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The Next Generation Of Gaming, The Death Of Gaming Generations

Things are warming up as the inevitable release of the new consoles fast approach. As of writing, Sony are being very quiet about their new PlayStation 5, we’ve seen its design, but no price or release date yet… yet. However, Microsoft have been a much more forthcoming about their new Xbox Series X console. We’ve seen the machine and its little brother the Series S, we also have a price for both and a confirmed release date too of the 10th of November.

Still, come early-ish November, the next generation of consoles gaming will be here.  Just a few more months and your shiny new console of choice (assuming Sony have a similar release date to Microsoft) will be under your TV… but does it really matter anymore?

See, I’ve started writing an article looking back on my gaming history through the computers and consoles I’ve played/owned over the many, many years I’ve been gaming. As I’ve been writing said article and looking back on the machines I’ve grown up with, exploring how and why each gaming generation felt like a leap forward, I’ve come to realise that this new generation seems to be less of a leap forward and more of a baby step. I’m just not seeing the point of buying a new games console anymore. I mean, I will buy one, but there’s no real point.

I guess my first subject has to be graphics. I started out with an Atari 2600, famed being the Granddaddy of home gaming. Not the first ever home console no, but certainly the one that popularised video games at home. The 2600 was also known for its very simple graphics. I mean, here is classic arcade beat ’em up, Double Dragon on the system. 

DOUBLE DRAGON 2600

Basic and certainty very primitive, a far cry from its arcade source. But that’s the kind of graphics the Atari 2600 was capable of, and for that system, that is pretty damn good too. Anyway, after the 2600, I had a Commodore 64 and this is what the same game looked like on that system.

DOUBLE DRAGON C64

No, it’s still not arcade perfect… but it looked a damn sight better then the 2600 version. There’s more colour, the graphics are not as blocky, they are better defined… the sprites actually look like humans. It was very clear to me that there had been a major advancement, visually speaking. Now look at games today. Here’s a comparison image of a game (Gears of War 5) on the original Xbox One, the upgraded One X and the new Series X.

XBOX COMPARISON

What’s the difference? Just quickly go back and look at the two Double Dragon images above. Again, a very clear upgrade from one generation to the next, to the point where they don’t even look like the same game. And now, back to the Xbox comparison. Where’s the great advancement? Where’s the major visual upgrade? 

It’s not just Atari 2600 to Commodore 64 either. Look back through gaming history. Look the jump from 8-bit to 16-bit, from 16-bit to 32-bit. Look at the advancements when games went from 2D sprites to 3D polygons. Look even more recently when we went from SD games to HD. There was a clear and defined visual difference between game graphics. But now? As I said, what’s the difference?

Yeah, you might spot some very minor improvements with a 4K screen or even an 8K screen, if you are lucky to own one, which to be honest, most people don’t. But for myself, I only upgraded to a 4K TV a couple of years ago and to be honest, the difference going from my 1080p TV to a 4K one wasn’t exactly a major leap.

But this is my point, graphics are not ‘improving’ like they used to. Then even if you do want to get the best of of your console, you need to fork out on a better TV. We didn’t do that in the old days, the graphics improved because the hardware you were playing on improved. From a visual point of view, why buy an Xbox Series X or a PlayStation 5 when they are just offering the same level of graphics? Have game graphics plateaued and the only improvements we will see will be due to your TV? Yeah I know we will have better frame-rates, etc with the next gen and that is a good thing. But still, from a visual perspective and just looking at the graphics, why bother with the next gen?

Then there are the games themselves. Currently, there’s a bit of a trend for developers/publishers to offer a ‘free’ upgrade of the game you buy now for the next gen consoles. Graphics aside (which I’ve covered is pretty much nothing), what upgrade? The previously mentioned better frame-rates, possible quicker load times… and that’s about it for your ‘upgrade’. But my point is, if the game runs on the current gen perfectly fine and the differences between two are negligible to the point of hardly noticeable. Why not just stick with the current gen? It’s the same game right? Is a slightly smoother frame-rate a good enough reason to buy a new console?

I used to look at a new console and think it the games looked so much better. But now, unless you have a 70 inch, 8K TV and a magnifying glass, you really don’t see a difference.

It’s not just the graphics though. Going back to the Atari 2600, the music and sound was minimal, bleeps and bloops. Then we had the rise of game music composers such as Rob Hubbard (to name just one) in the 8-bit era and game music began to evolve. Through the generations, game music and sound has grown. It was with the more common use of the CD format in the early nineties when music and sound reached it peak because they could quite literally offer CD quality sound. from a quality perspective, game music and sound has not evolved for decades. I’m not saying there are no great composers anymore, just that from an audible quality perspective, its never really increased since the CD format.

Yup, eventually, the current gen will be discontinued. Yes some games will only be made available for the next gen too. But right now, just a handful of months before the next gen launch… is it really worth jumping ship to the next gen? Besides, the only reason the older generation will be discontinued is because publishers/developers will stop making games for that older system. But they don’t have to, do they? The hardware is not advancing from generation to generation like is used to, so why not just keep making games for the older machines, therefore negating the need for a new generation. I could play Cyberpunk 2077 perfectly well on a current gen machine just as I could on a next gen machine. Maybe at a slightly reduced frame-rate, granted… but the gameplay is still identical.

CYBERPUNK

Backwards compatibility is a major draw for me. It means I don’t have to keep two or more consoles under the TV with all those annoying wires running wild. I can have just one console and play (some of) my ever increasing backlog of games. But I can do that anyway, without having buying a new console. As just covered, the early games coming out for the next gen are also currently playable on the current gen too. So I don’t need backward compatibility because the games play the same regardless. See, backward compatibility only needs to exist due to the older system becoming obsolete… but it doesn’t need to be if games are still released on the console.

To me, it just seems like gaming generations are dying, if not already dead. The advancements are just not there like they used to be. The differences between the Xbox One (X) and the new Series X or the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 are so minor that they may as well not exist. I honestly think the death of gaming generations has finally begun. Thinking forward, where do you go from here? What amazing improvements could the future Xboxes and PlayStations possibly offer from this point on?

Digital gaming is on the rise, internet connections are getting faster and faster. We’ve already seen what TV and movie streaming services have done to the home viewing market. I have a BluRay player… yet I’ve not used it for well over a year due to being able to stream my entertainment. We already have things like Google Stadia appearing, Microsoft have been pushing their Xbox game (XCloud) streaming hard recently. It won’t be long until game streaming becomes normal. Just like sitting down to watch Netflix without the need of a physical machine or media to play videos, I think gaming will go that way, very soon too. If the consoles themselves can’t offer huge advancements (and they can’t), then consoles will become obsolete and gaming generations will no longer exist, and let’s be honest, they hardly exist now.

 

Roger Dean’s Psygnosis Art

I recently read an article on artist Roger Dean, this article right here. A really good read it is too, if you’re interested to learn a bit about Roger. Though it only really lightly touches on his work, and only in the music business… well it is an article on a music site. Anyway, Roger is famed for working with prog-rock bands of the seventies. Bands like Yes, Osibisa and others had covers designed by Roger Dean, he even designed the logo for Virgin Records in 1972.

VIRGIN RECORDS LOGO

Typical Roger Dean, he has a unique style that lends itself perfectly to rock album covers. Chock full of floaty rocks, twisted trees, dragons, strange creatures and… well, prog-rock stuff. Roger’s work has influenced people for years, so much so that James Cameron outright stole ‘borrowed’ Roger’s style for his movie Avatar (not the first time James Cameron has stolen ‘borrowed’ from someone else). The whole thing went to court and Roger inexplicably lost despite overwhelming evidence that James Cameron most definitely stole ‘borrowed’ Roger’s art without giving him any credit.

Anyway, as I said, the article linked to above is a great read, but it only covers a small part of Roger’s amazing work. Criminally, it doesn’t even give a passing mention to his work on video games. Oh yeah, Roger did video games too. In fact, I was first introduced to his art because of one very specific developer/publisher and one of my all time favourite studios to ever produce a game.

PSYGNOSIS LOGO

Yup, Psygnosis and yes, that logo was Roger Dean’s work too. Psygnosis was born form the utter disaster of a game studio that was Imagine Software. I could delve into the history of both of those studios, I won’t because I wrote a book doing just that and more (buy my book!). If there was anything to sell a game back then, then it was its box-art, in fact back then, that’s all we pretty much had to go on. We didn’t have the internet to spread the word of a game, no streamers to showcase new titles. Yeah we had review magazines, but it was the box-art that grabbed you when you were browsing for games on the shop shelves. And no other box-art slapped you in the face for attention harder than Psygnosis games of the eighties and nineties.

But Roger’s first foray into gaming was not actually with Psygnosis, but for a title called The Black Onyx from 1984 from Bullet-Proof Software. It was one of the first ever Japanese RPGs and even paved the way for titles such as Final Fantasy. Roger didn’t design the original cover for The Black Onyx, but he did for the Famicom port which was subtlety renamed Super Black Onyx and what a cover it was too.

Black Onyx

That image there gives you the prefect introduction to Roger Dean’s style and Psygnosis fans should be able to see that beautiful imagery we all soon came to love. And that is exactly what this article is all about, me looking at some of my favourites of Roger Dean’s Psygnosis box-art and a quick look at the games themselves too.

Brataccas

BRATACCAS

Now this is a game with a lot of history (again, read my book, the link is up there ^^^), what started out as a doomed game at Imagine became the first ever Psygnosis game. The game itself was terrible, stiff and horrible controls in an action/adventure type thing that never really worked. Brataccas wasn’t a great game, but that art was stunning and that art is why the game is still so fresh in my mind. I have no idea what is going on there and the title is pretty hard to read, but that certainly is a striking image.

Barbarian

BARBARIAN

I always remember the intro to this game and the hulking, titular Barbarian cutting a chain with his sword… had nothing to do with the game itself, but it looked great at the time. As a game, this was typical early Psygnosis, it looked great but played terribly. A kind of action/platformer that relied heavily on trial and error gameplay. Plus it had a really obnoxious control scheme where you had to use the mouse to select an action from a menu at the bottom of the screen. This was actually the first Psygnosis game I ever played, hated it but it still has a special place in my gaming heart. Still, that box was pretty to look at. The almost muted and wonderful backdrop with that bright red dragon-thing in the foreground really stands out. Shame about the guy ruining a perfectly fine piece of art at the top.

Terrorpods

TERRORPODS

So this title was a strange one. A kind of FPS/resource management/defence game thing. Look, I have no idea how to explain this title. I remember my older bother would play it and I’d just watch, confused as to what the hell was going on. I did play the game properly for the first time when I was researching my book. As an adult, I really enjoyed it. It took a lot of interwebs searching for how to play the damn thing, but when I got to grips with how to play it, I very much enjoyed it. But that cover art, I don’t mind admitting that I was scared of that cover as a kid. Scared, but I still loved to look at it. It has a very Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds feel about it. Anyone who has seen the art of that masterpiece of an album will know what I mean. I think this is my favourite Roger Dean/Psygnosis collaboration.

Obliterator

OBLITERATOR

Pretty much the exact same game as the previously mentioned Barbarian… only in space! It also suffered from the same trial and error gameplay, same obnoxious control scheme too. It was a very pretty game at the time, but it wasn’t much fun to actually play. This art really puts me in mind of H.R. Giger with a very Alien-like thing going on. Yet it still has that Roger Dean trademark, prog-rock style that I adore so much.

Shadow of the Beast
Shadow of the Beast II

SHADOW OF THE BEAST

SHADOW OF THE BEAST II

Yes, a double Dean display here for Shadow of the Beast and it’s sequel. The first game was one of those showstoppers for the Amiga. It really was a stunning looking game with its moody graphics and parallax scrolling. Play-wise? It was scrolling beat ’em up/platform thing with pretty lax controls and a steep difficulty curve. The sequel was a lot better and features, perhaps my favourite game over screen on any Amiga game ever. But that art is just so… well it’s so Roger Dean. I have no idea what is going on in either cover, nor do I care either. I just know it looks amazing and I like it. Now, there was a Shadow of the Beast III but Roger didn’t do the art for that, and it really shows.

And that’s about it for Roger Dean’s Psygnosis box-art. He did do a couple of other things like the logo for the game Agony, but not the box-art itself. Well, there was one more box to look at I guess and one with a very interesting connection.

Fatal Rewind

FATAL REWIND

Originally released as The Killing Game Show on the Amiga, where it featured a rather bland and unimaginative cover featuring an eye. The game was a platform/shooter with a unique feature where you could rewind time if you died. But when it was ported to the Mega Drive, it was given a much better cover (ruined by the logo obscuring a good chunk of the art) and a cover from Roger Dean that has that War of the Worlds feel again… and there’s a very good reason why. If you look closely at the machine on that cover up there, pay attention to the head in particular. That is the same design as the one on the box-art of Terrorpods

DEAN COMBO

Same elongated nose on the machine, same shaped visor, same weed things growing out. Its the same machine but seen from a different angle and in a different colour. Yeah they are the same because they were drawn by the same man, Roger Dean. However, there’s also a good reason why they look and feel so War of the Worlds. Remember how I said the Terrorpods cover reminded me of the Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds album? Well, Roger actually pitched to design the art for that album (hence the birds flying around the machine’s head in Terrorpods) but was passed over for Peter Goodfellow, Geoff Taylor and Michael Trim, who ended up doing the art and illustrations of the album. So Roger just used his War of the Worlds art for the covers of those two games instead.

And just to finish up, here are a few of Roger Dean’s pitches for War of the Worlds that never ultimately made the cut.

ROGER DEAN WOTW ART 2ROGER DEAN WOTW ART 3ROGER DEAN WOTW ART

It’s a shame Roger never got to be the artist for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. As much as I do like the art that was used, I think Roger Dean’s is so much better and would’ve loved to see his finalised designs. Still, we do have some amazing Psygnosis box-art to look at. I also recommend that you check out Roger’s official site, it’s full of beautiful art well worth a view or several.

What I Don’t Like About Modern Gaming

The next generation of gaming is on the horizon. November-ish and well be playing on our shiny new XStation 6 and PlayBox 19 consoles. I don’t even really need a new console to be honest, I have such a backlog of games to get through that I really have no need to jump over to the next gen for a good couple of years or so… though I’ll most probably still buy one anyway… cos I’m stupid. Anyway, as an older gamer in his mid-forties, I’ve seen games and gaming in general evolve (in some cases, devolve) over the years.

Now, I’m not some old-timer who thinks modern gaming is crap. In many ways, it’s better now than ever… but in some ways, gaming is getting worse. So right here, I’m going to take a look at some of my gaming grumbles. Things that annoy me about modern gaming. From silly little niggles to a couple of quite serious issues. Get ready, cos and old man is about to yell at a cloud…

Installing Games

I remember a time when you’d buy a new game, rush home from the shops (pre-digital), excited to play your latest purchase. Removing the box from the bag, tearing away at that annoying cellophane wrap and opening the box. To then thrust the disc or cartridge (or tape if you really want to go back) into your console/computer of choice. Flick on your machine and (depending on format), you’d be playing your game instantly (negating load times). That was it, simple. 

C64 LOADING

But now, oh now you can’t do that can you? Now you buy a game, thrust it into your console…. then have to wait for it to install. Depending on the size of the game, install times vary from several minutes to an hour or more. Yes I know with some digital purchases, you can pre-install… which is nice. But you can’t do that with psychical games can you? So you just sit there, having to wait to play the game you’ve already waited several weeks and months (sometimes years) to play. I just miss being able to pop the game in and start playing it. That’s before I get in the need to buy bigger external HDDs because we now have to install games instead of playing them direct from disc. Don’t even get me started on day one patches…

Lying Loading Bars

I really don’t have a problem with loading screens, in fact, they can be good fun (see my next point)… but I detest loading bars or counters that just lie to you. Whether it be a simple straight line that fills as the game loads, a percentage counter that goes from 0 to 100%, a unique design/symbol that fills up. Whatever the method used to countdown the loading until you can play, the reason for them to exist is pretty simple. To let you know that the game is almost ready to play.

LOADING BARS

So why do we have loading bars that lie to us? I’ve played games that feature loading bars/counters that reach 100%… to then continue loading for a minute or so after they are finished. So they’re not 100% then? I’ve even had the converse happen with a bar that was two-thirds of the way filled up, for the game to start before it was finished. If your loading bar can’t keep track of a correct period of time to tell when when it’s ready to play, then why is it there?

We never had this in the ‘good ole’ days’, those micro-computer days of the eighties. If a game took four minutes and thirty-seven seconds to load, then that’s how long it took. It was never four minutes and thirty-eight seconds or four minutes and thirty-six seconds. It was exactly four minutes and thirty-seven seconds every single time. We didn’t have counters that lied to us, the game loaded when it loaded, no bullshitting.

No Loading Screens

It seems that one of the key features for the next gen is to remove loading and loading screens. The idea is to hide the loading within the game itself, therefore cutting out long pauses in the gameplay to create one long flowing experience.  But I like loading screens, I may not like lying loading bars, but the screens themselves can, sometimes, be really enjoyable.

From beautiful looking game art, hints and tips to just outright funny jokes and references. Plus there’s the fact they offer a nice break from gaming (when you don’t want to pause) to challenge yourself. I can’t be the only person who does the fridge dash when a loading screen pops up. Can you put the controller down, get from your seat and to the kitchen, open the fridge, grab a drink or snack and then back into your seat with the controller back in hand before the loading screen finishes? That’s what loading screens are for, to do the fridge dash.

BAYONETTA LOADING

But even if you remove the fridge dash challenge, loading screens can still be really great and part of the game itself. What about Bayonetta’s loading screens that let you practice the various moves and combos? Or take a look the cover/shooter Spec Ops: The Line as an example. I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you here if you’ve never played it, but that game has some of the best and most amazing loading screens ever. They go from standard guff offering you game tips, to… well they change into something far more sinister and actually part of the narrative of the story. Loading screens can be great when used well and to see them go next gen is a bit disappointing… I’ll have to buy a mini-fridge for next to my gaming chair too. 

Gaming ‘Journalism’

I don’t consider myself a gaming journalist, I’m not simple enough to do that. I’m just a gamer with a passion and his own blog. I like to share my views and opinions, I like to throw in some gaming memories and so on into anything I write. For me, this is more of a personal thing than a job, it’s a fun hobby that I really enjoy doing. But ‘proper’ gaming ‘journalism’ I really do detest for the most part. 

Big name sites throwing together half-arsed articles with no passion or drive just to get traffic to their site. I really don’t like click-bait, I’ll never do click-bait myself. The headline of my articles tells you what you are going to get, and often I throw in extra stuff just for fun too. So you are getting more for you click. But there are so many ‘respected’ sites that thrive off click-bait and badly written drivel. But you know what annoys me more than anything else? Click-bait articles that are literally written about nothing.

GAME WRITING

Here’s a prime example of what I mean. Rare have a new game coming soon-ish (no release date yet, it’s all just guess work). The game is called Everwild and very little is known about it outside of its title. A few screens and trailers have been released, yet they don’t actually tell you anything other than give you a glimpse at what the game looks like. Anyway, here’s an article from trustedreviews.com about everything they know about Everwild. Now, in their ‘about us’ bit on the site, they bang on about their expert team of journalists and many years of expertise and so on. But the article is utter shit.

It’s these kind of ‘what we know’ articles that really annoy me. Other sites do them too, the amount of GTA VI ‘what we know’ articles I’ve seen over the last few weeks is astounding, the truth is that they don’t know anything. Just taking that linked Everwild article up there ^^^ as an example. they even admit they don’t know anything in the article about what they know. These quotes are taken from said article…

“Beyond a few trailers and screenshots, we currently don’t know much else about it.”

“It remains unclear exactly how Everwild will play”

Aside from a very rough outline of the (unconfirmed) plot, they don’t know how it will play, they don’t know anything about the gameplay mechanics, they don’t know a release date, they don’t even know what genre of game it will be. So they know nothing in an article written about what they know. It is quite literally an article about nothing. So why does it exist if it doesn’t tell you anything? Could they have written an article speculating on what the game may possibly be? Yes they could… but that’s not what the headline says is it? The headline very specifically claims the article is going to detail what they know. I guess the fact they don’t tell you anything means the article kind of delivered on it’s headline promise. They don’t know anything and the article delivers just that.

But, this is fast becoming a trend too. People are being paid to write articles that may contain plenty of words, but not any information. This is how the above article should’ve looked…

Everwild: Everything we know about Rare’s next big
adventure

TRUSTED PIC

EVERWILD

Nothing, we don’t know anything. See you in the next article about nothing.

TRUSTED PIC 2

There you go, that’s a far more accurate and honest article on what the headline promises. If you don’t have anything to write about, then don’t write about it. It’s pretty simple really. Destructoid, GamesRadar+,  Game Informer, IGN, GameSpot and more are all guilty of this shitty click-bait crap and articles that really don’t say anything. I hate that click-bait crap and yet, I keep falling for it regardless.

Not Actual Game Footage

This isn’t a new thing, in fact, it’s been going on for a number of years now. But recently, it’s become more and more prevalent. I’m talking about game trailers that don’t contain gameplay footage. Now, there are some exceptions to this. If a game is recently announced and in early development, then it is often the trend to release a teaser trailer that is purely a CGI movie. I don’t necessarily have a big issue with this as the game is in early development. I’m not a fan of these early teaser trailers, but I understand why they exist. So those are exempt from my rant. Also, live action trailers also get a free pass as I don’t expect them to have game footage… doesn’t mean they can’t though.

NOT GAME FOOTAGE

However, it’s those trailers of games that are currently out or are soon to be released and the trailer is part of the main marketing campaign for that game… yet they still do not contain game footage? Even worse are those trailers for games that are/soon released and have full computer generated imagery to sell said game, but that CGI is not of the actual game. Ergo, not actual game footage. Why? That means they have used a computer to create images for a trailer not in the game for game that is made from computer created images. What kind of backward thinking is that? They’ve just created needless extra work for themselves instead of using the already existing in game graphics to sell the product they are trying to sell.

Multiple Game Versions

You know what I miss? Buying a game and getting a game. That’s how simple it used to be. You picked up the game from the shelf, took it to the counter to pay for it and then, the game was yours. Now though, games are released in all sorts of different flavours that contain all sorts of extras and bonuses. I’m not strictly against DLC, but I am anti-crap DLC. But it’s not just DLC that grinds my nuts, but more so all the different versions of one game, even to the point where the one that sounds the most complete still has stuff missing. Seeing as Forza Horizon 3 is soon to be discontinued due to licensing issues, I’ll use that game as my example.

So, if I were to go to the Microsoft store to buy Forza Horizon 3 (currently on sale due to its being discontinued), there are three different versions of the game. There’s the standard game, the deluxe edition and the ultimate edition. Standard version is exactly that, just the base game with no extras. The deluxe edition though gives you, along with the base game, VIP membership and cars, Forza Hub App, and the Motorsport All-Stars Car Pack. Then there is the ultimate version of the game, this one you get all of the above and early access to the game (before it was officially released) and the Forza Horizon 3 car pass, which gave you every DLC car released for the game. It is called the ultimate edition so of course, you get everything for the game… that’s what the word ultimate means: being the best example of its kind. So there is nothing more to the game and you get everything with the ultimate edition… only you don’t.

There is still the matter of the Forza Horizon 3 Hot Wheel and the Forza Horizon 3 Blizzard Mountain DLCs that you don’t get with the ultimate edition… so it’s not the ultimate edition then is it? If there is extra stuff outside of the ultimate version of a game… then how is that game the ultimate version? This keep happening too, different developers/publishers use different terminology, but the end result is always the same. Collectors editions are another thing I have an issue with because all the useless tat you get with them are just not for me, but I do know people who enjoy all that stuff. Still, have you seen the various editions for the up and coming Assassin’s Creed Valhalla? Standard version, gold edition then the ultimate edition. So that’s it then, no more because they have the ultimate edition right? No, because there is still yet another version of the game after the ultimate edition…. so not the ultimate edition then! There’s still the collectors edition… which isn’t the ultimate edition? If you don’t get everything with the ultimate version of a game, then it’s not the ultimate edition. The word ultimate, look it up.

ASSASSINS CREED EDITIONS

Why has doing something as simple as buying a game become so complex? Now, you have to research to see what version of what games comes with what specific content. And because these publishers don’t know what words like ultimate means, you the consumer get screwed over when you think you have purchased the version that is ultimately the best one when it’s not.

Games Are Getting Are Too Big

It’s all about size these days with AAA games. As the rumours surrounding GTA VI continue, I keep seeing people commenting on how it would be great to have all of the previous GTA maps in one game, a huge map that’s more of a state with multiple cities in it and similar ideas. Why? Don’t people think the map of GTA V was big enough or something? There’s that clip on YouTube that looks at map sizes over the years.

Not counting (pretty much) endless games like Minecraft, Elite Dangerous, etc and just looking at ‘normal’ maps. Some of them are stupidly big to the point where you don’t even see some of the map while playing the game.

But even some games with more sensible map sizes just have too much going on in them and soon become tiresome. Plus there are games that have huge maps and yet still offer way too much to do. I’m looking at the more recent (again) Assassin’s Creed titles. With both Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey, I personally gave up after putting in several hours. Seriously, I clocked up around thirty hours on Odyssey, which for me should be when the game is ending. Yet I popped up the map screen and I had only revealed about a third of the map. Plus there was dozens and dozens of icons for things to do that I just got completely bored with. Some say ‘at least your getting plenty of game for your money’. No, I’m getting bored for my money. If I’ve put thirty hours into a game and I’m still not even halfway done, that’s way too big. If I were to pay a normal price to watch a ten hour film at the cinema, the cost is irrelevant if I’m bored.

I’m older, I have kids, I write and other things like life get in the way. So my gaming hours are not as free as they used to be. These games that keep getting bigger and bigger, year after year just pass me by as I don’t have time for them. Smaller and more original indie games are the way forward, not these ever expanding open world things. Yet whenever a new game is announced, one of the first things the developers/publishes brag about is the map size. 

Wasted Licenses

So this is something that very recently came up on my radar. Licensed games do have a bit of a bad history. A game based on a movie or TV show is often just lazily thrown together just to cash in on the popularity of the IP it’s based on. Now, this isn’t new and you can find plenty of examples through gaming history of terrible licensed games. But, the idea of just farting out some old tat of a game based on a popular name really hit me hard today when I saw the trailer for the Cobra Kai game. I’m not even going to directly post in on my blog as it’s so offensively terrible, I’ll just do an external link instead.

That looks unbelievably shoddy. A lazy, shovelware game shat out because the show it is based on is pretty damn popular. For those not in the know, Cobra Kai (the show) is a continuation of the Karate Kid films, and you know what? It’s bloody excellent too. It’s a show that clearly has a real passion and drive behind it, one that does a lot of new things and yet still pays a lot of respects to its source material along the way. But just look at the game. That’s not respecting the source material. I love a good scrolling beat ’em up and I think that Cobra Kai is perfect fodder for a game of that style too… but it still deserves better then that poop in the trailer. You remember that The Warriors game? No, I don’t mean the pretty damn good version from Rockstar Games a few years back, I mean this one. That’s what the Cobra Kai game reminds me of… only difference is that it’s not 2009 anymore.

RAMBO

There have been other wasted licensed games too. Remember Rambo: The Video Game from 2014? I recall seeing the teaser trailer before the game was released and despite some pretty low standard graphics, the trailer made the game look pretty good. The cops stalking Rambo through the forest of the first film, it looked like it could be a really interesting action/survival game. You playing as John Rambo having to survive off the land, taking out the cops before they get to you. Building traps, finding places to hide, kill wild boars for food, etc. A blending of stealth, survival and action game, all using the Rambo film license… amazing. But no, what we got was a shitty on-rails shooter with terrible controls and awful gameplay. That’s how you waste a great licence and completely miss the point of the IP you are trying to capture in game-form. 

If you’re not going to respect the licence of the famed IP you are using, then why bother? (I already know the answer to that, it really was a rhetorical question) 

Grindy Games

I’ve already moaned about some modern games getting too big, but this is a different spin on the same problem. Games that make you needless grind out to level up to move onto the next part (yes, I’m looking at the recent Assassin’s Creed games again). This is just padding and forcing the game to seem bigger then it really is, or worse, make an already huge game pointlessly bigger.

Side quests can be great, a nice little distraction from the main story when you feel like taking a break. But I’ve begun to notice that games are getting into a trend of forcing you to level up in order to keep progressing through the story, and the only way level up effectively is to grind away at side quests. Meaning, they’re no longer side quests as they’re not optional. As previously mentioned, the recent Assassin’s Creed titles are guilty of just this. It’s like going to the cinema to watch the new James Bond film, it opens with the classic of Bond being on a mission before the main plot kicks in. It cuts to the iconic gun-barrel opening… to then force you to sit through twenty minutes of cute kitten videos on YouTube before you can watch the rest of the film.

DESTINY 2

Then there are games that are built solely around grinding. Games where you have to play and re-play the same sections over and over to progress. See the Destiny games for a perfect example of grinding to progress, and yet, they’re still popular. I just don’t understand why so many people want to play a game where they have to repeat the same bits over and over for little reward or progression. The fact that there is now a sub-genre for grinding games, I just find that a bit sad really.

Microtransactions

So this really is a big one and my final rant. My previous gripes were meant to be taken with a bit of humour. Yeah they still piss me off, but in the grand scheme, they are just minor annoyances. This however, this is a very serous problem with modern gaming. Microtransactions are the cancer of gaming and they need to be cut out before the cancer takes over.

It’s easy to put the blame of freemium games, ones that are ‘free to play’, but in order to progress (and not grind for countless hours), you really need to pay real money to get anywhere. These games are everywhere, usually found on mobile devices, but they have started to creep into console gaming now too. From one perspective, you can kind of see why the ‘need’ to include microtransactions in free to play games, as that’s the way these titles ultimately get funded… but then, when you take a look at some of the prices for in game items and so on, it really make no sense.

CURIOSITY

Curiosity – What’s Inside the Cube?, that experimental tappy-tap game from Peter Molyneux’s 22Cans studio featured a diamond chisel that allowed you to tap away faster, it’s price? £50,000. That is one of the more extreme examples of a one-off microtransaction i admit. But what really boils my piss is those games that have lots of smaller ones. Games that sell in game currency for real world money in various bundles, smaller single use items for lower amounts but ones that all mount up to so much more. I mean, here’s a story about someone who spent over £113,000 ($150,000) on the ‘free to play’ Transformers: Earth Wars game.

The thing is that microtransactions can and do become an obsession or even an addiction to people. Even worse is that many of them are presented like gambling machines, or loot boxes as the big name companies like to call them. It is gambling. You pay money to see a animated box (or similar) open and give you a prize. You have no idea what that prize will be, could be great, could be crap… it is gambling.

But things get worse because these things are not only found in free games. Big, AAA titles now have them, games that you already pay full price for are now fleecing people for every penny they may have. EA’s FIFA games with their FIFA Coins that cost real money, for you to spend on players to build your team. Let’s not forget the fairly recent NBA 2K20 gambling controversy. EA are not some small, independent game studio struggling to make money, they are a worldwide famed developer and publisher who bring in literal billions year after year. Rockstar Games with their Shark Cards of GTA Online are another guilty party. Rockstar Games who made the biggest and fastest selling piece of entertainment ever, who also bring in billions in profits.

But it gets even worse. A lot of these freemium games are often aimed at kids. Here’s a game called Coin Master

It’s a fucking slot machine and one you can pay real money to play it too. On the app store, its age rating is only a 12+. It’s a slot machine, you can’t play those if you are twelve years-old in the real world, so why is it okay in games?

This really is a a serious issue and there have been thoughts of making any game that features this kind of gambling to be automatically rated for adults only. For me, that’s just not enough. It’s quite clear to me that parents don’t pay attention to a game’s age rating, just look at how many kid play GTA, CoD, etc. Slapping an age rating on a game won’t do anything. Then there are certain companies who refuse to accept that microtransactions are gambling, they give them clever little names to try to create a loophole…

‘Surprise mechanics’? Fuck off with that. It’s gambling. See, this is what these companies will do if microtransactions are allowed to continue, they will worm their way out of the bad press by creating loopholes and buzzwords. As I said, these things are the cancer of gaming. The loopholes surrounding them need to be closed sooner rather than later. Slapping age rating on games won’t do anything, microtransactions need to be made illegal across the board, no exceptions. If not, then this cancer of gaming will be allowed to grow until its un-treatable. I have two small children and my eldest had begun to take an interest in gaming, but if this shit is the future, then I’ll be doing my very best to ensure my kids don’t grow up as gamers.

End rant!

Windbound Review: A Breath Of Fresh Air Or Load Of Old Guff?

Generally speaking, I do enjoy a survival game. Starting with nothing and having to build up your inventory. Search for and gather materials, make basic tools and slowly progress, evolving your weapons. Learn how to craft new items and defend yourself against the evils of the game. Every survival game follows the same basic recipe… and this can be a title’s downfall. Survival games can tend to get a bit ‘samey’ and soon become rather tiresome. So, they need an interesting kick, a spin on the genre that separates it from the many others already available.

Windbound is a new survival game on the market, but is it different enough to stand out against the others? From developer 5 Lives Studios and publisher Deep Silver comes this new title.

You play as Kara, a warrior, who after being caught in a storm is washed up on the shores of a small island (one of many). Separated from your tribe, you have to explore your surroundings, build your resources, discover the secrets of the mysterious islands and hopefully, regroup with your tribe.

In typical survival game fashion, you start with nothing. Waking up on the beach of an island, you begin by gathering the basics, small rocks and dry grass. As you pick up items, you learn new crafting skills, but you’ll soon find yourself pretty much trapped, the island you start on is rather small, though randomly generated each time you play. You’ll soon find an oar… a very special oar. This then opens up the ability to build a boat. But given your lack of resources, your boat is limited to a simple grass canoe. Still, now you can get out there onto the seas and explore what are known as the The Forbidden Islands.

The game is split over several archipelagos and the main aim is to explore each island on each archipelago, find the strange alters that have a connection to the amulet you wear. Once all of the alters have been activated, you can open up the gateway to the next archipelago. But there is a progression system installed to each of the archipelagos and the islands found in them. For instance, the first one you find yourself in really has very little going on. You’ll find bare basic resources and a few wild animals. You start with nothing and gain little more then a pointed stick as a weapon. Still, kill some of the wildlife and they’ll drop new items such as bones and skin. Set up a fire and dry out the skin to turn it into leather, maybe the wildlife dropped some meat, so get that cooking to fend off hunger and top up your health. Soon you’ll be able to upgrade your pointed stick to a bone tipped spear and take on bigger enemies.

WINDBOUND FIRE

Progress to the next archipelago and you’ll find new resources. Bamboo, which can be used to upgrade your vessel. Go from a pretty crappy grass canoe to a more versatile bamboo raft, why not stick some hulls on it to make it more nimble and sturdy, build a sail and use the wind to carry you from island to island. Upgrade to a bow and arrow to take on bigger and more aggressive wildlife. Find even more new resources and so on. Keep on going, slowly upgrading your weapons and boat until you have a pretty mean arsenal and impressive catamaran. You’ll also find in game currency as you explore and inbetween each area, you’ll have the chance to spend that currency on (randomly generated) upgrades to help you in your adventures. Keep moving from island to island, archipelago to archipelago and discover the secrets of the Forbidden Islands.

Windbound is, at heart, a survival game… but it’s also a something a little different to  survival games you may be used to. There’s no base/home building here as you are continually moving from island to island, progressing though each archipelago. You never settle, just keep moving. Things like food management are here, but it really takes a bit more of a backseat over other elements of the game and other survival titles. You’ll probably not really enjoy the sailing aspects of the game either, I certainly didn’t, not at first. But as you progress through the game and learn how to upgrade your vessel, the sailing becomes more of a joy… sometimes, though as you build your vessel bigger and bigger, it becomes much more cumbersome to control. Plus, when I was playing, I found I had to sail into the wind more often than not, which really slows you down.

WINDBOUND BOAT

Truth be told, I found Windbound a little too restrictive as a survival game and seasoned survival gamers may feel the same too. It’s too simplified too linear. There’s no real exploration as each of the islands you visit are really very small all told. You find one, gather some basic resources, active the relic and move on. You spend around ten minutes on some of the larger islands and literal seconds on the smaller ones. Spending most of your time at sea finding the islands than on the actual islands surviving. As you do progress through each archipelago, the islands do become more interesting I admit, but the issue is that they only get really interesting in the final one or two areas.

Plus, there is the lack of game modes here… just the one. There’s a story mode and two difficulties to chose from to play through that story and that’s it. For a survival game, Windbound really lacks punch and the small islands just don’t offer the exploration a title like this should. The game needs a proper free-roam/survival mode where you can discover the game at your own leisure without the story and larger areas to explore too. But with the game deigned as it is with small islands spread over five archipelagos, there’s just not enough here to take in. I honestly found the opening three archipelagos a bit dull, then when the game did finally kick into gear and grab me towards the back end, the credits were rolling. Very much a one and done title for me as there’s just nothing to pull me back into it.

WINDBOUND BOW

Still, saying all of that, I didn’t dislike Windbound. It’s a very nice little game. The obvious compassion to Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild games in terms of some of the gameplay elements and graphics are fair I feel, especially the sailing and degrading of weapons and tools. I’m pretty sure that developer 5 Lives Studios were influenced by both games. Windbound features some great weather effects, you can see the dark storm clouds form in the background, lighting flashes away. But do you chance going into the storm to get to the next island or wait it out for the storm to pass? Windbound is full of nice little details like that and as each game is randomly generated, it’ll be different each time you play.

For me, as a bit of a survival game fan, Windbound is just lacking. It needed more meat on its bones, the islands should’ve been bigger with more to explore. Plus the fact you do spend so much of the game at sea, there’s surprisingly little to actually do when you are sailing, no fishing for instance and very few places to explore. It needed more than the one game mode too. I finished the game in about three sittings over three nights, only playing for a few hours at a time and as much as I enjoyed it, there’s nothing here to make me want to play again.

 

A Toadaly Awesome Battletoads Retrospective

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, those pesky Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were everywhere. Comic books, cartoons, action figures, games and even movies. Those four deadly weapon wielding reptiles were hugely popular and still kind of are today, I guess. I lost interest in them pretty quickly to be honest. The whole TMNT phenomenon didn’t really grab me. I watched some of the cartoon, played a couple of the games and somewhat enjoyed the first film… and then got bored and moved on pretty quickly. By the time 1991 rolled around, I had pretty much forgotten all about Leo, Mikey, Don and the other one, Bob I think.

TMNT

Part of the reason why TMNT had slipped away from me in 1991 was due to something similar, but with a bit more of an edge. I mean, I was fifteen/sixteen at the time, growing up, leaving school and preparing to enter the real world. Watching kids cartoons, playing kids games and so on just didn’t interest mid-teenage me then (yes I was an idiot). It was the summer of 1991 when I was first introduced to Battletoads, a more ‘grown up’ parody of TMNT. I say ‘grown up’, using that as loosely as I can, because we all know now just how puerile Battletoads was.

The brainchild of Rare founders, Tim and Chris Stamper (read my book), Battletoads was unleashed onto the public in June, 1991. Seeing as a new game is released today, I thought I’d do a retrospective on the entire Battletoads franchise starting with that first game, up to the latest today and everything in-between, warts and all.

Battletoads

As previously mentioned, this is where it all started. It was June, 1991 when the first Battletoads game was released for the NES. Developed by Rare and published by Tradewest, Battletoads is a mix of scrolling beat ’em up/platformer and even a little vehicle action thrown in too. The plot of the game is that Professor T. Bird and the titular Battletoads, Rash, Zitz, and Pimple, are on a mission to escort Princess Angelica home on their spaceship. However, Pimple and Angelica take a detour on Pimple’s flying space-car when they are kidnapped by the Dark Queen and taken to a planet called Ragnarok. Professor T. Bird receives a call from the Dark Queen, daring Rash and Zitz to come and save their friend and Princess Angelica.

BATTLETOADS NES

And so the game kicks off proper as a one or two-player affair with you controlling either Rash or Zitz of the titular toads. Battletoads is typical scrolling beat ’em up stuff. Simple enough controls with a jump and attack, various weapons to pick up so you can beat the bad guys with and so on. If you ever played Double Dragon, Golden Axe, Final Fight, etc, then you know what to expect here. But what separated Battletoads from other titles of its ilk back then was its humour and variety. Given the name of the heroes, you can be assured this game does not take itself seriously at all. It’s silly, puerile and yet utterly charming at the same time. There’s a real cartoony feel, not just with the overall presentation but also with the fighting itself. Knocking down bad guys with a huge boot, smashing into them with ram horns and so on. But then, each level feels different and fresh, there’s typical side scrolling action, abseiling down a canyon, even vehicle based levels (just say the words ‘turbo tunnel’ to a Battletoads fan and watch them break out in a cold sweat) to platforming sections. Battletoads really throws a lot into the mix… and it works very well too in all honesty.

Often thought of as one of the finest games in the NES library, Battletoads was and still is very much loved among gamers. But as much loved and respected Battletoads is, it’s also known for it’s punishing difficulty. If you could finish the game on the NES, original, no emulation, no save states, then you could easily be considered a gaming legend. Then if you could do it in two-player… which was even harder, then you were a God. The game still holds up very well today too, if you can get past it’s difficulty, there’s a genuinely great title here. One that is easy to pick up, but very hard to play and master.

The original game eventually saw ports to all sorts of machines over the years including the Mega Drive/Genesis, Game Boy, Game Gear and the Amiga and Amiga CD32. The various ports have their good and bad points, for example the Amiga CD32 version has some really great cut-scenes… but it pays terribly. Of all the versions, the NES original is still the best.

BATTLETOADS GAME BOY

1991 also saw the release of Battletoads the LCD game from Tiger. I don’t really need to go into details over this one do I? You all remember those terrible Tiger LCD games with pretty much zero gameplay. If you really, really want to see what it was like, then here’s a YouTube clip you can watch. Then just to finish, the Game Boy port was released in 1993 with a slight title change. Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World, aside from it’s obvious monochrome colour palette, single-player only mode, smaller screen and stripped down levels, it’s actually a pretty damn good port of the original.

Battletoads

So, things get a little complicated here as in 1991 there was another game called Battletoads for the Game Boy… only it wasn’t a port of the previous NES version, this was a whole new game. This is why the Game Boy port of the NES version from 1993 had a different title, because this completely different and exclusive game for the Game Boy was released first in 1991. See, it all makes perfect sense… I think? So the plot is that Rash, Zitz, and Pimple are taking a break from their adventures. An exotic dancer entertains them, but the dancer is actually the Dark Queen, she and her henchmen ambush the toads and a fight ensues. Both Rash and Pimple are taken away, leaving only Zitz to rescue his toady partners.

BATTLETOADS GAME BOY 2

Again, this is Battletoads and very much like the original game, but with an all new story and levels. It’s still that mix of scrolling beat ’em up/platformer and vehicle action. It plays just like the original too and yes, it’s still bloody hard as nails difficult. The limitations of the Game Boy do show here though as the game is very short and can be completed in less than twenty minutes, plus each level is restrictive and can be finished in a minute or two. What is here is a good Battletoads game, but compared to the latter and previously mentioned Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World, the port of the NES original, it just feels like it’s lacking somewhat.

Battletoads

No, the titles are not changing very much so far are they? But the medium is, as this is not a game. In 1992 and after the success of the game(s), the idea was to try and TMNT the franchise with a cartoon. So production company DiC (Inspector Gadget, M.A.S.K., The Real Ghostbusters, to name a few) secured the rights to make an all new Battletoads animated TV show. The story of the show was to be a prequel to the game(s) and followed three high-school students who are given the power to transform into anthropomorphic toads with superhuman strength and abilities by Professor T. Bird. The trio of toads are tasked with protecting Princess Angelica from the Dark Queen.

BATTLETOADS CARTOON

Unlike the TMNT attempt of breaking into animation, Battletoads failed. Only one episode was ever made, a pilot. The pilot was aired on Thanksgiving weekend, 1992, but the show was never picked up to make a full series. You can actually watch the pilot on YouTube as it was officially released. You can see it’s a bit rough, the animation isn’t great, even for the time and it just feels very flat. DiC made some great animated shows back in the eighties and nineties, Battletoads wasn’t one of them. It just felt too ‘kiddy’, I know Battletoads was silly and puerile, but it still had a bit more of an edge to it. The animated show completely missed that and tried to market itself to ten and twelve year-olds, when it should’ve been aimed towards mid-teens. It just wasn’t Battletoads, it was a poor quality Saturday morning cartoon that really miss the style and tone of its source material.

Battletoads in Battlemaniacs

1993 saw the latest title in the franchise hit the shelves. Originally released on the SNES before seeing a port to the Master System. So this time, the toads are invited to the Gyachung-La fortress in northern Tibet. Professor T. Bird shows them T.R.I.P.S (Total Reality Integrated Playing System), a new virtual reality game system made by the Psicone Corporation. While demonstrating the system’s digital world, a dragon riding pig leaps out kidnaps the daughter of the Psicone Corporation’s CEO, Michiko Tashoku. Zitz steps forward to defend her, but is knocked out and taken into the virtual world, along with Michiko. Of course, the Dark Queen appears and has teamed up with new villain, Silas Volkmire in a plan to turn the real word into the virtual world in the VR system. So it’s up to Rash and Pimple to enter the game to stop the Dark Queen and Silas Volkmire, as well as save Michiko Tashoku and their friend, Zitz.

BATTLETOADS BATLLEMANIACS

Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is pretty much more of the same as the previous titles… which isn’t a bad thing. The obvious graphic upgrade form the NES to the SNES is really quite impressive. The Battletoads themselves are far better animated and bring a lot of humour to the game. The levels are bigger, more colourful and varied than ever before. As with the previous games, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs offers a lot of variation for each level, yes there is the classic scrolling beat ’em up stuff, more vehicle action and platforming too. It really is typical Battletoads, in many ways, this feels more like a remake or reworking of the original game over an all new title. Many of the levels are the same, just with slight variations on the NES game. And yes, in typical Rare style, the game is harder than a male porn star on Viagra. It also featured two different endings.

Interesting little tit-bit to finish up on. The Master System version was heavily advertised and even reviewed in gaming magazines at the time here in Europe… but ultimately, it was never officially released. For some unknown reason, the European version was scrapped at the last minute. The Master System port did eventually see a release in 1996… in Brazil. It was released unfinished too with several glitches and other notable issues. You can watch a play through of the Master System version right here.

Battletoads/Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team

I really was a bit of a Battletoads fan in that early-mid nineties era. You know what else I loved? Double Dragon, in fact Double Dragon was the first arcade game I ever finished in the eighties, and I became obsessed with the game since. So when this crossover was released in 1993, seventeen year-old me was beyond excited. You got to chose from five playable characters, any of the three Battletoads and Billy and Jimmy Lee from Double Dragon. The story this time has the Dark Queen team up with the Shadow Warriors gang from Double Dragon to take over the universe. So, of course, the toads step up to stop them along with help from the Lee twins.

BATTLETOADS DOUBLE DRAGON

This one is a brilliant mixing of the two franchises. Both series are represented fairly with in-jokes and references a-plenty. Plus from a gameplay perspective, both Battletoads and Double Dragon get treated with respect. There is the variety of levels from the toad’s games, vehicle stuff and abseiling, etc, but there’s a bigger focus on the beat ’em up action too that feels more Double Dragon. Battletoads/Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team is one of the best titles in both of the respective franchises and still well worth playing today too. It’s worth noting that this was the first time all three Battletoads could be selected in a game. If you hadn’t noticed, all the previous games, one (or more) of the toads was always knocked out/kidnapped and needed saving within the story.

Battletoads Arcade

For me personally, Battletoads didn’t get any better then this. Released in 1994, Battletoads Arcade was… wait for it… and arcade game. The first time the toads had seen a game not released on consoles (not counting the Rare Replay version). I’m not even sure of there’s a story this time around. I know the Dark Queen is back and you have to stop her… but I’m not exactly sure what you are stopping her from doing to be honest. It’s an arcade game and they rarely had stories, they were about eating up as many coins from punters as they could and Battletoads Arcade was no different.

BATTLETOADS ARCADE

Being an arcade game over a console one meant that developers, Rare, were able to push the boundaries a bit more. Battletoads Arcade is far more bombastic and visceral than any of the other games. The graphics are bigger and bolder than ever before, there’s blood and gore, the humour is pushed further and so on. There’s even some cleverly hidden in plain sight swearing using puns. Then from a gameplay perspective, this is balls to the wall action. There’s still a hint of the trademark Battletoads variety with the levels, but the emphasis here is most definitely on the fisticuffs more so than ever before. Battletoads Arcade is stupidly ridiculous, loud and brash, fabulously over the top… and I adore it. It also features some really great graphics and ideas using sprite-scaling and perspective. Even now, Battletoads Arcade is a very attractive, good looking game. If there is one negative, then it is that you never fight the Dark Queen, the toads main adversary, nor does she make an appearance (aside from a small cameo on the third level). She’s mentioned in the game, she’s even said to have been defeated in the ending… but you never see or directly fight her. Why was there no Dark Queen? Still, this is Battletoads as its finest. If they ever want to try and make another Battletoads cartoon (I can dream), then this game is where they should draw their influence from. 

And that was it for the Battletoads, they had no more games for twenty-six years… until…

Battletoads

All of which brings up right up to date with this latest game in the franchise. After two and a half decades, Rash, Zitz, Pimple and the Dark Queen are back! Now, before I get into this one, I just want to address something. There’s been some harsh fan-backlash over the art style of this new game. Just to be perfectly  clear… I really don’t like it either. It just doesn’t feel or look like a Battletoads game. You know what it looks like? A bad Saturday morning kids cartoon… and we know how that turned out for Battletoads (see above). Nope, I really, really do not like the art style of this game. But, there is more to a game than how it looks, and its gameplay is what’s important here. So, the game it quite literally just a few hours old. I stayed up late to give it a play at midnight this morning and I put in a few more hours while finishing this article and did manage to complete the game.

Well, I guess the big question is, was it worth the twenty-six year wait? One of those years being a delay as the game was originally planned for a 2019 release. It’s also worth noting that this is the first Battletoads game not developed by series creator, Rare. Instead, the IP was outsourced to Dlala Studios

BATTLETOADS 2020

Was it worth the wait? No. This game is terrible. It’s not even a proper Battletoads game. One of the things I’ve always praised the series for is its variety, but at heart, the franchise is still a scrolling beat ’em up. Here, the main action and draw of the franchise takes a back seat, don’t let the carefully edited trailers fool you as there is very little beat ’em up action here. What Battletoads is, is a collection of very poor mini-games. In fact, most of the game is everything except beat ’em up action that the franchise is famed for.

Yes the game starts out with classic Battletoads action, but it soon just becomes the kind of shallow flash games you used to find on Newgrounds.com. You’ll be playing a dull twin-stick shooter, a platformer with a hippy-like character, then there’s even a mini-game that has several mini-games within one mini-game… the part when your ship breaks down and it needs to be rebooted. Trust me, when you play it, you’ll know just how tedious it is. Oh and there’s even a bit where you take photos with a phone. There’s annoying button pressing/QTE games, press switches to make a circuit connections and more mediocrity. This is not Battletoads! Rock, paper, scissors… there’s a rock, paper, scissors mini-game… more than once. Even Alex Kid is shaking his head in disbelief at that.

BATTLETOADS 2020 FIGHT

But even if you can make it through the utterly boring mini-games and do stick it out for the beat ’em up action (what little there is), even that is horrendous thanks to some really obnoxious controls. Some buttons have to do double duty… but neither of the shoulder buttons are used at all. That makes no sense, you’ve got two perfectly good buttons not doing anything, but then force multiple button presses to do something that should take only one button. That’s bad game design. The toads also control really sluggish too, the way they walk is as if they’re knee deep in treacle. There is a run button and when that is used, that’s a much more playable speed… but you have to keep the run button pressed and on top of the other buttons you need to press (as mentioned, some having to do double duty), the control scheme of the beat ’em up section is just so backward and counter-intuitive. I’ve not played a game with such a convoluted and awkward control scheme since Red Dead Redemption II.

I know I said before I didn’t like the art style, and I don’t. But here, it’s more then just not looking nice, it ruins the game when the action does kick off. The screen just becomes this blur of garish colours and it’s really hard to make out what is going on. I mean…

BATTLETOADS 2020 MESSY

… what is going on up there there? Who is doing what to who? How many enemies are there? It just looks like a three year-old has eaten too much sugar and thrown up on the screen. 

You want to know how slow the game is? Remember the infamous turbo tunnel section in the original? That fast-paced, action packed, heart-pumping level that gets the pulse racing and the sweat pouring? Well it’s back here… only it’s really, really, really slow. Now given a third person view, you can see the obstacles coming from half a mile away and it moves along at a snail pace. Don’t believe me? Let me put it this way, the target time to finish the level is over eight minutes…. eight fucking minutes to play turbo tunnel? I was falling asleep trying to get to the end.

BATTLETOADS 2020 TURBO TUNNEL

Battletoads is a sluggish, dull, convoluted, disjointed, disappointment. A confusing mess of a game where the developers clearly had no idea what kind of game to make, so just threw everything in… and it’s a mess  It’s a very average flash game, the kind of thing you’d d’load for free on your phone and delete it after ten minutes of play. How/Why this was delayed I don’t know, it could’ve been knocked up in Flash in three months.

I pushed my way though to the end and uninstalled the game, quickly loaded up Rare Reply so I could cleanse my soul with some Battletoads Arcade. The game is ‘free’ on Game Pass and if curiously really gets the better of you, I guess you can give it a go. But to pay hard earned cash for this is an insult. By far the worse Battletoads game made so far… okay, so it’s not as bad as the LCD thing, but for a ‘proper’ console game, this is terrible.

You want to know how to do a classic beat ’em up revival? Go play Streets of Rage 4. I don’t even like the Streets of Rage franchise at all and I am very much a Battletoads fan, but I have to admit that Streets of Rage 4 got right what Battletoads go so very wrong. I’d rather watch that awful animated pilot again then play this game, that’s how bad it is. 

Other Battletoads Bits

A Battletoads game was in development for the Game Boy Advance sometime in the early two-thousands, but the title was ultimately cancelled. Very little is known about the game, whether it was going to be a sequel or an remake of the original, or even an all new title is anyone’s guess. But, a ROM for the unfinished version was leaked onto the interwebs and some gameplay can bee seen right here.

The toads have made several cameos elsewhere too. The 8-bit homage action/platformer Shovel Knight features Rash, Zitz and Pimple as a boss fight, but only for the Xbox and PC versions of the game. It’s actually a great and quite lengthy fight that pays respects and offers many references to the original game. Check out a play-through of the fight right here.

Rash became a playable character in Rare’s popular fighter Killer Instinct, well in the 2013 reboot anyway. Rash also appears as a landmark in action figure form in the new survival game on the Xbox, Grounded. Of course, the original and the arcade games were both included in the amazing Rare Replay collection from 2015.

RASH GROUNED

Overall, Battletoads has been a solid franchise…. until this new game. The original NES game still holds up almost thirty years later. That Double Dragon crossover was and still is brilliant. It’s a shame that licencing issues prevent it being re-released. This new game is an atrocity to gaming. It’s a shame they messed up this badly, took what was a good franchise and screwed over the fans like that to create a flash mini-game instead. I was hoping that the new Battletoads could be a revival for the series, but it’s a nail in the coffin. We fans will never see a Battletoads Arcade 2 now.