Goldeneye 64

Friday, November 16th, 2012

 

Goldeneye 64

We took a look two week’s ago at a James Bond film that have a soft spot for, so I thought it might be a good idea to get this week’s topic out of the way on a “mini-binge”, so that we can move on to more relevant things (Ha!). Conversions of popular films into video games have a somewhat checkered history. Typically seen as a means of further cashing-in a film’s popularity, you often find that not a lot of effort is put into making them playable, enjoyable and – perish the thought – innovative & visionary experiences. A notable exception to this rule may include the Super Star Wars trilogy on the SNES, but even now as writing, I am truly racking my brains trying to think of games that buck this rather troublesome trend. Particularly nowadays, the broad plethora of detritus released in this respect is almost staggering. It is as if nothing is sacred nowadays.

My somewhat cynical outlook put to one side (for the last time, I hope), back in 1997, developers Rare put aside their finesse in creating monkey-based platformers and instead decided to enter the arena of first person shooters. This genre of video game fare had typically been the type of thing you’d see on a PC, and not a console. Controller issues was one issue, but other factors such as Nintendo’s staunch anti-violence approach to games released on the SNES had scared developers away; ID Software were reportedly so annoyed by the heavily censored version of Wolfenstein 3D, they gave the games source code to the developers of this shockingly bad clone. So when Goldeneye 64 first came along, it was somewhat of an anomaly in the Nintendo 64’s then-present library.

Goldeneye 64 puts you at the helm of James Bond himself as he attempts to thwart the machinations of the Janus crime syndicate and the insidious weapon known as Goldeneye. Players are able to experience many of key points from the film, as well as a variety of uniquely designed levels that fit seamlessly into the game’s central plot. On top of the main story, there are also two bonus missions based off the films Moonraker, Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun. There is a good variety of locales and challenges that players can expect to overcome, ranging from stealthy espionage to more explosive entanglements. Each mission is instantly unforgettable, and quality is the name of the game from start to finish.

The game has 3 difficulty levels, with scaling objectives for each. This is an extremely nice touch, as it gives the more borderline masochistic the opportunity to whet their desire for carnage further, with the bonus of new objectives to complete as well. Individual mission objectives are both well thought-out and challenging, although not without their fare share of frustration. The NPC AI, for example, has a knack for always throwing themselves right into the middle of firefight. In missions where certain NPC’s are essential for the completion of certain objectives, the results often lead to frustrating and oft parodied conclusions. Despite this, the failing of objectives is made less annoying by the fact the mission doesn’t instantly end when you fail objectives, enabling players to experience easter egg-esque moments in almost every mission.

One of the most memorable aspects of the game for me was always the cheats. You can put aside your Konami codes, however – unlike the vast majority of other games at the time, these could be unlocked by completing certain levels as quickly as possible, on different difficulties. A encyclopaedic-level of different cheats are potentially un-lockable, ranging from weapon cheats through to one of gamings best – and, if Gears of War 3is anything to go by, iconic – ever cheats – DK mode! These cheats were always a major boon for me, as they enabled me to complete the game on higher difficulties and unlock the game’s ultimate game mode – 007 difficulty, which allows the player to set their own difficulty for each individual mission, based on a number of different parameters. No game since, to the best of my knowledge, matches Goldeneye 64 in both of these regards.

Controls is probably the only area in which you could fault the game severely. This is more a problem of the N64 itself, and I have always find the controller to be one the system’s major weaknesses. I mean, how the bloody hell are you supposed to hold it?!? Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem for a game that made little or no use of the D-PAD, and Goldeneye attempts to resolve this by mirroring the functions of the D-PAD and the C-Buttons. This initial problem aside, and the main problem you find is that aiming and moving can be incredibly clunky. If the enemies were any more intelligent or agile, then this, I think, would make the game virtually unplayable. Thankfully, the AI is suitably archaic enough (by today’s standards) for this not to become a major issue.

I’ve done something rather deliberate with this review: I haven’t talked about the multiplayer at all. A major sin, you may argue, and I cannot deny that it is one of the game’s finest points. I do think, though, that Goldeneye 64’s multiplayer is often the most touted – and, sometimes, only – feature that people talk about this game. Scrapping the multiplayer entirely, and there is so much in this game for almost anyone to enjoy. It sets a fine example in how a video game tie-in should play like, and it remains the only such game to have successfully establish a legacy that many developers today actively covet and aspire towards in their work.

(Image courtesy of gamesutra.com)

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Keep Calm and Look Back

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Unfortunately, due to a rather hectic week, this week’s intended blog post on a certain Nintendo 64 game (hint: have a look at last week’s post) is going to have to be delayed until next week. Apologies for that. Instead, this week, let’s take a retrospective view at the very first Retrospect Nerd post (see what I did there?) on Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. For those who haven’t read it before, great! For those that have…well…it’s a pretty awesome game, and is definitely worth another look. That sounds like a reasonably convincing reason, no?

Normal service should resume next week, all being well. Until then, peace out!

– Retrospect Nerd

Goldeneye

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

 

Goldeneye

I like James Bond, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan. Sure, I’ll watch the films, but I’ve never sat down and either read all the books or watch them all à la Alan Partridge style. It might be a generational issue, but I don’t find them in any way engaging. I wouldn’t say that the older James Bond films are bad, it’s just I find the older films rather boring. I always end up turning over, or half-heartedly watching them, whenever I see them on the television (something which, thankfully, is becoming more and more a rare occurrence. Further continuing my potentially heretical views, the only James Bond films I have watched and have enjoyed have been the recent ones with Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. The action, adventure and acting talent (most notably Judi Dench, who is perfect as M) have always acted as the major draws for me, with the very first Pierce Brosnan film – Goldeneye – establishing a winning formula for James Bond in the 21st century.

One of the reasons why I think I hold Goldeneye in such high esteem is probably because of the hype generated by Goldeneye 64. I had played the game through to completion, but had not ever seen the film. When we finally bought it on DVD when I was younger and sat down to watch it, the accumulated hype and excitement automatically transferred across from my experiences whilst playing the game. Digging beneath the surface of the film poster, and the history of Goldeneye’s trouble development makes for interesting reading. TImothy Dalton was initially set to reprise the role for a third time, but legal battles over the franchise meant that development was stalled for 5 years, leading Dalton to withdraw from the role completely. Pierce Brosnan (who, as our Fun Friday Fact, was originally set to succeed Roger Moore in the pivotal role) was eventually cast as Bond, with the film eventually being released in 1995. Such a long gap between the last Bond film might have helped in the process of recasting the character within a post-Cold War context, as well as being long enough for people to forget Licence to Kill’s dismal box office takings.

The film opens at the height of the Cold War, with 007 (Pierce Brosnan) infiltrating a secret Soviet facility with fellow agent and friend 006 (Sean Bean). The mission goes awry, leading to 006’s death at the hands of the ambitious Russian colonel, Ourumov (Gottfried John), with Bond escaping in reality-busting style: jumping off a ramp, on a bike, through the sky, into a falling plane and then stopping the plane from crashing into the rocks. More fantasy than thriller perhaps? As the film starts proper, we see 007 attempting to thwart the plans of the illusive Janus crime syndicate. After following one of the groups agents, Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) to Monoco, Bond is unable to stop her from carrying out a heist of a new, prototype helicopter, capable of withstanding an electro-magnetic pulse. When MI6 tracks the helicopter to a secret Russian weapon facility, the groups motives in stealing the helicopter become apparent; with the assistance of Ourumov, now General and Head of Weapons Division in Russia, Onatopp succeeds in destroying the facility with a powerful, Cold War, weapon known as “Goldeneye”. This weapon – surprise, surprise – is capable of causing a wide-spread electro-magnetic pulse that cripples and destroys anything with an electric pulse. 007 is tasked with travelling to Russia, settling an old score with Ourumov and unmasking the identity of the Janus syndicates mysterious leader. Oh, and to have a few salacious encounters with members of opposite sex in the process. Nearly forgot that one. Phew.

The Bond theme for Goldeneye is probably the best one out all of the Brosnan films. Written by Bono and The Edge (remember them?) and sung by Tina Turner, it certainly tops the list out of all the Brosnan Bond films combined (a pyrrhic victory perhaps, considering that in this list is the god-awful Madonna Bond theme). The video is laden with some overt political messages, chief among them being the destruction of symbols and statues from the Soviet Union ‘girls’ in the video. This may sound somewhat off-putting, but, as previously mentioned, this helps to recast the character of 007 within a new – and potentially exciting – context. Turner’s vocals are also reminiscent of earlier Bond themes, signalling at once to the audience a return to the “golden age” of Bond films. All in all, it’s one of the finest Bond modern themes; just don’t Adele!

Goldeneye has everything that Bond fan or, indeed, any thriller fan, could ask for: an intriguing plot with surprises, an array of classic 007 hallmarks such as gadgets, girls and suaveness and a healthy abundance of Sean Bean. The film succeeds in showing that James Bond is not a character defined by, and situated fixatedly within, a Cold War context. Did I also mention the film stars Sean Bean? Had the film not doing as well as it did, it is entirely possible that the character may have retired. So, even if Goldeneye and vaguely-Irish sounding James Bond’s aren’t exactly your cup of tea, we can at least thank the film for allowing the character to survive for another generation and in producing what some critics are calling the best James Bond yet. I’ll be hopefully seeing Skyfall myself in the next few days, and am eagerly hoping that it matches high expectations. I’ve already mentioned Sean Bean I believe, and I believe Sean Bean really helps Goldeneye become Sean Bean’s finest Sean Bean. Ahem. Hopefully you get the message; Sean Bean helps to make Goldeneye just that little bit better. Because, as we all know, Sean Bean is awesome, and anything starring him by association fits this definition. My borderline-obsessive feelings for Sean Bean aside, I would recommend that anyone averse to James Bond start with Goldeneye, as it’s a great way to get a feel for the traditional Bond experience in a digestible and modern form.

(Image courtesy of wikipedia.org)

 

The Simpsons: A Complete Guide To Our Favorite Family

Friday, October 26th, 2012

The Simpsons: A Complete Guide To Our Favorite Family

Everything has it’s time; the often short period where you can say a particular movie, video game, toy… – the list is endless – is either so great or relevant that it fits neatly within the much wider, global context. Usually, this period is brief, but this shortfall is typically more than made up for in the quality of the item in particular. The Simpsons was once such a T.V. show. For a period during the mid to late 90‘s, the writing staff succeeded in creating a show that brilliantly satirised popular culture; better still, enjoyable escapades for the folks in Springfield would always be assured, supported often by a broad array of celebrity voice talents. Nowadays, the arrival of yet another new episode of The Simpsons is proving more and more that this once brilliant animation’s time in the sun is long gone. To quote the Thick of It character Steve Fleming, ‘It’s just not buttering any parsnips anymore!’. The sooner the series bows out, the better, as with each new season is going to make it difficult for this end to appear at all graceful.

Tie-in’s were always going to be a foregone conclusion with a franchise as popular as The Simpsons – toys, comics, even atrocious sounding songs; The Simpsons seems to be particularly potent in attracting a large array of assorted consumer tat. The only thing I have consistently enjoyed amongst these is the comics, and these rather ace (but dubiously made) slippers. There were also some other literature-based Simpsons tie-ins, such as Bart Simpson’s Guide to Life, which would make for excellent toilet reading. Another one of was the The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to our Favorite Family, which probably remains to this day the most comprehensive companion for any T.V. show in history.

The book is essentially an episode guide for the first eight seasons of The Simpsons, – including the Tracey Ullman shorts – providing fans with a handy reference point for every episode during the show’s initial 8 year run. There is enough detail in the book to make any Wikipedia editor out there smile. It’s all here – every storyline, every character, every D’oh! – all laid in chronological order, season by season. Readers will happily go away with a much more thorough knowledge of their favourite Simpsons episode, as well as some insight into some of the hidden jokes. As a show that is very much contemporaneous in its humour, a quick flick through this book helps provide those who are watching the older episodes for the first time with the necessary knowledge to see them chortling abundantly.

Between each Season, there are a few bonus sections setting out things such as a complete catalogue of Krusty the Klown’s merchandise, the synopsis of every Itchy and Scratchy Episode and a list of every coach gag from every episode. Although placed understandably as an effective ‘break’ between each season, I get the impression that some of the details in these short sections – such as the couch gags, for example, – could have been placed under each individual episode, as opposed to being cast to their own individual section.

For a book that also purports to be the “complete’ guide to the series, the level of detail on what may the most least known and obscure part of Simpson history is somewhat meagre; I am, of course, referring to the early shorts. A paltry two pages is all that is granted to them, with only a basic synopsis of each shorts story and a brief quote or moment of notability. This is somewhat frustrating, given that the vast majority of Simpson fans across the world were not able to – and probably never will – get an opportunity to view them originally. There is also a general impression that the books level of comprehensiveness does not extend to ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspects of the shows creation. Sure, we get to know who wrote each episode, and who voices the many myriad of different characters, but it would have been nice to at least gain a sneak-peak into the making of an individual episode, how the writing process works…you get the picture.

The book must have been popular enough when it was released as a  number of sequels (if they could be called that) were published, covering seasons 9 and onwards. Only a series that has been as popular and influential as The Simpsons could command such an impressive publication pedigree. I get the feeling though that the book is representative of what is now a by-gone era. In the time before lightning fast internet connections and the instantaneous supply and demand of facts, the only way that fans of a T.V. show, band or any other pop-culture item could learn more about their obsession is through books such as these. Now, by simply typing an individual episode of The Simpsons into Wikipedia, nearly all the facts (and then some) of that episode that can be found in the Complete Guide can be displayed in front of you – free of charge. The rather obvious money-swindling purpose of the book put aside for the moment, it is still nice to have a physical copy of such information; a copy that is well-presented, detailed and very much an essential parts of any die-hard Simpsons fan collection.

(Image courtesy of mycomicshop.com)

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Friday, October 19th, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

An encore is always hard. Especially when the original book, album, film or act was just so damn good to start with. Suede’s self-titled debut album, for example, was so brilliant it won the Mercury Prize in 1993. When approached the right way, however, an encore can not only match the original but exceed it in leaps and bounds. Case in point: Suede’s second album, Dog Man Star, is by and large the band’s master work, and will likely remain the bands highest point in terms of creative output. So, what chance does the follow-up to what is universally regarded as the best game of all time have in achieving such success?

I’ll admit from the outset that I’m kind of breaking my own rules with this next post, by going outside of the 80’s and 90’s in choosing things to write about. But I get the feeling that the topic of this week’s post is quite possibly the best, most underrated N64 game out there. As already alluded to, the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OOT) is one of the most highly regarded video games of history. It’s got everything: great story, stunning landscapes, a fantastic soundtrack and utterly memorable foes to slash your way through. The next entry to the Zelda franchise was released in 2000, 2 years after OOT, to similar, if not somewhat muted, critical praise. Yet in certain respects, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask by far exceeds OOT both in terms of story, content and gameplay.

The game is a direct sequel of OOT, seeing players take the helm of (surprise, surprise!) the Hero of Time, Link. Following the defeat of Ganondorf, Link leaves Hyrule on a personal quest with his horse, Epona, ‘in search of a beloved and invaluable friend’ (presumably Navi, Link’s fairy sidekick from OOT). On his journey, he encounters a mischievous Skull Kid, who is wearing a mysterious mask. Luring Link away by taking his horse, the Skull Kid leaves Link stranded in the body of Deku Scrub in the land of Termina, a place that is eerily familiar to Hyrule, but cursed with a terrible fate; after three days, the moon will collapse into Termina, obliterating the entire world. By utilising the power of masks, and the time-travelling capabilities of the Ocarina of Time (entrusted to him by Zelda), Link must set out to stop this fate from coming to pass…and to uncover the evil behind the Skull Kid’s mask.

What sets this Zelda game out from all of the others is that, despite the fact you only have three days (an in-game day equating to roughly 54 minutes real time) in which to save Termina, Link can always revert back to the very first day and ‘start again’, as it were. Key items, such as dungeon prizes and Link’ weaponry, are always preserved when this happens, negating the need to replay through large chunks of the game. Time also plays an important part in certain character’s schedules, with potential conversation opportunities only have a short window during each day. The game is also by far and large the darkest iteration of the series, with the story reflecting this. Themes such as lost friendship, love and depression helps to mark the game out as the most mature Zelda game to date.

One of the great new additions is a number of side-quests that Link can undertake. A handy booklet keeps track of all the available quests, and also indicates the time(s) in which important parts of their resolution can be attempted. What’s even better is that nothing is missable; simply play the ‘Song of Time’ to return to Day 1 an you can reattempt any and all side-quest at your pleasure. There is also a very long side-quest which sees Link attempting to bring back together two separated lovers. I won’t spoil the details, but can say with certainty that its one of the best side-quests to have ever graced a Zelda game, if not any game ever. It’s just the same that the reward is really shit. Still, for those aiming for 100% – and to get their hands on one of the game’s best masks – playing through the entire quest line is essential.

On the dungeon side of things, Majora only offers a grand total of four completable dungeons. A paltry amount by Zelda standards, it has to be admitted, but the game more than makes up in this in the quests building up to each dungeon. This is also probably the only Zelda game where replay-ability of each dungeon is possible, as in each one Link has to collect fragments of a Great Fairy which are scattered across the dungeons various rooms. All-in-all, there is a sufficient amount of adventuring and exploring that players can embark on.

Is Majora’s Mask the most polished and ‘fresh’ Zelda game there has ever been? Far from; the feeling of similarity (in terms of characters, certainty) from OOT is comforting, but does give off the feeling of a very much recycled experience. But is Majora’s Mask the boldest, mature and possibly most expansive Zelda game? Almost certainly, and it is in these key areas that the game sets itself out as a worthy and, ultimately, impressive encore to OOT. History is ultimately written by the winners, and OOT has certainly proved itself the victor in this instance; but to forget and discard Majora’s Mask from the history books would be to put aside one of the most unique Zelda games that has ever been conceived.

(Image courtesy of zs.ffshrine.org)