It’s the warm November rain of videogame releases! This month with some pretty important hardware:

10 Years Ago This Month: November 2006

wiisports

Hitting shelves in quick succession this month were two pieces of in demand hardware, though only one was a cultural phenomenon. Nintendo’s Wii would remain in high demand into 2007, it’s simple motion controls instantly making the system accessible to swathes of prior non gamers.

The issue would eventually be that most of those newcomers to the medium only ever had eyes for the pack in game. Wii Sports wasn’t bundled with the system in Japan, but its spot inside the system box in other territories ensured it would become the best selling videogame of all time. The game comprised five different sports minigames that demonstrated the abilities of the accelerometer equipped remote. Of course, it also demonstrated the system’s shortcomings; this was in no way a one to one batting or golfing experience. Yet as a demonstration of the hardware’s ability to unify and excite, it wouldn’t be matched over the entire life of the system.

Minigame collections dominated the Wii launch, and indeed the Wii’s life. These varied wildly in quality, from Warioware Smooth Moves’┬átypical and much missed verve and wit to Wii Play‘s godawful characterless blandness and Monkey Ball Banana Blitz‘s dumbing down of a fiendish arcade experience to compensate for a disorienting new control scheme.

There were also ports and adaptations, adding motion control to the DS hit Trauma Center and Zelda: Twilight Princess. The latter was originally destined solely for GameCube but was ported to Wii to gain a bigger audience, in the process flipping Link from a left to right handed character, and mirroring the entire game in the process. The title itself meanwhile was somewhat of a disappointment to many, a title which eventually found its legs but was marred by a terribly slow paced first act.

Slow pacing was the least of Red Steel‘s issues. Amongst a batch of family friendly
minigame collections, Ubi’s shooter was aimed at a more mature demographic. Embarrassing trailers featuring a man jumping around his living room and taking cover behind his sofa wasn’t a good look, and the game itself couldn’t deliver on any of its promises. Shooting and sword fighting were its core mechanics, but the dueling clearly highlighted the limitations of the Wii remote and the game was a boring muted mess.

A better, if soon forgotten launch game was Excite Truck. Playing on Excitebike nostalgia was disingenuous to say the least, but this was a fast, smooth racer with a lot of character.

Not true.

Not true.

Another off road racer lead the launch of the PlayStation 3. Evolution’s Motorstorm was a great technical showpiece for the new system, but also reflected issues with the machine at launch. Motorstorm released without online multiplayer, and early adopters of the extremely expensive hardware were frustrated with an online experience and front end that paled in comparison with the modern feeling XBox 360. PSN online play was poor compared to XBox Live, even with its free nature taken into account. At launch there wasn’t even a dedicated PSN store app; you were taken to a web page if you wanted to buy something.

Resistance Fall of Man was able to trumpet multiplayer, though large player count aside, wasn’t remarkable for it. More notable was an interesting alternate history storyline about alien invasion of earth in the early 20th century, and to many FOM was the pick of the PS3 launch lineup.

Much better, at least, than the returning Sonic the Hedgehog, which also appeared on 360 this month. This supposed return to form for the long suffering blue hedgehog, a return so heralded that suffixes and numbers were shunned in favour of a title even fans would dub Sonic 06 so as not to confuse it with games at least some people liked. Sonic was a broken, buggy, awful mess of bad cameras and dull gameplay, and that’s before you get to weird interspecies romance in the story.

20 Years Ago This Month: November 1996

tomb-raider

The biggest PlayStation and PC release this month was a game most would forget had actually debuted on Sega’s Saturn a couple of weeks earlier. Tomb Raider would quickly become an iconic PlayStation title though, and its heroine a key figure in the system’s history. The aristocratic plum voiced Lara Croft was despite her upper class background, more than capable of kicking behinds of human and animal variety. This was truly a strong female lead in a medium largely where they were largely absent, though this would all be hijacked by sexualised marketing that was much less empowering.

Still, the game itself was a smartly designed and hugely atmospheric 3D interpretation of the cinematic platforming style of Prince of Persia or Flashback before it. Its tank controls were an unfortunate side effect of its host platforms, not fixed until 2006’s Anniversary, but Tomb Raider was certainly a must have holiday game for PS and PC.

Though a PlayStation port would appear in 1997, a more PC specific experience out this month was Diablo. Blizzard’s isometric RPG would earn an overwhelmingly positive response for its varied quests, online multiplayer, and swathes of loot.

diablo-1-5-1

Let the loot begin.

Less loot heavy, unless improbable flesh balloons count as loot, was Tecmo’s Dead or Alive, which found its way to PlayStation and Saturn. The fighter had somewhat of a unique twist on competing brawlers from Sega and Namco; ‘danger zones’ on the play field leant an interactivity with the environment. Knock your opponent into them and they would incur more explosive damage, and this idea would be taken further with multi stage arenas in sequels. Of course, DoA was also notable for an ‘age’ option. The higher you set this counter, the more female fighters’ improbably sized breasts would bounce about as they moved. DoA was a decent fighter underneath all this, but sleaze would win out over fist swings and the series is probably now more known for its Xtreme beach volleyball spinoff and creepy dating games.

The N64 still didn’t have a great fighting game to compete with the Tekkens, Virtua Fighters or even Dead or Alives of the world. Rare’s Killer Instinct was originally destined for N64, but with the console delayed, instead was downported from arcade to SNES. That means KI’s debut on N64 was in the form of Killer Instinct Gold, a modified conversion of arcade KI2. The arcade machine was getting long in the teeth at this point, and KI Gold’s pre rendered sprites on 3D backgrounds seemed all a bit old fashioned in winter ’96. It’s canned ‘dial-a’ combos didn’t earn many fans either. The hunt for a decent N64 fighting game dragged on.

30 Years Ago This Month: November 1986

akidd

The oft neglected Mark 3/Master System was yet to find its niche of Europe, where it had launched in the summer, and South America in 1986. With licensing issues and general support issues strangling the machine in Japan and that having a knock on effect on the Master System in the States, there really weren’t many great games for Sega’s console.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World was an attempt by Sega to turn their system around and create a mascot akin to Nintendo’s Mario. Like Mario, this was a platform game, with Alex running, jumping and punching enemies through a bunch of famously tough stages. The gameplay was fine if unremarkable, though most frustrating in its boss fights, which were settled by a Rock Paper Scissors battle (so you could die through no fault of your own at the end of the game). The slightly simian Kidd would stick around for a while, though Sega wouldn’t find its Mario answer for another few years.

Staying in Japan, Bandai brought the Family Trainer to the Famicom. This brightly coloured floor mat asked players to stand atop and physically run in place to make button presses (or, to a world of cheating fat kids, get on hands and knees and rapidly slap the pressure sensitive pads). The mat launched alongside Athletic World, a minigame collection of sprints and hurdles. Bandai would bring the system to the west in 1987, but Nintendo quickly saw its potential and bought the technology, rebranding it and its supported games under the Power Pad name. The short time software and hardware was on shelves under Bandai makes them amongst the rarest and most expensive NES titles.

The Sentinel helped cement Geoff Crammond as one of gaming's all time great creators.

The Sentinel helped cement Geoff Crammond as one of gaming’s all time great creators.

Over in the U.K., 8 bit computers had The Sentinel. Geoff Crammond would continue to grow a reputation for racing games, but this was a very different puzzle game. Depicted in abstract, but striking first person 3D, the idea was to get from the lowest point in a land to deposing the sentinel at its highest, not by moving but managing energy levels. You absorbed the energy from trees and other landscape elements and then constructed towers of blocks, creating a clone of yourself at a higher point, and then teleporting yourself toward it. The abstract design lent an ominous feel and made the game unforgettable.