Friday Flashback Five: Week of December 17, 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 week, we’re schlepping all the way back to the week of December Seventeenth, Two Thousand.

Considering that it was the week before Christmas, though there were a lot of games that came out, some were rushed, others made simply to hopefully grab a few extra consumer bucks—but there were a few real gems.

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!

Sgt. Rock: On the Frontline
These days, games for hand-held systems are getting pretty complex.  While they aren’t quite a match for their full console- or computer-based “big brothers”, they’re catching up.  Eleven years ago, though, games for hand-held systems were still very simplistic, usually sacrificing game play for a better story, story for a richer game experience, or some such.  What really didn’t help was many (many) licensed titles found their way to hand-held systems, so the inherent limitations didn’t help the perception that licensed games aren’t fun.

Sgt. Rock: On the Frontline, exclusively on the Game Boy Color, was basically Taito‘s Front Line with a few minor, inconsequential, updates.  You had eight levels that were the same—mow down dozens on dozens of random mooks until you get to the end, take down the boss, then rinse and repeat.  You had a few weapons to help you out, as well as occasional access to some vehicle or another.

Compared to games published more or less around the same time, Sgt. Rock was a step backward in pretty much every area imaginable.  It was too close to Front Line—published seventeen years earlier.  It wasn’t as complex or interesting-looking as nearly any other game available at the time.  Some, though, argued that the last level was beautiful—but that didn’t really save the game.

It wasn’t a bad game, per se—it was in fact fun for those with “retro sensibilities”, as it were.  However, as a “new” game, it just couldn’t hold up.

A Let’s Play-ish video can be found here.

Vanishing Point
The racing genre hasn’t ever really seen anything like a dearth of titles, and when Vanishing Point first came out, it didn’t exactly come out with a bang—in fact, it starts off like any other racing title one could name.  There were two cars and one track available to start with, with other cars, tracks, game modes, and so on unlocked by playing.  Again, nothing exactly revolutionary—or even all that exciting.

Playing it for a bit, though, made one realize that the game was surprisingly good.  There were numerous ways that the game rose above its peers—the cars were faithful reproductions of their real-world counterparts, right down to the distortions in the glass.  Then you had the tracks—everything was incredibly detailed—it really took advantage of the Dreamcast’s (it was later ported to the PlayStation) capabilities.

It was, over all, a stupendous game.  It still, to this day, deserves to be in any gamer’s library.

Game play footage can be found here.

Persona 2: Eternal Punishment
For better or for worse, R.P.G.s, both in the past and to perhaps a lesser extent even nowadays, tend to be a bit formulaic.  You know you’re going to do a lot of grinding, you know you’re going to be sent on random quests, you’re going to work your butt off for a weapon or piece of armor that involves traipsing all over the countryside and doing seemingly inane things in the process because if it’s rare and hard as heck to obtain, that will mean it’s incredibly powerful—the list goes on and on (and on and on and on and on…).

Now, knowing going into a game what to expect isn’t really a bad thing—you can have at least a decent idea if you’ll like it, and decide if the story seems interesting enough go through what you know you’ll go through.  That’s what makes a series like Persona so interesting—it dodges many of the expected conventions and offers something different.

Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (the second half of a story started in Persona 2: Innocent Sin) starts by catching you up on the adventures in Innocent Sin, then lets you begin an investigation into some murders becomes a story brimming with the occult, mass murder, and other mature themes.  There were numerous interesting mechanics, like dealing with monsters—you actually talked to them, based on the personality of each character.  This dodges the usual good/neutral/bad dialogue tree most games had and have, and imparted something of a strategic element as the characters in your party determined the monsters’ reactions.

You could either scare monsters away or keep them all happy, which avoided fights with them—but that was something of a double-edged sword.  If you never fought monsters, you didn’t get experience, which meant you were stomped in boss battles.  If you fought every monster you found, you never gained items like tarot cards which helped you gain new personas, which were themselves basically an “alter-ego” of sorts that helped you cast spells, with higher-level personas meaning higher-level spells.

The translation was a bit rough, and graphically-speaking it wasn’t really anything stellar—but those were minor flaws in a game that offered something truly different, even unique.  It was, simply, a great game for both old R.P.G. players looking for something new and players new to the genre alike.

A blind Let’s Play can be found right here.

The Next Tetris: On-Line Edition
You know Tetris.  Everyone knows Tetris.  Blocks configured into some basic shapes slowly fall downward, you try and line them up, yadda yadda.  It’s a tried-and-true formula that’s been tweaked and tinkered with endlessly over the years.

The Next Tetris: On-Line Edition had some minor variations (well, minor compared to some that could be named) on the basic premise.  Though it included “Classic Tetris”, the real draw was, of course, “Next Tetris, which had things like shape made up of differently-colored blocks, and when the shapes come to rest, whatever blocks are hanging over an edge continue falling.  It was supposed to add a strategic element to the game, but it actually more promoted nearly random shape-dropping.

There were a few different modes—single player, multi-player, marathon, and the most-touted one, on-line.  It was functionally similar to the off-line two-player mode, with only the addition of basically a “leader board”—which was sadly nearly useless as no real community formed around the game.

It was, at its heart, Tetris, and it didn’t come with anything much in the way of a “wow factor” or the like.  It was—just Tetris.

Gold and Glory: The Road to El Dorado
Licensed games aren’t always bad.  Plenty are quite enjoyable to play.  Yet, when a game is based off a lack-luster film, things don’t look good.  Gamers usually react with hesitation, with thoughts of other not-so-good licensed games swirling around their heads.  Gold and Glory: The Road to El Dorado is, now, one of those games.

The game was riddled with enough glitches and just downright odd animation that one can’t help but wonder if it was a beta that was pushed out to meet a deadline.  Animation was jerky, too, and some gamers experienced intense slow-down when doing something like crouching.  Then you had more holes in the plot (that, admittedly, were somewhat fleshed out in the manual) which made it nonsensically confusing if you hadn’t watched the film or memorized the manual.  On top of that, you had simplistic puzzles, atrocious controls, and—well, the list goes on.

On the other hand, it looked incredibly pretty.  Still, that wasn’t enough to rescue this game.  It will be forgotten, now, by all but the gamers truly devoted to PlayStation titles.

A currently on-going, humorous-ish Let’s Play can be seen here.

*                        *                        *

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


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