PIXEL MEMORY: THE TERMINATOR

Written by Gav James-Weir

With the incoming sequel/reboot film that literally NO ONE asked for, it seems a good time to revisit this forgotten 90’s tie in on the Mega Drive. (and yes, I did consider a ‘Genysis/Genisis joke but I would be a week or so too late on that one).

Back in ‘the day’, I owned just three  games for my Mega Drive. Not having the luxury of buying games the moment they came out I relied solely on renting them. To own a copy of any game for myself, that was something special. The three games I owned? Sonic, Sonic 2 and The Terminator. I don’t even remember where The Terminator came from. I think it was a shot in the dark by my parents who, knowing my slight obsession with the film (owing to their lapse policies on appropriate age ratings…), saw to it that it was the best Sonic games and this that greeted me one Christmas morning.

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Celebrating Videogame Box Art Part 1 : 1972 – 1977

I know it might be hard to believe, but videogames have been around for a while now. Long before little tykes were calling each other wallies and cunts in the pre-match lobbies of the latest Call Of Warcraft, human beings have been creating grade-A computer entertainment for you to enjoy in the comfort of your own home / basement of that home which your parents own. The widespread induction of videogames into our everyday lives began with the first generation of home consoles back in the 70’s, when developers, tiring of fighting in the Vietnam War, wanted to come back home and do something else with their time*. And ever since we’ve been inviting these videogames into our homes, their creators have been slavishly producing box art. Now, like all art, some of this box art is excellent; stirring, exciting and evocative. Again, like all art, just as much of it is bizarre, disturbing and outright perplexing. And, also, like all art, some of it is just total fucking bullshit. So, join us as we go on an adventure, one console generation at a time, and celebrate the very best, weirdest and worst videogame box art. Hopefully this feature doesn’t exist anywhere else on the internet. I can’t imagine that it does. The internet isn’t that big, is it?

*conjecture

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PIXEL MEMORY – Chakan: The Forever Man

Pixel Memory is a semi-regular feature where we will talk about an old game that we think deserves a little more coverage.

Chakan: The Forever Man. A title that’s just plain fun to say. Rolls off the tongue, dances around your lips. Cha. Kan. CHAKAAAAAAAN. Lovely.

Cool hat bro.

Cool hat bro.

Chakan then, a warrior so good, so skilled that he cut about in a giant hat, challenged Death himself to a fight and won hands down. But Death offered Chakan a deal – spare him and be granted eternal life. A no brainer, right?

chak1Oh if only life were that easy: defeat Death and live forever…but Death is a tricky bastard, the deal was tainted and now Chakan must wander a dead land for eternity until the Eight Great Evils are vanquished. Unable to die even by the largest of wounds, He has no choice but to play Death’s game.

Based on a comic (which for shame I’ve never read) and released at a time when most Mega Drive games were cute little creatures cutting about brightly coloured worlds (fuck you, Zool), Chakan is a dark, brooding, grim affair, slotting itself nicely along side Splatterhouse 2 as the antithesis of those candy-coloured cute-fests. The levels usually consisting of an apocalyptic skyline of rolling clouds and the remains of ruined buildings, populated with nightmarish, bug-like enemies. It’s relentlessly bleak in design, owing more than a little debt to Giger splashed with some Wild West trappings. Goth Cowboys, in essence.

None more Giger

Defeating this guy would leave you with a blank screen for about 15 minutes until you’re met with a single line of text: NOT THE END. Fail and it’s back to the start for you. Like, the very start.

Something that really warped my brain as a kid was the hub-style level select. I’d never witnessed this sort of thing before and being able to attempt levels in any order, with some only accessible after completing others and unlocking new weapons that are used to open new areas,  was a big stumbling block (it was before I got my SNES and Super Metroid came bounding my way). I never got very far in the game until replaying it years  due to this open world-lite structure and of course, the crushing difficulty.

The game is SO HARD. Chakan is fairly stiff to control, his attacks are fast enough and he’s got some abilities to help (double jumps etc) but the enemies are much faster, it’s never too long till your death. Again, as a kid this really put me off playing, the game really punished you for dying by putting you back in the Hub world, resetting all progress…totally different to anything at the time and making each inch of progress through the zones feel like a little victory. It’s more about remembering where enemies will appear and how best to fight them (or avoid them) than plowing through, swords swinging. There were also no health pick ups, you had to mix your own potions in a brilliantly obtuse way. With no in-game tutorials for this, you had to figure it out.

You're not He-Man, Chakan, put the swords down.

You’re not He-Man, Chakan, put the swords down.

Despite the difficulty, not getting very far and not really understanding it, something kept pulling me back in throughout the years and that all comes down to that main story conceit – A warrior so cocky that he challenged Death and won. A really cool character, especially by the 90’s standards (even if the story is a bit cliched nowadays – the doomed warrior, tricked into serving an evil…I’m lookin’ at you, Spawn…) and has kept a bit of a cult following since, the comics continue and there was even a film released in 2012 (though I can’t find anything on this besides an imdb entry).

including this one for Fallout: New Vegas

A Fallout: New Vegas mod sees you playing as the Big Hatted One.

A planned sequel for the Dreamcast was canned back in 2001 and elements of it were apparently recycled into the Legacy of Kain sequel, Blood Omen 2 and sadly since then, the character has stayed dead. The game was by no means amazing, but what it does, it does very well and the unique gameplay touches mean that it has aged much better than other games of the era. Sad that it never found a big enough fanbase to warrant a sequel.

Wait.

Hold on.

An undying warrior….Tasked with defeating an ancient evil… Crushingly bleak world…Massively difficult, obtuse gameplay…

IT’S A 16-BIT DARK SOULS.

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Inception noise

The Pillars of Nosgoth

Ever have that feeling when you’re standing in the grounds of a ruined castle that something truly amazing happened on this ground? Looking over the towers and and courtyards, imagining when the building was in its full glory, or that once a huge battle raged on the same ground that you’re currently standing, something that transcends the place and becomes a part of History? Sure you have, right? Well, I have. Maybe it’s down to my childhood diet of fantasy books, films and games, but things like this really fire my imagination.

The first area in a game to capture this feeling was finding The Pillars of Nosgoth in Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain.

SR2-Pillars-Pillars4-PillarsSide-Material-EraA-Pure

For those who skipped this series (shame on you), The Pillars of Nosgoth are Nine gargantuan pillars that seemingly reach infinitely into the sky and as deep into the ground and have stood for longer than any recorded history in the land of Nosgoth. They hold the power to keep evil in check and it’s your job as the recently vampiric Kain to defeat the corrupt Guardians that control each pillar to restore their power and end your curse.

Not much to look at now, but when this was new on PSone...OOOF.

Not much to look at now, but when this was new on PSone…OOOF.

Standing at the circular base of these monolithic structures left me in awe. You really get the sense that the Pillars are something more than marble or stone, these mean something. The way they stretch miles into the sky, further than any Human or creature could get. The level design plays towards this being an actual place and not just a section of a game, a combination of great design and a great lore backing it up. The first time you see them in game (by way of a swooping Pre-rendered clip), you know this story is going to go deeper than your Vampire problems just by the shear visual weight of them.

They cropped up again in Soul Reaver (Legacy of Kain’s vastly superior sequel…catch up, yeah?), but they’re long destroyed following the events of he first game and now serve as Kain’s twisted throne, but still you get a sense of majesty from them.

Pilsr1

There’s been many areas, buildings and locations that have hit me like this since and thanks to the power of consoles and PC’s, pretty much all games now have these ‘…woah…’ moments, a visual slap to the face that stops you dead and has you reaching for your phone to What’s App a screenshot to your mate (just me on that one…? Ok…): The Castle in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Anor Londo, New Londo Ruins and Blight Town in Dark Souls, pretty much all of Skyrim and Fallout 3, The Citadel in Mass Effect and Soul Reaver’s own abyss like Lake of the Dead… But The Pillars hard a hard one to beat for me, they sell themselves and tie in the history of the world better than many games can.

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Most of the images from this post were found in this great Neogaf post on the history of Crystal Dynamics…worth a little read.