Bastion – Build That Wall (Darren Korb)

I’ve discovered Bastion just few weeks ago – it’s a relatively small indie game from this year by Supergiant Games. I think I will express feelings of most of those who had a chance to play it – this game is a freakin’ jewel. For me personally, it could easily compete for the title of game of the year.

In it’s essence, Bastion is a isometric 2D hack’n’slash game, you know the “Diablo”-like. You wander around, you kill things, you collect bonuses and upgrades, and push on. There are many games pursuing that scheme. But Bastion stands out because of two things. The gameplay and the story.

The game is brilliantly balanced, I imagine tons of hours being spent in testing to tweak the game to the final state. Bastion is not hard, it’s not ridiculously easy, but it should not be an obstacle for an average gamer. The game is about to experience it, not to beat it. Then, there are rpg things – your character levels up, you can choose from several types of weapons for your primary and secondary weapon (each weapon has 5 upgrades), you can have extra powerful skill, you can take some “bottled spirits” with you, that will further boost your abilities. Heck, you can even control the difficulty level, by enabling or disabling gods’ idols. Whenever you enable one, a part of the game is harder – monster can be faster, flying, deflect your missiles, etc. As a reward, you get more bonuses and experience. Different weapon combinations can result in dramatically different playstyle, melee or ranged, so you can tailor something to your exact needs. And when you play a level, whatever you do, feels very rewarding, be it killing a monster, smashing furiously all the barrels and boxes around or killing a boss.

The story is where Bastion gets really unique. Basically, there is a narrator. All the time. Always with you. When you play, he’s describing what you do, and this way, he tells a story. You might fall of the cliff or pick a certain weapon, you might choose to do something wacky – narrator will always notice this and comment this in a funky way. It’s incredible. This way, you feel like you’re participating in both creating the story and listening to the story. You’re the story hero, and story listener, in the same time. Initially, you don’t know who is telling the story and who is listening – further in the game, you will discover answers to both these. Because of the narrator, developers achieved a very interesting result of, maybe for the first time, disconnecting from the main hero and rooting for him in the same time. You know it’s not “your” story, yet you still want to see how it ends. And, because of this, you absorb more facts, you tend to listen more and pay attention. It’s like these new language learning methods – you absorb the game and the story by immersion, by being in it, by listening. Play Bastion and wait for the “didn’t make it” narration part. Then, at the end of the game, you will hear it juxtaposed in different situation. The effect is just mindblowing.

I don’t want to spoil much of the story. You play as Kid in a world of Caelondia, which has been recently touched by terrible Calamity. Eventually you reach Bastion, which is a floating island-device, and will be your hub for the rest of the story. The Bastion is also a key for all the events in Caelondia. You will meet few people on your way and their stories will affect greatly your further actions. You will learn about a great conflict and how different people were tossed into it. Time will be also involved. The story is fantastic, I promise. It does not aspire to tell you a epic tale. It’s just a small novel, but a meaningful one.

The overall music background for Bastion revolves around western-ish feeling, classical or specially amped guitars, slow tempo. Surprisingly, the music combines with the game very well, even if the game visuals are not showing you the Wild West. The world pictured is an imagined one, but has this small flavours, details here or there, giving us the impression, that while it has its own roots, they definitely come from stories, where you had this lone traveller with a rifle or gun, driving hundreds of miles on a dusty road, chasing the setting sun on the horizon. Kid resembles that type of hero, there are hints in the way he’s dressed.

The song I’ve picked has lyrics and is kinda important to the game itself. If you intend to play the game soon and don’t want any spoilers, don’t listen to this track. It does not reveal any significant truth about the story, but the pleasure of hearing it for the first time in the right place is something you want to have. I’ve finished Bastion, but this song stays in my head.

The game sort of reminds me of Braid (I will cover Braid too), it has similar graphic style, it revolves around consequences of time and also attempts to provide a different kind of narration.

More about Bastion –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastion_(video_game)


Lotus III (Patrick Phelan)

Back then, before Need for Speed was born, or actually any currently ruling racing game, Amiga players had only one true racer game – and it was Lotus III.

Lotus III is a pseudo 3D (faked in 2D) speed racer released in 1992. It was an instant success, as previous editions of Lotus already laid out the groundwork for remarkable game. This version offered great music, great sense of speed and amazing levels to go through. New in Lotus III was RECS – a system to generate a customized version of a track, based on multiple editable factors. But, what was really great about Lotus, was the ability to race with your friend in split-screen mode – and that was probably most of my time spent with the game. When we chased each other, almost side by side, pushing our joysticks to their limits… ah, the memories.

The intro theme is epic. Several seconds building up to main hit, and then bam! It was great for racing, it was stimulating the adrenaline rush and then carried you smoothly further. To many players, this track will remain a synonym of racing music.

More about Lotus –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_(series)


Pitfall II (David Crane?)

Indiana Jones, Helmet Nesingwary, Harry Pitfall – different incarnations of the same man: adventurer and risk-taker, neverending treasure-seeker getting himself in all sorts of trouble on the way. And that’s what this game is about.

In the game, you’re mr Pitfall. Apparently you are helplessly lost in the jungle and you’re going deeper and deeper to… I don’t remember actually. Find a treasure? Get back to home? Rescue princess? All of the above? But I remember, it took a great deal of preservance and skill to help him out in this. Pitfall collects gold treasures and is pushing forward through the caves. He sometimes swims, trying to avoid electrical eels, sometimes flies on the baloon (watch out for deadly bats) but most of the time just runs, climbs and jumps over wild animals trying to kill him. That would be frogs, ants, scorpions, butterflies… you know, all sort of these dangerous ones, not lions or tigers, bah, who’s scared of them anyway? What I remember most from the game, was the sense of adventure, “epicness” of it, given the machine it was played on (Atari) and also the sense of swimming – it was the first game I know allowing the main character to swim and it felt very “real”, Pitfall was pushed up, slowed down, he moved his arms to crawl further, he could dive in to the bottom, to look for treasures… it was nice.

There were few music patterns, i.e. from 1:15 you will hear a minor-keyed part that was played when player touched a creature. Nothing terribly bad happened then, but the player was moved back to the last checkpoint, marked by a cross on the floor. This allowed for as much attempts as you want, so if you were stubborn enough, you would always eventually finish the game. But when you saw yourself moved back through all these chambers you so carefully passed, it was really frustrating. However, when you finished the game, it was really rewarding. Maybe because back then, most 8bit games were not exactly designed with “end” in mind, they still had “saloon game machine” design, where new levels just increased the speed or complexity, making the player to fail eventually. Pitfall 2 was different – it had the beginning and end exactly planned.

Later, I’ve learned that the original cartridge for Atari 2600 with Pitfall had custom hardware built in, to boost that poor console and aid in displaying Pitfall’s smooth graphics. Imagine graphic accelerators being added to today’s games – bizarre concept.

There was another tune, when Harry reached the baloon chamber. It’s a waltz called Sobre las Olas (“Over the Waves”) by Mexican composer, Juventino Rosas. Here’s someone playing it on accordion –

More about Pitfall –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitfall_II:_Lost_Caverns


Bubble Bobble (team Zuntata)

Probably the best of “dual-player” games on 8bit computers. I remember countless hours spent playing Bubble Bobble with my friends, cousins, girlfriend even. It’s so innocent, so colorful, so fun to play.

The game is series (100?) of one screen levels. You control a small dragon, that can jump and spit out bubbles. Each level will feature some enemies, several types of them, behaving differently. You fight them by trying to “bubble them up” and then manually bursting the bubble. Later in the game, other methods were available, like napalm, flame breath or some kind of snake/rope/rollercoaster thingy I tend to call “phlegm” (can’t remember why). When killed, enemies turned into all sorts of consumable “things”, starting from delicious bananas or apples, through candybars, big cakes, ending on diamons and other precious stones. That was the thing with Bubble Bobble – you could expect these things all over the place, coming from different directions, falling on you even. Fruits, candies, stones – nom nom nom. There were also some items triggering level skip, insta-kill of enemies, bonus consumables or providing you with a letter from the word EXTEND. Once you made it all, you got some sweet sweet bonus, lot of points, and … whole thing goes again. When enemies stayed alive on the level for too long, they first get “angry”, changing color and moving faster, later, few “jaws” spawned in corners of the screen, chasing you. These could not be killed, so it was best to avoid them and finish the level quickly.

The game can get you bored when played alone, but it really shines in two player mode. The other player controls another dragon and you can execute all kinds of strategies to help each other pass the level quickly. Dragons can even support each other by sptting bubbles the other dragon can jump on to get to unreachable places. Two good players could survive for a long, long time.

I never actually finished the game. I saw different ports since then, amiga, pc, consoles, but I still like the C64 version the most. Little did I know back then, that the main goal of the game is to actually save two girlfriends of our dragons – namely: Patty and Betty. Who knew?

In some levels, a blink skull-like thingy appeared sometimes (visible in 2:30 in the video above, but the dragon did not take it), and when taken, froze all the enemies and increased the speed of dragons. The game went into some kind of “crazy chaos” mode, changing the music into this one. I loved it and always hunted for that titem, just to hear it –

More about Bubble Bobble –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubble_Bobble


One Must Fall 2097 (Kenny Chou)

One of most underrated fighting games of 90’s. Released in 1994 by already “epic” Epic MegaGames, floated around as shareware first (shareware was big back then and Epic was creating very good shareware editions of their games), never got into “mainstream”, overshadowed by Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Yet, OMF 2097 is extremly polished fighting game and it deserves to be known. I don’t remember exactly how I run into it, but it could be a shareware floppy my friend bought on a class trip in primary school. We liked the game so much that I’ve convinced him to buy the full version :)

One Must Fall is a fight between… robots. Or rather, human assisted robots (HAR). You can pick one of 10 pilots and then 10 of the robots to fight with. The game offered single player story mode, where each pilot has its own story, goal and secrets to discover in talks with other pilots before matches. But the most fun part was the career/championship mode, where you could enlist into one of four tournaments, fight your way in the ladder and gain money to enhance your bot, resulting in more speed, more energy, etc. There are several arenas, some of them featuring things that can harm you, like electrical nets, spikes or airplane attacks. Each robot has few special moves that joined together could become a combo. At first, fights are easy, but later, in the hardest tournament, to win with certain opponents took great amount of skill. Each bot also has very different playstyle, as not of them were totally human-like. Some were swift, some were slow but strong, some dominated air. In general, the game followed the first rule of fighting games, that each fighter has to be different and learning one does not transfer to another.

One Must Fall was always drowning in mist of mystery. There were insane amount of secrets hidden in the game. Starting from special characters in tournament that had to be found or unlocked (starring characters from other Epic games even, hi Jazz!), through hidden gameplay options, difficulties, ending in whole new palette of special moves and “fatalities” called scrap/destruction moves. None of them were ever described in the manual – Epic just left all these things to be found and figure out. To these day, there are rumours floating, that you can unlock special this or that and noone really knows for sure, because with OMF, all of them seems plausible.

The music was created by Kenny Chou known as C.C.Catch at pc demoscene, a member of the group Renaissance. The game started with few credits displaying as thunder crossed the sky with overwhelming roar. So you had few of these, pressed enter, and then the menu showed up with the music kicking in. It’s energizing, pumping energy into you and asking you to jump into the battle.

Years later, another version was created – One Must Fall : Battlegrounds. But it was too late and noone really cared. The game got transformed into 3D and haven’t received good reviews. It has a nice music remix of the original theme, though, Check it out –

More about One Must Fall 2097 –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Must_Fall:_2097


Diablo – Tristram (Matt Uelmen)

Ah, here goes. A genre-defining game. When Diablo was released by Blizzard almost 11 years ago, people went insane. The reception was similar to Quake – the game was so good, so surprising and new, that you just remained overwhelmed. 1996 was a great year for gaming, now that I think of it. Everyone wanted to play Diablo. It’s a cross-over between a rpg and traditional hack’n’slash game. But, as it later turns out to be something Blizzard will be famous of, the game was extremely well polished. They took concepts from several games, refined them, added this 5% of value, put them together, and they’ve created a game noone can really top to this day (except for its sequels, Diablo II and soon-to-be-released Diablo III).

The story of the game is… well, guess? You arrive in the city, and it turns out something went very wrong deep down, and a terrible monster came to life, threating life of thousands. You, my hero, have to put an end to it. Simple as that. You can play as a warrior, rogue or sorcerer, each dealing the damage in different way (melee, ranged, magic) and having different characteristics. You had to pass through 16 (I think) dungeon levels, fightining terrible monsters and collecting powerful gear to finally reach Diablo and undo him. There was a lot of things to crave. Enahnce your stats. Find unique items to brag about in your friends group. Looking for different potions, healing you or aiding in some way. Finally, collecting money, to afford things local sellers could offer you. But Diablo also had this quite suprising background in form of a story. There were several people in the village and each had his/her own past, which would unfold later in the game. You had this feeling, that it’s not just kill-and-collect-reward quest. You would discover many ancient arcane secrets about the place, but also some dark details about the past. The thread od mystery and uncertainty was all around you all the time, leaving you in constant doubt and unrest. Even the ending could be confusing – it’s not something you would expect.

Diablo II built on the success of his older brother. The game was everything everyone expected plus that another 10% of pure awesomeness. We’re very close to Diablo III now and the bar is set extremely high this time. But Blizzard, so far, never disappointed.

Another hallmark of that studio is to put great effort in surroundings – and that leads us to music. The main theme of the Tristram city is probably the one that is most widely recognized. Deep down in dungeons, the music was more ambient, more dark, less melodic – fitting the theme perfectly, but not staying in your memory. But once you went back to the city, the soothing instruments were always there to remind you, that this place is – for now – safe. Back then, I remember recording it on tape and playing during RPG sessions.

More about Diablo –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diablo_(video_game)


Cannon Fodder – War Has Never Been So Much Fun (Jon Hare/Richard Joseph)

Back then in 90’ties I’ve encountered this funny games, where you had these small guys running around. My friend from neighborhood had Amiga and we played it at his place. These were games from Sensible Software and these small guys were their trademark. At first, we just loved playing matches in Sensible Soccer, later we’ve discovered Cannon Fodder. It fitted perfectly to the mind of 10 year old boys, having their “base camp” somewhere in the forest, jumping and sneaking, tossing invisible grenades and shooting guns carved from piece of wood.

In Cannon Fodder, you commander a few-men squad, going on a mission. Desert, jungle, arctic – you’ll visit them all. You see the action from above. You march and look around carefully for enemies. You can shoot them, you can treat them with grenade or bazooka. You can also split your team into 3 squads and switch between them to perform their tasks. All in all, sounds simple, but the game is very fun to play. It’s also quite cruel, voices of wounded or dying soldiers can be too disturbing for younger audience. To pass later levels, you would have to develop an evil strategy to overcome all your enemies and save your life. I remember countless sessions of us discussing which approach will turn out to be best – swim from the east, attack from north, create a diversion from inside, etc. etc. Each time you started a new mission, you could see a line of new war recruits forming and a big hill with graves of these who didn’t make it. Bizarre as it may sound, there was something in this game, that actually made us think about value of life. We tried very hard to play with first squad and if we’ve lost someone (I remember the names even now – Jools, Jops, Stoo, RJ), we’ve really felt it and even saluted :) Later, the best among us was not the one who got to the last level, but the one who managed to get Jools and Co. through all this hell.

The music theme “War Has Never Been So Much Fun” was very popular among amiga gamers. It felt differently back then, games rarely had intros like this and without any voice singing. While we were waiting for the game to load from floppy disk, we were already clapping and tapping to the music in our heads. Then it finally loaded and we could sing with it. Never been so much fun!

There’s also other nice piece from this game, played on screen showing “Heroes in Victory”. This is the first song I’ve taught my brother to play. Here’s someone’s very nice guitar interpration (quite close to original) –

More about Cannon Fodder –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannon_Fodder