Beyond Good & Evil, PC

Michel Ancel (the creator of Rayman) and his team produced a video gaming classic in 2003 with Ubisoft‘s Beyond Good & Evil.

It is a pseudo sci-fi fantasy, third-person action/adventure where you control a young woman called Jade, with a pig sidekick called Pey’j, and who is battling against the sinister “DomZ”.

Gameplay is a mixture of running around, pushing buttons, taking photos, blasting stuff, hitting things, having boss battles, driving a cool hovercraft, and all manner of other interesting mechanics. If there’s one thing Beyond Good & Evil is it’s “varied”.

Graphically the game still manages to hold its own on modern systems and is a pleasing mixture of wild colours and ethereal special effects. The game is reasonably child-friendly too, although I wouldn’t say that it is a game necessarily for kids. I really enjoyed it and I’m an old b*stard…

Always worth picking up in a sale, if you haven’t yet played it.

More: Beyond Good & Evil on Wikipedia
Steam: Beyond Good & Evil on Steam
GOG.com: Beyond Good & Evil on GOG.com

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

Magic Carpet 2, PC

The full title of this 1995 sequel is Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds, and it is an excellent continuation of the series.

Magic Carpet 2 features exterior and interior (cavernous) levels that are more dense than the original, with more new monsters, secrets, and evil wizards to defeat. It also has a multiplayer mode (which the first game didn’t have).

Graphically, Magic Carpet 2 is more impressive than its predecessor and the use of night and day in the game results in a more varied colour palette – and a more interesting landscape – than previously. Again: the landscape is deformable to some degree by shooting it with fireballs, and various locations hide triggers that spawn monsters, new spells, and bosses. Unlike the first game, Magic Carpet 2 features a useful ‘Help Mode’, that points out what everything is – until you get sick of it and turn it off. It helps get into the game quicker, and not miss any important gameplay features.

The gameplay in Magic Carpet 2 is pretty much the same as before: build a castle; collect mana with your balloon; build your castle up; collect more mana; rid the landscape of monsters; complete any quest objectives.

Most monsters are pretty tough, so the best tactic is to lure them away from groups to deal with them one at a time. The killer bees, for example, will kill you quickly if a number of them swarm you, so it’s best to split them up if you can, which you can do with your deft carpet skills. Mastering the carpet is key to beating the game, and the controls work extremely well, allowing you to perform very tight and precise manoeuvres with just a modicum of skill. You can also fly backwards and sidewards, which helps a lot. The controls are very responsive, though, so do take some getting used to.

There are 25 levels to play through in total – all of which can be completed quickly (by completing quest objectives), or can be scoured for more spells and mana, and a higher completion percentage, if so wished.

Magic Carpet 2 can also be changed to SVGA mode (640×480) ‘on the fly’, meaning: you can switch between the default VGA (320×200) resolution, and SVGA resolution by just clicking an option in the menu, although I couldn’t find a way of making SVGA the default (every time I restarted the game it ran in VGA, and I had to manually change the resolution). The game also crashed quite a bit for me in SVGA mode (usually preceded by graphical glitches), and I had some problems saving the game (and having to restart from the beginning – four times so far). Playing in VGA proved to be more stable (no crashes). And this is the bought GOG.com version I’m talking about… In spite of that I really enjoyed playing Magic Carpet 2 again – it is better than the first Magic Carpet, and it is also a superb game in its own right. Another classic DOS game from Bullfrog.

More: Magic Carpet 2 on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds on GOG.com

Realms of the Haunting, PC

I have to admit that, in spite of the slightly wonky graphics/cut scenes, I have a real soft spot for Gremlin Interactive‘s 1997 PC MS-DOS release, Realms of the Haunting. Mostly because I was lucky and got to visit Gremlin‘s offices in Sheffield to see the game in production, and to talk to the people who were making it. I drove all the way from Bournemouth – where I worked as a video games magazine editor – and spent an entire day there to preview the game for PC Power magazine.

Back then, Realms of the Haunting looked good. It was a Doom-type 3D engine-based survival horror game, co-programmed by Tony Crowther, and written and produced by Paul Green. It had specially-filmed cut sequences using professional actors and came on four CD-ROMs. The thing it had over Doom, though, was being able to interact with objects on-screen, by clicking a mouse cursor on them.

Now time has passed and we can use hindsight to inform us, I have to say that I still quite like Realms of the Haunting, even though it’s dated badly and the graphics look weird (especially when looking up and down – the game doesn’t have any real perspective correction, just like the original Doom). Also: I always thought the cut scenes were hokey – even back in 1997 – so watching them now doesn’t appal me. It’s not the acting in them that’s bad (it’s actually pretty good), it’s the way the cut scenes have been produced. The film “special effects” are awful; the compositing is basic at best; and the video encoding is worse than standard definition. And I’m being charitable…

Thankfully the story is quite good. You play an investigator called Adam Randall who goes into a dark house looking for clues about the mysterious death of his father. And of course he finds more than he bargained for… Again, thankfully: there are weapons to be found and used against whatever it is that is out to get him. Eventually Adam discovers that the house is in fact a portal to different universes and that he must prevent an impending apocalypse by visiting each universe and unlocking its secrets. So nothing major…

Realms of the Haunting is involving and atmospheric – even gripping in places. It’s been designed to be scary, and succeeds in places. Some of the monsters look a bit dodgy but are tough opponents to beat, and the environments are relatively simple, but overall RotH is well worth a play if you like old school survival horror games. It’s still available to buy on GOG.com and Steam, which is heartening.

More: Realms of the Haunting on Wikipedia
Steam: Realms of the Haunting on Steam
GOG.com: Realms of the Haunting on GOG.com

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