Category Archives: Other Bits

I AM FIRE or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Fear the Bomb

The ‘nature versus nurture’ debate explores the argument that human behaviour is determined either by our biology or by our environment (yes, I did take GCSE Sociology, thanks for asking). Is personality a predetermined product of your genes or is it moulded and shaped by the events and experiences of life? Basically; are you born a prick?

My family tree boasts a rich and varied assortment of lunatics. My nan tried to change her name to “Seagull” until my Dad rightly suggested that it would ruin their lives. And on the other side, my Grandad swore blind that Wings were singing about an old lady called “Ma McIntyre”, despite the wealth of evidence clearly suggesting the contrary.

Away from cheery, harmless, old people insanity and onto more deep-seated mental health issues, I was once telling my mum that I have this odd tick in the back of my mind that tries to convince me to do something hilariously terrible. For example, whenever I finish a drink I have a powerful urge to fling the glass at the television. I mean, that would clearly be an incredibly stupid thing to do; but as the glass was spiralling though the air the look on my wife’s face would be pretty priceless, right? My mum replied that she experiences exactly the same thing. When she used to ride on the back of my Dad’s motorcycle, she had a similar urge to get off whilst it was hurtling down the A12. Haha! I imagine my dad would have been pretty embarrassed!!!

The fear that I might, inexplicably, do something totally ridiculous is clearly just another glorious facet of my stupid, bloody anxiety and you don’t have to be a gene genie to look and my immediate family and conclude that I was simply born this way. OR DO YOU?!

I recently went through the severe trauma of moving house and during this troubling time stumbled across one of my favourite books as a child, “I AM FIRE”. This book was a permanent bedtime fixture from about the ages of 4 to 8. It was the eighties, the world was on the brink of destruction. Either by World War III (memory is a bit hazy, but I distinctly remember Regan and Gorbachev having an actual televised wrestling match) or by something called AIDS, which sounds helpful but is actually quite the opposite.

A difficult time. Let’s have a look at the blurb to I AM FIRE, the book I repeatedly chose to have as my final thought before I drifted off to sleep

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“I AM FIRE is the story of the relationship between man and fire from the time of their earliest encounter. It is told from the point of view of fire, in it’s own words. The very imaginative illustrations and the simple text provide the child with an understanding of the nature of fire, its importance for man as a source of light, heat and energy, AND IT’S TERRIBLE POWERS OF DESTRUCTION”

Wowzers. Still, “very imaginative illustrations” sounds good. Let’s take a look at page 1.

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The fuck?

 

Strong opening; successfully managing to freaky as fuck and absolutely terrifying, whilst also summing up my entire physiological profile in a single sentence

 

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I can’t quite wrap my head around these illustrations. There’s something powerfully dark about them. Even Olympic one looks like shit is about to kick off. It’s like they’re images plucked from a cheese induced coma.

 

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Poor old Fire. Pining for the good old days when he could happily torment the fuck out of us.

 

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In that last panel why are those two guys giggling like that? Just what exactly is that meat?

 

 

Starting to get the impression that perhaps Keith Flint was brought up on the same book.

 

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I can’t be the only one picking up a rather creepy sexual undertone here. Look at the puppets stance FFS. “Needed me for heat”. Yeah, alright you dirty bastard.

 

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As if I weren’t feeling uncomfortable enough, this section ends with the guy literally looking straight at the reader, pointing at his doll and raising his eyebrows.

 

 

The car driving over a field. The rocket blasting through the birds. The glass-eyed look of the girl as she extinguishes the lamp. Everything just has this dark undercurrent of dread.

 

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Is it just me or do these pages seem like a commentary on western imperialism? Might have gone a bit over my head when I was six

 

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Nice flammable, deadly, invisible gases. They could be anywhere. They could be EVERYWHERE.

 

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I mean, wow. Think we’ve got the full set here. Notes of drugs, sex, and the evil clowns. A truly horrible image that I sincerely apologise for inflicting on you.

 

 

Oh well, thankfully this book gives me the tools I need to combat this terrifying natural force. Water, air; got it..

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Fuck me, get in the car. It can’t be stopped

 

These words and images are what I routinely chose to experience just before I slept.

 

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Are we supposed to feel sympathy for fire here? It’s a wonder I’m able to resist the voices telling me to burn everything to the ground at all.

 

 

I think the guy in the dressing gown might be the wooden doll guy after a shave. I can’t be 100% sure. It might just be that I’m so traumatised that I see his fave everywhere I look.

 

Uneasy, enigmatic finish. Tones of Ashes to Ashes era Bowie. Roaring out of control fire. And I think we’re done.

Sweet dreams, son!

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Short Story – “Fluke”

Luke couldn’t help but notice that his shoulder felt fine as he began the 45 storey decent.

It has often been said that our lives flash before our eyes just before we die.  Perhaps a failsafe to show us the places we’ve been, the relationships we’ve formed and the things we’ve experienced to try and kick start a last ditch attempt at survival. Dangling the carrot to make you go that little bit further.  Congratulations, you’ve earned yourself some great prizes.  Now, would you like to leave with what you’ve got or would you like to gamble?

Even as it started, Luke realised that this built in defence mechanism was pretty much useless in his situation.  Hurtling towards the concrete below with a bullet tearing apart the muscles in his shoulder, it would take a monumental amount of luck to keep him in the game.  The first few moments felt like they were in slow motion.  He felt as though he could see each and every tiny movement of the hundreds of shards of glass that surrounded him.  And then, in those shards, the reflections of all he had seen and experienced.

Inconsequential moments in his early childhood.  The weird shit that kids remember.  An advert for some toothpaste with a catchy jingle and an ominous set of teeth that used to freak him out.  That time he stuck a stone up his nose and frantically tried to remove it in a blind panic, terrified that his parents would be angry with him.  A toy telephone on wheels that he barely played with but was always there.  Figuring out how to climb out of his cot.  Being sick in the high street.  The rabbit on his name badge on the hook he hung his coat on at Primary School.  He always bloody hated that rabbit.  Chris had a lion, Paul had an elephant; even Marie had that big dog thing, and that was way cooler, and she was a girl.  Why was he stuck with a rabbit?  It looked a bit off too, like an extra from Watership Down.  The bit in Watership Down when the seagull said ‘piss off’.  That was just about the funniest thing a five year old could see.  It was so naughty.  The time his birthday card was shown on the television.  Winning a huge great Transformer in a raffle.  Winning nearly four pounds on one of those 2p machines at the arcades on the seafront.  His Dad’s face when Luke got the winner in the Grand National and landed him four hundred and something quid.  Everyone was so happy with him but he had no idea why.  He could feel the combination of confusion and pride.  He was always winning.

More of that was to come.

The glass began to reflect full scenes rather than static images as his own burgeoning memory began to take shape, and he advanced into his school years.  He noticed they all had that soft fuzziness, like you see on old American television shows, and that weird brown tint that he always noticed in the photos of him as a kid in the eighties.  But it was different to just watching, he was reliving.  Simultaneously running through the events himself, while casually observing them behind the scenes.  It was as if his older self had always been there, watching his every move.  Rolling his eyes and smirking at the silly things he was doing.

A Christmas.  Not too sure when.  At a guess he must be about seven or eight.  He’d been awake for hours, clock watching; willing the hands round until seven when his parents said he could get up.  Those times were magical.  Sat in the dark, day dreaming about the contents of the parcels under the tree.  He looked at the clock as the second hand slowly crept past the twelve, closed his eyes and counted to sixty.  He had always been competitive.  Not so much against others, but against himself.  Setting himself tiny games to pass the time and prove his superiority over the laws that govern all of us.  He opened his eyes just as the hand hit twelve.  Perfect.  He allowed himself a little celebration, waited for the hand to complete its circuit, closed his eyes and started counting again.

‘…fifty seven, fifty eight, fifty nine, sixty!’

Spot on.  This was too easy.  Part of his competitiveness compelled him to make the challenges harder, so he found his Walkman, stuck in a tape, pressed play and put the headphones on.  The hand rolled round once more and he closed his eyes and started counting while the music blared in his ears.  It was distracting.  The rhythm was all over the place.  He couldn’t remember the band or even the song which was a bit odd as he was pretty sure he had listened to that tape hundreds of times.  But he could remember the moment he opened his eyes just as the second hand reached the top and the feeling of disappointment washing over him.  He’d won again.  This game was rubbish.

Shoe shopping.  God he hated shoe shopping.  The pressure was unbearable.  Caught between the desire to find the right pair so that the kids at school wouldn’t take the piss and the glare of an increasingly stressed Father as shoe after shoe were taken off his feet after a disgruntled scrunch of his nose.  Mum being Mum, all supportive smiles and wistful sighs at the whims of a fussy, ungrateful kid.  As Luke looked back at himself he wished that his younger self would look up at his Mum more.  His memories of her had always been fuzzy and he wanted to take this unlikely opportunity to catch a further glance.  But it wasn’t happening.  He was too fascinated with the overpriced lumps of material round his feet.  Ungrateful little shit.  Look at her you prick.  Look at her.

Stood in front of the mirror in the hall while Aunt Jools fussed over him.  Brushing non-existent dirt off his shoulders.  She’s avoiding looking at him in the eye, either directly or through the mirror, but Luke can see it in her face.  The look of exhaustion.  She hasn’t been sleeping, and every moment she’s been awake has been taking something out of her.  The loss has affected them all in different ways.  Jools has been frantic, panicked; sporadically exploding into floods of tears.  Dad is in denial.  Carrying on as normal.  Perhaps drinking a little more.  Luke is just numb.  Like something has come along and scooped out all of his insides, leaving a vacuous space inside his chest.  Everybody is being so nice to him but he can’t forget, not even for a moment.  It’s always there, nagging away at the back of his head.  He’s only eleven and she’s gone.

He can see the wake now.  It’s in some pub.  Not particularly fancy or up Mum’s street.  He realised back then that this was going to be the kind of thing he’d best get used to.  Crappy sandwiches and bowls of crisps.  Wandering around a sea of half-cut, chain-smoking grown-ups he gradually makes his way to Dad who is sat in the corner with a couple of his friends with a huge cloud of smoke hanging over them.  He catches his eye and smiles weakly.  Dad motions him over, and once he makes his way to the table, he’s lifted and placed on his knee.

‘How you holding up?’

‘Fine.  Bored though.’

‘Do you want to go to the park?  It’s only round the corner and I could do with the fresh air.’

Luke nods silently, and his Dad quickly finishes his drink before clicking his fingers in the direction of Jools.

‘Just nipping out for a bit.  Taking Luke to the park.  You alright here for a few minutes?’

Jools manages to drag her sobbing face away from her hanky just long enough to give a nod and a weird contorted half smile, half grimace and then they’re outside and his Dad lights another cigarette.

‘Got to get out of there for a bit.  It’s a bit much isn’t it?’

‘Yeah.’

Luke quietly slips his hand into that of his Dad’s as they make their way towards the park.  His Dad squeezes it three times.  He always used to do that.  Like a way of letting him know he was there without having to go through the embarrassment of actually saying it.

‘It might not seem like it now Luke, but we’re very lucky, you and I.’

As he finished, Luke narrowly avoided stepping in some dog shit and noticed a screwed up bit of paper in the gutter.  Letting go of his Dad’s hand, he stooped down to pick it up.  It was a fiver.

His Dad laughs to himself and flicks his cigarette butt expertly into the storm drain, before pulling the packet back out of his inside pocket and lighting another. Even back then Luke was kind of aware that Mum’s passing was related to those thin, burning sticks that grown-ups liked.  He definitely knew she had something wrong with her breathing.  The last few months she was a cacophony of wheezes and coughs.  Funny thing is, he never actually saw her smoke.  With Dad it was almost a constant presence.  It made him happy.

‘Here you go Dad.  You can buy some more.’

‘Nah, you keep it.  Get yourself some sweets or a magazine.’

‘O.K.’

They arrived at the park and Dad lifted him onto the swing and slowly built up the momentum until he was flying.

And then he was falling.

He was back to the now.  The pace was building up now and his memories started to come thick and fast.  The months after Mum went were pretty tricky.  He saw glimpses of his Dad and some woman drunkenly climbing the stairs as he peeked round my bedroom door. He saw Dad crying in the kitchen when he didn’t think he was there.  They saw Auntie Jools less and less until all that was left was him and his Dad, spending night after night in near silence as Dad drank and smoked until it was time to go to bed.

And then one day it got better and he came home from school to find Thirteen.

Looking at himself, he must have just been a teenager.  He was in his high school uniform and had just waved goodbye to his friends to see Dad standing at the door with a tiny black ball of fluff curled up in his arms.  A huge great smile cracked across his Dad’s face, the kind he hadn’t seen for a long time.  It was infectious and Luke smiled back as he inquisitively made his way up the garden path.  This memory was the clearest yet, as he looked at the tiny pile of hair and noticed it had whiskers and ears.  It was a kitten.  A beautiful, tiny, black kitten.

‘What do you want to call it?’

A few days later.  Luke has the video camera set up in the hallway watching Thirteen play with three ping pong balls.  She’s acting like a lunatic.  Entertaining, scaring and confusing herself in equal measure.  Then, she batters all three at once and they fly off into Dad’s bedroom.  Luke picks up the cat and makes his way in to retrieve the balls only to find that they’ve all made their way into the tin cup of Dad’s practice golf lawn.  Luke runs back into the hallway grabs the camera and records the result of his kittens superior golfing skills.

‘What are the chances of that?!’

This gives him an idea.  Setting the camera back on the tripod at one end of the room, he places the tin cup on top of wardrobe before standing at the other end of the room with the ping pong balls.  He throws each one individually and watches as they arc perfectly through the air before each one lands delicately in the cup.

He holds the results up to the camera.

‘Too easy, eh?’

He gets the balls, moves the cup to the back of the wardrobe so only the very top is visible and stands with his back to it at the other end of the room.  He throws each one over his shoulder, listening out for the satisfying ‘clink’ as they each fall perfectly into the cup.

The day his Dad found the videotape.  His was fuming.  Over three hours of Luke throwing ping pong balls into the cup in increasingly complicated and impossible ways.  Bouncing them off walls, off his head, through tubes, along surfaces, adding spin, blindfolded, hands tied behind his back, in the bath, from a different room, down the stairs, over, under, through, around with each scene finishing with all three balls landing satisfyingly into the tiny goal.  As his Dad ranted and raged, he couldn’t understand what he’d done other than make an incredibly cool video.  A week later he found out.

They said it could have been from a lit cigarette, but they were unsure.  Luke’s Dad was adamant though.  It was Luke’s fault.  Whatever had caused their house to be burned to the ground was on his conscience.

This is what happens when you waste your luck.’

Luke saw himself tentatively make his way through the wreckage.  It was destroyed.  Everything was lost.  Most of it could be replaced. Dad always did well for money, even when he was on his own, but some things, pictures of Mum, were surely gone forever.

His heart sank.  Thirteen.  Where was she?  He frantically made his way round the house, making the squeaking noise with his lips that normally saw her running.  Nothing in the kitchen, nor the living room.  He’d been warned not to climb the stairs as there had been significant damage, but he had to check.  Gently testing each step before placing his full weight, he managed to make his way to the top.  It was up here, on the first floor, that he saw the fire could be no one else’s fault but his.  The scorch marks on the wall, even to his untrained eye, clearly originated from his bedroom, the one place that Dad never lit up.

With the guilt now coursing through his entire body, he continued to search for his cat.  He clicked his fingers desperately calling her name over and over.  A movement.  From the corner of his room, under his bed.  Something was definitely there.  He made his way as quickly as he could over to the source of the noise and look under the remnants of his mattress.

Two green eyes stared back at him.  And right next to her, was an immaculately preserved picture of his mother.

He never told his Dad through fear of having the picture taken from him.  The very least he could have done would be to have listened to his Dad’s advice and never taken his gift for granted again.  Never pushed his luck.  Never wasted it.  Perhaps if he did he wouldn’t have found himself now only fourteen floors and less than two seconds from having his head smashed against the pavement.

The memories were a blur now. Like a time lapse film from a nature documentary.  The sun rose and set thousands of times as relationships grew and broke down, money came and went and his face became weathered with age.  Judy featured surprisingly little, Thirteen was a constant. He saw his futile and increasingly dangerous attempts to recapture the thrill of the Ping Pong Cup Afternoon.  Fruit machines, horse races, casinos.  A hundred card games; the continuous flow of money, the look of disbelief on his opponents faces and the ever decreasing satisfaction of winning.  It seemed that everything after the fire had been in direct defiance of his Dad’s advice.  Always pushing his luck.  Always wasting it.

Finally, he’s 45 storeys up, in over his head, pushing his luck that little bit too far.  As clear as it was a less than a minute ago, he saw the anger, the chaos, the gun, the bullet and the window.

Then, they were gone, and all he could see was the grey, emotionless expanse of concrete inches from his face.  He heard the sound of a few pieces of glass hit the pavement before he heard an unearthly crunch.  Then he could see and hear nothing.

A beat; and he felt nothing.

Why I’m Raunchy For A Launchy

I am an impatient man, of this there is no doubt. My poor, long-suffering wife essentially has a grace period of about three minutes from the established home time in which to walk through the door otherwise I have a massive sulk and prepare the dinner in a passive aggressive way. You know the type; cutting the veg heavy-handedly so the knife hits the chopping board at a slightly louder than usual volume. Yeah. That’ll teach her.

This complete inability to wait has meant that I have often found myself picking up a new games machine on Day 1, despite the overwhelming body of evidence that tells me it’s stupid to do so. It’s more expensive, there’s barely anything to play and the hardware is almost guaranteed to develop a fault at some point down the line given that the manufacturers make all the mistakes on the first wave like parents do with their oldest child. I’m a first born and look at the fucking state of me. I’m the Red Ring of Death made flesh.

So why bother? Well aside from my aforementioned, Verruca Salt-style, “I want it NOW” personality, Launch Day is the closest I get as an adult to recreating the feeling of a childhood Christmas. It’s just so darn exciting, I genuinely lose sleep. Wrapped up tight in my duvet with a stupid grin plastered across my face, I speculate on the number of cable ties that hold the power supply unit in place or the number of languages on the health and safety information or if the BBC is going to do a bit on it on the breakfast news.

You’re a pioneer. At the bleeding edge. In the moment it’s easy to forget that you’re probably the millionth person to press the power on button. You know that Elbow song about opening your curtains? It’s like that. A thrilling adventure. A beautiful day. It’s cool as FUCK. It’s also a pretty sad commentary about our relationship with possessions and the dark pleasure that comes from their acquisition, ingrained in us since birth thanks to a relentless, capitalist machine constantly blasting advertising into our faces since birth  BUT NEVER MIND ABOUT THAT IT’S LAUNCH DAY!

Below are a few words about my launch day experiences, but please don’t take them as a recommendation that you join in. See them more an attempt to justify why I continue to cheerfully smash panes of glass against my head, paying several hundred pounds each time for the pleasure to do so.

2000 – PlayStation 2

Games: SSX, Fantavison.

I became an adult in the year 2000; a fact that my Mum spent my childhood telling me held some significance, despite the fact I’ve never met anyone else who gives this information even the most cursory of eyebrow raises. I was taking a year out and saving up for university; which as you can gather from this entry and the one below went swimmingly.

I was lording it up at home on nine and a half grand a year which was enough to make me feel like I was an international playboy. So when the chance arose to put my name down for a fancy black box that you could store horizontally AND vertically, well, you just don’t get many chances to be a part of a cultural milestone as huge as that very often.

And this was a launch where you PROPERLY had to put your name down. I don’t entirely remember all the details, but you actually had to have all your information jotted down and sent off to Sony. They said it was because the machine was in such high demand which sounds like total chinny reckon looking back on it. I wonder if all these forms still exist in a filing cabinet somewhere or if they were stolen in a low-tech, dry run of the great PS3 hack.I remember being somewhat disappointed that this system meant that actually collecting the device was rather civil. I popped into my local Electronics Boutique at opening time and me and some other saddo calmly carried our transactions in peace. There was no throbbing horde desperately clawing at the plastic bags. Nor a queue of nerdy, homeless people folding away their sleeping bags after roughing it for a week to catch a glimpse of Smuggler’s Run. Just “here you are”, “thanks”. Rubbish.

Fortunately, SSX was really good and Fantavision was pretty nice. And it was a DVD player too, so I got to watch Fight Club alone without my mum tutting over the punchy bits. Although my highlight of those first few weeks was the Metal Gear Solid 2 trailer which I watched so many times that seventeen years later, I’m thinking of using a reenactment of it as the basis for my debut one man show at Edinburgh Festival.

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They gave us this weird little book a week before PS4 launch which I’ve kept like your Grandad does with all the old newspapers

2001 – Game Boy Advance

Games: Kuru Kuru Kururin, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity

Remember when the Game Boy Advance was landscape before the clam shell re-design? No, of course you don’t, because it was completely fucking awful. My overriding memory of this shitshow is steadily making my way round the perimeter of our garden in order to find the perfect lighting conditions necessary to make this fucking thing borderline playable. I can’t even be sure I ever figured out the exact science to what those conditions were. The screen wasn’t back-lit, so did this mean I had to have the sun in front of me or behind me? Perhaps I needed to play perched upon its surface or deep within its fiery belly.

Despite being the first handheld ever designed with the angler fish player in mind, I completely caned the thing until my hands withered away and resembled those bastards that fall from the ceiling in Zelda dungeons. Kuru Kuru Kururin got the majority of my attention and I think I managed to complete it the day after launch in the kind of move that infuriated by parents back then. Fortunately, this was my own money now so they were slightly less bothered that a game which could broadly be described as “moving a stick” was consigned to the shelf before the Earth had completed a full rotation upon its axis.

Having experienced a slightly disappointing launch day experience first time round, I thought I’d mix it up by going to a Debenhams concession. Not entirely sure what I was expecting to be different; a Black Friday style fight up the escalators perhaps. Turns out there’s even less people bothered about getting into a department store bang on opening and I was the only prick there. Having worked in retail myself, there’s a special look of contempt that you reserve for customers banging the door down and the girl from the perfume counter had this nailed on. There wasn’t even a Blue Cross Sale on FFS. I gave her my trademark thank you/apology hybrid, hastily made my way through the ‘fumes, completed my business and left. Why do I find this exciting again?

 

2002 – GameCube

Games: Luigi’s Mansion, Super Monkey Ball, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle

Midnight opening mother fuckers!

There’s something fantastically stupid about leaving a shop at ten to one in the morning so that you can play a video game at the earliest possible opportunity. Not only does the process destroy your body clock for the foreseeable future, but excitedly making your way through darkened streets clutching a hefty looking plastic bag with GAME plastered across the front of it, is one stop short of having a huge, flashing neon sign attached to your head that reads “THIS WAY FOR A-MUGGING”.

Being a man powered by paranoia, I splashed out on a taxi to avoid any potential beat-‘n-steals. I generally walk everywhere, regardless of the weather, so this was quite an extravagance. But then I was also a student at the time and money and value had a strange, ethereal nature; ensuring I had the latest Nintendo was more important than petty things like food and shelter. I’d be shivering alone under three, threadbare jumpers and surviving on a diet of out-of-date, tinned turnip chunks in brine for the next few weeks but OMFG IF YOU PRESS AND HOLD Z ON THE STARTUP IT MAKES A DIFFERENT NOISE!

Before making the trek into town, I popped round a friends flat to find them playing “Centurion”; a drinking game that involves downing a hundred shots of beer on the minute, for a hundred minutes. “What a ridiculous and immature pursuit” I thought to myself before settling down to a night of Monkey Tennis. My love for Super Monkey Ball has been well documented  round here and it would prove to be one of my favourite launch games of all time. Quite what was going on when I decided to spend £40 on Sonic Adventure 2 is anyone’s guess; particularly when you consider that our local off licence would provide 40 bottles of the delightful tipple “Chardolini” for a similar price. I’ve never been totally convinced by Sonic and this wouldn’t be the game to win me over; if I wanted to listen to some terrible raps whilst pushing right I’d have gone to a facist hip-hop festival. I’m sure they exist and can be found locally.

I didn’t really like Luigi’s Mansion either, truth be told. But I’ve got to keep that quiet or the other fanboys won’t let me back in the secret treehouse. Generally though, this launch was a goodie; thanks to the machine being actually bloody brilliant but also amazingly priced. It was £130 on day one which makes it sound like it was released a hundred years ago. Back then, thrice tuppence and half-a-ta’happenny could buy you a return ticket on the steam tram, a pound of Dr Mavricks’ tobacco flavoured chewin’ fudge and a copy of Def Jam: Fight for New York.

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This is me on my way to the ‘Cube launch. I am not going to a boyband audition.  I would never smile like this again.

 

2004 – Nintendo DS

Games: Polarium, Project Rub, WarioWare: Touched!

Midnight opening. Mother fuckers.

My view of forcing retail staff out of their beds in the dead of night so that they could earn all of £7 because you couldn’t wait a few fucking hours changed somewhat when I was on the other side of the counter. Yes, around this time I found myself having tiny pieces of my soul chipped away as I sold another copy of fucking Ghost Recon or some shit whilst proper, real games like Baten Kaitos sat unloved on the shelf. “Fucking cretins” I’d think to myself, slowly transforming Dylan Moran’s character in the equivalent version of Black Books (which I guess would probably be called “Purple GAMEs”).

It does put a bit of a dampener on the experience when you know you’ve got to be up at seven in the morning to sell hundred of the things, but I soldiered on and managed to get mine home and play  bit of WarioWare. It wasn’t nearly as good as the original though; a sentence I’d become only too familiar in using when talking about that series. And Project Rub was basically the same thing but with all the humour replaced with sex people, Lynn. I enjoyed Polarium too which reminded me very much of Jessica Fletcher, in that it was a really good little puzzler.

There was little here to suggest that the DS would go on to be one of my all-time favourite machines, nor that touching stuff would become such a large part of gaming for years to come. Generally, I prefer things with buttons, which always makes me feel like a curmudgeony old twat (what a beautiful image I’ve painted for you there), but the DS won me over with a truly outstanding catalogue of left-field oddities over its lifespan.

I even bought a handcrafted stylus with my name on it. I bloody love styluses. I find something so lovably quaint about them. Like a stereo with a built-in minidisc player.

 

2006 – Wii

Games: Bomberman ’93, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, Wii Play, Wii Sports

Check out Richie Rich over here. Not quite sure how I managed to afford this little lot when at the time I was still employed by the nation’s most bafflingly successful high street chain. Perhaps whatever black arts they’re using to avoid bankruptcy rubbed off on me. Perhaps I just nicked it all. I’m joking, obviously. I don’t have the constitution to carry out a heist like that. I once accidently pocketed one of the pencils from Argos and spent the next few weeks on the run to Mexico.

Mind you, I was absolutely fuming at my paymasters in the lead up to this launch so a little rewengay wouldn’t have gone amiss. A few days before the big event, a memo went round stating that any staff pre-orders would not be honoured in order to make more units available for the public. It’s an interesting and unorthodox way to inspire your team before a big weekend I’ll give them that. Fearing the kind of response that would have made the French Revolution look like Dance Dance Revolution they quickly backtracked on this and I found myself with this mental little white box on launch day, back when we all still found the name hilarious.

Being a total fucking trailblazer, I actually filmed myself setting everything up and playing it for the first time. Unboxing videos are all the rage these days so it’s a shame I’m so utterly devoid of charm otherwise I could have stuck it online and made my fortune. Quite where this tape is now is anyone’s guess, which is a shame, as I’d quite like to be able to relive my first fumbled forays into motion controlled gaming. I bet at the start I was  waggling it around a bit too hard and at a funny angle. Like your mum.

Zelda was excellent fo’ obvs’ and I’d keep an eye on Wii Sports if I were you; something tells me that game is going to be huge. Banana Blitz was genuinely awful; perhaps the most disappointing launch game I’ve ever bought. One of the minigames; Monkey Flying Saucer or some shit; was like having a chimp scream directly into your face for three minutes like that monster does to the old lady in the Aphex Twin video. Horrible stuff. Bomberman was notable as not only being the first digital game I ever bought but also being responsible for the first time I swore in front of my parents. I took my new toy round to show off and despite having hundreds of bombing hours under my belt, I was roundly beaten by my then 12 year old sister. If that doesn’t deserve a loud, involuntary “oh for fucks sake” I don’t know what does.

 

2013 – PlayStation 4

Games: Call of Duty: Ghosts, Contrast, Need for Speed: Rivals, Resogun

Jesus Fucking Christ, look at the state of those games. With the exception of Resogun; which was, is, and always will be completely amazing; it’s like I’ve been possessed by “Thatch” from down the pub. He’s one of those guys who’s such a lad he gets referred to by a variation on his last name. Goes to Yates, always seems to have a new T.V, stands weird; you know the type.

Code magnolia levels of blandness aside, this launch felt pretty darn exciting. Mostly because it had been bloody years since the 360 and PS3 had been released so everyone was completely losing their shit. In that moment, seeing a slightly better defined gruff cockney in a full camo gear barking at you to take out tangos like you were laying siege to Britvic HQ seemed well worth the cost of entry.

In retrospect it wasn’t of course. This was a truly terrible launch. Elsewhere people were gritting their teeth through Knack or waiting for EA to get Battlefield 4 up and running. Thousands stuck in endless lobbies like the fevered cheese dream of Hotel Inspector Alex Polizzi. These days, the machine is more or less essential. But it’s safe to say it had a rockier start than the career of Sylvester Stallone.

This was the first time I experienced the majesty of having a machine delivered by DPD. DPD have a very clever strategy when it comes to establishing themselves as the best courier company, and it revolves around not being totally fucking shite. Rather than vaguely throwing your package over the border of your postcode or leaving it with your nearest designated drug addict, they actually attempt to hand it to you. It’s a brilliant concept.

Of course, my PS4 was delivered at half past four; at the exact moment I had to go out and collect the children. I’d naturally taken the day off work, so in order to keep myself busy I spent the day tidying the house. It was spotless. Like I’d been on the meth. I was so bored and restless that day I genuinely emailed Tesco to tell them of some excellent customer service I had recently received. Just wanted someone to talk to.

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The Switch doesn’t quite fit on the TV unit which doesn’t quite fit in the gap in the wall. My life.

2017 – Nintendo Switch

Games: 1, 2 Switch, Bomberman R, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I’m writing this but a week after launch so the dust hasn’t quite settled yet. I had hoped to finish this post beforehand to ride the wave of launch fever, but missed it on account of spending every waking moment staring directly into the face of the dining room clock, willing my life away.

This was another hang-around-the-house-and-wait-for-a-van launch. I’d got myself the DPD app this time round which is brilliant as you can frustratingly watch your driver making drops in your local area seemingly at random. It was actually an excellent bit of foreshadowing for Zelda; a game which puts so many delightful surprises round every corner it’s impossible to make your way around the map in a logical manner. My driver was a young chap called Alex who could barely mask his disgust as I opened the door before he knocked. Although to be frank, DPD are so much better than the competition, I’d happily sign for the package by being kicked in the balls and spat in the face.

Zelda is excellent, although I am feeling weirdly guilty about not finding it to be quite as good as everyone else is. I don’t know, all I’m saying is that I just don’t think it’s mankind’s single greatest cultural achievement. And climbing in the rain is total bollocks. Bomberman is better than the internet would have you believe, where the main complaint seems to be that it costs the amount of money that games do. I’ve played 1, 2 Switch for the best part of an hour. I wasn’t going to get it but totally panicked at the last moment and stumbled into a shop spilling money over the counter. It seems fun, although I still can’t believe that someone has rubber stamped that name. Minigames where you look like you’re vigorously tossing someone off are one thing, but there really is no excuse for a clumsy, horribly punctuated name like that. You are reading JollyNiceSoup.

There’s loads of stories circulating at the moment that the left controller doesn’t work and that the dock scratches your screen and that the whole machine was somehow implicated in 9/11. These kind of horror stories are par for the course this early on in a machines lifespan. I’m not too worried at the moment. I’m more concerned about how I’m going to feed my family for the rest of the month.

 

The Games I Liked The The Most In 2016 Arranged In Numerical Order For Your Convenience With Words Justifying Their Position

Well, that was a load of old bollocks wasn’t it? We should have perhaps realised that the writing was on the wall when 2016 was confirmed as the year that The Last Guardian would finally be released; a sure a sign of the impeding apocalypse as any. But who would have guessed that by the time this complete urinal cake of a year finally gave way and disintegrated down the piss hole we’d be wistfully reminiscing about the day David Bowie died. Good times man, good times.

In a year so depressing I considered changing my moniker to MoroseBitterGruel, video games provided a welcome escape and below I present to you my top ten of the year. Hope you all enjoy it given that this time next year I will probably be etching my countdown into the salted earth of a radioactive wasteland. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a feeling that next year’s President Evil is going to be the most terrifying yet.

Stay strong everyone.

10. SUPERHYPERCUBE (PSVR)

If you would have told me back in the nineties when I was a teenager that come 2016 I would be experiencing real virtual reality in my living room I would have said “well, given the current rate of improvements in technology that sounds about right”.

Fortunately I’m a slightly less of a huffy, know-it-all prick these days, so the arrival of an headset that actually places you within a game would have made my eyes pop out of my head were it not for the fact they were wedged against my skull by several hundred pounds worth of plastic. SUPERHYPERCUBE provided exactly the kind of experience I was after; transporting me to a world of brilliant neon, sharp lines and neat organisation that I would happily live in were it not for the fact that some people would inexplicably miss me. Everything makes beautiful, simplistic sense here. A shape hangs inches from your head whilst a hole in a barrier behind slowly makes it’s way towards you. Your task is to twist the shape so that it fits through the gap before the wall crashes into your face. Succeed and the shape increases in size until you’re dealing with the kind of Lego monster you’d expect to see built by a kid called Connor who hasn’t learned how to share. The relentless pressure, the endless horizon, the distinct building blocks; It’s all a bit like being in the middle of a Daft Punk song.

Aside from the mind-bending awesomeness of being inside this electroscape, the VR actually provides you tangible benefit. Looking over the top or round the object to get a better perspective may sound gimmicky as all fuck, but it’s something feels like the future. This world has weight, depth and physicality. It almost feels like a funky, three dimensional Tetris. And all this despite the fact it’s basically a techno version of the early evening BBC programme Hole in the Wall. SUPERHYPERCUBE was sadly released at a ridiculous price and so struggled to find an audience, but it’s the kind of exciting, thoughtful experiment that deserves to be experienced. As the distressingly orange host of the aforementioned light entertainment show might say, “bring on the wall!”

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“DVNO, FOUR CAPITAL LETTERS!”

9. Pocket Card Jockey (3DS)

Ugh, horsey people. They’re the worst aren’t they? With their hay, and their wind chimes and their oddly sexual boots. Trying to persuade you that horses are majestic beautiful animals when in reality they look like giant, mutant shrews. I went horse racing for the first time this year and left just as confused as I arrived. It’s a world that exists on the peripheral of my reality. Which is perhaps why the introduction of a card game to its structure actually resulted in something I could understand and enjoy.

Pocket Card Jockey places you in the jodhpurs of an up-and-coming rider and builds upon the idea of pushing your horse at the right moments and playing to its strengths, by mixing it with a game of good ol’ fashioned solitaire. Wait, come back! What might appear to be two pastimes only tenuously linked by gambling, actually fit remarkably well and result in a game of deep strategy. The RPG element that’s been thrown into the mix; where you can help your horse develop and grow by collecting cards on the track; means that in some cases it’s not a good idea to push your trusty steed to victory in every race. Add in the pasture where you can retire and breed your previous race winners in order to meld all their lovely, delicious genes and you start to realise that there’s an awful lot more going on here than first appears. There’s a captivating ebb and flow to each race; careful, quiet consideration as you try and move your horse into it’s best position sandwiched between quick-thinking rounds of cards. And, as is the case with a lot of Nintendo’s output, the localisation is absolutely brilliant with genuinely funny conversations between the player, stable owner and the procession of bizarre horse owners in between each cup. If all this doesn’t sound enough, then you also get name your horses. Yes, just like in real horse racing, you too can give an animal a name that sounds like it’s been lifted from the graffiti in a Victorian asylum.

Pocket Card Jockey is an idea so mental, that it would have probably been left on the whiteboard in an episode of The Apprentice, but it bloody works. I’m a changed man. I love horses. Best of all the animals.

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They’re my friends

 

8. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)

Let’s get the huge, exquisitely rendered, beautifully detailed elephant in the room out of the way first; Uncharted 4 is an astonishingly good-looking video game. It’s completely fucking ludicrous. Every nook has been lavished with care and attention, and the crannies; Jesus Christ, the crannies; you’ve ain’t ever seen crannies like these. There’s a bit early on where Nathan Drake has a bite to eat and it’s the greatest scene of animated chewing ever created. It’s only a minute long and must have taken someone weeks to get right. “How’s work going, honey?” “Stressful. Nearly finished that big rumination project. I’ve got the roll on the right hand side of the jaw right but I just can’t crack that fork-to-tounge moment.” “You’re too much of a perfectionist. It’s not the Sistine Chapel. You haven’t showered in days. I’m worried.” “You don’t understand! This is a pivotal moment! If I get this right, it could open some really big doors for us! Sure, it’s chewing now; but next it could be the sweat glistening on Sully’s moustache. They might even give me a crumbling platform. Imagine!” “I’m going to be staying at my Mother’s for a bit. Look after yourself.”

So yes, it is very pretty. As for the actual game bit; the shooting is perfectly good fun (if a bit of a step back from what the series has done before) and the platforming improved so it’s now less like following the one predefined route to the top and more like picking from three (yes, three!) slightly different routes to the top. Oh, the possibilities. But if this all sounds like a bit of a downer for one of my favourite games of the year, then at around the halfway point, A Thief’s End has one of the most extraordinarily lavish and spectacular single levels I can recall. Starting with a quiet walk through a market and culminating in the kind of ridiculously over-the-top car chase that previously only existed in the mind of a six-year old playing with Hot Wheels, I’m amazed that the amount of money that must have been pumped into this single half hour didn’t spark another global financial crisis. This level is Uncharted 4 in a nutshell; gaming’s Faberge egg; utterly pointless, fairly undignified and will probably break if you handle it too roughly, but you can’t help but be impressed by the artistry.

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This is just a bit of stuff hidden down a hole in Uncharted. Look at the fucking state of it.

7. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii U)

Perhaps concerned that the title wasn’t quite incomprehensible enough, the ‘#’ is actually pronounced ‘sharp’ rather the word that you’ve already internally used twice. But this is just the tip of the iceberg in a game that so intensely Japanese it would have needed a whole, Michael Palin travelogue to cover everything.

Our heroes are members of Fortuna Entertainment; a talent agency whose books boast a detective show where the protagonist changes her personality whenever she sneezes and “Microwavin’ with Mamori”, a cooking show which consists of a teenage girl nuking a ready meal. Still with me?  Good, because these celebrities (or “Idols” to use the vernacular) spend their free time banishing demons that feed upon talent using weapons based on characters from the strategy game series Fire Emblem. These weapons are forged by a computer program of a pop star, under the watchful eye of ex-fashion model who spends her time shit-faced, sending inappropriately sexual text messages to her staff.

So far, so lol Japan. But what makes this the first JRPG I’ve actually seen through to the end in about ten years is an immensely satisfying combat system which builds gradually rather than throwing a thousand things at you all at once. Success in battles is achieved through “sessions”; a kind of combo system where one attack can result in over fifteen hits if you’ve got all the moves lined up correctly. Not only are these pleasing to put together, but also great fun to witness. You could start by back-flipping and firing an arrow over your shoulder, before a teammate roars in waving a spear and shouting “nice combination!” and then follow it up with a blast of magic punctuated by the caster smugly pointing directly down the camera. If this isn’t enough, why not have two of your characters perform a little health restoring J-Pop duet in the middle? Tokyo Mirage Sessions may not make the slightest bit of sense but it has a cheerful attitude and sunny disposition that’s just plain good to be around. Nice combination indeed.

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“Music Fes” is of course a traditional Japanese holiday celebrating tiny impractical red hats

6. DOOM (PS4)

I’m not entirely sure that someone would be able to make a less “me” game if they tried. I’ve got no particular affinity for the original games, it sounds like listening to the ambient noise of Download festival from a couple of miles away, it’s so violent I actually let out a few Mary Whitehouse style “well, I never”‘s and it does that annoying thing reboots do of giving it the same name as the original (see also number 5). I mean, the title gives you all the information you need to know; it’s not just Doom, it’s DOOM; all capitals because it never tidies its room and it hates its parents.

But despite doing just about everything it can except for surreptitiously feeding me mushrooms in order to put me off, DOOM completely won me over with its pace, ferocity and the sheer size of its balls until I was unironically doing the devil/rock hand gesture and sticking my tongue out for photos. It’s just so fucking fast. The key to success is to continuously move forwards; leaping from one grotesquely extravagant dismemberment to the next. The “Glory Kill” mechanic, which awards you for finishing off the beasts with a melee style finishing move, means that you have no choice but to get stuck in. It’s a bit like when you see a vet get shoulder deep inside the back end of a cow; there’s no messing, no hesitation you just put on your gloves and get right up there. One of the finishing move animations literally consists of ripping out a demon’s back passage. How can you not fall for a game where anal prolapse is a legitimate tactic? Whisper it, but the constant bombardment and relentless speed reminds me a little of Geometry Wars. There’s nowhere to hide. In the entire playtime of the campaign I didn’t peak out of cover once. Fancy that. In this day and age, a FPS where you don’t spend half your time hiding like a total fucking pussy.

And if all of this makes it sound like just dumb fun, then think again. Like Oliver Read stumbling around a chat show, there’s a fierce flash of intelligence behind its crazed, wide-open eyes. Enemies flank you, take the high ground and retreat. Encounters feel as much as a battle of wits as a battle of wills. And somewhere, a couple of hours in, it began to dawn on me that DOOM is in on the joke. Despite being presented in a po-faced fashion, it’s beautifully self-aware. It knows it’s over-the-top and completely fucking ridiculous. It finds itself funny and that feeling is infectious. Both resolutely old-school yet forward thinking, utterly revolting yet totally hilarious, thick as shit yet wickedly clever, this is easily my best surprise of the year. Pass me a bottle of Hobgoblin and stick on some metal, I’m totally on board now.

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Nah, the sky is supposed to do that. I’m sure it’s fine.

5. Amplitude (PS4)

I like to keep this on the down low, but I’m really quite the fan of rhythm action games.  So when the opportunity arose to crowdfund Harmonix (creators of the Greatest Game of All Time, Rock Band 3) to make a sequel to Frequency (which happens to be the 2nd Greatest Game of All Time), I played it cool and immediately wrenched my monitor from my desk before launching it the general direction of my bank in the vague hope that the money would somehow transfer quicker. When the game finally arrived, I was a kidney down and had plunged my family into the kind of hopeless debt usually reserved for Batchelor of Arts graduates, but at least I had a nice poster.

Fortunately the game was pretty good in’all. Taking the tried and tested method for rhythm action genius perfected first time in Frequency and then wisely doing absolutely fuck all to it, this is a fine return to the hypnotic undulating lanes and phat improvised beats that I’ve probably spent more time playing with than I have my own penis. The completely in-house soundtrack has a handful of total stonkers (and a couple of absolute stinkers. I’m not sure anyone asked for the excruciating Dad-rap detailing the history of Insomniac Games; featuring the line “new intellectual properties, that’s one of our core philosophies” from the studio that brought us a million, billion near-identical Ratchet and Clank games) and will have you dancing across the pad like Fred Astaire when he’s showing off. The dark, apocalyptic finish of Decode Me, the reach-for-the-lasers break in Dalatecht, the funky finger fucking of Do Not Retreat; the quality tracks shine through and make a strong case for composing songs specifically for this type of thing.

Amplitude 2016 is another fine entry to this truly monumental series and will surely never fail to attract blank looks whenever I mention it to normal people. But then if we’ve learned anything this past twelve months it’s that normal people are total pricks.

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To me, this is what pornography looks like

4. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (PSVR) 

A moment of hushed silence please for what must be one of the finest game names in recent memory. It’s funny, it makes you think “woah, who’s that guy?!”, and is actual sound advice for playing the game. Keep Talking is a brilliant recreation of that bit in films where a sweaty man nervously waves a pair of wire cutters over a ticking bomb whilst a room of suits yell at him through an earpiece. One player dons the VR headset and can see the bomb, but the other players have the actual instructions on how to defuse it (printed off the internet and bound in a polythene pocket manual if you’ve got any sense. You can just read the instructions off the telly but if you’re doing that who the fuck are you, get away from me).

I admit it was with some trepidation that I first fired this up alongside my wife; memories of that fateful evening we attempted to play the PS2 co-op game Kuri Kuri Mix and very nearly ended up in a Kathlene Turner/Michael Douglas style War of the Roses situation still painfully fresh in my mind. But with a bag packed and my solicitor on speed dial we gave it a go, and do you know what, it was actually a bloody lovely way of discovering just how great we are at communicating with each other. The masterstroke is that the game revels in being a total bastard. Red wires and blue wires sit next to red AND blue wires, you have to clearly differentiate between buttons that read “your”, “you’re”, “you are” and “u r” whilst others say read nothing and others literally read “nothing” and you have to contend with complete bollocks symbols that force you to develop your own language. Both my wife and I now have a shared understanding of what a “fancy six” or a “half-hearted three” look like.

It’s a fantastic idea delivered with a mischeavious chuckle and our time with it didn’t result in a single argument. The secret to a successful marriage? Keep Talking.

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“Experience is the best teacher” seems like pretty poor advice in a job where failure can remove your head

3. Rhythm Paradise Megamix (3DS)

A rhythm action game made by Nintendo; a sentence that makes me feel all peculiar. Like “do you want to order a curry” or “I’m popping out with the kids for a couple of hours”. This WarioWare-esque, beat-matching series has been hitting my buttons in time since the original on the the GBA, but had never quite reached the dizzying heights of that outstanding debut…*dramatic pause*…until now!

Cherry picking from the finest selection of rhythmic mini-games of the past ten years and then adding a bunch of it’s own for good measure, Megamix is an embarrassingly vast and relentlessly joyful exploration of what you can do with the simple mechanic of “press the button when I tell you to”. The smart thing here is that it never actually gets all that complicated and the difficulty comes from the myriad ways in which the game attempts to put you off. You might be a lumberjack bear quite happily chopping wood in the forest, only for a bunch of cats to do a bizarre Cossack-style, bendy hip dance in the background. Or you might be a golfer happily smashing hole-in-ones from balls rolled to you by a chimp (you heard), only for the music to shift gear, whales to start spouting water from their head holes and a baboon to begin furiously raising the roof with a grim look of determination on its face. When I think of all the grief I used to give my sisters for so much as breathing at the wrong time whilst I was trying to concentrate on a game, here I’m actively looking forward to the ways in which I’m distracted. And although the surrealism is frequently hilarious (a level where the world’s smugest chameleon plucks bugs from the air perched on an Elvis impersonators foot very nearly killed me), it’s also genuinely witty in the small cutscenes telling the story of Tibby and his fabulous blue afro on their quest to get back to heaven. I’m generally not one for catchphrases but I’ll admit to using his regular cry “Let’s we go, amigo” more than once in real life.

Frequently surprising, often touching and capable of causing smiles so broad they’ll make your face ache, this is one of the best games available on the 3DS and I will solemnly apply my family seal to that proclamation.

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These two are talking about pork rice bowls. Seriously.

2.Virginia (PS4)

An authority figure in my life once held me in a steely, troubled gaze and told me in no uncertain terms “don’t try acid”. I possess the kind of brain that makes the wine tasting bit in a restaurant seem like a trip through Dante’s nine circles of hell, so it’s probably just as well I took the advice to heart. But Virginia; a barely interactive, Twin Peaks inspired murder investigation; gives me a pretty good idea of what would have happened had I lost my mind and gone full Fear and Loathing.

An at times moving, terrifying and exhilarating journey through small town America, with an atmosphere quite unlike any other game I’ve played before, Virgina also boasts an incredible music score that melds beautifully with the narrative beat for beat. Without a single line of dialogue and gameplay that amounts to little more than pressing up, Virginia had me visibly shaken and frantically Googling synonyms for ‘brilliant’ so I could try and describe to my mates just how ‘corscurcant’ it was.

In retrospect, Virgina is an important and well-timed game too. Placing you in the shoes of a black woman in the white male dominated world of American law enforcement, it does a beautifully subtle job of conveying everyday discrimination. The sneering sideways glances, the suspicious body language, the dismissive eye rolls of the local sheriff, the guy that only leaves you alone in the bar when you flash a wedding ring; from my privileged position it all started to bring me to the Earth-shatteringly obvious conclusion that maybe, just maybe, life still isn’t fair and perhaps we should give people a bit of a break..?

That is, when I wasn’t trying to figure out why a buffalo kept popping up. Or the significance of the little red bird. Or what was in the ornate box. Or who to trust, or what day it was or why I felt like my brain was slowly dribbling out of my ear. Virginia is a unique, beautiful, unmissable trip that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in storytelling, video games or otherwise. It’s utterly essential. Just don’t ask me to try and explain what the fuck was going on

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I know what you’re thinking; “not another ‘putting on your lipstick’ section”

1. Overwatch (PS4)

For me, there’s only ever really been one contender for the top spot this year. Overwatch grabbed me by the chops in the spring and resolutely refused to let me go all year. Keeping in mind that I have the attention span of a toddler that’s been hitting it hard on the Fruit Shoots, that’s quite the achievement.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this team based, online shooter captured my imagination so successfully, but what is certain is that I love it. I mean, I think I actually love it. Genuinely. When I think about it my tummy goes all funny and I sigh and look off into the middle distance. Perhaps it’s because I admire the almost unfathomable complexity. With 6-a-side and over twenty heroes to choose from, the skill to be able to balance the millions of possible combinations so no lineup ever feels unfair makes my brain ache. It’s like the world’s most intricate game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Everytime you find yourself butting against a brick wall, all it takes is a deep breath and a good stern look at the character select screen to find the right tool for the job.

Or maybe it’s because that screen is bursting at the seams with brilliantly designed characters. Symettra; the OCD architect who creates structures from thin air by bending the fabric of reality. Zenyatta; the peaceful robotic monk from an order deep in the Himalayas who believe that those with artificial intelligence possess a soul. Tracer; the lovable, time-travelling urchin from ol’ Laaaaaandaaaan town cheerfully zipping around the maps like Martine McCutcheon fitted with a flux capacitor. Bastion; a machine built for death who has left his purpose behind and now travels the world quietly discovering the beauty of nature and I’m terribly sorry, you’ll have to excuse me I appear to have something in my eye. Even the shitter ones have something about them; a spark of personality, a funny line, a victory pose; and it’s lovely that such a wide range of humanity is represented here. How many games have a fuller body shape character like Mei and don’t follow it up by making her bits visible from every direction? How many games let you play as a 60 year old Arabic woman? How many games feature a homosexual front and centre on the box?

Perhaps I love it because these characters are part of a compelling, epic story that never gets in the way. In game, it’s told though snippets of conversation or incidental, blink-you’ll-miss-’em details in the environment. Outside the game, it’s told through webcomics, Pixar quality short films and huge labyrinthine puzzles that take the combined brainpower of the entire community to pick apart. The story is there if you want it and completely avoidable if you don’t.

Perhaps it’s in the sparks of genius and the “why-hasn’t-anyone-done-this-before”‘s. The mobile turret. The healing sniper. The self-destructing tank. The characters are all essentially predefined load outs and there’s no upgrade path so a beginner has the same kit as someone that’s played for hundreds of hours. They’re all so easily identifiable that you instantly know what you can do and what you’re up against. The Play of the Game at the end of every match which shows all the participants a short video of the fanciest action and makes you feel like a total badass when it’s about you.

Perhaps it’s all these things. But it’s probably the fact that in actual play Overwatch never falls below a spectacular high bar of non-stop, balls-to-the-wall, face-melting, heart-in-mouth entertainment. It’s just plain outrageously fun to play. And in the year of fucking Brexit there’s something beautifully poetic about one of it’s biggest games being about a group of representatives from different nations working together to achieve common goals. It’s beautiful, funny, intense and I’ll be playing it for years. I simply must insist that you do the same. I love it. I love it.

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This is Symettra. She is my spirit animal.

 

Shy Guy

A few years back, I went to the doctor for some help with my insomnia and left being diagnosed with severe Social Anxiety Disorder.  Getting a two for one on mental health issues hardly seems like a fair deal and I rightly feel like I’ve been ripped off somewhere along the line, but as lodging official complaints and multiple telephone calls are exactly the kind of things that steer me towards panic attacks and sleepless nights I guess I’m just going to have to buckle down and get on with it.

Once I started to read up on the condition it became so abundantly obvious that it was something I’d been struggling with my entire life I may as well have been told that I had an Oxygen Inhalation Dependency or Sarcastic Prick Syndrome.  When I first moved into student accommodation, I locked myself out of my room and spent an hour hiding in the bathroom rather than talking to my new house mates in the kitchen.  This kind of thing seems perfectly rational at the time but in retrospect reads like the behaviour of someone who would eventually find themselves in the paper accompanied by the caption ‘and then he turned the gun on himself’.

I also, literally, didn’t speak to anyone for about nine months upon starting my current job. Mercifully the Christmas party rolled round and I was able to get completely shitfaced.  I guess one solution to this problem would be to spend my entire life drunk, but I do have the nagging suspicion that this may come with it’s own set of pros and cons.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of spending every waking moment terrified you’re going to have to have a conversation, Social Anxiety can broadly be described as a phobia of spending time with other people.  It goes a bit beyond ‘being a bit shy’ (which I had wrongly believed I was for many years) to the point that you worry excessively about these situations before, after and during their happening.  To clarify, it’s not that I don’t enjoy spending time with human beings it’s just that I feel the need to compile a vast project management dossier beforehand to make sure it all goes smoothly and then undertake a painstakingly detailed post mortem afterwards to see where I went wrong.  Honestly, Quincy would be proud.

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This fellas got the right idea. High five bro.

I’ve spoken to other people with the condition (a gathering of a group of people that struggle with groups of people is a pretty wild party, I can tell you), and one of the common themes is that your brain is shouts ‘OH MY GOD!  I’M HAVING A CONVERSATION!’ over and over whenever you decide to talk to someone. In the past I’ve found myself so preoccupied with trying to have a ‘normal’ chat that I’m not actually aware of the topic; I’m just vomiting sounds in a desperate attempt to stave off the threat of silence.

It’s all pretty exhausting and at my worst points made me wonder why I bothered spending time with other people at all.  The amount of enjoyment I got out of it didn’t seem worth the stress and strain I put in.  This is an unhappy paragraph.  Sadface.

But don’t worry because this is a happy paragraph where the life-affirming Elbow song kicks in.  I went to the doctors for a few months and read a couple of books and now have a whole bunch of tools that help me deal with it.  You’re still unlikely to find me in the pub with my arms draped around the shoulders of strangers singing a rousing rendition of The Rembrandts “I’ll Be There For You” but I’m also no longer likely to spend a weekend curled up on the sofa in a feverish, waking nightmare because I didn’t get mad thumbs on a Facebook status.

It’s weird old fucking thing, given that it’s both a symptom of a lack of self-confidence whilst also comes with the assumption that you’re the centre of the universe.  It’s a bit like when you wander into a village pub and everyone looks up from their pints to have a good old look at the outsider.  But rather than going back to their drinks they just carry on staring, and then get a pencil and pad out and start making notes and muttering to each other whenever you have the audacity to open your mouth.  One of the most important things I’ve learned is that not everyone is as obsessed with how I’m perceived as I am.  I know, I was surprised too.  Turns out you’ve all got your own shit going on.  Who would have thought?

Fortunately, it’s not all depressing narcissism, sometimes it’s pretty funny.  And as nobody reads anything on the internet that doesn’t have a list in it anymore, here’s 4 Weird Things My Social Anxiety Has Done (You Won’t Believe Number 2).

1. For our honeymoon, my wife and I went to the Ice Hotel in Sweden.  This is situated in the middle of nowhere and the one of the few sources of food is a mega fancy restaurant.  I ordered a risotto but they got my order wrong, lacing it with the largest, floppiest sweaty mushrooms I’ve ever seen.  In case it’s not clear from my description, I am not a huge fan of fungi but rather than send it back and potentially ‘make a scene’ I forced it down between huge gulps of wine, silently convulsing with every mouthful.  “Everything to your satisfaction, sir?” “Yes, lovely thank you”.  This is the most expensive meal I have ever eaten.

2. Our landlord was doing some work on a conservatory style extention we had coming off the living room.  Given that she was fifty-something and doing some quite manual labour and I was twenty-something and sitting on my arse playing Mario, my finely tuned ‘well-this-is-awkward” sense was already tingling.  “Steve?”,  she shouted.  “Yeah?”,  I instinctively replied despite this not being my name.  I had a good twenty minute window where it would have been suitable to correct this but decided against it, preferring instead to spend the next two years perpetuating the lie, terrified that my wife was going to give the game away.  We moved.

3. When you regularly walk to work at the same time every day you end up seeing the same people over and over.  One day a lady had the audacity to smile at me so I smiled back.  Not a broad, friendly smile or a cheerful ‘morning’, but a barely imperceptible movement of the lips like I had just secretly eaten a Tangfastic.  Unfortunately, this recognition of each others existence had opened the floodgates and we now had to smile at each other every single day. Doesn’t sound too much of a hardship, but then you’re probably the kind of person that doesn’t put the prospect of a seconds eye contact with a stranger in the same bracket as the twelve trials of Hercules.  I’d see her coming round the corner and find myself giving this moment of human interaction a ‘run up’.  Look at the floor, look at the floor, look at the tree, look at the floor, look at her face, smile.  Phew!  That’s over for another day.  Recognising that my options were either murder, suicide or change my walk to work I did the later adding another five minutes to my journey.

4.  A trip to the barber’s handily consolidates all my social anxieties into one monthly repayment. Looking at myself in the mirror, time alone with a stranger, forced conversation, being touched; the whole caboodle. Hairdressers are always such a confident bunch too; I once went to a place with whose small talk included the nugget ‘mate, what actually is fire?’.  I obviously didn’t go back.  Anyway until recently when I loosened up a bit (yes, the Jolly you see before you now is a pretty free and easy version believe it or not), I hated it so much that I managed to develop a ‘script’ to get me through. Part of this script was what I ask for as I sit in the chair which I memorised from a visit with my dad over twenty years ago.  What this does mean is that I can never have a different haircut; this is it now, stretching out into eternity. I’m rather fortunate my mum didn’t take me that day or I’d be in my second decade of looking like Kate Bush.

So there you have it.  Mental health issues can be fun as well as emotionally crippling.  I’ve had this piece sat in my drafts for a while now; trying to decide if laying it out like this is a particularly good idea.  But I’ve spent the last year or so purposefully putting myself in situations that I find difficult to tackle this motherfucker head on.  I’m bored of worrying about worrying.  I’m tired of not feeling involved.  And I’m sick of people assuming I don’t like them.  So come over here and give me a cuddle; I love you all really.

E3 Kings

JUNE!  I bloody love JUNE!  It’s the time of the year I get to try to explain to a sea of disinterested faces just how amazing video games are.  I spend a lot of my time doing this anyway, but in June there’s so much to talk about I have to do it a little bit quicker to make sure that my audience doesn’t frantically jam a biro down their ear canal just to get the noise to stop.

Because JUNE! is E3 month.  If you’ve spent any length of time with me or with one of my fellow apostles (you can tell us apart from normal people because we occasionally take annual leave for no apparent reason; hint, it’s because we want to spend the day peeking through the letterbox waiting for the postman to deliver a video game) you’ve probably heard of E3.  It’s the biggest annual event in gaming when all your Nintendos, Sonys and Microsofts get their mates in and jump around on stage to show off what they’ve been working on.   In your head you’re probably imagining something like an episode of Justin’s House, and you’re not a million miles away from the truth.  But E3 is so much more than this and deserves to be enjoyed by more than just the people you speak to when you don’t know how to work your phone.

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If this image means nothing to you, then congratulations, you’re a better human than I am.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 to give it its totally radical, nineties-style abbreviation, doesn’t really have an equivalent in other forms of entertainment.  It’s sort of like a cross between The Oscars, Glastonbury and the World Cup, except instead of being fronted by towering icons of sport, music and the silver screen it’s hosted by someone who looks like they’ve come to sell you refurbished ink cartridges.

Because what was always meant to be (and still essentially is) a trade only event now has an audience streaming straight into their living rooms.  What was designed to be a closed door, week long wankathon between the gaming press and the industry bigwigs, is now the annual focal point for a huge, global community. The end result is a vast, mishmash of a show that doesn’t quite know if it’s trying to impress the stakeholders, the journalists or the public, but it’s pretty sure that a fifty year old businessman in a blazer with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, awkwardly stuttering through an hour long presentation of lasers and dubstep is the way to go about it.

It’s a beautiful mess and even when the announcements are shit, which they very often are, it’s still incredibly entertaining.  For one, you get to see a procession of successful suits having to give one of the most nerve-wracking presentations imaginable.  It was probably stressful enough in the olden days when all they had to do was put down the caviar spoon and goblet of employee tears to speak to a room of scabby, sweaty press.  But now they have to do so in the knowledge that thousands of pairs of eyes are scanning every microsecond of their performance for meme material.  One misplaced comma, one technical hitch, one over enthusiastic and misguided attempt to appear like a trendy uncle, and you can safely assume that the full force of the internet is laughing and pointing at you like a version of the disembodied hand from the old Lottery adverts driven mad by schadenfreude.

Feeling superior to people objectively better than you is only one piece of the puzzle and is probably why Nintendo stopped doing a traditional presentation a couple of years ago.  Yes, after a few years of some truly terrible performances, everyone’s cuddliest corporation now releases a slicky made video towards the end of the event.  Where this would appear to dramatically reduce the lol potential (and granted, we’re unlikely to ever see anything along the lines of the Wii Music reveal again which looked like an impromptu busking session by a religious cult of cranial injury survivors) what we do get is often so bizarre it’s like an episode of Live and Kicking directed by David Lynch.

Last years saw chief executive Satoru Iwata reimagined as one of Jim Henson’s muppets proudly holding a bunch of bananas.  The year before they had Iwata square up against his American counterpart in a fight that was seemingly inspired by the video to Two Tribes by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.  On one hand they are obviously attempting to head off the gif generators and dictate the jokes on their own terms.  On the other hand they’re redefining WTF.

The more faceless companies who are yet to try and turn the highest echelons of their management structure into children’s entertainers, occasionally wheel out a big name to try and give their moment in the spotlight a bit of je ne sais qua and this is always a terrible idea.  Paul McCartney once took time out from his busy schedule of following the Queen around and forcing crowds to sing Hey Jude whenever she stopped for five minutes to promote Rock Band.  As you can imagine, the personification of the colour beige didn’t exactly manage to put across his magnetic personality and stopped just short of going DEFCON 4 and whipping out the na-na na nas.

Last year when faced with the enviable task of trying to get people excited by progress they’ve made in capturing Jordan Henderson’s face, poor old EA wheeled out Pele to promote Fifa.  To the surprise of no one, a 75 year old viagra salesman wasn’t exactly best placed to big up a video game and his painfully protracted interview lasted approximately a trillion, billion years until it was thankfully ended by the heat death of the universe.

Most attention is normally directed to the Sony and Microsoft conferences and we’re normally presented with a ‘winner’ (although a few years back their showing was so unfathomably poor that Ubisoft managed to win by unveiling Watch Dogs; a game that manages to make The Silence from Doctor Who a reality, insofar that you forget the game exists the instant you look away from it).

This rivalry hits its peak during new console reveals and the PS4’s success is largely credited to the manner in which Sony looked at the Xbox reveal and did the exact opposite like a live action production of Brewster’s Millions.  If you want to gaze into the eyes of the embodiment of awkwardness, look up the video of Phil Spencer (nope, not that one) revealing the One’s launch price; an announcement that even a room full of Americans couldn’t quite muster the enthusiasm to borishly whoop about.

In something that only made the blindest bit of sense at the time, the biggest borish whoop that year was when Sony announced that the PS4 would play used games.  Microsoft had managed to paint themselves as such a bunch of evil bastards, that all Sony had to do was pop on stage and proudly proclaim “NOTHING IS CHANGING” and everyone went bananas.   What other treats could they have up their sleeves I wonder?  PlayStations powered by electricity?  Each machine to come packaged with a wire that allows you to display images on your television?  We are proud to reveal that in 2017 the Earth will continue to orbit the sun and rotate upon its axis?

Sony have had their fair share of clusterfucks of course and just as their recent success can be credited to that glorious day when they did naff all, the PS3’s relative failure can be seen as a result of years of disastrous E3s; including one memorable year when they did a bit about giant crabs.  I feel I should point out that I’m not writing this while high; this genuinely did happen.  I mean, hats off to them, they were some fuck off huge crustaceans, but I’m one of those traditionalists that doesn’t factor in the size of the sea life when purchasing my electronics.

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These games definitely exist 

Last years E3 is generally considered one of the best, and by that I obviously mean worst, because everyone put on a fairly decent show and there was less to point and laugh about.  Nintendo’s vid was a bit wonky and Ubisoft and EA had shows that were as entertaining as the film about picking up boxes they make you watch when you when you start a new job, but actual fuck ups were few and far between.

Microsoft had a couple of blinding announcements as they desperately tried to convince the world that Jekyll was back for good and Hyde was buried deep within their gut, honestly he’s gone for goooaaaaAAAAARGH MWAH HA HA HA, cough cough, sorry about that, he’s definitely gone, honest.  And Sony stopped just short of confirming the existence of Father Christmas by announcing three games that most of us were convinced would never happen; The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue III.  The best thing about these games is that normal people have never heard of them so trying to describe their significance is like trying to explain Memento to a swan. But rest assured that before last year their existence was the kind of thing that a wandering minstrel might strum his lute about.  We were all very excited.

E3 then is either brilliant or awful, but even when it’s awful it’s brilliant, so if you have ever picked up a pad you owe it to yourself to get it down yer. I for one can’t wait until my kids are old enough to stay up and watch it with me so that they resent me for it and pick a new hobby like cricket or decoupage instead.  JUNE!

Where Nintendo Went Wrong

When I were a young whippersnapper, I used to tell all the grown ups that I wanted to be a ‘Game Consoller’ when I was older.  Fortunately for me this was the early nineties when a child could make up any old shit about the video game industry and the adults would be none the wiser.  In retrospect, I’m not even sure what this occupation would entail.  Programming?  QA?  Providing a shoulder to cry on for grieving rabbits?

God knows, but I certainly put the work in.  Alongside performing my own Street Fighter tournaments (complete with having to act nonchalantly as my mum burst into the room to put the laundry away, like I’d been caught masturbating, when I’d actually just been strutting around, swinging my hips, pretending to Chun Li) I also spent an inordinate amount of time producing ‘design documents’.  These would normally be a few pages of hastily scribbled notes, horrifically drawn characters and a letter to Nintendo saying that if they made this game I would offer them 50% of the profit.  Business nous and an artists eye; get this lad a desk.

In any case, as the kind of compulsive hoarder with a loft whose mysteries will only begin to be unravelled by my grieving children after I’m gone (“How many plastic guitars did one man need?”, “Who the fuck are Freezepop; I thought Dad was straight..?”, “What on Earth possessed him to buy an N-Gage?”) I’ve kept a few of these of these treasured dossiers and present one for your amusement below.

I’d hazard a guess I was around the age of ten when I put this together.  Nobody’s favourite uncle John Major is running the country .  Some guy is trying to identify every British leisure centre by scent alone on You Bet. Steven Seagal is kicking the shit out of a boat while a woman with boobs hides inside a cake.  Sarah Greene’s face is a picture of horror as she slowly realises what The Shaman are singing about on Going Live.  Freddie Mercury really, really likes Barcelona.  Heady days.

And somewhere in Essex, a young lad is designing a game no one will ever play.  As he diligently sharpens his colouring pencils, he’s blissfully unaware that twenty years in the future someone that looks like his Dad would be using technology beyond his comprehension to show the world how shit it is. The internet is truly a beautiful thing.

The Game 

From what I gather, the game itself appears to be a one-on-one beat ’em in a similar vein to Street Fighter.  This was my favoured genre for these scribbles as it allowed me to do all the fun bits like character design and leaping around my bedroom inventing special moves without having to get bogged down in all the boring bits like balancing, coding, animating; y’know, all the things that actually make a game work.

I must of been on a sugar high from all the Nerds and Jawbreakers because I though it was a good idea to make all the characters convicted criminals.  And they’re all animals of course, because this was back in the day when literally every video game featured a bad ass anthropomorphic creature with sunglasses and a backwards baseball cap.  I was basically laying the foundations for Rare’s entire Nintendo 64 output.

Without further ado, please select your character Player 1:

 

Ace of Spades 

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As with everything I do, I gave this my all until it was half finished, got bored and moved onto something else which explains why our first combatant is the only one in glorious technicolour.

His moves feature the mysteriously titled ‘jump spin’ and his previous convictions include ‘stealing $1 from Fort Knox’ which strikes me as a spectacular waste of time.  And yes, I was a fan of the Jim Carrey film The Mask; why do you ask?

 

Slam Dunk 

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Apparently criminal 9, the basketball playing giraffe Slam Dunk, is ‘too big to fit in’ his mugshot which begs the question why the photographer didn’t just look up a bit.

His crime of ‘illegal basketball play’ seems a little harsh to get banged up for but then his rap sheet does also mention ‘asulltng polce officers’ which does sound farly searyuss.

Before he was in the slammer, Slammers played for the ‘Metro Python’s’ presumably taking a break from their airborne big top.

 

Claw

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The good news is that I’m pretty confident there are no worldly warriors who are defined by their iconic claw so I’m golden on the intellectual property front.

The bad news is that ‘Claw hit bad times in 1989’.  Oddly specific without a whole lot of background, but I go on to describe a tragic figure who is ‘a supervillan without a superhero’ and spends his time ‘stealing black and purple cloth’.  I think the reason you might be missing an arch nemesis is because you spend all your time casing habberdasheries, mate.

 

Heliaum 

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The dictionary is all the way over there so you can hardly blame me for the misspelling of helium, but I’m not sure why I’ve got more than one ‘Criminal 1’.

The description for this chap, who is surely only coincidentally identical to one of the bad guys from Roger Rabbit, deserves to be experienced in full;

‘Known as the “Balloning Rat” this madman can actually blow helium* from his mouth!  That’s the reason for his funny voice.  Previous convictions; plane robbing, hijacking, graffiti on roofs”

*Yes, I did then spell it correctly. Fuck knows what was going on.

 

Mr Toon 

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O.k, maybe I did just rip off Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  My opening gambit is that ‘Mr Toon is a nutter’  which makes him sound like he downs a couple of brown ales and then smashes some guys face in after every Newcastle match.

‘He has spent his life making the real ACME Co and in ten years made it’ is a sentence that only gets more confusing the more often I read it.

But my favourite detail is that his previous conviction of ‘hammer banging’ is the only one I’ve put in quotation marks, suggesting…well, I’m not sure what I was getting at but my adult mind is in overdrive as to what exactly this sexual deviant could have been up to.

 

Terry Vision 

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‘Terry watch T.V constantly when he was a kid, this is why he has square eyes’ is Criminal number 10’s ‘backyrond’.  One of his crimes is ‘interacting with T.V’, which I think is generally referred to as playing video games; the irony of which is nearly enough to make me smirk my mouth clean off my face.

In a delightful touch that makes me want to ruffle my own hair, Terry’s mugshots are actually inside televisions.   Nice work, little Soup.  Nice work.

 

Desmond 

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I describe Desmond as a ‘demond cat’, clearly too young to yet realise that all felines contain part of our Lord Satan. ‘Master of fire and evil he loves disappearing’.  Who doesn’t!  Right with you there, Des.

His crimes; ‘Escaping from hell’, woah, that’s a biggy, ‘defing the law of gravity’, not technically illegal but we’ll go with it and ‘bank robbery’, kinda fizzles out at the end there.

 

Gear Paw 

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Sounds like a geordie saying ‘gay porn’, doesn’t it?

Gear Paw, I’m very eager to clarify, was once called ‘Gary Place’ suggesting that Mr and Mrs Dunk really did decide to call their baby Slam.  Tragically, our hero ‘lost his claw in a machanical acident’ but did what any of us would have done and ‘built himself a CYBERPAW with lots of cagets’.  Gotta have those cagets.

His crimes range from the ridiculously mild (‘stealing batterys’) to the completely pointless (‘breaking into electrical plants’).  What are you hoping to achieve Gary?  I know you’re still in there. Put the cagets down and come back to me Gary.  Please.

 

Minga

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Fuck, where to start?  The background indicates that I was going for a ‘mystical monkey ninga’.  What I got was either the term ‘minger’, meaning someone unpleasant to one’s eye, or ‘minge-er’, meaning someone who likes to minge.

Putting the brilliantly unfortunate phonetics to one side, Minga crimes are just utterly baffling. ‘Selling watches’ is not only well within the boundaries of our legal system but a totally inappropriate side venture for a monkey ninja.

The next one I can’t even read.  It’s either ‘illegal bulery’ (I’m guessing this is impersonating Ferris Bueller without the valid paperwork) or ‘illegal butery’ which suggests this ape is into butts as well as minges.

‘No one knows where he comes from’ I whisper mysteriously, immediately after saying that he ‘originated from Japan’.   ‘He is leathel!’ I exclaim, making him sound like a French bag.

Finally, just what the fuck is that criminal number supposed to be?!

Let Me Be Your Fantasy

In a confession that’s sure to confound the marketing men, I quite like Marmite.  I don’t recoil at it’s presence but nor do I feel the need to have the barcode tattooed on my body.  Marmite’s fine, and is a viable but not necessary option when selecting spreads.

I’m the same with football really; most people are either fanatically devoted to it or fly into a hulk style rage at the mere mention of it.  I enjoy the odd match, enjoy the odd video game, follow a team and prefer them to win. Footballs fine, and is a viable but not necessary option when selecting entertainment.

All that said, I absolutely adore Fantasy Football.

I should clarify that I’m not talking about the crappy versions found between the boobs and racism in the tabloids.  With their unesscessarily difficult transfer policies that demand you use a bloody phone like this is ’95 or something, they too closely ape the unfairly balanced nature of reality football where the odds are already stacked against the little guy.   Ironically, I’m talking about the one officially endorsed by the Premier League themselves, who have inadvertently lampooned the setup of their own league by creating a game that anyone can succeed at, as long as they try.

I’ve not watched more than two entire games this season and yet sit in fourth position in my work league of over 30 teams, some of whom are managed by the kind of lunatics that spend their Saturdays desperate for a piss on a boiling hot bus so that they can yell at someone who doesn’t care that they exist.  How is this possible?  How can someone who buries themselves in the sport end up worse than someone who only lightly dusts themselves with it?

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This is how my Saturday mornings look.  My family are very lucky to have me.

I’m not even the best fairytale I know.  A few seasons back, at the weekend of my 30th birthday, a friend managed to seal victory in our social league (which this season is inexplicably referred to as ‘Hypothetical Trousers’) despite not really showing the slightest interest in football until he was in his late twenties.  At that point he didn’t even support a team.

The title was beautifully poised with myself and two others all within three points of each other.  When you consider total scores over the season enter the thousands this proves how impossibly close this was.

And he bloody won it.  If you’ve been paying very close attention, you may have heard a slight whisper on the wind that this seasons reality football was won by Leicester City, a team tipped for relegation by just about everybody.  This was fantasy footballs equivalent and he won in such dramatic fashion.  That he’s now considered a force to be reckoned with just goes to show how this game enables a minnow to become an established part of the footballing elite.  That this season he was top at Christmas and is now languishing near the bottom just shows how cruel a mistress she can be.

And we’re just a bunch of eight players. This game is played by literally millions of people the world over.  I love the idea of all these little stories going on.  The setup that allows you to not only go against the world but to also cut off your own small slice in the form of a custom league is inspired. For some, it facilitates #topbants, but for me it means that I’m constantly playing an awesome strategy game with my friends.

And that’s the key to its success. At it’s heart Fantasy Football is a game of numbers and forward planning.   A beautifully entertaining spreadsheet of form, figures and statistics.  Perhaps if you’re engaged with the sport too deeply you can foolishly start to attribute humanity to the little football shirts on your monitor. I fell for this issue a few years back when I refused to have Luis Suarez in my team because I think he’s a massive prick. Naturally he scored a ton of goals and my team suffered because I let silly emotions get in the way of pure, cold objectivity.

To succeed you have to worship your enemies and kill your darlings. Another friend once found some success in bringing in John Terry, the racist, womanising thug. Hated by most but particularly hated by him as he supports Queens Park Rangers, a team that are in direct rivalry with Terry’s Chelsea. What a moral quandary he must have found himself in.  It must have been like starting a game of charades only to find out that George Osborne was really good at it, begrudgingly joining his team and weakly high-fiving his stunningly accurate interpretation of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

A knack for brutal pragmatism and lack of moral fibre is not the only key to success of course.  Fantasy Football is often wrongly accused of being a game of chance.  Fate does play a factor but certainly no more than your average game of Mario Kart.  There’s a cliché in reality football that misfortune ‘evens itself out over the course of the season’ and this rings true for the fantasy equivalent too.  One full game is so monstrously long that the cream always rises to the top.

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See that blue bastard at the front there?   Hate him.  Inconsistent fucker.

Finding ‘The Differential’ (the player hitting form that no one else has), taking advantage of a teams easy run of games, planning weeks in advance so your team is packed with ‘Double Weekers’, deciding when to pull the trigger on your wildcard which allows you to change your entire team without penalty (and is of course, always accompanied by an Always Sunny reference); all these factors and a hundred more build to create a game of staggering tactical complexity.  It’s telling that a friend once described it as scratching the same itch as the notoriously uncompromising EVE Online.

It gets into your head and has you pacing around the kitchen, obsessively the checking the latest scores; quietly fist pumping as a plan comes together or banging your head against a wall as it falls apart.  Another glorious mechanic is that it’s a game that’s constantly balancing itself. Players become more or less expensive dependant on their success so getting in early or leaving on a high is an extra level of strategy that needs to be considered.

I would recommend it to literally everybody, with the very slight caveat that if you don’t know the slightest thing you’ll be at a disadvantage to start.  I once tried to get my wife involved and she wanted her starting team to include ‘Frank Lampard’ (now plays abroad), ‘the one with the Sideshow Bob hair’ (David Luiz, also now abroad) and ‘Tom Hardy’ (played Bane in Batman, may or may not be abroad).  But if you can get over this slight hurdle you’re in the same boat as the rest of us; staring at the impossibly vast number of branching options, desperately searching for that one special player.

Fantasy Football is the world’s first and undoubtedly the finest MMOARSRPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Augmented Reality Strategy Role Playing Game). My sporting vocabulary isn’t developed enough to describe a good goal as anything other than ‘oooh, nice’ and it’s still one of the best games I’ve played in years.  Even if you hate football and everything it stands for there’s no reason not to get involved.

[10]

Crapshoot

In late 2015 I was hitting some serious, phat likage on Facebook for a series of posts in which I stormed round my house, took photos of the piles of crap I found and wrote some snooty, eye-rolling commentary.  This seemed to be most popular amongst mums; which if you’ve read the rest of my blog in which I swear about video games is obviously the exact audience I’m after.

In order to ensure that this treasure trove of snarkyness doesn’t get lost in the flood of Key Stage 2 maths tests that currently dominate my news feed, I have decided to translate the edited highlights onto this here blog.  This is definitely the only reason. It has nothing to do with the fact that writing something new takes time and I’m hopelessly addicted to frantically refreshing the stats on the WordPress back end to give me some small slither of self-worth.

What’s “interesting” reading back on it is that you can slowly see me gain confidence and transform from the timid, hand-half-held-up, please miss pick me, terminally shy guy into the towering inferno of rude words and semi-passable Charlie Brooker impersonations that you see before you today.   It was almost certainly the response to these posts that led to me writing for a couple of gaming sites and setting up this page in the first place, so I guess I should be grateful that my house is a fucking mess.

A slight spoiler, it goes on a bit of a sentimental tangent towards the end. With that warning in mind, buckle yourselves in for the biggest craze to hit social media since that time everyone took no make-up selfies to raise awareness for whatever-it-was.

The Breadbin

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First off I take a peek at this curious collection of items on our bread bin and ask how long it is until we have a documentary crew round fighting past piles of old newspaper and Nick Knowles has to come in to sort it all out.

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Two expired bulbs sealed in a plastic bag. What is this, CSI?

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A tiny purple thing (probably drugs) and an unconvincing forgery of a ten pence piece.

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A Mario badge from the 80s, a purple hair clip and an Invasion Colchester badge. Got to keep hold of those badboys.

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Small connection tools stored on top of the bread presumably to make it easier to hold a sandwich together.

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A house truly becomes a home with some old fuses and watch batteries.

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For entertaining guests at our legendary perfume and lip balm dinner parties.

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A Boggle pencil rendering the missing game unplayable.

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Anyone? Bueller?

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For when we want to catch tiny fish, obvs.

FB_IMG_1456951699451I think this is a little bath.

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A screw in a plastic bag with a purple sticker. What does the sticker represent? This is what excites me about my family. It’s the mystery

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A throat sweet, some diahorea medicine, a couple of Rennie and a syringe for administering medicine for cats. Handily bagged for the family on the go.

 

The Living Room Mantle

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In this week’s exciting episode I take a look at a line of crap rather than a pile.  I will be focusing on the bullshit and will skip past the special or sentimental. When we first moved in I fell in love with the fireplaces, so as you can imagine, I’m delighted with how they’ve turned out.

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Mystery keys with a corset keyring. Fairly certain these aren’t even ours but best to store them next to pictures of our children.

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This glowing ball and bamboo vase combo really holds the room together.

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A single Lego head. I’m fairly certain this is the only piece of actual Lego we own.

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The cornerstone of any living space, a curtain hook, a DS stylus, a plastic fence panel, half a kinder egg toy bike and a ghostbusters badge. Who you gonna call? Not an interior designer that’s for sure! Titter!

 

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Daughter detritus. It may sound mean me calling it that, but Jesus Christ the amount of it she produces.

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A map to Legoland. We’re unlikely to go anytime again soon, but you never know when someone might want to borrow it.

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Oh good. The other half of the kinder egg bike. Separated by the rest by about a metre because reasons. Please note; I am not about to urinate in that potty.

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Who’s this peeking behind the picture? Mum’s secret gin? Nah, secret Olbas Oil. Got to keep that shit under wraps

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‘Has anyone got an old burned out incense stick?’ A familiar call in homes up and down the nation. Well, not round here where we always keep some handy.

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1000 Vietnamese dong (snigger). Never been, never gonna go.

 

The Bedroom

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Ladies and gentlemen; The Motherload. This little collection is brought to you from the den of eroticism that is our bedroom.

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We start the tour with a box to a machine I bought two years ago containing a single, silver bauble. Handy because when it’s Christmas again, this would be the first place I’d look to give our tree some extra pizazz

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More empty boxes, this time two for our his and her phones. Handy if we ever go mad and decide to put the phones away and have an actual conversation.

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The graveyard of fucked books.FB_IMG_1456951852350

The red bag looks like it contains an asphyxiation kit, but the hungry caterpillar merchandise has thrown me off

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A bracelet box containing children’s hair clips. I don’t think my daughter has had her hair up since 2012. Gotta keep them safe though, right?

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….Jesus. I just don’t know anymore

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I’ve tidied this up a bit to get the full impact but we have a hilarious coaster, some expensive looking perfume, body lotion, a lego man (turns out we have more lego than I thought), a candle, a set of drawer legs, a price tag (£7.99 in case you’re wondering) a watch I lovingly bought for my wife, a pump up torch, a bra extender, a set of metallic numbers in a bag, and a download code for Worms Armageddon on the PlayStation Vita.

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And this is what they were all on. The fuck is this shit? No one is going to use them anymore. Might as well chuck them out. Especially the piss yellow one

 

The Grand Tour

So no one told you life, was gonna be this waaaaaaay,
Your house is a pit, of shit,
It gets worse every daaaaaay!

This is our penultimate episode and next time will be the last in the series. Aaaaaaaaaah! But don’t despair! Today I take you on a whistle-stop tour peeking at the pockets of crap that threaten to throttle our beloved family home.

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Above the kitchen sink is where we keep our urine sample jar, presumably unused, and a bottle of homemade Deterr-ant: consisting of lemon juice and cinnamon.  We used this as an insect spray when I was losing my mind because we found a couple of ants in the kitchen

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A small collection of Daughter Detritus tacked to the wall including Kinder Egg nutritional information. I tried to take this down once, never again.

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A glimpse into the darkest depths of a tentacled lovecraftian hell, or a bag of completed art projects hanging on the dining room door? Also tried to tidy this once. It was back within a day

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Sometimes we’ll find a tiny speck of baffling crap. Here, in the centre of the living room carpet, is my wife’s maternity exemption certificate. Expired 2013.

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My daughter’s bedside drawer. Contents ; three pairs of her brother’s socks, hairbands and hairpins (never worn, naturally) a skull and crossbones, a cupcake curtain rail cover and the inlay to The Beatles Abbey Road; typical five year old fare.

 

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Next to the kids bin a congratulations on your graduation bear (I’d have thought I would have remembered that day), yet more ties, a tiny top hat and a solar powered lamp; miles away from the window.

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Ah, my coffee filter. Now home to temporary Avengers tattoos, FUCKING HAIR CLIPS, turtle Pez dispensers and a refrigerator bulb (broken).

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My daughter’s dedicated shelf with a variety of decorative toilet roll middles, a collection of rubber bands she found in the street and ‘her’ books including The Bad Mothers Handbook, old favourite Fast Food Nation, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (handy for when she’s finally diagnosed) and children’s classic Overcoming Social Anxiety.

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My son’s equivalent boasts the kind of hat you wear to an X Factor audition, a bit of polystyrene with a tie fighter on it, a pink plastic plaster, a tiny pair of purple sunglasses and what appears to be a very large and valuable emerald.

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Lastly, placed in reach in the living room (and not stored in the toy boxes they rest on, obviously) a Minecraft bed, a koopa trooper, a felt lion face, a pumpkin hunt map (yes, that’s a thing) and a single adult sized mitten.

 

The Anniversary 

Our very special finale in which we celebrate the day a woman lost her mind long enough to think it was a good idea to marry me. Rather than storm round the house, pointing out the crap so we can all have a big laugh at how disorganised my life has become, I will be focusing on the nice bits and you’re going to bloody well enjoy it, alright?

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The kids memory boxes. Here we keep all the cool stuff they accumulate so that when they’re older they will realise how awesome and thoughtful their parents are.

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This was given to us in Japan by a man that fell in love with us and told us a story over breakfast while banging on the bottom of a coffee pot. It’s about a drunk angel. Appropriate. I’m not entirely sure it’s not upside down.

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We bought this on our honeymoon at the Ice Hotel. At Christmas we stick baubles on it and it looks fucking awesome. It’s a nice reminder that we’re the kind of couple that spends their newlywed time having the insides of their nostrils frozen in minus 45 degree temperatures. Whit woo!

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This is the book in which we right the funny stuff the kids have said. Not all of it, obviously or I’d never put the pen down and I’m pretty heavy handed so I’d do myself a mischief.

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I like to document how much I spend on games, the dates I finish them and my top tens of the year. When my wife found this out rather than subtly calling the emergency services and edging out the door she bought me a nice set of moleskin PacMan books so I could record my slow decent into madness in style. That’s love right there.

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A Buddha glove puppet with a squeaky belly and a Parappa eating fries with a picture of us driving a pink car through bubblegum land. What of it?

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Occasionally, my wife will make something awesome. Here are two examples. Another two examples are sound asleep in their bedroom.

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Yeah, yeah, I know. But I can’t remember an occasion where I wasn’t allowed to geek the fuck out whenever I wanted. Considering the amount of people who complain about their partners not letting them enjoy their hobby I’d say I’m lucky as all fuck

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When my wife was first pregnant I bought her a bunch of flowers. Being a total plum, I didn’t realise they were plastic until I got home. I actually now think it’s pretty cool we get to keep them forever and that’s what I meant in the first place, honest it was intentional, why are you looking at me like that, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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This here is us in a microcosm. I could point out all the things that shouldn’t be here, or the stuff that’s in the wrong place or that it looks a bit messy, but these dining room shelves contain a piece of all of us and I fucking love them. I am very, very fortunate to have stumbled into having a family that amazes me and makes me laugh every single day. And I have one person to thank for it all. June Sarpong. Thank you June.

Not really. I am of course talking about the one person that truly knows me, that sees my weird turn off the telly dancing, that listens to my nonsensical singing, that calms me down when the internet stops working for two minutes and understands why I get so excited on console launch day and play Elbow’s ‘One Day Like This’ to mark the occasion. I’m of course talking about Dean Gaffney. You’re always on board Dean. You’ll always be on board.

Bixxboxx, you’re my best friend and I love you. Jx

A Numerical List of the Video Games I Liked The Most That Were Released in 2015

Like a box of mint Matchmakers or an ultimately disappointing episode of Doctor Who, posting my top ten games of the year has become a Christmas tradition for me.  I’m hoping that if I keep at it it’ll reach levels of national adoration; like when her Maj’ sticks on her sparkly hat and begrudgingly agrees to give us three minutes of her time.

I hope all four of you that actually give a shit enjoy these words and perhaps play these games.  Just to distract me for a few minutes from the gasping black void of emptiness that is the point of all this, and indeed, the purpose of my very existence.

Happy New Year!

10) Life is Strange (PS3/4, XB360/One, PC)

Teenage girl friendship simulators that feel like a cross between Twin Peaks and Mean Girls are bloody everywhere these days, but this is the best of bunch. With a photography college setting and a twangy, folksy soundtrack there is a danger that the hipster levels will make your PlayStation sprout a fully waxed moustache, but the neat time travelling story and gut wrenching twists are well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

9) Affordable Space Adventures (Wii U)

Sticking you behind the controls of a clapped-out, shitty space shuttle and then sending you off on a cheap interstellar package holiday, this does a marvellous job of simulating what it might be like if we ever get an Easyjet Galactic.  Starting the engine by jabbing at the various buttons on the touchpad is one of the most awesomely geeky things I’ve done this year (and that’s quite an extensive list), while its five hour playtime doesn’t so much as break the forth wall as blast it into the nearest sun.  A lovely little thing that probably makes more use of the Wii U’s odd grab bag of features than anything Nintendo have produced themselves.

8) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PS3/4, XB360/One, PC)

On reflection, probably my least favourite Metal Gear, The Phantom Pain is still bloody good even if it’s not quite bonkers enough.  Which seems like a ridiculous thing to say when you’re receiving sniper support from a mute in a bikini who breathes through her skin.  Or when you’re attaching a balloon to a zebra and launching it a hundred feet in the air so you can stick it in your zoo in the middle of the ocean. Or when you task a fifty strong research and development team with inventing a cardboard box in a slightly different shade of brown.  Or when you infiltrate Afghanistan for a stealth mission in the dark of night by arriving in a helicopter that’s blasting out Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ at full volume.  I wub Metal Gear.

7) Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (PS4, XBOne, PC)

Sometimes after seeing the latest mindless, right wing bollocks dribbled out on Facebook I have an irresistible urge to shoot Nazi zombies in the face.  Fortunately, the unashamedly old school Wolfenstein is just the tonic for when you want to turn your brain off and make bad guys explode.  Nicely brief and frantic with a cheeky, knowing glint in its eye, it’s the perfect counterpoint for all the chin stroking, high culture games I normally find myself playing.

6) Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)

Twenty five hours in and I still don’t have a fucking clue what’s going on, but taking on gigantic space dinosaurs in a massive stomping robot under the glare of eight fuck off moons is pretty damn cool.  The most alien world I’ve ever visited, like Salvador Dali and David Attenborough took some LSD and got the crayons out, X is so bafflingly huge that it’s impossible to not be amazed by it.  This also has the dubious honour of having the years most inappropriate and hilariously awful soundtrack, which eventually endears yourself to it by occasionally sounding like the kind of thing the Wu Tang Clan would have produced when they were five.

5) Guitar Hero Live (PS3/4, XB360/One, Wii U, PC)

If you told me at the start of the year that I would prefer the most recent Guitar Hero to the most recent Rock Band I would have removed my glove, slapped you round the face and challenged you to a duel.  And yet here we are.  The decision to have your band mates played by actors and to have the whole thing filmed from first person actually works and makes it even easier to fool your brain that you’re a massively successful musician and not just some 33 year old who has wasted their life pressing brightly coloured buttons on a toy guitar rather than using the hundreds of hours to pick up a real one and do something worthwhile.  Sigh.  Anyway, this is excellent *billandtedguitartwiddle*.

4) Super Mario Maker (Wii U)

Managing to make ten years of LittleBigPlanet completely irrelevant overnight, Mario Maker would be the best game of all time were it not for the fact that 98% of the levels are clearly made by people suffering from ADHD.  But when you do stumble on the crackers made by mini-Myamotos you’ve essentially got an infinite game of Super Mario World, which obviously is bloody brilliant. Making a level yourself is so simple and intuitive that even I can shit out something remotely playable and watching my children huddle round the pad cackling to themselves as they try and make something I can’t beat was both heartwarming and terrifying in equal measure.

3) Splatoon (Wii U)

Nintendo’s brave adaptation of Oliver Stone’s brutal 1986 Vietnam flick discards the films unflinching portrayal of the duality of man in favour of mutant, ultra trendy, squids spraying brightly coloured ink at each other.  And it works fantastically.  The single player would easily have been a indie darling had it been released on Live Arcade but the multiplayer, oh my God the multiplayer, is an utterly sublime piece of online battling that solves about five or six of the genres problems in one foul swoop.  Relentlessly entertaining, and perhaps the most Sega-like game Nintendo have ever made, this would have easily taken my Game of the Year had it been released any time in the last five years.  But this was no ordinary year…

2) Rocket League (PS4, PC)

Combining cars and football might sound like the most boorishly laddish thing imaginable, but by making the vehicles rocket powered and capable of doing somersaults, Rocket League transforms into one of the most beautifully approachable yet difficult to master games in years. The key is that producing a decent goal doesn’t rely on player stats or some hidden attribute in the background figuring out if you’re lucky or not; everything you do here is down to your own skill.  When you play Fifa or PES you’re just a kid in the playground pretending to be your favourite player.  But when you play Rocket League, you actually ARE that player; it’s just he’s sitting behind the wheel of a dune buggy blasting 100 foot through the air, travelling at 150 miles per hour and the car is wearing a top hat and the exhaust is shitting out rainbows. Unbelievable, Jeff.

1) Bloodborne (PS4)

Defeating one of Bloodborne’s bosses is the closest I’ve ever come to a cardiac arrest; the rush of adrenaline followed by the wave of relief feels like taking every drug all at once.  Cautiously making your way through its world is so unbelievably tense, that I managed to accidently get a six pack from all the involuntary stomach crunches.  Piecing together the dark, gothic storyline from scraps of paper and item descriptions makes you feel like Luther, except cooler because you’re swinging a huge fuck off axe.  Bloodborne isn’t just the best game I’ve played this year, it’s a contender for the best game I’ve EVER played.  It’s mind-blowing, superlative-exhausting,  frandly-blooblargh brilliance.  Stop reading this rubbish, smash your phone against the wall and go and play it now.  It’s that good.