Games in February. Like Valentines from game developers. We don’t get many. Um.

10 Years Ago This Month: February 2007

Crackdown1

In a slow news month, Fumito Ueda’s Team Ico grabbed a headline or two with a job listing. Studios hire all the time, but still fairly fresh off of Shadow of the Colossus, all eyes were on the team. Advertising for PS3 programmers, the listing also featured a teasing image of a well with a chain emerging from it. A scant nine years and ten months later, the fruits of all this labour would be revealed.

Releases this month really gained in significance in retrospect rather than making a splash out the gates. Crackdown was receiving more attention for bundling in a beta for Halo 3 rather than its own intrinsic quality. That quality was quite high, and the game would garner a cult following. Based around a league of super powered police officers taking on a city of criminals, it was a fun open world experience, with a focus on taking on challenging exercises in navigation to get agility orbs to level up with.

The other title was a tiny PC release by independent studio Popcap. The team had already found success with casual match three game Bejeweled, and fish muncher Feeding Frenzy. Yet these were based on already existing concepts from games going as far back as the 1980s. Peggle was an original title based loosely on Pachinko. It was a reverse Pachinko in a way, with some skill elements added to the popular Japanese gambling game. You had to aim a launcher at the bottom of the screen to fire a ball onto a board of coloured pins. It doesn’t sound like much, but a relaxed pace, and some saccharine presentation with just the right level of self aware humour made for an addictive experience and a massive success for its creators.

20 Years Ago This Month: February 1997

mk64

After a very slow post launch period, N64 owners finally had reason to celebrate this month with a brace of top titles.

Chief among them was Mario Kart 64. As racing games o competing systems had trouble merging realistic aesthetics with digital controls, MK64 was certainly vibrant and cutest, but with analogue support, offered more nuanced handling than any other console racer of the time. Of course, that was all wrapped in the character driven whimsy of Mario Kart, all as fun as ever. With four player split screen support, this was a great party outing in straight racing or bubble popping battle mode. Its tracks meanwhile were full of quirks and secrets to master, making for an accessible experience that was still skill driven and rewarded the player who put the time in.

Staying automotive, but with more of an explosive bent to its cartoonish chaos was Rare’s Blast Corps. A kind of madcap puzzle game, it out you in control of a bulldozer attempting to protect everyone from a nuclear warhead on an out of control truck. By smashing things in the missile’s path, there’ll be plenty of collateral damage, but ends justified means. BC was largely forgotten in favour of the other two 64 bit releases this month, but was mighty fun.

Finally, Iguana and Acclaim brought us Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. This was a first person shooter based on a property from Acclaim’s comic book division, and while the console FPS had a ways to go, this was a brave effort. The game brought sprawling environments and impressive Quake like verticality. Meanwhile, we had a novel control scheme that put free look on the analogue stick while using the C Buttons on the N64 controller to move, neatly predicting how console shooters would be played decades later. Those levels were rather too big though, easily getting the player lost, and the N64 just wasn’t up to the task either. Horrible frame rates were paired with so much pop up disguising fog that dinosaurs could only be hunted if they were roughly one meter from your face. Still, the game’s ludicrous weaponry and level of gore got some fans.

Moving to PlayStation, we had a pair of games with interesting legacy. Koei brought us Sangoku Musou, a title later localized as Dynasty Warriors. It was a nondescript fighting game that pitted historical Chinese figures against one another. It wasn’t until the PS2 that the franchise found its feet, Shin Sangoku Musou bringing the free roaming beat em up style that would be rigorously exploited for years to come.

Finally was THQ’s WCW Versus the World. Developed by The Man Breeze before they rebranded as AKI Corporation, this was the team’s Virtual Pro Wrestling, released in Japan weeks prior, localized and with a WCW license slapped on. Interestingly, while WCW talent took center stage here, many Japanese wrestlers managed to stay in the game, albeit with their names subtly altered. The game managed to strike a good balance between the slow and stodgy pace of its 3D rivals and the lightning speed of the likes of Fire Pro Wrestling. It showed good potential, though as successive Virtual Pro Wrestling games were put out on N64, it was that platform that got the fruits of AKI’s labour, while the PlayStation got the truly awful WCW Nitro and Thunder.

30 Years Ago This Month: February 1987

contra

Not much was happening in the west this month, but there was a growing sense of unease among individual developers and small studios. 16 bit machines were taking hold, and gradually games were taking the lead of Defender of the Crown and its ilk in being developed for those machines first, rather than being ported up. Even in the case of Microprose output like Silent Service, the 16 bit ports hitting Amiga and ST this month were the result of a two year process and not slapdash.

As happens at the start of every generation, there was a fear that development costs were rising and the industry would be less inventive as a result. Zzap! 64 led with a lengthy editorial bemoaning publishers playing things safe with known quantities or licensed properties. Among the developers quoted with a message of warning were Jon Hare and Chris Yates of Sensible Software, but we wouldn’t have to worry about them going straight laced for a while; the utterly insane Wizball was just around the corner.

Things were even light in Japan this month. With very little on home consoles, the biggest release in arcades came courtesy of Konami. Contra was a ferociously tough run and gun affair that blended side scrolling sections with into the screen pseudo 3D. Despite its difficulty, Contra had visual spectacle and satisfying action, especially with two players together, a feature cruelly removed from the European arcade release. Still, it was for the next year’s home release that Contra would become well known, along with its cheat code to make things ever so slightly easier.

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Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)