The Game Jar Files: The Launch Titles Time Forgot

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 09/09/2013

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If you’ve been a gamer for any real length of time, the chances are that you’ve probably bought at least one console on launch day. And, if you have, you’ll be familiar with the agony of choosing which games you’re going to buy alongside your shiny new hardware. It’s a perilous process, and one that I’ve gotten wrong more than once. But what if your selections are good? What happens to the titles left on the shelf? Well, they get forgotten about, most likely. They become the games that “weren’t Halo” or “weren’t Timesplitters”, and end up abandoned in our memories, left to sit in some dark corner of our brains, sulking until someone remembers them, and decides to write an article.

Clockwork Knight – Sega Saturn – July 1995

If it’s ever possible to feel sorry for a game during its release, I feel sorry for this one. There it is, pleased a punch to be given the honour of being a launch day title, only to find that it has to compete with the giants of Daytona USA, Panzer Dragoon, and Virtua Fighter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was an unsuccessful game, just that with such competition it’s no wonder it hardly ever gets a mention when gamers reminisce about the Saturn. It is fondly remembered by those who owned it however. Featuring “Pepper”, the Clockwork Knight himself, this side-scrolling platformer saw the wind-up toy solider embark upon a quest to rescue his love, the Clockwork Fairy Princess, Chelsea. Utilising a graphical technique similar to that used for Donkey Kong Country, Clockwork Knight had an exceedingly charming look and feel about it. It may not have had the wow-factor of its fellow launch titles, but it does deserve to be recalled more often.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter – Nintendo 64 – March 1997

Way back in 1997, long before it’s reputation was ruined by an awful reboot, the name Turok meant something to gamers. Released nearly six months before GoldenEye 007, Turok was the only first person shooter available on launch day, and the first game to hint at just what Nintendo’s new machine might be capable of in third-party hands. Featuring an open, 3D world rendered with cutting edge graphics, Turok was a visually stunning game that left gamers in no doubt that the new Nintendo 64 was going to be used for far more than rendering fat plumbers in primary colours. Turok also shattered the myth that only Nintendo themselves were capable of creating the very best games for their platform. Rare might have refined certain aspects of the FPS later on with GoldenEye, but Turok remained a benchmark title throughout the consoles lifespan, and it certainly deserves to be remembered as fondly.

Fanta Vision – PlayStation 2 – November 2000

Originally conceived as a hardware tech demo, Fanta Vision was the dark horse of the PlayStation 2’s launch line up. Sat alongside other launch day heavyweights such as Tekken Tag Tournament, Ridge Racer and Timesplitters, gamers didn’t really know what to think of the fireworks-based puzzler to begin with. The doubts didn’t last long however, as Fanta Vision soon earned itself a reputation for being the game you bought if you really wanted to see what your PlayStation 2 was capable of. As a puzzle game, it had the right balance of addictiveness and difficulty to keep you coming back for more, and the EU version had an added versus mode too, but it was its technical prowess that really captured the imagination. Fanta Vision’s launch day competition certainly went on to be more popular, but none of them were as technically impressive.

Rumble Roses XX – Xbox 360 –

I’ll admit I’m cheating here slightly, as RR XX was more of a launch window title, rather than a day one release, but I just had to include it, because if there’s one game I’m glad time forgot, it’s Rumble Roses. If you’ve never heard of this game, think a less classy Dead or Alive with more jiggling and you’ll be there. Along with some questionable “grappling” gameplay, the game also featured a gratuitous amount of crotch shots, skimpy costumes that covered as little amount of breast as possible, and more kinds of female slut archetypes that any sexually repressed teenage boy could ever wish for. I’ve played many terrible games over the years, only Rumble Roses XX has managed to make me feel dirty and ashamed whilst playing it. The actual combat was so bad, this game could have only been about one thing; fapping. It was a terrible game, and I’m glad they’ve never made another one. Now excuse me while I go take a shower…

The Game Jar Files: Tragedy! Gaming’s darkest moments.

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 01/03/2013

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The decline of the coin-op. When I was growing up, arcade machines were (almost) everywhere; in the chip shop, in the news agents, in the video rental shop. I could walk around my local area with a pocket full of twenty pence coins, pop into one of them and get my gaming fix. Today, they’re still around, but nowhere near as prolific. That makes me sad, because once upon a time the humble coin-op was the fuel for our collective gaming passions. If you were a child who had parents that failed to see the educational value of a home console, you could still get your gaming on, all  thanks to the coin-op. If you wanted to play the very latest games way before they were released on console, you could do it, all thanks to the coin-op. And if you wanted to get a hint of what the next generation of home console hardware might be capable of, you could do it, all thanks to the coin-op. I know arcades are still around, but they’re not the same. They’re not cheap to play, they’re not at the cutting edge of gaming technology, and they’re not just around the corner. The next generation of gamers are growing up without the coin-op experience, and that’s a damn shame.

Microsoft buys rare. On the face of it, Microsoft’s buyout of Rare in 2002 was a good thing. The company’s future was secured, they might not still be in business if they’d stayed independent, so why have I included it here? Well, my reasoning is best summed up by this quote from studio head Scott Henson: “Kinect will be the main focus for Rare going forwards as it’s a very rich canvas. This is just the beginning of an experience that will touch millions of people.”  The studio that bought us Killer Instinct, Golden Eye 64, Perfect Dark, Donkey Kong Country, and Banjo-Kazooie now reduced to creating Xbox Avatar fluff, and Kinect shovelware. I’ll admit, there’s a possibility that I’ve put the rose-tinted spectacles on, and that I’m over-exaggerating the level of Rare’s past glory, but I still find it heartbreaking to see this once great studio spending their time doing what they’re doing now. Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero may not have been examples of their finest work, but they were launch titles, the studio soon proved they’d relocated  their game making mojo again with Viva Piñata, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts and, and Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise. All three games demonstrated that the studio is still capable of producing good quality, enjoyable games. If they’re allowed to do so. Which they’re not. They do what Microsoft tell them to do, and Microsoft tell them to make Kinect games. That’s why their buyout was a tragedy.

Publisher buys studio, closes them down. Originally I intended to focus solely on Activision’s buyout and subsequent closing of Bizarre Creations for this one, then I recalled the multitude of other studio closures over the last couple of years, and realised that the real tragedy was the repeating pattern of buyouts and closures itself. The pattern is thus: A small-to-medium sized developer starts to build itself a reputation for making good games. Their latest release becomes a minor hit. Not a “blockbuster” by any means, but a big enough that the studio can consider future expansion, and more ambitious games. This catches the eye of a big publisher, who then goes on to buy the studio, and any original IP they might have. From this point on, the studio make the games they’re told to make, and when they don’t reach blockbuster levels of success, the studio is closed down. The publisher creams off all the original IP, offers to relocate a minority of the staff to one of their soulless game making factories, and make everyone else jobless. Too many promising studios have gone in the last few years, their IP gobbled up and mothballed by publishers uninterested in anything original. Never before has the world of game development looked so grim.

Sega pulls out of the console market. If you’re the sort of gamer that gets all misty-eyed by the merest mention of Shenmue or Jet Set Radio, you’ll need no reminder that January 31st 2001 was one of the darkest days in the history of gaming. After three years of continuous annual losses, Sega finally announced that they would become a third-party publisher only, and leave the hardware business for good. To say that it was big news at the time would be an understatement. Gamers that could trace their console owning heritage right back to the Master System now had to come to terms with the fact that the line would end with the Dreamcast. Even those of us with other consoles felt the shock waves.  A major player in the console business had waved the white flag, and given up. I personally never owned a Sega console, but I had plenty of family and friends that did, and as a result I spent many hours happy hours gaming on them. I understood what it meant to see the hardware go. Ask any Sega fan why they love the company and you’ll hear a variety of different reasons, but for me, they’ll always be the company that were most successful at bringing the arcade machine into our living rooms. Once upon a time, the best looking games were found in the arcade first. It was where the cutting edge technology was found. So seeing games like Daytona USA, Sega Rally, or Virtua Fighter arrive in our homes, and visually comparable, was impressive. That link between the arcades and the home console is just one small facet of what was the “Sega way”. No other manufacturer has replicated that ethos, and that’s why we miss them.

So there we have it, the biggest events to occur in gaming that I really wish hadn’t happened. They’re all personal to me, so I rather suspect that you probably would have chosen differently. Canvassing the Game Jar staff threw up a whole host of suggestions, the implosion of THQ just as things were starting to get interesting, Star Wars Battlefront 3’s cancellation, John Romero leaving ID and the subsequent closing of Ion Storm afterwards, all things that never crossed my mind when writing this. So that obviously begs the question what would be on your list? What things would you change given the chance?

And you’re not allowed to mention Final Fantasy VII or Aeris…

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