Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Nintendo 64

Conker’s Bad Fur Day was a surprising 2001 release – on the Nintendo 64 – for British developer Rare, in collaboration with Nintendo.

What is surprising about it is that it is an “adult” game – meaning: it contains cartoon characters behaving in ways that you don’t normally see in a Nintendo game, like vomiting on people’s shoes, making sexual innuendo, and using mild swear words.

The game begins with a cinematic Clockwork Orange-style scene, with Conker (a squirrel) looking over the top of a glass of milk as the camera slowly tracks backwards while a pseudo Beethoven musical score warbles away in the background. You know – or at least should know – at this point what kind of game this is going to be… And that is: extremely satirical, and with maybe a bit of a screw loose…

When Conker’s Bad Fur Day eventually gets going the first thing you have to do is get rid of Conker’s hangover, which is an unusual way of introducing a player to the game. Then you go on a surreal 3D platform adventure, full of Pythonesque characters, toilet humour, silly and poor taste jokes, endless tasks and puzzles, tons of film references, and of course the occasional boss battle (including one where you fight a giant turd).

Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a game that will appeal to adults who like puerile humour, and also to children as a “forbidden” game that “must not be played under any circumstances”, but they all do… It’s actually not that bad in terms of its ‘adult’ nature, and doesn’t contain anything too contentious, which is why Nintendo allowed Rare to make the game in the first place.

More: Conker’s Bad Fur Day on Wikipedia

IndyCar Racing, PC

Papyrus Design Group‘s 1993 classic IndyCar Racing is a fast, MS-DOS-based racing game with lots to interest petrolheads, sim fans, and geeks.

It features most of the drivers and teams from the 1993 IndyCar season, except Nigel Mansell, his moustache, and a couple of other drivers (probably because of image rights) and it sees you pitting your wits against them in either single events or a championship season.

Graphically, IndyCar Racing looks a little primitive now, but back in 1993 it was pretty mindblowing. Especially the Instant Replay feature, which is much more advanced than the one seen in IndyCar‘s predecessor, Indy 500. IndyCar Racing records up to an hour of race time from different angles and allows immediate playback and cutting between cameras. Watching races in IndyCar Racing is almost as much fun as racing in them…

With realism turned up, IndyCar Racing is extremely challenging (one crash and it’s all over). With realism turned down it’s great to just take it out for a spin. The cockpit looks great with all its instrumentation; the tracks twist, tilt, and undulate beautifully; the speed blur on the tyre logos is superb, and the feeling of speed in general is excellent.

There’s a two-player option, via either modem, or null modem (connecting two PCs together via a serial port). I’ve got no idea if you can play multiplayer via DOSBox – I wouldn’t be surprised if you could – which would be the ‘Holy Grail’ for any IndyCar Racing fans out there.

More: IndyCar Racing on Wikipedia

Karateka, Commodore 64

Karateka was Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner‘s first published game. He programmed it (originally for the Apple II) while attending Yale University in 1984.

It’s a simple martial arts fighting game that uses rotoscoped graphics to create realistic animation. Back in 1984 they were pretty revolutionary.

The aim of Karateka is to fight your way into a guarded fortress to rescue your love interest, Mariko. Using well-timed punches and kicks you defeat waves of opponents; defeat attacking hawks; and make your way past deadly falling portcullis – until you reach the boss, Akuma. Who of course you have to fight to free Mariko.

Karateka is – I think – a better-looking game on the Commodore 64 than on the Apple II. Both versions play quite slowly (frustratingly slowly for some, although you can boost the speed in an emulator), but the underlying gameplay is still sound.

Jordan Mechner himself was involved in a 2012 remake of Karateka, released for XBox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and iOS.

More: Karateka on Wikipedia

Etrian Odyssey, Nintendo DS

This pioneering Japanese RPG was first released in 2007 and paved the way for one of the greatest series in the history of level-grinders… The Etrian Odyssey series.

Number three is my favourite, but one and two are excellent too (see also the Nintendo 3DS fourth instalment), and all follow the same credo. Which is: to base a game around exploration, mapping, and turn-based combat. And to make the party system flexible, so that adventurers can take out different parties and experiment with character skills.

Of course this first Etrian Odyssey is not quite as finessed as the second and third (or fourth) games. It’s missing some important features of the later games, like some of the usability features that make this type of game easy to play on a handheld (for example: it hasn’t got the ability to cycle through your characters using the L&R shoulder buttons, which is available from game two onwards, which makes a significant difference). It doesn’t have ‘auto attacks’, which saves time with low level monsters; and the boost system is clumsy. Also: the layout of the text isn’t right in this first game either – it’s kinda misaligned inside the dialogue boxes, which Atlus fixed in the next game.

Etrian Odyssey also doesn’t quite have the breadth of variation as seen in the second, third and fourth games, although it does establish many of the series’ staples, such as character classes Landsknechts and Dark Hunters (specialised fighters who can excel with certain weapons, like swords and whips). It also establishes front and back rows and allows some classes to specialise in either, which is a nice feature (because you can choose to take a single character in a radically different direction to the norm, which is always interesting). A lot of thought has obviously gone in to Etrian Odyssey and the way it plays, and it is good to see how many great ideas were included at the start.

Etrian Odyssey is a beautifully-produced game by Atlus. The art is wonderful throughout and the music and menu system are highly polished.

If you’ve played the later Etrian Odyssey games before this one then you might get tired of it quickly, simply because it lacks the control/menu shortcuts of the sequels. That’d be a pity because this first game has a tremendous amount of content to play through and is technically a great piece of programming. The stylus controls on the mapping system were pretty much nailed with this first game. In fact: the mapping element – as a whole – was this game’s gift to the RPG world. It is such a great feature and works brilliantly well in this – and every other Etrian Odyssey game that followed it. It’s the game’s USP, and it’s also the series’ USP.

More on The King of Grabs:
Etrian Odyssey, Etrian Odyssey II, Etrian Odyssey III

More: Etrian Odyssey on Wikipedia

Final Fantasy VIII, PlayStation

Considered something of a curveball to the hugely successful episode seven, Final Fantasy VIII (eight) is more great level-grinding goodness from Japanese dev Gods, Square. This one released in 1999.

A completely different setting and characters to previous instalments, Final Fantasy VIII features six playable protagonists and five temporarily-playable characters, each of whom make their entrance at key points in the story. The main character – who you begin the game with – is called Squall Leonhart – and Squall is a SeeD cadet. “SeeDs” by the way are elite mercenaries who can “junction” Guardian Forces to create a wide range of special offensive and defensive abilities, and these kind of act as a substitute for armour and accessories. In combat, SeeDs can use weapons and cast magic, and create all manner of colourful lightshows with their spells, and can even activate special power moves with “Limit Breaks” – using a meter that builds up and can be unleashed when full. They must also use “Draw Points” to keep their magic points topped-up for battle.

The aim of the game is to use all the powers and resources at your disposal to defeat the sorceress, Ultimecia, who is attempting to destroy the universe by compressing time. This is spectacular, high brow science fiction fantasy… gobbledegook… Gobbledegook of the highest order, nonetheless…

In terms of presentation, Final Fantasy VIII really pushed the original PlayStation to its limits, with amazing animated cut scenes, beautiful 2D backgrounds, lots of special effects during combat, and much more 3D than the previous game. The menu system in this was a big leap forward too. People often forget how good Final Fantasy VIII was for the time, because it was eclipsed by the gigantic presence of its predecessor.

A long-awaited re-mastered edition of Final Fantasy VIII goes on sale on Steam this week. The 3rd of September to be precise. Will it be worth the £15.99 they’re asking for it? Having very much enjoyed the original, my response is: quite possibly.

Note: These screenshots are from the original PlayStation version.

More: Final Fantasy VIII on Wikipedia
Steam: Final Fantasy VIII Remastered on Steam