Friday Flashback Five: Week of July 25, 2004


It’s the end of the week, and as usual, as we prepare for our weekend we’ll git it started right—with our Friday Flashback Five!  Each week, we look at five random games that debuted this week in history.  Some games were instant hits, some were forgotten immediately, others puttered along just under the radar.  All games, however, have some sort of impact on our hobby, and this week, we’ll head back to the week of the Twenty-Fifth of July, ‘Oh-Seven, and see what sort of impact the games that came out that week had.

Almost two dozen games came out this week, though not many of them would likely be remembered by gamers today.  Many of them should be, though a few shouldn’t even be remembered by the few gamers who do.  Still, there were more than a few diamonds in the rough, as it were, and we’ll see how many we turn up in today’s historical spelunking.

Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Games
Hamtaro is a Japanese import cartoon that’s so overloaded with cute, if you haven’t watched it yet you’ll develop diabetes.  It’s geared toward much younger viewers, but that doesn’t mean older viewers will be left out—surprisingly, more than a few adults watch the first episode and become hooked.

Naturally, there were a slew of video games put out relating to the adorable group of hamsters over the years.   Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Games is basically a collection of mini-games themed around the then-recent Summer Olympics, with events like running, swimming, and so on.  It was actually somewhat more in-depth than might have been expected for a hand-held title; there was a good bit of button-mashing, but it wasn’t really ubiquitous; some events had more of a rhythm-based set-up, for example.

There was more to do than just the events.  One could explore the Ham-Hams’ village, collect costumes and cards, and a bit more.  Also, if one wins the tournament mode, they unlocked a “free play mode”, which lets one play whatever event they want instead of having to go through the tournament all over again.

All in all, it was actually a pretty decent title.  A Let’s Play of it can be found right over here, for the curious.

Army Men: Sarge’s War
For a while, there, little green Army men were positively everywhere.  They were in the Toy Story movies, commercials, and an incredibly huge series of games.  Then, in ‘Oh-Three, 3DO—the company that published the series—filed for bankruptcy.  No one was sure where the Army Men series would go.  Soon the title was snapped up by publisher Global Star Software, a company known more for budget titles than much else, so while gamers were hopeful, that was tempered with trepidation.

The trepidation was one of the best traits gamers could have, as it turned out.  When the Windows-based version of Sarge’s War came out, there were quite a few issues with it.  The control scheme was sluggish and ill-implemented, the game play was more simplistic than most other shoot-’em-ups available at the time, the missions were boring and repetitive and—perhaps the worst, in a way—there was no multi-player.  The console versions had some basic multi-player options, but the computer version didn’t.

On the whole, it was a game that, gamers agreed in a mutter, proved that Global Star Software was living up to their reputation.

I, Robot
Whatever can be said for the lackluster, trite, and shameless flick, this mobile phone game was a worthy companion piece.  Simplistic animation (even by mobile standards; we’re talking one frame of animation for crudely-drawn and poor-looking sprites to attack) and simply atrocious—and boring—game play made this—well, as mentioned before, a worthy companion piece to the flick it was trying to cash in on.

On the other hand, for a mobile game, it looked pretty decent, so there’s that.

Crash Nitro Kart
Crash Bandicoot has always had a loyal following.  The games were fun, interesting, and just plain weird at times, owing to the well-deserved allegiance the orange protagonist earned.  There’s a reason why the the games are generally well-received.

The N-Gage version of Crash Nitro Kart was developed by Vicarious Visions, a company not exactly known for great work when it came to adapting other developers’ works (though in fairness, the few original games they made were actually pretty good), and that reputation wasn’t tarnished one iota by their version of the kart-racing title.

To be fair, however, the game play itself was actually rather decent.  There were obvious lessons learned from the console “big brothers” as well as earlier titles in the Mario Kart series, while trying to not be a “clone” of anything else or the like.  The game play was fine, but the presentation wasn’t.  The camera was far too close to the player’s avatar for comfort, making it difficult to see pretty much anything else, and thus making it difficult to plan and react.

It seems like such a small thing, the camera issue, especially since most other aspects of the game are at least passable, though many were downright good.  But it’s the effect that one aspect has on the rest of the game; it’s a shadow that looms, obscuring what would otherwise actually be a pretty spiffy kart-racing title and making it more of a “meh” game.

Bujingai: The Forsaken City
Bujingai is a bit of an odd duck in the action-oriented, hack-and-slash corners of the gaming world.  Japanese glam rocker Gackt contributed quite a bit to the game, from doing some motion-capture work, to the protagonist’s model being based on him, and more.

The game started out doing things a little differently.  From the get-go the protagonist is actually pretty powerful; a half-competent player could mow through the first few dozen enemies with hilarious impunity.  You had three buttons, one for each primary function.  You had your basic attack, your special attack, and your magic—or, as ArkAharu puts it in this Let’s Play, “Magic in this game is the ‘ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, [expletive] you’ button.”  It really is, too.  From the start, your magic is incredibly powerful.

All of that contrasts—or, perhaps, depending on one’s point of view, compliments—the game’s R.P.G.-light-ish upgrade system.  You collected certain orbs, and used them for upgrades.  So your already powerful and fast-as-lightning attacks became even better.  That wasn’t the only interesting thing, though—the entire game is like a Chinese Wire Fu movie under the viewer’s control.

If there was a negative aspect to the game, it would have top be that from start to finish it is literally nonsensical.  It really is a few hours of complete absurdity.  The plot makes no sense, and doesn’t even come up much anyway (you honestly get more plot-relevant information from the back of the box than the introductory cut-scene)—but that aside, it was actually a pretty fun game.  It was much better than it almost should have been, really.  The controls were a bit counter-intuitive, but once the player became used to them, they had a character who moved insanely fluidly and looked downright awesome turning enemies into bloody mist.  It was a surprisingly good game, and isn’t known to nearly as many gamers as it should be.

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That’s all for this week.  See you on Monday, and have a good weekend!

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