Friday Flashback Five: Week of October 15, 2000

It’s the end of the week, and of course that means it’s time for another Friday Flashback Five!  Each week, we go through five random games that debuted this week in history, and this week is no different.  This time around, we’re heading back to the week of the Fifteenth of October, Two Thousand.

A good number of games came out this week, and, as does happen often, they were examples from every part of the gaming spectrum.  Some were grand, some were—not—but, of course, all are part of our hobby’s history.

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!

Samba de Amigo
While it might be that, today, rhythm games are on the wane, eleven years ago, they were just starting to come into popularity.  Dance Dance Revolution had hit arcades the year before, the latest in rhythm games in arcades, and holding the position of being the most popular arcade rhythm game for years afterward.

Not exactly something that screams "these would make for an awesome video game", and yet...

Samba de Amigo, one of the first rhythm games to come to home consoles, didn’t just follow the still-small herd.  It hit the ground running with a different experience—maracas.  It also came with a sensor you put on the floor, so it would know where and how you were holding the maracas.  It was more than just for making sure you hit your beats—now and then you had to strike a certain pose for extra points.

Of course, the most important aspect of a rhythm game is the music, and Samba de Amigo wasn’t lacking.  There was the expected Latin fare, which sounded quite uplifting and really made the player want to dance.  There were also other songs, like Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping and Reel Big Fish’s cover of Take on Me.

Now, on top of all of that, the Dreamcast version offered songs not found in previous iterations of the game—there’s a challenge mode, where you do things like get a perfect score on a specific song, a multi-player mode (one game of which gives relationship advice based on how often the player and their significant other hit the same notes), and an Internet mode that added a lot more songs, including plenty from other SEGA titles.

It was fun as heck, really, and you can see a bit of that in this short game play clip.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Real-time strategy games are, even now, popular.  From StarCraft II‘s immense popularity now all the way back, the genre has been usually well-received, featuring a wide array of settings and stories.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, like its predecessor, takes place in an “alternate reality” of sorts—only this reality is filled with ham and cheese.  There’s nothing really “serious” about the plot, but it’s not trying to be serious, either.  It’s not trying to take a “concerned look” at what “might have happened” if World War II and the subsequent decades had played out differently.  It set out to have fun and bring the player along for a wild ride.

At first glance, there may not seem to be anything special about it—it didn’t feature many real technological innovations, and you played it much as you would any other real-time strategy game.  You had a top-down isometric view, you selected groups of your units with the old click-and-drag technique, and there wasn’t really much in the way of setting up preset “scripts” or the like to tell them to do things like patrolling, repairing when necessary, and so forth.

A closer look, though, revealed how the game really shone, and that was through the details.  The troops were quite good at automatically picking out targets to fight, and the user interface received a few tweaks.  You could now build as many different things as you wanted, as long as you had the resources.  Adding to it all, though, was the story.  It was delightfully hammy, almost irreverent, with Ray Wise and Barry Corbin as just two of the names bringing a “silly seriousness” to it all.

This was one of the games that could have been used to get people into the genre.  The interface was simple, effective, yet surprisingly in-depth and the story was great.  It’s no wonder the series is as prolific as it is.

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

Battleship: Surface Thunder
For those of you who live in houses older than six or so decades (or even newer houses that can be described as “huge and opulent”), you might have that one room that’s a little—odd.  If one is at all interested in architecture, they’d notice that it wasn’t really tucked away like a “den” is; it’s usually adjacent to the living room.  This was known as the “parlor“, where we get the term “parlor game” from, though these days we usually use the term “board game” for the same meaning.  Back when “long-distance” meant “across town” and the telephone was a neat new invention, people entertained guests in their homes, usually with a plethora of games.  As the concept spread, board games become popular.

All of that is for the younger gamers, who might not even live in a house with a single board game in it, or perhaps only know of that one special Monopoly set their parents try and drag out on certain holidays.

Though known by other names when it was first introduced, Battleship was a hit.  It was simple; you didn’t need to take long to learn to play, and it offered infinite variety, as the players set the game up in whatever configuration they liked.  Naturally, like many other popular board games, it saw spin-offs, and video game variants.

That brings us to Battleship: Surface Thunder which—is really not much like its board game “roots” at all.  That wouldn’t be so bad, but the game started out as something less than fun and never really looked back.  The graphics, for example, were rather pixelated (though rather detailed) and the game is, again, nothing like its boardgame predecessor.  It was a more straightforward shoot-the-enemy-until-you-win sort of set-up.  It was so straightforward, it actually became boring after the first few battles.

Still, that said, it did include the “classic” Battleship, but that really wasn’t enough to offset the rest of the game being so boring.

Dirt Track Racing: Sprint Cars
The original Dirt Track Racing did a grand job simulating stock cars and short, oval courses.  At what it did, it did it well—but it was still a little on the bland side.  Dirt Track Racing: Sprint Cars tried to shake that up a little bit, though with the same core game-play.

The goofy aspect hides soul-crushing speed.

Twenty tracks were added, and you could customize the sixteen licensed cars to some degree, but the real attempt at diversity was right in the title—the addition of “sprint cars”.  If you’ve never seen a relevant race live, they’re odd-looking little things, almost like a weird cross between a dune buggy and a jet.  They added a different “feel” to the game, as going from a stock car to a sprint car was quite a different experience.

The game also allowed you to upgrade your car, whether by purchasing new parts or fiddling with the performance of parts you already have.  That was certainly an interesting dynamic, and a welcome one.  Unfortunately, the game play remained as basic as ever—short oval tracks, and you raced around them as fast as possible.  That said, the game shone in its simulation physics, in the upgraded visuals (cars now took damage, not not just cosmetically; a bad slam into a wall could cost you an axle—or your whole car)—in making you feel like it was a real “experience”.

Dragon Valor
Trying to mix genres into one game isn’t easy, but when a developer pulls it off the result can be magnificently fun.  When it doesn’t work, though, you can get a game that’s bad, broken, or a chore to play.  Dragon Valor, while not “broken” by any stretch, wasn’t particularly good, either.  It was a fine enough game on its own, really.  It tried to mix together adventuring, move-right-and-beat-things-up, with a dash of role-playing game for flavor.  It just didn’t do anything interesting with all of that.

One moved around the static world map by selecting pre-set locations, which lent a definite linearity to what was ostensibly supposed to be more freeing.  When one arrived at their destination, they began a side-scrolling bit where you fought enemies like in Final Fight or the like, and you had a combination of moves depending on what buttons you pressed and in what combination.  You also had what could, charitably, be called something like “R.P.G.-light” elements, but the only numerical stats were Strength and Defense, raised by picking up power-ups.  You gained magic spells by defeating certain bosses, and you could then use them from a simple menu.

The main area where the lack of anything interesting was really felt was in the puzzles.  This was one of the big chances for the game to be intriguing, interesting, engaging—but it was your basic “shove the box onto the switch” and “light the torch to provide light” sort of things.  Worse still, the story was nothing to write home about.  You started as a young boy whose home village was attacked by dragons.  His sister died, a fallen hero gave the protagonist a sword, and he set about for revenge.

it was actually a solid, workable title, far from “broken” in any sense—it was just boring.  It had so much to draw on, but didn’t do anything with it.

*                        *                        *

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


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