The 1980s to 1990s was undoubtedly the era of the platformer. Bearing witness, as it did, to the spiritual birth of the console era proper, the period can boast many of the best examples of the genre. In those heady days of discovery, the games industry had something of a wild west feel to it; a feeling of a new frontier with fantastic new discoveries being unveiled seemingly every week.
From this brave new world came some of the true luminaries of the industry. The stomping ground of titans like Sonic and Mario, the final decades of the 20th century set the tone for what could be argued to be platforming perfection, refining the genre to the point of virtual perfection.
Naturally, in the fine tradition of media industries, this success led to a wave of titles which, at best can be described as drawing inspiration from these stalwarts and, at worst, lazily copied from them.
Seemed every developer wanted to grab a slice of Sonic and Mario’s massive pie around that time. From inspired but flawed ‘homages’ such as Bugsy the cat, through merchandised emulations like Zool, to amateurish rip-offs like the original Giana Sisters; there was a swathe of titles inspired by the genre-de-jour, with mixed results, quality wise.
Today’s subject was one of those titles, a by-product of the platformer gold rush. At its heart a solid, though uninspiring platformer, Cool Spot still retains a place in the heart of many of those who played it way back when it hit the scene in 1993. But the puzzling thing is trying to put your finger on just why that is.
Really, we should hate Cool Spot. He’s a corporate mascot, the very definition of a sell-out you’re ever likely to see. For those who have not run across our erstwhile leading-man; Cool Spot was/is the mascot for 7-up, the lemon & lime fizzy tooth-killing beverage beloved by many. He originally started life as a part of the 7-up logo; the red spot connecting the two parts of the name. A humbler beginning you’re unlikely to find, I think we can all agree. However, over time, the once inauspicious red circle developed, eventually becoming anthropomorphically personified as the embodiment of the 7-up brand, sporting arms, legs and a bitching pair of shades daddio!
He became fairly omnipresent, featuring in advertising and merchandising globally as the poster boy of carbonated citrus goodness everywhere. I mean, it was only natural that eventually the guy was given his own game eventually.
As the more observant among you will have surmised, the game, Cool Spot, arrived on Sega Megadrive and SNES in 1993. As alluded to before, the game itself is, gameplay wise, nothing special. The player is tasked with traversing the game world by jumping and running, collecting items (in this case red spots in place of coins or rings) while avoiding a menagerie of enemies. Pretty standard stuff all told. Really, when it comes to the actual mechanics, there was nothing to differentiate it from any of the other also-rans in the genre.
So what really makes the game stand out?
Short and simple; its Cool Spot himself. The character himself, despite being voiceless and, when you get down to it, faceless, somehow manages to have far more character than the vast majority of his peers. To play the game is to fall in love with the claret-coloured little bugger. From the aforementioned bitching shades, to the funky trainers to the swaggering walk, Cool Spot exuded just that: cool. More than any 2-d character model I’ve come across from that era, Cool Spot moves in an incredibly dynamic way. He’s always moving, his body flexing and contorting athletically in a cocksure manner.
That the thing, really. Cool Spot worked so well because he was pretty much the embodiment of his time. I defy anyone to find a more 90s character than Cool Spot; it’s not possible! Everything about the character is unequivocally, as the saying of the time goes, ‘Awesome!’ (said while throwing the horns of course!). Hell, the game starts with our protagonist surfing in on a bottle of 7-Up to a pumping soundtrack, much like the later Sonic games. In an era when extreme sports were king, Cool Spot was the Crown Prince of cool.
Cool Spot defied everything he should have been to become more than just a marketing gambit. In any other scenario he’d have been loathed; seen as just another cynical corporate play: consigned to the bargain bin of obscurity. Not just a sell-out, but worse: something that was never even in a position to sell out from.
Really, the forgotten franchise here is not Cool Spot the game, not really. The title itself deserves no real acknowledgement. No, the real noteworthy thing of merit here is Cool Spot the character himself. A living, breathing example of what good character design and care can achieve, Cool Spot managed to rise above expectations an actually be kickass. And for that, he deserves to be remembered.
All I wanted in my early teens was a Sega Saturn. I was desperate for one, however my mum would never buy me one. She was more interested in making sure that I went outside, socialised and got some exercise. Because of this, I can’t really remember how I ended up with this game. It’s also why I hate the outside world and actively avoid conversation with other people. Nevertheless, what I do know is that Delta Force 2 was my first proper first person shooter and formed my expectations of the genre all the way up until Call of Duty Finest Hour.
The Clock Tower games are a series of survival horror games created by Human Entertainment and then picked up by Capcom. There are four games in the series; Clock Tower (1995), Clock Tower (1996), Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within and Clock Tower 3.
Clock Tower (1995) wasn’t released outside of Japan so when the second Clock Tower game was released to the rest of the world in 1996 it was called Clock Tower 2 in Japan but just Clock Tower everywhere else, what makes it worse is that the first two games are actually connected even though the first one has never been released outside of Japan, the third is more of a spin off and the fourth one doesn’t really have any connection to the ones before it but we’ll come to that in a bit. For the purpose of this article we’ll call the first game Clock Tower (A) and the second game Clock Tower (B).
During the late 90’s survival horror games were growing in popularity thanks to the Resident Evil series, but whereas most of the other games had you playing as hardened special forces agents with a vast array of weapons, healing abilities and skills at your disposal, Clock Tower bucked that trend and placed you in the body of a young teenage girl with no abilities apart from running and screaming.
Playing more like the movie Halloween than a typical game, all four games involve young female protagonists with limited or no weaponry and require players to make use of the scenery and surroundings to hide from the heavily armed villain that is on the lookout for her.
The first Clock Tower game was released on the Super Famicom in 1995, later it was ported to the PlayStation1 and renamed Clock Tower: The First Fear. It tells the story of a young orphan called Jennifer Simpson. Jennifer and her three friends, Lotte, Ann and Laura, who are also orphans, are informed that they have been adopted by a Mr Barrows and are brought to the Barrows Mansion by a lady called Mary. As the girls settle in and wait in the foyer, Mary goes off to find Mr Barrows but doesn’t come back. Jennifer offers to go look for her but as soon as she leaves the foyer she hears a scream, rushes back to find her friends missing.
Over the course of the game Jennifer must find her friends, solve the mystery of the mansion and avoid the games villain, Scissorman. Scissorman is a deformed human who wields a massive pair of scissors which he uses to kill. Jennifer isn’t able to defeat him or fight back, all she can really do is run and hide, sometimes Scissorman will find her hiding places in which case she can struggle with him a bit until she is either killed or is able to run off again to find somewhere else to hide. Scissorman’s appearances are usually random but for the most part there is some music or a trigger that causes them, other times he’ll literally burst out of a wardrobe or from behind a shower curtain.
The game also has multiple endings depending on if you completed certain tasks, found friends or solved puzzles. There were nine endings in total, some with Jennifer surviving and others with her dying.
Clock Tower (A) was a moderate success in Japan so it allowed Human Entertainment to create a direct sequel and the first game to be released outside of Japan. Cock Tower (B) was released in 1996 on the PlayStation 1. The game takes place 12 months after the first game, Jennifer has been adopted by Helen Maxwell, an assistant of a psychiatrist who is helping Jennifer get over the terrible events of the first game. During her therapy Scissorman reappears and begins to attack friends and colleagues. This eventually leads the larger ensemble cast back to the Barrows Mansion.
While many aspects of the first game still remain, no weapons, hiding, puzzle solving, the game differed in respect to the fact you could chose the playable character. Essentially all the characters were the same in respect to the inability to fight back but it gave you a chance to see what else was going on in the game.
As with the previous game there were multiple endings, five for Jennifer and five for Helen depending on which you chose as the main protagonist, again some of these end well and some not so well.
I’ll be honest with you right now and say that these games are awful, the graphics are clunky at best, the voice acting is so hammy it could be used in a sandwich and the plot is ridiculous but there is just something about them. I remember playing Clock Tower (B) with my friend on the PlayStation 1 late one night in the dark and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so freaked out by a game.
The two remaining games Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within and Clock Tower 3 don’t have any real connection to the first two games. Clock Tower II deals with a young girl called Alyssa who is adopted yet finds she has another soul living inside her, this soul is called Bates and he’s not a nice man. The game was not well received, critics pointed out the rather obvious plot holes, the ‘so bad it’s bad’ voice acting and the fact that towards the end of the game the character acquires guns and weapons to fight back.
In 1999 Human Entertainment folded and the Clock Tower franchise was sold to Capcom. Clock Tower 3 was developed by Capcom and the only link to the original games is the game play. You play as a girl called Alyssa who returns home to find her mother missing and a stranger called The Dark Gentleman in her house. Alyssa soon learns about her dark heritage, her time travelling abilities and comes face to face with deadly twisted killers. The game style changed from point and click to direct control of Alyssa.
By 2002 when Clock Tower 3 was released the survival horror genre had become saturated and watered down, critics praised the game for trying something different as opposed to the mass of point and shoot clones that had flooded the market. Fans of the series were not as praiseworthy with complaints aimed at the lack of singular villain and that the game did not have multiple endings like its predecessors.
Clock Tower 3 was the last game to be released in the series; currently Capcom has no plans for a new game. There have been rumours of a movie adaptation for years, in 2008 a series of posters were released for the movie but the movie never appeared. According to IMDB the latest update is that David R.Ellis (Snakes on a Plane) has signed up to direct with a release date of 2012……
Personally I think the franchise is due a comeback, despite the game’s many weak points they have retained a cult following and Scissorman is still considered one of the great video game killers. With Resident Evil moving away from the survival horror genre it created I think now is the perfect time for a real survival game to fill the gap.
In 1996, my love affair with “point-and-click” adventures began when I first played Revolution Software‘s title: Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. The characters were well rounded (and all voice-acted too), and the plot was straight out of a classic adventure movie, and long before Dan Brown thought to pair an American Man with a French lady and sent them off investigating Templars…
The games in the series put players into the role of George Stobbart (2 B’s and 2 T’s) , a blonde-haired American who is visiting Paris for a vacation. In the first game, an explosion occurs and his world is thrown upside down as he chases the streets of Paris for the culprit, with the assistance of plucky Parisian photojournalist, Nico Collard (also called Nicole). The story takes the player (and both characters) all over the world, from Ireland to Syria, and the gameplay consists of typical point-and-click style, with the player moving a cursor on- screen and choosing whether to look at an item or person, interact with it, or use another item on it. It was the clever use of clear, cartoon-style graphics, the enthralling plot regarding the Knights Templar, and the simple but effective gameplay that lead to the games amazing success. Since it’s inital release on PC, it has also been made available on Mac and Sony Playstation, and more recently a “Directors Cut” was released on iOS devices, Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii.
A year later, Revolution created a sequel. Bringing together the same 2 characters, the setting became Central America, and the story revolves around Mayan god Tezcatlipoca and people that are trying to free him to restore his reign over the world. George and Nico end up embroiled in another mystery and have to save the world once more, but this time from an entirely different threat, with their only weapon being a mouse cursor. While the first game was met with critical acclaim, Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror received mixed reviews, and many criticised the deviation in plot from it’s predecessor. The gameplay, graphical style and humour remained faithful to the original, but with the focus on bright, sunny vistas rather than dark Parisian backstreets, it divided fans and critics alike. I personally liked seeing the familiar characters being thrust into a new adventure. It was also released on the PC, Mac, Sony Playstation and iOS devices.
The third game in the series, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, went back to the series’ Templar roots (due, mainly to fan outcries from the second game), but it took a huge leap of faith in moving from 2D adventure to 3D direct control action game. The classic cursor movement had disappeared, in favour of the HUD on the bottom right of the screen indicated actions that could be taken when approaching an object or person, and indicating which buttons should be pressed on the keyboard or control pad to perform that action. Due to the controls being radically different from its predecessors, and considered clunky compared to other action/adventure games from the same era, the game was criticised for this. The story and graphics (especially in the cinematic cutscenes) stayed true to the series and retained their charm and appeal, and I really enjoyed playing with the characters in 3 dimensions, which added a new depth to the puzzles. The game returned to Paris, but also features Glastonbury (England) and a brief stint in the Congo. The game was released in only 3 formats: PC, Xbox and Playstation 2 in 2003.
The fourth (and final official) game in the franchise was Broken Sword: The Angel Of Death, released in 2006 only on Windows PCs. The game takes place in New York, Istanbul, Rome and Phoenix. The graphics were a more realistic and impressively 3D rendered than had been seen in the previous games, and developers put this down to focusing purely on PC output, rather than accommodating the limited graphics provided by consoles. The gameplay, however returned to a more faithful point and click adventure, and although there were a few tweaks to the original style of gameplay to allow for the 3D environments and characters, it was well received (despite a few control glitches). Due to the more realistic characters, what it gained in spectacle, it lost in charm and unfortunately the series has since fizzled out.
Aside from the released games, a fan-made game appeared Baphomets Fluch 2.5 (translated to Broken Sword 2.5: Return of the Templars) was created by freelancers under the label of “mindfactory”. Staying true to the 2D graphical style and point- and click style gameplay of the first 2 official games, 2.5 was released in 2008 for free download, and received English voice actors (to mimic the original voices) from 2009. While this may be seen as a step backward in terms of style, for a completely fan-made game, it should be applauded as a huge achievement, and recognised as the symbol of fan adoration for the series that it is intended to be (which I strongly recommend you try out).
So, is there a place for Broken Sword in todays gaming line-up? I like to think so. It is less action-packed than games like Tomb Raider and Uncharted, but it still has the same level of charactarisation, plot and puzzle elements of similar games (indeed, George shares a lot in common with Nathan Drake – the spirit for adventure, the humour, the attraction to women). It can sometimes be more like an interactive novel or movie than a game at times, but I feel there is still a place in people’s hearts and minds for that style of game.
With the advent of touch-screen handheld devices and consoles (and the hand-held tablet integration with Nintendo’s Wii-U and Microsoft’s Smartglass), I think this would be an ideal time for a resurgence of the franchise and I, for one, would be willing to welcome it with open arms.
Creating a long running gaming franchise is no easy task, for every Zelda, Final Fantasy and Metroid there are franchises that faded into obscurity or never really got off the ground, sometimes it’s just a case of really bad luck, as we’ve seen recently with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning even crafting a well-rounded story in a gorgeous world doesn’t necessarily equal success.
With this in mind, here at Zero1Gaming we started talking about franchises from our past that we loved, enjoyed, missed and hope we get to see again.
Legacy of Kain:
“Given the choice, whether to rule a corrupt and failing empire; or to challenge the fates for another throw – a better throw – against one’s destiny… what was a king to do? But does one even truly have a choice? One can only match, move by move, the machinations of fate… and thus defy the tyrannous stars.”
The Legacy of Kain franchise first appeared in 1996 and ran for seven years up till 2003. There are five games in the series, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2, Blood Omen 2: Legacy of Kain and Legacy of Kain: Defiance.
The series centres on two main characters, the vampire Kain and the soul devouring wraith Raziel.with the games essentially split into two, the Blood Omen games focussing primarily on Kain and the Soul Reaver games on Raziel, in Legacy of Kain: Defiance the two characters and stories converge.
I first came across the series when I got a copy of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver and within a few hours I was hooked. The best way to describe the game is like a gothic soap opera. This is a game made by adults to be played and enjoyed by adults. There is no dumbing down, there is no hand holding, there is only action, intrigue, duplicity, betrayal, and deceit.
The series was first imagined by Denis Dyack at Silicon Knights who wanted a game with a strong story, something that demanded your focus and concentration. Denis agreed a deal with Crystal Dynamics to publish Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. The first chapter in the series tells the story of Kain, a noble in the fictional land of Nosgoth who is attacked and killed after a brawl in a bar. Mortanius the Necromancer appears to Kain and offers to resurrect him so he can exact his vengance on those that murdered him. Kain, in his lust for revenge, agrees and is brought back as a vampire. What follows is a near 50+ hour adventure into Nosgoth and its inhabitants, its mythology and its history.
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain was a success for both Crystal Dynamics and Silicon Knights, however the relationship between the companies deteriorated over the future of the series, the disputes ended when Silicon Knights passed the IP for the franchise over to Crystal Dynamics and stepped back.
Crystal Dynamics were now free to continue with their vision for the series and with the help of Eidos Interactive, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was born.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver takes place 1500 years after Blood Omen and the opening cinematic tells of a world that is decaying. Kain resides over this doomed land and vampires have now risen to become the dominant species. Players take control of Raziel, one of Kain’s lieutenants who after evolving before Kain is cast down into the eternal abyss. As in the previous game Raziel is rescued and saved from death by the Elder God, a being who lives under the land and controls the Wheel of Fate. The Wheel is spun by the movement of souls through it but as Vampires are immortal their souls do not spin the wheel. Raziel makes a pact with the Elder God to exact his revenge on Kain, clear the Vampire disease from Nosgoth and restore order. Raziel is returned as a wraith and becomes the Elder God’s “soul reaver”
Due to the issues between Crystal Dynamics and Silicon Knights the game was delayed and inevitably cuts had to be made. Amy Henning, the series director, said the team realised they had ‘over designed’ the game and that things that were meant to be included had to be dropped. Luckily, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was yet another triumph which allowed the team to move ahead with Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2.
Soul Reaver 2 is an immediate continuation of the events in the first game. The game was allowed the additional time to be refined and contains the elements from Soul Reaver that had to be cut due to time constraints. You continue to play as Raziel as you delve further into the world of Nosgoth, this time you met Moebius the Timestreamer. Moebius’ arrival allows time travel to become part of the gameplay so now the story becomes even more complicated when paradoxes and time travel start appearing.
Soul Reaver 2 was a hit with many critics stating that it was the game that the first Soul Reaver should have been, the fact that the game was released onto the PlayStation 2 instead of the PlayStation 1 was probably also an aesthetically pleasing factor in the positive reviews. Soul Reaver 2, as with all the other games, ends with a cliff hanger, fans would have to wait another two years before they would find out what happened next. Yet another adventure to Nosgoth would appear much sooner than expected.
The events at the end of Soul Reaver 2 created an alternate timeline; this version of events was explored in Blood Omen 2: Legacy of Kain. Following defeat at the hands of the Sarafan Lord, Kain falls into a sleep and wakes up 400 years later. During his time asleep the Sarafan have nearly wiped the vampires out of existence. They have invented Glyph magic and some vampires have even defected to ensure their survival. Kain’s mission is to defeat the Sarafan and continue his rise to power. Although the game had gone into development around the same time as the original Soul Reaver it wasn’t the success Crystal Dynamics had hoped for.
Every long running franchise has a ‘black sheep’, the game that sits outside the usual perception of the series. Blood Omen 2 is Legacy of Kain’s. It’s not a bad game per se but it is a noticeable departure from the rest of the series. The gameplay is more action focussed and the game’s place in the chronology of the series is never really fully explained.
The final game in the series is Legacy of Kain: Defiance. Continuing on from the events of Soul Reaver 2, Defiance allows players to play as Raziel and Kain. The story takes place in different times with both Raziel & Kain beginning to understand the game they have been involved in.. Playing from Kain’s point of view allows you to see that despite the fact he has been shown to be knowledgeable in the previous games, he is in fact as much a pawn as Raziel at the hands of Moebius and the Elder God.
While I don’t believe the game was intended to be the end to the series, the lack of sales mixed with departures from within the team (Amy Henning may be familiar to fans of the Uncharted series) as well as the sad death of Tony Jay who voiced the Elder God, meant that the game does stand as the finale even if it’s not perfect.
Over the past few years games have tended to pander to the crowd. They have become simpler, stories have been watered down, game play has reduced to point and shoot, and even the latest iterations of franchises that once stood for puzzle solving and exploration have been changed to make them more accessible for wider audiences. I have no problem with more people getting involved in gaming but not at the detriment to games I have invested heavily in. The Legacy of Kain series never pandered. If anything it got more complicated as the games went on, from a simple top down adventure to a full on literary epic in five moves is pretty impressive.
Towards the end, the series may have become bogged down in its own mythology and the amount of paradoxes it started creating was baffling but at the centre were two fantastically written characters. Kain & Raziel are the ‘heart’ of the series, but they are not your typical heroes, both have done terrible things and will do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals. This only helps make them more realistic than a selfless carbon copy hero, the good guys might be the ones we have to root for but the bad guys are more interesting.
The series has been praised heavily for the in-depth story, the art direction and the voice acting. Michael Bell is perfect as Raziel and is able to portray the continued frustration and bewilderment as the story evolves yet the true star is Simon Templeman’s Kain. His pitch, tone and pacing are all perfect, his soliloquies are highlights and now anytime time I hear Templeman’s dulcet tones in any other game (and he is in quite a few!!) I am reminded of Kain.
The series ended in 2003 but lately there have been signs that it’s not been forgotten. In 2010’s Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, also created by Crystal Dynamics, Kain & Raziel are available as DLC with their own story to tell, Eidos US CEO Bill Gardner has also expressed an interest in reviving the franchise and in March 2012 a source told VG247 that a full on reboot of Soul Reaver was in the works yet Crystal Dynamics and Eidos have remained tight lipped. I would love to see a reboot, a remake or even a HD upgrade collection of the Soul Reaver games, but for now the franchise is dead and until anyone official says otherwise all I have are my memories of one of the most interesting, complicated, exciting, series I’ve ever played!
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