Friday, May 20, 2011

Must-Play Arcade Titles - Part One

Our 360s and PS3s have come in for their fair share of criticism over the last few years, and justifiably so. Xbox had the red ring of death nightmare that more than one of my own consoles succumbed to and most recently, there was the PS3 hacking fiasco as the PSN security was breached and Sony were forced to shut down for a few weeks. Then there's other little niggles, the occasionally overpriced map packs and extra content, the online pass codes and the fact that just buying the original console is never enough. You eventually need a bigger hard drive, you need Gold Membership, you accidentally got some bacon stuck in your PS3 and fried a game disc in the George Foreman grill, those sort of things.

But here's the thing, despite all the teething problems and general gripes and groans, when our consoles finally retire to the games cabinet in the sky, or the car boot as is more likely, we'll look back and remember this as one of the most golden of generations in gaming's long history.
It saw online gaming not just take off but explode across the globe. HD become as commonplace as DVD and MTV, consoles morph into more than just a machine for gaming with the addition of TV, movie and music players and social networking apps and it also saw video games appealing to the masses more than ever before.

Looking back through years gone by it's fair to say that every new console generation managed to leave their mark. Each new dawn heralded the arrival of ever shinier graphics, deeper gameplay and a gradual shift away from the sort of instant action games you'd play in your local arcade to something far more grown up. But there's something else this generation did, and it did it without warning, this gen threw us a truly beautiful curveball. It took us back to the arcades of our youth.

Alright not quite the arcades of our youth, there was no sneaking away from school to spend the dinner money on Kung Fu Master or Pole Position and no crowds gathering round as you headed towards a new high score but what this generation did was take us by the hand and lead us down memory lane and what a wonderful stroll it is.

Thanks to the arrival of the Xbox LIVE and PSN, us longer in the tooth gamers have been able to finally ditch the rose tinted glasses, while a new wave of younger gamers have had the chance to sample first hand some of yesteryear's greatest moments, and on top of that we've also been treated to some exciting and utterly genius new titles. The inclusion of these arcades within our consoles was inspired and as a homage to great ideas what follows is our rundown of 20 must play arcade titles. Some retro, some sparkly and new, some weird yet all of them wonderful. Simplicity is strength within the arcade and these twenty gems pack some serious punching power, whether you're after bold new experiences or nestling into nostalgia's warm embrace there's something here for you. Here in part one we go from twenty to eleven. Enjoy.

20. Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic, the loveable rocket fuelled spiky headed ball of fun has without a doubt had more than a few rocky patches throughout his lifetime, patches that have tarnished his once proud reputation as a gaming great. Thankfully though his early days were a complete joy and an assault on the senses for us MegaDrive owning kids. As soon as the all too familiar title music kicks in here in Sonic's very first installment the memories flood back. The speed is as incredible as ever and was always Sonic's major selling point, added to simple one button control, vibrant colours and a cheery soundtrack Sonic the Hedgehog stands the test of time very well and remains as utterly playable today as it was 20-odd years ago. The other bonus in Sonic's first adventure? No Tails, and if that doesn't sell it to you nothing will.

19. Worms
Who doesn't love a bit of turn-based worm warfare? Team 17's wonderfully comical battlefield was a more than welcome addition to our arcades and holds a place in many a heart. The reason for this is the excellent fusion of crisp cartoony looks, brilliant gameplay and a sense of humour that always manages to keep the game fresh and entertaining. The vast array of voices you can give to your worm band of brothers is often funny and at times completely hilarious and coupled with a great selection of weapons with which to blow your opponents to kingdom come it all adds up to many well spent hours of pure fun. The game offers a good challenge and online play, put that with it's bargain price and it's a game no-one should miss out on.

18. Peggle
Peggle is the gaming equivalent of putting on your comfiest slippers, sinking into your armchair and letting the stresses of the day drift away. The game asks you to fire a little ball from the top of the screen in an attempt to make it connect with a number of other little balls and eventually clear the screen before moving onto the next level. Despite it's simplicity, Peggle does offer a decent challenge and has the 'just one more go' factor in spades. Sure the game looks like it's been designed by the Care Bears with it's cutesy characters and an abundance of vivid colours and flowers but it's one of those magical games that can hold the attention of anyone, regardless of age. Peggle also offers a very nice multiplayer side which gives it infinite longevity. PopCap seems to have the knack of making these addictive games and Peggle certainly fits the mould well.

17. Trials HD
Trials HD, the side scrolling stuntbike game is one of the most addictive, entertaining, challenging, fast paced and downright frustrating slices of arcade action you're ever likely to meet. If you're yet to experience this games charms it basically involves getting from the starting point on the course to the finish as quickly and painlessly as possible. Aside from the race from A to B there are also a healthy number of challenges on offer ranging from breaking as many of your riders bones as you can after a crash to a ridiculously steep hill climb. It's a game that gently eases you into the action before throwing you into the midst of devilishly designed courses and intimidating challenges that will have you tearing your hair out while begging for more, put quite simply Trials HD is utterly brilliant and warrants a place on everybody's hard drive.

16. Geometry Wars
Now this is a total throwback to the early days of the arcades we knew and loved. Geometry Wars comes at you like Asteroids on acid. Control your little ship and fend off the multitude of swarming enemies is the basic principal here but the number of enemies that come at you combined with the dazzling explosions of colour and light make this one of the most insane, tense and exhilarating games ever to grace our consoles. It keeps things simple as well, control the ship with the left stick, fire with the right and drop the odd bomb when things get just a bit too hectic, and believe me it's going to get hectic. If there's such a word as hecticity then on that scale of 1 to 10 Geometry Wars is an make that a 12. It's part space shooter, part firework display and part nervous breakdown and it's completely amazing!

15. JetPac Refuelled
JetPac was a spectrum classic. The premise of the game was to hover around the screen using said Jetpac while collecting the three pieces of your crashed spacecraft, then grab enough fuel tanks to fill the craft before blasting off to safety, all the while you're dodging that particular planets species of alien or blowing them away with laser fire. In reality, the old school JetPac featured a black background, three white platforms and little else to distinguish between planets... other than the splodges and shapes that passed for aliens back then. JetPac Refuelled on the other hand brings the game into the 21st Century. The graphics have been fully revamped for today's gamer, each planet has it's own distinct background, the aliens are a little more fleshed out, the sound has been completely overhauled and the spacecraft billows out beautiful plumes of smoke as it rises into the air. JetPac Refuelled offers a good challenge, the later levels being particularly difficult and comes in at a very low price, which considering you also get the original spectrum version of JetPac bundled in with the game is superb and also gives you a chance first hand to see just how far things have evolved.

14. Monkey Island 2
To put it simply Monkey Island 2 is without a doubt one of the funniest and most fulfilling games ever made. It has everything in the right place, the characters are lovable, well acted and chock full of classic one liners, the puzzles are challenging yet solvable, the artwork is charming and the setting is perfect. Plus there's pirates and voodoo what more heady combination could you wish for. The game follows the weird and wonderful adventures of Guybrush Threepwood and is classic point and click action, it's a game that can put a beaming smile on anyone who encounters it and is undoubtedly a feather in Lucasarts' cap.

13. Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD remix
Although I've never really been partial to the old fighting genre of games I still fully understand the impact of the Street Fighter series. Street Fighter as we know is now a part of the foundations of gaming. Sure it wasn't the first of it's kind but it has been arguably the best. This release was a dream for fans of the series bringing as it did it's seventeen characters into beautifully crisp HD, perfectly balanced fighting mechanics, a huge array of options and online multiplayer. If you're a fan of the Street Fighter games, well, you already own this don't you, but if you're late to the party I'd urge you to grab it and see what all the fuss is about.

12. A World of Keflings
If A World of Keflings were to take you for a day out it would go something like this: steering well clear of the usual adrenaline filled, high speed rollercoasters favoured by it's classmates Geometry Wars and Street Fighter we'd instead find ourselves chugging gently down a picturesque canal in a hand painted narrowboat, the birds singing, bees buzzing, sun shining bright and a pot of coffee on the go. Basically entering the World of Keflings is a ridiculously chilled out experience. The game is basically a God game with you playing The Almighty overlooking the peaceful Kefling folk. The idea is to help out the little Keflings by building their Kingdoms for them, this is done via delegating work tasks and unlocking new blueprints for ever more impressive structures. World of Keflings gives the player three seperate Kingdoms to work on and you can jump between them at will. Your God character is depicted by your very own Avatar which is a really nice touch and the whole game just flows along beautifully. It's time to ditch the stress balls and yoga, pop in A World of Keflings and feel the worries of modern life slowly melt away.

11. Splosion Man
I was trying to think of the perfect word to sum up Splosion Man, fast.....frantic.....yeah they fit, fun.....undoubtedly so but not quite the word I'm after.. In the end I've put all my eggs into the Zany basket. Zany seems to be the perfect word for this bizarre little game, oooh bizarre that's also good. Splosion Man is a total joyous riot from start to finish. It's classic platforming with a twist.......and erm, a bang! Instead of jumping from platform to platform you explode. A quick tap of the button and Splosion Man splodes through the air with the greatest of ease. You can detonate near enemies, turning them into pork chops and such which is always amusing and the whole thing plays at a lightning quick pace. Aside from the wonderful platforming action on view, Splosion Man also sounds like a complete lunatic, sort of a gollum on helium vibe, it's brilliantly funny and ramps that zany factor up another notch. For a taste of old school platforming given a 21st century gloss Splosion Man is here, and it's a blast!!!!!!!......I know, I know, it was a weak pun.

Part Two to follow...