Category Archives: OMFG

My Favourite Games (20 of Them)

Originally written for RLLMUK’s ‘Top 100 Games of Our Times 2017″ thread I spent so bloody long on this it seemed a shame to waste it on one small corner of geeks on the internet when I could put it on here and drone on to my friends and family too.

So here it is,  My 20 Games of All Time! 

Read it.

 

20. Digidrive (Gameboy Advance)

Everyone will try and tell you that Tetris is the best puzzle game of all time but this is only because they haven’t played this. Digidrive can broadly be described as really fucking intense filing. You have to organise a bunch of shapes into sets before cashing them in and moving a curling puck along an infinite lane. It’s gloriously abstract and looks like the kind of thing that you’d see on the screen of a seventies science fiction show. It also feels a little bit like what I imagine being an air traffic controller is like. Constantly spinning plates, constantly stacking, constantly wanting your eyes to point in opposite directions so you can take it all in. Like all the best puzzlers it doesn’t dick about with a hundred modes, diluting the purity of the main score attack. When you lose the only thing left to do is to strap yourself back in and have another go. When I talk about my favourite games Digidrive is always the one that’s greeted by blank looks, but if you’re the type of person that takes an inordinate amount of pleasure looking at a perfectly alphabetised set of video games on a shelf then there’s a very good chance you’ll bloody love this. It’s the pleasure of sorting shit out (admittedly followed by the horror of it all falling to pieces, but nevermind that, eh?).

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I don’t think I need to explain what is going on here.

19. Overwatch (Playstation 4)

Winston, the cheerful, blue space gorilla who is definitely not inspired by Beast from X-Men, opens Overwatch with a stirring call to arms. I’ve played this game an awful bloody lot (it completely dominated my Summer of ’16, to the point that over games just felt like they were getting in the way) but I still occasionally feel the need to sit through his lovable half-Churchill-the-man and half-Churchill-the-dog schtick. It’s a perfect appetiser for the game ahead; offering the chance to shine but also promising the awesome, high-fiving potential of good teamwork. And it’s in the classic curriculum vitae attributes of working well in a group but also independently, that make Overwatch so incredibly addictive. It’s impossible to succeed alone, you have to work together. But when you send D.Va’s exploding mech into the middle of a bunch of foo’s you’ll feel like a total dude. Or perhaps you’ll proudly toot Bastion’s kazoo, transform into a tank, turn the game into your favour, and nod and smile like they do on the telly. Or maybe you’ll produce a gauntlet of Symettra’s turrets so deviously placed you’ll have no choice but to leap from the sofa, beat your chest and proudly declare that this is your house. Maybe you’ll get the Play of the Game, maybe you won’t, but at some point you will likely have felt like a total hero AND like a cog in a unstoppable machine. You’re in the God damn Overwatch, man, and sweet Jesus it feels good.

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Oh well, that’s a simply delicious broth.

18. WipEout HD (Playstation 3)

Back in the days when a video game could find itself the epitome of cool by simply having its main character wear a baseball cap backwards, WipEout strutted it’s way on the scene like Arthur Fonzarelli. Back then, it was really a case of style over substance, but over the years it evened out until you’ve got what you’ve got here; stylish substance to go with that substantial style. HD is the absolute pinnacle of the face-melting, super-speed racing genre. The kind of game that makes you grind your teeth and the veins stick out on your temples. It’s so intense that to play is to have your fingernails permanently imbedded into the plastic of the pad. It’s so fast that there’s a danger of drying your eyes through fear of blinking. You can finish a tournament having given your stomach and bum cheeks a proper workout from all the involuntary crunches. And my God it looks and sounds completely gorgeous. My favourite genre of music is basically ‘WipEout’ and you’ve never seen anything this buttery smooth. Not even butter. And then there’s Zone Mode; where your ship gradually gets faster and faster until you crash and explode; which is like a feverish, cheese-fuled night terror but a somehow fucking awesomely fun one. WipEout is brash, unforgiving, difficult and endearingly out-of-date in it’s definition of what’s cool. It’s Super Hans, basically, and a whole world of brilliant.

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“Kids and grownups love it so, the happy world of…”

17. Splatoon 2 (Switch)

There’s this bit, a minute from the end of every match, where the music in Splatoon goes absolutely fucking mental. It’s the musical equivalent of overdosing a class of preschoolers on tangfastics, except somehow not horrible. And it’s a perfect summary of everything that makes Splatoon (and it’s sequel, which adds just enough to make it superior to the original) so much fun to play. There’s a structure to the chaos, a method to the madness. What may first appear to be a game about making a mess and flinging paint around (if you were being unkind, a shooter where you don’t really have to aim) soon reveals itself to be ridiculously deep with a whole bunch of genius tweaks that fix everything that’s wrong with the online shooter. And it’s a team sport that absolutely bloody perfect for loners like me. This is a game in which it is virtually impossible to be mean to, or to embarrass, your teammates; and for those of us that struggle with this kind of social interaction online, it’s an absolute godsend. One of the only ways you can communicate is to say ‘booyah!’ and I’m yet to met a someone that is able to deploy that phrase sarcastically. You get all the benefits of friendly camaraderie and a sense of belonging without having to, y’know, actually speak to anyone. Shut the door and close the windows, outside is dead to me now. I’ve got all I need right here.

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As this ad suggests, I am the CEO of one of the corporations in Splatoon. Consume.

16. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch)

“Mario Kart Eiiiiiiiiight!!!” cheerfully booms the title screen as you strap yourself in and prepare to swear constantly at a bunch of bastard cartoon characters. But despite being a series that always had the ability to turn the air bluer than it’s skies, Mario Kart has simply never been more thrilling, competitive and outrageously fun as it is here. Each race takes place on a knife edge; where mistakes are forgiven as quickly as they are punished, ensuring that you always feel like you have a chance whilst also allowing the cream to rise to the top. My absolute favourite game to play online, get yourself in a decent lobby full of cheerful chappies and the hours just fly by in a swirl of victory, defeat and disbelief at other players preference to race on Rainbow Road over Melody Motorway. Ah yes, the tracks, MY GOD THE TRACKS. Stunningly beautiful, fantastically designed and utterly devious. I could power-slide-into-leap over that baggage carousel in Sunshine Airport all day. How fucking cool does it feel to pick up the Master Sword in Hyrule Castle? I actually want sell the house and move to Toad Harbour. And the music is so completely fantastic I’m thinking of hiring a swing band to play the theme from Royal Raceway so that I can hear that triumphant trumpet live. That cry on the title screen doesn’t just tell you what the game is, it tells you how the game feels. And it feels Mario Kart greaaaaaaaaaat!

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Grumble Volcano over Mount Wario is easily the worst democratic decision of the past few years. EASILY.

15. Virtue’s Last Reward (Playstation Vita)

My poor, long-suffering wife has perfected the art of appearing vaguely interested when I prattle on incessantly about my latest obsession, but VLR is one of the few times she was genuinely riveted by what I had to say. A game in which the game bits are almost certainly the weakest parts, this is an impossibly brilliant visual novel with a narrative that’s difficult to talk about in any great detail without giving some of the game away. What I can say is that it tells a story that simply could not be delivered in any other medium and that to try and do so would make it demonstrably worse. The way that each player will come to it’s ridiculously long list of explosive revelations differently means that to play it is to feel like a member of an exciting, exclusive club. Where the members talk in hushed tones about the sheer genius of the thing. I wish I could explain to you how good this is but I just can’t so you’re simply going to have to go and play it immediately. You will thank me later.

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Some of my notes from when I was playing. The rest are scrawled across the wall and tattooed on by body.

14. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Playstation 2)

What I love so much about Metal Gear is how Kojimary it is. Hideo Kojima’s style is so weird and unique; deadly serious musings about nuclear weapons one minute, fourth wall breaking silliness and men who can shoot bees put of their mouths the next; that there’s no better word for it. To my mind, Snake Eater is the Kojimarist of the lot. Without the pressure of selling the newest Playstation (that perhaps caught Snake a little surprised in the vision cone for entries 2 and 4) MGS3 was able to fully embrace the mental and jibber-jabber away incessantly to any of us who were willing to listen. Yeah, it still doesn’t know when to stop talking and yeah it takes an absolute bloody age to get going , but once it does you’ve got a series of tightly designed, fantastically fun stealth sandboxes and a million-and-one ways in which to approach them. And these playgrounds are bookended with some truly memorable boss fights and moments of mad genius. I think the infamous and ridiculously tense battle with old mouldy sniper The End took me an entire Sunday afternoon the first time I did it. I absolutely love the bit towards the end when you’re about to be blown sky high and The Sorrow antagonises you through the cut scenes with a countdown to your death. The game is basically begging you to say “c’mon get on with it!” as main antagonist Volgin yabbers on, in what I hope was a bit of brilliant self-awareness from the developers. And what about the wink to the camera that is *literally* a wink to the camera? But perhaps the most Kojimary bit of them all is when it turns its ridiculous, Bond-inspired theme tune (lest we forget, featuring the line “some day you’ll feed on a tree frog”) into an unforgettable moment of drama. Snake Eater may only be the second best game to feature a really long climb up a ladder (number 3 on this list also has one; perhaps this is just something I’m into) but its really long climb up a ladder is undoubtedly the best. Mad as a box of frogs. A box of delicious, nutritious frogs.

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Snake? Snake?! SNAAAAAAAAKE! (no, I don’t currently have easy access to the game to take a screenshot in case you’re wondering)

13. Nex Machina (Playstation 4)

Y’know in Pulp Fiction when Uma Thurman gets a shot of adrenaline thumped right into her heart? That’s what it’s like to press the start button in Nex Machina. From the moment your little Daft Punk avatar careens across the screen on a Tron inspired motorcycle, leaping through the sky and into action, the game grabs you by the scruff of your neck and shoves your face right into the screen demanding that you pay attention and fucking enjoy yourself. It’s so obscenely intense I would genuinely recommend that it’s avoided by those with a family history of heart conditions. As it is, I tend to finish a level discovering that I’m so rigid with concentration that I’m no longer perched on the edge of the sofa but gripped, mid-air in a seating position, lungs bursting as I’ve been holding my breath for the entire duration. It’s a utter masterclass in design, with random elements jostling with regular enemy formations to keep you constantly on your toes. Each level contains so many secrets that in order to max a score you’ll be giving your brain as much of a workout as your fingers. Think on this; It’s a twin-stick shooter that’s so ludicrously difficult that despite briefly having a score in the top 100, there’s a boss that I suspect I’ll never see. *That’s* the level of love and attention that’s gone into this thing. It’s a game designed to still be played thirty, forty, fifty years into future; new players honing their skills and discovering new techniques.  And much like its forefather and inspiration Robotron, you wouldn’t bet against that happening.

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Cool, top 100! 69th?! Huh, huh. Sweet.

12. Super Meat Boy (Xbox 360)

Meat Boy may always be smiling, but it’s obvious within seconds of starting that he hates you and your stupid fucking fingers. This game is ridiculously hard. Outrageously tough. It features levels that surely must have been put together by a spike fetishist in a huff. It strikes me as the kind of thing that the naughty kids at Nintendo (who sit at the back of the class and throw screwed up bits of paper at Miyamoto) would make if they were allowed to stop making games about magic triangles and moustaches. It’s got that same lavish level of attention; that feeling that the placement of every single platform has been agonised over; that you only really find in Mario games. Its also got that same glorious level of tactility and control. The stickiness as you slide down the walls, the softness of the landing, the flap-flapping as he breaks into a run. Meat Boy was one of the first in a revival of rock hard platformers, but unlike others that seemed to reward a measured, thoughtful response, this rewards going hell-for-leather and making quick decisions on the fly. Its retro-inspired style has been used so many times now that it feels weirdly of its time, but although Meat Boy may not be as rare as he once was he is still exceptionally well done.

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I think this sums up what it’s like to play Meat Boy rather accurately

11. Resident Evil 4 (GameCube)

Every time I replay this (and I replay it *a lot*; I’ve literally bought it on five machines FFS) I’m amazed at how consistently not-shit it is. Over its twenty odd hours, it’s never anything but balls-out brilliant. Many of the games on this list have a piss on themselves somewhere, but Resident Evil 4 just…doesn’t. It’s hit after hit. It’s a game with none of the ‘oh, not this bit’ bits. And on top of that it’s all so fantastically weird. There’s a bit when you’re chased by a forty foot statue of a dwarf. There’s a system which involves taking you out of the game and calmly making sure your guns are arranged in your inventory correctly. There’s this bloke and he has the weirdest fucking accent. He sounds like a cockney farmer and he sells you things and you’ll fall completely in love with him. Whether by design or accident (although I suspect the latter) the naff, cheesy, cliche-ridden story goes beyond awful and comes back round again resulting in the finest 80s action movie ever written. But Resident Evil 4 is really all about the combat; that wonderful, nail-biting, back-against-the-wall, last-minute-save combat. I’ve heard this horrible rumour that the youth of today don’t really get on with it. That somehow the tank controls and the inability to move when firing makes it seem outdated. Imagine being one of those poor bastards. Imagine not liking Resident Evil 4. Unthinkable.

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I love this guy. “What are you planning to purchase from me?” Haha, classic.

10. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

A few years back I’d come to the stupid conclusion that rose-tinted spectacles and what was the thrill of the new would mean that Nintendo would never make a better 3D Mario for me than 64. Of course as history has repeatedly shown, it doesn’t get much more Nintendo than to completely knock it out of the park when you’ve been written off. And so, snuck out on that machine that no one bought, they went and bloody did a three dimensional sequel to Super Mario World. What 3D World made me realise is that nothing, NOTHING, in Mario can really compare with the “go over there” simplicity of a level with a start and a finish. Jumping through paintings and exploring shit is all very well and good but I play Mario to jump, to run, to backflip and to ‘woo-hoo-hoo’. To test my reflexes on the best obstacle courses the best designers have to offer. And it’s an absolute testament to those bad ass motherfuckers, that playing as anyone else in 3D World just feels a bit wonky. Everything about Mario just feels *right*. Is there anyone sweeter to control? I think I’ve probably got less of a grip over the movement of my own body than I do over Mario’s. I mean, damn. Dat jump arc. Dat ground pound. Dat inertia. Oooh yeah, dat sweet, sweet inertia; keep going, I’m nearly there. 3D World is pure, distilled Mario; fresh from the mushroom mines; and it’s completely bloody fantastic. Have a bloody go on it.

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Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo, 2013

9. WarioWare Inc (Gameboy Advance)

When he first burst onto the scene, I thought Wario was a bit of a naff character to be honest. An evil version of the hero is one of the oldest cliches in the book and it wasn’t until WarioWare that either I got it, or Nintendo figured out what they were doing with him. The premise is inevitably genius. Wario loves money and so has decided to setup a video game developer that specialises in games that are three seconds long and rip off Nintendo. What this means is that Wario’s wide-eyed, brash, thuggish brand of mania makes sense. Warioware is so quick, so relentless, so increasingly mad that it’s like shoving handful after handful of Haribo into your face. Some of the microgames ask nothing more than for you to press a single button. Some ask you to do literally nothing at all. But taken as a whole, flipping from one non sequitur to the next at increasing speed, it begins to feel like playing every video game all at once. In stripping the whole thing down to it’s barest parts it resembles the purest expression of the medium. Press this button. Right, now press this button. No, that wasn’t quick enough, do it again. Now do it faster. Faster. FASTER! And it’s all put together with this genuinely hilarious, anarchic sense of humour. There is something undeniably funny about rapidly pressing a button to sniff up a bubble of snot. Or to have the epic  journey of Super Metroid broken down into a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it boss battle. Wario isn’t an evil Mario. If Mario’s your best friend, Wario is your drug-addled mate Mad Dave. Probably not the kind of person you want to live with, but fuck me he’s a lot of fun to be around.

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All I want to do is *bang bang bang bang* and a *cliiiiiiiiick-ting* and take your money

 

8. Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)

Super Mario World’s map, with it’s cheerful, a-tweedle-dee-dee music, has an entire lobe of my brain dedicated to it. Give me a pen and paper and a piece of A3 and I’ll draw it for you. With my eyes closed. Every route, every area, every path, every secret is all up there; like the lyrics to a favourite song. But delve into the ingenious vision of that map and you have a game that never dips below a stupidly high bar of fantastic entertainment and pieces of design so ingenuous that surely a bolt of lighting striking a tree ‘pon a mountain top heralded their arrival. What about that bit when you have to find a way under the finishing line to find the secret exit? What about when you find out that the secret world has a secret world hidden in it? What about THE FUCKING CAPE, man? With so many fantastic touches that were a joy to discover, I’m almost hoping I develop some a memory disorder in my old age so I can go back again for the first time. But something makes me think that even if I forget my own name, Mario World will still be up there. Any one of us than ran home from school just to get a few minutes more on it before dinner will know what I’m talking about. Just think about it; I bet you can remember every jump, every pixel, every sound effect. “Reeer-ur-ur-ur-eere’ (Castle door opening). “KLOPP!” (jumping on a Chargin Chuck’s head). And here’s the biggy. “Der der der-der, der der-der der der. Ah der-der der der der a diddly-derrrrrrrrrrrrrr…DER! Baaaaaaaaooooooun-wown!” (Finishing a level). For us of a certain generation, Super Mario World is a cultural touchstone. A fucking moon landing. That it’s still utterly peerless as a platformer after all these years is little short of a miracle.

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Fuck sake Bowser, you utter bellend.

7. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (Nintendo DS)

One of my favourite things about Ouendan is how completely bloody lovely it is. This is a game about encouragement. About overcoming the insurmountable. About cheering someone on in their time of need, be that helping with their homework, gaining the romantic attention of a coworker or fighting off a fifty foot mouse. Being a member of a squad whose super power is to coax the ability dormant in others is so bloody life-affirming it makes me sigh contently whenever I think about it. Fortunately, the game that is attached to this beautiful thing is just as brilliantly conceived. I’m quite a fan of Dance Dance Revolution but have to admit that I still look bloody awful doing it; like an uncle staggering about ten drinks into a wedding. Ouendan makes me feel like I’m a fantastic dancer. I might only be dancing with my hands; swirling, skipping and pirouetting across the touchscreen with my stylus; but when it clicks you feel like a member of a perfectly synchronised crew. You’ll begin to instinctively connect with the circles and paths as they plot their way through the music because they all just feel so right. It’s choreographed perfectly (with the possible exception of the swirly-round-in-a-circle bits but we’ll try to forget about them). I often feel it’s (admittedly very charming) Japanese bonkersness overshadows what is a spectacular game. That we’re all so busy talking about how sad the level Over the Distance is (where you play as a ghost trying to communicate with the love he’s left behind) that we forget how great it is to play. But all these things are part of what is an amazing, lovable whole. I want to *be* an Ouendan. I need two more people, who’s with me?

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Guttenberg, Selleck, Danson

6. Portal (Xbox 360)

Portal is perfect. The only game I’ve ever played through in a single sitting, everything about it from the script to the puzzles to the journey, is put together with such laser precision, such flawlessness, that surely it was designed by a malevolent AI that wants to kill us all. GlaDos, the heartless, vindictive, cruel machine who serves as the narrator and taskmaster, has everyone that comes into contact with her fall victim to Stockholm Syndrome. I mean, she’s just brilliant isn’t she? A charming torturer, magnetic in her lack of humanity, and possibly the greatest villain in the entire medium. The script starts off gentle and teasing, before whizzing off into directions that you can’t possibly expect. And it’s not just in the words, but in the environment. Constantly hinting at what lies behind the curtain and beyond the walls of Aperture Science. But then the wit and story is just the cherry on the (possibly fictional) cake. As a kid, I always had a bit of an obsession with those ACME portable holes you used to see on Warner Bros cartoons and I like to believe they were the inspiration behind the Portal Gun. An utterly inspired mechanic that never loses its novelty. Portal is the type of game I’ll still be waxing lyrical about in some poor guys ear at a New Years Eve party when I’m sixty. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

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We keep a Weighted Companion Cube above the marital bed in case we want to get a third party involved.

5. Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past (Super Nintendo)

Back in the days before the internet, it was actually possible to consume a piece of media without having absolutely every single detail about it revealed to you beforehand. I had no idea about the Dark World until I got there and it was at that point I discovered that this deep, detailed, beautifully designed world was actually twice as deep, detailed and beautifully designed as I thought it was. Link to the Past’s brilliantly interlaced worlds have simply never been bettered (not least of all by Nintendo themselves) and it’s in this marvelous interlocking contraption that you find them at the absolute top of their game. Ingenious dungeons, tantalising secrets, moments of drama and comedy constantly jostling for attention. That bit when you first arrive in the Dark World and Link turns into a pink rabbit? I can still feel that incredible level of WTF in my stomach (well, maybe not WTF, I was about 12 at the time and hadn’t yet fully developed my potty mouth). Link to the Past is the perfect name for it because every time I play it I’m right back there. But it’s not nostalgia; it’s the unparalleled knack of capturing that excitement, that uncertainty, that everything-is-turned-up-to-11 feeling of being a kid again. The manual had a sealed section with some secrets in the back and I remember nerve-wrackingly pulling it apart to peak inside; treating the instructions like they were the Dead Sea Scrolls. It felt so fucking dramatic! And to look at the game now, it’s *still* completely gorgeous. How is that even remotely possible? Zelda games are always an event but Link to the Past is the motherfucking big bang. It’s the point for me when games went from being somewhat I just did to something I loved. It’s incredibly, impossibly special

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When I’m not playing video games, I like to chill out in reflective surfaces.

4. Frequency (Playsation 2)

I think it’s perfectly possible that if I had invested the hundreds upon hundreds of hours I spent playing Frequency more wisely, I would actually be able to play a musical instrument rather than spending my days trying to simulate the experience through plastic Fischer Price instruments and video games. Never mind, eh? As it is my fingers are burned to the bone with the muscle memory of a million trips to the horizon of that gloriously garish tunnel. To this day, I still tap out a rhythm on the shoulder buttons  to the music of other games when waiting for them to load. The three button, trigger happy, instrument switching system is just so elegantly designed that it turns a pad into percussion and the holder into a composer. It also features simply the best plotted difficulty curve I have ever come across; you’ll be declaring Roni Size impossible to finish one week and being annoyed at dropping a single beat the next. But you can’t talk about Frequency without talking about The Moment. The point where your fingers take over and conscious thought evaporates and you clear a button sequence without being entirely in control. It seeps into your head, it takes over your body and it makes you feel fucking fantastic. At the danger of sounding like that guy on your sofa at 4am after a night out who won’t fucking leave, Frequency is *in* me, man. I can feel the waves. I can *feel* it.

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I may have seen some of these artists perform live specifically because of this game. 

3. Bloodborne (Playstation 4)

I’ve never really got this fascination with watching other people play video games; I mean, games are meant to be played right? But suddenly, this double-hard bastard came along and I found myself devouring every single frame of footage I could clap my eyes on. I couldn’t stop myself.  It consumed me. It didn’t stop with videos either; guides, essays, hundreds of forum posts; my thirst was never sated for a new take on what the fuck was going on. Rather like the blood transfusion procedure for which it’s famous,  Yarnham can really get under your skin. But the true star here is the combat; simply the greatest battle system ever designed.  Where Dark Souls is all tippy-toey, sneaky-weaky round a corner, Bloodborne is all up-in-your-face and FUCKIN’ C’MON THEN!  The moment to moment duels with the regular baddies are good enough, but the run of  boss fights is truly *astonishing*.  I roared so loud after beating Father Gascoigne I nearly woke the children up.  I punched the air so hard after Rom I nearly smashed the light fitting. I don’t think I’ve ever truly calmed down after beating Ludwig. And the fight with Lady Maria is *so* good I should probably keep instinctual bodily reactions to myself. Bloodborne is more simply a video game to me; it’s an impossibly brilliant ‘thing’, a wonderful whole; and it makes me go all misty-eyed and look into the middle distance when I think about it. So good. So, so, SO  good.

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Gritty reboot of Downton Abbey comfirmed

2. Rock Band 3 (Playstation 3)

Part of the appeal of video games for me is the wish fulfilment. Who hasn’t idly dreamed of beating a plumber at tennis or of shooting a man? But none come near to the trick that Rock Band pulls in convincing you that yourself and three drunk mates, click-clacking and wailing as you systematically destroy the history of popular music, are actually talented, world beating musicians. It’s a game capable of producing moments of complete euphoria. One of my absolute favourite gaming moments was the time when myself on the drums and my mates on guitar and bass simultaneously joined in with the backing vocals whilst my wife belted out the chorus. There was no in-game benefit to this. There was no in-game suggestion that we should do it. But in that moment, when everything clicked and it felt *right*, we simply couldn’t stop ourselves. Rock Band is genuinely responsible for widening my music tastes. It gives me new found respect for whole genres I would have otherwise written off. It makes me listen to music in a different way. I’ll break a track down and concentrate on the parts, gaining a greater appreciation of the whole. Now when I daydream whilst listening to music, I no longer imagine I’m playing the song on stage, I imagine I’m *playing the song on Rock Band on stage*. It’s a game I can play whatever my mood and feel better once I’m finished. It’s a game that has me shutting the curtains and dancing round my living room. It’s a game about the joy of friendship and the beauty of creation. It’s a game that simply will never get old. I love it. I fucking love it.

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I get Rock Band birthday cakes because I am a responsible adult.

1. Rez Infinite (Playstation VR)

I once spent an evening explaining to my wife how I remained unconvinced and disinterested by virtual reality. Which was great, because it meant when Rez Infinite was announced I had to backtrack frantically so that I could spend stupid money to buy an hour long game that I’d completed thousands of times before. But Infinite is worth absolutely every single penny. I mean, Rez was pretty captivating before it was able to have a complete monopoly on absolutely everything that you see and hear, but now it’s like have an entire dance festival take place directly in your head. And it somehow manages to make one of the greatest games of all time better. I don’t know how many times I’ve played through Area 5 in the past fifteen years  (I reckon it must be knocking in the hundreds) and still, STILL, Infinite had me noticing a detail I’ve never registered before. The Running Man boss at the end of Area 4 was rather gripping when he was restricted to a two dimensional plane on the other side of the living room. Now he’s right bloody behind you. And then there’s Area X. I can help but admire the colossal balls it must have demanded to of decide to add an extra level to Rez; it’s like adding an extra track to a revered concept album. But miraculously, it’s actually more intense, thrilling and plain brilliant than what has gone before. A heart-achingly glorious journey past neon pyramids and through wire frame cities that makes you feel like you’re actually flying. This may sound completely ridiculous, but Area X is perhaps the closest I’ve had to a religious experience. God and the majesty of the universe is in here somewhere, between the thumping beats, pulsating visuals and the two televisions sets mounted inches from your retinas. Like anything this much fun, Rez in VR can’t possibly be good for you. Every trip through the soundscape must burst a few synapses and detach you a little further from the real world (the lyrics “mind killer” have never been more appropriate). But who gives a shit? Rez Infinite is a masterpiece. A singularly fantastic vision. And It’s The Greatest Game of All Time.

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Yeah, it’s alright.

 

 

 

 

 

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OMFG – Singstar

I was once in a school production of the popular musical Grease. During my years treading the boards I was very much in the mould of Daniel Day Lewis, so the transformation from a clumsy, waif-like boff to streetwise American proto-hipster was within my range and my performance was well received. There was, however, a catch. One of the downsides to landing a part in a musical is that you are often required to sing. Now, some would say my inability to hold a note would rule me out of contention entirely, but my talent was so vast (or the pool so shallow) that my teachers had to come to a ingenious solution. They simply suggested that I mime the singing bits. Perfect. A musical without live performance and a performer told he’s so shit he should probably just shut up. Inspiring. Leave no child behind.

You would therefore expect that video game karaoke would be somewhat unpopular round our way; seeing as it combines my greatest passion with my biggest weakness. It’s like a kryptonite cape; familiar and iconic but also constantly draining me of my life force. But my Singstar story is a tale of triumph over adversity. I once glanced through a collection of my PlayStation trophies and I discovered that my rarest was for Singstar. The criteria? Simply playing it for bloody ages. What I might lack in talent, I more than make up in persistence. Just give me a chance Simon, I won’t let you down. I always give 110%.

This thousand hour love story; told across generations; peppered with conflict, friendship and even a wedding; begins with a simple click of the fingers. A strong, purposeful beat delivered elegantly by a well-manicured hand. As the fingers slam upon the palm with a raw rhythmic power, the hand balls delicately around the wrist with an effortless flourish. The image has the grace of ballet but the sound has intensity of cannon fire. Surely this is a call to arms. What comes next will be remembered for eons:

People always talk about
Hey oh hey oh hey oh
All the things they’re all about
Hey oh hey oh hey oh
Write it on a piece of paper
Got a feeling I’ll see you later

For the uninitiated, these are the words of poet and academic Jamelia, taken from her seminal early 00’s release “Superstar”. This deeply provocative and timeless piece was chosen as the main theme for the first version of Singstar released on the PS2 back in 2004. Aside from its complex, layered exploration of all the things we’re all about, Superstar was also a perfect introduction to the world of competitive singing. In a game where sound was objectively valued and given a score, Superstar was ideal given that it was so monotone it could probably be performed to reasonable standard by Droopy the Dog.

You see, Singstar doesn’t care if you sound good, it just cares that you sound right. As the glittering bars fill the screen it patronisingly assures you that you’ve nailed it. You definitely sound just like Minnie Ripton. But as anyone nearby possessing a pair of ears will attest to, playing the footage back can be a dispiriting experience. Even if you hit all the right notes in the right order, you still sound awful you bloody drunk.

Which is where stage presence, a.k.a showing off, comes in. The PlayStation 3 version introduced the ability to record a short snippet of your performance which you could then play back at the end. The genius of this addition was that it gave you the heads up that it was coming so that you could prepare. Here it comes. Your spotlight.

My PS3 is filled to the brim with powerfully embarrassing ten second clips of myself, my wife and my close friends stumbling around living rooms briefly convinced of our own talent. Sofa cushions quickly appropriated into Jamiroquoi style hats. Scissor Sisters impressions that somehow manage to be more camp than the originals. You have not known pain until you’ve witnessed two nerds from East Anglia perform “Beep” by Will .I.Am and The Pussycat Dolls. Think you’ve reached peak cringe? Think again bitches. Here we all are making gang signs during Fix Up Look Sharp.

Great performances called for synchronisation. Teamwork. I consider Singstar to be one of the finest co-op games of all time. In duet mode, the score between you was shared and you would naturally assist one another by in one continuous feedback loop. Find yourself totally out of key in the chorus whilst your partner is nailing it, and a quick shift of concentration from what you’re seeing to what you’re hearing could find your voice clicking into place. Their enthusiasm, their passion and their enjoyment helped motivate too. Often hitting the right notes was just a case of giving it some welly. And with your high scores signed off with a photo of the victorious pair, there was plenty of scope for further shenanigans. The games unusual scoring system, where each song is capped at 10 000 points regardless of its difficulty, meant that perfection always felt tantalisingly within reach. A friend an I once agonisingly hit 9 800 on Supergrass’ Richard III. A mere 200 somethings from a technically perfect Gaz Coombes. It truly was the hardest thing you’ll never know.

Of course it wasn’t all about attributing value to art. Scores were all well and good but sometimes it was fun to just try and attempt something that was nigh on impossible to sing. “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys has some truly next level harmony shit going on. “Rock Me Amadeus” required you to learn how to rap in German on the fly. “Take on Me” had that winning combination of lulling you into a false sense of security during the verses before detonating your lungs during the chorus. But The Bees’ “Chicken Payback” was Singstar on Legendary mode. Its insanely difficult, tongue-twisting tale of financial transactions within the animal kingdom required the kind of concentration normally only seen in the operating theatre, and remained a firm favourite long after the wider world had completely forgotten about its existence.

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There is a PS$ version but it’s bum. This is where it’s at, complete with main theme provided by Wolfmother (no, me neither)

Which is also the kind of thing that’s responsible for one of the games more obscure, accidental charms. Due to its relatively brief period of insane popularity, Singstar is a pretty good record of music during the mid to late 00’s. The mix of classics with what was popular at the time means that the likes of Bowie, Presley and The Rolling Stones rub shoulders with the “remember-thems?” of Orson, Ne-Yo and Daniel Bedingfield. Nostalgia in video games is generally restricted to the game itself. Unlike music, film or television, they very rarely reference outside of the medium. But Singstar has the early century coursing through its veins. It’s emotive of that time in a way that normally only music manages.

Of course, the relevance of this will largely depend on what you were doing at that time. Me? I’d just moved into a house with this lady I fancied and was enjoying those few blessed years of freedom before we lost our minds long enough to think it was a good idea to have children. Is it an exaggeration to say that our relationship was forged and cemented within Singstar? Possibly. But for a couple of years, this is what we did together. Our Friday nights were spent drinking every last remaining drop of liquid in the house whilst destroying the entire history of pop music. I’m not proud of it, but we got through several sets of neighbours during this time.

But those performances! The hours spent perfecting our Paula Abdul and MC Skat Cat or our Beyonce and The Other Two. The time we discovered that we could completely smash Parklife (this is probably largely down to the fact that I was born and raised in the same town as Blur and also that I’m married to Phil Daniels). I’m fairly certain the last time we saw my grandad before he died, we signed off our relationship by delighting him with a rendition of Dizzee Rascal’s “Bonkers”.

Or even that day we got married. Yes, I’m afraid to say, we’re one of those insufferable couples that did “a thing” at our wedding (although this was nearly ten years ago now so I consider us to be trailblazers in the world of lol random first dances). Run DMC’s “Tricky”, our go-to Singstar track, performed in full with the kind of enthusiasm you only get after a day of everyone doing everything you want and several thousand gallons of booze.  We’d managed to keep it secret until the performance so I’m sure we delighted and confused in equal measure. Although I do remember my best man cheerfully shouting in my ear afterwards that it was “the best thing I have ever seen, which was probably the most important and life-changing thing anyone had said to me all day.

This is going to sound naff as all fuck, but in many ways Singstar is more than a game to me. It’s a collection of memories. I dread to think of the money I spent on it over the years in its numerous guises or on its “only a pound per song” DLC, but without it I might never have learned how to rap a rhyme that’s right on time. I might never have learned that I have exactly the same vocal range as Thom Yorke (honestly, it’s spooky. My scores were consistently the worst amongst my friends except for Radiohead where I would always inexplicably smash it). I almost certainly would never have discovered that Dido’s “Thank You” is immeasurably improved with the introduction of a foul-mouthed hype man. So if it’s all the same to you Mr Smith and Mrs Heare, I won’t be miming during Greased Lightning thank-you-very-much. I’m going to sing. And to Singstar;

I want to thank you.
(Wanna mother fucking thank you)
For giving me the best day-ay of my life
(Of my mother fucking life)
And oh-oh, just to be with you
(Just to mother fucking be with you)
Is having the best day of my life.

 

 

 

OMFG – Super Monkey Ball

In the first in what I hope to be an illustrious and widely celebrated series, OMFG (standing for ‘OneofMyFavouriteGames’) will be a collection of love letters to the very best gaming has to offer. It won’t just be a list of Nintendo and rhythm action titles, I promise.

As has been documented elsewhere on this here blog, I am far from a social butterfly. I’m more a grumpy moth, and anyone that has had the displeasure of being a guest in my house will have experienced the nagging sensation that I want them to clear off so I can get back to quietly sobbing myself to sleep. But for one brief moment back in the early 00’s, my tiny student digs was one of East Anglia’s premier nightspots. Revellers came from near and far (other rooms in the flat and just over the road) to sample the simple delight of flinging a monkey down a bowling alley. Not literally of course; one of my housemates was studying animal sciences and wouldn’t stand for any of that caper; but within the confines of a video game that only ever could be created by Sega at their sunny day, simplistic, batshit best. This was Super Monkey Ball and it was totally bananas.

Before I go off on one about the multi-player (heralded by the fantastically cheesy and confusing inclination of the voice sample ‘party games…?!’, as if the game was questioning your decision to find fun in flinging an ape down a ramp and send it soaring through the sky), I should perhaps spend some time taking about the solo experience.

It was alright.

I’m being flippant of course. But talking about the perfectly serviceable maze based challenges that made up the solo campaign strikes me like focusing on the quiet shared understanding when you catch a chimp’s gaze rather than how funny it is when they throw their shit at each other or wank themselves off. Perhaps it was a nobler pursuit; a more elegantly designed and thoughtful section of the game. Perhaps more satisfying too; I daresay an entire generation of gamers have the first time they cleared the level Expert 7 etched into their memory.

But it just plain wasn’t as fun as the other bit. In a game as infectiously colourful as this, the image of a solo player perched on the edge of their chair, face locked in grim determination just doesn’t seem like a good fit. No. For me, Monkey Ball was a bunch of mates drunkenly cheering, jeering and dropping c-bombs with wild abandon.

You see, Monkey Ball, and Monkey Bowling in particular, was such a big part of our social lives it was responsible for creating an entire dictionary of terminology. And most of these revolved around the concept of “Cunting Over”. At this juncture I feel the need to point out here that we were about as far removed from a bunch of roudy ladz and laydeez as you could possibly imagine. For starters we were spending our student days indoors perfecting our bowling spins rather than trying to have sex with each other. So Lord only knows how repeated use of the word cunt became such an integral part of this cheerful little game but it’s origins are now lost in a cloud of rizla papers and cheap wine.

Anyway, Cunting Over was essentially giving the next player the minor inconvenience of having to wait for the ball to roll down the alley before they could have their go. If your first ball resulted in one remaining pin then you were in prime cunting territory. Get your shot lined up perfectly and then set the monkey on his way with minimum power and his agonising crawl down the lane towards a spare was seen as the ultimate insult. Manage something a little bit more flashy; like adding a bit of spin or knocking down more than one pin and your cunting would be elevated to the status of “Mimi’s Golden Cunts”. Balls it up by not achieving the spare and you’d feel the dark terrible shame of contributing to “Gongon’s Cunting Blunders”. It was a beautiful example of adding your own pointless twist. Nothing more than a stylish flourish to make loses that little bit more humiliating.

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In my head, this delightful collection of family friendly apes basically represent the word “cunt”

At the danger of turning this into a post of in-jokes and you-had-to-be-there’s, Monkey Ball is also responsible for the most hilarious argument I have ever beared witness to. Myself and three others decided to have a quiet evening trying to land on the tiny, moving, big point platforms in Monkey Target (given the decidedly less offensive but equally satisfying term of “plinthing”). Suddenly another member of our group burst through the door. Now, it’s safe to say this chap was a bit of a loose cannon and it was clear he had been on the booze so the sight of his furious face was cause to drop the pad. Fag half hanging out of his mouth, pacing around the room like a scenery-chewing villain from a Guy Ritchie film, he proceeded to lay into us for having the gall to play a four player game with four players and not rushing out to fetch him first. “Oh well. This is very fucking cosy isn’t lads? Very cosy. Having a nice little game of Monkey Ball are you? HAVING A NICE FUCKING GAME OF MONKEY BALL?!” It’s rather difficult to take a hardman routine seriously when the subject is an abstract children’s game featuring a kawaii girl monkey with a bow in her hair. Safe to say we have drifted apart since.

This was all within our first year, and although many games came and went during our time together, Monkey Ball remained a constant. Occasionally we’d dabble in the glorious chaos of a Monkey Fight or the seemingly endless relaxation offered by a game of Monkey Golf, but really, it was all about bowling. The sequel smartly offered a twist on this winning formula by introducing the “crazy lanes”; a series of increasingly difficult challenges with warping, twisting alleys or pin protecting obstructions which made cunting over all the more difficult. I later read that Monkey Bowling was essentially “broken” and that strikes could easily be achieved by lining up in a certain way. I’m very pleased that none of us managed to stumble upon this One Weird Trick or the game would have effectively been ruined. Perhaps we would have done if we weren’t spending all our time trying to get into Mimi’s Golden Cunts.

You might think I’ve not spent a lot of this post explaining what makes Super Monkey Ball a good video game and you’d be completely right. But then sometimes what makes a game one of your favourites isn’t the quality of the game itself but how you remember it. It’s your tiny room rammed with new friends, passing the pad long into the night. It’s finding the perfect ice breaker, a game so gorgeous in simplicity that literally everyone wanted to play it. It’s someone pouring a pint of vodka and coke on your bed but you don’t care because your having too much fun, honest, it’s fine I’ve completely forgotten all about it. Like a song that reminds you of a special night, a game can be a reminder of the friendships that you forged that will hopefully last a lifetime.

And then it’s the simple joy of cunting those pricks over.

Anyone for a party game..?!