Oddly, April seems patchy in terms of news. Some years have a lot going on, and sometimes everyone’s busy starting school or eating Easter chocolate. Let’s dig in.

Ten Years Ago This Month: April 2007

superpaper

April 2007 was a quiet month indeed. There was something for Wii owners at least in the form of Super Paper Mario.

Paper Mario had a weird path as a series. Starting out on N64, it was meant as a sequel to Square’s Super Mario RPG. It took such a radically different visual approach though that its Super Famicom connections were dropped. Paper Mario spawned a GameCube sequel, while on GBA and DS, the Mario & Luigi games had a similar tongue in cheek role playing bent on handheld.

By the time the 3DS rolled around, Paper Mario would be in portable form too, but for now it was the console Mario RPG solution. In Wii based Super form, this was different again. It had the same sense of fun in its writing but had a much more action oriented bent, ditching turn based combat for more traditional platform leaping, and including environmental puzzle solving based around tilting the perspective on its dioramic worlds. While Nintendo never went back to the action RPG approach for Paper Mario, it was a well received game at the time, with a lot of the old Nintendo charm.

20 Years Ago This Month: April 1997

SF64

Headlining console releases this month, in Japan at least, was Starfox 64. A result of troubled development, this was made in concert with Starfox 2 on SNES, a sequel made by original developers at Argonaut. When the N64 was getting closer to completion, Nintendo pulled the plug on the ambitious 16 bit game very close to completion, and subsequently absorbed most of its ideas, including different vehicles and free flight sections joining the usual on rails shooting.

Benefitting the N64 version obviously was better production values, with voice acting throughout, and some nice visuals. Starfox 64 was also notable for introducing the Rumble Pack, a plugin for the N64 controller that would become standard for game controllers going forward.

The game itself was praised by press, but had its detractors. A short and fairly easy first play, the trick was in opening different routes through the game by fulfilling certain conditions, gaining access to those different vehicle missions (in tank and submarine form, to be honest, the game suffered somewhat).

Also on N64 was Doom 64. The title made many dismiss it as a port of a three year old PC game, but this wasn’t the case. It leveraged Doom’s art assets and general sense of motion and game rules sure, but this was otherwise a new game. The 2.5D engine the original was based on was now fully 3D, allowing rooms to exist directly above one another, a task impossible in the original engine. In general its all new maps were appreciated, but Doom still felt fairly old hat thanks to endless re-releases on other platforms, and the game got an undue kicking in the press.

Bless Theme Hospital for bringing us vomit waves.

Bless Theme Hospital for bringing us vomit waves.

Sega Saturn got a pair of underrated gems this month. Crime Wave was a pseudo open world isometric driving game that pit you as a bounty hunter driving around a map blasting criminals off the road. Despite being largely panned or dismissed in reviews, it was a charming and addictive little game.

Another charming Saturn exclusive was Die Hard Arcade, which made its way west this month after a Japanese debut earlier in the year. In its home territory, this was dubbed Dynamite Deka (Dynamite Cop), but with Sega securing the arcade rights to Die Hard, the license was slapped on the cabinet in the west and that transferred to the home port.

While Dynamite Deka and its sequel never got the masses of love and devotion other Sega franchises did, both were tremendous games. 3D beat em ups with a healthy dose of humour, Deka was fresh, funny and even fairly innovative: this was after all the first Sega game to incorporate quick time events in cutscenes with successful completion giving you an advantage in fights; all three years or so before Shenmue.

dungeon-keeper-pc

Forget the mobile remake.

PC had a brace of great games this month. For the cognitive and darkly comic, you had a couple of titles from Bullfrog. Theme Hospital was a spiritual successor to Theme Park, a game about laying out a hospital equipped to deal with some bizarre illnesses. Everything from physiological trauma of Bloaty Head Disease that turned patients heads into balloons to the more mental (those with King Complex believed they were Elvis Presley) had to be dealt with in a charming business simulation.

Still, Theme Hospital was quickly pushed to the background when Bullfrog’s other game came out this month. This time headlined by the studio’s A crew with Peter Molyneux at the helm, Dungeon Keeper cast you as the demon in charge of a dungeon invaded by do-good heroes. The dark humour in this charming RTS earned it quick cult status, and many hold it as Molyneux and Bulldog’s best.

If you were more action oriented, X Wing Versus TIE Fighter was for you. Following on from the Rebel and Dark Side focused DOS games, this combination of the two had an entirely multiplayer focus. Single player missions did exist, but as stand alone affairs with no storyline connecting them. Instead a single player expansion was put out later on.

An online focused AAA game in 1997, even on PC, was a rarity, and X Wing Versus TIE Fighter perhaps suffered in people’s long term memories as a result. Still, Lucas’ space flight shooting was tough to beat.

30 Years Ago This Month: April 1987

Amiga500_system1

Things were fairly quiet in Europe this month, but there was a limited hardware launch of note. While the rest of the world had to wait until the early autumn, Holland, and Holland alone got Commodore’s Amiga 500.

With awkward pricing that gave it middle ground between the home friendly and still supported C64, and the more professional IBM PCs, the Amiga A1000 felt neither fish nor fowl. It didn’t help that marketing in the west was meandering and directionless, but Commodore in Europe had better ideas. With the graphical and sound capabilities of the hardware, this was an impressive games machine.

As a result, joining a more powerful A2000 business model was the 500. This brought the floppy disc drive into the unit, and made for a relatively compact gamer friendly solution that with 512k of onboard expandable RAM and a nice keyboard was still a versatile home computer. With a TV modulator later packed in that removed the requirement of a monitor, and impressive software bundles, the A500 would take over the European computer market into the early ’90s.

If you were more of an 8 bit gamer, Rocky punched his way into the Master System. Perhaps as a result of the most recent fourth movie of the franchise being two years old by now, and rights likely being cheaper as a result, the license accompanied a game that doubtless otherwise would be called Great Boxing. The game was a decent interpretation of the sweet science, though. The pugilism itself was decent, if near farcically tough, and the game was graphically stunning given the limitations of its host hardware, big chunky sprites giving a distinctly arcade feel.

Speaking of the arcade, there was a big conversion this month. Nekketsu Koha Kunio Kun was a 1986 arcade release by Tecnos, a beat ’em up involving the eponymous Kunio as a high school ‘yankee’ tough. That game was localized for the rest as Renegade, a game that provided the back bone for Double Dragon later on. For now though Renegade/Kunio Kun made its way to Famicom and NES. With Nintendo’s 8 bit hardware unable to replicate the gritty realism and big sprites of the arcade, this game had a radically different art style. The characters shrank, and were a good deal more cartoonish. This endeared many to the Kunio character, and this direction is what the franchise became known for.

Renegade, interestingly enough, would have more po faced and direct conversions on 8 bit computers, published by Ocean. These were well received, especially on Spectrum. Ocean would retain the home rights to Renegade, leading to a sequel, Target Renegade heading straight to C64, CPC and Spectrum. That game would be ported to NES as well, while Kunio Kun’s official sequel would be localized as River City Ransom. Target Renegade was a decent game; the subsequent Renegade 3, involving time traveling dinosaur punching, was a mess.

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