Friday Flashback Five: Week of May 13, 2001


Time for another Friday Flashback Five.  Every Friday, we take a look at five games that debuted that week in history and discuss them.  Some had an effect—good or bad—on the hobby as a while, while others were lost to time.  This week, we’re jumping all the way back to the week of the Thirteenth of May, back in ‘Oh-One.

Though a good number of games came out this week, not many made much of a lasting “mark” on gamers, which is almost disappointing.  Whether they should have or shouldn’t have is a question best left up to the individual, really.

As usual, the list is in nothing even close to order.

Billiards
As I mentioned in our discussion on default games, I feel this game was actually pretty decent for what it was, and that was a game meant to simply relax and enjoy.  The trio of “settings” affected the background and soft music, and there were “trick shots” players could attempt as well as a ladder of opponents to climb, but at the core the game was about simple fun.

Many other billiard games out around then offered more complexity over all, leaving this little gem to become mostly forgotten.  While it had different types of game set-ups—from nine-ball to “bowlliards” and everything in the middle—it couldn’t really stand up next to the others.  It wasn’t trying to, either, really, which is likely a contributing factor in it becoming forgotten by gamers.

Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX
It debuted on two systems this week, the GameBoy Color and the PlayStation.  The PlayStation version had one big drawback—it was basically Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with a few small additions, but none of the innovation.  The game, over all, was basically Tony Hawk on a bike.  Level design was similar, goal requirements were eerily the same—and there were fewer of them per level.  That it was unpredictably glitchy didn’t help.

Surprisingly, the GameBoy Color version actually fared a little better.  Its engine was a re-tooled version of the engine of Road Champs BXS Stunt Biking, but it wasn’t just copied and pasted with a few aesthetic differences.  More tricks were handed to you from the start, the tricks were comparatively easier to pull off, and the bikes handled a little bit tighter, which allowed for better control.  It was a two-dimensional game that added a hint of three dimensions by having different “lanes” the player could switch between by tapping the relevant direction.  For a GameBoy Color game, it was surprisingly decent, though like its “big console brother”, it, too, fell by the wayside.

Crazy Taxi
A port released for the PlayStation 2 about a year after the original Dreamcast release, it was a great attempt at bringing the fun of the series to a wider audience, but it just didn’t quite work.  Most of the blame can’t even be placed on the fact that it’s a port; it was actually faithfully reworked for the PlayStation 2 hardware.

A lot of the problem is that there was nothing else like it on Sony consoles, not really.  Most of the car-centered games were semi-realistic-ish-sort-of racers like the Gran Turisimo and Need for Speed franchises.  Crazy Taxi took arcade physics to a new level, and there just wasn’t much precedent for that on Sony consoles.

Developer Hitmaker tried to add mini-games to the PlayStation 2 version, but it didn’t really help.  There was no depth to the game whatsoever—and on the face of it, that’s fine, since the series was never about depth in the first place.  However, it just couldn’t stand up next to the other car-centered games on the Sony consoles.

X-Men: Wolverine’s Rage
This one didn’t quite live up to expectations of gamers.  At that point in time, most if not all X-Men games were straightforward beat-’em-up platformers, so it’s easy to question what expectations gamers would have in the first place that Wolverine’s Rage failed to live up to.

The primary expectation is that the game makes some kind of sense.  In Wolverine’s Rage, the plot is that Lady Deathstrike, an old flame of Wolverine’s, has come up with a way to turn metal—any metal—into a liquid.  Naturally, Wolverine doesn’t like this one bit, so heads off to stop her.

The first problem is that the levels were bland, and the completely uninspiring music and sound effects did nothing to help that.  The second problem is that you were timed on each level, but there wasn’t really any reason behind it.  The third problem is that enemies did not display any visual affirmation of your attacks landing—no stumbling, no blinking, nothing.  So you just had to kind of wail on them and hope for the best.

On the other hand, the level of visual detail the game achieved was almost thought impossible on the GameBoy Color.  The trade-off, one could suppose, is that such wonderful visuals came at the cost of everything else being boring and frustrating.

Power Spike Pro Beach Volleyball
In the genre of sports titles, you generally have two divisions—the high-budgeted, all-out titles that offer dozens of things to do, scads of modes to tinker with, and content enough to keep you entertained until you fall over from sleep-deprivation.  Then you have the simplistic, basic, small-budget titles that don’t offer much from the primary game play and are content to keep you busy for an hour or so.  The latter is where Power Spike Pro Beach Volleyball fits.

It wasn’t a bad game, really.  It can be said to be to volleyball what Billiards is to the game of billiards.  It was just—basic.  It offered one thing—the ability to play volleyball, and that’s about it.  It didn’t look all that great, and though you could customize your player there weren’t many options, and, well, the result didn’t look all that great anyway.

The game play itself was actually fun, but because the visuals weren’t all that complex, it was difficult to judge when you could do certain moves.  The artificial intelligence wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t “artificial stupidity”, either.  It was simplistic fun that may have been a bit too simplistic for gamers.

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