2009: The Year in Review

2009 was quite a weird one for me; even as I acknowledge my dearth of console gaming knowledge, I’ve never felt more distant from the gaming mainstream. I managed to ignore the miniscule lure of the PS3 for another twelve months, I still don’t do Rock Band, I’ve avoided Borderlands and the Fallout series like they were OCD quicksand, and semi-realist games like Forza 3 and Modern Warfare 2 tick none of my boxes. In fact, the only mainstream toe-dipping I reckon I’ve done this year are with Halo 3: ODST, New Super Mario Brothers Wii and, maybe, Brütal Legend.

Despite that, The List has largely been treading water; throughout the year, I bought sixteen new games, and I completed a total of sixteen games. It didn’t help that a cleanup led me to discover previous purchases, conveniently forgotten, plumpifying The List somewhat; just a lazy 71 games outstanding now, helped along by cheap end-of-year deals on Xbox Live.

But hey! This is supposed to be a flippant, if not light-hearted, awards ceremony blog entry written by an uneducated guy you don’t know, recycling ideas that were never that flash in the first place. On with the show!

Proudest Achievement of the Year: Wrapping up Burnout Paradise. Every collectible, every Achievement, and – most chuffingly – every Challenge :)

Disappointment of the Year: Wii Fit still hasn’t had any impact on my weight (though that could possibly be due to the fact that it hasn’t been played… nor has it’s younger brother, Wii Fit Plus), and the much-anticipated GridRunner Revolution sadly failed to light my fire. But the biggest disappointment of the year was provided by MadWorld – so much potential pissed away in immature monotones.

Surprise Discovery of the Year: We Ski, bought nervously at the same time as MadWorld (with the nervousness instantly replaced by regret as soon as the “Checkout” button was clicked) proved to be stupidly good fun. Sure, it didn’t last long, but that flame burned unexpectedly bright enough to be memorable.

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: A game that had a release window of about a fortnight over here, that local distributors didn’t want to know about, and wound up being sourced for less than five quid (new!) from Amazon in the UK… Soul Bubbles is a gorgeous little game, completely at home on the DS. Please try to buy a copy! :}

Multiplayer Moment of the Year: Halo 3: ODST takes this one easily. Firefight, all my team-mates dead, being chased around by half-a-dozen Brutes… and I had no ammo. Black Eye skull was on, meaning no health regeneration. And I managed to get the Team through. Fucking magic feeling :)

The “I Love You… Honest” Missive of the Year: A toss-up between all the games I’ve bought, but not played, this year. Shadow Complex, Space Giraffe on the PC, The Maw… but Chrono Trigger takes the gong here.

The “I am the King of the World” Throw-Your-Arms-In-The-Air Trophy: Finally – finally – conquering Level 64 of Tempest 2000. It’s just a pity I’m now stuck on another level only a little farther along.

What Was All The Fuss About? Award: This is going to look like link-bait, but… The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I’ve been chewing through a bunch of Zelda games this year (hey, I 100%-ed Ocarina thrice in 2009!), but I’m utterly perplexed by the adulation this game receives. Takes all types, I guess – and I definitely seem to be in the minority. “It was good, but not great…”

The “Go Fuck Yourself” Dismissal: The Grand Theft Auto series, on the basis of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. I swore I’d never speak of it again.

The Everything Old Is New Again Award: Sure, PAC-MAN Championship Edition is a wonderful extension of the original game, but Bionic Commando: Rearmed takes the cake for a superb re-imagining of the original, with just a tiny taste of the original Commando rolled in as well. Gorgeous.

Blast From The Past Award: After a straight month and two 100% playthroughs, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker provided some of the year’s gaming highlights, with gloriously solid gameplay.

That’s What Gaming’s All About Award: Easy one, really – New Super Mario Brothers Wii eschews modern gameplay “essentials” and delivers a stunningly fun, taut, and challenging single-player experience.

The “Friendly Tumour” Award: An award for the game that initially hides its charms, but grows on you, Brütal Legend snaffles this with ease. The first playthrough had it odds-on for the Almost-But-Not-Quite Award, but repeat visits opened up the glory that Schafer built.

The “Flow Like A River” Natural Gameplay Award: Well… I had to give something to the most recent Prince of Persia game, because it was a real revelation early in the year. Fast, fluid, and rewarding gameplay, backed up with charm and gorgeous stylised graphics.

AAA-HypeTitle I Missed Award: Again, pretty much all of them… though it was pleasing to see that the gaming public may be becoming a little sceptical of the hype machine (after the rapid deflation of Modern Warfare 2‘s bubble, and a retrospective post-coital “meh” being applied to memories of GTA4).

And BOOM! There goes 2009. Big props to Prince of Persia, most of the Zelda series, New Super Mario Brothers Wii, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Soul Bubbles, and We Ski… oddly enough, only one of that lot was released in 2009. But let’s start looking forward to 2010, and Bayonetta, lots more No More Heroes, and a return-to-form for Llamasoft on the iPhone.

But now, I’m leaving 2009 pretty much as I started it: banging my head against a brick-wall of an OCD Zelda requirement. Phantom Hourglass is demanding that I find four more ship parts, and I dare not keep her waiting.

Happy New Year!

The Steely Resolve, The Lapse In Concentration, and The Terrifying Discovery

I often mention the psychological weight that my OCD heaps upon me, and I’ve been trying really hard in the last year to reduce that somewhat; frugality is utterly foreign to me, but it certainly has been fun trying to restrict my purchases somewhat. And that’s partially why I selected my most recent Gaming Resolutions; clearing the backlog, keeping the new stuff in check. So, with nigh-on three-quarters of the year gone, let’s check in to see how I’m doing with those resolutions, shall we?

…to Complete at least two Zelda games. I want to play through them all in release chronological order, and (as I indicated last week) I’m getting close to wrapping up a 100% run on Ocarina of Time. But then what – do I go on to Majora’s Mask (which I’ve never played) or follow-up with the Ocarina Master Quest? Decisions, decisions.

A robust start; not only have I knocked out Ocarina, but Master Quest, Majora’s Mask, and Wind Waker as well. “Comply and exceed,” as we say in the business.

…to Complete at least two PS2 games. This scares me a little, really – of the eight games there, three are rhythm action games (which I’m notoriously bad at), the Katamaris are O/C collection nightmares, and Bujingai is as hard as nails on the higher skill levels.

Oooooh. Ummmmm… not quite as successful here. I tried to hammer out N2O… couldn’t quite push through the skill barrier there, must return to that really. I’ve got one tricky task left in Katamari Damacy that seems to be dependent on luck more than anything, so hopefully that’ll eventually fall in my favour. But then what – We Love Katamari? The safety-net of Super Galdelic Hour?

…to Complete at least four(!) from the PC, Nuon, Dreamcast, and Jaguar groups. Holy shit!

Holy shit indeed. After a promising start – Full Throttle falling quickly way back in April – there’s been scant action since. The dream was to Complete all three renditions of Jet Set Radio on the Dreamcast, but I’ve since discovered that that task would actually require skill. Back to the Jaguar, then, and Tempest 2000, which continues to mock me. Fifteen years old, and so disrespectful to its owner. For shame.

…to keep on top of stuff obtained through the year. In 2008, I managed to Complete 11 of 18 new purchases – let’s aim for a similar target of 60%

This was looking pretty reasonable – I’d only acquired five new games this year, completing three of them… right on the money!

And so, three months out from the end of the year, I find myself in a slightly uncomfortable situation where I need to knock off a bunch of games without actually knowing whether I can conjure the skills required to do so. But that’s OK – there’s not much on the horizon, and I’m prepared to back myself in from here.

Of course, then the Australian dollar goes for a bit of a leap, and I find myself at Play-Asia buying Chrono Trigger DS, Madworld, and We Ski. And mere milliseconds after clicking the checkout button, I realise that there are a few games on the horizon after all… Halo 3 ODST. Brütal Legend. Gridrunner Revolution.

A momentary brain fart has ensured that The List is going to inflate quite a chunk by the end of this week.

But worse was yet to come.

One of my gaming rules-of-thumb over the past couple of years has been to try and Complete at least one game a month; with external forces taking their toll, I figured I was going to be struggling this September (especially after cleaning up Soul Bubbles and Sight Training in late August), but I recently had a rather frantic couple of days that saw me complete a game.

Sadly, it wasn’t a game on The List.

Yes, I managed to complete one of my real-life games: the acquisition of a new Moobaarn, a lovely apartment in the city that I’ll take ownership of in the next couple of weeks. The existing tenant still has another six months on the lease, but that hasn’t prevented me from starting to sift through my possessions, using the upcoming move as an opportunity to shed some excess stuff (fear not: I don’t get rid of games. Except for Half-Life: that was rubbish, and suffered from a massively gamebreaking bug on Windows XP. And Metroid Prime 2: Echoes; that was just plain awful).

But what I found in my burrowing… well, it was terrifying.

I found…

…forgotten games.

First there was a couple of Jaguar CD games, hidden (cunningly enough) in the JagCD box. Two of them. Then a cachet of PC games from years gone by – Quakes a-plenty, a Deus Ex and Soldier of Fortune, and the triggering of a memory that there may be a Thief II hiding somewhere. And then, worst of all, came the discovery of one of my biggest banes – the freebie. The pack-in disc. From the time when I frantically bought an Xbox 360 Arcade after my first RROD.

The Xbox Live Arcade Compilation Disc.

Five games.

And suddenly, the fanciful notion that I secretly carried – of me whittling The List down to forty by the time I hit that age – became completely confounding. It matters not that I jumped right in and knocked Uno off in a matter of hours today, because that compilation includes a rhythm-action game (Boom Boom Rocket) and a Zuma-wannabe (Luxor 2).

And that, quite frankly, has knocked a bit of wind out of my sails.

But then comes The Steely Resolve again… a biting of the bottom lip, and a determination to remain absolutely accountable for my choices. That, and the promise of more Halo hijinks later this week, followed by some nutty Minter goodness on Friday.


Hello again!

Took last week off because… well, not much happened, gaming-wise. I’ve been a bit more focussed on my other games – work (gasp – yes, I do have a day job) and house-hunting – to play much other than Tempest 2000 for the last fortnight. I’ve still not progressed past that bastard Level 64 yet, but the occasional practice seems to be improving me somewhat; Level 63 now has a five-to-one chance of being successfully completed, and I seem to be getting into the groove of the pulsar waves. Fingers crossed.

This weekend, though, I squeezed in a little extra gaming time. Friday saw me return to a purchase from earlier this year – Soul Bubbles on the DS. My first stint with this game saw me chew through the first brace of levels, proclaim it wonderful, then promptly ignore it. But Soul Bubbles‘ homecoming was… well, addictive. Sure, it’s not the longest game in my collection – I reckon it only took a total of fifteen hours to S-Rank all the levels, but I was absolutely hooked… to the point where I woke up at 5am, just to crank out a couple of S-Ranks, before dropping back to sleep, satisfied.

Clearly, I’m not above a bit of tawdry euphemism ;)

A dash of Sight Training between house inspections (I found some extra content in there, dammit), and a totally sweary-but-brilliant belated first bash at ChuChu Rocket! with a mate rounds out a lazy fortnight. Unfortunately, the Other Games will probably take priority for the near future, but I’ll crank out some gaming where I can.

A Big Whiny Bitchfest

This was a week where I wasted countless (or, more accurately, around a dozen) hours reading a lot of gaming-related forums – some oriented around the fans, some targeted to the industry, and some complete road-crash material.

It all started with a desire to clear up some old items in my RSS reader, some stale links. One pointed me in the direction of a forum meltdown triggered by (what the forum dwellers thought was) the “lack of research” (they thought was) evident in Retro Gamer‘s Metal Slug entry in their “Definitive” series. Now, I’ve encountered – or observed – author “Reverend” Stu Campbell’s work on other forums, and read some of his earlier work (all the way from his ST-era stuff to his superlative – though petulantly antagonistic – Space Giraffe review), so I’d know pretty much what to expect… he’s strongly opinionated, with the conviction to stand by his beliefs. I also used to read Retro Gamer pretty regularly, and found that its English roots were very evident, being constantly reminded of the glory days of Zzap!64 in tone and style.

However, there’s a bunch of people out there who aren’t familiar with the style of Retro Gamer… or Stu. And one of them created a monstrous list of why his article was lacking. Stu responded in his inimitable, aggressively uppity manner… and the following forty pages were, at times, really painful, combining the worst of fanboyisms and internet arguments. And yet I could not look away; it was true car-crash reading, branching into other forums and accompanied by utterly inane “expert” stupidity, supplemented by dubious “facts” being interpreted by those lacking the context and understanding to do so with any integrity. A real downer for the human race, there.

So I went looking for something a little more considered, a little more understanding. A little more highbrow. I thought I’d found it with a story quoting Dave Jones at Gamasutra, where he revealed that Crackdown only just broke even – and lamented the fact that, despite 1.5 million sales, there were about another 1 million secondhand sales. Now, Gamasutra is usually pretty solid in terms of the quality of user comments, but a brief perusal of IndustryGamers and Kotaku didn’t really lift my flagging spirits much.

Now, I don’t really expect anything different; most of these commenters are going to be in their late teens or early twenties, and experience has told me that their judgement is likely to be a little… ummm… ill considered. One-sided, if you will. And that’s OK: that’s usually just a lack of world experience. But I find it pretty ironic that a group of people who clearly don’t give a shit about the integrity of the written word are so eager to take everything so literally; puzzling logic leaps and assumptions abound. And the saddest thing is that the broad opinion seems to be that clearly RealTime Worlds were charging too much for Crackdown, or that their management and spending is clearly reckless. After all, 1.5 million sales should be plenty to keep the company rolling in coin, shouldn’t it?

Ummm… do the math. With current-gen games costing in the region of ten million dollars (Ghostbusters cost $12-15 million), and the expectation of sixty million dollar budgets for AAA titles in the next generation, isn’t it about time we started paying something a little more realistic for games? Complaining that Xbox Live’s Games On Demand service is pricing titles above what you can pay at retail isn’t really the point (though I find the murmurs of per-region pricing to be totally reprehensible), especially when – at almost the same time – Microsoft’s Indie Games initiative is actually making it harder for indies to make any money off the service (by reducing the maximum amount that can be charged for titles). The pressures of selling games at retail have generated a completely unrealistic expectation of cost in the gaming community, and no-one seems to be bothering to consider whether their actions are actually contributing towards a sustainable economy. After all, retail prices are driven by shelf-space and launch windows, with no opportunity for long-tail payoffs, and platforms like the iPhone are also creating downward pressure. After all, if the casual player gets the same game-time out of a $2 iPhone game as a $100 console title, where do you reckon their money is going to start going?

And that leaves us in a position where the only people left to buy The Big Games will be the hardcore, the same people who have been gaming all along. But costs are going up, and they want to pay less for more. So the pressure will be on to make every console title a guaranteed hit.

Do you see where this is going?

Ugh – I’m going to get depressed again.

As for gaming this week: T2K. The location of the final Item in Katamari Damacy (thanks to the fabulous Katamari on the Web forum). And a dozy drizzly hungover session with the original Halo, which – despite the obvious aging of its chunky models – still manages to feels absolutely delightful and perfectly weighted. And more Space Invaders Infinity Gene, accompanied by PomPom‘s Poppi on the iPhone… perfect ad-break-sized portable gaming.

A Moment Of Glumness…

Warning: this is very much a stream-of-consciousness post, likely to only carry any kind of significance to me. By all means, read on; I won’t be disappointed if you just shake your head sadly and unsubscribe ;)

But first, a side note: I’m not including iPhone/Touch games on The List… yet. I still regard them as distractions, rather than compulsions. But if you’ve got the technology – and pay attention here, because this is the best advice you’ll get from me all year – check out Space Invaders Infinity Gene. It’s absolutely batshit bonkers, and in a good way.

Only two games received any love this week: Katamari Damacy and Tempest 2000. And, in investing some time into them, I think I’ve learnt something about myself & my attitude towards games.

Katamari has been on the boil for about two weeks now, and – by all accounts – it’s progressing well. I’m missing just one Item (the Drainboard, from Dove Lake), so if anyone out there knows where it is – or even what it looks like – please please pretty please let me know… the 1437 other items really miss it. There’s a couple of other outstanding tasks – 75% runs on Gemini and Cancer, plus a 100% run through the final roll-up – but everything else is all done… even the Names collection.

Returning to Tempest 2000 for the first time in a couple of months reminded me just why I stopped playing it in the first place – from sheer frustration at lack of progress. Levels 63 and 64 still resolutely refuse to give me a morsel of compassion, though I seem to have at least upped my likelihood at completing Level 63 to about 5%. Yes, five percent – one attempt in twenty will see me complete the level. A sniff around YouTube yields video of someone breezing through 64, claiming that the two penultimate levels are indeed harder than 64; this leaves me scared.

Scared, because I can’t see daylight. I can’t see where the skills are going to come from to push through this barrier, to go on to (satisfactorily) complete the game; it already requires a perfect storm just to get me through one of the “easier” levels. Strangely enough, Katamari also inspired the same kind of response in me – I’ve scoured the specified levels for my missing Item to no avail, and really cannot see how I’m going to complete that game without assistance (and no, the Drainboard is not mentioned in any FAQs). It’s a feeling eerily reminiscent of the hunt for the final Orb in Crackdown, but at least I could devise a methodical, systematic approach to that problem; I’m feeling utterly lost with Katamari.

But I did have a great time with Katamari early on; I compiled a massive checklist of levels to beat, Cousins and Presents to find, Items to locate, then set myself a deadline and started working towards it. Of course, initial progress was easy – and immensely fulfilling – as the earliest tasks were cleaved off the list, and ETAs based on averages revised.

This may sound like utter lunacy – but this is how my brain works.

It’s not “oooh, this is fun, let’s play some more”; that would be fine and dandy, and these weekly entries would read like pretty much every other one-man gaming blog out there. No – instead, my brain constantly reminds me of little deadlines and tasks and expectations, all of them self-imposed and utterly compelling. A little compulsion telling me that I really should complete another game this month, whittle down The List a little, before subsequent retail therapy inflates said List.

Now, I can cope with all this… as long as all my collated tasks appear tangible, doable, within the realms of my ability. And I’ll happily recognise that, whilst I’ll never be a great gamer, I’m solidly competent, and there are some things that I feel I really should be capable of.

And Tempest 2000 is one of them; I’m convinced I should be able to conquer that, and maybe even make a dent in Beastly Mode (though that’s not a List-worthy requirement). So this feeling of frustration is really quite biting, and harkens back to an earlier post… which, having just re-read it, actually makes me feel much better.


I read a few blogs where the author has stated that the reason for their blogging was to allow them to Google their own trials and tribulations in the future; it appears I’ve just benefitted from that, too. I’ve just re-located my own mental salvation. What the hell, it’s only the second day of the month – still 29 days left to complete something! – and there’s so much fun to be had. I’ll beat T2K eventually, and someone will point me in the direction of the Drainboard, and I’ll fluke the country roll-up in Katamari. And along the way, there’ll be Gridrunner Revolution and numerous other trinkets of loveliness that remind me of all the fun stuff this hobby provides.

Ah, much better.

That, my friends, was therapy in blog form.

Je Retourne!

And so I return from my self-imposed gaming exile, having seen a lazy 103 Fringe shows. Pity I’ve only written up half of them :}

In the five weeks since I last posted, I have got some gaming in – the Prince of Persia DLC was obtained and conquered, and proved to be a fair step up in difficulty over the original. Some great exposition (if you went digging for it), some lazy character design, but all-in-all a worthy 800-point purchase (on XBLA – no idea what it is for you PS3 peeps, and PC PoP fans miss out altogether). And towards the end of the Fringe, I got sucked back into the glorious world of New Super Mario Brothers on the DS – and what a magnificent game it is. Utterly, utterly fabulous.

I was surprised, though, how much I hankered for a bit of gaming during the first few weeks of my “holiday” – until I gave in to Prince of Persia, I was wandering home from theatrical sojourns each night feeling a genuine yearning for a bit of gamage… something, anything. Christ, I was even considering digging up FreQuency for a bit of a bash. Once the Fringe was over, though, it was on for young and old; Geometry Wars practice has recommenced, with an eye to getting my skill levels up, and already I’m seeing promising progress (not bad for someone who celebrated his 38th birthday a few weeks back). I’ve dug up a decent copy of Tempest 2000 for the Jaguar (my first copy had a dodgy EEPROM, hindering progress somewhat), and I’ve progressed to Level 64 so far… but getting beyond that may be an issue, since I’ve yet to make any impact on it at all.

But the big story (for me) has been Majora’s Mask. I was having a real problem even firing the game up; it’s left such an unsavoury taste in my mouth that I just couldn’t face it. Eventually, I pushed myself into playing it again, if only to start practicing the shitty Town Shooting Gallery minigame – which had all the hallmarks of being another Gerudo Fortress archery pain-in-the-arse. Surprisingly, I managed to nail the Gallery for a perfect score, yielding my desired Heart Piece, well before lunch today… looking at the clock, I bit my lip, grabbed a FAQ, and finished the bastard off. 100% complete (all collectibles), two saves – one penultimate and one with all Masks. And that game is finally out of my life.

I know there’s a zillion people out there who loved Majora’s Mask – but it really, really didn’t click with me. At all. Sure, there’s some nice bits – the beauty of the final level, the Kafei & Anju quest – but I found so much of the core game to be cumbersome, clunky, and oppressive, that I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I enjoyed it. Pretty impressive to think that the whole game fit in 64MB, though.

On matters Tempest…

I never really had much experience with the 1980 Tempest arcade game, but Jeff Minter did. He absolutely loves it. So much so that, when offered the opportunity by Atari, he created a glorious interpretation of the game – the Jaguar’s Tempest 2000.

T2K made the Jaguar worth owning. Nothing else in the console’s brief lifetime had anywhere near the playability, and it introduced a whole new generation of fans to Minter’s Llamasoft. But it was not the first of Yak’s Tempest re-workings that I ever played; that honour goes to Tempest 3000, written for the Nuon processor that managed to find a home in a mere handful of Samsung and Toshiba DVD players. An eBay win and shipping from a helpful mate in the US netted me a Samsung N501; a quick trip to DSE for a 230-to-115V transformer saw me in business.

T3K is a visual feast, pure and simple; the vast majority of the game looks like it’s in some glorious mild soft-focus, a soothing “come hither” effect that makes the plethora of death you’ll be dealt seem as daunting as a Mills & Boon novel. But that’s the beauty of it; T3K seems so innocuous, so sit-back-and-let-it-wash-over-you with visuals that are at once brilliant neon and soothing pastel. Blurry and indistinct, maybe – but spend half-an-hour getting into the groove of the game and they become second nature.

I aspired to be great at Tempest 3000. Being “good” wasn’t good enough; I wanted to be able to hold my head up high and say “I rock at this game.” And so, with guidance from the ever-faithful Llamascores, the nightly practise sessions began: about 15 minutes to settle in, and then the time just flew by as the game and I became a Competitive One, yin and yang, and blissfully so. Early attempts saw me bowing out of proceedings whenever the dreaded Pulsars hit the web – I had no bloody idea what was going on, no idea where they were, and was merely whizzing around the web in hope.

Dropping the trancey music volume down a few notches allows the imperative audio cues to come to the fore; suddenly, the soft “warning” and “pulsar firing” messages (being audible) were actually useful, and more progress was made. Alas, high scores in T3K seem to be reliant on (a) not using the jump (or “hover”) powerup, and (2) being able to traverse the bonus levels. I suck at the bonus level. And I can’t stop using the hover. My multipliers aren’t collected, and my score remains puny.

But what a lovely, lovely game. “Lush” is a word that suits it especially well. If only the Nuon had the ability to persist high scores… Aside from that, though, the Nuon was criminally underused hardware. Apparently hard as hell to program (with a VLIW instruction set that, with the benefit of hindsight, must be a secret shame of someone right now). The controller I snaffled was very N64-ish, and perfect for T3K: a lovely loose analog stick, perfect for thrashing about the web, before switching to the precision of the D-pad. And, of course, the Nuon was also home to Minter’s VLM-2 audio visualiser… but that’s leading to a much longer conversation.

Later, after having positively failed in my attempt to be “great” at T3K, I acquired a Jaguar and a stack of games, T2K included. And – most important of all – a rotary spinner controller, given the Yak-tastic thumbs-up as being the definitive way to play T2K. Fire up the console, give the game a nudge and a wink to engage rotary support, and we’re off – playing the game as Yak originally intended.

First thoughts were jarring; after the plasma-fied smoothness of T3K, the Jaguar’s pixel-shattering graphics felt positively coarse. It also didn’t feel as balanced; early levels carried on way too long, especially when compared to the svelte level designs of T3K. Colour me unimpressed.

Several months later, though, in the midst of a glorious break from work, I decided to return to T2K – if only to try and remove it from the To-Do List. And it managed to dig both fangs in and dig hard. After getting to grips with the controls (and, more importantly, learning how the T2K pulsars worked), I settled in for some quality Minter gaming.

As usual, his progression though levels is beautifully calculated; there’s no massive leaps in difficulty, and you always feel as if you’re learning, and being rewarded for doing so. The T2K “Key” mechanism – whereby you can restart at any odd-numbered level, as long as you’ve completed it – allows short targeted bursts, tackling three levels at a time.

I progress – slowly. My “completed” goal of unlocking Beastly Mode (by completing all 100 levels) seems quite doable as I scoot through the forties, battle manfully through the fifties, and leap into the sixties…

…only to be greeted suddenly with a blank, black screen at the end of a level.


I reboot the Jaguar, restart T2K… to discover that all my high-scores, all my progress, had been lost.

Double shit.

I start from Level 1 again. Things are much smoother this time, and before I know it I’m into the late-fifties. Then the black screen returns, dismissing any gains made.

A quick poke around the InterNets revealed that this problem was symptomatic of dodgy chips – Jag cartridges have tiny slivers of flash in them to store save-states, but the early nature of the technology used led to a relatively low write limit… which I assumed my cart was approaching.

Triple shit. Harrumph.

So, a quick poke around has netted me another (assuredly “almost unused”) T2K cart; it’s yet to be played, though. Yet another little project on the back-burner.

And so to Space Giraffe.

Let’s get one thing straight: Space Giraffe is fucking magnificent. But it’s not Tempest. In fact, were Minter anything but a chilled hippie, he’d kick your teeth in for saying so. It certainly owes a lot to Theurer’s classic (or, more accurately, Minter’s previous re-interpretations) – the webs, powerups, and baddies all seem somewhat familiar… but it’s the gameplay that sets the Giraffe apart. And that’s something I’m not even going to attempt to explain; there’s a squillion other sites out there that delve into details of bulling, juggling, and dealing with rotors.

As expected, the reviews of Space Giraffe have been all over the shop; Edge gave it an 8, OXM famously slated it with a 2.0. Everyone’s favourite opinionated netizen Stuart Campbell loved it (brilliant review there, personal insults aside), and Consolevania‘s fleeting mention (in the tricky-to-find “25677-3” episode) was right on the money too. But, as a lifelong fan of Minter’s work (well, about 90% of it, anyway), I slapped my 400 points down for the Giraffe without looking at the demo, without reading a review. And, from the outset, I knew that we were going to have a good relationship. The Neon engine that pumps forth the brilliant (in both senses of the word) visuals proved no impediment to me (up until Level 52, which required some serious brain re-wiring to comprehend), the music was a perfect fit, the audio cues perfect. Straight away, I knew that I was in love with this game – and, once again, I wanted to be able to call myself “great”. Luckily, the (frankly brilliant) level- and score-save system seems tailor-made for obsessives like me to leverage for decent ranks.

Through practise, determination, and sheer bloody-minded beligerence that I was not going to let this get to me, I managed to scrimp and save enough points to climb as high as 11th in the world… Then the exploit-abusers came in. Yes, there’s a minor exploit to be exploited that allows massive scores to be accumulated; many have taken the opportunity to get wonderful leaderboard rankings. Many more have used it as a reason to not play the Giraffe in anger until it is patched.

Not me, though. I was practising the hell out of this puppy. By the time I cracked the 400-million mark, I’d crawled back up to 13th. Hurrah!

But now I’m taking a break from the Giraffe until the patch – and resultant leaderboard wipe – has come out. Then the graph below will have a new line – the line where I’m trying to beat my own score. Already, I’m concerned about some levels that I completely fluked my way through the first time; but if any game is going to cajole me, it’s Space Giraffe.

If you’ve got a 360, and haven’t played the Giraffe yet, then download it forthwith and play the demo. Better yet, just cough up the measly 400 points and buy it outright.

Fantastic, fantastic game… Massive props, Yak :)

There’s one last game that I should mention in this little Tempest-fest, and that’s Tony Crowther’s N2O. It differs from the original Tempest in almost exactly the opposite manner to T2K; if anything, the two games are complementary.

N2O sees the player piloting a craft through tubes blasting baddies, with the player freely rotating around the outside of the tube as you travel through it. The opaque and twisting nature of the tubes is a key differentiator from the more traditional treatments, but the lovely thing about the game is the weight that’s afforded your vehicle – it’s got a lovely heft to it, and handling subtleties between different models of craft offer one of many minor tactical aspects.

By no means have I hammered N2O – in fact, I’ve only seen about a third of the levels, playing on the easiest skill level. But it’s another game on the To-Do List – like T2K, T3K, and Space Giraffe – that I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in. If only to be “good”.