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

Karnov, ZX Spectrum

The ZX Spectrum conversion of the Data East arcade game, Karnov, is a good example of a decent arcade conversion on the Spectrum.

The graphics are colourful, well-drawn, and avoid colour clash by using a black masking effect around the sprites. It’s quite a clever technique that works very well in this game.

Gameplay-wise: Karnov is an unforgiving arcade game, and this Spectrum conversion is marginally easier than its parent, helped in a perverse way by the frequent slowdown. It’s reasonable fun though and worth digging out if you like challenging platformers.

More: Karnov on Wikipedia

Rolling Bird, PC

Rolling Bird is a modern tribute to the classic arcade game Rolling Thunder.

Graphically it looks a bit like an NES game, or an old arcade game. The colours are bold and the animation simple, but still excellent.

Gameplay-wise: you control a guy with a gun. He can shoot (obviously); jump forward; jump upwards (onto a higher platform), drop down (to a lower platform), and duck. And of course he can run left or right and enter doors (by pressing ‘up’ when stood in front of one). Some doors contain weapon upgrades, others: bullet refills, but most contain nothing at all – other than more enemies.

The game is basically a simple run-and-gun shooter, but is extremely challenging and really quite ingenious in its design as it uses ‘procedural generation’ to create the levels (ie. they’re different every time).

I can’t underline, though, how difficult Rolling Bird is. It’s one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played. Certainly one of the most difficult to grab… If you want to see how it should be played, watch this video.

The game’s designer, South Korean Hijong Park, has created a number of free and donationware games that are available on Steam right now. They are all well worth a play in my opinion.

See also: Golden Hornet, a great helicopter shoot ’em up by the same guy.

Steam: Rolling Bird on Steam

Fallout 4, PC

The fourth Fallout was released by Bethesda in 2015, some seven years after Fallout 3, and five years after Fallout: New Vegas. In fact: I would call this the fifth Fallout game, because Fallout: New Vegas was more than just game number 3.5, in my humble opinion – it was the best game in the entire series. But anyway… What do I know?

What Fallout 4 retains from the previous games it benefits from (like lockpicking, hacking, and companions, which are essentially the same), and what Fallout 4 loses from the previous games it also benefits from too. Excepting for maybe the Perk Chart, which I found to be a big step backwards, usability-wise, in Fallout 4.

That ‘blip’ aside, I love the sparse and refined interface of Fallout 4; the story and conversations are simpler and more realistic; and ‘crafting’ has taken on a whole new meaning this time around. New additions to the gameplay, such as building and defending settlements, the use of power armour, and manufacturing helper robots, I think are all excellent. Although base-building in Fallout 4 is not perfect (trying to get fencing to connect up is a bitch), the fundamentals behind it work very well and add another dimension to the Fallout experience.

Of course, Fallout 4 is all about chasing quests, gaining and using experience points, playing politics with different factions, and hoarding every piece of tech and weaponry you can get your hands on. Exploring the crumbling, post-apocalyptic Boston, Massachusetts yields many surprising moments.

What I love most about Fallout 4 is the world itself. And the atmospherics. The effort Bethesda has made to create a believable, destroyed world is remarkable. The use of light/dark; coloured lighting; weather effects; music and sound effects all combine to make something really worth experiencing. On normal difficulty Fallout 4 is a challenging game – that I like too. At times the enemies in the game can be utterly ruthless and punishing (try meeting an Assaultron Demon and its friends when you’re lower levelled and see what you think of that experience…), and there are many unique monsters in the game that are way beyond your initial capabilities and who will mince you for dinner without warning if you make a mis-step. Which is all part of the Fallout RPG experience – fear, followed by eventual domination (when you go back to get your revenge later). And – there being no real level cap this time – you could in theory just keep on surviving indefinitely.

At times Fallout 4 can be frustrating. A game this big and complex is going to have some bugs, and I did experience a couple that broke my game (which I had to use to the console to fix), which nobody wants to do, but at least a fix was available, saving hours of gameplay that I’d otherwise have to re-do. I also think that the item management is still not quite as good as I’ve seen in other games. Organising items can be quite tiring in Fallout 4 and a few tweaks to the menu system might have made it a lot easier. But overall: I don’t want to complain about it too much, because I really enjoyed playing Fallout 4.

Where would I put Fallout 4 in my list of best Fallout games? Is it better than Fallout: New Vegas? Mmm. I would probably put it joint top with Fallout: New Vegas. In some respects, Fallout 4 is better, but in other respects: not. The story/characterisation and world-building in Fallout 4 are outstanding. There’s no doubting that.

More: Fallout 4 on Wikipedia
Steam: Fallout 4 on Steam

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

Saboteur II: Avenging Angel, ZX Spectrum

This 1987 sequel to the pioneering Saboteur is so much bigger in scope than its predecessor, but retains much of what made it good in the first place.

The main character – a stealthy ninja, on an infiltration mission – is actually the sister of the previous character, out on mission to avenge his death. So you’re controlling a woman inside that ninja outfit, which is great in my opinion, and Saboteur 2 was one of the first videogames to feature a female protagonist in the main role.

In Saboteur 2 there are nine separate missions that take place in the same gigantic location, with the difficulty level increasing as you progress. The basic aim is the same as the previous game: sneak around a guarded complex, looking for pieces of punched tape (yes: punched tape…), while at the same time avoiding guards and their pet pumas! No – not dogs this time – but pumas. And they do actually look like pumas, which is pretty cool.

There are also other incidental puzzles to solve along the way, such as having to disable electric fences that are blocking the way, and also a number of rather exciting motorbike sequences that do add some much-needed variation to the game.

The introductory sequence – of the ninja arriving by hang glider, then dropping down to begin the game – is iconic in ZX Spectrum history.

Note: the loading screen actually shows a map of the entire game. Or, at least: the entire complex that you’re exploring, and it is very useful if you want to play the game seriously. A lot of games-players didn’t even realise it was a map of the game at the time! Looking back: this was both a unique and clever thing to do – put the game map on-screen during loading – so players could study it while they waited for loading to finish (which could take more than five minutes).

More: Saboteur II: Avenging Angel on Wikipedia

Saboteur, ZX Spectrum

Written by Clive Townsend and published by Durell Software in 1985, Saboteur is a stealth action platform game that was something of a hit with ZX Spectrum users back in the day.

You play a ninja on an infiltration mission, who arrives by boat and who must sneak around a large warehouse, looking for a floppy disk with “names of rebel leaders” on it, and then make good his escape. Unfortunately the warehouse is crawling with guards, dogs, and automated security systems, all of which must either be destroyed or avoided. The level of difficulty can be chosen by the player beforehand, and there are nine difficulty levels to choose from (one to nine), and the higher the level is: the more concentrated the defence.

The saboteur can run, crouch, climb ladders, do a high kick, and throw shuriken, and – for the time – was a versatile and rewarding character to control. Playing Saboteur now still brings some joy, and the game has aged reasonably well, considering the Spectrum‘s limitations.

A much bigger (and better) sequel (by the same author and publisher) came out the following year, in 1987.

More: Saboteur on Wikipedia

Manos: The Hands of Fate, PC

Now this is a game I never thought I’d ever get to play… A game based on arguably the worst film of all time. A film called Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966), and a film that is so bad that it has been known to reduce grown men to tears… And – believe it or not – I’ve sat though it twice. Yes: twice. Anyone who’s seen Manos: The Hands of Fate might want to congratulate me on that feat since sitting through the film twice requires a special kind of skill… Thankfully – as a lover and connoisseur of bad films – I have developed an immunity to [most of] them over the years, and it was with some excitement that I purchased this game on Steam and installed it…

Manos: The Hands of Fate (the film) – as bad as it is – does have a wonderful, naive charm to it that only old movies shot on film have. It also has a strange, almost nonsensical story and plot, about a family who become lost in the desert and stumble upon a sinister Paganistic cult – led by The Master.

This “naive charm” is replicated in the game, using simple sprites and 8-bit style graphics. In many ways it looks like an NES game, which I believe was the intention of the developers. Gameplay is mostly platform-based, although you do have weapons at your disposal and can even upgrade them as you go. The basic aim is to jump your way to the end of a level. Some levels scroll continuously, and other don’t. With each life you have a limited number of hearts. Hitting enemies depletes them. Falling into pits kills you instantaneously. If I had to pigeonhole Manos I would probably call it a ‘run and gun’ game because you can’t really complete the levels without shooting.

All the major characters in the film are represented in the game – including the almost legendary Torgo; The Master’s ‘Satyr’ (ie. servant). In the film Torgo is played by the tragic John Reynolds. I call him “tragic” because… well, Reynolds sadly killed himself not long after the film was completed, due to depression. And it has been well-documented that Reynolds was high on acid when they shot all of his scenes, which goes some way to explaining just how weird they are. The film; the story behind the making of the film; the film’s life now, in the modern age – all these things I believe inform the game in some way…

I wouldn’t call Manos a ‘must-have’ game – unless you’ve seen the original film. If you have seen the original film: I would definitely recommend it. It does have some surprisingly good moments (including tributes to other famous ‘bad’ films), as well as some extremely annoying ones too!

Note: these grabs are from the so-called Director’s Cut, which has enhanced lighting effects (that have the adverse effect of making some of the levels ten times harder!), and is also much more difficult than earlier versions. If you look on YouTube you’ll see play-throughs of both versions.

More: Manos: The Hands of Fate on Wikipedia
Steam: MANOS on Steam

19 Part One: Boot Camp, Commodore 64

Based on the Paul Hardcastle pop hit of 1985, 19 (“nnnnn-Nineteen“), 19 Part One: Boot Camp is a multi-event action game that is supposed to portray the training phase of a Vietnam solder’s experiences.

Overall, the game is pretty good – if a little on a tough side. There are four sequential events: Assault Course, Shooting Range, Jeep Training, and Unarmed Combat, and the aim is to work your way through them in order to take on your drill sergeant in unarmed combat at the end.

Graphically: 19 is nicely-drawn, coloured, and animated, but isn’t particularly special. The soundtrack – a chiptunes version of Hardcastle‘s hit – was created by legendary C64 composer Rob Hubbard, and is worthy of note. The gameplay is okay – it’s not bad, but it’s not great either. The final beat ’em up section is pretty poor, when compared to the likes of International Karate Plus (which came out a year before this).

19 Part One: Boot Camp was published by Cascade Games in 1988 and was a reasonable success. Unfortunately: there was nnn-no part two. It nnnn-never got made.

More: 19 Part One: Boot Camp on Wikipedia