Friday Flashback Five: Week of September 17, 2000


It’s the end of the week, and we know what that means.  As we ready for our weekend of carousing and merry-making, we also celebrate the end of the week with our Friday Flashback Five!  Each week, we take a look at five random games that debuted that week in history.  Some games were wonderful, some were abysmal, and plenty were somewhere in the middle, yet all are a part of our hobby’s history.  This week, we’re heading to the week of the Seventeenth of September, back in Two Thousand.

A good two-dozen games came out this week, which really represented the gamut of the “meh” to “yay” spectrum.

Now for the usual disclaimers: Where possible, I’ve included links to Let’s Plays, play-throughs, game-play videos, and so on.  Some, many, most, or all might well be utterly infused with profanity and vulgarity.  Keep that in mind as you ready your clicking-finger.  Also, this isn’t a “top” or “bottom” list.  It’s just a look back at five random games from our hobby’s history and a peek at what effect they may or may not have had.

With that out of the way, let’s get it on!

Breakout
There are games that start or make popular a concept or genre of gaming.  Tetris started the “falling puzzle” concept, Pac-Man made the “maze-chase” genre popular, so on and so on.  You can tell when a title starts something when other games are called “clones” of it.  Take the original Breakout, itself something of a refinement on Pong, it altered the idea until you hit a ball at blocks with your paddle.  Simplistic, yet incredibly addictive.  There’s a reason there is an incredibly large number of “Breakout clones”.

Enter the simply-titled Breakout for the PlayStation.  It was an interesting game for what it tried to do.  For one thing, it moved into three dimensions, graphically, but the game play was partly still two-dimensional.  While the ball and the paddle were effectively the same as ever—the latter used to bounce the former around on a two-dimensional plane—things were added in such as exploding bricks, elements such as an odd attempt at a plot, and more.

The levels were divided up into areas, and at the end of each area you fought a boss—you might fight a bunch of chickens hurling rotten eggs at you, or maybe an attacking knight, and so on.  The levels were also set against such backdrops as farms, castles, and more.  Over all, it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad, either.  It was the same basic game play dressed up in a fancy suit, and there were plenty of gimmicks, but it was still Breakout.

There are a lot of game play videos to be found, and here, here, and here are three of them.

Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes
The Duke’s been in a lot of titles, each more ludicrous than the last.  He’s also appeared in quite a few genres, starting out as a side-scrolling platformer before the first-person shooter genre he’s best known for.  Land of the Babes was one of the few genres where he played follow-the-leader.

Like Lara Croft before him, Duke Nukem entered the three-dimensional run-and-gun side of gaming, complete with climbing over obstacles, solving puzzles, swimming, and everything else the buxom adventurer was known for.  One difference was the focus.  Lara’s games were more even in their goals; you had to mix action and puzzles to complete a level.  Land of the Babes was more focused on shooting things in the face, which quite befit the Duke himself.

Naturally there was plenty of the Duke’s humor, but by this time it was already starting to feel—a little dated.  Not as much as it would seem a decade later in Forever, but you could already see that the Duke was having a hard time staying relevant to the target audience.  As was also to be expected, it had a ridiculous plot (most of which was spoon-fed by exposition in humanoid form when you first started the game proper); basically, aliens had killed off all men, leaving only the women, and—it just gets worse from there.  At the end of the day, it was if nothing else an alternative to Lara Croft, for someone wanting a similar but different game experience.

A play through (or, if you like, a walkthrough; there’s really not a lot of  difference) can be found here.

Bomberman Party Edition
There was a time when the Bomberman series seemed to be teetering on the edge of oblivion.  The series started on the N.E.S., where it became popular, and only became even more popular in the next generation of consoles.  Then it had an abysmal three-dimensional entry on the Nintendo 64, followed by a bad racing title on the PlayStation.  For a time it seemed like the bomb-dropper might just have dropped his last bomb.

Then came Bomberman Party Edition, which returned the series to its top-down origins, and dropped the non-bomb-dropping-related gimmicks.  It was your basic affair—you and four friends could wander around, trying to trap each other and gather various power-ups.  The power-ups were your usual fare; make your bombs’ explosions bigger, let you kick the bombs, so on and so forth.

Another interesting addition was the ability to tweak settings to your liking.  If you didn’t like, for example, the ability to pester your friends after you die, that option can be disabled.  Naturally, there were the usual multi-player options to alter—round duration, number of matches, and so on.

The single-player mode is where the game faltered.  Previous titles saw players traipsing around interesting locations, shoving bombs here and there to save the world.  This time around, it’s actually pretty basic.  On the other hand, the game as a whole looked pretty darn spiffy, and there was a definite throw-back feel thanks to the return to the top-down perspective.  Over all, it was a worthy entry into the series, much better than the previous titles had been.

A play-through of the single-player mode can be found here.

Crimson Skies
There are plenty of flight simulator games out there; throw a stick in any game store and you’ll usually hit two or three.  What made Crimson Skies for Windows-based computers stand out was, for just one thing, its setting.  It took an “alternate history” sort of set-up; in the Nineteen Thirties, as the railroad system was breaking down, people took to the skies—blimps and dirigibles became the new modes of transportation.

Naturally, this comes with the danger of piracy.  That’s where the player comes in, as they control protagonist Nathan Zachary as he and his band of pirates travel around the United States looking for fortune in a campy-in-a-good-way, pulpy fashion.  It had a definite feel of certain light-hearted films of the era.  The game itself was more accessible due to its heavily arcade-style flight physics, which allowed for incredible acts of stunt-work.

There were some negative aspects to the  game, though.  It had quite a few bugs when it was first released—the worst of which was that it randomly deleted your saved games.  It saved your progress under your pilot’s name, and—sometimes just randomly deleted it, forcing you to start all over from scratch.  That was a huge bug, and marred a game that could have been in at least the list of top five computer games.

A Let’s Play can be found right here.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
It’s difficult to really understate what the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater did for our hobby.  It popularized skateboarding, widened the sports genre as a whole beyond the racing, baseball, and football titles that had been the most thought-of—and on top of all that, it was simply downright fun.

A sequel was all but assured, and fans with PlayStations were nearly salivating when that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 came out this week.  It took everything its predecessor had done and made it infinitely better, as well as adding a few things.  The levels were bigger; numerous skaters were added, like Rodney Mullen and Eric Koston as well as secret skaters like Spider-Man and Private Carrera; you could even create your own skaters and levels.

One of the more interesting and fundamental additions was the manual, where you ride on either the front or rear wheels.  That helped “link” tricks for insane scores, and helped turn entire levels into your playground.  Another aspect that was improved from the original was the music.  In the first, you had more or less one “style” of music, but Pro 2 offered a much more diverse offering, from such artists as Anthrax, Rage Against the Machine, Papa Roach, Naughty by Nature, and quite a bit more.

It refined and improved everything found in the first one, making for a sequel that was in every imaginable way simply better.

An informational Let’s Play (of the Nintendo 64 version, which came out a year later and suffers only a little graphically) can be found here.

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

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