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…

Total golden joysticks won – 18

Review: Ride 4

I do have a bit of a soft spot for racing games, grew up playing them and still very much enjoy the genre today. However, there’s one motorsport discipline that I’ve never really gotten into from a gaming perspective, motorbikes. I think the last time I played a bike racer was Super Hang-On in the arcade, back in 1987… maybe the original Road Rash.

Anyway, I’ve just never been attracted to motorbike racing in the same way I am with cars. I know nothing about the sport, nor do I have any interest in learning about it either.  So in that regard, I’m probably the last person that should review a motorbike racing sim… so here’s my review of motorbike racing sim, Ride 4.

RIDE 4 ACTION

If you have ever played any kind of racing game recently, then you’ll find things are pretty standard here in terms of game modes. Single races, where you can take any of the bikes out for a ride on any of the tracks in the game. There are 176 different bikes from 17 different manufactures. Brands like BMW, Honda, Ducati, Suzuki, Triumph and more all offer various machines to ride on. Then there are the tracks, split over three continents, America, Europe and Asia. All three offer multiple real-life race tracks. Laguna Seca, Imola, Brands Hatch, Suzuka to name a few, thirty tracks in all to enjoy. So just pick a bike, pick a track and away you go for some single race action.

Then there are the endurance races. Pick a race length from 20 minutes to 24 hours. Choose your a bike, though you have to use a specially modified endurance bike. Select a track, tinker with the weather and time of day, time compression. Hit the track for a very lengthy race. There is also the basic time trial mode where it’s just you, your bike and the track. No opponents and no racing other than against the clock, a great way to learn the numerous circuits. There is also a career mode, which I will cover soon. But aside from the multiplayer mode (which I couldn’t really test with the game not being out as I write this), that’s about it for you racing options. Ride 4 offers pretty much what any other racing game offers, it neither excels nor falls behind in this regard, it’s all pretty much standard racing fare.

RIDE 4 ACTION 2

There are some nice features to play around with, a photo mode that is accessible from the pause menu, so you can take some snaps of your bike racing action. Of course you can tinker and tune your bike, buy new engines, transmissions and so on. You can even customise your rider, name, gender, info, riding styles and more. Then there is the editor where you can create your very own helmet and riding suit designs, you can even design your own unique liveries for the bikes. Ever played Forza Motorsport and its creation system? Same thing here. When it comes to the customisation, there really is a lot to get your head around with Ride 4.

In terms of looks, Ride 4 is a cracking looking game too. I know several of the tracks very well and they all looked fantastic. Tearing around Monza, Donnington Park, Interlagos and they felt like the tracks I knew. I’m not a bike person, yet the machines all seemed great too, I can’t say if they are authentic or not, but they are nicely detailed and looked like bikes… so that’s good. I did a race in the rain, which for me is the true test of how a racing game should look. Ride 4 looked stunning, reflections on the track, rain kicking up and hitting the screen, puddles formed on the circuit… it looked and felt like a wet race, ticked all the boxes for me. So far, so good. Until…

RIDE 4 ACTION 3

So that career mode I previously mentioned. Every good racer needs a career mode and I wish I could tell you how good this one is… but I couldn’t actually play it. From what I saw, it looked quite extensive. Split into three leagues, there’s the regional leagues (European, Asian and American), a world league and then the final leagues (superbikes and endurance). But before you can take part in those, you need to earn your licence by doing several tests. A time attack, lap on a test track, ride through gates, etc. Could I pass these tests? No. Oh I tried, I tried dozens and dozens and dozens of times. The tests are just too damn strict, from extremely tight times to beat to the test being a fail if you so much as put a millimetre of your bike off track (seriously, a millimetre). I did manage to do three of the tests after many, many, many attempts and a lot of time spent, but they got so frustrating that I just gave up in the end. I could not even get into the career mode to tell you what it’s like. I had to switch on all of the driving assists, and I’ve never done that with any racing game before. Yet, even with all the help the game offers… I could not do those damn tests to play career mode. I’ve had the game for over a week for review and I could not review the main part of the game.

I couldn’t work out if it was me or the game being really unfair and unforgiving. As I said at the start, I’m not a bike person… but I can play racing games… I think. I’ve never had this issue with any other game like this. I can race okay in the other modes, I can put up fight and even secure a podium or three in single races. On tracks that I know well, I could put in some decent times in time trial mode. It took a while to get used to riding the bikes in the game, they feel really heavy and you have to think about turning into and out of the corners about three turns in advance, but I got used to it. Yes, it is very different to racing a car around a track, I get that. I know I would never be able to ride a bike like this in real-life around a real track, but then again, I doubt I would ever be able to drive a Ferrari F40 around Monza in real-life on a real track… but I can do just that well enough in a driving sim. I just can not pass the tests to play career mode… even with the driving assists on. I became convinced the problem was the game.

RIDE 4 ACTION 4

But is it really the game that is the problem and not me the player? I’ll happily admit (and I already have, several times) that I’m not a bike person at all, so there is a very good chance the issues I have with the game are not really with the game, as I just don’t understand bikes. So, I did a little research into the previous Ride games. As of writing, the original Ride holds a metascore of 54 on Metacritic. Ride 2 holds a 66 score and Ride 3 has itself a slightly better score of 76. They’re not exactly great scores are they? Very average to above average at best. Getting better with each new game yes, but still not great scores. Quick side-note, all of those scores on the Xbox as I’ve been playing the Xbox version of Ride 4. So as a franchise, Ride isn’t exactly setting the racing gaming world alight is it? Perhaps it is the game that is at fault and not so much me, or at the very least, there’s a bit of both there? But again, I got on okay with the single races, etc. It’s just those damn tests for career mode, they’re too ‘effin strict and the game is just not accessible for newbies to bike games like me.

Plus, seeing as I was having such a disappointing time with Ride 4, I thought that may be my driving skills had dulled. So I loaded up both Forza Motorsport 7 and F1 2020 just to re-test my skills. I was tearing around tracks, racing, fighting for positions and really bloody enjoying myself too (without all the assists on too). It has to be the game, I may not be a bike person… but I know a good racing game from a distinctly average one and average is what Ride 4 really is.

I really wanted to enjoy Ride 4, I honestly did, but it’s just rubbed me up the wrong way. As someone who plays racing games regularly and a person who considers himself pretty good at the racing genre, I just found it too punishing for what it is and a very stubborn game to truly get into. Ride 4 is just very, very meh for what I did get to play.

The Next Generation Of Gaming, The Death Of Gaming Generations

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

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

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

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

DOUBLE DRAGON 2600

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

DOUBLE DRAGON C64

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

XBOX COMPARISON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CYBERPUNK

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

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

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

 

Roger Dean’s Psygnosis Art

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

VIRGIN RECORDS LOGO

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

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

PSYGNOSIS LOGO

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

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

Black Onyx

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

Brataccas

BRATACCAS

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

Barbarian

BARBARIAN

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

Terrorpods

TERRORPODS

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

Obliterator

OBLITERATOR

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

Shadow of the Beast
Shadow of the Beast II

SHADOW OF THE BEAST

SHADOW OF THE BEAST II

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

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

Fatal Rewind

FATAL REWIND

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

DEAN COMBO

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

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

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

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

What I Don’t Like About Modern Gaming

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

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

Installing Games

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

C64 LOADING

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

Lying Loading Bars

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

LOADING BARS

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

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

No Loading Screens

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

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

BAYONETTA LOADING

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

Gaming ‘Journalism’

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

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

GAME WRITING

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

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

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

“It remains unclear exactly how Everwild will play”

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

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

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

TRUSTED PIC

EVERWILD

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

TRUSTED PIC 2

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

Not Actual Game Footage

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

NOT GAME FOOTAGE

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

Multiple Game Versions

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

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

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

ASSASSINS CREED EDITIONS

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

Games Are Getting Are Too Big

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

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

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

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

Wasted Licenses

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

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

RAMBO

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

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

Grindy Games

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

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

DESTINY 2

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

Microtransactions

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

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

CURIOSITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End rant!