It’s March, and as spring arrives, so too do a few games.

 

10 Years Ago This Month: March 2007

tekken 5
The exciting world of stock keeping units starts us off this month, as Microsoft announced the Xbox 360 Elite for sale in April. This black hued version of the console included the HDMI output missing from the initial launch model, and included a practically luxurious at the time 120 GB of hard drive space (it was, remember, an era where retail and downloadable spaces were separate, and Xbox Live Arcade games were fairly small). The Elite was still prone to the red ring of death however.

On 360, as well as PS3 was a pair of fighting games this month. Tekken 5 was another Tekken game and well received if unremarkable. Def Jam Icon meanwhile was a sad conclusion to the rapping fighting game series, removing the involvement of former wrestling masters AKI Corporation and including intriguing but immensely awkward mechanics built around its music.

Tom Clancy terrorist shooter Ghost Recon 2 Advanced Warfighter perhaps led the charge (oh!) at retail, and was most notable for its multiplayer action. The Ghost Recon franchise would disappear hereafter, returning, nearly, ten years on with generic looking open world conservofest Wildlands.

GoW2 was a spectacular sendoff for the PS2.

GoW2 was a spectacular sendoff for the PS2.

On the downloadable front though was the immensely endearing Puzzle Quest. A traditional feeling RPG, with dungeons and loot aplenty was tweaked with combat taking the form of a match three puzzle game. Different coloured gem matches would lead to melee and magic attacks, and with a pleasing amount of loot and the right balance of humour, Puzzle Quest was a deserved hit. While it achieved modest success on PSN and XBLA, it would find a more concrete home on mobile platforms, for better or worse depending on your take on free to play mechanics.

Finally, the humble old Playstation 2 was just about hanging in there when it came to the occasional big release. This month, God of War 2 appeared, and took its aging host platform to the absolute limit with impressively scaled battles against mythical foes. Its button mashing gameplay was nothing remarkable, but the sheer bombast of its set pieces, with a healthy dose of sex and violence, made it stand out even on dated hardware.

 

20 Years Ago This Month: March 1997

sotn

Nine months after its original release, March 1997 finally saw Europe receive the Nintendo 64. At last all major territories were on the same hardware generational page, but as PlayStation solidified its hold on the European market and Sega showed signs of struggle, Nintendo fairly limped out of the gates. Late to the game, the big N still only offered three titles at launch in the form of Pilotwings 64, Mario 64 and the risible Shadows of the Empire. All this for an absurd 250 Pounds in the U.K: remember that the system was originally priced for America at 250 Dollars and then dropped to 199 in order to be competitive with PlayStation and Saturn.

Nintendo’s European distributors, it was clear, had no clue what they were doing. Mere months later, the price of the system would be slashed to 150, around what it should have been in the first place. That early price drop understandably incensed early adopters however, and Nintendo had to respond with free games for the affected.

PlayStation owners had a brighter month, as while they’d have to wait another year for Namco’s excellent home port of Tekken 3, which hit arcades this month, they did have a meatier adventure. Koji Igarashi and Toru Hagihara brought Castlevania to the CD system with Symphony of the Night. Where the temptation to put Castlevania awkwardly into 3D was doubtless present, and would indeed be succumbed to by Konami on the N64, SotN was instead an impressively ambitious 2D adventure. By emphasizing exploration of its massive castle with new abilities, this was the Metroid like Castlevania that coined the Metroidvania name, and despite initial slow sales, went down as one of the Playstation’s most fondly remembered titles.

'Now, sir, you've had more than enough jam for one night.'

‘Now, sir, you’ve had more than enough jam for one night.’

On PC there was a different kind of adventuring to be done in Jordan Mechner’s Last Express. Somewhat removed mechanically from the Prince of Persia franchise he found fame with, Last Express was a point and click adventure that did retain his trademark style of rotoscoped animation, creating a detailed and timeless cartoon look to proceedings. The story involved itself with a murder aboard the Orient Express just before the outbreak of World War One. Gameplay meanwhile integrated the journey in real time, as passengers had different routines and story branches depended on whether you completed objectives quickly enough. It was a unque adventure with some genuinely compelling characters, but was doomed to commercial failure, eventually getting a second lease of life on iOS.

 

30 Years Ago This Month: March 1987

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On the European hardware front was the Spectrum Plus 2 this month. The first new machine produced under the Spectrum brand since Amstrad purchased Sinclair, this was basically identical with the prior Spectrum 128k, with an inbuilt tape deck. Amstrad’s CPC computer, which featured the same all in one tape player philosophy, was doing strongly in mainland Europe but faltered in the U.K., where Amstrad planned instead to sell the Speccy as a low cost gaming platform. This kept the Spectrum alive for a little longer, but more capable consoles and much more powerful computers were available or coming soon.

If you did have a new Speccy this month, you could have done a lot worse than getting Head Over Heels to play on it. An isometric puzzle adventure (it was the style at the time), HOH switched things up by having you control a two characters in the eponymous Head and Heels, each with their own abilities that needed to be combined to solve each of the 300 rooms in the game. Universally praised on Spectrum, it would head to other 8 bit computers later in the year, and eventually to ST and Amiga.

Great bit of volleyball, there.

Great bit of volleyball, there.

If you were more console inclined, there was a surprisingly busy month for Master System /Mark 3 owners. All at once sports game lovers got three titles in Sega’s Great series: Great Volleyball, Great Basketball and Great Football. After an initial debut of Great Golf and Great Soccer, the Great series had laid fallow for a while, maybe because despite some graphical bumps over their Famicom/NES equivalents, these games weren’t that Great at all. Now though, a rush of confidence at Sega brought us… three mediocre sports games with nicer graphics than you’d find on Nintendo’s machine and that’s about it. Ho-hum. There was however Super Wonder Boy, the console debut of Sega’s version of Hudson’s Adventure Island. Yes, it was that confusing. Wonder Boy would however grow to be a mascot of sorts for the MS going forward, rivaling Alex Kidd.

In Nintendo land, Konami gave us Goonies 2. A rare case of a movie licensed video game sequel without a movie to go along with it, Goonies 2 led to particular confusion in the west. The first Goonies game, an inoffensive platforming romp, only came west as an option in Play Choice 10 arcade cabs, meaning most never played it, and wondered where the first Goonies game was.

Anyway, irritating 8 bit rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s theme tune aside, this was an ambitious adventure. Playing as Mikey, you had to rescue the rest of the Goonies gang from the Fratellis by exploring a massive house. You’d have to venture through two versions of the same house, finding warp zones to take you to the ‘front’ or ‘rear’ map in a non linear way that evoked Symphony of the Night ten years later more than any other Konami work. You’d also have to explore rooms and solve puzzles in first person adventure game style, using new inventory items with a small verb list.