Friday Flashback Five: Week of November 24, 1996


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 all the way back to the week of the Twenty-Fourth of November, ‘Ninety-Six.

A large number of games came out this week, though only a few would be remembered today.  Many of the others should be remembered, but for whatever reason, were left by the wayside as our hobby progressed.  Many of the rest might be remembered today—for all the wrong reasons.  Still, as ever, every game contributes to the hobby, one way or another.

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!

Alien Trilogy
The first Alien film was, against all odds, a masterpiece of horror mixed with science fiction.  The sequel, Aliens, went against the other odds, being a sequel that was just as good as the original.  The third, Alien 3, well—let’s just say fans of the series aren’t unified on it, and let’s just leave it at that.  As licensed games were, by ‘Ninety-Six, already not anywhere near rare or unusual, a video game made on the films wasn’t surprising.  What was surprising was how good it was seemed to depend on the platform.

Alien Trilogy debuted on the PlayStation in February, then got ported to the Saturn in July, and then got ported to D.O.S.-based computers.  The original was received incredibly well, and the Saturn port was received pretty decently also.  The D.O.S. port—wasn’t.

While it’s somewhat fair to say that, now, computers and consoles are more or less equal in terms of the games they can run (more or less; let’s not start a war of pedantry, mm-kay?), a decade and a half ago a decent computer could run anything a console could, and run it better.  As such, things like graphics at a resolution of six hundred by four-eighty looking terrible enough to seem designed for a resolution of three-twenty by two hundred.

Then you had the game play.  It was boring—generic, really.  Kill that thing, grab that key, go to the next level to do it all again.  The motion tracker—the R.A.D.A.R.-like device that’s supposed to tell you when anything even breathes nearby—didn’t really work.  Then you had a laughably-simple L.A.N. multi-player—just you against bots, no player-versus-player.  On the other hand, the setting was appropriately dark and moody.  That really couldn’t redeem the game from everything else.

A Let’s Play (without much actual commentary) can be found here.

Contra: Legacy of War
When the original Contra hit the Famicom/N.E.S., it made popular a good few elements, not the least of which is the famous Konami Code and drove the concept of Nintendo Hard home like a nail gun to the forehead.  It was also incredibly fast-paced, never really letting the player have a moment to relax.  It was a smash hit, spawning sequel after sequel, with Contra: Legacy of War the seventh title in the series at that point.

It tried to bring the same experience to a more three-dimensional world, which work only alright.  It had a top-down view, but you controlled the characters surprisingly similarly to their earlier two-dimensional counterparts.  The game looked and played decently for the time, but only decently.  It wasn’t the best Contra game, but it wasn’t the worst, either.  It was—well, it mostly just was.

Game play footage can be seen here.

Persona: Revelations
Persona: Revelations, or Revelations: Persona.  It really depends on how you want to read the cover—which is likely why most gamers just call it Persona and leave it at that.  No matter what you call it, though, what matters is that the game was fun.  It was far more fun than would have been expected, and deserved to be remembered far more than it has been.

From the get-go, it was different.  It was an R.P.G., sure, but it ditched medieval and futuristic settings for a modern one, complete with guns replacing swords—but you didn’t have to fight.  Talking one’s way out of a fight earns spell components, which eventually leads to more powerful spells.  On the other hand, the combat was turn-based, very much reminiscent of nearly every other R.P.G., like, ever.

While the text of the game was, in a word, horrible due to translation “issues”, the story was rather interesting.  I’m not saying it was exactly Shakespeare, but it was interesting.  high school students play a game called “Persona”, which grants them a vision and gives them a few magic powers, and soon the entire town is infested with demons.  It sounds a bit dodgy, I realize, but it was actually rather good.  It fit the now insanely large MegaTen universe very well, and was worth a play even for players not familiar with the other games.

An informational Let’s Play can be found here.

Batman Forever: The Arcade Game
Licensed titles have a stigma of being horrid, even though there is a good number of licensed games that go against that notion.  Still, when you base a game on a less-than-good film, you’re not likely to get a video game that’s any bit better.

Where to start?  Batman Forever: The Arcade Game was like Streets of Rage meets Street Fighter with what made those games interesting taken right out.  You traveled left to right as either Batman or Robin, beating up random mooks, eventually facing a super villain or two, and very eventually facing off against The Riddler to save Gotham City.  The graphics were shockingly bad for a game published by Acclaim, and though there was a simplistic “combo system” of sorts in place, it was rather unnecessary.  Mashing only a button or two repeatedly would often see you through.  Ultimately, it was as forgettable as the movie it was based on.

A play-through for the Saturn version can be found here.

Privateer 2: The Darkening
Technically part of the Wing Commander universe, and very “technically” technically a sequel to the first Privateer, Privateer 2: The Darkening didn’t really have a whole lot to do with either.  Before we get into what made it less than stellar, it’s important to note that developer E.A. Manchester worked on most of it, then sent it over to then-notable developer Origin Systems for clean-up.  That’s somewhat unusual in the world of game development, but it does explain a few things.

For starters, it took over two years to develop the game, and by cracky it showed.  It wouldn’t run very well on Windows 95, so one needed to play the game in D.O.S., which by that time was becoming a rarer thing, and some users were hesitant to mess around with D.O.S.  Further, playing it with certain graphics cards caused the game to crash.  It also tended to crash in the middle of missions—and you couldn’t save your progress until after a mission.

Now, all of that said, it did a few things rather well.  It was actually a pretty good space-sim game, and the story—told through live-action cut scenes with the player choosing an action or response from a few choices here and there—was actually rather intriguing.  Over all, it was a really good game in some parts, and a really horrid game in others.  The combination was more of a “meh”.

A Let’s Play can be found here.

*                        *                        *

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

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