Friday, May 12, 2006

Games You Should Have Played - 1987

[Computer Gaming]

Ha! You thought I'd forgotten! Well, you were wrong! Take that, world!

It's about time I got around to explaining why if you haven't played the 1987 games that I have you're barely worth my time and attention. In the style of posts past, I present to you the Games You Should Have Played - 1987 edition.

1) Phantasy Star (Sega Master System)
It's like Ultima I, only pretty. Okay, I'll admit that placing Phantasy Star above, say, Street Fighter, Final Fantasy and Double Dragon is a tough call, but it's a call I'm willing to make. This is an RPG a good half-decade ahead of its time. Granted, it's got bunches of level grind, no particularly interesting mechanics, and dungeons that you need to map with pen and paper, but.... it's so pretty! No, really, it is. I'm still not sure how they managed to wring graphics like this out of the Master System; it's notable that when they released the port of this for the Game Boy Advance, the graphics still looked like they were pushing the capabilities of the system. First person perspective dungeons, loads of plot set across three planets, and one of the most surprising final boss encounters in gaming history. And, um, it's the first game I ever finished on a console.

2) Double Dragon (Arcade)
Co-operative! Side-scrolling! Kung-fu! Beat-em-up! What's not to love? The two player beat-em-up genre is an interesting one; during the late 80s and early 90s it was full of classics like Double Dragon, Golden Axe, Final Fight and Streets of Rage. And then, between about 1993 and now, the genre to all intents and purposes died. Luckily I've now got a copy of Rockstar's excellent The Warriors which is dragging the genre's corpse from its grave and making it dance to the tune of Thriller, so all is well in the world. But if you're not so lucky as me, there's no good reason not to go back to your old copy of Double Dragon and kick yet another shade of crap out of Willy and the Black Warriors. Or, y'know, stab your friend in the back and laugh while you beat his head in with a pipe.

3) Dungeon Master (Atari ST)
Dungeon Master was pretty much the forerunner of the 90s RPG. First person perspective, real time combat, graphic-based inventory management, complex spell system, mouse driven, and featuring direct interaction with the world (such as clicking on a lever to flick it). As far as innovation goes, this is really a much, much better game than either of Phantasy Star or Final Fantasy (both debuting this year). In fact, it probably should be at the top of the list. But... come on, it's Phantasy Star!

4) Sid Meier's Pirates! (Commodore 64)
Open ended gameplay, featuring pirates, as created by Sid Meier. It's not so much a question of why this was awesome, as it is a question of why people are still making games that don't feature pirates.

5) Maniac Mansion (Commodore 64)
1987 is the year that LucasArts enters the adventure game market, with a game called Maniac Mansion that runs on an underlying engine known as SCUMM. It features control of multiple characters, alternate endings, point-and-click interface, and a healthy sense of humour (famously censored NES version notwithstanding). As a game, it kind of sucks. But this is really the first point that anyone other than Sierra is making adventure games, and it won't be long before the people involved go on to make a little known game called The Secret of Monkey Island...

6) Final Fantasy (NES)
This is a bad game. This is an awful, awful, bad game. It is not fun. It is bad. It is, in fact, so bad that the villains responsible for creating it made (at time of writing) some eleven and a half sequels, with more on the way (not counting spin-offs). Some of the sequels and spin offs were not bad. Nevertheless, this is a bad game. If you must play it, pick up the remakes for the PlayStation or the GameBoy Advance (the GBA one is significantly easier than most other versions).

7) Skate or Die! (NES)
... OR DIE! How extreme is that? It's right there, in your face - either you skate, or you DIE! It's the best game title ever! So you'll feel understandably cheated when you play the game and discover that actually, in fact, there is no death in the game whatsoever. It probably should have been called Skate or Make Lunch, or Skate or Snooze. But this is probably one of the better or more successful early attempts at an extreme sports game (if you count skateboarding as extreme) and you couldn't get away from the advertising for it no matter how hard you tried. You could even be a little creative with the truth and call it the spiritual predecessor of the Tony Hawk games. You know, this would have been a much better game had it featured killer bees. I think the sequel had killer bees. Killer bees are awesome.

8) Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (PC)
It's the game that puts Hot Coffee in perspective - Leisure Suit Larry! That's right, it's the mass-marketed game from Sierra that's all about scoring with hot chicks and/or prostitutes! It's crass, it's garish, and it's possibly a little homophobic - but it does advocate safe sex! Featuring one of the most bizarre systems of age verification of all time (because all consenting adults know who the 15th President of the United States was), and stealing its plot and puzzles wholesale from a freeware text adventure, it's the game for which Sierra sold more hint books than actual copies of the game. (Also, possibly in response to Maniac Mansion, as of this game Sierra abandons text-prompt interfaces and moves into the point-and-click age.)

9) R-Type (Arcade)
Blast off and strike the evil Bydo Empire!
No, really, go on, blast off. Strike the Bydo whatsit. I'll wait. It needs striking.

10) Mega Man (NES)
Non linear side-scrolling platform action. Revolutionary gameplay. Power-ups. Plot. And one of the worst box covers of all time.

And that's ten. Now, I know you're going, "But what about Street Fighter?" But stop and think - would we even remember Street Fighter had it not been for the sequel? No. We would have used it for a doorstop, or some kind of aquarium. And there's not a chance I'm leaving Street Fighter II off the list, so we'll have a good talk about it when we get there. Leash your killer monkeys, people.

As for the honourable mentions...
*Mike Tyson's Punch Out - You get to punch out Mike Tyson. That's hours of fun, right there.
* Wonder Boy in Monster Land - I'd actually peg this as a much better platformer than Mega Man, but, well... they're still making Mega Man today, and we haven't seen Wonder Boy since the 80s. Guess we know who won that grudge match.
* Metal Gear - Another game that only became relevant in light of later iterations of the series.
* California Games - I wish they *all* could be California Games.
* After Burner - Zoom! Zoom!
* Bionic Commando - You NES nuts loved this game. I was happy with my Wonder Boy, thank you very much.
* Space Quest - Because not everything released by Sierra in 1987 fell into the category of "pornography".
* ... and, uh, Contra, Wizball, and Might and Magic - which were all perfectly reasonable games which I can't stand. Particularly Might and Magic (wins the GregT award for "least balanced RPG of all time").

That's all, audience monkeys. Go home and stop drooling on my blog. You smell. You can come back next year, when I explain how everything released in 1988 sucked. Everything. (No, really.)

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