Earth Defence Force 4.1

If you were to ask me, most days, what my two favourite things were I’d most likely choose spaceships and robots. So, y’know, it’s probably fortunate that I play videogames because if ever there was somewhere with a surplus of spaceships and robots, that’s videogames.

Earth Defence Force is a game that makes up probably around 92% of robots and spaceships in videogames in each of its incarnations. (Well, except Insect Armageddon but that’s a bit like Doctor Who:The Movie or something like that – we don’t speak of it in polite company. Or impolite company for that matter. Woe is the person who speaks of it, basically).

It also manages to cram in more robots and spaceships than any other game anywhere. Each console generation that Earth Defence Force has seen a leap to seems to have worked on the principle of ‘how many more robots and spaceships can we fit on the screen at once?’ – in the latest incarnation I put the count somewhere in the region of ‘holy shit, that’s a lot of robots and spaceships’

Seriously, within a few missions you’re presented with a field swarming with spaceships and it’s the sort of swarming with spaceships you don’t see in any other game. Like, the screen is full of spaceships.

And you have to shoot them all.

And the robots when you’re faced with the robots.

And the ants the size of houses.

And the spiders the size of houses.

And the spiders the size of skyscrapers.

And the really big spaceships that hover overhead dropping tens of smaller spaceships at a time.

And and and the other stuff that’s also big and robotic, you know – dinosaurs and dragons. Yeah.

Look, Earth Defence Force is a game where you shoot everything. Including the skyscrapers which crumble to the ground with a most satisfying thud.

Without a doubt Earth Defence Force is the single most stupid, the single most ridiculous, the single most absurd series of videogames I’ve ever played.

I adore them. I adore them to bits.

I adore them because everything explodes.

As you progress through the stages and the game throws more and more stuff at you, more and more combinations of spaceships, giant ants, bouncing spiders, enormous killer robots and whatever else, you’re lucky if you can see *anything* on the screen. It’s a game that finds its joy in absolute wanton destruction of everything. It’s a game where you aren’t knee-deep in the dead, the dead have buried you under a pile of more dead and you still come out shooting things until you’ve reduced everything to roughly knee height, if that.

One of my favourite things is finding myself so absorbed in shooting the huge amounts of things in front of me, I turn around to find even more things to be wiped out which somehow I hadn’t noticed. In so many other games I’d sigh as so many games are bullshit – in EDF, it’s someone stacking up the shooting gallery again because you’ve won a free turn and a rubber ducky. Except you probably have to shoot the duck now. Look, this got away from me.

There’s a stage fairly early on in 4.1 where enormous robots are clattering out of the sea and heading inland. It’s one of my favourite set pieces in the Earth Defence Force series. Looking out so far into the distance and seeing this line of enormous robots heading towards you, tanks storming across the beach, your soldiers and the public yelling constantly. It’s beautiful in a way only videogames can be.

And so, you wipe out this row of robots and look out to sea and there they are, an even bigger row of robots. It should by rights be a “fucks sake” moment in the game but instead I find myself near giddy with excitement, knowing the size of the explosions, the chaos and the carnage this will unleash as they head up onto the shore.

4.1 isn’t the first time this setpiece has been used but the amount of stuff the game pushes round now, it works so so much better than at any time before.

It helps a lot that it’s a game that lets you balance your own skills – whilst it withholds the more OTT weapons for more difficult to play with classes (Flying people! Beefy armoured soldiers!) and higher difficulty levels, it’s happy enough to arm you to the teeth on easy and let you enjoy the fireworks. Whatever, it wants you to enjoy its show.

It’s a show that hangs together by a thread too. There isn’t a moment where it doesn’t feel like it’s all going to fall apart, it is the videogame as Spinal Tap and everything is up to eleven except the eleven is the amount of giant robots standing in front of you. There’s another sixteen or so behind you, hiding behind some huge jumping spiders.

It’s one of my favourite videogames, perhaps because it’s the most videogame videogame series ever made.

It is dumb. It really, genuinely, is a game where you mainly just shoot ants with a side order of robots and spaceships. That’s why I love it though. Why I’ll always love it.

Because the ants and spaceships and robots fucking well explode everywhere and there’s lots of them.

It’s great.

Thrunt

It’s a work in progress and a shinier version is on the cards but I’ve been enjoying myself with Thrunt as-is.

Thrunt is the nudge nudge wink wink of videogames. Thrunt is the ‘ooh matron’ to a world that lost the fine art of a double entendre in favour of ‘look at that, see that thing you saw elsewhere? That LOL’ which so preoccupies videogames. It is, perhaps, a bit more Finbarr Saunders than Carry On, mind you. It’s the videogame of a fourteen year old digging out Derek And Clive tapes for the first time. It contains the words ‘fanny hole’.

Whatever else it is, Thrunt is a giant scrawl of schoolboy sniggering made game.

I mean, it’s called Thrunt and that sounds bit like (Brunt – Ed).

Its name makes perfect sense as a portmanteaux, mixing as it does the now traditional game of Thrust with the more established game of swearing at inanimate objects. It brings N style difficulty to one of the elder statesmen of videogame designs. It doesn’t always work, at times it can feel like stages are dragged out just a little bit too far given the punishing difficulty Thrunt inflicts upon you but the controls feel just about right enough, the idea just about right enough that I’m excited to see where things end up.

For a few quid, it seems worth ducking in on the ground floor and watching the game becoming everything it is planned to become. I’ve been keeping an eye on it for a while now and I’m happy to see it heading in a prettier, less just blocked out direction. In the meantime, it’s a fun and exciting challenge – maybe not always to complete a level but pretty much always in avoiding calling a videogame some absurd swears as you thrunt into a box a little too fast, a little too hard.

Ultralight Beam

It seems kinda fitting that after a fairly lengthy enforced absence from playing much in the way of videogames, the first game I want to post about is by Tom Sennett, author of the last game I posted about.

Ultralight Beam is the perfect distillation of the be-positive-scribblepunk aesthetic Tom’s been working with for years and as aesthetics go, it’s definitely one of my favourites. Combine that with an arena collect ’em up? Yeah, I’m down for that, alright.

Ultralight_Beam 2016-05-04 00-34-50-73

Look, you just collect stars and avoid monsters, right? There’s not really that much to explain.

Ultralight_Beam 2016-05-04 00-33-38-73

But sometimes you don’t need much more than collecting stars and avoiding monsters.

Ultralight_Beam 2016-05-04 00-33-08-73

Because sometimes avoiding monsters and collecting stars feels really fucking good.

Ultralight_Beam 2016-05-04 00-36-20-72

And when the game looks and sounds really good too?

Ultralight_Beam 2016-05-04 00-36-00-73

Don’t look at me to go picking at it, wondering if and where it could be better.

Ultralight_Beam 2016-05-04 00-31-52-74

Sometimes I just want to feel good, y’know?

Ultralight_Beam 2016-05-04 00-32-32-73

Ultralight_Beam 2016-05-04 00-31-22-73

Ultralight_Beam 2016-05-04 00-31-28-73

Yeah.

Ubermosh

Ah man, I don’t know how many people told me that I should really get round to playing Ubermosh but OK OK I HAVE GOT ROUND TO PLAYING UBERMOSH, SHUT UP NOW.

It’s almost like folks knew it would be the kind of thing I really, really liked. And like it I do. It is a short-form arcade game, the bastard child of my own War Twat and Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne sort of but not at all. You spawn in the middle of an arena, enemies come at you. They fire bullets. You have a sword so you chop the bullets up. Kill an enemy with your sword and you get to load up on guns. Load up on guns to shoot enemies but you’ll still need to slice enemy bullets with your sword. You will die in short order. Then you’ll start again.

It’s fantastic. It’s stupid as all anything but what a tremendous sort of stupid. And it really, really helps that it’s got some sort of pixel-shareware-industrial chic that sometimes makes it feel like its a game that existed in the nineties but we kinda forgot about it or something. I dunno.

As games that last around 30 seconds if you’re lucky go, it’s up there as a grand one.

Lovely Weather We’re Having

One of my constant laments with games is that we don’t have many things I could appropriately describe as “nice”.

Noby Noby Boy is “nice”, Metamorphabet is “nice”, Hohokum is “nice”. There’s a small handful of folks who are good at making things you could describe as nice whilst the rest of the game-me-do-verse preoccupies itself with mainly-not-nice.

I try and bring a bit of niceness to my own work, keeping things polite, respectful and encouraging but ultimately they’re still games about a neon fish blowing stuff up so as a whole, they’re not really all that nice regardless of how much I abstract it.

Lovely Weather We’re Having is nice. It’s the full nice at that.

2015-11-07_00002

A game where you pop out of your cottage ingame to see how the weather in real life has effected the world around your cottage. You nip around, play with a few things, have a bit of an explore, watch how the colours have changed and chat to folks before calling it quits until the next time.

I’ve talked to a chum who was happy that whilst today it might have been raining, at least the river was blue today for a change. I’ve talked to a chum who enjoyed the rain bouncing on her brain. I kicked a fallen tree into a cornfield, nudged some seeds that made a boinging sound and made a mess of some tiny houses by accident. Well, I didn’t know someone would leave a load of tiny houses lying around on the floor like that, did I?

When night came, I nipped out for a walk again and went for a little swim, just me and my dog. The dog didn’t jump in but instead watched from the jetty as I splashed around by myself. I got up, out and went back home before promising myself to come back another time.

It’s small wonders, really. Just a little moment to appreciate a little something and feel a bit better about your day because of it.

I don’t know about you but more stuff like that seems, well, nice.

2015-11-07_00004

The Burps

420500-the-burps-dos-screenshot-wine-barrel

Molyneux only knows what year it was and Molyneux only knows where my boss got it from but at some point in the nineties, he let me (“providing I could carry it myself”) take his excessively weighty PC round to my own home and nestling there amongst all these other games was The Burps.

The Burps is, give or take a tweak or seven, Ultimate’s Atic Atac remade for DOS by Ovine By Design. It was, even allowing for Wolfenstein and all manner of other things stashed in a small pile of discs, the most exciting find for me. Don’t ask me why but it’d never really occurred to me that, well, you could remake old games. It sounds so stupid, right? If you can make one thing then you can make another, right? But still, when you’ve got this whole universe of untapped possibilities, why would you want to remake a videogame?

Yet there we were and someone had done just that with The Burps.

I often joke that it was all downhill for Ultimate after Jetpac and I still stand by that opinion in the main but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few more actually great games to come, right? And Atic Atac was such a great game, one of a handful of videogames that very early on sold me on videogames as being able to be set somewhere, in a place, not just in some abstract star field or rolling across the terrain of a supposed alien world. That videogames could do this outside of just describing with words the where and how of somewhere. Atic Atac was set in a big old house and I loved that so very much. And at some point around 1993, I discovered someone else who loved that as much as I did.

It’s funny now because obviously we have the internet proper and it’s easy to find someone who gives the same amount of shits (or scarily more because this is the internet and giving a scary amount of shits about inconsequential media is a thing) about a thing as you but I could never run to Compuserve or any number of early connected things. I was poor, my family just scraping by, luxuries like that were well out the window.

It’s not even like it was really my first encounter with a remake, y’know? My mate and I had an Amiga and they weren’t in that short supply. It’s just that, well, it was the first time it really sunk in. There’s people out there who value these old things too. Enough to pour the time and effort into making them run on new machines. The timing helped. 92,93 and things were racing technology wise. It was, in true videogame fashion, all about excitement for the new, the upcoming, the technological leaps we were about to take. Old was out, here comes the filled polygon future. This wasn’t just the novelty of “look, it’s Jet Set Willy running on an Amiga” or something. It was more.

The Burps though? The first time I realised that old games didn’t have to be forgotten in that race. The first time I realised the importance of having these things stick around to be talked about.

And sure, it’s just sort of Atic Atac for DOS when you look at it now but that’s sort of the whole point too. “Just” Atic Atac for DOS is fucking cool.

A fair few years later, I’d stumble upon a remake of Elite’s The Fall Guy by a chap called Gordon King and that’d shift and change my life in ways unexpected but that’s another story.

[Pic from MobyGames.]

Spacepants

Spacepants is the best game about going round in a circle forever and ever and ever that ever ever ever got made.

Described as an endless runner in a single room, it’s a game where you go round and round and round and round to collect coins, jump or quickly switch directions to avoid being skewered by one of a myriad of baddies and it’s… it’s so so good.

It’s arcade loud, it’s ridiculously compulsive and it’s by a (then) 12 year old kid. As a grown up, I’d be happy to have made a game like this, never mind.

Spacepants is brilliant. And, you know, it’s called SPACEPANTS. SPACE PANTS. SPAAAAAACEPAAAAANTS. This is how videogame naming should work but it rarely does in favour of Manshooter:The Manshooting,

N++

I look like an idiot when playing N++. An intolerable idiot at that, it seems. Apparently, twitching on the sofa when your partner is trying to relax is kinda frowned upon unless it’s a medical emergency.

You see, the problem with N++ (and I say ‘problem’ but it’s really not a problem at all) is that the controls are so damn bloody good. In all my years of playing games, it’s rare to come across one (that isn’t a shooty bang bang thing) where the distance between myself and the controller just disappears and I slip into an approximation of me as one with the game, ‘the zone’ if you will.. Except, the exacting nature of N++ and the fluidity of the movement somehow manages to translate to a curiously physical thing. It’s something a little outside of just pressing buttons, reaching up my arms until every step, every slide, every jump is met with my own body moving at the same time. Not necessarily in time, really.

N++ is the kind of game that ruins other games, y’know?

Of course, it’s not just the controls here. The level design is often wickedly funny in its cruelty, falling way more into the “ah, I see what you did there” camp than “oh, I hate you now” and with each stage being completable by normal functioning human beings and with the option of collecting all the gold for those who are a bit more on the weirdy side of stuff, it’s rarely frustrating in the throwing the controller sense.

Here we have the platformer as frustration because you know, you always know that the next move isn’t out of reach, everything is tuned so beautifully to make sure you always know that it’s you that’s just mucked it up here not the game. You can be better. You can always be better. And N++ lets you be better. Deaths are instant, restarts the same. You live and crucially, you learn.

All the tune of some deep and often stomach rumbling techno.

N++ is so bloody good. So, so bloody good.