Friday Flashback Five: Week of July 8, 2001

It’s that time again, folks—time for another Friday Flashback Five, where we take a look at that week in gaming history.  We look at five random games that debuted that week, and see whether they impacted the hobby or not, and to what degree.  Some are memorable while others are forgettable.  This week, we’re looking back at the week of the Eighth of July, back in ‘Oh-One.

A good handful of titles came out this week, though many were continuations of a series, or throw-backs to earlier titles.  Most were enjoyed to at least some extent, though many gamers might have forgotten about them until reminded here, with something like and, “Oh, yeah, that one!” reaction.

As ever, this isn’t a “top” or “bottom” list; it’s just a look back at the hobby’s history.

Pac-Man Collection
While it wasn’t really even close to being the first video game character, Pac-Man is arguably the earliest character to become so popular.  The game-play of the original game was so captivating, while it took a few years to build up steam, once it did it became one of the most influential video games around.  As “retro” gaming started rising in popularity around the last few years of the ‘Nineties, it came as no surprise that, along with the general acceptance of the Namco Museum series, Namco released a few Pac-Adventures in another attempt to appeal to that “retro” gaming mentality.  Thus, Pac-Man Collection hit the Game Boy Advance.

There were four different games; the original, of course, which was a very faithful reproduction of the arcade classic.  Then there was Pac-Attack, something like Tetris but obviously more Pac-Man-oriented.  Thirdly, you had Pac-Man Arrangement, which was something like an “updated” version of the original, complete with an assortment of new power-ups like teleportation pads, jails, and more—but the catch was that the ghosts could use them as well.  Lastly, there was Pac-Mania, a three-dimensional variation of the setting that introduced something quite interesting—the ability to jump.

All things considered, it was a collection that paid homage to a classic video game character while introducing gamers to alterations of the game they may have missed the first time around.

Ephemeral Fantasia
As we’ve been discussing, the Final Fantasy series took gamers by storm.  Other companies took notice, and started making R.P.G.s of their own.  Some were pretty good.  Ephemeral Fantasia—wasn’t.

Continuing the then-prominent notion of having silent protagonists, the player took the role of Mouse, a traveling musician accompanied by his talking guitar.  Right off the bat, some gamers were scratching their heads, and considering the odd-ball things we found enjoyable in Final Fantasy, that says something.  “Mouse” just isn’t a name that inspires respect by allies and fear by enemies, is it?  The issue of the talking guitar gamers could probably have gone with better, if it weren’t for everything else.

The level design was bad, with players often having to travel insanely far out of the way to enter a castle or the like, and then you had the random battles.  While they were frequent, the really negative aspect was that they were all basically the same.  There wasn’t as much variation in monster design as other titles had.  The battles themselves were structured so close to Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger as to be almost unreal, and the lack of anything approaching original innovation only hurt the reception.

All in all, a game that went into the forgotten mists of gaming history with barely so much as a whisper.

The Corporate Machine
This real-time strategy game pretty much came out of left field.  There wasn’t a lot of hype about it, and tend to be difficult formats to really allow for innovation in the first place—so The Corporate Machine was one of the more pleasant surprises gamers could have.

Imagine the average, combat-oriented R.T.S.  Take that, and instead of creating troops to conquer enemies, imagine creating public-relations campaigns to promote a product.  Yes, in The Corporate Machine, you take on the task of turning a small company into a world-wide business with a better (or better-received) product than anyone else.

That alone is interesting, and would have been enough to at least get a few gamers to play it, but the game didn’t stop on a new approach to the format.  There was black humor in abundance, but always balanced with more serious issues such as government grants and consumer issues so that the game never strays too far toward either end of the serious-or-silly spectrum.  The artificial intelligence was surprisingly complex, as well, making for a real challenge as opposed to a stomp-fest.

This one won’t be remembered by many gamers, especially ones who aren’t hard-core real-time strategy gamers, but should be.  It brought so much more to the table than a lot of its peers did.

Motocross Mania
Sometimes you have bargain-priced games because the company isn’t large enough to reasonably expect gamers to pay a lot of money for a title.  Sometimes it’s because even though the game is made by a more well-known company, the game itself a bit simplistic, and the company didn’t choose to try and gouge gamers or capitalize on their company’s success.  Then you have games like Motocross Mania.

The physics were simply odd, the graphics were bland, and the game-play itself simply boring.  The racing itself was overly simplistic—hold the gas and steer—and adding to that were invisible walls that ran alongside the track.  You could turn them off, but then you were subjected to an incredibly strict and insanely unforgivable penalty if you went off the track and didn’t make it back in the mere three seconds you were given.  Even the cheap price wasn’t enough to shine this one up enough.

Mega Man Legends
This one made Motocross Mania look good in comparison.  It was a poorly-done port of a three-year-old game.  Legends had been the first attempt to take the then-side-scrolling action and incorporate it into a three-dimensional world.

Although three years old, no attempt had really been made to “update” the game in any appreciable way, nor fix bugs that presented themselves in the porting process.  One bug that was so prolific it almost became a charming quirk was the voice tracks falling out of sync with the motions of the speaker, eventually getting to the point where one character would be talking, but another’s voice would be heard.

This one really didn’t do justice to the incredibly popular franchise, and while it isn’t as forgotten as Motocross Mania, it rather deserved to be.

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That’s all for this week, folks.  See you on Monday, when we wrap up our discussion on Final Fantasy.  Have a good weekend!


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