GamesMaster: A Retrospective – Series Three, Part One

Well this one has been a long time coming. I’ve been a bit side tracked what with other writing projects going on… oh and there’s been that pandemic whatsit-thing too. But I’m now cracking on with the next two (maybe three) series of GamesMaster for this very lengthy retrospective. Coming off the back of series two, there’s been a few changes. Dominik Diamond is gone, to be replaced with Dexter Fletcher for series three. The format is slightly changed too. Series three, like two before it also has a whopping twenty-six episodes to cover, so I will once more, be doing this in two parts.

Series Three

So okay, onto why Dominik is gone. It really depends on who you ask, but the general consensus about the reason why he left is because the show was to be sponsored by McDonald’s (see the main image up there ^^^), even Dominik himself has gone on record as saying as much. That sounds a bit stupid to me, I think there were other behind the scenes reasons why Dominik left. Not that it matters now, almost thirty years after the fact. At least Auntie Marisha is back. As for the in-universe reason Dominik Diamond is gone. Well if you remember the end of series two, the oil rig set blew up. The story is that Dominik died in that explosion. Patrick Moore is still on board as the titular GamesMaster though, now with a pet cat.

DEXTER

Beginning airing on the 9th of September, 1993 and being set in a fictional GamesMaster Academy (filmed in Oxford Prison), Dexter wastes no time in getting things underway. The format mixes things up through this series. Most episodes stick to the old format (first challenge, celeb challenge, final challenge), but now there’s this first challenge knockout round, then the final challenge… well final. Think of the episodes now being mini-tournaments in each episode. Some episodes spotlight just one game and offer other special challenges. Though the episodes still contains reviews, features, etc. Oh and the celebrity challenges are also back too. So, with that out of the way, on to episode one.

Episode One

This is one of those spotlight a single game episodes and Mortal Kombat (SNES) is the game of choice here. Dexter plucks four random contestants from the audience.  Chris, Paul Martin and Akbur have to fight it out to the death in a classic best of three round battle. Up first is Chris playing as Scorpion and Paul as Kano. Chris gets off to a cracking start and destroys Paul in a matter of seconds to win the first round. The second round is a little bit closer and Paul gives as good as he gets… until he corners himself and Chris as does a cheap, Johnny Lawrence ‘sweep the leg’ thing over and over and takes Paul out with ease. Going to the infamous ‘Finish Him’ finale and all Chris has to do is pull of a gruesome fatality, but just settles for a standard uppercut instead. Not that it would’ve really mattered as they were playing the heavily censored SNES port. As this the first of the longer, single episode challenges format that series three favours, Chris does not win a golden joystick, but he does get through to the next round. Next up are Martin as Rayden and Akbur as Sub-Zero. A bit more of an even fight here, though both still seem to be clueless on how to play Mortal Kombat. After a few exchanges of punches and kicks, Akbur takes Sub-Zero to victory. Martin comes back fighting by spamming Rayden’s special flying  move thing. Akbur puts up a good fight, but looses the second round. At one round a piece, it’s onto the decider where Martin continues to spam that flying move of Rayden’s, but Akbur gets wise and smacks him down to win the round and fight… again, no fatality. Akbur moves onto the next round.

MORTAL KOMBAT SNES

Up next are the first reviews of this new series. Of course, game of the episode, Mortal Kombat (SNES & Mega Drive) gets reviewed and it scores an 81%. Street Fighter II Turbo (SNES) is next  and it lands an 86%. Then it’s onto the feature, a look at the half a million dollar ad campaign for the console ports of Mortal Kombat. Interviews with the actors who played the digitised characters of Mortal Kombat and a look at how they were inserted into the game. Celebrity challenge time and we have another Mortal Kombat (Mega Drive) fight, only this time Daniel Pesina who played Johnny Cage and Elizabeth Malecki as Sonya Blade fight in character as their in game characters… in the game! Seeing as these guys are actors and not gamers, I’d expect the fight to be a bit poo. But its not, they offer a better fight and look at the game than the previous contestants. The first round goes to Sonya, but it’s a close one. Round two is a bit more one sided and won by Sonya again… and she even finishes with a fatality. Elizabeth Malecki (Sonya Blade) wins the first golden joystick of series three.

MORTAL KOMBAT ACTORS

Yup, its time for some hints & tips form GamesMaster. I bet you can’t guess what the first game is… Mortal Kombat (Mega Drive). Then Street Fighter II Turbo (SNES) and Starwing (SNES) get some help too. Next up is the final of the Mortal Kombat (Mega Drive) challenge. Previous winners, Chris and Akbur go head to head. Chris favours Scorpion while Akbur plays as Sub-Zero. Chris gets battered in the first round and it begins to look very bleak for him. Then he stages a genuinely impressive comeback with only a slither of health left to win the first round. The second round goes to Akbur who wins without breaking into a sweat. So it all comes down to the final round. It’s a close one but Chris as Scorpion goes on to win and he even does the (suspiciously edited) fatality too. Chris wins the golden joystick.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode Two

GamesMaster wastes no time kicking things off with Ultimate Soccer (Mega Drive) for this episode. A special multi-player challenge with eight contestants playing in two teams of four, England lead by Woody and Scotland captained by Jim. Playing indoor, five-a-side football, the winning team goes into the finals where they will be split into four players and enter an every man for themselves play-off. Jim’s Scotland team are all over England in the opening and soon tuck a goal away to lead 1-0. England begin to fight back after the goal, but the first half ends 1-0 to Scotland. England start the second half strong and do get a shot on goal, but struggle to score. The game ends with Scotland winning 1-0, so Jim and his team go through to battle it out for a golden joystick later.

Review time and Rock n’ Roll Racing (SNES) gets a worthy 86%. Thunderhawk (Mega CD) manages a decent 81%. Cartoony scare-fest Haunting (Mega Drive) is given 75%. The feature looks at the terrible Newton MessagePad from Apple… think of it as a really, really early iPad. Basically, it was a glorified, digital Filofax and if you don’t know what a Filofax was, it was something pompous twats used a lot in the eighties to make themselves look even more of a pompous twat. OTT beat ’em up King of the Monsters 2 (Neo Geo) is the game selected for the celebrity challenge and eyepatch wearing singer Gabrielle is the celeb, who takes on non-celeb Nadine. It’s a best of three fight and the duo spend more time smashing buildings than each other. Then, after a bit of dancing around the screen, a fight actually breaks out and Nadine takes round one. In the second round, Gabrielle nabs a power-up that can give her the edge in the fight… and completely wastes it, Nadine pounds Gabrielle to win the fight and the golden joystick.

BOMBERMAN SNES

GamesMaster dishes out more help as Striker (SNES), Alfred Chicken (Game Boy) and Kirby’s Adventure (NES) are all made a bit easier. Then it’s the final and the winning Scotland team from the first challenge are back but now split into individuals. Chris, Jim, Jamie and Ross go head-to-head on  Super Bomberman (SNES), the classic, ‘blow the crap out of your mates’ game. Chris manages to get himself trapped between his own bomb and someone else’s and is the first to go BOOM! Ross walks blindly into an explosion and goes BOOM!, leaving only Jim and Jamie to fight it out. After a set time, the play area gets smaller and Jamie just walks straight in to the enclosing screen and dies… doesn’t go BOOM! Jim wins the golden joystick.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode Three

This one is a special sports themed episode and kicking off the first challenge is James Pond’s Crazy Sports (SNES). Three peeps take this one on, Chirag, Sally and Darren take it in turns to get the fastest time on the Leap Frog race. Chirag puts in a great performance, hits an obstacle, but still puts in a very impressive time of 22.82 seconds. Up next is Sally who gets off to a fantastic start, but it all goes wrong in the last half of the race as she hits several hurdles and manages a time of 26 seconds dead. This challenge is actually qualifier to get through to the next round and only the top two fastest times go to the final. So Darren doesn’t have to get the fastest time, just beat Sally’s 26 seconds. He gets a time of 29.90 seconds… which is actually really surprising as he even used a cleverly hidden cheat to get a lengthy head-start. GamesMaster has a few words to say about Darren’s cheating. Given the big man’s penchant for handing out cheats in the show, he doesn’t actually berate Darren for cheating, but he does send him to the furnace for cheating and still losing. Fair I feel. Anyway, both Chirag and Sally go through to the final.

Street Fighter II (Mega Drive) gets 92%. Space Ace (SNES) scores a still too high 70%. Then Garfield Labyrinth (Game Boy) gets a scathing, but justifiable 28% in the review section. No feature this episode, so it’s straight to the celebrity challenge and the start of a three part Gladiators special challenge. Beat ’em up ClayFighter (SNES) is the game and it is Shadow and Falcon from the then popular TV show Gladiators to take it on. Shadow plays as Blue Suede Goo while Falcon favours Helga in this best of three rounds fight. Shadow kicks some clay-ass and takes the led in the first round, until Falcon begins to fight back and evens the score… but Shadow manages to land the final blow to win the first round. Then, despite putting up a good fight in the second round, Falcon loses, making Shadow the winner. No golden joystick though as this was just the first round, with the next rounds of this Gladiators special challenge coming over the next couple of episodes.

CLAYFIGHTER SNES

GamesMaster dishes out more of his gaming knowledge to us mere mortals. Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure (Mega Drive), Gunship 2000 (Amiga) and Another World (SNES) get helped. Final challenge of the show, Chirag and Sally are back and go up against each other at International Tennis Open (CD-i). It’s a best of three games match and the first game seems to go Chirag’s was as he leads 40-15. But Sally brings it back to take advantage point and goes on to win the first game. Chirag destroys Sally in the second game, making it one game a piece. It’s the final game and Sally gets revenge for the last game and whitewashes Chirag to win the game, match and golden joystick.

Golden joysticks won – 1

Episode Four

Mr. Nutz (SNES), one of those ‘cutesy’ platformers that were everywhere in the nineties is the game for the first challenge. Alister, Tom and Amber have to finish the opening level, fastest two go through to the final. Amber goes first and she takes a hit quite early on, given the fact it’s three hits and game over, that’s not good. She makes her way to the end and takes another hit from a bee, leaving her only one more chance. Thankfully, that hit was right at the end of the level, and Amber finishes in 24 seconds. Tom is up next and he makes it through the level without taking a single hit, that’s the good news. The bad news is he didn’t use the run button and finished with a time of 30 seconds. Alister blisters through the level with a time of 22 seconds. Tom goes home while Amber and Alister go through to battle it out in the final challenge. In all fairness, I think Tom was only about six years-old while the other two were early teens at least.

MR NUTS SNES

Review round-up and Lamborghini American Challenge (Game Boy) gets 86%. Pac-Attack (SNES) is awarded 81%. Then Fantastic Dizzy (Mega Drive) scores 75%. This episode’s feature takes a look at the Philips CD-i portable console which cost a whopping £1200 at launch. No, I had no idea these things existed either and £1200 in 2020 money would be around £2500… for a handheld console! No wonder they died out. So it’s celebrity challenge time again and the continuation of the Gladiators special from the previous episode. Cobra and Scorpio battle on ClayFighter (SNES) again with Cobra playing as The Blob while Scorpio uses Ickybod Clay in this best of three rounds bout. The first round is quite tight.. for a couple of clueless button mashers, but Scorpio takes the win. Then, in round two, Cobra gets pummelled and Scorpio goes through to the final.

A few games prove to be a tad too tricky for some. Players of Mr. Nutz (SNES), Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Game Boy) and Cool Spot (Mega Drive) get some much needed help. So it’s final time as Amber and Alister go toe-to-toe at Muhammad Ali Heavyweight Boxing (Mega Drive) is the game as the two peeps have to punch each other in the face until one of them falls down or two rounds are up. At only thirty-five seconds into the first round, Amber knocks Alister down, he does recover, only to be knocked down again with just seven seconds left of the first round. Alister is literally saved by the bell as round one ends. Round two sees Amber throwing punches like crazy, Alister manages to stay up this time around, not that it matters as it goes down to points after the second round and given Alister’s poor performance in round one, he loses badly. Amber wins the golden joystick. I’m not sure just how fair this last challenge was. Amber got to play as Muhammad Ali in a Muhammad Ali boxing game, while Alister had to play as a no-name challenger. I’m pretty sure Amber had a pretty huge advantage there.

Golden joysticks won – 1

Episode Five

GamesMaster picks a corker for his first challenge, Street Fighter II Turbo (SNES). Four fighters step up to this one, Tim, Carl, Ramone and Poojah. Tim and Carl are up first with Tim playing as M. Bison and Carl with Ryu. Tim decimates Carl in about ten seconds and with a perfect too, quite embarrassing. Carl does a lot better in round two… well he manages to land two hits before losing, that’s a lot better then no hits I guess. Tim goes through to the final. Next up is Ramone and Poojah, playing as Blanka and Balrog respectively. This one is a bit of a closer fight… a bit, but Ramone does end up wining the first round. Round two is an even closer fight, but Ramone still wins. So Tim and Ramone will face each other in the final.

SMART PC

It’s review time and the awesome Flashback (SNES) gets a 86%. Sonic CD (Mega CD) scores 78%. Then Captain America and The Avengers (SNES) gets itself a very understandable 43%. The feature looks at something called the IDA Home Automation soft and hardware, presented by Auntie Marisha. It was this smart home thing before the ‘smart’ prefix even existed. You could plug it into your PC and program it to control household appliances (turn you TV on, program it to turn on your coffee machine in the morning and so on). No idea if it worked well or not as I can’t seem to find any evidence that it even existed, except for it being looked at in this feature. Anyway, it’s celebrity challenge time again and the final of the Gladiators special. Shadow and Scorpio from the last two episodes are back to face off against each other at ClayFighter (SNES). Shadow playing as Bad Mr Frosty and Scorpio favours Tiny in a classic ‘best of three’ round fight. Round one is very close with both contestants giving as good as they get, but Shadow manages to land the knockout blow and wins round one. The second round is even closer, it really gets down to each of them only needing one more hit. Scorpio does the deed and wins round two. So it goes down to the final round, which starts of pretty close, but Shadow does some serious butting mashing to win the challenge and the golden joystick.

SHADOW WINS

GamesMaster throws out more hints & tips and he asks for questions for beat ’em ups only. A cheeky chap gives GamesMaster some sass, asking for help without using manners and GamesMaster politely tells him to go away. You just don’t talk to the big man like that. Muhammad Ali Heavyweight Boxing (Mega Drive) has a secret revealed. Sassy boy comes back and asks for help again, for GamesMaster to dismiss him once more. Tuff E Nuff (SNES) is offered some help next. The yes, he’s back for a third time and this time, sassy boy offers his apologies and finally gets hints for Mortal Kombat (Mega Drive). So now it’s final time, Tim and Ramone take each other on at Art of Fighting (Neo Geo). Tim playing as Jack with Ramone as Lee. There’s a lot of jumping in round one and not much else, as Tim spams the flying kick move and takes the first win. Round two isn’t much different as Tim (once more) spams the flying kick and wins the golden joystick in the very dull final.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode Six

Force your opponent to the edge of the screen racer, Micro Machines (Mega Drive) is the first challenge and taking this one on are Steve and Adam, who have to race mini-speedboats around a bath. Steve takes every point and whitewashes poor young Adam to win this one, with pretty much no issues. Given the fact Adam didn’t even score a single point, GamesMaster sends him to the furnace as punishment for such a poor performance.

This episodes reviews are Robocop Versus Terminator (Mega Drive) which scores 86%. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (SNES) gets given 75%. Then Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES) gets a worthy 90%. Feature time and we get to look at the Atari Jaguar console ahead of its release. Not that they needed have bothered as it was shit. A quick mention of the ‘GamesMaster All Formats Team Videogames Championship’ is next, more on that later. The Utah Saints are the celebrities up for the next challenge. WWF Royal Rumble (SNES) is the game and Jez Willis and Tim Garbutt of the band have to grapple with each other until only one stands. Jez plays as Razor Ramon and Tim uses Randy Savage. It’s painfully clear that neither of them have any idea how to play as they just keep running up and down the ring… very occasionally landing a blow. Tim eventually wins when Jez knocks himself out by running into the railings outside of the ring. What a fight!

WWE SNES

Yup, it’s GamesMaster sharing his knowledge up next, throwing out more tips. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (SNES),  Jungle Strike (Mega Drive) and Mystic Quest (Game Boy) are all given a GamesMaster boost. Welcoming back Steve from the first challenge, he has to finish the first level on Super Q*Bert (SNES). GamesMaster gives Steve one minute and three lives to finish this challenge. Steve loses one life by jumping of the edge of playing area, he soon loses another by hitting an enemy… but he does manage to finish the challenge regardless and wins the golden joystick.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode Seven

Cosmic Spacehead (Mega Drive) is the game to get things started on this episode. No, I’ve never heard of it either, but if you remember the classic Combat (Atari 2600) game, that’s basically what this is. A top-down combat game where players have to throw custard pies at each other to win. Taking this one on are Liam and Mamuro (from Japan who only ever says ‘no trouble’) and the first to score ten points wins. It all starts off rather slow with neither Liam or Mamuro wanting to get in on the action. Liam scores a hit, Mamuro scores a hit, Liam scores a hit, Mamuro scores a hit. The fact that each player starts with a score of five and each hit lands a point, but also removes a point from whoever is hit means it just keeps going back and forth and basically staying at five points a piece for a while. Mamuro does manage to trap Liam and lands plenty of hits, taking the score to 9 – 1, needing only one more hit to win. Liam scores a point back… honestly, this one really drags on and on. I’ll just skip to the end, Mamuro (‘no trouble’) wins to take on the final challenge later.

COSMIC SPACEHEAD

Up for review this time are Gunstar Heroes (Mega Drive) gets 90%. Jurassic Park (SNES) is given 81% and Out to Lunch (SNES) cooks up 78%. Feature time and we get a look at the ReelMagic video card (PC) that allowed for full video playback on your computer… this was ground-breaking in 1993. As the video card came bundled with a copy of the adventure game Return to Zork, we also get a little look behind the scenes of the making of the game. Funny men Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis are the celebrities taking on the next challenge. Lucky & Wild (Arcade) is the game, one of those light-gun, on-rails shooters… but with a twist as this throws in driving to the mix. One player drives the car while the other shoots. Steve and Hugh have to finish the first level and take out the drug dealer boss at the end. This is actually quite an exciting little game, Starsky and Hutch inspired, tearing though the city, driving though shopping malls and jumping over hills action. After getting off to a pretty good start, Steve and Hugh find themselves ambushed by a bunch of bad guys and lose a lot of health. Smashing through scenery while shooting up henchmen in cars proves too tricky and the pair lose. GamesMaster is not happy about their performance, and so sends them to the furnace for six months of hard labour.

LUCKY AND WILD

Mega-Lo-Mania (Mega Drive), Super Star Wars (SNES) and Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (SNES) all get some help provided thanks to GamesMaster’s encyclopaedic knowledge. Mamuro is back to try an win the golden joystick, the game is a special exclusive first look for GamesMaster, Jungle Book (Mega Drive). Mamuro is given just one minute to score 4000 points. Getting off to a good start and using secret areas to score some points, it looks like Mamuro will have ‘no trouble’ in wining this one. But with only 15 seconds left on the clock, he only has a score of 2600. He runs out of time, well short of the target. No golden joysticks won in an episode for the first time this series.

Golden joysticks won – 0

Episode Eight

Super Pang (SNES) is this episode’s first challenge, whoever survives the longest wins. The Mother and Son duo of Sonya and Paul go up against each other with Mummy Sonya playing first. Mummy does okay at first. Shooting balls and managing to last a while, but comes a cropper with 47 seconds left on the clock. Paul up next and confident he can beat that 47 seconds. He not only beats the time, but also finishes the level (which he didn’t need to do), just to rub a bit of salt in the wound. Son beats Mother to go through to the final.

It’s review time once more and Cannon Fodder (Amiga) gets a very worthy 90%. Top Gear 2 (SNES) is given 81%. Then Dune II (Mega Drive) is given a very spicy 92%. Feature time and GamesMaster Live is back and given a big ‘ole plug. Celebrity challenge now and Eastenders star, Sean Maguire takes on non-celeb Steve on footie game, Striker (SNES) and it’s a classic game of two halves. Sean playing as Ireland while Steve plays as England and both players put up a good fight. There are tackles and shots a-plenty, despite the action, the first half ends with no goals. The second half is much of the same, more action and neither side seemingly better than the other… until Steve’s England tucks away a fantastic goal. Sean comes back fighting and does have a few shots on target, but nothing gets past by the time the final whistle blows and Steve wins the golden joystick. 

GAMESMASTER

GamesMaster returns to offer more of his hints & tips. Mummy Sonya from the first challenge is back asking for help with Super Pang (SNES), GamesMaster accompanies his help with a little cheeky remark about her lack of gaming skills. Dr. Franken II (Game Boy) and Day of the Tentacle (PC) are also helped out. Paul is back for the final challenge and he takes on Robocop Versus Terminator (Mega Drive). Paul has to finish the first level of the game in less than 1 minute. In 25 seconds, Paul loses a life, not that it matters much as long as he finishes the level in time. With 15 seconds left, he loses another life, but manages to get to the boss at the end of the level. With just 4 seconds left, Paul makes short work of the end of level boss… but he still needs to exit the level, which he does with just 1 second to spare. Paul wins the golden joystick.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode Nine

GamesMaster chooses a belter for the first challenge, Super Mario All-Stars (SNES), a collection of four classic Mario games remastered. For this challenge, GamesMaster has picked three of the games and Sam, Steven and Samuel are the three contestants to take them on. Each of the three challengers pick one of the games at random, Sam gets Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (though the art for Super Mario Bros. 2 is shown), Steven takes on Super Mario Bros. 3 and Samuel has to tackle Super Mario. Bros. GamesMaster has selected a level on each game and the aim is simply to finish the level on that particular game in the fastest time with only one life. Sam goes first and takes it easy, a slower approach while trying to avoid losing her only life. She finishes the level in 59 seconds. Samuel is up next, he goes for a more direct and faster approach, using the run button as much as possible. Making a few very risky jumps and Samuel is close to the ned of the level with 37 seconds on the clock… when he mistimes a jump and falls into a pit, failing the challenge. So all Steven has to do it take his time and beat Sam’s time of 59 seconds to go through to the final. Given a much more tricky underwater level, Steven finishes with a time of 49 seconds and secures his place in the final. I’ve always had a problem with this challenge as each player gets a different game and different level, that’s not exactly fair really. 

MARIO SNES

Another review round up as Young Merlin (SNES) gets 86%. Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge (Mega Drive) is given 70%. Then The Fidgetts (Game Boy) is scored 63%. No feature this time and just another mention of the GamesMaster Live event. So it is celebrity challenge time once more and Dexter promises a special twist. British rapper Monie Love is the celeb and she goes up against two randomly picked audience members, Andy and Steven. Cool Spot (SNES) is the game chosen by GamesMaster… who’s cat has a flea problem. Monie is given one minute to score as many points as possible, then Andy and Steven have to try to beat that score on their one minute attempts. The twist to this challenge is that whoever wins gets to go out on a date with Monie. Monie sets the bar with a score of 4450 to beat. Andy goes first and beats Monie’s score with a 4550 in 45 seconds. Steven up next who only manages a score of 4100 before his time runs out. Andy wins not only that date with Monie, but also the golden joystick.

F1 MD

More poor unfortunates seek out help from the GamesMaster once more. Out to Lunch (SNES), Fantastic Dizzy (Mega Drive) and Super Strike Eagle (SNES) are all given some much needed love.  F1 (Mega Drive) is the game for the final challenge and GamesMaster gives Steven 1 minute to finish a lap on the famed Monaco circuit… just like real life! Steve crashes into a billboard at the side of the track and loses a big chunk of time. He tries to make up for the lost seconds, but fails to take the chequered flag before his time runs out. No golden joystick here.

Golden joysticks won – 1

Episode Ten

This one is a very special episode as it was broadcast live from The Future Entrainment Show event, 1993, held at Earls Court. A live show, what could go wrong? The first challenge is on classic platformer Aladdin (SNES) and contestants have just 45 seconds to collect as many diamonds as they can. Taking this one on is Susie, Paul and Jamie who are pulled up on stage from the live crowd. Susie is first and puts in a very poor performance, grabbing just two diamonds. It almost looked like she was purposely trying to avoid them. Paul is up next and he also manages to only nab two diamonds. I swear, these kids must be doing this on purpose, I mean, they actually move away from very easy to collect diamonds. So up last is Jamie and he must be able to do better than two. I mean, there are two in a line that are easy to get near the start in the opening. Jamie grabs two within the first few seconds and two more a little later, making his total four. He still missed some easy ones, but Jamie didn’t need them as he wins the golden joystick regardless.

No reviews in this episode, instead, live Dexter introduces himself doing a pre-recorded tour of The Future Entrainment Show, looking at various stands and attractions. There is still the celebrity challenge though as British boxers Barry McGuigan and Nigel Benn take on Sonic Blast Man (Arcade). This game has featured on the show before, each boxer punches the pad three times, greatest total damage done wins. Barry McGuigan is up first and scores 123 +126 + 126 = 375. Nigel Benn dons the glove next and punches 137 + 136 + 131 = 404. Nigel ‘The Dark Destroyer’ Benn wins the golden joystick.

NIGEL AND BARRY

Even with the live episode going on, there’s still time for some pre-recorded help from the GamesMaster. Exhaust Heat (SNES), The Addams Family (Mega Drive) and Black Hole Assault (Mega Drive) get some attention. So it’s onto the final challenge of this special live episode and Dexter promises something ‘mega’ (his word). GamesMaster choses Street Fighter II Turbo (Mega Drive) and six people are picked out from the crowd. No idea what their names are as Dexter rushes through them before they run out of time for the show, can’t edit live TV can you?. Anyway, the six have to do battle against each other as Ryu vs Ken in this ‘mini-one round, winner stays on tournament-thing’. It’s all rather hectic as it is live and they have to reset the game after every round and reselect the characters for each fight (no idea why they didn’t just set it up for more then one round and swap players after each one). Watching the stage-hands desperately scramble around to get the game set up after every fight, all while Dexter does his best at filling the gap with pointless spiel is quite hilarious. Anyway, one of the challengers wins two rounds and is the winner who stays on… no idea if he won a golden joystick or not because they run out of time and have to end the show before the challenge ends. Live TV eh?

Golden joysticks won – 1

Episode Eleven

After the chaos of the previous live episode, it’s back to ‘normal’ and GamesMaster picks Puggsy (Mega Drive) for the first challenge. Two members of the audience are dragged out to take on this special GamesMaster exclusive level to light a giant candle. Kelly and Jim are the pair to take this on and it is fastest to finish the level wins. The thing is, Dexter says how this is an exclusive level designed for GamesMaster and no one has ever seen it before, Kelly is the first of the two to play… and yet she knows exactly where to go and what to do? Anyway, Kelly (who supposedly had never played this level) makes great progress solving the puzzles and getting the candle lit before heading for the exit. Aside from a few minor mistakes, she finishes the level in 1.26. Jim, next on the controller, blisters through the level and lights the candle in just 57 seconds, well ahead of Kelly… but he just sits there thinking he’s finished when he actually needs to exit the level to end the challenge. The camera cuts to Jim after a while and you can clearly see him mouth ‘shit!’ releasing his mistake, he makes a dash for the exit and even with his faux pas, he still finishes in 1.16, and goes through to the final. 

Aero the Acro-Bat (SNES) gets 86%. Lethal Enforcers (Mega CD) is shot down with a 63%. Then Skyblazer (SNES) scores a 75% in the reviews. Feature time and we get to take a look at a new PC file idea called ‘Saving and Recognition’, which would allow you to play multiple games at once. The idea being that you could have more than one game installed on your PC and flick between each game at will… kind of like what we can do now on modern consoles with digitally installed software. Dexter then ponders on seeing Mario and Sonic in a game together, as if that would ever happen. So then, it’s onto the celebrity challenge and nineties TV babe, Dani Behr is the lass for this one. Monkey Mole Panic (Arcade) is GamesMaster’s game of choice, think and updated and digital version of the classic Whac-A-Mole. Dani goes up against James and it’s the person to score the most points who wins. James goes first and bashes a fair amount of moles, even gets a few bonuses along the way. He manages to finish with a score of 1920, a pretty poor attempt and certainly very beatable. Dani goes for it and at the halfway point, already amasses a score of 1620, only 300 short of James’, still plenty of moles to whack too, Dani can’t lose. Finishing with a whopping 4280 points, Dani spanks James to win the golden joystick, as if being spanked by Dani Behr is a bad thing.

DANI MOLE

More games are in need of help next. Morph (Amiga), Rock n’ Roll Racing, (SNES) and Wolfchild (Master System) are all covered by GamesMaster. Then it’s the final challenge and Jim is back to play Batman Returns (Mega CD). GamesMaster has Jim playing the driving stage and he has to defeat the end of level boss. Now, Jim can just drive as fast as possible and avoid all the enemies as they are not important to this challenge, he just has to get to the end… but he choses to try and take out everyone he sees instead, wasting valuable time. Still, Jim does manage to get to the finial boss and take him out to win the golden joystick.

Golden joysticks won – 2

Episode Twelve

One of the most annoying and pretentious 16-bit platformers ever is the first challenge, as Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind (Mega Drive) is the game of choice. Given 1 minute or 1 life to collect as many yarn balls as possible are James and Ian. James wastes little time in finding secret areas to help bump up his total. Unfortunately, he takes a hit and dies before the minute is up, but he did grab 66 yarn balls before he met his demise. Ian follows pretty much the same route as James and soon has himself 66 balls and with 10 seconds still on the clock too. No problem here as he grabs two more, taking his total to 69 (dude) and Ian goes through to the final.

BUBSY

Massively underrated platformer, Plok (SNES) scores a criminally low 69%. The Lawnmower Man (SNES) gets a stupidly high 86%. Seriously, Plok gets 69% but The Lawnmower Man is given 86%? Anyway, the game that started it all, FIFA International Soccer (Mega Drive) scores 95% in the reviews. An update on the previously mentioned ‘GamesMaster All Formats Team Videogames Championship’ is the feature and out of over 4000 applicants and via various gaming challenges, they have been whittled down to a small teams and will battle it out later in the series. Oh and one of the teams is headed up by some cocky, young unknown kid called Simon Amstell…

SIMON AMSTEL

So it is, of course, celeb challenge once more and cricket star, Liam (son of Ian) Botham takes on Matthew. The game is Graham Gooch World Class Cricket (Amiga), given only six balls each, whoever scores the most runs wins. Liam playing as Australia bowls first while Matthew as England bats. There are a few nice hits by Matthew, but Liam is all over him with his fielding and after the six balls, Matthew manages a beatable eight runs. They swap over and now it’s Liam’s turn to bat. Going down to the last ball and Liam has seven runs, needing two more to win, he hits it short and chances a run, but is out as the bails fall thanks to some quick thinking fielding. Matthew wins the golden joystick.

Time for more gaming help from the big man. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Mega Drive), Battletoads & Double Dragon – The Ultimate Team (NES) and ClayFighter (SNES) get the GamesMaster treatment. Ian returns from the start of the show, hoping to get his hands on a golden joystick. His challenge is on the awesome Jungle Strike (Mega Drive) and Ian has to protect and escort the POTUS to the White House and only one life too. Ian uses the ‘ole noodle and goes ahead of the motorcade to take out the bad guys before they can do any damage. He has no problem in getting the POTUS to his lovely house making the challenge look way too easy and wins the golden joystick with little effort.

Golden joysticks won – 2


That’s the halfway point, continuing series three in the next part and things get changed up again, format wise once more. Now before anyone mentions… twenty-six episodes in this series and episode twelve isn’t halfway, there is a reason for that as part two begins.

Total golden joysticks won – 18

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.

Evolution Of F1 Games 1974 – 2020

Formula 1 as a sport turns seventy years old this year. That’s quite a momentous occasion to celebrate. I used to be a huge F1 fan, mainly through the eighties and nineties with Ayrton Senna being my favourite driver. Then, the blackest race weekend that was Imola  94 happened and for me, F1 died. Still, I’ve always enjoyed playing F1 games even if I really don’t follow the sport itself much anymore.

So I thought, to celebrate seventy years of Formula 1, that I would look at how F1 games have evolved through the years. From the first ever F1 game right up to the latest in 2020. Now, I’m not going to cover every single F1 game as there’s quite a lot of them and when you get into the latter games, they’re really just yearly updates. But I will be looking at some of the more notable F1 games to see how they’ve changed over the decades. Plus, a lot of the early games may not have been officially F1 licensed, but it’s very clear they were definitely F1 influenced. There will be links aplenty to gameplay footage of many of the games, a big thanks to the various YouTubers who complied the gameplay.

So anyway, here we go on an F1 trip through gaming, spanning six decades.

BORN 1950

The first ever Formula One race was held in 1950 at the famed Silverstone circuit. Italian driver, Emilio Giuseppe Farina would go in to be crowned the first official F1 World Champion. I don’t have to go back to the fifties (especially as video games didn’t exist then) for the first ever F1 game, but what could be considered the first F1 themed game is still very early in gaming history.

The Seventies

1972’s Pong is often considered the first ‘proper’ video game. It’s certainly the one game that kick-started the whole arcade and video game revolution in those early days. Back then, gaming was in its infancy and games were very simple. Perhaps the first F1-ish game could be Speed Race from 1974.

SPEED RACE

Developed and released by Tatio in Japan (Midway in the US where it was called Wheels), Speed Race offered some very simple gameplay. You controlled an F1-like car on a fast vertically scrolling road. Given just ninety seconds to make it as far along the road as you could. Along the way, you’d have to weave in and out of other racers. The arcade cabinet itself was a stand up thing with a steering wheel, simple hi-low gears and an accelerator peddle. The game itself was very basic and may not have offered much in the way of F1 thrills, but it’s cabinet design screamed F1. I believe that Speed Race was also the first ever vertically scrolling video game.

Also from 1974 was Gran Trak 10, developed and published by Atari. This wasn’t scrolling like the previous game, but instead had you racing around a single screen track. Gran Trak 10 was a bit more in-depth compared to Speed Race. It was another stand up cabinet with peddles to accelerate and break, but this one offered multiple gears, including a reverse. There was only one track available in the game and you had to race through checkpoints to extend your limited time. Do as many laps of the track as possible before the time runs out.

A lot of those early seventies racers followed a similar gameplay style. Simple weave in and out of traffic, or complete laps within a time limit. Titles such as Sprint 2 (it wasn’t a sequel, the number just reflected the number of players) was the first in a long running franchise Night Driver and F-1 were further early examples of such games with similar ideas. The latter using a unique miniature diorama and projector system to create the illusion of racing over standard graphics. But it was perhaps Sega’s Monaco GP from 1979 which could be considered the first ‘proper’ F1 game.

MONACO GP

Where as the previous games mentioned may have had an F1 art style to the cabinet with some F1 questionable influence, Monaco GP was unmistakably Formula 1… mostly. This one played very similar to Tatio’s Speed Race, it just had fancier graphics and a few new gameplay additions like night driving, ice roads, etc, all those things not seen in Formula 1 . Still with that vertical scrolling, race against time thing while dodging other cars. It certainly wasn’t a revolution in gameplay, but it was definitely trying to engage the F1 fans of the day. I mean, it was called Monaco GP, named after one of the most popular and famous races in F1 history. Plus, once again the cabinet was F1 themed especially the sit-down version.

The Eighties

If the seventies was the infancy of the Formula 1 game, then the eighties were its teenage years. The first few eighties F1 games still carried the same ideas and concepts from the seventies, not too much evolution really going on. Then 1982 happened and Namco released Pole Position. Just reading that title should spark off memories of many an older gamer and if it didn’t, this screenshot will:

POLE POSITION

Pole Position was perhaps the defining Formula 1 game of the eighties. Playing from a third person perspective, you raced around a (for the time) accurate recreation of the F1 Fuji racetrack. Before you could race, you’d have to ‘prepare to qualify’, as the digitised speech would tell you. Put in a good time for a lap and then it was on to the actual race. Here it was you against several CPU controlled opponents in a championship race. Overtake other cars, try not to explode by crashing into billboards and come first. Pole Position was the first F1 game to depict a real race track and also the first to feature a qualifying session and actual racing instead of just overtaking endless opponents. The following year in 1983 and Namco followed up with Pole Position II. Very much more of the same with some minor graphical refinements. Plus it added three more tracks, taking the total to four. Though the gameplay between the two games was identical.

By now, and thanks to the success of Namco’s two Pole Position titles, F1 racers were fast becoming hugely popular in the arcade and even at home. The rise of cheaper hardware saw consoles and computers in the abodes of avid gamers around the world. 1983’s Chequered Flag for the ZX Spectrum was an early example of a F1 simulator. You got to chose from three F1 cars, two called Ferretti and McFaster (Ferrari and McLaren) and race around six representations of real F1 tracks and four fictional circuits. There were no other cars to race against, just you trying to put in fast laps… oh and you had to avoid on-track hazards like oil slicks and broken glass, just like real F1? Chequered Flag also featured a pit-stop game mechanic, the first game to feature pit-stops where you could repair and refuel your car.

Grand Prix Manager from 1984 on the ZX Spectrum was the first ever F1 management game. Putting you in charge of a Formula 1 team. Chose your difficulty, number of races, sponsor, driver, hire mechanics and then it’s away you go. You have to keep an eye on your team, the car, drivers as you advance through the season. Grand Prix Manager was basic, very basic stuff, but it did the job well enough, for the first ever F1 management title.

GRAND PRIX MANAGER

By the mid eighties, there was a great mix of arcade style racers, more simulation style F1 games and even a few hybrids of the two. Atari released Super Sprint in 1986, a sequel to their long running Sprint franchise. 1985’s Formula 1 Simulator, despite it’s name, was less a simulator and more a Pole Position clone for the home market, even though Pole Position saw several home ports. Pitstop and Pitstop II (1983 and 84 respectively) offered some simple but fun F1 action for home computers. The latter of the two, me and my brothers spent many an hour on racing each other on our Commodore 64.

The late eighties began to see the rise of the officially licensed Formula 1 games. Satoru Nakajima F-1 Hero for the Famicom from 1988 was one of the first licensed F1 games. It saw a release outside of Japan on the NES as Michael Andretti’s World GP, which actually made little sense as Michael Andretti wasn’t an F1 driver, he raced in IndyCar. Though he did eventually race in F1 for the 1993 season. Anyway, the game was one of the first to offer a playable full F1 season, complete with all the real races and ‘drivers’… though pseudonyms were used. Then there was Nigel Mansell’s Grand Prix for home computers from 1988. This one was much more simulation-like and even allowed you to try full race distances. It also offered recreations all of the sixteen Formula 1 circuits of the time.

FINAL LAP

Arcade titles such as 1987’s Continental Circus and Final Lap, 1988’s F-1 Dream and 1989’s Super Monaco GP (the sequel to the Sega classic Monaco GP from 1979) began to push just what arcade games could really do. Buttery smooth and fast gameplay with exciting race action to boot. But then, as the eighties began to end, a real game changer was released. Namco had already established themselves a great arcade racer developers, but in 1988, they unleashed a genuine beast of a game. Winning Run was was a revelation in arcade racers, F1 themed sure, but it was the titles amazingly impressive 3D shaded polygon graphics that really blew people away. Giving you a choice of two difficulties (cars) but only one track. You have to complete a qualifying lap before going up against twelve other racers to fight for first place. Winning Run opened the doors for 3D polygon racers, both in the arcade and at home.

The Nineties

Well this is it, the decade where Formula 1 game really took hold and began to show just how good they could be.  There were more F1 games released in the nineties than any other decade. The arcade format began to grow a little tired of the Formula 1 racers and started to look at other racing disciplines for games to be based on, but the home market was a very different story, you could hardly move for F1 themed games for home consoles and computers. It was 1991 when one of the finest Formula 1 games ever was released with Formula One Grand Prix.

F1GP

At the time, Formula One Grand Prix, from game designer Geoff Crammond was THE definitive F1 game for home computers. Its impressive 3D graphics were highly detailed for the time and the game offered a very, very in-depth, simulation representation of the 1991 season. Though the game was not officially licenced by the FIA, Geoff still made the game as authentic as he could. All the correct tracks were there and so were the drivers and cars… kind of. The driver helmets and car liveries were in the game, but the names were not. However, Geoff was smart enough to add an editing tool in the game so you could change the names with ease. There is so much I could write on this one F1 game alone (like it’s online and modding community that still exits) that this article would go on for days and I have so much more to cover… like this game’s sequels. But I will finish by adding that this game was the one that not only got me into racing some, but also F1 as a sport much more deeply. Yeah I watched and enjoyed F1 before this, but it was all the car set-ups, track info, etc from this game thatmade me want to understand the sport more.

Two of the biggest F1 drivers in the sport of the era got in on the whole licensing thing in 1992 when they had games released bearing their names and likenesses. Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing saw you able to play a full F1 1992 season as the mustachioed one himself. This was much more arcade-like but still offered things like pit-stops, minor car set-ups, tyre choices and the like. Even the greatest racing driver of all time ever got in on the action with Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II from Sega, a licensed version of their long running F1 series of games. This one was based on the 1991 season and Ayrton himself even helped with the development of the game. He not only allowed the use of his likeness, but Ayrton pops up though the championship offering you driving advice and tips for each track, all of which was written by the man himself. Plus he helped with how the cars should handle and even designed two fictitious tracks for the player to drive on, Ayrton even had a few voice samples in the game too.

SENNA SUPER MONACO GP II

There really were a slew of Formula 1 games in the early nineties, they were everywhere. Titles like F1 Pole Position, F1 Hero MD, Formula One World Championship: Beyond the Limit, F-1 Sensation (which was actually fully FIA licenced), F1 Grand Prix: Nakajima Satoru, F1 Circus Special: Pole To Win to name just a few, were all released between 1990 and 1994. I just need to give special mention to F-1 Grand Prix Part III from 1994 on the SNES. One of my favourite F1 games on any console at the time as it melded a really great racing game with some light management elements, allowing you to create your own F1 team.  But 1995 saw Geoff Crammond return and vastly improve on F1 game when he released the sequel, Grand Prix 2… only this time, fully licenced by the FIA. All the races, drivers (with the exception of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger for obvious reasons), and teams for the 1994 Formula 1 season were wonderfully recreated and the simulation feel of the previous game was exceed ten-fold.

But it wasn’t all about heart pumping racing as Grand Prix Manager and Grand Prix Manager 2 saw releases in 1995 and 1996 respectively. Two very good and solid F1 management games full of options and variables as you take your chosen F1 team onto victory over a ten year career. To be honest, the games do feature some very questionable AI and overall simplistic gameplay, not exactly in-depth for management games, but still offered some good gameplay along the way.

GP MANAGER 2

1996 saw the release of Formula 1. Perhaps one of the most important F1 games to ever be made. This was the genesis of the F1 games we have today. Formula 1 featured the most accurate representation of the sport to date at the time. Fully licenced cars and drivers, tracks designed using actual real-life data and telemetry, TV style presentation including Tag Heuer timings. It even had commentary from the legend that was Murray Walker. This wasn’t quite as simulation heavy as Geoff Crammond’s games, but it was the first F1 game to get the whole feel and presentation of the sport right.

Formula 1 as a sport already had a rich history worth exploring in the nineties, and one game broke from the norm of trying to make the most recent season the star of the game. 1998’s Grand Prix Legends took the sport back to the sixties, in particular, the 1967 Formula 1 season. The tracks were tighter, the cars didn’t have the safety features and the sport on the whole was far more dangerous an this game tried to capture that. A full on simulation of what it would’ve been like to drive and F1 car back then, Grand Prix Legends was brutally realistic, a trait that turned many gamers off and the title didn’t sell well. But it is a game sim fans look back on with fondness.

GP LEGENDS

As the nineties came to and end, the F1 games did not. F-1 World Grand Prix, Formula One 99, Monaco Grand Prix: Racing Simulation 2, Grand Prix World and Official Formula One Racing were all released in the last coupe of years of the decade. And believe me, I’ve not even covered half of the F1 games released in this decade.

The Two-Thousands

As the next century began, F1 licenses became more strict and the games began to thin out in an quality over quantity kind of way. That’s not to say there still wasn’t a good few F1 games released. Kicking things of right was that man again, Geoff Crammond, with the third of his brilliant F1 games.

Grand Prix 3 followed the 1998 season. Yes, that is two years out of date. Though it was given an update in 2001 for the 2000 season via an expansion pack. Much like Geoff Crammond’s previous F1 titles, this one once more offered a fantastic racing experience and some in-depth simulation options. Electronic Arts got in on the F1 act using their famed EA Sports (it’s in the game) label, releasing multiple titles.  F1 2000, F1 Championship Season 2000, F1 Manager, F1 2001, F1 2002 and F1 Career Challenge all offered a more acradey feel to the racing over a deep simulation. Except for F1 Manager which was obviously a management game.

F1 Championship Season-2000

Grand Prix Challenge from Infogrames was a decent attempt at an F1 title, though it strived to be more simulation-like, it never really felt like it. Williams F1 Team Driver from 2001 put you in the driver’s seat of a young driver trying to make it into F1. Starting out in  go karts before Formula 1600cc, Formula 3, and finally onto Formula 1. An interesting title that was doing things a bit different from the usual Formula 1 games a the time, but overall, it was pretty disappointing. 2002 saw Geoff Crammond release his final F1 game with Grand Prix 4. This was pretty much more of the same from Geoff, still a good F1 racer indeed. But the problem was that other games on the market were beginning to get better and better, meaning these, once standout games no longer stood-out.

Formula One Arcade

Formula One Arcade from 2001 did exactly what the title suggested. It was a much more arcade-like game wrapped up in the official F1 licence. As far away from a simulation as you could get as the races featured power-ups like speed-boots, large high-grip tyres and even shields. This was all about high-octane, OTT racing.

By 2004, F1 games started to just became yearly update affairs. Sony secured the official F1 licence back in 1996 and made plenty of games from it too. Fourteen games in total released between 1996 and 2007. Other studios made F1 games, sure, but by the mid 2000s, Sony monopolised the market. Then in 2008, Codemasters were the ones to pick up the licence, though they didn’t use it proper until the next decade. There were still a very small handful of Formula 1 games released. For instance, F1 2009 was published by Codemasters, but developed by Sumo Digital. It was in 2010 when Codemasters released and developed their first Formula 1 title.

The Twenty-Tens And Twenty-Twenties

Yup, from this decade onward, Codemasters had exclusive rights to the official F1 licence. Meaning only they could release ‘proper’ F1 games. I don’t think it’s really worth going into all of their titles as they are basically yearly updates over the previous game. From F1 2010 to the most recent F1 2020, Codmasters have given us a decade of solid F1 simulations. Their F1 games over the last ten years have been great and easily offer the best Formula 1 racing around. All fully licenced with all the tracks and drivers representative of their respective years. I reviewed the most recent game only a few weeks back too.

F1 Race Stars

Codemasters did release a little curiosity of an F1 game back in 2012 that wasn’t part of their F1 sim games. F1 Race Stars was a more kart-racing-style arcade game, Full of power-ups, weapons and crazy track layouts that included jumps and even loops. Far and away from the simulation games, F1 Race Stars was actually really good fun and it even featured the official FIA licence too. Yup, you could drive as any of the twelve teams and twenty-four drivers from the 2012 season around OTT tracks inspired by the real circuits.

Other games have offered F1-like racing in some of their games. Rockstar introduced F1-style cars and races in GTA Online and the Forza Motorsport series has also included  Formula 1 cars and tracks. As too does the Assetto Corsa franchise. Though in these cases, they are either fictional cars or historical ones due to Codemasters having exclusive rights to the current F1 season.


And so, that’s pretty much it. Formula 1 games from the dawn of the sub-genre in 1972 right up to today in 2020. From simple arcade racers to more in-depth, realistic simulations and even management titles. F1 has seen a real evolution in terms of games that has spanned six decades. As much as I love the Codemasters F1 sims, it’s a shame they have exclusivity over the licence. I’d like to see more studios making F1 games like back in the eighties and nineties. I’d like to see more variation on the sport too instead of these yearly updates. Codemasters’ own F1 Race Stars was good fun and showed you don’t have to always make 100% serious Formula 1 titles.

I’d love to see more historic F1 games. Why not relive the career of a legend like Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher? Start out in karts, before moving through the ranks of the  Formula Ford 1600 Championships, Formula 3 before moving into F1? There could be a real-life comparison kind of thing where the actual career of Senna/Schumacher is going on in the background and you have to try your best to match it. I’d like to see more F1 management games, a sub-genre greatly underused. I’d like to see more acradey-like games and so on, titles that push the imagination of F1 beyond the simulation genre. There’s so much scope to be had with the sport, yet all we are getting are yearly updates of (admittedly) great F1 sims and cameo roles in other driving games.

A Boy’s Best Friend Is His Mother – Psycho: A Retrospective

So Psycho is sixty years old today, and as it’s one of my all time favourite films, I’m doing a huge celebration. I’ve already looked at the making of the film, and now, is time to look at the Psycho franchise… all of it. A quick, obligatory SPOILER warning right here, as I’m going to go through each film, including the endings and then offer my view. Plus I’m not just covering the films here, I’m doing the films, the TV shows, spin offs, and the books… everything. This is going to be a big one! Any and everything Psycho I can find will be covered in detail. So, you have been warned… SPOILERS ahead! I repeat, this is going to be a big one. You’d better go grab a glass of milk and sandwich.

First up, the movies…

Psycho

Psycho Poster

Originally released sixty years ago today on the 16th of June, 1960. The film tells the story of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a young and attractive real-estate secretary from Arizona who steals $40,000 (over $350,000 in today’s money) from a client of her boss. Her aim is to use the money to start a new life with her lover, Sam Loomis (John Gavin) who lives in California. Marion sets out on the long twelve hour, seven-hundred and fifty mile drive from Arizona to California, stopping off to trade in her car with Arizona plates for a second-hand California plate car. Then gets back on the road for California and Sam.

During a heavy rain storm at night, Marion pulls into the Bates Motel with the idea to spend the night and leave to see Sam fresh-faced in the morning. At the motel, she meets proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). After Marion checks into the Motel, Norman offers to make a light meal for her up at his house behind the motel. But an argument kicks off between Norman and his mother, Norma, so Norman instead suggests they eat in the parlor at the back of the motel office. Here, Marion learns that Norman’s mother is mentally ill and how she can’t live without Norman’s help. The two chat and Marion begins to feel guilt over her stealing the money.

Now in her motel room, Marion decides to take the $40,000 back the next morning instead of running away with Sam. She hides the cash in a newspaper which she leaves on the nightstand before taking a shower. Que one of the most famous scenes in cinema history and Marion is stabbed to death in the shower by Norman’s enraged mother. Norman discovers the grisly crime scene and sets about cleaning it up to protect his mother. After carefully wrapping Marion’s body in the shower curtain, he puts the body in the trunk of Marion’s car. Ensuring Norman has covered everything, he also puts all of Marion’s possessions in the car… including the newspaper with the stolen $40,000 hidden in it (unbeknownst to him).

Marion Shower Scream

Norman then drives the car, body, money and all to a swamp at the back of the motel and pushes the car into it. Norman stands there nibbling away on candy corn as he watches the car and Marion’s body sink into the swamp. Everything has been taken care of and Norma Bates’ heinous crime has been covered up.

A week passes and Lila Crane (Vera Miles), Marion’s sister arrives at Sam’s place in California looking for her sibling. Sam, of course, has no idea where Marion has gone and he had no idea that she was on her way to come and see him a week ago. This is when private investigator, Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) turns up asking questions about Marion and the missing $40,000 to both Lila and Sam. After some local investigation, Milton learns that Marion checked into the Bates Motel last week… under a different name. He also learns that Norman has his elderly and ill mother staying in the house. So Milton gets on the phone to update Lila and Sam on what he has learned and says he will try to talk to Norman’s mother before heading back. Milton decides to let himself into the house and tries to talk to Mrs Bates for any info on what happened to Marion. As he is climbing the stairs and nearing the top, mother makes another appearance, and so does her knife as she stabs the private investigator and he falls down the stairs to his death.

Psycho 1960 Milton

After not hearing back from Milton Arbogast, Lila and Sam go to the local sheriff to tell him about all that has been going on. They tell the sheriff that Norman and his mother must have had something to do with the disappearance of Marion and possibly why Milton has not checked in with them. The sheriff is quick to dismiss their theory because Norman’s mother has been dead for the last decade. The sheriff suggests that Milton must have lied to Lila and Sam about Marion and that maybe he plans on chasing Marion to get hold of the stolen $40,000 himself. Neither Lila or Sam are convinced by the theory and decide to check out the motel themselves. While Sam distracts Norman, Lila sneaks up to the house wanting to talk to the said to be dead Norma Bates. Norman becomes suspicious, knocks Sam out and goes up to the house himself. Lila makes her way into the fruit cellar and discovers Norma Bates sitting in a chair… and yes, she is very much dead. Leading to one of the biggest twist endings ever, as it is revealed that Norman Bates dug up his dead mother, preserved her as best he could via taxidermy and developed a very disturbing relationship with her corpse. He would often dress up as his own mother, hold conversations with her and of course… kill as his own mother.

So Norman is arrested over the murders of Marion Crane and Milton Arbogast as well as the murders of two other women previously killed off screen. Now, ‘mother’ has taken over Norman completely as she sits there in her cell knowing people are watching her, as she decides to prove that she’s no killer by not harming a fly…

Psycho 1960 Norman

There really is very little that I can say about Psycho that hasn’t already been written a thousand times over. It’s one of the greatest films ever to be made. It’s writing is sharp, the pacing is terrific, the direction is astounding and the music is etched into my memory forever. Then of course, there is the acting. Janet Leigh is mesmerising as the young secretary who has a moment of weakness and steals $40,000. A stupid mistake that will lead to her bloody and brutal death. Then you have Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, and an instant classic film character was born. His charm and personality really help to sell the sheltered and shy Norman. A troubled young man who’s life has been destroyed by the death of his mother. Alfred Hitchcock made some amazing pictures in his career, but none of them came close to the genius of Psycho. With how much he had to sacrifice to get the film made, you can really feel his passion on the screen.

Psycho II

Psycho II Poster

Released just a short twenty-three years after the original in 1983. Psycho II is set twenty-two years after the events of the first film in 1982. Norman Bates is released from the mental institution he has spent the last two decades in, now having being ‘cured’ of his insanity. He now accepts that his mother is dead. However, some people are not happy that Norman is being released, one such person is Lila Loomis, Marion’s sister who eventually married Sam Loomis, Marion’s boyfriend from the first film… and she thinks Norman is insane? With some help from his psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia), Norman settles back into his home at Bates Motel.

The motel is now being managed by Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz), that’s one less thing for Norman to worry about. So he sets about getting back to a normal life, he lands himself a job at a local diner. An older lady, Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) is one of the few people around who believes Norman is cured and should be forgiven, in fact it was Emma who landed Norman the job at the diner. After work, Norman meets waitress Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) who is having boyfriend troubles. Mary has been thrown out of her boyfriend’s place and has no where to stay. So Norman offers up a room back at his motel, FOC… free of charge. Back at the motel, Norman learns that his new manager, Warren has been renting out rooms to drug users and prostitutes. An angered Norman sacks Warren and sets about getting Bates Motel back up to scratch by running it himself. A young and pretty female staying, Norman running the motel? History is beginning to repeat itself.

Soon after, Norman begins to receive phone calls and notes from mother, just as things were going so well for him too. After being sacked, an upset Warren Toomey picks a fight with Norman and he (Norman) suspects that it is Warren who has been making the calls and leaving the notes in order to try to drive Norman back to his old ways. However, as Warren is packing to leave the motel for good, he his stabbed and killed by a mysterious figure in a dress. It seems that mother is back. Sympathising with Norman, Mary decides to stay at the house in a guest room permanently and help Norman get the motel back into shape. As Norman starts renovating his motel, he begins to hear voices coming from the house and even sees mother standing in the window of her room. He goes up to the house to investigate, enters mother’s room and finds it untouched from twenty-two years ago, nothing out of place as if it’s still being used by her. Norman hears another noise that lures him up to the attic, and he is locked in. Meanwhile, downstairs, two teenagers break into Norman’s house and go into the fruit cellar to do what teenagers do… smoke dope and knock boots. Realising someone is in the house, the teenagers try to escape, only the boy is stabbed to death. The girl gets away and tells the police. Mary comes home to find Norman locked in the attic and lets him out, they go back to mother’s room to find it in a state of disuse, not like it was before. Norman begins to think he’s going insane. The sheriff arrives and questions both Norman and Mary about the killing of the boy, Mary says they were both out at the time for a walk. Norman begins to worry that it was him who killed the boy, that mother is starting to take over again. But Mary reminds him that he was locked in the attic, so he couldn’t have killed the boy. Someone did.

Psycho II Norman Phone

Mary calms Norman down and insists he is innocent, she then goes down to the motel to try to find a bottle of booze to make an Irish coffee. Waiting in the parlor of the motel is Lila Loomis and it turns out that Mary is her daughter. It was Lila and Mary who had been making the phone calls, leaving the notes and messing around with mother’s room, dressing as mother, etc. Between them they were trying to convince Norman he was going crazy again and force him to kill, in an attempt to get him re-committed to the mental institution. An act of vengeance on Lila’s part for the death of her sister. However, Mary has genuinely become friends with Norman and honestly believes he couldn’t have killed anyone, she thinks there is someone else involved, someone else who killed the the boy. Dr. Bill Raymond learns that Mary is Lila Lommis’ daughter and tells Norman all about it and their plan to try to drive him insane. Norman only half believes it and is convinced that someone else is involved. If Lila and Mary were only trying to goad Norman into killing but he never did… then who is the real killer? Norman suggests that it could be his ‘real mother’, whatever that means. Mary tells Norman that she wants nothing to do with the whole ruse anymore, that she wants to help Norman and not harm him. Lila however is a different story, she still wants Norman re-committed.

Lila Loomis is in the fruit cellar and she tries to retrieve her hidden mother costume that she has been using to fool Norman. But a mysterious figure steps out of the shadows and kills Lila, so she couldn’t have been the killer either. The police dredge the swamp at the back of the motel and find Warren Toomey’s car and his body inside it. Just how Norman hid the bodies in the first film. Mary tells Norman he should run away otherwise he’d be arrested and taken back to the mental institution. Just then, the phone rings and Norman answers it, it’s mother. Norman begins to talk to his mother, so Mary listens in on another phone and there is no other voice, but Norman keeps talking to mother regardless. Norman begins to debate with mother about killing Mary, so Mary runs off to the fruit cellar to get the mother disguise, complete with a large kitchen knife, to convince Norman that mother can’t be on the phone if she is standing in front of him. Dr. Raymond turns up and grabs Mary dressed as mother, believing she is the killer and trying to send Norman insane again. Mary and Dr. Raymond struggle and the good doctor is killed by Mary when she accidentally plunges the knife into his chest. In Norman’s unstable state, he sees Mary/mother standing over the dead body of Dr. Raymond and believes that she is back. Norman finally snaps and tries to kill Mary/mother to stop her once and for all. Mary runs away to the fruit cellar and finds the body of Lila. Now Mary thinks that it was Norman who killed Lila, so she raises the knife in self-defense. The police turn up, see Mary seemingly trying to kill Norman and assume she is the killer. Mary is shot dead by the police. So everything is wrapped up… except for the fact that neither Norman or Mary were the real killer of course.

Psycho II End

Later, the old lady from the diner, Emma Spool turns up at Norman’s home and Norman had been expecting ‘someone’ too. She tells Norman that she is his real mother, that Norma Bates was her sister. Emma says how she gave Norman to Norma as an infant because she had been institutionalised. It was Emma Spool who was the killer, she was upset that people were picking on and trying to harm her son. So in response, Norman smashes her over the head with a shovel and kills her. Norman then carries the body upstairs to mother’s room and begins talking to her and her to him, as she barks at Norman to open the motel. The whole cycle starts anew and mother has taken over Norman once more.

Psycho II End Shot

You know, for a sequel to an all time classic and released over two decades since the original, this really isn’t too bad. In fact, it has some truly great moments. The whole plot of trying to fool Norman that mother is back is really well done. The tricks both Lila and Mary play on him are cruel, but they work. There are some great throwbacks to the first film (the opening is fantastic). But the ending, the last fifteen minutes or so are a bit, well crap. The whole retconning of Norman’s back story to make this random old lady who is only in the film for thirty seconds his real mother really annoyed me and seemed pretty desperate. It’s also lazy rehash of the first film but in reverse. In Psycho, it’s Norman Bates who is the killer, while the audience are led to believe it’s an old lady. In Psycho II, it’s an old lady who is the killer, while the audience are led to believe it’s Norman Bates. A really good main plot, but just falls flat in the end. But from a directing point of view, this is a very competent film. With Hitchcock dying in 1980, that means he had nothing to do with this one. Still director, Richard Franklin does a damn good job and still maintains a lot of Hitch’s quirks. This feels like a Psycho sequel and not just a cheap cash-in (last few minutes aside). Plus the fact that both Vera Miles as Lila Loomis and Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates returned adds a level of genuineness. Oh yeah, despite his death, Hitchcock still has a cameo in the film too.

Psycho III

Psycho III Poster

So in 1986, the next film in the franchise was released. Yes Anthony Perkins is back as Norman Bates, but he also takes on the role of director too. This one takes place a month after the events of Psycho II in 1982. So Norman has got the motel up and running once more, his ‘real’ mother, Emma Spool from Psycho II has now taken the place of his adopted mother, Norma, from the original Psycho… that role being a corpse. Oh and Norman is bat-shit crazy again, talking to his dead mother (Emma) and her talking to him… which is really him talking to himself. So with that confusing recap out of the way, on with the plot…

Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid), a young and mentally unstable nun attempts to kill herself by jumping from the bell tower of the convent. Instead, she accidentally knocks one of her fellow nuns to her death, and so Maureen is kicked out of the convent and renounces her nunship. Out in the hot California sun, Maureen is offered a car ride by sleazy musician, Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey), who is very protective of his guitar. After pulling over to get some rest, Duane puts the moves on Maureen and she freaks out. Duane kicks her out of the car and leaves her to her own devices. Duane pulls into the Bates Motel and meets Norman. Only instead of staying as a guest, Duane is offered the job as Norman’s assistant to help run the motel. Meanwhile journalist, Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) is writing an article on newly released serial killers. Tracy believes that Norman is killing again (he is) and wants to talk to him about his life and supposed rehabilitation. Tracy interviews Norman in the diner (from Psycho II), but he becomes distracted when Maureen walks in. She is young, blonde and pretty… very much like Marion Crane… oh and Maureen is also carrying a suitcase with her initials… MC. Norman has a flashback to him/mother murdering Marion in the shower. Maureen is looking for somewhere to stay and of course, the Bates Motel has vacancies.

Psycho III Maureen Duane

So Maureen ends up checking into the Bates Motel and crosses paths with sleazy Duane once more. Mother is angered that another young woman is staying in the hotel and goes off to kill her in the shower, just as with Marion Crane twenty-two years previously. Only Maureen has saved mother the job by slitting her own wrists. Norman is shocked out of the mother persona and attempts to save the dying girl, while the delirious Maureen mistakes the knife wielding mother as the Virgin Mary holding a crucifix. So Norman rushes Maureen to the hospital and says she can stay the the motel as long as she needs… FOC of course. The night and Duane picks up Red, a woman in a bar. The two head back to Bates Motel for a bit of the old mattress mambo. When Red says she wants more than just a one night stand, Duane kicks her out of his motel room. Leaving Red to make her own way home, she tries to call for a cab at a near by phone box… only for mother to stab her to death.

The next morning and a group of football fans, who are in town to watch the big game, check into Bates Motel. While elsewhere, Tracy still looking for information on Norman for her article and gains access into Emma Spool’s apartment, who by now in the timeline has been missing for several weeks. Digging around, Tracy finds a magazine with the phone number for Bates Motel written on it over and over and over again. So Tracy works out there must be a connection between the missing Emma Spool and the motel. Back the the motel, the football fans are getting a little rowdy from partying. But one guest, Patsy Boyle, the only sober one of the lot, is murdered by mother while trying to find a toilet to use. Norman soon discovers the body and hides it in the motel’s ice machine outside of the office. 

Psycho III Norman Sheriff

The next morning and the sheriff turns up to ask Norman about the missing girl, Patsy, from last night… while trying to cool down with some ice from the ice machine that hides her body. Tracy tells Maureen all about Norman’s disturbing past. A very scared Maureen decides to not stay at the motel, but instead stay with Father Brian who looked over her at the hospital. At the house, Norman learns that his mother’s body is missing. He finds a note from Duane saying that she is in cabin twelve, so Norman heads out to get his mother back. Duane tries to blackmail Norman into giving him money, otherwise he’ll go to the police and tell them all about the whole dead mother thing. Norman and Duane get into a fight, which Norman wins by beating Duane unconscious with his own guitar. Norman puts both the bodies of Pasty and the unconscious Duane into Duane’s car and uses his tried and tested method of disposing of them in the swamp. However, Duane regains consciousness and attacks Norman while he’s driving. The car ends up in the swamp as Norman escapes, but Duane is not so lucky and drowns. Tracy talks to the owner of the diner and learns that Emma Spool used to work there for the previous owner. So Tracy tracks the now very elderly ex-owner down to an assisted living facility and learns that Emma was institutionalised for murder.

Maureen manages to convince herself that Norman is no harm to her and hurries back to the motel to declare her love for him. As the two share a tender moment together at the top of the stairs, Norman hears mother shout at him about having a girl in the house. This startles Norman who, accidentally, knocks Maureen off balance and she falls down the stairs, killing her. An enraged Norman says he will get mother for this. This is when Tracy enters the house and finds Maureen dead and sees Norman dressed as mother holding a large knife. She tries to reason with Norman and explains what she has learned about Emma Spool. It turns out that Emma actually his aunt and in love with his father, but he decided to marry her sister, Norma instead. As an act of revenge and when Norman was just a baby, Emma kidnapped him and killed his father. After being caught, Norman was returned to his real mother, Norma while Emma was institutionalised for killing Norman’s father. Normans seems to listen and break free form the mother persona. Tracy finds Emma Spool’s corpse in mother’s bedroom and as Norman takes of the mother dress, he hears her order him to kill Tracy. Norman raises the knife, but instead of attacking Tracy, he stabs and cuts up Emma Spools body instead. Norman is most definitely insane and the sheriff turns up to arrest Norman. After the sheriff tells Norman they will lock him up forever, he replies, “But I’ll be free…I’ll finally be free.”, as Norman is taken away.

Psycho III end

This one is very typical eighties slasher movie territory. It lacks the suspense and taughtness of the previous two flicks and favors simple jump scares and blood instead. Of course Anthony Perkins is still great as Norman Bates, a character he was seemingly born to play. His role as director is pretty decent too and he throws in quite a few nods and references to the other films, but his direction lacks the subtly of the previous two flicks. The story is just a bit bland and uninspired, well it is the third flick. There are no real surprises, we know from the off that Norman is crazy again, we know mother is controlling him once more, so there’s no real mystery as to who is doing the killing. Yet when the murders do happen, they are disguised as if to try and hide who’s behind them, the face is hidden in shadows or you only see the hand holding the knife… but we already now it’s Norman. It’s all a bit pointless really. The retconning of Emma Spool being Norman’s real mother is reconnected itself to make Norma his real mother again. This makes a lot more sense to Norman’s backstory, but it seems awfully convoluted. Emma Spool should never have been made Norman’s mother to begin with to be honest. Overall, Psycho III is a decent horror flick, it’s just that aside from having Norman Bates in it… it’s not very Psycho. It lacks surprises, it lacks punch, it lacks suspense.

Bates Motel

Bates Motel 1987 Poster

So this one is a bit of a curiosity. It’s an official spin-off from the main franchise and released in 1987. Oh yeah, it’s also the only film from the original franchise where Anthony Perkins doesn’t play Norman Bates. Plus this was a made for TV movie with the idea for it to kick-start a Bates Motel TV show… that never happened. The film is set after the events of Psycho and tells an alternate history, not connected to the films. It focuses on Alex West (Bud Cort), who is admitted to an asylum after he killed his abusive stepfather. While in the asylum, Alex befriends Norman Bates (Kurt Paul). Years later and Norman dies, Alex learns that Norman has left him the Bates Motel and house in his will. When released from the asylum, Alex sets about re-opening the motel.

Long and very boring story short. Some bank manger tries to stop Alex from re-opening the motel by scaring him in a very poor Scooby Doo kind of way. Alex gets some help renovating the motel. There’s something about a suicidal divorcee, a portal to an alternate dimension (seriously) and some other terrible plot points I really couldn’t care about. The film ends with Alex setting up for the motel to receive more guests and the start of a TV show that never begun.

Seriously, this is utter shit. First, you don’t recast Norman Bates… never mind kill him off in a Psycho film. Second, you don’t force in supernatural elements in a Psycho film either. There’s some bullshit about an alternate dimension and lost souls of teenagers being trapped, etc. The acting is atrocious, way beyond terrible. The directing is a mess and the story is nonsensical that plays up for inane laughs. Just don’t waste your time on this one, not even for curiosity sake. But it can be found on YouTube… if you dare… to be bored and angered. Norman Bates himself only has literal seconds of screen time too.

Psycho IV: The Beginning

Psycho IV Poster

Released in 1990, this sequel/prequel is another made for TV movie that brings back Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates as well as writer of the original Psycho, Joseph Stefano. On the surface, this flick has a lot going for it. Flat out ignoring the terrible, previous Bates Motel monstrosity and bringing back the original’s writer too. Anyway, a radio show is having a talk on matricide, hosted by Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder) and accompanied by Dr. Leo Richmond (Warren Frost). They receive a call from someone called Ed… Ed is actually a rehabilitated Norman Bates using a fake name (Ed Gein?). Ed begins to tell his story of matricide, how he killed his own mother. The film jumps around the timeline telling Norman’s past from the 1940s and 50s through flashbacks as Norman discusses his life over the phone.

So, when Norman was six years old, his father died leaving him alone with his mother, Norma (Olivia Hussey). Norma’s mental health begins to decline as she seemingly suffers from schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. She starts to dominate and punish Norman for any and everything, no matter how trivial. She teases and torments Norman, then punishes him when he reacts. The two are happy living together alone in relative isolation. Then in 1949, Norma get’s herself a lover, Chet Rudolph (Thomas Schuster). Chet is an oafish brute who bullies and terrorises Norman (Henry Thomas), while Norma does nothing about it. Business at the motel begins to suffer due to a new interstate being built near by.

Chet continues his bullying of Norman until he can take no more. Driven by anger and jealousy that Chet had now become his mother’s main focus of affection. Norman kills both of them by lacing some ice-tea with poison. After the funerals, Norman steals Norma’s corpse and preserves it via taxidermy. Over time, Norman begins to develop a split personality and becomes mother in an attempt to suppress his guilt of murdering his own mom. Norman begins to dress in his mother’s clothes and talk to himself in her voice. Mother takes over and Norman kills two young women who try to seduce Norman. The two girls Norman is guilty of killing off screen, in the events of the first flick.

Psycho IV Young Norman

Back in the present day at the radio station and Dr. Richmond works out that this ‘Ed’ guy is actually Norman Bates. Norman begins to worry that he could kill again. He married a psychiatrist named Connie (Donna Mitchell) and Norman reveals that Connie is pregnant with his child. Norman says that he never wanted a baby out of fear that it will be born like him, insane. He tells radio host Fran that he fears mother could repossess him, killing Connie and the baby. The chase is on to try and track Norman down to stop him from killing his wife and unborn child. 

When Connie returns home from work, Norman takes her to the old Bates Motel and house. He does try to kill her with a knife, but Connie does her best to try and convince Norman that he chose to go insane, that mother does not control him and that their child will not be born like him, that there is always a choice. As Norman realises the truth, they he can chose not to be mother, he drops the knife. He then sets the house on fire to destroy it once and for all. Just barely escaping, Norman says that his is now free. Then there’s a pretty pointless stinger ending with a fade to black and a baby crying.

Psycho IV Norman

This flick really is a mixed bag. First things first, writer, Joseph Stefano has gone on record as saying that this film is a direct sequel to the original Psycho. A film that ignores every other sequel. There is no mention of the whole Emma Spool stuff from Psycho II and III. So none of the previous events happened in relation to this film. Looking at this film with that in mind, this is an interesting picture. I really liked the idea of a prequel looking at the younger Norman Bates and seeing exactly what happened between him and his mother. Henry Thomas does a decent job as the younger Norman Bates too. I honestly think that if this had just been a prequel, it could’ve really worked. It’s the whole framing and story with the radio show and older Norman that just does not work for me, which is a shame as again, Anthony Perkins is fantastic. I guess this is worth a look, just don’t expect anything amazing. Plus, there’s a couple of fun cameos to spot. First one is famed director John Landis and the second is Kurt Paul. Now, who is Kurt Paul you ask? Well he was Anthony Perkins’ stunt double in Psycho II and III… oh and he played Norman Bates in that atrocity that was Bates Motel.

Psycho (1998)

Psycho 1998 Poster

I guess it had to happen didn’t it? Yes Psycho was remade. Directed by Gus Van Sant, maybe remake is not really the correct term to use. This is a shot for shot re-enactment of the original Psycho film. Given this, it’s not really worth me going into the plot, because it’s the exact same plot just moved into a more contemporary setting. The characters are the same, the dialogue is the same (save a few modernisations), everything is the same, except more modern. Instead of stealing $40,000 in the original, Marion steals $400,000 in this version, etc. This is less a remake and more an experiment in recreating a classic movie. This film was slated when it was released and is still very much hated among Psycho fans. I’m a Psycho fan, so what do I think?

I just don’t have the hatred toward this film like others do. Is it as good as the original? Of course not, it’s not even close. Nothing will ever be as great as the original Psycho. But as a film in of itself, it’s a good horror/thriller. There are no surprises here if you already know the original as the plots are identical. But I fail to see how that is a problem when the plot is so damn good. Sure, Gus Van Sant is no Alfred Hitchcock, but his experiment is still a fun one and you can’t help but wonder what Hitch might have done differently if he had a bigger budget and fewer restraints for his version. The acting is decent and Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates is believable. Anne Heche’s take on Marion Crane works. Julianne Moore as Lila Crane comes across as a little more ballsy in this version and a lot less 1960s clueless female. Virgo Mortensen as Sam Loomis is enjoyable and William H. Macy as Milton Arbogast is actually bloody great. That’s about it really, there’s little more to say. Yes of course I much prefer Hitch’s version and that will always be my choice between the two films. But I really don’t mind this remake at all. It’s kind of nice to watch just to see how close it is as a re-enactment and just where things have been altered too. 

And so, with all the films covered, next the books…

Psycho

PSycho Book 2

Written by Robert Bloch and released in 1959. Just as with the film remake, I don’t need to dwell on the plot as they’re the same between book and film. There are a few minor changes. The book kicks off with an introduction to Norman and his mother right from page one. Marion is Mary in the novel and she’s also not in it for much either. The book is more violent. As an example, Marion in the film is just stabbed in the shower, in the book, Mary is beheaded. Norman isn’t the good-looking, young man he is in the film. Here he’s middle aged, over weight, sexually perverted and drinks a lot. Arbogast’s death is different. Then there are some minor differences with the structure of the story. But all told, the novel and movie are virtually identical otherwise.

I just got through re-reading Psycho last week and I still enjoy it very much. It’s a short book and you could get through it in one sitting easily enough. Bloch’s wording seems a bit outdated in 2020 (it is sixty-one years old), but Psycho is still a fantastic read. If you know the film, then there are no surprises here as the plots of both are the same. Still, a very worth while read though.

Psycho II

Psycho II Book

Okay, so this one needs a little explanation before I get into the plot… and I need to get into the plot. So when Hollywood came up with the idea to make a sequel to the movie, Robert Bloch offered his services as the writer. He pitched his idea… which was quickly dismissed. Instead, the studio wanted to make their own picture. And 1983’s Psycho II is what we got. A film I really quite enjoyed. But after being shunned by Hollywood, Bloch became annoyed, so he decided to expand on his pitch for a movie and write a sequel to his novel instead, which he finished and published before the film was released. Yup, this book, Psycho II is very different to the film Psycho II… very different…

So the story picks up twenty years after the events of the first book. Norman has been locked away in a mental asylum and been treated by his psychiatrist, Dr Adam Claiborne. Two nuns stop by for a visit and to talk to some of the patients. One of the nuns chats to Norman, under the chaperone of Dr Claiborne. However, the doctor is requested on the phone and leaves Norman and the nun alone. Of course Norman does what he does best, he murders the nun by strangling her with her own rosary beads. Now disguised as the nun, Norman makes his escape along with the other nun in their van. Shorty after, Norman murders the other nun with a tire iron and leaves her body in the back of the van… after raping the corpse. Along the way, Norman picks up a hitchhiker, kills him and sets fire the the van in an attempt to throw the police off his trail. The police eventually find the burnt out van and work out that the body in the back is of the other nun while the charred remains in the front must belong to Norman. So as far as the police know, Norman is dead. But Dr Claiborne isn’t so sure, he thinks Norman is still out there.

Due to a serious accident involving a bus and several dead civilians, there would be a delay on autopsy of the body in the to confirm who he is. Meanwhile, Norman has tracked down Sam and Lilia Loomis and killed them both. He also finds a newspaper reporting on a story that Hollywood are planning on making a movie based on the events told in the first book… yes this is getting a bit meta. The Hollywood movie is going to be called Crazy Lady and is set to begin filming soon. So that’s where Norman heads next, to Hollywood to stop the production of the film in his own special way. The producer of the film contacts Dr Claiborne about background info on the whole Norman Bates case to help with the film. Dr Claiborne heads to Hollywood himself under the guise of a technical consultant when really, he wants to try to stop Norman, who the police think is dead and not in Hollywood trying to kill anyone. 

Now in Hollywood, Dr Claiborne is introduced to the cast and crew, including the director, Vizzini who Dr Claiborne thinks looks just like Norman Bates. So Dr Claiborne tries to warn anyone who will listen that he thinks Norman in in Hollywood and is trying to kill the people making the movie, Crazy Lady. No one really believes him… until the producer of the flick is found decapitated. Yes, it seems that Norman Bates has been busy. Now things are getting serious, plus Dr Claiborne learns of Vizzini’s disturbing past, that as a boy, he witnessed his mother being raped and killed. It seems that the director of the film has more in common with Norman Bates than just looking like him, and Dr Claiborne seriously begins to question the director’s sanity. Turns out the good doctor is right too as Vizzini arranges to meet with he actress playing the Mary Crane role at the movie studio to ‘rehearse’ the shower scene. Two crazies running around the set of the movie is bad news.

So at the movie studio Vizzini and his lead actress are all alone, and he tries to rape and murder her. She fights back and at the same time, Dr Claiborne is told about the meeting between Vizzini and the actress. Seriously worried the director is insane, Dr Claiborne rushes to the studio while keeping an eye out for Norman Bates. Except Norman Bates is dead. Yes, that charred body in the van was actually Norman Bates all along. The hitchhiker Norman picked up was found and questioned by the police. He killed Norman in self-defense when Norman tried to kill him. The Hitchhiker then set fire to the van to hide any evidence. So If Norman Bates is dead, that that must mean that it was the director of the film, Vizzini who was the real killer. Gone insane after the boyhood trauma of seeing his mother raped and killed and was trying to drum up some free publicity for his Crazy Lady flick.

Dr Claiborne makes it to the studio just in time. The actress manages to kick Vizzini away as he tries to rape her on the set of the shower scene. Vizzini stumbles backward into the shower curtain, where he lets out a scream and re-emerges with a stab wound in the back and drops dead on the floor. The real killer tries to kill the Mary Crane actress, only for the police to show up and shoot them. The killer falls to the floor and he is revealed to be Dr Claiborne. Surviving the shooting, Dr Claiborne is committed to the same asylum that Norman Bates was. Yes, the real killer had been Norman’s very own doctor all along. Norman died in the van early on and Dr Claiborne just kind of snapped when he realised Norman was dead. After being his psychiatrist for twenty years, some of Norman had rubbed off onto Dr Claiborne. 

Psycho II Book 2

So there you have it, the alternate Psycho II, very, very different to the film version. You can see perhaps why the movie studio initially turned down Robert Bloch’s sequel idea, because it really was a bit petty and a dig at horror films and Hollywood in general. When you read Psycho II, you can definitely see a certain level of resentment from Bloch. But is the book any good? Yes and no. The twist is a good one and one not really spoiled early on. Killing of Norman in the opening chapters is certainly ballsy and Bloch does a good job of keeping the subterfuge up. But, there are issues. At times, it feels over-written and overtly meandering. Psycho II is just not as well paced and snappy as the first novel. Plus, while Norman was a bit of a creep in the first book… raping a dead nun in this? I just seems very off to me, as if Bloch was trying to shock for the sake of trying to shock. It never felt organic really. As mentioned, you can feel a sense of petty resentment toward Hollywood and film-making too. It feels like Bloch never really got over having his idea turned down for a sequel movie. There’s quite a few completely unnecessary chapters that could’ve easily been cut to help with the pacing. There’s one chapter that has the lead actor of the film within the book going to a gay bar to research the fact the Norman Bates dressed as his mother. But Norman dressing as his mother had nothing to do with being gay. It was a pointless chapter that added nothing to the plot, plus the gay bar featured big Hollywood actor look-a-likes… why? I think with a bit of editing and a not so bitter attitude toward Hollywood and this could’ve been amazing. But as it is, it’s a decent enough read, a little long winded and thin on actual plot. Nowhere near as great as the first book, but still worth a read with a good ending.

For a while, I thought that was all the Psycho books, but there were a couple more.

Psycho House

Psycho House

Robert Bloch is back with his third book in the Psycho franchise, released in 1990. Again, a new story not connected to the films, but serves as a sequel to Bloch’s Psycho II.  Set ten years after the events of the Psycho II novel. The plot revolves around how the Bates Motel has been turned into a tourist attraction, based on the infamy of it’s history and Norman Bates’ story. Amy Haines, a plucky writer looking to pen a novel based on the Bates Motel turns up to get some background information and a little inspiration for her book. A teenage girl is found stabbed to death at the infamous house and Amy decides to investigate who is behind the murder. The town is full of suspects and whenever Amy questions someone, they turn up dead soon after. Someone is out there trying to keep the mythology of Norman Bates alive… but who?

Robert Bloch’s Psycho: Sanitarium

Psycho Sanitarium

Despite his name in the title, Robert Bloch did not write this one… on account that he died in 1994 and this novel was released as recently as 2017. In the writer’s chair for this one is Chet Williamson. So this book is both a sequel to the original Psycho and a prequel to Psycho II. Telling to story of Norman Bates’ incarceration in the mental asylum. Norman Bates is gone, taken over by the murderous mother persona following the events of the first novel. Dr. Felix Reed works closely with Norman to try and bring him out from under the shadow of mother. It is rumored that the asylum itself is haunted and when a series of murders begin to happen, the place is not short of suspects, including Norman himself who still has a few dark secrets yet to be revealed.

Now to be honest, I’ve not actually read either of these books, not yet anyway. Which is why I’ve not offered my opinion on them. But I’ve done some snooping around and the general consensus is that Psycho House wasn’t very good at all. A far cry from Bloch’s previous Psycho books, that comes off as a pretty lazy ‘whodunit?’ kind of thing. But Psycho: Sanitarium is said to be great. Despite not being written by original author, Robert Bloch, the novel does maintain the style set up in the first book and even goes on to elaborate and even extend on certain plot points set up in Psycho. All told, it seems like Chet Williamson has put together a worthy sequel to the original book after so many years.

So now the movies and books are out of the way, that just leaves TV…

Bates Motel 

Bates Motel Show

Interestingly enough, and before I really get into this show. The other Bates Motel, the TV movie from 1987 was meant to kick-start a TV show called Bates Motel. Only due to the poor and very much deserved low reception of that TV movie, the show itself was cancelled before it got started. Then just a short twenty-six years later and Bates Motel the TV show finally existed… only this show was nothing to do with the TV movie of the same name. So this show is a prequel of sorts telling the story of young Norman Bates and his mother. Only it’s not a prequel to the films or the books. It’s a kind of an all new re-telling of the history in a more contemporaneity setting. I’m not going to go over each and every episode as that would take way too long, so just a quick summary of each season instead I think.

Season One: After the death of Norma Bates’ (Vera Farmiga) husband, she buys a motel and sets about beginning a new life with her son, Norman (Freddie Highmore). When the former owner of the motel breaks into the house and attacks Norma, she fights back and stabs him to death. With the help of Norman, Norma hides the body and covers up the killing. The town sheriff, Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) begins to sniff around after the missing person, Norma and Norman do their best to keep their secret.

Season Two: Norman’s teacher is murdered and suspicions begin to build around the Bates family. Norman’s estranged brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot)  starts asking questions about their family history. While Norma begins to worry about Norman’s state of mind.

Season Three: Norman’s mental health begins to get worse and worse, yet he denies that anything is wrong. Norma increasingly becomes worried about what is happening to her son and grows increasingly more concerned about just what he may be capable of. While Alex Romero’s suspicions on the Bates’ continues.

Season Four: Norma fights to find some professional help for Norman’s state of mind. Norman’s grip on reality begins to slide more and more. Unable to pay for expensive treatment, Norma agrees to marry Alex Romero for financial support to help her son. An enraged Norman learns about the wedding and attempts a murder/suicide of his mother and himself. Norma dies, but Norman survives.

Season Five: Norma has been dead for two years and Norman is alone to run the motel. Out in public, and Norman seems to be coping well, but it’s when he’s behind closed doors when he loses his grip on reality. He begins talking to his dead mother and her to him. A beautiful young woman called Marion Crane books in for a stay at Bates Motel… but just how will Norman Bates react?

Bates Motel Show Marion

So I did start watching this show and made it to about halfway through season three… then I just got bored. Now, I’m not saying it’s not a good show, the problem is me. I just can’t get into these long winded American TV shows. I just found this whole thing crammed with filler and fluff to pad everything out. Yes I know the history of Norman Bates and his mother isn’t really a deep one… and that’s the issue I had with this show. Five seasons, each season with ten episodes at around fifty minutes each. It was just too much. If this had been a three seasons, six to eight episodes each, then I probably would have held my interest more. There’s the main story of Norman losing his grip on reality and his relationship with his mother… that was great. Both Freddie Highmore as Norman and Vera Farmiga as Norma being utterly fantastic. But then there’s all this guff going on with Norman’s brother, drug dealing, love triangles, etc. I just didn’t care about to be honest. From what I watched, I really did enjoy this show, but I soon got bored and just didn’t bother with season four and five. And as far as I understand, season five is where the plot catches up with the whole main plot of the first film. But just to be clear, this isn’t a prequel to the film series or the books. It’s a re-telling of the whole Norman/Norma history and when the show does get to the meat of Marion Crane turning up at the motel, it does things very, very differently. If your a Psycho fan, then this is well worth checking out. 

Okay, so there is one final thing to take a quick look at… a Psycho video game. Yes, a video game…

Psycho

Psycho Game Cover

Oh yeah, there was a Psycho game. Developed by Starsoft Development Laboratories, published by Box Office, Inc. and released in 1988. Psycho saw a multi-platform release on the home computers including the C64, Amiga and Atari ST.

The game was an action/adventure type thing that uses a verb interface, telling a new story ‘inspired’ by the film series. You play as a detective hired to find a missing curator of a museum. I’ll let the back of the box cover the plot…

Precious jewels and an unwitting curator have been hoisted from the Metropolitan Showcase of Art. Tracing the crime to the menacing Bates Motel, you are the only detective willing to take the case…

Travel to the Bates Motel to unravel this strange mystery. Enter both the Motel and the forbidden house on the hill to search for clues. Keep your eyes alert and your back to the wall as you encounter the psychotic Norman Bates and his curiously silent mother. Prove yourself worthy of the title, Master Detective, as you plot your escape with the stolen jewels, captive curator… and your skin intact!

Just a couple of things I want to quickly cover with that description. You never go to the motel at all, the whole game takes place in the Bates’ home. Plus Norman/mother don’t make much of an appearance either, only twice in fact. Your biggest enemies in the game are not the main character(s) but dogs and ghosts.

Psycho Game Mother

It’s one of those search everything kind of things with a few little puzzles thrown in to annoy you. Kind of like one of those classic Lucasarts adventure games… only not as polished or as well written and designed. The Amiga and Atari ST versions both feature some fairly nice (for the time) digitised images taken from the first film and the presentation is pretty good. But the game itself is a slow, cumbersome mess. Even so, if you know what you are doing, the game can be finished in five minutes or so. I mean, here’s a complete walk-through for the game from start to finish…

Look in mailbox to find and read a letter.  Open the door of the house go inside. Find a vase, dig and search it to find and take a key. Go through the middle door of the foyer to the kitchen and open the dumbwaiter. Use the dumbwaiter to go up, take the gun and ammo you’ll find. Go down in the dumbwaiter to the second floor and open the bathroom door to the right and take the caffeine pills. Down in the dumbwaiter again to the gardener’s room and search the pile of coal for a key. Open the door on the left to find the missing curator. Back to the dumbwaiter and up to the second floor again. This time, go into the master bedroom on the far left. Open and search the closet for some medicine. Back down in the dumbwaiter and use the medicine on the curator, hell give you a combination. To dumbwaiter again and go back to the bathroom on the second floor. Shoot ‘mother’ with the gun. Go upstairs to third floor, then through the door on the left and open the attic. Shoot ‘mother’ again. Open the safe with the combination you got from the curator, take the jewels and leave out the front door you came in by. Done.

Psycho Game Screen

There you go, the entire game covered in a single paragraph. Psycho wasn’t very well reviewed when it was released. Nor should it have been, it’s horrible.


And so, that’s everything Psycho related. From the original novel in 1959, through the movies, other books, a TV show and even a little known video game. Psycho has been a pretty long and successful franchise. A franchise that has spanned from 1959 – 2017, fifty-eight years of Norman Bates and his mother.

I hope there’s still more Psycho to come too. Personally, I’d love to see another remake more in line with the novel. I didn’t hate the 1998 remake as many others did, but I will always say that doing a shot for shot re-enactment, with a modern day twist was very much redundant. So I would very much like to see someone else interpret Robert Bloch’s novel their own way and make a new version of the story. I’m looking forward to reading the other two books that I’ve missed up to now, as bad or as great as they may be. I just love me some Psycho.

Psycho Fanart

Okay, so one final Psycho thing to go over for it’s sixtieth birthday. I explore and try to explain why the teaser trailer Alfred Hitchcock created for the film is the greatest movie trailer ever made.

Saints Row Retrospective: You Ready For This, Playa?

When Rockstar North (then DMA Design) developed and released Grand Theft Auto III back in 2001, they literally changed gaming from that point on. GTA III certainly wasn’t the first open world/crime game, I mean, there were two other main GTA titles before it for starters. But that one game in particular struck a very receptive nerve among gamers. It was, for want of a better word, perfect at the time. It’s melding of open world, anarchic action and tight storytelling was unmatched in 2001. Yeah sure, there were other GTA-like games, but those just weren’t GTA.

For a good while after the release of GTA III, there was an ongoing trend of developers trying to out GTA Rockstar North, developers wanting to not just mimic GTA III, but also attempt to better it. Those games were a very mixed bag. Some really good titles, some awful ones. It seemed for a while that no one was capable of making a truly brilliant ‘GTA clone’, as they were labelled as back then. Then in 2006, American developers Volition threw their hat into the ring with Saints Row. A new franchise was born that is still going today, with the announcement of the latest game, Saints Row V last year. And according to Volition, they’re deep in development on the game too. So with fourteen years and four main games in the franchise… and a spin-off or two. I thought I’d take a look at the entire Saints Row franchise… you ready for this, playa?

Okay so a quick aside here. I originally started to write this one in August of last year when Saints Row V was first announced. Covered the first two games, but put the article on hold as I waited more info on the fifth game, and then… I just forgot about the whole thing. Then, Saints Row: The Third Remastered was announced, that I completely missed, until a friend mentioned it to me (thanks Martin). So with the remaster now out, I thought I’d get back into this retrospective and finish it.

I always do this, but I’m going to pop in a SPOILER warning right now. I’ll be covering the plots of each game, including the endings. So if you don’t want the story of Saints Row ruined, then stop reading now.

Saints Row

Saints Row 1

This is where it all started. You control an unnamed, low level street thug, who never talks. Finding yourself in the city of Stilwater, you are taken under the wing of local gang, the 3rd Street Saints, who really like the colour purple and is run by Julius Little. Dexter “Dex” Jackson, Johnny Gat, and Lin are Julius’ main lieutenants in the gang. After a few initiation missions, Julius Little tasks you, the player to take out the three rival gangs in Stilwater. An African American gang, the Vice Kings, who’s main source of income is from strip clubs and record labels. The Los Carnales are a Hispanic gang who’s main line of business is drugs, they run the narcotics trade. And finally, an underground racing gang called the Westside Rollerz. Julius also appoints one of his three lieutenants to each of the three gangs to work alongside you.

Once all three gangs are taken care of and the 3rd Street Saints in control of Stilwater, the player is made a chief lieutenant by Julius. Then, Stilwater’s corrupt police chief, Richard Monroe arrests Julius and holds him to ransom, forcing the player to kill the city’s mayor in exchange for Juluis’ life. The Saints ambush the police chief, kill him and free Julius. The mayor invites the player onto his yacht, where you learn that he (mayor) is planning on having all of the 3rd Street Saints arrested and to also have their main territory, Saints Row, burnt to the ground and made way for redevelopment. The mayor orders for you to be executed, at which point, the yacht explodes as Julius watches on. Was Julius involved in the explosion and are you, the player dead? Questions to ask as the game ends on a cliffhanger.

Saints Row 1 End

Saints Row, while definitely a ‘GTA clone’, also stood out in it’s own right. It wasn’t very original, but what it did do, it did very well and in some cases, it did it even better than GTA. The introduction of a cell phone for instance, which you could use to call in back up, unlock hidden secrets and cheats. A GPS system to help you get around the map. All done before GTA. There was a certain element of ridiculousness that came with Saints Row, which GTA just didn’t have at the time. An almost cartoony style, which gave the player many more options and ways to create havoc around the open world the game provided. Then there was the immense level of customisation available to you. Creating your player, with such a deep and easy to use system which allowed you to design a reasonably ‘normal’ looking character, or you could go the other way and create some real freaks of nature. That deep customisation also applied to the many vehicles in the game too. The customisation soon became a fan favourite feature and would only get more in-depth and more insane as the franchise continues.

Saints Row is packed with anarchic missions and side-quests/distractions which just make the game so much more fun and exciting. Developers Volition managed to make Saints Row offensive (a good thing) and thoroughly entertaining in ways Rockstar with GTA hadn’t even thought of back then. They do say that imitation is the best form of flattery, and so Rockstar should’ve been extremely flattered with Saints Row… and maybe a little envious too. A little bit ropy and rough around the edges now, especially with the controls. But Saints Row is still a great title to play.

Saints Row 2

Saints Row 2

Picking up five years after the events of the first game. Your character survived the explosion on the yacht… but not unscathed. Finding yourself in Stilwater’s maximum security prison, being in a coma since the explosion, and laid up in the infirmary of the prison. You regain consciousness, after some extensive plastic surgery (queue the game’s impressive customisation), you break out of the prison to find that the 3rd Street Saints have disbanded and leader of the gang, Julius Little has gone missing. Oh and you can talk now too. Amazing what being on board an exploding yacht can do.

The Ultor Corporation have redeveloped a large chuck of Stilwater, including the gang’s main territory, Saints Row itself. After taking down and rescuing ex-Saints lieutenant Johnny Gat from a court trail, you and Gat set about rebuilding the 3rd Street Saints. Setting up a new HQ in an earthquake damaged hotel, you the player becomes the new boss, and now earn the name of The Boss. With help from Johnny Gat and two new members, Pierce Washington and Shaundi, you have to recreate and even re-brand the 3rd Street Saints from the ground up.

Of course, after a five year absence, the  3rd Street Saints name is now mud and new gangs have moved it to lay a claim to the streets. The Ronin, a Japanese gang who run gambling and porn operations in Stilwater. The Sons of Samedi, a Haitian voodoo gang who run the drugs business. The Brotherhood, an outlaw gang who are into gun-running. Take out the new gangs, reclaim the city in the name of the 3rd Street Saints, teach that pesky Ultor Corporation to not mess with Saints Row… oh, and find out what happened to ex-leader Julius Little.

Saints Row 2 Gang Edit

Saints Row really was a cracking game, Saints Row 2 was even better. While still set in the same city as the previous game, the five year gap between the stories means the city has changed a lot, thanks to the not exactly on the level, Ultor Corporation. The map is familiar, yet still fresh.

Yes, the customisation is back, and far more in-depth than before. Not only can you still create a seriously strange looking character, you can now be male or female too. There’s even some amusing dialogue in the game from the likes of Johnny Gat who suggests that you look different somehow… but he can’t quite put his finger on it. Yes the customisation is back in full force with plenty of new features, you can even customise the gang itself now too. The humour of Saints Row 2 is what really works here, the first game had a sense of humour sure, but this sequel goes above and beyond to be hilarious. That crazy OTT gameplay style of Saints Row is back, and pushed even further this time around. More zany distractions and side missions, more stupidly silly but thoroughly enjoyable main missions too.

For me, this is as good as Saints Row got. It melded everything together perfectly. The OTT gameplay, the humour, the characters (especially Shaundi) and the story are all balanced to perfection. I quite honestly didn’t think Volition could ever top Saints Row 2. Then…

Saints Row: The Third

Saints Row 3

Taking place five years after the previous game’s events. The 3rd Street Saints have become a brand, and a vastly popular brand too. The Saints name appears on clothing, drinks and anything they can sell to keep the 3rd Street Saints brand alive and profitable. But don’t think that the Saints have gotten soft over the years, they still indulge in criminal activity. The game opens with you the Boss trying to rob a Stilwater bank, with help from Shaundi and Johnny Gat

But the robbery quickly goes sideways and the Boss along with his/her lieutenants are arrested. The trio are handed over to Phillipe Loren, head honcho of a worldwide criminal syndicate rather imaginatively called the Syndicate. So Loren says that Shaundi, Gat and you Boss (that’s really your character’s name, Boss) can keep their lives in exchange for most of the profits from the 3rd Street Saints brand. A deal that doesn’t go down too well at all. Johnny Gat sacrifices himself so Boss and Shaundi can escape, and what an escape it is too.

Boss and Shaundi find themselves in the (new) city of Steelport. A city overrun with gangs owned by the Syndicate. There’s the Morningstar who are Phillipe Loren’s main gang and who run the sex trade in the city. The Luchadores are a Mexican wrestling gang who run a large casino. Then the Deckers are a high-tech gang who operate the cyber black-market. Saints lieutenant, Pierce Washington turns up in Steelport and the Saints begin to fight back against Loren and his gangs to take over the city as their own.

Saints Row 3 Action

I said previously how Saints Row 2 is as good as it gets. That’s a statement that needs some clarification. I think the map, story and characters in Saints Row 2 are perfect, at the time, the customisation was unmatched too. For me, Saints Row 2 is the best of the franchise. But with Saints Row: The Third, Volition perfected other elements of the franchise. The zany, ridiculousness of the franchise is absolutely perfectly balanced against it’s more ‘grounded’ elements. The customisation is brilliant, now with many more options and variables. The distractions and side missions are wonderful. Yet saying all of that, I still prefer Saints Row 2 as an overall game.

What Saints Row: The Third does, it does with passion and delight. But the story is a bit flat, passé… a bit ‘seen it all before’. Plus I really miss old stoner Shaundi as a character as she becomes an overbearing business woman in this one. This game is still utterly brilliant. It’s OTT nature is sublime, the level and detail in the customisation is second to none, especially with the character creation. Over the years, people have made some amazing Boss characters, even some based on real world people and TV/film characters. I do genuinely adore Saints Row: The Third and it’s insanity, I just prefer Saints Row 2’s structure as a game little bit more.

But before I move onto the next game in the franchise, I just want to offer my view on Saints Row: The Third Remastered.

Saints Row 3 Remaster

So this remaster is just as good as the original game, but with a few bells and whistles. This is more than just a slight upgrade as Sperasoft Studio, who have handled this game, have done a bit more than just give it lick of paint. Models have been completely redesigned from the ground up, the characters, vehicles and weapons have all been re-built from scratch. The environments look beautiful, now with improved lighting, visual effects and a deeper colour palette. Every piece of previous DLC has been included too, that’s over 30 for those keeping count. From cosmetics that really add to the customisation to full on extra gameplay additions. And it all runs buttery smooth on the Xbox One X too. Some sites have been saying the game is locked at 30 fps on consoles… it’s not. In fact, there’s even an option to unlock the frame rate, which I did and had zero issues. The game looked and played silky smooth.

Saints Row: The Third Remastered is the definitive version of the game. Whether you’re new to the franchise or an old-timer when it comes to Saints Row. I highly recommend this remaster to anyone who fancies causing some crazy havoc and destruction…. with a great sense of humour to boot. But of course, this all depends on how much mileage you may get out of the game. I mean, at least on the Xbox, the original version is backwardly compatible, so is it really worth spending cash on this remaster? That’s a tough question to answer and I guess it all boils down to just how much you love the game.

Saints Row IV

Saints Row 4

When I finished Saints Row: The Third, I honestly didn’t think that developer, Volition really had anywhere else to go. The previous game was so OTT, it didn’t leave much room for experimentation. But boy was I wrong!

So the opening to Saints Row IV takes place just a few months after the events of the last game. It begins with Boss going on a mission to assist MI-6. This mission results in Boss stopping a nuclear missile from hitting Washington D.C. and the White House. Being hailed a hero by the Americans, Boss is elected President of the United States.

Cut to five years later (they really like these five year time jumps eh?), now established as the POTUS, Boss has actor Keith David as his/her adviser and several 3rd Street Saints members as part of his/her cabinet. And if that’s not crazy enough, then things get really out of hand. Aliens invade Earth, led by evil warlord, Zinyak. These aliens, called Zin, abduct Boss along with his cabinet. The Zin enslave humanity and trap Boss in a computer simulation/The Matrix kind of thing, which he must escape, rescue the Saints and save the Earth from the aliens. See, I told you I was wrong about Volition having nowhere to go… but does it work?

Saints Row 4 Fight

I have a real love/hate relationship with Saints Row IV. There is a lot to love. The game features some very clever, self-referential and very meta writing and humour. There are parts of this game when your stuck in a 1950s sitcom. Parts where (thanks to the computer simulation) you go back into previous games. There’s a clever and very well observed Streets of Rage parody tied into one of the major events of Saints Row 2, there’s a part where you go back the very first game and Boss makes comments on how bad the graphics look. The moments between Keith David (who voiced Julius Little in the first two games) and Ruddy Pipper when they reference ‘that fight’, the interactions between characters both past and present, etc. Saints Row IV is crammed full of creative moments, references and in-jokes to films, TV shows and games, enough to keep the biggest nerd, like me, happy.

These touches are great, brilliantly written, conceived and realised. And that much loved customisation is back in full force too, turned up way beyond eleven. But there’s so much more I don’t like about Saints Row IV that I just can’t ignore. Where as Saints Row: The Third managed to strike the absolute perfect balance between it’s iconic craziness and yet, still maintain a level of verisimilitude, Saints Row IV goes way too far into the absurd. Your character is too overpowered, the fact you can run at super speed and fly around the map renders the use of vehicles redundant. You become a superhero. The computer simulation setting is horrible, the re-used map from the last game just doesn’t work here and gets old fast. The game is perpetually set at night, making everything gloomy. Plus the fact you become the POTUS is completely irrelevant as the aliens enslave and eventually destroy the Earth, rendering your presidential status completely void anyway.

Then there’s the mission structure itself. Truth be told, there’s only a small handful of actual story missions. Everything else revolves around the reused distractions and side missions from the previous game. On the previous games, these distractions and side missions were just that, distractions and side missions. But in Saints Row IV, they are integrated to the main plot, the side missions become part of the main story… so not actually side missions now. The whole game feels like an afterthought, like this was half a game that has been massively padded out. It just didn’t sit right with me. It’s too OTT, even for Saints Row, it’s main plot is haphazardly thrown together, it’s structure makes zero sense. You feel like you’re playing a game with cheat-codes on that you can’t turn off and it all gets a bit boring to be honest.

Saints Row 4 Keith Roddy

I enjoyed Saints Row IV from it’s humour point of view. It is funny, it’s well written and observed, it’s chock full of clever references and all that… but it’s just not a Saints Row game, it doesn’t feel right at all. If Volition had created an all new IP about a disgruntled and reluctant superhero, like the movie Hancock, I think they could be had a fantastic title here and future new franchise. If they had fleshed out the story proper and installed a real story progression system, instead of relying on building everything around side missions, this could’ve been amazing. Saints Row IV is a good and funny game that’s fatally flawed. It’s just not Saints Row and feels more like an extended piece of DLC over a full game.


Well that’s the main games in the franchise covered. But I also want to take a look at the various spin offs too.

Saints Row: Total Control

Saints Row TC

This game was developed by Punch Entertainment and not original developers Volition,  which should tell you all you need to know really. This wasn’t a ‘real’ Saints Row game, it was a Facebook only kind of thing.

This was completely non-canonical to the main series and was one of those property building games, very much like Mafia Wars or Gangster City, with some social media interactions thrown in. Those not very interesting tappy-tap games with no real depth and long, real-time waits to do mundane tasks. The game was set between the events of Saints Row 2 and Saints Row: The Third. Not that it really matters because, as I said, this was non-canonical and never mentioned or referenced in the main games.

No longer available as it was removed from Facebook back in 2011. No major loss either as it was dull and didn’t bring anything new to an already over crowded market then.

Saints Row: Gat out of Hell

Saints Row Gat out of Hell

The story of this one is a little out there, maybe not quite to the level of Saints Row IV, but it’s certainly close. Taking place after Saints Row IV, Boss gets dragged to Hell by Satan after playing around with a Ouija Board. Satan tells Boss that he/she will have to marry his daughter, Jezebel. 3rd Street Saints lieutenants Johnny Gat and Kinzie Kensington go to Hell to save Boss. When in Hell, Gat and Kensington learn that the Saints old enemy, the Ultor Corporation have a branch down there. But instead of rekindling bad blood, Ultor offer to help Gat and Kensington save Boss from his forced marriage and take out Satan once and for all.

Saints Row: Gat out of Hell isn’t a full sequel or even a full game. It’s more if a fun and extended piece of DLC. It plays very similar to Saints Row IV before it. It’s stupid, OTT and ridiculous. You don’t play as Boss for the first time in a proper Saints Row game, Saints Row: Total Control doesn’t count. Instead you play as either Johnny Gat or Kinzie Kensington, with the ability to swap between the two.

Just as with Saints Row IV, you become incredibly overpowered and pick up all sorts of crazy talents. Flying and other superhuman abilities soon make you pretty much unstoppable. As you don’t play as Boss this time around, there’s no character customisation, which is definitely greatly missed. I enjoyed this one a bit more than Saints Row IV to be honest. I think it’s mainly because it can can be seen and treated as non-canonical, it doesn’t really effect the plot of the main games like Saints Row IV does. It’s not a big game at all, as it really is just a piece of DLC over a full title. But what it does, it does very well. It’s stupid, OTT, funny and a fun, playable little experiment.

That’s really it for Saints Row games and spin offs. There were a couple of planned, but never released games, such as Saints Row: Money Shot and Saints Row Undercover. Though an unfinished version of Saints Row Undercover has made itself onto the interwebs if you really want to check it out. But that’s about it. However, interestingly enough, the Saints Row universe is actually a shared one and spills over into other games too.

Red Faction

Red Faction

Red Faction is it’s own franchise, consisting of four main games. A franchise also developed by Volition, though no new games in the series have been announced since 2011’s Red Faction: Armageddon. Though a Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered, a remaster of the third game, was released in 2018.

The franchise is set way in the future, starting in 2075 and going through to 2175. Oh and takes place on Mars too. So pretty far removed from Saints Row really… even at it’s craziest. But the main villains of Red Faction are the Ultor Corporation, the same Ultor causing problems for the 3rd Street Saints since 2006.

Agents of Mayhem

Agents of Mayhem

This one is set in a futuristic version of Seoul, South Korea and is based off one of the endings to Gat out of Hell. Telling the story of M.A.Y.H.E.M. (Multinational AgencY Hunting Evil Masterminds), an organisation funded by the Ultor Corporation. Various agents from M.A.Y.H.E.M, including Johnny Gat, do battle against super-villain organisation L.E.G.I.O.N. (the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations).

Overall

Saints Row All

I love the Saints Row franchise. It’s stupid, ridiculous, completely OTT and full of fun gameplay. Of the ‘GTA clones’, Saints Row is by far the best. So much so that it’s broken free from that ‘GTA clone’ label into it’s own, very much deserved sub-genre and one others just can not match. I may not have enjoyed Saints Row IV as a Saints Row game, but it is a fun-packed title none the less. For me, the games peaked with Saints Row 2. The map, the characters and the story was a great as the franchise got. But Saints Row: The Third is the franchise at it’s madcap best.

Saints Row V?

But before I end this, Saints Row V (or whatever it’ll be called) was officially announced last summer. That’s the reason why Sperasoft Studio took on Saints Row: The Third Remastered instead of series creator, Volition, who are already deep in development on the new title. Anyway, after the immensely fun, but far from right Saints Row IV, it’s hard to say or even guess where the franchise can go. I’m seriously curious as to what Volition have planned for the new game. So much so that I and some friends came up with a few ideas.

If we do ignore Saints Row: Gat out of Hell and it’s multiple different endings, if we go off the ‘proper’ ending to Saints Row IV. Then Earth has been destroyed, but Boss and what’s left of the 3rd Street Saints discover time-travel. The credits even roll with humorous images of the Saints going through time interacting with historical people and events. So, I guess Volition could use time-travel to put the Saints pretty much any-when they want. This could kick-start a new franchise of the Saints in history creating their brand centuries ago, Assassin’s Creed style. As my pal Badger suggested, have the Saints ride a T-Rex to kill Adolf Hitler.

Maybe the new game won’t be Saints Row V at all. Maybe it’s a complete reboot? Given the ending to Saints Row IV, given the fact Volition pretty much screwed the franchise from a storytelling perspective, maybe hitting the rest button is the best thing to do? An all new Saints Row starting fresh.

Or how about the idea that there are various 3rd Street Saints all over the world? Saints Row IV could’ve been the end of the story for that particular Boss. But what if there’s another Boss in China, England… pick a country. What if the 3rd Street Saints are a worldwide gang with branches spread all over the globe? The new game could jump back 20 years or so and tell the story of a new and different Boss in another country. A story that runs concurrent with the main plot of the first four games.

They could even do an origins kind of thing and tell the story of how the 3rd Street Saints began. Get into the histories of some of the more notable characters from the games like Johnny Gat or even Julius Little himself… remember him?

Perhaps Saints Row V could be a ‘real’ sequel to Saints Row: the Third. Maybe the events in Saints Row IV didn’t really happen, it could’ve all been a crazy dream, Bobby Ewing shower scene style. Then the new game could be the ‘proper’ sequel to Saints Row: the Third.

Anyway, enough of my rantings. Time to end this Saints Row retrospective, just sit back and wait to see what Volition have planned for the next game…