The peak of summer brings very few games, but the ones it does are pretty significant. Let’s take a look.

10 Years Ago This Month: August 2007

bioshock_pc.0

If you wanted to spend the summer of 2007 playing games, the arcades were probably the worst place for you. That even in Japan game centres were lacking in actual video games had been a fact of life for a long while by now, but that wasn’t all. It turned out even the side show attraction like machines were hazardous to your ability to play games at home.

Altus had to recall a game called Arm Spirit after it broke three people’s arms. Spirit indeed. It was a test of strength style affair where you had to arm wrestle a mechanical arm, but if customers didn’t engage with the machine properly it could wrench bones in painful fashion. Altus claimed that the machine was wimpy enough ‘so that even women could win’ (their words not ours) but with it evidently rather armful (eh?), the machines had to go.

If you had your arms in one place, you could dip into a pair of big name first person shooters this month. Bioshock sought to combine the first person adventuring of the System Shock games with a heavy dose of Ayn Rand determinism. As you fought through an undersea dystopia, you had to make use of a variety of different drug fuelled powers along with your guns. As a shooter it was perhaps a little repetitive, but its focus on narrative felt fresh and novel, and plaudits and sales were numerous.

On Wii was Metroid Prime 3. Arguably, web by mid 2007, the Wii was lacking attention from core players, and MP3 didn’t get the level of focus its GameCube predecessors earned. Still, it’s exploratory blasting, now with added motion controls, was appreciated by those that played it as a worthy entry in the series.

20 Years Ago This Month: August 1997

goldeneye

August typically sees a lack of games, and historically ones that were released tended to be poor licensed affairs based on Hollywood blockbusters. That’s what we had in 1997, except the blockbuster was from two years prior, and the game was really good.

Goldeneye had been in the works by Rare for quite a while. Originally developed as an on rails competitor to Sega’s Virtua Cop in arcades and on Saturn, Rare realised a more free form nature suited the game better. The result was a first person shooter that redefined what people expected of the genre, especially on console. Simple runs through maze like levels were out and in were objective based missions that met the feel of the movie. Goldeneye emphasised the strengths of the James Bond character, with lots of goofy technology and a healthy amount of stealth supplementing heavy duty death dealing.

It was in multiplayer Goldeneye had most legs though, and while frame rates crashed to the single figures when four players crowded around the TV, nobody seemed to mind. The competitive play would be the stuff of nostalgia for a whole generation, and would be the benchmark of competitive multiplayer on console until hardware went online.

30 Years Ago This Month: August 1987

SF

August 1987 was a month of dubious games that garnered big names, and other titles that deserved more love than they got.

On the big name stinkers front, Epyx’s California Games. Taking their established ‘games’ mini game formula and giving it a healthy dose of late 1980s surfer ‘cool’, this was a poor collection. From surfing to the half pipe and BMX, every event handled badly and the inclusion of a beanbag based keepy uppy game was just mystifying. Still, this was a period where Epyx was enjoying some popularity, and hopping on proto extreme sports culture led the title to sell in insane numbers, and be ported to countless devices. Go fig.

Street Fighter would only receive one proper port, to PC Engine as the woeful Fighting Street. That’s not to say Capcom’s arcade original was all that much better. A one on one fighting game, the machine was less focused on solid gameplay than it was concerned with a gimmicky pressure sensitive control system. As a fighter, it was weak, and grossly unbalanced (master the Dragon Punch and you’d win absolutely every match). Still it would earn a sequel, which was set to transform the game into a walk and brawl beat ’em up. When that game evolved into Final Fight, the Street Fighter name was retained for a fighter of much higher quality and the rest is later history.

On Famicom Square brought us Highway Star, brought to the west as Rad Racer to avoid clashing names with the song, presumably. An into the screen racer, the game would receive some appreciation, especially for being one of the titles in the Nintendo World Championships that served as the background for feature length Super Mario Bros. 3 commercial The Wizard. Nevertheless, Sega’s arcade presence and a strong home port on Master System meant that years later it was Outrun that people remembered over Square’s game.

Makes sense.

Makes sense.

Still, it was Konami’s month on the Famicom, and the disk system specifically. Following on from last month’s surprisingly innovative and never localized Getsufuu Maden was Almana no Kiseki. A very much Indiana Jones ‘inspired’ platformer about delving into mysterious caves, its main gimmick was your grappling hook, which shot out at 45 degree angles and allowed you to make tricky climbs. A few frustrations with that core mechanic aside, it was a fresh feeling and entertaining romp that would be cruelly forgotten.

More widely remembered, though sometimes ruefully, would be Dracula 2: Noroi no Fuin (the Cursed Seal). The FDS game would be brought to the west as Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, and took the game in a vastly different direction to the platforming action of the first game, and even its direct successors. A more adventure driven title, the game had light RPG elements as you explored towns and talked to residents to buy items and get hints on how the game’s world worked.

These workings were deliberately obtuse, and the game often required the player to perform bizarre actions or carry odd inventory items to advance. Even with the enigmatic hints provided by the game’s denizens, most players likely wouldn’t know to crouch for a specific amount of time in a specific place to summon a tornado, or any number of the game’s secrets. Still, as an important step in foreshadowing the series’ future non linear nature, and with novel ideas like a day/night cycle that changed the world around you, Castlevania 2 was significant, if not unanimously loved.

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