Author: Rex Kramer

Desert Island Games: Episode 2, part 3

Desert Island Games

Back for the final instalment of MHTL’s list of eight games to take away to a desert island. We’ve had a very eclectic mix of titles from across many generations and we’re bang up to date with these final choices. So on with the show.

Rock Band 3 is a 2010 music video game developed by Harmonix. The game was initially published and distributed by MTV Games and Electronic Arts respectively in late October 2010. Mad Catz took over both roles and re-released the title on November 23, 2011. It is the third main game in the Rock Band series. As with the previous titles, Rock Band 3 allows players to simulate the playing of rock music and many other sub-genres using special instrument controllers mimicking lead and bass guitar, drums, and vocals. Rock Band 3 expands upon previous games by including three-part vocal harmonies — previously used in both The Beatles: Rock Band and Green Day: Rock Band (up to three singers on a song) — plus support for MIDI-compatible keyboards, electronic drum kits, and even use of a real guitar in “Pro” mode.

Rex: So it’s your third game on the 360, would you consider it to be your favourite ever console?
MHTL: It’s definitely up there. I’d say I probably have fonder memories of the GameCube, mainly due to its focus on local multiplayer. Most of my favourite moments in gaming come from having groups of friends over and having long fought battles on Mario Kart, Smash Bros or WarioWare. It’s something that I miss quite a lot from todays games. I’d always been a Nintendo fan until towards the end of the GameCube generation when I picked up an original Xbox on the cheap. I’d always been curious about some of those games (especially Halo) and I ended up really enjoying it. So when 360 came along I was there on day one. That launch was fantastic, some real classic games, a great controller and the hardware was brilliant. Xbox Live Arcade was a revelation, and obviously I loved the new achievements system. When Nintendo went in the direction they did with Wii and motion controls I was pretty disappointed, and I abandoned Nintendo shortly afterwards.

What’s your favourite instrument in Rock Band?
Any of them! We tend to swap around a lot at Rock Band gatherings. I’ve enjoyed rhythm action games for a while (even had Samba de Amigo on the Dreamcast at one point) but Guitar Hero really took that to a new level. I remember playing that for the first time and fumbling my way through the first track on Easy difficulty thinking I’d never master it. Of course with practice it all becomes a bit easier, and since the introduction of Rock Band I’m pretty much an expert player on most instruments. I’d say these days I’ll default to vocals, I’m pretty good (well, I can carry a tune unlike some of our crew!) and I do find it a fun way to play. I love guitar too, especially on songs where there’s a meaty solo or riff to get my teeth into. Drums is probably my weak point, I can still play on hard but only for a couple of tracks or so. Drumming is hard work!

Have you spent a lot on RB DLC over the years?
:shifty: Yeah, way too much. These days I only tend to get stuff in a sale, but back in the day I was buying anything by any band I’d even heard of. It’s a great way to extend the life of the game though, and some of the best songs are DLC add-ons. More Than a Feeling by Boston, Buddy Holly by Weezer and Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey are all popular DLC tracks when we play.

Why not Rock Band 4?
Ugh, Rock Band 4 is a bit of a disaster. I was really excited by the prospect of playing RB on the new consoles but the reality is that so much stuff was broken at launch that it was difficult to even play. They’ve fixed most of it now, but the fact remains that they really dropped the ball with this one. Pretty much everything they added is a novelty. The new ‘unscripted’ solos sound like fun, but actually just consist of totally random strumming. There’s a technique you’re supposed to use but it’s impossible to explain to people that have just come round for a quick game. Harmony vocals for every track is a great addition for the three people that actually use it. And don’t even get me started on the new ‘relaxed’ rules for DLC tracks, which mean we’ve had songs with keyboard parts charted to guitar and songs which don’t use master stems. Speaking of keyboard, I’m gutted that they took out support for this with RB4. I didn’t use it that much, but it’s still a nice feature to have, and now my keyboard is practically worthless. The biggest thing RB3 has over 4 is its tracklist, which is far superior in every way. The third game has the best and most varied of any music game ever made. I’m aware that you can export those tracks into the fourth game for a fee, but since I’d like to save most of my DLC requests for the next game I think I could live with just the base tracks from the third game. Just let me have More Than a Feeling, OK?

Pinball FX 2 is a pinball video game for Xbox 360, Xbox One and Windows and is the sequel to Pinball FX. It was developed by Zen Studios and published by Microsoft Studios. It was released on 27 October 2010 via the Xbox Live Arcade service. The game includes several new features, such as local multiplayer and the ability to tweak table settings. MHTL’s seventh choice is Pinball FX 2 for the Xbox One.

Have you carried this over from 360 and does it allow you to bring over any DLC as well?
I’ve been playing Pinball FX since it first released on 360, although back then it was a shadow of the game it is now. I’ve always been a fan of Pinball but they never seemed to make a decent video game version of it, either going for the hardcore authentic copies of traditional tables (which seemed pointless to me) or by making a total novelty version, like Sonic Spinball back in the day. When this launched I was really impressed that they’d made a game which felt realistic but also embraced being a video game, having certain things you couldn’t really do on a regular table. To me that seemed like the perfect compromise, it’s game-y but not in a way that ever stops you thinking you’re playing pinball.

Pinball FX 2 was the perfect sequel, it just kicked everything up a notch and the tables were of a far higher standard, both graphically and mechanically. They also started adding licensed tables, which despite my initial concerns turned out to be fantastic. They’re really careful to be considerate to the source material, meaning that Star Wars or Marvel themed tables are a real treat for fans of those franchises. The Xbox One version allows you to transfer most of the 360 tables over, and they’ve all had a visual makeover which is really impressive. I suppose technically the 360 version has the most tables available for it (even now, Zen are still making tables for that platform) but the added sheen makes the One version the definitive edition.

Do you have the full library of tables?
I have the majority, but these days I always tend to wait for a sale before purchasing things. Thankfully the tables are regularly discounted to half price, so I usually pick them up then. For my Desert Island trip, ideally I’d like to take all of the tables with me though, the massive variety of themes and styles is what makes Pinball FX 2 so appealing for this. It’s amazing how different tables play so differently, working out how to complete each mission and head for the Wizard Mode is absolutely enthralling. Plus, y’know, high scores!

Which is you favourite table?
I have loads. I love the Star Wars ones, the new Aliens pack is excellent and Blade and Moon Knight of the Marvel collection. But the original designs are my favourite, Pasha (a Persian adventure themed table), Epic Quest (an action-RPG type thing) and Secrets of the Deep, with a nautical theme. I also have to say the table which comes free with the Pinball FX 2 download, Sorcerer’s Lair is probably the one I’d pick first. I have a high score on that table over a billion, which I’m incredibly proud of.

Would you swap out the Xbox One version for PC with Oculus Rift support (or PSVR)? I’m wondering if £11.99 is worth it for only three tables.

I had absolutely no idea this was a thing! Just been to check it out, it looks very impressive. I have to say I’ve never tried any kind of VR at all, but I’d love to give that a whirl. I’d definitely have my reservations though, it’s a game that requires incredible precision and I wonder if you might lose a little in that format. And the lack of table variety means I certainly wouldn’t consider it for my desert island game.

Bloodborne is an action role-playing game developed by FromSoftware, published by Sony Computer Entertainment exclusively for PlayStation 4 and directed by the legendary Hidetaka Miyazaki. It shares many similarities with Miyazaki’s seminal Souls series of games including punishing difficulty and innovative use of multiplayer.  With a metacritic of rating of 92, it currently sits seventh on the all-time PS4 review charts.

Do you have much history with the Souls games?
I have a bit of a weird history with them to be honest. I was properly into the hype for Dark Souls, pre-ordered the deluxe edition of the game and was really looking forward to it. When the game finally arrived, I played maybe 10 minutes of it, found the combat thoroughly underwhelming and dismissed it for something else. And I kept promising myself that I’d go back to it, but I knew it was a big game and I never really found the time to start it. It went unplayed for a good five years.

Finally I decided enough was enough, and last year I decided to boot it back up and take on the challenge. I absolutely adored it. It’s genuinely one of my favourite games of all time, I think the level design is almost perfect, and the majority of the boss battles are incredible experiences. It’s tough but always fair, and that constant sense of accomplishing things, bit by bit, is a feeling that never goes away. After finishing the first game I moved onto the second one very quickly and loved that too. I have the third game sat waiting for me to play, in fact I might go start it shortly…

Why Bloodborne over some of the multi-format titles (I guess the big one being Dark Souls 2)?
OK, here’s the big surprise reveal! I’ve never played it. Being an Xbox gamer (and not having the money or time to invest in a second console) I probably never will, and Bloodborne is the game that pains me the most to miss out on.I know it probably seems a bit strange to include a game I’ve never played on a list like this, but when I thought about the things that I enjoy most about gaming, new experiences rank pretty highly on my list. The first time I set foot on Hyrule Field, that first trip into Phendrana Drifts in Metroid Prime or that shock twist in BioShock. Those are moments in games that will live with me forever, and yet all three of those games I’ve only played once. I really wanted to include a great story-driven single player experience in this list, but I’m definitely not someone that likes to replay games like those multiple times. So my only real option was to go with something like this.

Of course, I’m not going in totally blind here. I know from my experience with Dark Souls that this is a game I’ll enjoy, and aesthetically it’s always something that I’ve thought looked really intriguing. I’ve seen a couple of videos of Bloodborne being played on YouTube (although I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, just in case!) and it looks like it has that same challenging progression as the other games. I know that taking Bloodborne as on one of my eight games guarantees me a good 80 hours of undiscovered gaming joy.

Do you prefer hard games?
Sometimes, it depends what I’m in the mood for. There are days when I just want something to relax and settle down with, but then I have days where I really appreciate a good challenge. There’s massive satisfaction to be had completing a game like Ninja Gaiden or Super Meat Boy. The odds seems so stacked against you that actually overcoming them feels really rewarding, and you get a real rush from making any sort of progress. I remember my first time clearing Ikaruga on one credit, and actually shouting, no, screaming at the TV for a good minute afterwards in celebration. You just don’t get those kinds of feelings without a high level of difficulty.

That’s a great set of eight games, a big thanks for taking part. Just to wrap it all up, were there any particularly hard cuts you had to make?
To be honest, most of the games I’d consider to be my favourites wouldn’t have been suited to this format. Things like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, Metroid Prime or Dark Souls are all games I’d have in ‘best of all time’ lists but I don’t think I’d necessarily want to spend large amounts of time playing through again. I think games like those are best left as great memories and not played over and over. I also had a load of classic games from my childhood that I really wanted to include, but in the end I had to limit those to just two places on my list. Very briefly: Rainbow Islands, Sensible World of Soccer, Speedball 2, Rock Star Ate My Hamster, Joust, Gauntlet, Metro Cross, Cloud Kingdoms.

The one game that I really should have included is the Xbox One update of Killer Instinct. It’s one of my most played games these days. It’s an absolutely superb fighting game with an enormous roster of characters and ridiculous amount of content, especially for a fighting game. With the benefit of hindsight it should probably be on there, maybe at the expense of Spelunky.

Any genres your really wanted represented but just couldn’t bring yourself to include?
Well as I just mentioned, a beat-em-up wouldn’t have gone amiss. I think I’ve got most of the bases covered, I’d maybe have liked an old school shmup in there but Geometry Wars would probably scratch that itch. It’s difficult covering the whole of gaming in just eight titles! At one point I considered putting Rare Replay in there, but that would have just been cheating, right

Maybe not…

Thanks again to MHTL, I hope you enjoyed this month’s episode of Desert Island Games.

The 7 commandments of tackling the pile of shame

Deal with the devil


As  I mentioned in my previous post, I intend to limit my gaming library to just eight games for one year. This is to fully explore the games I already own and to try to put the brakes on purchasing more games.

After much consideration, I think this is going to be too tricky to actually do. So I’m going to add some amendments  to what should have been a rather simple premise. Here are the rules that I’ll stick to from 1 July 2017 until 30 June 2018.

  1. I will choose up to eight games to play across all consoles during the next year. I don’t need to choose all eight games initially and can add in titles to empty slots later in the year.
  2. I will exempt anything that isn’t really classed as a game. The main things that fall into this category are VR-type experiences. This does not mean that games such as Skyrim PSVR would be exempt, anything that I determine is a game has to go in a slot.
  3. I will exclude multiplayer titles that I would otherwise only play with the kids (Lego Dimensions, Mario Kart 8, etc). But on the flipside, I can’t play these titles on my own and we can only play games we already own. If I want to buy something else then that has to be one of the eight choices. I think that’s a fair compromise.
  4. If I get the platinum trophy, then I can swap that game for something else. But this only applies to PS4/PS3 games where completing a game 100% can be easily measured. Once a game has been swapped out though then it’s gone for the rest of the year.
  5. There is no restriction on the purchase of DLC for existing titles.
  6. I’m wrestling with rules six a little. I was considering adding a rule that means I can add an extra choice once I’ve platinumed five games. But I also feel that goes against the spirit of what I’m doing. But looking at my choices, the chances of me getting a platinum on two games, let alone five, is so remote as to not worth bothering with. What do you think?
  7. This rule is called my ‘I might want to buy a Switch’ rule. This rule states that I can play any of my choices on any format it’s been released on. So if I pick Stardew Valley then I get to play that on PS4 or Vita (hopes) or whatever.

Choices, choices…..


Now comes the tricky part, what do I choose for my eight games? To get a flavour of the pool of games I’ve got to pick from, here are some pics of my library. I’ve also got a smattering of PS Vita and 3DS games.

Rex's PSN library
Rex’s PSN library
Rex's Wii U library
Rex’s Wii U library
And the library of physical PS4 games
And the library of physical PS4 games

The final eight


So what made the final cut? Well, before I name the lucky picks, I’m going to say that two slots are being left open. One is almost certainly for Everybody’s Golf on PS4. I’m confident it’s going to be a great game, and if I don’t buy it then I can’t run a GRcade tournament. The other slot is either for Skyrim PSVR or any other surprise title (Ace Combat on VR looks mighty interesting). On that basis, I’ve got just six left to pick. 🙁

  1. Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4)
    Only recently acquired but is currently hogging my PS4 time. I’m about 10 hours in but it feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface and I’m also looking forward to the DLC.
  2. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)
    I was initially going to include my absolute favourite Monster Hunter title in my selection – Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on Vita. But I’ve had MH4U kicking about for a year or so and barely played it whereas MHFU has had 100s of hours gone into it. I love MH games and this seemed like a great way to dust off something from the shelf. It’s also my only portable game so I’d better like it!
  3. Stardew Valley (PS4)
    Taking a break from this at the moment due to HZD but I can’t imagine not being able to play it. It has to be in the selection. Rule seven was created specifically with this in mind, portable Stardew Valley would be astounding.
  4. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)
    I’ve hardly touched this game after picking it up at launch. I’ll need a palate cleanser before diving in after playing a lot of HZD but I’m excited to go back to it sometime later this year. It’s also the other reason for rule seven.
  5. Resident Evil 7 (PS4)
    I bought a PSVR because I’m weak and I also like buying peripherals that’ll sit in a drawer until the end of time. So I need something to play on it to justify the outrageous cost. I bought Resi 7 and tried to play it on VR but it was too scary. I need to grow a backbone and get stuck in. It’s also one that is relatively easy to platinum (I think).
  6. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4)
    I’m a reasonable way into this but haven’t got round to the DLC yet (which I also own), and haven’t touched it for well over a year.

I think this gives me a reasonable mix but is probably leaning more towards big, open world games. Nothing bite-sized which may come back to haunt me. By the time this gets posted then I’ll be into the year. I’ll attempt to post along the way, but you know how these things go (abandoned by Christmas).

Desert Island Games: Episode 2, part 2

After a couple of very interesting retro choices for games one and two, we’re here again to look at MHTL’s picks for three, four and five.

 

F-Zero GX is the successor to F-Zero X and continues the series’ difficult, high-speed racing style, retaining the basic gameplay and control system from the Nintendo 64 game.  Released worldwide on the GameCube in 2003, it actually runs on a modified version of the engine used for launch title Super Monkey Ball.

Why do you think Nintendo haven’t released a console F-Zero game since this one?
Well you ask me this question pre-E3, so….

It’s unfathomable. I’m not usually one calling for yearly updates or new sequels, but it’s been 14 years and two whole Nintendo generations since we’ve last had a new F-Zero game. It’s a franchise which has been almost universally praised, sold pretty well and been fondly remembered by an awful lot of people. It’s always near the top of Nintendo fans’ wishlists, so I can’t think of a reason why they haven’t developed one, or farmed it out to another studio as they did with GX. I think a new one on Switch would be a big seller, indeed it might even convince me to jump in.

Is this a choice from the heart or the head?
This one’s a bit of both. I really wanted a GameCube game in my line-up, it’s my favourite console of all time and should be represented here, but many of the games simply don’t suit the Desert Island setup. There’s a lot of local multiplayer gems or classic platformers that I’ve already explored and some unique experiences that are a bit shorter-lived. Then I realised I hadn’t picked any kind of racing game and the choice was a bit of a no-brainer.
GX is an incredible experience, fast as hell and controls like a dream. There’s plenty for me to get my teeth stuck into here, numerous cups spread over multiple difficulties, a hard as nails story mode, and when that’s all done there’s improving times via time attack. In theory shaving milliseconds off previously unbeatable times should keep me entertained for ages. This game also reminds me of a great time when I competed in NGC magazine’s ‘I’m The Best’ competition, alongside other members of the GamesRadar community. This was kind of a precursor to Xbox achievements – challenges set by the magazine which when completed would earn you points on an overall leaderboard. We had to record ourselves on videotapes and then send those in to the magazine as proof, which sounds crazy in this day and age! The wonderful sense of community in those days as the people on the forum helped each other out with tips, trading games and generally encouraging one another stands out as one of my favourite times in gaming.
Have you played it recently and does it still hold up against the likes of Wipeout or Fast RMX?

I haven’t played GX since I sold my GameCube in the great retro cull of 2013. The last time I did (which was probably a few years before that) I found while graphically it had dated, it still played just as well as ever. The problem I’ve found with other similar titles is that they always try to complicate the game with different mechanics, weapons, or other such nonsense. I remember picking up a Gamecube game called Extreme-G 3 at around the same time as F-Zero, and whilst it was perfectly competent it never found itself stuck in the disc tray for weeks on end, never got picked for multiplayer at social gatherings. I think F-Zero’s purity is what makes it such a classic game.

Given you can chose any game at all, would you prefer a deluxe sit down F-Zero AX arcade cabinet instead?

And pass up the opportunity to get hands on with that GameCube pad again? Never! But seriously, I think the extra tracks and content on the GC version make it the definitive one. I’m not going to pretend GX is a perfect game. The story mode is way too difficult, and the discovery of ‘snaking’ ruined time trial for me back in the day (really I was just salty that I couldn’t pull it off). But those criticisms wouldn’t factor for me alone on a desert island, so I have no reservations at all at picking F-Zero GX as one of my eight games.

Developed by Project Gotham Racing developers, Bizarre Creations, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is the sequel to the original Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. Released on the Xbox Live Arcade in July 2008, it is one of the few games on Xbox 360 that runs natively at 60fps and 1080p .

What was your first experience of Geometry Wars? Did you play it in Project Gotham Racing 2?
Yes, but that’s not exactly where the obsession started. The first game when it launched on 360 early days was revelatory. I adore score-chasing (obviously) and it did something really simple, it placed the next highest score to you in the top right hand corner, providing constant encouragement to improve. It helped launching when it did – Xbox Live Arcade was in its infancy and there were barely any titles available, but man I played that game for hours.
The game itself was fantastic, handled like a dream and looked amazing on my new HD screen. I love shmups (indeed, I wanted to include many others on my list) and this is one of the very best. It’s worth mentioning also that Geometry Wars is one of the first games to take the achievement concept and use it for changing the way you play the game. Adding things like the pacifism achievement (for surviving a minute without firing) was one of the first examples of this, and still regarded in the achievement community as one of the most important developments in this field.
What made you choose 2 over 1 or 3?

It’s simply an excellent expansion of the first game. Giving the player different ways to play whilst still maintaining the core gameplay is a masterstroke. There’s Deadline, which gives you three minutes to score as highly as you can. King where you can only shoot from certain zones. Pacifism builds on that achievement from the first game, forcing you to survive as long as you can with no weapon. Waves is fairly self explanatory, and Sequence gives you a succession of various ‘rooms’ of enemies to fight. Finally you can play it old school in Evolved. And most important of all, each of these has their own score board, and they’re all right there on the start screen, goading you into one more try.

Having six different games meant that there was always something for you to improve on, always someone claiming your record in King, always room for improvement in Pacifism (definitely this for me, I was terrible at it). And while the games weren’t all perfect (Sequence is perhaps the weak link) the balance and variety of games make this the definitive Geometry Wars experience. I think it makes a perfect desert island game.

The third game is fine, but it diluted the formula with far too many levels and game types. The addition of an adventure mode was an obvious idea, but in practise it was unbalanced and the boss levels are truly awful. The worst thing about it is no-one cares if someone beats your score on level 27, there’s just too many score boards to really focus on. The lack of purity really hurts the replay-ability of the game, I haven’t been back to it since I got the 1000G.

I’ve played a fair amount of 3 on Vita but I’m dreadful at it, where am I going wrong?
You want me to reveal my secrets? Never!

OK, just a little tip. Turn the music off. It’s distracting and learning the sounds enemies make when they appear gives you a massive advantage.

Originally released as freeware on PC in 2008, Spelunky was remade for Xbox 360 in 2012 and subsequently released on just about every platform under the sun. Borrowing significantly from the roguelike genre, each level is procedurally generated meaning no two runs are alike. It was also ranked third on Eurogamer’s Games of the Generation list in 2014 (behind Dark Souls and Super Mario Galaxy).
What makes the Xbox 360 your Spelunky machine of choice? It was on permanent rotation on my Vita for a while, which seemed like a perfect fit for that platform.
Interesting question, and to be honest I hadn’t even considered that. I guess the simple answer is that I’m not really a big fan of handheld gaming. I’ve had a Game Boy, a Nintendo DS and even a PSP at one point but they always end up getting less play time than my home console. I like the idea of having a portable console but in reality they’re never actually that portable, these days I tend to stick to my mobile phone if I want gaming on the go. Given this desert island scenario, there’s no reason to play on anything other than a nice big TV (I am getting a big TV, right? :shifty: ).

Did you max out the achievements on it? If so, is there going to be enough content to keep you going?
No! It’s one of the reasons I picked it actually. I love a nice difficult game and Spelunky has plenty of challenge there to get your teeth stuck into. The achievements (I promised I wouldn’t talk to much about this!) are really well designed too, helping you understand the basics, pointing you towards alternate paths through the game and also playing the game in a different way (without collecting any treasure, for instance).

The other reason I picked Spelunky is the obvious one. I wanted a platformer but generally those games offer little incentive to replay. The randomly generated nature of this game means I’ll always have a different world to go back to. It’s so brilliantly designed too, meaning that despite being random, they hardly ever feel unfair. And even if you do get cheated with a trap placed right next to the exit, it’s one of those games where ‘one more turn’ quickly turns into 10.

I think the structure of the game is perfect, I love the way you have to search all around the levels in the hope of finding certain items that will unlock other areas later on. It’s a game about managing resources as well as platforming, and one where you have to be constantly on your guard – 15 minutes of careful planning can go up in smoke in a blink of an eye if you misjudge something. I really like that sense of constant tension.

Is it something you still go back and play?
Yeah, it’s a perfect gaming ‘snack’ for in between more substantial story driven games. It was recently added to the Xbox One backward compatibility programme, which has meant it’s even more convenient to boot up for a quick bash. Perhaps one day I’ll manage to find the path to hell and finish the game in one sitting. Maybe.

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