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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.

Desert Island Games: Episode 2, part 1

Welcome back to Desert Island Games. Each episode takes a member of the GRcade community and strand them on a desert island forever.

I’m not completely heartless so they’ll be able to take along their eight favourite games to play for the rest of their days. But there are a couple of rules in place. Any game with an online component is fine, but any kind of voice or text chat is banned (we can’t have you calling out for help). Also, availability of DLC is completely at my own whim.

So after Rax was the first of our castaways, who is the second person to stroll up the gangway on to our one way gaming cruise? Well, we’ve got another OG GRcade member. Most well know for their insatiable appetite for cheevos and with a gamerscore of well over 400,000 (putting him in the top 650 players in the world), this episode’s contributor is GRcade’s very own achievement whore, More Heat Than Light.

Rex: Given your history of clocking the gamerscore, was it hard to limit yourself to just eight games? Did you consider adding an easy 1,000 pointer just to keep that sweet feeling of totting up the points?
MHTL: Ha, I thought that might make the list of questions! I tried to ignore gamerscore to be honest, even though I’m a bit obsessed I don’t think it’d be a factor on a desert island. If anything I picked things that would be more challenging to keep me occupied for longer. Easy completions tend to be ‘rinse and trade’ type games, not ideally suited for this environment!

There’s an awful long time between your first choice and your last so I’m guessing you’ve been gaming for a while? Was the Spectrum your first experience of gaming?
My first gaming machine was an Atari 800XL, so yeah I’ve been gaming a while. We were bought a Speccy after that, and to be honest it was a bit of a downgrade, although there were far more games available for it. After that we had an Atari STE, and I’ve been through a lot of games consoles since then.

Although there is a decent amount of content in your list, there definitely seems an element of heart over head in your choices. Is this the case?
A bit of both I think. Obviously the first few are more ‘nostalgic’ games that remind me of home and growing up, but I tried to pick ones that would still keep me busy for a while. There are definitely a few games on my list that offer almost infinite replay value.

Great, so lets have a look at what you’re taking along.

So the first game on the list comes from acclaimed strategy game developer Julian Gollop.  Released on ZX Spectrum in 1985, the game allows the player to battle up to seven other wizards (either human or AI controlled) in a turn based manner. Players are given a variety of spells to cast with varying degrees of difficulty and also alignment. Casting spells of the same alignment can affect the environment. MHTL’s first game is Chaos: The Battle of Wizards.

This game is really one from the dark and dusty past, what are your memories of playing it?
So, I should clarify that the version of Chaos I’m most familiar of isn’t the Spectrum original. We had a copy of a remake made for the Atari ST which appeared on some pirate disc we acquired from someone at school. It’s mostly identical, save for the addition of some sound samples from the likes of Monty Python and Blackadder and a few new spells that aren’t present in the original game. Given the choice between the two, I’d probably pick that version, but I’ve asked for the Spectrum version here simply because I have no idea if that version is even still available anywhere.

Anyway, Chaos is the defining game of my childhood growing up. It was by far the most played game in our household at the time, we often had large groups of kids all taking part in epic games (the fact you could play with eight players at a time was revolutionary back then). We had an award for the ‘Chaos Champion’ in the house, once held for a long period of time by a confused uncle who had been roped in to play. It was absolutely everywhere, and we all adored it. I’ve nominated Chaos as one of my eight games here simply because it reminds me of home.

And the truth is it’s still a wonderful game to play. Basically an eight-way version of chess, it’s incredibly simple but still has plenty of depth to it. Games could be over in a matter of turns (we had an in-house rule of no killings on turn one) or could take an hour to finish. I love the idea that you are randomly assigned a list of spells to start with and had to make the best of what you were given. You could either go big from the start by casting a Gold Dragon, summon a mount to ride (the Manticore was my preference!) or maybe buff your wizard with a Magic Sword. And then there were the big plays, a Magic Wood to grant you more spells or a Gooey Blob which would gradually take over the screen.

It’s a game which works best in local multiplayer which was why I initially resisted putting the game on my list, obviously I’d have no-one there with me on my island! But there’s plenty of depth playing here with a bunch of CPU wizards, we’d often do this just to fill in the numbers and they would always prove to be worthy adversaries. Ideally someone would have come up with an internet enabled version by now, perhaps someone has, I’ve been out of PC gaming for a while now .

Are you a big fan of other Gollop games such as Rebelstar Raiders, Laser Squad, X-Com, etc?
Honestly, I’m not really that familiar with them. Back when Chaos was a thing I was too young to really understand about different game developers and things, we just played the games we were given (usually in the form of those cracked pirated discs distributed by that dodgy kid). I played the Chaos follow-up Lords of Chaos, which wasn’t nearly as good as the first game. I was kinda hoping that his new version Chaos Reborn would make it to consoles, but no luck so far.

In terms of this type of game, I’ve enjoyed similar turn based strategy titles like Advance Wars, and I recently really enjoyed Skulls of the Shogun by 17-Bit. But nothing has ever scratched that strategic arena battle itch that Chaos did.

Game two, Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun, is another very interesting choice. Is this a game you’ve played again recently or is this one looked at with rose tinted specs?
Yeah, this is another trip down memory lane I’m afraid. Our first games console was a Mega Drive, we had a few games for it but our main source of entertainment was the local video shop. We rented this particular game about 20 times, probably spending twice as much money as actually buying the game outright! Me and my brothers were big fantasy fans and this was really easy to pick up and play so it fit the bill quite nicely. Probably not the best genre of game for rental, we’d usually grab it again to find our save had been deleted and have to start again.

I picked up a Mega Drive and a bundle of games from eBay about 10 years ago (before kids, all my retro stuff has now been cleared out sadly) and had a couple of hours on this again. It was amazing how much of it came flooding back, the incredible 16-bit soundtrack, the story, even the world map had somehow ingrained itself into my memory.

I seem to remember it being relatively long (for a game of it’s time), but is there much replay value?
I’ll be honest, I picked this mainly for the memories, but I’d love to spend some serious time getting back into this. When I played it most recently it still seemed mechanically sound, and there are plenty of places on the map that I’ve still never seen. I don’t think we ever paid that much attention to the story, it was more a case of where can we explore? What’s actually past that river of fire in the north west corner of the map?. I don’t think we ever found that out.

It wasn’t particularly well received compared with other Mega Drive RPGs. What made you pick it over other games such as Phantasy Star 2 or Shining Force 2 (or the unbelievably awesome Rings of Power)?
As kids we didn’t read games magazines, we just looked at the games on the shelf and picked the ones with the pretty covers (I still have flashbacks of that time we rented Ballz :dread: ). We liked D&D, and this one seemed to jump off the shelf at us. It just has a special place in my heart. I know there are better games out there but the world in this is just one that means something to me personally. I’m not even an RPG fan to be honest, certainly nowadays I don’t have the time to invest in those kinds of games. And while there are probably all sorts of games that I could take to the island with me that would last forever, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take this one with me.

GRcade’s top 10 Xbox games of all-time

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Following the E3 announcement that original Xbox games will be coming to Xbox One, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to look at the games GRcade members recently voted as their top 10 Xbox titles of all-time.

Narrowly missing out on the top 10 were Beyond Good and Evil, Doom 3, Grand Theft Auto III, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell.

Top spot was shared by two titles.

Halo: Combat Evolved (Bungie, Microsoft Game Studios – 2001)
Personally, I’ve never really got on with the Halo series. It’s so generic, and the weapons are so puny. But I know I’m in the minority when it comes to this.

1= Jet Set Radio Future (Smilebit, Sega – 2002)
The sequel to the Dreamcast’s Jet Set Radio.

3= Ninja Gaiden / Ninja Gaiden Black (Team Ninja, Tecmo – 2004)
At the time this was considered to be one of the hardest Xbox games released.

3= Project Gotham Racing 2 (Bizarre Creations, Microsoft Game Studios – 2003)
Not only a fantastic racing game, but you get the excellent Geometry Wars included as a minigame.

5= Fable (Big Blue Box Studios, Microsoft Game Studios – 2004)
Adventure RPG from the mind of Peter Molyneux that spawned two sequels.

5= OutRun 2 (Sumo Digital, Microsoft Game Studios – 2004)
Worth it’s place in the top 10 on the strength of its tune Magical Sound Shower alone.

7. Halo 2 (Bungie, Microsoft Game Studios – 2004)
The most overrated game of all-time. That’s right, you heard me.

8= Burnout 3: Takedown (Criterion Games, Electronic Arts – 2004)
The changes to gameplay this introduced from Burnout 2: Point of Impact were controversial at the time (diluting the purity of originals was the claim). But it’s quality endures – as one GRcader recently put it: “Has Burnout 3 ever been bettered for simple thrills in racing?”

8= Jade Empire (BioWare, Microsoft Game Studios – 2005)
BioWare’s next RPG project after two fantastic Star Wars titles.

8= Otogi: Myth of Demons (FromSoftware, Sega – 2003)
Hack and slash title from the developer of Dark Souls.

8= Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (BioWare, LucasArts – 2003)
Catapulted BioWare into the top tier of developers, and proved western RPGs could be just as good as their Japanese counterparts.

8= The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (Starbreeze Studios /Tigo Studios, Vivendi Universal Games – 2004)
Licensed games are always terrible, right? Not this one, a superb-looking and super-smart FPS.

Disagree with our top 10? Let us know in the comments or join the discussion on GRcade.

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