Friday Flashback Five: Week of May 30, 1999

It’s that time again—time for another Friday Flashback Five, where we look back at this week in gaming history to take a look at five random games.  Some had a lasting effect on the hobby and some didn’t, and we’re going to see what, if any, effect they had.  This week we’re going all the way back to the week of May Thirtieth, Nineteen-Ninety-Nine.

A good number of games came out this week, though none really left a good lasting impression.  Many were at least decent additions to a franchise, though there were quite a few stand-alone titles as well.  It wasn’t the worst week in gaming history, but it wasn’t the best, either.  It was more simply “good enough”.

As usual, this list is not compiled in any “order”, as it’s neither a “top” nor “bottom” five or the like.  It’s simply a look at five random games in our hobby’s history.

Released for the Nintendo 64, this game has been the subject of scorn and ire ever since it first hit shelves.  GameSpot said it best—and most diplomatic—when they said, “It serves no purpose other than to firmly establish the bottom of the barrel.”  Even when a player liked the game enough to make a Let’s Play out of it, he had to admit it was a heaping helping of crap.

That’s actually hard for a game to do, create that kind of lasting impression that radiates throughout the hobby.  Other games have been awful, of course, some even worse than Superman (as hard as that might be to believe).  Yet none have really been this bad, in the sense that even mentioning its existence is enough to get gamers hotly debating just how much it stunk.  The storyline was nonsensical, the mechanics were horribly implemented, and the controls were simply terrible.  This one did leave a lasting impression on the hobby—an impression of distaste, and it was an example how to not create a game.

Spy vs. Spy
Spawned from Mad Magazine, the Spy vs. Spy series has always shared the same sort of nonsensical humor usually ascribed to the magazine.  You played against either an N.P.C. or a friend as you raced around a level, setting (and potentially triggering) traps, while trying to collect items and escape before your opponent.  It was unusual, even wacky, and tremendously good fun.

By the time this game came out for the Game Boy Color, the series had a small but devoted fan base.  There really wasn’t much in the way of innovation; this game was basically an updated version of an earlier, game, itself an updated version of an earlier one, and so on.  Even the updates were minor; mostly aesthetic.  There was just something too fun about the game—it was competitive without making players compare “kill scores” or any such thing.  You and a friend just had fun beating the snot out of each other in hilariously ludicrous ways.

Command & Conquer
Real-time strategy games have almost solely been the domain of computers, and for good reason.  When trying to craft or port an R.T.S. game for a console, they almost all suffer the same problems—they look terrible and have worse controls.  Command & Conquer was an attempt to get around those issues, and it actually worked decently.  For such an old series, too, it was a surprisingly decent entry.

Again, keep in mind that R.T.S. games have almost always been best on computers; it’s easier to flick through menus, switch between units, and so on.  While it wasn’t flawless, Command & Conquer did its best to show that they could work fine on consoles, too.  The only real trade-off was the lack of full-motion video mission briefings, but considering that, in that trade, players got smooth controls and beautiful graphics, it’s a trade that was well worth it.

Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor
The Might and Magic series is, to say the least, a long one.  It’s also a rather popular one—by the time Blood and Honor was released, there was a crazy amount of merchandise released related to the franchise—collectibles, books, games, and more.

Like its predecessors, Blood and Honor was a top-down dungeon-crawling role-playing game.  It had shades of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, with starting races granting various stat modifiers, classes with certain expected benefits and flaws, et cetera.  Where it shone was using everything its predecessors had and using them better.  Character-creation was expanded, more skills added or expanded upon, and so on.  Certain things didn’t change, such as the comparatively simplified interaction with N.P.C.s.

If the game was to be said to have any serious flaws, however, it was in its focus on combat.  The fighting was ceaseless and, thus, tedious.  Fight, run away to rest; fight, run away to rest; fight, run away to rest.  That said, the story of the game was actually interesting, and worth slogging through the combat to experience.

The Next Tetris
Tetris games aren’t easy to pin down, regarding what was an official licensed title and what wasn’t.  Even a collaborative effort to list every Tetris game has to be done with the caveat that it’s a murky issue.  Two things can’t really be denied—one, the concept was simply fun, and two, by this point in its history the series was starting to slide.  It had started to rely on “gimmicks”—licensed Disney characters, letters, and other such things.

The Next Tetris tried to get back to the series‘ “roots”, but bringing a few interesting twists—ostensibly enhancements—to the table.  For example, while still retaining the classic “shapes”, sometimes the individual blocks were made up of different colors.  When matching colors on different shapes met, they combined to form a new block.

The problem is it kept the player from planning too far ahead; you never knew what color combination would be coming up a few blocks later, so you couldn’t structure your base to take advantage of them.  This means that the combos—theoretically what the different colors were supposed to enhance—came about almost accidentally.

What didn’t help any was that the original Tetris was included, it was pretty bare-bones.  No different play modes, nothing.  Some gamers felt—not exactly cheated, but that the original should have been given a bit more work.  On the whole, it wasn’t a terrible game, but it didn’t quite feel like it lived up to the “legacy”, as it were.  It simply tried a little too hard.


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