Autumn approaches- as do huge games and big events. Let’s see what happened way back when:

10 Years Ago This Month: September 2006

Bully3

Tokyo Game Show was the main headline this month, and Sony, with the last PS3 public appearance pre launch was taking headlines. That said, it wasn’t the best of appearances for the system, with a slim range of playable titles, and most being known quantities. Virtua Fighter 5 and Ridge Racer 7 were fine, but growing long in the tooth as franchises. Resistance Fall of Man was a little different at least, and joined by FMV train game Railfan and glorified CD Rom encyclopaedia Afrika. This writer was in attendance at TGS 2006 as a civilian, and was only able to wait in line for the ridiculously early Coded Arms Assault. The PSP game follow up would send the PS3 dev unit crashing to a blue screen three times in a twenty minute wait, and subsequently got canned by Konami.

Sony would also announce some added functionality for PS3 and some new colours for the PSP. While the latter may have been for the self absorbed fashion conscious, the former was a lot more altruistic. Folding at Home used cloud computing to contribute to protein folding research; you could leave the app running, as it gave you a pretty visualized and a news ticker, as it quietly cured cancer or what have you.

Coded Arms was one Konami game that was better left abandoned by the company.

Coded Arms was one Konami game that was better left abandoned by the company.

Another forthcoming game was much more controversial. Rockstar’s Bully was inspired by Skool Daze some 12 years earlier; a simulation of an organic school populated by cliques and where the player had to attend class while navigating political waters of school cliques and, yes, bullies. This open world (well, open school) game followed a troubled child making his pubescent way, and more often than not had you overcoming bullies rather than doing the bullying. The thing was, put the creators of GTA in charge of a game involving kids and call it Bully? Headlines await. Controversy quickly broiled, with ridiculous claims that the game promoted bullying (and worse to some conservative nuts, there was a gay kiss in there). Rockstar half bowed to the issue, changing the name in Europe to the vaguer Canis Canem Edit (Dog Eat Dog, Latin fans) and leaving the content as was. It became a 360 and PC cult favourite, and a game we’d much rather see a sequel to than Red Dead or GTA.

Open world games were the order of the day this month, with a pair of new releases on 360. Just Cause began the stunt packed, tongue in cheek franchise this month. JC was a fun, spectacular world to explore, focusing on traversing the environment using a tether and parachute. The game itself was fairly empty though, with little in the way of variety in its missions. Nine years later, JC3 would have the exact same issue.

Sneakily, the best game of the month was Nintendo's humble puzzler.

Sneakily, the best game of the month was Nintendo’s humble puzzler.

We also saw the long running Test Drive franchise continue this month in the form of Unlimited, a game that had you engage in illegal street races across the Hawaiian islands. It was a relaxing game, as you toured exotic locales finding races to take part in, but got old fairly fast, and considering TD’s origins as a self serious driving sim, had some bizarre pseudo arcade handling that disappointed arcade and sim racing fans.

Speaking of disappointing fans, there was also Bomberman Act Zero. For some ungodly reason, the cute addictive multiplayer title was now a gritty game with a single player focus. What would famously go down as one of the worst games in the 360’s library was a pain to play, even in the multiplayer that was there (it wasn’t like you’d find many online) and even featured a third person over the shoulder option nobody in their right mind would use.

At least DS fans had a resounding success to play. Mario v Donkey Kong 2 appeared on the system this month. Granted, this was a departure from the puzzle platforming of the first MvDK, a game that borrowed liberally from the wonderful Game Boy Donkey Kong. Instead this was much more of a straightforward puzzler, involving herding a bunch of windup toy Marios (called Minis) to an exit. It has a distinctly Lemmings vibe, and while the base few levels were very simple, going back to get perfect scores in order to unlock bonus stages was satisfyingly tough.

20 Years Ago This Month: September 1996

Wave-Race-64

After the buss of a June Japanese launch had died down, Nintendo released their latest console in America this month. The N64 launched alongside Mario and Pilotwings 64, much as it did in Japan, and already Nintendo was pushing a message of ‘quality over quantity’ to justify a slow release slate. Of course, nobody could argue about the quality of those two titles.

It was hard to argue with the quality of Wave Race 64 either, which splashed into Japanese store shelves this month. A Kawasaki licensed jet ski racing game, this boasted a level of quality that one really wouldn’t expect going by the previous clause, there. Nintendo’s EAD team put out a series of great racing titles through the Super Nintendo era that squeezed the most out of the 16 bit hardware. Faced with the N64, the technical know-how of the in house group was dedicated to making the most convincing water physics yet seen in a videogame. Traversing choppy waters put the analogue controller to the test, and while tracks were reasonably few, they were superbly designed to create an addictive challenge.

The Playstation would have its own racer this month, and the second out of the Psygnosis factory in two months. This time it was the turn of Wipeout, receiving a 2097 sequel. Legend has it that the Wupeout 2097 title was nixed for XL in the States because the European title would confuse players looking for the prior 2096 titles; cute as that was it’s more likely due to the record label that supplied the music in the US version.

With more tracks and weapons, this was worthy of being deemed a true sequel, and not the incremental upgrade the XL or 2097 suffix implied. For Europe and especially the UK though, it cemented the PlayStation as a cool cultural icon, thanks to The Chemical Brothers supplied tracks, and use of the game in music videos that were then displayed in clubs across the nation.

Persona definitely earned cult status..

Persona definitely earned cult status..

RPG fans were well catered to on PlayStation and Saturn. Altus brought Persona to PS, a spin off to the Shin Megami Tensei series that brought things back to the high school setting of the SFC’s SMT: If. The tale of students summoning monstrous alter egos and being sucked into a series of paranormal events struck enough of a chord to get SMT a cult following in the west despite this being the first localized mainline game in the series. Persona would arguably outgrow the series it span off from, up to Persona 5‘s release just over two decades later.

On Saturn was tactical RPG Sakura Taisen. Its cutesy, anime styled approach to cutscenes with static text and big character portraits that evoked a dating game would belt a satisfying SRPG. Selling well, it would spawn sequels up to the PS2 and Wii, but most stayed exclusive to Japan.

.. But was positively mainstream to the handful of Tobal fans

.. But was positively mainstream to the handful of Tobal fans

The two CD systems had a wealth of RPGs, but fighters were also plentiful. Tobal No.1 was a merging of the two genres, a fighter with a focus on a pro wrestling inspired grapple system. Entertaining brawling had an RPG wrapper as the game’s campaign took the form of a dungeon crawling quest mode. It was a little bit of a heady mix for some, but smartly Square (debuting on PlayStation with Tobal) sweetened the deal in the west by including a demo of the hotly anticipated Final Fantasy 7. The subsequent bump in sales guaranteed a sequel for Tobal, but the series didn’t have the legs Tekken or Virtua Fighter would.

30 Years Ago This Month: September 1986

outrun

NES--Akumajou Dracula_Mar14 13_24_53

Home releases this month were definitely running the gamut of good..

This month was a busy one in all the major territories of the video gaming kingdom. Starting with Japan, we saw a few huge titles, the first of which was found in arcades.

Outrun was the latest arcade title to use Sega’s Super Scaler technology. Yu Suzuki’s racer had you travel across different landscapes in a Ferrari, lady friend by your side, in a grand road trip. You were racing against the clock, and road side obstacles and other vehicles were dangerous, but this was, in general, a relaxing counterpoint to the usual arcade hustle and bustle (the famous music, especially the legendary Magical Sound Shower, helped). Outrun was also a stunning looking game, and differed from most of its competitors by including steep hills and plunging valleys in its track designs, where most racers were flat affairs. Outrun would subsequently be ported to all manner of hardware both Sega and none, and while quality varied (US Gold’s home computer ports were especially awful), nothing could touch the arcade experience.

Staying at least partly connected to Sega arcade games, we saw an interesting platformer on the Famicom and MSX this month by the name of Adventure Island. The tough side scroller that had you jumping and skateboarding across tropical islands may have seemed familiar to some. That’s because it hit arcades earlier in April, under the Sega banner. Wonder Boy was functionally identical to Adventure Island, the only significant difference being the absence of the eponymous Boy of Wonder.

The reason for this is that Sega never developed Wonder Boy themselves. Rather the third party Escape did, and licensed it to Sega in arcades. Escape owned the rights to the game code, while Sega owned the character of Wonder Boy himself. So when Escape licensed Wonder Boy (the game) to Hudson, it was with the condition that they couldn’t use Wonder Boy (the character). Enter Masayuki Takahashi, a Hudson employee who had become a sort of mascot for the company by being extremely good at the games the company put out, especially Hudson’s space shooters. Takahashi was immortalized in 8 bit form as Master Higgins and the rest was extremely confusing history. The game was ok, we suppose.

...the bad....

…the bad….

The other significant FC release this month was for the Famicom Disk System: Akumajo Dracula, better known in the west under the slightly less demonic title Castlevania. Konami re-engineered the normally cutesy platform genre as a 1950s camp horror affair , with everything from a celluloid film title screen to faux closing credits that referenced Bella Lugosi. The actual game was wonderful platforming action though, that looked and (thanks to the FDS’ extra sound channel) sounded glorious. The game would make its way westward on cartridge in 1987, but without the disk version’s fancy music or save functionality. Still, it sparked a universally loved franchise, if we ignore the ill advised 3D installments, or pachinko machines that espoused ‘erotic violence’. Cheers, Konami. Cheers, then.

In the UK, the 8 bit space had reached peak Ocean. The Mancunian publisher was putting out a ridiculous amount of content and were perhaps at the peak of their market dominance at this point in 1986. How many publishers today put out four games in a single month?

Three of those games though were licensed products, all of which were rubbish. Miami Vice was praised by Crash magazine for its excellent loading music, but apparently this was the only part of the game worthy of appreciation. Knight Rider was another TV adaptation that was staggeringly poor, this time a failure made more painful by the fact it had been hyped up for months beforehand; as was often the case back in the day, it’s quite possible the teenage developers subcontracted for the game dos a slapdash job and a runner with the cash. Finally, Highlander proved there could be only one king of lazy licensed trash, a desperate attempt to shoehorn the Christopher Lambert sci-fi/fantasy nonsense into a fighting game. It wasn’t all bad though. Parallax was an isometric shooter named after the scrolling effect that shouldn’t by rights have been pulled off on its host C64 hardware. A gripping arcade style experience, it too would be remembered for some iconic loading music, but had the quality to back it up.

..and the really very good looking.

..and the really very good looking.

Chicago was host to the autumn Consumer Electronics Show, looking Stateside. Part of the showing was a push for newer computers to overcome the stranglehold a of the C64, and the decidedly crusty Apple computers of the age. The Amiga was one such machine, and while it would do far better in Europe than the US thanks to Commodore’s mismanagement, appeal to CES show goers was clear; even more so with the presence of a key developer.

Cinemaware was newly established and now ready to deliver its first titles. Defender of the Crown was really a glorified minigame collection dressed up as a strategy game as you fought for control of medieval England. What made the game stand out was its phenomenal presentation, with gorgeous cutscenes and cinematic action. This would be a staple of Cinemaware’s output, and the flair for the cinematic would also be seen in the studio’s second game, a graphical adventure full of branching paths and influenced by gangster flicks called King of Chicago.