Friday Flashback Five: Week of August 29, 1999


Yes, friends, it’s the end of another week!  As we get ready for our weekend, we also go through our Friday Flashback Five!  Every week, we go through five random games that debuted this week in history.  Some were wonderful, some were abysmal, others were a flat “meh”.  All, however, help make up our hobby’s history.  This week, we’re jetting all the way back to the week of the Twenty-Ninth of August, back in ‘Ninety-Nine.

A whole lot of games came out this week, though not many are likely to be remembered by most gamers today.  The reason many fell into obscurity isn’t necessarily that they were “bad”; sometimes it’s just luck of the draw, sometimes games come out against more popular brands.  Any number of things can keep an otherwise-solid game from achieving its popularity.

Now, the usual disclaimers: This isn’t a “top” or “bottom” list.  It’s just a look back at five random games that helped make up our hobby.  Also, where possible, I’ve included links to Let’s Plays.  Some, many, most, or all might well be utterly infested with vulgarity and/or profanity, so keep that in mind as you ready that clicking-finger.

With that done with, let’s do this!

BattleTanx: Global Assault
With a plot taken straight from the classic scare-fest movies, the world of BattleTanx: Global Assault is a dystopian future where the random and ill-defined plague of the week has wiped out most of humanity’s women.  The player takes control of a man with a wife and—rarer still—a child, whose job it is to keep leaders of the re-emerging civilization safe.  The child is also a telepath, and one of the other wold leaders knows this and is out to kidnap him.  It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it worked for what it was.

As for the game itself, its predecessor was somewhat enjoyed, though fans had a lot of complaints—they wanted larger levels, quicker turning tanks (everyone drives a tank; don’t ask), and more.  The developers heard their complaints and answered them.  More levels, bigger levels, more intricately-designed levels—then you had the tanks.  They looked great and handled better.  Plus there were a lot of power-ups, secondary weapons, and more.

It was actually a pretty decent game, all things considered.  It would never have won any awards, but its relative obscurity these days is certainly undeserved.

A somewhat informational Let’s Play can be found here.

Homeworld
When you mention “real-time strategy set in space”, most gamers immediately think of Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft series.  It’s nutty-popular—there are professional “e-sports” tournaments for it.  Seriously.  It’s totally a thing.  Really, though—and don’t get me wrong, I’ve lost plenty of hours to StarCraft and the Brood War expansion—it really wasn’t that different from, well, pretty much every other R.T.S. out there.  It just had a different translite and some different costumes.

Homeworld came close to setting a new standard.  It had everything—a tale of truly epic proportions, a fantastic engine handling three-dimensions wonderfully, and easy R.T.S. game play adapted quite well for a low-G environment.  What it didn’t have was Blizzard’s advertising money.

One interesting aspect was you exited a mission when you chose; you weren’t automatically shunted out when you completed the set objectives.  You can stick around and mine to get every last speck of space dust, for example.  While it didn’t have a range of difficulty settings, it didn’t really need them, either, as the artificial intelligence programming never really seemed like it was a cheating jerk.  Over all, it really, really deserved more than what it got.

An informational Let’s Play can be found here.

Silver
Think of a Japanese-style role-playing game that isn’t a Final Fantasy title.  After a few moments’ thought, you’d realize that—shady imports notwithstanding—they’ve only gained popularity recently.  Over a decade ago, there was a notable lack of them.  Silver was an attempt to change that, and shake things up a little as well.

Set in a medieval period, the player took control of David, who witnesses his wife’s capture—along with the rest of his town’s women (one could almost sense a certain—theme—in the games of ‘Ninety-Nine…).  Naturally, he sets out to get them back.  Along the way, he of course commits genocide on various types of monsters, but there was an interesting twist.  Random encounters were done away with; instead, monsters could be found and fought in real-time.  However, there was still a strategic element to it, as the player was encouraged to use position in the environment to their advantage.

The story actually begins rather swell, but—along with other aspects of the game—eventually start to just, well—falter.  The story eventually becomes more about fetching orbs.  The characters all actually speak their lines, with what seemed like actual, professional voice-actors—but for one thing, voice clips take up a lot of memory.  This memory could have been put to use, for one thing in the programming of your companions.  They are, simply put, idiots.  You can technically control them at the same time as the protagonist, but it’s very unwieldy.

It could have been a much better game than what it was.  It wasn’t bad, by any stretch, but—its fading into the mists of gaming history came as a surprise to no one—if anyone was still paying attention by then.

Couldn’t find a Let’s Play that wasn’t in German, but some game play footage can be found here and here.

Pandora’s Box
If the name Alexei Pajitnov isn’t familiar to you, it should be.  He’s the one responsible for the mind-sucking worse-than-crack addiction we call Tetris.  Yes, that game, which had rather humble beginnings.  He’s made other games, other puzzle games, but none are anywhere near as popular as Tetris.  Some—well, let’s just say it’s a good thing he did help create Tetris and leave it at that.

One of the not-terrible titles under his belt was Pandora’s Box, a collection of ten puzzle games, most of which were variations of the jigsaw-puzzle theme.  There was an attempt at an actual story behind the puzzles, which has the player traveling to different cities and attempting to capture various tricksters of different mythological and religious backgrounds.

It was actually a fine little collection of games, though nothing too stellar.  With the number of puzzle games of that era being a not-inconsiderable number, though, it’s no wonder this one isn’t likely to be well-known today.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
No matter what one may say about either of the film trilogies, the Star Wars brand has never really been a blockbuster in the video game medium.  It’s had a couple-few best-sellers, but most, like many of the LEGO Star Wars titles received lukewarm to warm reception.  There are still endless debates about this, so let’s just side-step all of that.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace—well, there’s no easy way to say it.  It deserved its fall into obscurity.  For one thing, while making a game based on a film isn’t easy, this one started out the gate going in the wrong direction.  For one thing, content that was never in, near, or even referenced in the film.  Worse still, that added content was boring.

What didn’t help one bit was that the controls were shoddy, seemed to be badly ripped from a first-person shooter.  Fighting was abysmal; depending on the player, they’d just get bored silly or become frustrated as heck.  There really aren’t a lot of other options.  On top of the controls, the environments—though they looked pretty as heck—didn’t really allow for looking around.  There were ludicrous traps and jumps to make, scads of boring enemies around every corner—it really deserved its ultimate fate.

Oh, and the kicker?  You had to deal with Jar Jar Binks for longer than two seconds.

A Let’s Play of it can be found right here.

                        *                        *                        *

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

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