existing modes were, in the main, repurposed, with only stock car racing being omitted. Wrecking Racing takes its place as the main race mode, retaining the same format as its predecessor, with a greatly-expanded quota of 25 tracks and 19 competitors. Smash 4 $ was a career mode, in which a player purchased and upgraded vehicles by earning money from in-race challenges. The previously simple Destruction Derby mode returned, but with much more variety, with a series of tracks and new game modes, which can be split into 2 categories, team events and solo challenges. The solo challenges were Armageddon, which tasked the player with surviving as long as possible, Vampyre; where players steal points from their opponent when they hit them, Skyscraper; a standard Derby mode, but with the ability to push cars off the edges of the track and Classic Mode, which remained the same as previous years. The team events were Assault; which tasked players with protecting a CPU-controlled partner car and Pass Da Bomb, where players had to hit an opponent to pass a bomb to them and the player holding the bomb when it went off was eliminated.
The game itself was relatively well-received, with average reviews at the time, though significantly down on previous iterations, mostly down to the lack of refined controls and, again, lack of major gaming variety.
Again, a 4 year delay occurred before the next, and final, game in the series arrived in the form of Destruction Derby: Arenas. Still developed by Studio 33, Arenas was quite a deviation in theme from the previous titles. The overall purpose remained the same, but the presentation was very different, shifting away from the realism of the previous titles to a more arcade experience. The game was poorly received, with many citing the cartoon-like stylings and rather outlandish characters. Indeed, the very fact that the game had characters at all was a huge change in style, one that put many players off.
The overall reaction to the game sounded the death knell for the series and Arenas proved to be the last Destruction Derby game to be released to date. Studio 33 were bought out by EA in 2003 and became EA North West and the Destruction Derby name disappeared from the industry, though similar games such as Empire Interactive’s Flatout continue its legacy.
Destruction Derby wasn’t big and it certainly wasn’t clever, but what it was, was damn good fun and the fact that the last version of note to appear was over 13 years ago means that few younger gamers will have ever had the chance to play such a brilliantly joyous game.
If ever there was a franchise in gaming that is ripe for a revival its Destruction Derby… so long as they don’t mess about with the formula too much.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to some Steppenwolf and get some pixelated smashing on.
The early years of the PlayStation were a heady mix of excitement and innovation. The beginnings of what would prove to be the explosion of gaming in the modern era, the PlayStation’s early days were something unlike anything seen since, a big step into a brave new world of interactive entertainment; a world in which never-before-seen games were a regular occurrence. While the current generation of consoles have been defined (thus far) by a distinct lack of anything but safety-first, proven IPs, the PlayStation was host to a vast number of new concepts, from the bizarre to the sublime.
Today’s entry falls somewhere between the two. Released just after the PlayStation in September 1995 by developers Psygnosis, Wipeout (or wipE’out” as it was marketed at the time) was a futuristic racing title in which the player took the helm of an F3600 anti-gravity ship to compete in races against other similar ships. The player is given the choice of 8 ships, split across 4 different teams, each having differing ratings for mass, acceleration, turning radius and top speed, as I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear. While nothing ground-breaking, it did set something of a precedent for racing game son the console, setting the bar for a certain level of variety if nothing else. The track number totals in at six in the main game, which, while not massive, does provide a modicum of variety, with a seventh, hidden, track based on Mars further expanding this upon completion. During the course of a race the player could collect both offensive and defensive weapons with which to alter the course of the race. These were divided into the offensive weapons; Shock Waves, Missiles & Shockwaves; and defensive boosts; Shields, Turbo-Boosts & Mines. While these are pretty standard fare, they provide a layer of strategy and tactics to an otherwise fairly standard affair.
Think of a cross between Mario Kart and TOCA Touring Car with added rocket boosters and you’ll not go far wrong.
The game distanced itself from games such as Mario Kart with its much more serious tone, with the visuals having a much more distinctly urban and techno feel than the cartoon-style of Nintendo’s opus. Indeed, the feel of the game fit in well with the PlayStation’s more mature target demographic. The electronica soundtrack, composed by Tim Wright (under the name Cold Storage) gained the title a prominent following amongst the club scene of the day. Indeed, various lines of Wipeout-themed club merchandise were produced to exploit this popularity and it was not unknown for clubs to have PlayStations set up for patrons to play. Considering the now well-known widespread recreation drug use in the late 90s club scene, it must have been quite an experience for the people playing!
The game is obviously reminiscent of predecessors such as F-Zero, but the game itself manages to differentiate itself from not so much stylistically, but mainly due to its timing. The game itself was not stellar in and of itself. Being, at its core, an amalgamation of aspects drawn from existing popular titles, such as the aforementioned Mario Kart and F-Zero, Wipeout had no one thing that players hadn’t seen and played before. What it was, however, in the right place at the right time. The PlayStation was an unknown quantity; the first console from Sony and a newcomer to the industry, that promised to revolutionise the genre. Wipeout was the first racing title available and just by the grace of that gained significant attention. Combine with that a visual style that distinguished it from its peers at that point and its link to the ‘cool’ club scene at the time and you had all the ingredients for a cult hit above and beyond its merits as an actual game experience, something proven by the steady decline in sales of its successors.
Wipeout was not a memorable game for its gameplay, not by a long shot. However, it does deserve to be remembered as the racing game that helped consolidate the PlayStation as a viable console in the market. While I’m not saying it was responsible on its own, obviously not, what it did do, along with other popular titles of the time, was prove that the PlayStation was a console to be reckoned with and gave it credibility in the industry as a whole.
In its own little way Wipeout helped shape the course of gaming as a whole, allowing Sony to consolidate a large portion of the market that it still holds today. What would the games industry look like today if the PlayStation had wiped out all those years ago?
We’ll never really know and that’s, in part, down to games like Wipeout.
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