Something Old, Something New & Something Blue – Weekly Recommendations 02/05 – 08/05
Every week I give three gaming recommendations (very) loosely tied to something topical. These recommendations span platform, generation and genre and are all games that I have played, enjoyed and highly recommend. As always, comments are very welcome so please do chime in with any recommendations of your own. Check back each Monday for a new set, and click here for past entries.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you will be aware that last Friday saw a British royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. I won’t dwell on the over-reported details here, but it gave us a four day weekend (today is a May bank holiday) and was an excellent excuse for the majority of the British public to be pissed by lunchtime.
To commemorate the event I have gone for a wedding themed set of weekly recommendations, offering something old, something new and something blue. This is an old custom which is supposed to bring the bride good luck, by having on her person something old, new, borrowed and blue on the day of her wedding (I discarded something borrowed as these recommendations come in threes, don’t you know). So without further ado, here are three games that no superstitious bride should be without.
1. Something Old
Alex Kidd in Miracle World – Master System (1986)
Alex Kidd in Miracle World, along with Sonic the Hedgehog, was my first video game and thus qualifies as something old. Built into many a Master System II, it is a challenging platformer in the Mario-vein and, until the emergence of a cocky blue hedgehog, Alex served as SEGA’s de facto mascot. Intended to compete directly with Nintendo’s plumber, Alex Kidd has long since vanished as a leading man, but it doesn’t take away from the quality of this, his first outing.
Gifted with a useful case of hand gigantism, Alex punches and jankens (Japanese rock, paper, scissors) his way across a collection of 17 colourful and varied stages. He is also able to visit shops and purchase vehicles, which come in handy in what is a difficult game. Your initial three lives are unlikely to last long, as throughout his journey Alex is subject to one hit kills which, along with the lack of a continue function, can lead to frustration and belie its childlike visuals. However, once you have figured out how to proceed through a level untouched, it makes your progress all the more satisfying.
A memorable soundtrack, a cast of weird and wonderful creatures to rival the best of the Mushroom Kingdom, and an imaginative and colourful world round-out the first and best adventure of SEGA’s forgotten mascot.
2. Something New
Yakuza 4 – PS3 (2011)
For something new, here is my favourite game of 2011 thus far –Yakuza 4. I will keep this brief as I recently posted an in-depth review which you can find here as well as a tongue-in-cheek day in the life of Kazuma Kiryu.
It would seem that Yakuza 4 may well be our last Yakuza game for some time, at least in the traditional sense. Yakuza: Of the End is the forthcoming instalment, but it throws series cannon to the wind by populating Kamurocho with a zombie horde and gifting our protagonists an impressive arsenal of fire-arms. Series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi is currently working on Binary Domain, an impressive looking squad based shooter set in a futuristic Tokyo which, despite being far removed from the Yakuza series, does seem to share the visual flare of his previous epics. If an extended wait for Yakuza 5 lies ahead, then we can take some measure of solace from the quality and replay-ability of the latest entry.
Improved gameplay and an engrossing story, featuring an interesting and varied cast, make Yakuza 4 the most accessible of a difficult series and, from my limited experience, the most enjoyable.
3. Something Blue
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Mega Drive, Master System & Game Gear (1992)
To complete my unintended SEGA triumvirate, here is something blue; Sonic 2. Released on the Mega Drive in NA and Europe on Tuesday November 24 1992 (Sonic 2sday), the 16-bit incarnation varied significantly from the 8-bit versions, which were released a month earlier. That these games were so different is one of the appeals of the early Sonic games, making them a worthwhile purchase across all platforms. For this post I will be referring to the 16-bit Sonic 2 which, as you may expect, is the superior version.
Much like the game-changing original, Sonic must bring an end to Dr Robotnik’s evil schemes by collecting Chaos Emeralds, defeating the Dr’s machines and saving your furry friends. This time around you are not alone, being joined by Tails the fox - a computer controlled character who makes your life a little easier by collecting missed rings and offering a limited, but helpful hand in the boss battles.
Although it started the unfortunate trend of Sonic side-kicks, Sonic 2 introduced a number of features which help to make it the definitive Sonic game. Sonic is significantly faster and the levels are more striking, expansive and intricate, in particular the casino based levels. The new special stages were an excellent addition, seeing you travel down a 3D-effect flume racing to collect rings and, ultimately, a Chaos Emerald. These colourful stages achieved a real sense of speed and stand as one of the most impressive graphical achievements of the 16-bit era.
There are also 2 player stages – an excellent bonus but a case of SEGA aiming a little too high. Limited to just three stages, they suffered significant slow-down but were a welcome addition nonetheless. Even with the lag, the sense of speed is palpable as you race to beat your opponent to the end of the stage, making use of power-ups and position switching teleports.
Sonic 2 is the biggest-selling Mega Drive game of all time and it marked the high point of SEGA’s powers as a software and hardware developer. The fact that SEGA has yet to match it in nineteen years is a condemnation of their subsequent handling of the series, but more importantly it serves as a tribute to the excellence and lasting appeal of Sonic 2.