2008 – Mario Kart Wii

Mario Kart Wii

 mario kart wii
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD Group No. 1
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Director(s) Yasuyuki Oyagi
Producer(s) Hideki Konno
Composer(s) Asuka Ota, Ryo Nagamatsu
Series Mario Kart
Platform(s) Wii
Release date(s) April 11, 2008
Genre(s) Racing
Mode(s) Single-player, Multiplayer

Liam: Mario Kart Wii is apparently the world’s best selling racing game. I can see why, the game is the most charming game in a series renowned for making charming games.

Mario Kart is essentially the racing game equivalent to crazy golf. You and a series of other Mario franchise characters hurtle around a brightly coloured track on go karts. Along the way you avoid various obstacles and enemies while collecting coins and power ups. The power ups are quite easily the best part of the game. Some are fairly explanatory and rather general like invulnerability stars, speed boost mushrooms and banana skins to drop. Some power ups are much more specific, for example if you are in last place and you collect a power up box, chances are you will receive the ‘Bullet Bill’ power up turning you into a massive automatically flying bullet which is usually enough to drag you up from last place. My personal favourite and the bane of every half decent Mario Kart player is the blue shell. The blue shell, when fired, will seek out and blow up the lead kart causing them to lose a great deal of speed and possible the lead. The lead kart can hear it coming but can do nothing about it.

Being the Wii the controls for this game are slightly different to preceding versions. Instead of the typical control pad steering, you ‘steer’ by tilting the wiimote left and right. Many people also have little plastic wheels you clip the wiimote into to make this seem like actual driving. In truth this control system is a little erratic and takes some getting used to. On a game that takes itself seriously this would be a problem, however if anything this seems to add to the charm of Mario Kart in a way that it would with no other game. I’m eagerly awaiting the Wii U version of Mario Kart due out next year, as is the entire Fitzgerald household.

For reasons such as this I think this will be fairly hard to predict. Joel is undoubtedly the better driver and as we go through to some of the harder courses (Rainbow road!) I would expect that will start to tell. On the easier courses though? I have just as much of a chance as anyone else.

Oh and don’t ask why I race as Daisy. I just always have okay. (Daisy rocks!)

Joel: I’ve gotten excited anticipating the release of many games over the years, but I was beside myself in the build-up to this one. I love Mario games, I love racing games, I love the Mariokart series and at the time this came out, I was still pretty enamoured with the Wii’s innovative control system. I’m pretty sure I got it on release day. I was not disappointed.

For the uninitiated, the Mario Kart series has had a release on every Nintendo platform since the SNES. Copies of earlier ones go for an awful lot of money, relatively speaking. The premise is pretty simple if you don’t know – various characters of Mario lore compete in go-karts on tracks styled around the various realms of the Mushroom Kingdom – the home of said characters. There are various lore-consistent weapons and bonuses which can be collected in-race. Each new release came with a number of new tracks and a selection of re-made, re-mastered versions of tracks from previous iterations. That about covers it, but doesn’t really do justice to the amount of fun you can have with a few friends and a copy of this brilliant game.

I’m not sure what else I can tell you about this one really. I could write about the time the boy accidentally over-wrote my ninety-something percent complete save game with a fresh one, but that wouldn’t be very professional of me. I think, really, that if you haven’t played any of the Mario Kart series then you have sorely missed out. If you have any kind of dusty old Nintendo kicking around, it’ll be money well spent to pick up a copy of the relevant version of Mario Kart and give it a bash. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

In terms of predictions, despite my comparatively vast experience of racing games compared to Liam, he is actually uncharacteristically good at Mario Kart. I still think I’ll win, but it will be a lot closer than I’d like to think.

2007 – Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

 

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

guitarhero

Developer(s) Neversoft, Vicarious Visions (Wii)
Publisher(s) Activision
Distributor(s) RedOctane
Series Guitar Hero
Platform(s) PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3,Wii, Xbox 360,Microsoft Windows,Mac OS X
Release date November 23, 2007
Genre(s) Music, Rhythm
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer
Distribution Blu-ray, DVD, Wii Optical Disc

 

Liam: They say every generation has a ‘sound’. The electronic synthesiser dominated the late 70s, the wail of the electric guitar signified the dawning of rock and roll in the 50’s and the ‘clackity clack’ of plastic guitars will in future be heralded as the emergence of the Guitar Hero generation.

The game is simple really, as the popular music piece plays you need to strum the plastic guitar while pressing the corresponding coloured button on the neck of the guitar, in time with the music. This simple concept beguiles the often fiendish difficulty of the game. Sadly this version of game only has compatibility to play as a guitarist. Future games had the opportunity to play as the whole band. Drunken caterwauling to various classic rock tunes being one of my new favourite hobbies.

The version we are playing – Guitar Hero 3 – has a fairly decent soundtrack consisting of over 70 songs including tracks by bands like Rage against the machine, The Strokes and Pearl Jam. This is further supplemented by a massive catalogue of DLC. Many of these songs can be carried forward to subsequent versions of the game. For example my copy of Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock (the last in the franchise) has a track list of over 500 songs taken from previous games and DLC. The genre had multiple spin-offs of Guitar Hero and the rival game Rock Band, with licensed games by Green Day, the Beatles, Metallica and Aerosmith and even a keyboard instrument. Sadly Guitar Hero is on hiatus with no games planned for release in the near future. I am hoping that there will be another game release one day though.

Joel has played a hell of a lot of this game. He was one of the few people who played this game so much that they could have actually learnt the guitar to a decent level – realised this – and started to learn guitar to a decent level. I think because of this he probably hasn’t played a lot of guitar hero since then and I am hoping that his real world guitar ability will hamper his guitar hero skills. I very much doubt it though and while I at my best could muddle through on hard difficulty, Joel will be performing admirably on Expert difficulty. I think the plan is to play through a co-op career and try and get through as many songs as we can. Even if I am terrible, at least I can enjoy the music!

Joel: Where to begin here..? I picked this up the day it was released, with great anticipation. I’d played it in the arcade, or at least an earlier version of it and I’m a fan of most music that could be classified under the very large umbrella of “rock” so this was a no-brainer. I still remember (I know, it wasn’t that long ago!!) putting the guitar together for the first time, the internal (and external, as Rachael had paid for half) debate over where to stick the stickers, the excitement as the various splash-ads for the different producer flipped by… Then I saw the setlist – tracks by bands like Disturbed, Pearl Jam and Dragonforce – I was fit to bust.

So with joy in my heart I fired up the career mode, the first song started and then it hit me. I knew immediately how the guys in Peter’s band in Family Guy felt when they open their band’s first set only to realise they had neglected to actually learn any songs! (season 4 ep 4) I Was a dismal failure. The video crowd booed me off stage before I knew what was what. Bummer man. My second attempt (at Slow Ride by Foghat in case you’re interested) was little better. By now, Rachael had understandably become impatient – nobody likes seeing what a loser their other half is – so I reluctantly handed the big plastic guitar over to her and watched her get through the song without much trouble at all. The video crowd went nuts. This won’t do. The game must be faulty.

Being the man I am, I continued to blame the game, the controller, the sofa, New Labour, until I set the thing into left handed mode and then it all clicked into place. I went from strength to strength (as, I should point out, did Rachael who is one of a very small number of people I know who can occasionally beat me) and before long I was playing on Expert. Many nights were spent playing this until way too late and many subsequent days were spent in considerable pain. Blisters were involved on occasion. This was a little bit like being in a real band! (only a little bit mind)

This game was actually responsible for making me get off my backside and learn the real guitar which, for the record, I do NOT play left handed. So yeah. I owe this game a lot. It had a real, measurable impact on my life. I’ve since bought and played just about every sequel and spin-off, with the exception of DJ Hero that is.. and have now graduated to Rocksmith, which in case you don’t know, allows you to use your own real guitar (or bass) to play along with real songs in a very real way. Anyone interested in learning the guitar should pick up a copy of Rocksmith, its very good, but this isn’t about Rocksmith.

So predictions then. I’m not known for being arrogant but this is the game for me. My absolute, undisputable grand slam. This is my Brian Lara ’96. Sorry dude…

2006 – Wii Sports

 

Wii Sports

 wii tennis
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD Group No. 2
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Designer(s) Keizo Ohta, Takayuki Shimamura, Yoshikazu Yamashita
Composer(s) Kazumi Totaka
Series Wii
Platform(s) Wii
Release date(s)  December 8, 2006
Genre(s) Sports
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer
Distribution Wii Optical Disc

Joel: Well, here we are. The “home stretch” if you will. We have reached the 7th Generation of consoles and, after this we will also have reached 24 hours. I am genuinely concerned that we won’t be able to even stand to play these games. That point actually brings me nicely to where I wanted to start writing about the actual game, so here goes:

If you aren’t familiar with this game you’re probably wondering what makes it so special. Well it’s the fact that it actually gets you off your backside, forcing you to mime the actions of the players in order to properly control the action. I’ve managed to cripple myself a few times playing the baseball “homerun challenge” just to name one example.

However, If you don’t live in Japan and you bought a new Wii, you will have at least initially, owned a copy of Wii Sports. It was the launch game bundled with the Wii and what an introduction to the one truly original console of the past few generations it was! Everyone I’ve persuaded to play this from 5 year-olds to 65 year-olds have had a whale of a time with one sport or another on this wonder of a game. Simple to learn and difficult to master, there is a game or a mode for every level of player- Whether you want to idly knock a ball back and forth whilst pretending you’re Andy Murray and crying into your Cheetos or you think you’d give Rory McIlroy a swift kicking in the back nine, there’s something in it for you.

In case you somehow missed this phenomenon, I’ll give you a brief overview of the game – You (or rather your painstakingly crafted in-game avatar) can choose to compete in any of the following games (listed alphabetically as I’m a little OCD at times)  – baseball, bowling, boxing, golf or tennis. When you start out, you play against appropriately inexperienced AI players, but as your aptitude increases, so does that of your opponents. If you reach a “level” of 1000 at a particular sport, you become a “Pro” and are rewarded with something shiny – a glittery bowling ball, golden bat and whathaveyou. There are other play modes as well – the fitness test thing is pretty good – you are randomly given three different games (and modes of them) to play and based on your performance given an apparently arbitrarily determined “Age.” This is always a fun way to compete with your co-habitants.

Sadly, we aren’t going to have enough time to play each game mode really, so we have decided ahead of time which games and formats we’ll be using – Standard rules baseball, 3-set singles tennis and 9 holes of golf. That, golf that is, is going to be hilarious. I can’t make par on a good day, never mind the state we’ll be in on the night.

I suppose it’s time for a prediction then. We’ll be reaching new levels of staying power for either us by this point and it’s going to messy, whoever wins. But I have decided I will win. Just because I really can’t even begin to fathom how this is going to play out.

 

Liam:  Did you know Wii Sports is the biggest selling video game of all time with over 82 million copies sold? That’s roughly the total number of record sales of the Red Hot Chili Peppers over their 30 year career. Mind blowing stuff. This does however take into account the fact that the game was bundled with consoles in all places but Japan

Wii sports was a launch game for the Nintendo Wii, a console which has changed modern gaming a great deal and threw console gaming back into the front rooms of the casual gamer. Everyone knows someone who owns a Wii and this game was the perfect launch game for the console and worked out as being the quintessential ‘Killer App’. The fun of motion gaming cannot be explained in trailers or described in articles, instead Nintendo released a series of mini-games all of which use the Wii’s motion control in a manner so intuitive that this game is truly pick up and play. It was exactly what Nintendo needed for their new console and soon people had in their room a gaming system which could involve the whole family from young children to pensioners.

The game represented five games: Bowling, Boxing, Tennis, Golf and Baseball. Over the hour we are looking to play all but bowling and boxing, with bowling sadly taking too long to complete a game and boxing being far too much bloody effort. All of these games are a very simple representation of the game and controlled by swinging, waggling or flailing the ‘wiimote’ at the screen. None of the games require a great deal of skill and compared to modern motion games feel a bit clunky and imprecise, to the point where you realise that a quick wrist flick of the ‘wiimote’ while lying on the sofa is just as effective as getting up and prancing about like an idiot in front of your television. After 23 hours solid awake staring at a computer screen I will be very grateful for the opportunity to stretch out.

Quick predictions based on the three games. I think Tennis will be fairly even, I have the advantage with the Golf and Joel is probably just ahead of me on the Baseball so we are looking at a pretty tight contest. It might just come down to who is the least stiff and retains the most flexibility leading into the matches; I think this may be my secret weapon. If we spy someone surreptitiously limbering up during Need for Speed at least we know why.

2005 – Need for Speed: Most Wanted

 

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

nfs

Developer(s) EA Black Box
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts
Composer(s) Paul Linford
Series Need for Speed
Engine EAGL 3
Platform(s) Nintendo DS,Microsoft Windows,PlayStation 2,PlayStation PortableXbox,GameCube,Game Boy Advance,Xbox 360PlayStation 3
Release date(s) November 25, 2005
Genre(s) Racingopen world
Mode(s) Single-playerMultiplayer
Distribution CD, DVD, GameCube Game DiscGame Boy Advance cartridge, Nintendo DS Game Card

 

Joel:  Awesome – we’re back on the racing games! I especially like them because Liam’s rubbish at them so they are almost guaranteed wins, though after 22 hours that might not be the case… What’s to say about NFS:MW? Well, according to Wikipedia it’s the ninth release in the franchise, which sounds about right.  I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with this series – I played a few of the really old ones on PC through and they were alright, if a little arcade-y. The series got a massive overhaul with NFS:Underground which was awesome and horrible at the same time. Pros included Lots of cool cars, lots of customisation options, a pretty large city to roam about and I think it was the first game I played with a decent implementation of a drag race system, where winning was based on decent gear changes and well-timed use of nitrous. The cons however were that you were forced to bolt ridiculous neons and hilariously large spoilers to your car in order to progress, not to mention hideous car paint. The physics were at times infuriating, often resulting in you getting what became affectionately called “nubbed” – this was where your car might clip a tiny nub of scenery and come to a dramatic screeching halt, or flip over or something else equally ridiculous. Anyway, I seem to be talking a lot about the wrong game. The follow-up, NFS:UG2 was basically the same game. I quickly grew to hate it. Then, however, came this, NFS: Most wanted.

After a pretty decent graphical overhaul, a soundtrack featuring rock giants such as Avenged Sevenfold, Disturbed, Killswitch Engage and Mastodon and the removal of Drift mode (I hate drift racing in games… so much) and some physics upgrades we were given a pretty decent game. The premise is reasonably simple: escape the five-o in progressively faster cars whilst they become smarter and more aggressive. There is of course a “story” featuring some melodrama and a little deceitful twist at the end, but as with most of the NFS games, the plot is paper thin and largely irrelevant. Major publications gave this game very decent reviews and rightly so – it is indeed pretty decent.

So I think I’ve got a pretty good chance of coming out on top here. But the pressure will be on as we’re quickly running out of games and if Liams predications are correct, I’ll be a bit behind overall here. Still, we’ll have MarioKart Wii in a couple hours so that should be OK.

 

Liam:  Shockingly I actually quite like this game, although if you have been reading my reviews on the previous driving games you can probably understand why. To me, games like Forza and Grand Turismo are for driving enthusiasts… purists who really care about weight to power ratios and torque. If these games are the anoraks wet dream The Need for speed series (not all of the games in the series, but generally) is more like Top Gear. In fact I am waiting for my caravan destruction mini-game.

NFS:MW is pretty indicative for the series and includes the high octane arcade thrill that fans of the series will recognise. This game was also a launch title for the xbox360 (and I used to own a copy some time ago) and has been recently rebuilt and released. The games plot is awful. Some guff about beating a series of other street racers to win back the BMW you lose in the opening few minutes of the game.

In my not so humble opinion there are two reasons why this far superior to many other driving games:-

1, Visuals. The game looks stunning. We will be playing the PS2 version which is graphically less impressive than the xbox360 version which was a launch title for the console but is still a massive leap forward. The game is slick, colourful and most importantly fast. Neon signs whirl past your screen, reflecting off your paintwork as you whip through checkpoints at breakneck speeds. When you brake, you don’t ease onto the break pedal before slowly pulling away. You use your handbrake, going sideways round the corner revealing the shiny broadside of your suped up motor – complete with lurid graphics and neon under-lights. This all happens subconsciously as you concentrate on getting round the tracks but this bombardment of stimuli (aided by a pumping soundtrack) really keeps you on your toes.

2, Pursuits. One of the main mechanics of the game, as you would expect from a street racing game, is that the fuzz occasional get a bit peeved with you dicking about on the public highways and decide to try and stop you. This leads to a Smokey and the Bandit style cat and mouse chase complete with destructible scenery to smash up following police cars. Massive fun!

I think in a straight point to point race I will probably struggle. I am a dab hand at the more creative games though. Speedtrap being my favourite where you set aggregate speed records at various traffic cameras. We don’t know exactly what we are doing with this game yet but I really hope we get a bash at this.

 

2004 – Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel

Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel

Combat in Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel
Developer(s) Interplay
Publisher(s) Interplay
Series Fallout
Engine Dark Alliance Engine
Platform(s) PlayStation 2Xbox
Release date(s)
  • NA January 14, 2004
  • EU April 2, 2004
  • JP April 28, 2005
Genre(s) Action role-playing game
Mode(s) Single playerMultiplayer
Distribution DVD

Liam: As we have both lamented in previous articles, the decision to cut both single player and PC games from the line up was unavoidable. Sadly this meant the loss of many great games that mean a good deal to me. Fallout Brotherhood of Steel may not be the biggest game, or important in the grand scheme of things but it allows me to bring a little Fallout to the marathon.

I started playing Fallout one in the late nineties after reading a preview in PC Zone and was not disappointed. As well has having a very detailed RPG system with varied playmates promoted by the SPECIAL system allowing players to take various approaches to playing the game. You can go through the game as an evil gun-slinger, dispatching all in your path, a sneaky assassin hiding in the shadows waiting for the perfect opportunity or a silver tongued diplomat. The game itself does force you into combat situations but many aspects of the game can be solved by speech or investing heavily in one of the multiple non-combat skills. Some of the most fun to have in the game is to have a low intelligence play through where the dialogue spoken by your character pays a light-hearted homage to Lenny from Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’. Hilarious when running around one-shotting people in the groin with an electric sledgehammer.

Fallout is set in the aftermath of a massive nuclear war sometime after World War Two. The detailed world created in the game series balances the ‘apple pie’ 1950’s Americana that the world is somehow stuck in, with a bleak, desperate and often quite savage depiction of the post war landscape shadowing the paranoid cold war attitudes at the time. The initial attraction I had to the game was centred around the mature content. Drugs were a vital part of the game, both as a game mechanic improving various statistics and as a social commentary. Drug addiction, manufacture and the organised crime it supports being used as multiple plot devices. Sex and prostitution (homosexual and heterosexual) were rife in the game and it even touches on a false rape allegation. Slavery, torture, kidnapping, extortion, the Mafia, gambling, alcohol abuse… they all had a part to play in the Fallout world, sometimes with an element of humour but always with that desolate feeling bubbling underneath.

After Fallouts massive success a sequel was developed by Interplay and Black Isle imaginatively named Fallout 2 – considered by many including myself to be the best in the series. Interplay continued to develop two spin offs, this game and Fallout Tactics before the IP was acrimoniously acquired by Bethesda who took the franchise away from it’s isometric, turn based roots with the still very excellent Fallout 3 a decade after the original. Fallout New Vegas was released two years later developed by Obsidian Entertainment, staffed by many original Black Isle developers.

I have a feeling that playing this game for one hour is not going to do it justice. I’m hoping that my knowledge of the series (although I have not played this game) will help me a great deal.

 

Joel: This is a bit of an odd one – Despite being a fan of the Fallout franchise, I’d somehow managed to go about my life without even knowing this existed until Liam suggested playing it when we were deciding on the list. I’ve put a lot of time into Fallout 1 and 2 and recently gave Fallout 3 a go – I’d owned it for years but knowing it would likely consume a serious portion of my life I’d put off starting it – within 3 hours of starting it, my PS3 died. My second PS3 died, more specifically. So because I’m superstitious, that’s gone back on the shelf, where it will probably stay until you can buy a PS3 for less than £50. Which is a shame, I was enjoying it as much as I thought I would. But we’re not here to talk about that.

So with Liam not having played it either, it seemed prudent to have a go on it, get a feel and come up with some reasonable challenges for the night. Rachael kindly jumped in to be my player two and we set to it. It’s actually pretty good, once you get used to the weird third person, top down viewpoint. It’s quite similar to the previous iterations, you interact with NPCs, achieve objectives, develop your character’s stats and all that good stuff. The only real differences are the viewpoint and the combat not being turn based, though you can opt to do that once combat has started, but honestly it made the game quite slow and clunky.

Two player mode is exactly the same as single player except for the fact that there are two of you. As you would expect from a Fallout game, there is a lot of story and the progression is fairly slow, at least to begin with. The time we’ll have to play this will really only allow for the completion of the first main objective – clearing a large warehouse of radscorpions and giant rats, but it’s good fun, presents a reasonable number of potential metrics for measuring a “winner” and has the added bonus of the boss fight music being a Killswitch Engage track – I’ve got a lot of time for that! We’ll have to press pretty hard and skip a lot of the cutscenes to achieve it within the hour. This, however, is not the end of the world as it means avoiding interactions with possibly the most annoying NPC I’ve ever “met” – the delightfully named “Armpit the bartender.” John Mariano has a lot to answer for. He makes Navi from Zelda seem like a pleasure.

This is going to be one of the less heated games in our list. Although we will be competing in some ways, friendly fire is ineffective and we can only complete our main objective by working together. We Haven’t fully decided on the challenges – it may be XP/level based, kills based, item based – we just don’t know yet. I wouldn’t like to call a winner ahead of time here as we are both pretty green on this one. Definitely looking forward to it though and to playing it properly after the marathon as it really does seem pretty good.

2003 – The Simpsons: Hit and Run

The Simpsons Hit & Run

 Hit and Run
Developer(s) Radical Entertainment
Publisher(s) Vivendi Universal Games
Distributor(s) Fox Interactive, Gracie Films
Designer(s) Debi Laezman, Darren Evenson, Chris Mitchell. Joshua Mitchell, Jeff Plumbly, Sheik Sahib
Artist(s) Vincent Chin, Jaroslav Chorny, Anshin Chu, Dustin Condie, Brad Dixion, Kevin Fink, Aryan Hanbeck, Eric Madill, Mike Marraffa, Sanela Mickovic, Robert Peet, John Zhongyi Wang, Ross Young
Writer(s) Matt Selman, Tim Long, Matt Warburton
Composer(s) Swallow Studios (Marc Baril)
Platform(s) PlayStation 2, Xbox,GameCube,Microsoft Windows
Release date(s) PlayStation 2, Xbox & GameCube
NA September 16, 2003 EU October 31, 2003 AU 2003 (PS2)  JP December 25, 2003 (Xbox)
Genre(s) Action-adventure
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer
Distribution CD-ROM, DVD-ROM,Nintendo optical disc

Joel: I played a few of the early Simpsons games (anyone remember Bart vs the Space Mutants??) over the years and was fairly unimpressed. I remember spending a fair bit of money playing an upright cab in a restaurant in Ibiza once, many moons ago, but I don’t recall which (Simpsons) game it was and I think it may have been borne out of desperation for something to do that I spent so much on it. So when I received Simpsons Hit and Run as a Christmas present one year, I was a little apprehensive. I have to say though, on first glance, I was pretty impressed. The main menu screen is a dynamic scene of the Simpsons’ living room, which changes theme on special occasions like Xmas and Hallowe’en -Which brings a wee smile to the face.

Firing up the single player mode, you’re provided with a decent length, well-polished cutscene to set the story in motion (something to do with townspeople being spied upon by large robotic camera-wasps or something IIRC) and you’re off. The actual gameplay, graphically, is a pretty decent representation of Springfield and its residents. The city is on a fairly large scale for a game of this age and as you would expect of any Simpsons brand product, the attention to detail and inside jokes are all there. The objective of the game really is to get to the bottom of and ultimately stop the aforementioned wasp-powered spying, gallivanting about the place GTA-style. Sadly I never made it to the end of this game and not for a lack of trying. I’ve had it for at least eight years and still can’t beat the same point in the game, to my eternal shame. But I had a good time trying, visiting all the landmarks, finding the hidden gems and interacting with all the various Springfieldians.

Apparently you have to reach a certain point in the game to unlock the multi-player mode. I don’t remember this specifically, but I’m sure I have already unlocked it. I will check before we go live, naturally. But… The reason I think this is because I’m sure I’ve already played it. I think they are sort of top-down mini races, not remarkably related to the single player mode, or even the Simpsons really. More like the Micro Machines games.

2003 was a tough year to decide on – There were a good number of notable releases – Max Payne 2, Silent Hill 3, Midnight Club II, Devil May Cry 2 to name just a few, but there were reasons against many of them being used – we may already have had another game from the franchise, being single player only or, tragically, being PC based. We decided early on to avoid PC games because the last thing we need “on the night” is for some game to inexplicably crap out because it’s running on something modern. Personally, I would have picked something else if I could, but we couldn’t find anything better. Though I have just spotted that both SSX3 and Time Crisis 3 came out this year… Shame the old light-guns won’t work on modern TVs.

Liam: Bit of an odd one this one. Generally TV/Movie game tie ins have left us with some of the worst games in the history of gaming – as anyone who has played King Kong will happily testify. The Simpsons franchise has led to 26 games currently, of which I am ashamed to say I have played around twenty of, and a few are surprisingly quite good (Bart Simpsons Vs. The Juggernauts being my personal favourite). The game itself may not be the most memorable game on our list, but there is no denying that if you have grown up in the past 30 years the Simpsons is a cultural behemoth that deserves recognition. Many of the games have heavy involvement by the Simpsons scriptwriters and some of the shows humour seep through into the playing experience.

The single player game is pretty fun, an open world adventure and driving game which plays a little like a tame grand theft auto. The multiplayer mini-game which we will be playing on the night is also pretty fun. It’s a very simple top down racing game where you can play as any of the four main Simpsons characters (I assume Maggie is in the car next to marge playing with her pretend steering wheel) and for no reason at all – Apu. Not that I have anything against Mr Nahasapeemapetilon, in fact he is one of my favourite characters in the show and I would be playing as him, but his inclusion here as the only non-Simpson character always seemed a little odd. If anyone it should be Hank Scorpio! If any video game developers are reading this you should totally make a wacky races Simpsons games, and Hank Scorpio should be in it. I would buy it.

2003 was a bit of an odd year for us, we put this game in as a placeholder as we already owned a copy and just plain forgot to review it afterwards. We are still considering picking up a Gamecube and playing Mario Party 5 or switching to either SSX tricky, Mortal Kombat or Tiger Wood Golf. It’s still under discussion so we may be losing the Simpsons and switching to another game – watch this space. For the meantime through Springfield’s famous residents will be a good diversion for an hour.

Scorpio!
He’ll sting you with his dreams of power and wealth.
Beware of Scorpio!
His twisted twin obsessions are his plot to rule the world
And his employees’ health.
He’ll welcome you into his lair
Like the nobleman welcomes his guest
With free dental care and a stock plan that helps you invest!
But beware of his generous pensions
Plus three weeks paid vacation each year
And on Fridays, the lunchroom serves hot dogs and burgers and beer!
He loves German beer!

2002 – WWE Smackdown! Shut Your Mouth

WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth

WWE

Developer(s) Yuke’s
Publisher(s) THQ (WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth),  Yuke’s (Exciting Pro Wrestling 4)
Series SmackDown!
Platform(s) PlayStation 2
Release date(s)  November 15, 2002
Genre(s) Professional wrestling, Fighting
Mode(s) Single-player, Multiplayer
Distribution DVD

Joel: I think… it was quite a long time ago now.. that this was one of the games I bought at the same time as my PS2. I should really say “our” PS2 as Rachael and I went halves on it at a second hand store in Portsmouth – IIRC it cost a hundred and twenty English pounds, which was a fair amount for a couple of teenagers on minimum-ish wage. But that said, it still runs today, unlike the two PS3’s I’ve killed in 4 years. I digress…

Because of making the generation-jump from a PS1 to 2, whatever I played first was likely to impress me and this surely left a lasting impression. The character creation tool had a previously unheard of level of detail, the levels were huge, in some modes you can end up in the street outside the arena even! A great variety of match configurations were available, from the standard 1v1 to cage matches, King of the Ring, Royal Rumble and all the other big Pay-per-view events you can think of! The outstanding graphics and a great commentary track from Jerry “The King” Lawler and the other chap whose name escapes me, Jim Ross I think, really gave you the feeling you were watching a real match. I played a lot of this back in the day, despite not being a massive fan of the WWE franchise and got pretty good at it, as did Liam. Evidently, I’m not as good as I used to be though – when I broke this out for testing, I was delighted to find that I still had my old save with all my custom characters and records etc. Because it’s one of the most fun things I’ve done in a video game, I went straight to the Royal Rumble, picked my favourite custom character and the match began. I was subsequently eliminated after less than 4 minutes. Not quite what I had in mind, as I had won the thing countless times in the past. Must’ve been a fluke, I tell myself as I reset the match for another go. I haven’t played this for years and have forgotten most of the controls. So the second match kicks off and I’m off to a flying start. After a few minutes I’ve eliminated a number of competitors and things are looking rosy. Felling quite pleased with myself, I merrily bound about the ring, spearing this guy, kicking that guy over the ropes, when all of a sudden a punch from Brock Lesnar sends me backflipping over the ropes and out of the game. Again. Something’s wrong here… I poke about and eventually end up in the options menu and that’s when I see it – I’d had the difficulty set to maximum. Well that explains it. I’m clearly not as good at this as I used to be. So I set it down to medium and sure enough, victory was mine. At least, that’s how I choose to remember what happened.

So this should be a match for the ages. We’re planning on doing a Rumble and then filling out the rest of the time with other modes. We haven’t chosen our characters yet, but I’m hoping to bag Shawn Michaels or Hulk Hogan, both were favourites of mine as a kid. I’ve no idea who Liam’s going to choose, but it doesn’t matter really – I’ll ruin him whoever he picks 😉

Liam: Hurrah the racing games have finished for the time being and I get to take out my anger and boredom with some violence! For those that may not be aware WWE (formerly named WWF until they lost a fight with a panda) is a multi-million dollar sports entertainment franchise. Which is a funny way of saying that lots of people, all over the world, pay them a great deal of money to watch fat guys in lycra playfighting.

Although it is well known that wrestling is entirely scripted (I like to think of it as a sweaty soap opera) as acting wise WWE ranks just above pantomime, with a plot so exaggerated it becomes farcical at times, but this does not diminish the physicality of the show with serious injuries all part and parcel as the athletes perform acrobatic and high impact moves. In the process they have spawned numerous household names over the years such as Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, The Undertaker and Brett ‘The Hitman’ Hart.

Yuke’s have been running the premier wrestling franchise in computer gaming for many years now and even though this game was relatively early on in the series, it still has a very high level of polish. It has a large roster of playable fighters and a wide array of match types including standard fights and tag teams fights, the major pay per view crowd pleasers such as the royal rumble and king of the ring, the more ludicrous offerings of Sloberknocker (endless waves of enemies), TLC (tables, ladders and chairs) and my personal favourite the steel cage match. It’s a highly enjoyable game for any wrestling fan – which at the time I was. Hey don’t judge me.

I’m kinda looking forward to playing this. I feel it will be a regression to my college days where I spent a good many hours taking my create-a-fighter to the WWE heavyweight championship. I was undefeated as well until the undertaker beat me up behind the scenes and stole my belt – which unbelievably counted as a loss. I used to be much better than Joel at this game; it’s been a long while though and I am expecting a good, clean fight.