Game Feature

Forget Call of Duty, Real Men Need the Retro Love: Vagrant Story

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Around these parts, the vagrant-related stories aren’t all that interesting. That drunk hobo outside Egotastic Towers exposed himself to me again as I came into work this morning. That’s a hairy wang, right there. Y’know, that sort of thing. Just the kind of everyday stuff that isn’t worth mentioning.

Don’t get that kind of BS confused with the real Vagrant Story. This is the real deal, right here. A cult classic as cult-y and classic-ish as they come. Let’s take a look at this vintage weirdness.

Vagrant Story hit the original PlayStation in 2000, an RPG from Square. Genre fans will know, natch, that these clever bastards also brought us the barnstorming Final Fantasy franchise, which this one is worlds away from. But Cloud, Sephiroth et al have nothing on Ashley Riot.

This studly dude is a Riskbreaker, badass agent of some sort or other. He finds himself in Valendia, a kingdom wracked by civil war. The strongest fortress that remains is the town of Lea Mondé, where shady doings are afoot. Cultists have kidnapped Duke Bardoba, which is pretty darn uncool. As… y’know, an important law-dude, our hero sets out in pursuit. Whereupon, as the internet likes to say, things escalate quickly. We’re soon up to our ‘nads in ghastly-ass monsters in the city’s catacombs.

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And catacombs, there are a motherfreakin’ lot of. In terms of style, tone and visuals, Vagrant Story is pretty dark stuff. Which is odd, with its storybook, comic-speech-bubbles artstyle. Imagine Final Fantasy IX made by Tim Burton, and you’re kinda sorta there.

The gameplay itself is very different. This is an action RPG, and there’s even a little light puzzling and platforming to be done. A lot of this takes the form of block-pushing shenanigans, tasking you with using the environment to carve yourself a path through the environment. Yup, that last sentence was a bit shit. Let’s hurry on to the next paragraph.

By this point, you’re probably waiting on those ghastly-ass monsters you were promised earlier. Good news, Vagrant Story’s combat is frequent, complex and satisfying. There’s none of that ‘select a magic spell or attack from a menu then feel a little superfluous as your character uses it automatically’ here. Nuts to that.

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Instead, you’ll be targeting body parts and ‘killing’ them individually… by selecting them from a tedious menu. Totally different. It is technically real-time combat, what with the combos and counters and such to be done, be there’s a freaking lot of menu faffing in between. Still, there are minotaurs, ogres, wyverns and all manner of dark creatures to beat on. That’s something.

On the subject of menu faffing, holy balls is that a complex upgrade system. Acquiring new weapons, armor and abilities is vital to just about every RPG, and they all approach the process differently. Vagrant Story’s workshop, though, is an asspain indeed. This is one for genre veterans, right here.

Players in the know still regard this one highly for its innovation, complexity and creepy-ass atmosphere. There isn’t another quite like it, and it deserves to be remembered.

The Weekly WTF: Throwing a ‘Bachelor Party,’ Atari Style

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You know the concept ‘so bad, it’s good?’ This is what makes Ed Wood’s ball-achingly bad Plan 9 From Outer Space a cult classic movie. Presumably, it’s also the reason that people keep buying freaking Bieber albums.

This does not apply to sexiness. Mrs. Popplecrump, my elderly math teacher with the bad wig and the skin complaint, does not suddenly become Katy Perry (your lady lust du jour may differ). As such, there’s no hope for Bachelor Party, the least sexy slice of sextastic you’ll ever, ever see.

What we have right here is another of Mystique’s half-assed porn games. It hit the Atari 2600 in 1982, and is probably the most balls-out crazy thing to come out of the eighties. And if you remember the era of shit hair and cell phones like freaking housebricks, you’ll know that’s saying something.

The premise is really all this thing has going for it. Breakout with a nekkid man as the ball, and nekkid ladies as the bricks? What could possibly go wrong? It’s got Swedish Erotica written across the box in big ol’ neon letters, after all, and that’s something we can all get on board with.

If you’re not familiar with Breakout in its original, scrote-free guise, it’s quite simple. It’s a bat and ball sort of puzzler, with you controlling a paddle at the bottom of the screen to keep the ball in play. The blocks are at the top, and wanging the ball at them to break them yields the scoretastic.

So, to sum up: Bachelor Party is pinball with wangs and woohoos . Well, horizontal pinball with wangs and woohoos.

How this became a thing, I can’t imagine, but it’s not unusual really. At one point, even the NES transformed an innocuous Tetris clone into Bubble Bath Babes, after all. It shouldn’t be at all surprising to be firing a nude dude boner-first into a room full of nekkid ladies.

Well, that’s apparently what’s happening here. What with the blurry-ass pixels and such, it’s difficult to tell. But hey, if you liked ol’ General George’s huge pixelly erection in Custer’s Revenge (which you damn well did, obviously), you’ll want to check this one out.

Forget Call of Duty, Real Men Need the Retro Love: Space Channel 5

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The Dreamcast was, as we say in Merry Old England, the dog’s bollocks. Commercially, it died on its ass, with sub-par sales ensuring it’d be Sega’s last attempt at a games console. But if you’re in the market for some balls-out crazy, this was the system for you.

The Dreamcast backlog contains such cult classics as Seaman, the Leonard Nimoy-powered talking-fish-em-up. That sort of thing, you don’t see every day. So what the hell would happen if it attempted a rhythm action game? The genre’s always been a little nutty at the best of times, what with Parappa the Rapper and Vib Ribbon and all.

You haven’t seen anything yet. Hold on to your butts, Space Channel 5 is coming at you.

United Game Artists thrust this one out of their weirdery-pipe in 2000. It’s set five hundred years in the future, where bastard TV execs are at war with each other. Space Channel 5 is one of many TV stations, and is where player character Ulala works. This reporter has the funkiest moves the universe has seen since Michael Jackson did that badass leaning thing in the Smooth Criminal video, and she’s going to need them.

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You know how it is. You’re sitting at your desk, scratching your ass, stealthily getting your Egotastic on while your boss bitches about that paper he asked you for a week ago. Before you know what the eff, a bizarre race of aliens called Morolians have landed. Their plot for world domination? Making everyone dance. You must rescue them, by… dancing yourself.

Well, sure. We’ve all been there.

You know how rhythm action works. As Ulala, you’ll follow the up-y, down-y, left-y and right-y commands on the screen with the proper timing. It’s all standard enough. But then –then– the shoot-outs come in. In these parts of stages, hostages can be freed, and buckshot left in the asscheeks of the Morolians. It’s novel, to say the least.

While all this is going on, you have to maintain Space Channel 5‘s ratings. Too many mistakes will make people switch off (presumably you’re competing with some shitty rom-com on intergalactic Lifetime TV). As you slip up, you’ll lose your score and hearts, and eventually have to restart the level.

Space Channel 5 is the sort of thing we remember the Dreamcast for. It wasn’t exclusive, hitting the PS2 and Game Boy Advance a year or two later, but it’s such a perfect fit for the ‘cast. That same spirit of toontastic cutesiness from Jet Grind Radio and the like run through it. Retroheads who missed out on this one should definitely check it out.

The Weekly WTF: Beware the Santa Demon of ‘Daze Before Christmas’

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Maybe you’re feeling pretty darn good about Santa right now. The fat ol’ bastard might’ve given you that hoverboard or sexy Thai bride or whatever you’ve been angling for. But don’t kid yourself, as you doze on the couch in a turkeytastic stupor. Saint Nick is no saint at all.

If you don’t believe it, you’ve never seen him transform, Jeckyl and Hyde style, into the HUGE FURIOUS SLAVERING ANTI-SANTA OF DEATHLY DEATH. Hold on to your butts, it’s time for Daze Before Christmas.

This little slice of weirdness hit the Sega Genesis in 1994. In some regions, at any rate. Its release was quite the eff up, arriving only in Australia before making its way to Europe in SNES form. Over here in the US of A, meanwhile, we remained Daze-free. Something else to be thankful for this holiday season, because it’s wank.

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In this toontastic platformer, a criminal band of snowmen has invaded the North Pole. What with the whole damn place being made of snow, infiltration probably didn’t take months of planning in shady abandoned warehouses, with everyone smoking and gesticulating wildly at blueprints and such (this is how it’s done, I saw it on TV).

Reindeer and elves alike have been kidnapped, and it’s up to the Claus himself to rescue his buddies and do his festive duty.

This is done, naturally, by platformer-ing it up across a series of holiday-themed levels. Along the way, the big guy will bust out all kinds of powers we never knew he had. He’s even pulled some kind of flamethrower magic out of his ass for this one.

And, as promised, you can transform into the badass power of Anti-Claus and wang evil rats in the face with your sack of toys. This is what we call a selling point, gentlemen.

The Retro Love Holiday Special: Home Alone (SNES)

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Don’t worry. There’s only another freaking week of everything having a ‘Christmas special’ to go. After that, everyone reverts to trying to hawk us their shit during the January sales.

But let’s pretend we aren’t Grinchtastic misers for a moment, and reminisce about one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made: Home Alone. Sure, it lacks the yippie-kai-yay-ing mothereffers of Die Hard, but this is still great stuff right here.

It’s relatable, that’s why. Your family effs off to Paris without you for the holidays, and Joe Pesci tries to burgle your house while falling gonads-first into all kinds of ridiculous booby traps… we’ve all been there.

These were the days before Macaulay Culkin’s drug problems and general balls-out madness. It was a happier, simpler time, free of angry ex-wives and marijuana possession. These childhood memories of holiday funtimes are probably why Home Alone still has that appeal. There must be a reason it was so huge, and was game-ified on every damn console in the cosmos.

So, feast your eyes on Home Alone for SNES. This title arrived in December 1991, a year after the movie. Around about that time, it also hit the PC, Game Boy, Amiga and all kinds of other fancy gaming dookickeys, but the Super Nintendo it is. Mostly because this one has a huge effing rat boss for no reason at all.

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Giant rodents wanting to trample your face into spam aside, it’s all fairly faithful to the plot of the movie. The Wet Bandits are prowling about the house, and you have to keep them at bay with ridiculous traps that Wile E. Coyote would be proud of.

It all starts with a quick piss-poor cutscene of the bandits arriving at the McCallisters’ home, then we’re straight into the gameplay. The whole thing has a real Haunting Featuring Polterguy vibe about it (for the three people in the world who’ve ever played that). It’s cutesy,toontastic and slapstick-amundo.

Within the first couple minutes, you’ve wanged Harry in the face with a bowling ball, sprayed him repeatedly in the groin with a water pistol and even given him a retro trip on a banana skin. Your goal is to dump the family’s valuables down the chute in the hall, which will deposit them in the safe in the cellar.

These items are hidden about the rooms, and will require a little platformer-y jumping action to find. Betwixt the rooms you go, spraying the approaching bad dudes along the way. Once you’ve collected everything, it’s down to the cellar with you, for the most hilariously shit-tastic boss battle you ever saw.

Happy holidays, lame-ass rat thing!

The Weekly WTF: ‘Snatcher,’ the Manliest Christmas Game You Ever Saw

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You know how it is with Christmas movies. They’re often of the flowery, namby-pamby, Lifetime TV-y variety. The Grinch’s heart suddenly grows three sizes, breaks that measuring device and he’s not an asshole any more. Everyone has a bit of a dance and there’s jangly music and all that sort of BS.

At no point do muscular dudes stride in and shoot seven shades of shit out of each other. There are very few terrorist plots for Bruce Willis or Sly Stallone to foil, and almost zero explosions. For shame. We are men, manly men with chest hair and everything, and we demand a little good ol’ fashioned violence in our movies.

Now, there’s Die Hard. And I seem to remember Arnold Schwarzenegger punching a freaking reindeer in the face in Jingle All the Way. But we’re not counting that one, because it’s balls. Which leaves our Christmas entertainment at… one movie. And, as it happens, one game. Gentlemen, meet Snatcher.
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Forget Call of Duty, Real Men Need the Retro Love: Holiday Lemmings

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This could just be plain ol’ Lemmings. It could. But who am I to refuse to follow suit with every freaking TV commercial/show just now? It’s the holiday season, so here comes one more Christmas special for the Scroogetastic bastards among us to whine about.

Don’t worry, Ebeneezer. Once those three ghosts scare you into being less of an asshole, you can get over here and enjoy Holiday Lemmings with the rest of us.

First, a quick refresher, just for those too drunk to remember gaming stalwart Lemmings in its original, non-festive form. This platform/puzzler first hit the Amiga in 1991, and is based on the whole lemmings-over-the-cliff-like-the-crazy-little-dudes-they-are thing. In each stage, a number of them will shuffle along automatically, into, over and through any hazardous obstacles that happen to be present.

Your objective is to save their asses (or at least a certain percentage of their asses) by assigning each of them a skill. This is a sort of job, and affects their behaviour. A ‘blocker’ lemming will stop moving and prevent his fellows from passing, while a ‘floater’ (which isn’t a turd joke) can safely parachute down from great heights. Climbers, diggers and miners are also available, but your uses of each are strictly limited.

With a time limit to work against too, you’ll have to bust your balls to size up the situation and lead these gormless guys to the exit. Lemmings was a huge hit for its unusual premise, nutty charm and cutesy-ass lemmings themselves. The franchise is still doing the rounds today, having been ported to just about every damn machine capable of running it.

And now that we’re up to speed, it’s time for the real star of the show: Holiday Lemmings.

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Nine midgets a’climbing.

This originally saw the light of day as the demo Xmas Lemmings. It had a mighty four different stages, and was… fairly wank. A few years after the release of the regular game, it arrived in full-on gametastic form. Over in Merry Olde England, in was named Christmas Lemmings, but that’s a little too on the nose for us in the US of A.

Think of it as Nights: Into Dreams’ ‘Christmas Nights’ spin-off, just with more levels and effing lemmings everywhere.

For all intents and purposes, it’s the same damn game, just with alternate levels and a festive makeover. You know what that means for lazy-ass developers: throw in some snow and jangly music, and you’re there. Just about every platformer does this somewhere or another, but did they have lemmings in santa suits? Damn right they didn’t.

To get a little taste of the holiday spirit, check it out below. But watch out for the most piss-poor rendition of Jingle Bells you ever heard.