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Katamari Damacy retrospective: Oddball puzzler turns ten years old

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First Released: 2004 (PS2)
Now Available On: N/A

Katamari Damacy is one of the strangest things to emerge from Japan in the last ten years, and that's saying something considering the nation's penchant for radioactive monsters and love hotels.

Katamari Damacy

© Namco Bandai


This oddball puzzler - which celebrates the tenth anniversary of its US launch this week - casts players as a celestial prince tasked with rebuilding the stars, constellations and moon after his father, the King of all Cosmos, accidentally destroyed them.

To achieve this, players rolled a giant adhesive ball called a katamari around various earthly locations, collecting a little bit of everything until there were enough raw materials to create a star.

Everything from thumbtacks to people, and even mountains, were swept up by the katamari. It was an unapologetically weird experience, but also one of the most original and fun puzzlers to appear on the PlayStation 2.

Each level was a race against the clock, with players forced to grow their sticky sphere to a specific size before the timer ran out, but some stars required them to gather specific items.

Katamari Damacy

© Namco Bandai


The katamari was controlled exclusively using the PS2 controller's thumb sticks, operating in tank-like fashion. It was a simplistic interface, and that was paramount to Katamari Damacy's appeal.

The game offered a similar pick-up-and-play draw to a physical toy, and players often ignored the core objectives in favour of setting their own, attempting to grow the katamari to a specific size or mould it into a certain shape.

Katamari Damacy's single-player mode had a palpable sense of scale, starting off inside a Japanese home, before venturing out into the back yard, and then downtown. Before you knew it, you were uprooting trees and moving mountains with your sticky ball.

Katamari Damacy

© Namco Bandai


Everything about the game was uniquely Japanese, from its quirky dialogue (some of which was lost in translation) to the punchy synthesized J-pop numbers on its soundtrack.

It came along at a time when the Western world had started to embrace Asian pop culture and celebrate its oddities, and this helped it rapidly become a cult hit when publisher Namco brought it to the US in September 2004.

The game was extremely well received in North America, winning numerous design awards an quickly moving all of the limited stock ordered by short-sighted retailers, who underestimated its popularity.

Namco chose not to release Katamari Damacy in Europe, believing it was too quirky for mainstream acceptance in the territory, but stateside success convinced Electronic Arts to take a gamble on its sequels, We Love Katamari and Me & My Katamari, bringing them to the region in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

Katamari Damacy

© Namco Bandai


Although the series went on to appear on the PlayStation 3 in 2009, it has since found a natural home on mobile devices and handheld consoles, though the general consensus among reviewers is that these portable offerings lack the magic of the early PS2 titles.

Katamari Damacy's Prince protagonist later enjoyed a stint as Namco mascot, alongside the legendary Pac-Man, an honour that came with cameo appearances in titles such as Pac-Man World Rally, Noby Noby Boy, the Taiko no Tatsujin series.

The more recent mobile releases may not have reached the same lofty standards as he original Katamari Damacy, but it should always be remembered as one of the most original titles on the PS2 and an example of what can be achieved by thinking outside of the box.

Do you have any fond memories of Katamari Damacy? Post a comment below!

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Rayman retrospective: Where it all began for the limbless hero

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First released: 1995 (Atari Jaguar, PlayStation)
Now Available On:

Rayman was one of the more successful attempts at taking the fight to Mario and Sonic in the platform genre and introducing a company mascot capable of standing the test of time.

Although the Ubisoft flag bearer is now overshadowed by the studio's other franchises, the fact he hasn't gone the way of Crash Bandicoot in the face of such stiff competition is a feat in itself.

Rayman

© Ubisoft

Rayman

© Ubisoft


Developed by Ubisoft's Montpellier and Milan arms in 1995, the original Rayman was a colourful side-scrolling platformer dreamed up by designer Michel Ancel, who drew influence from Russian, Chinese and Celtic fairy tales.

The game cast players as a limbless hero made of up simple geometric shapes that attacked enemies by hurling his floating fists. The object was to traverse oddball worlds, freeing caged creatures called Electoons along the way, before ultimately defeating the evil Mr Dark.

Rayman was a bright and cheerful experience, boosted by vibrant level design. Players journeyed through mystical forests, mountain ranges, and a world comprised of musical instruments, ahead of the final showdown with Mr Dark at the confectionery-themed Candy Chateau.

An ongoing learning curve kept us invested throughout, as Rayman gained new powers at regular intervals, starting with the ability to sling his fist. By the end of the adventure, he could glide using his hair like helicopter blades, cling to ledges and run at great speed.

Rayman

© Ubisoft

Rayman

© Ubisoft


Rayman wasn't radically different to other platformers that arrived during the tail end of the 16-bit era when boiled down to its essence, but the originality of its protagonist and the creativity on show in the wacky worlds he encountered helped it stand out.

The development team also invested a lot in its sound and animation, hiring a cartoon company to optimise it for the medium of CD-ROM.

The game was originally intended for release on Nintendo's ill-fated CD add-on for the SNES, but found a new home on the Atari Jaguar when the hardware expansion was cancelled.

A Sony PlayStation version was released around the same time, and its success paved the way for ports on PC and Sega Saturn, followed by handheld adaptations for Game Boy Colour and Game Boy Advance.

Rayman

© Ubisoft

Rayman

© Ubisoft


Rayman launched to generally positive reviews, earning plaudits for its graphics, sound and animation, but some commentators took issue with its level of difficulty and infrequent save points.

However, a few irate games journalists did not stop the game becoming a smash hit.

Rayman has achieved a lot for a character with no limbs. The PlayStation version of his debut title is the bestselling PSone game in the UK, beating the likes of Tomb Raider 2 and Gran Turismo on this side of the Atlantic with around 5 million units shifted.

The character's popularity continued to grow as Ubisoft followed the game with successful sequels, spinoffs such as the Raving Rabbids series, and mobile releases.

Rayman

© Ubisoft

Rayman

© Ubisoft


Although Ubisoft has become synonymous with goliath franchises like Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell and Far Cry, there's still a home for Rayman at the studio in the current hardware generation.

In fact, his most recent outing - 2013's Rayman Legends - is one of his most critically acclaimed, so it will be a good while before he joins the likes of Zool in the platforming veterans' retirement home.

Do you have any fond memories of Rayman? Post a comment below!
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Dragon's Lair retrospective: How the quick time event was born

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First released: 1983 (Arcade)
Now Available On: PSN, Xbox Live, PC, iOS, Android, Wii, DS

With its splendid Disney-esque graphics and digitised speech, Dragon's Lair was by far the best-looking game around when it arrived on arcades in 1983.

The Don Bluth-animated laserdisc adventure stood out alongside the likes of Pac-Man, Gyruss, and Spy Hunter in coin-op palaces, embarrassing the rest with a level of presentation fans had previously only dreamed of.

Dragon's Lair 1983 screenshot

© Cinematronics

Dragon's Lair 1983 screenshot

© Cinematronics


Dragon's Lair consumed enough coins to make a dragon's horde, and its success was a beacon of light during dark times for the gaming industry in the wake of 1983's crash.

But in hindsight, we hesitate to even call it a game.

Since the player's role was limited to trial-and-error button prompts, it was more appropriate to refer to Dragon's Lair as an interactive cartoon, with the emphasis on 'cartoon' rather than 'interactive'.

Players took control of a knight named Dirk the Daring who embarks on a perilous quest to rescue half-naked bimbo Princess Daphne from the clutches of the evil dragon Singe.

During the course of his journey, Dirk encountered deadly traps and bizarre creatures with ambitions to kill him in horrible, yet hilarious, ways.

Dragon's Lair was essentially one big quick time event, where the role of the player was to respond to visual prompts and usher the animation along. Miss one of those cues, and you were treated to a comical death sequence.

Dragon's Lair 1983 screenshot

© Cinematronics

Dragon's Lair 1983 screenshot

© Cinematronics


The game was little more than trial-and-error and a test of memory, making it more of a spectator sport than a satisfactory gameplay experience in its own right.

Once the movement cues for each scene had been memorised, this glorified cartoon could be completed in less than 20 minutes, meaning it offered little in the way of replay value.

There were high hopes for laserdisc gaming in the early 1980s, with some heralding it as the saviour of the industry, but Dragon's Lair epitomised both the graphical potential and gameplay limitations of the medium.

Despite these limitations, the game remains hugely influential, with the quick time event it introduced going on to become a staple of modern gaming, used to great effect in series such as Shenmue and God of War.

Although its Hollywood production values suggest otherwise, Dragon's Lair was developed on a shoestring budget of just $1 million and took seven months to make.

Developer Advanced Microcomputer Systems could not afford to aid the characters design, so they based Princess Daphne on photographs from issues of Playboy magazine (and it certainly showed).

Dragon's Lair 1983 screenshot

© Cinematronics

Dragon's Lair 1983 screenshot

© Cinematronics


The budget allowed only one professional voice actor to join the project, narrator Michael Rye; so Daphne's vocals were supplied by the head of the firm's Clean-up Department, Vera Lanpher, and Dirk was voiced by film editor Dan Molina.

The allure of Princess Daphne and the wow factor of the game's visuals saw those hitting adolescence at the time pump Dragon's Lair machines with every coin they could get their mitts on, and its success paved the way for countless home conversions.

The home ports varied in their quality and faithfulness. NES owners were subjected to a ropey platformer loosely based on the events of the arcade title, while the Amiga received a relatively authentic recreation of the coin-op version.

An off-the-wall sequel Dragon's Lair 2: Time Warp was released in 1991 to similar fanfare, although the FMV craze was beginning to ware thin at this stage due to the rise of home consoles.

Several pseudo sequels have arrived on various platforms since, and the original has even been rehashed on PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, iOS, Android and more, though its appeal is largely nostalgic.

Although its gameplay is rudimentary by today's standards, Dragon's Lair dazzled in its day and is worthy of its place in the gaming hall of fame as the title that brought us the quick time event.

Do you have any fond memories of Dragon's Lair? Post a comment below!

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Kirby's Dream Land retrospective: A game that left us hungry for more

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First Released: 1992 (Game Boy)
Now Available On: 3DS Virtual Console

We can think of few games as instantly playable as 1992 Game Boy classic Kirby's Dream Land, the title that marked the first appearance of its now-iconic protagonist.

Everything about this uber-cute platformer was intuitive, from using Kirby's vacuum ability to ingest enemies before spitting them out like cannon balls, to inflating him and taking flight.

Developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo, Kirby's Dream Land had much in common with other side-scrolling platfomers of its day. Each level was a simple matter of travelling from point A to point B, where a boss battle awaited our balloon-like hero.

Kirby's Dream Land screenshot

© Nintendo

Kirby's Dream Land screenshot

© Nintendo


However, the game's memorable protagonist and his unique abilities set it apart. Vacuuming up bad guys and spitting them out across the screen was supremely satisfying, and some of the power-ups, such as the ability to breathe fire, were equally fun to wield.

The game's music was also among its standout qualities. Nintendo platformers have always been renowned for their infectious soundtracks, and the upbeat infusions found in Kirby's Dream Land were no exception.

Kirby's Dream Land offered little in the way of storyline, following the main character on a quest to retrieve the food reserves of the eponymous Dream Land from the gluttonous King Dedede.

Despite its one-note plot, the game introduced some imaginative characters, from its endearing lead to the hammer-wielding penguin Dedede. There were even cameo appearances for Adventures of Lolo protagonists Lolo and Lala, who appeared as end-of-level bosses.

Kirby's Dream Land screenshot

© Nintendo

Kirby's Dream Land screenshot

© Nintendo


While Kirby's Dream Land was enjoyable from start to finish, it was ultimately short-lived, consisting of just five levels. Each were straightforward, designed to be accommodating for beginners, but a higher difficulty setting was unlocked upon completion to extend the longevity.

It was a rudimentary game, yet offered as a much fun as anything else on Game Boy. Still, we can't help but feel that it would have been an all-time classic with a dozen extra levels and more challenge.

Kirby remains one of the most unique characters on Nintendo's books, and has gone on to star in more than 20 games since his first Game Boy outing, including the popular Super Smash Bros titles.

His creation was something of an accident at HAL Laboratory, since director Masahiro Sakurai initially devised his balloon-like appearance as a placeholder for the final design, but the development team grew to love this simplistic creation and opted to leave it unaltered.

Kirby's Dream Land screenshot

© Nintendo

Kirby's Dream Land screenshot

© Nintendo


However, there were some disputes over what colour Kirby should be. Sakurai insisted he should be pink, but Nintendo mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto felt that yellow was the way to go.

It didn't matter a great deal at this point, given that Kirby was always going to have a greeny-yellow hue on the Game Boy's monochromatic display, but Sakurai got his way and the character remains pink to this day.

Kirby was named after American lawyer John Kirby, who defended Nintendo when Universal City Studios sued them in the 1980s over allegations that Donkey Kong was a ripoff of King Kong.


Kirby's Dream Land may not have received top review scores across the board upon release, but it proved a commercial success, selling 1.3 million copies by 1995, making it the fourth biggest Game Boy release at that time. It went on to reach the milestone of 5 million copies sold.

Original creations like Kirby helped make the Game Boy the fantastic handheld platform it was, and we're delighted to see him still going strong in the current hardware generation.

Do you have any fond memories of Kirby's Dream Land? Post a comment below!
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Silent Hill 2 retrospective: Horror sequel that still gives us chills

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First Released: 2001 (PlayStation 2)
Now Available On: PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Resident Evil reigned unchallenged in the survival-horror genre until Silent Hill came along, offering fans a chillingly psychological alternative to the cheap scares of the Capcom series.

The game's 2001 sequel provided an opportunity for Konami to prove it was capable of delivering the ultimate fright fest, harnessing the power of the recently-released PlayStation 2 to achieve things that were impossible the first time around.

Silent Hill 2

© Konami


It was an opportunity the development team seized with both hands, as Silent Hill 2 remains one of the most atmospheric and unnerving horror games ever released.

With the original ending in anticlimactic and convoluted fashion, Konami wiped the slate clean for the sequel, ditching everything apart from the eponymous town and its foggy weather.

Players took on the role of James Sutherland, a man who journeys to Silent Hill after receiving a mysterious letter from his dead wife. A dark journey into the character's psyche followed as he unlocked the many secrets of the monster-infested town.

Silent Hill 2 made every effort to differentiate itself from its predecessor, and it achieved this with a greater emphasis on puzzle solving.

Silent Hill 2

© Konami


Puzzles usually required players to comb the area for key items, which often had to be combined to solve the problem at hand. These were challenging enough to tax the player, yet never frustrating enough to force them to invest in the game's official strategy guide.

It was imperative to painstakingly scour every location this foggy town had to offer, but a smart mapping system that checked off the areas you had already visited made this less of a chore.

Silent Hill 2's creature design was one of its greatest strengths. The monsters were more humanoid this time around, representations of the nightmares that resided in the protagonist's subconscious.

Who could forget that freakish amalgamation of mannequin parts, or the ultra-terrifying Pyramid Head? The latter was effective enough at playing on our fear of the unknown to deserve a place in the modern horror hall of fame, alongside the likes of Freddy Kruger and Michael Myers.

Silent Hill 2

© Konami


We never got to see what lurked beneath that triangular-shaped helmet, but no doubt each player envisioned their own worst nightmare.

Although Silent Hill 2's rogues gallery looked the part, their bark was often worse than their bite. It was easy to outrun monsters out in the open, while plentiful ammunition and health packs diluted the sense of jeopardy.

There were a handful of encounters resembling boss battles, but these posed little challenge for players schooled in the early Resident Evil titles that preceded the game.

Silent Hill 2 was more concerned with unsettling the player and building suspense than serving up reflex-based challenges and jumpy moments, combining misty exteriors and murky interiors with a chilling soundtrack to great effect.

Silent Hill 2

© Konami


While the game strived to change the survival-horror genre for the better, it was never perfect, marred slightly by awkward controls and failing to better the original in some respects.

For instance, Silent Hill 2 was more chilling than its PSone predecessor, but to call it scarier is a stretch. Half the time players found themselves dispatching enemies simply because they were in the way, rather than to end the nightmarish creation before them.

The storyline made more sense in the sequel and the ending was less of a head-scratcher, yet leaving players with a burning need to understand the events before them added something to the original Silent Hill, as much as it frustrated.

Silent Hill 2 was a valuable addition to a genre that sorely needed an injection of Twin Peaks-esque psychology to balance out the throw-away scares and gun-toting kicks of its peers.

Silent Hill 2

© Konami


It did its bit to help prevent the survival-horror category from turning stale, and remains a fan-favourite to this day.

Silent Hill fans haven't been given a great deal to celebrate in recent years, but that changed with this week's announcement that Hideo Kojima is teaming up with visionary film director Guillermo del Toro to develop a new entry in the series starring The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus.

Does that sound like a match made in hell, or what?

Do you have any fond memories of Silent Hill 2? Post a comment below!
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Discworld retrospective: Interesting times for PC gaming

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First Released: 1995 (PC)
Now Available On: N/A

Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels whisk readers away to a magical world of trolls, wizards and dragons that rests upon the backs of four great elephants, which are in turn set atop of a great turtle slowly swimming through space.

These comic fantasy novels have always been a goldmine of inspiration, and in mid-1995 British developer Perfect Entertainment dipped into that well to create what might have been one of the greatest point-and-click adventures of its generation.

Discworld (1995) screenshot

© Teeny Weeny Games/Perfect 10


Discworld was loosely based on the 1989 novel Guards! Guards! with protagonist Sam Vimes replaced by bumbling wizard Rincewind, and there were elements of other books, such as Moving Pictures, in there too.

The game took its cues from other PC adventures like The Secret of Monkey Island and Simon the Sorcerer, but used a more streamlined control system than the verb table-based fodder that preceded it.

With a stellar voice cast spearheaded by Eric Idle, Rob Brydon, Tony Robinson and Jon Pertwee in place, unrestricted access to the source material and adventuring gaming in the midst of a golden age, what could possibly go wrong?

Well for starters, a fire-breathing dragon wasn't the only thing plaguing Ankh-Morpork in Discworld. The game was riddled with bugs, and its sloppy production values detracted from the experience.

Discworld (1995) screenshot

© Teeny Weeny Games/Perfect 10


Throw in some of the most illogical and frustratingly-difficult puzzles ever conceived and you have what might sound like a recipe for disaster.

But there was magic in there too, which is why so many fans were able to see beyond its imperfections.

The game's story, humour and voice acting were first rate and did justice to the source material. To this day, we can't help but recall Idle's distinct tones whenever we read Rincewind dialogue in a Discworld novel.

The Python did a bang-up job voicing the protagonist, but the contributions of Brydon, Robinson, Pertwee and the multi-talented Kate Robbins were equally important.

Discworld (1995) screenshot

© Teeny Weeny Games/Perfect 10


Discworld was an effective parody of both the fantasy genre and the point-and-click adventure, as well as an inspired adaptation of Pratchett's much-loved novels.

Storytelling was its greatest strength, and the tale it spun of inept wizards, insidious cults and dragons that only exist if you believe in them was backed up by some gorgeous visuals.

Unfortunately, Discworld committed every cardinal sin in the adventure gaming bible with puzzles that defied logic and offered little in the way of appropriate clues.

We still haven't quite figured out how we were supposed to know Rincewind had to use the butterfly with the lamppost to cause a miniature thunderstorm in the future (and for those unfamiliar with the game, this statement doesn't make any more sense in context).

Discworld (1995) screenshot

© Teeny Weeny Games/Perfect 10


Making a game challenging is one thing, but expecting players to figure out that the best way to steal a fishmonger's belt is to place a love-struck octopus down a nearby toilet and spike his caviar with prunes is another matter entirely.

Discworld's developers clearly operated on a different plane of existence to us mere mortals, but to give us such a rough ride in an age before internet walkthroughs were readily available was downright unfair.

Yet, the desire to see which direction the story took next and spend more time with some of our favourite fictional characters helped us overlook the game's bonkers design choices and persevere (and by persevere we mean pick up the phone and dial the Psygnosis hint line).

Arriving at a time when there was still a sizeable market for PC adventure games, Discworld was reasonably successful upon release, but it went on to become more of a cult hit.

Discworld (1995) screenshot

© Teeny Weeny Games/Perfect 10


The CD-ROM title was subsequently ported to PlayStation and Sega Saturn, where it continued to divide critics, and it spawned a direct sequel the following year in the form of Discworld 2: Missing Presumed…!?

Discworld 2 was an improvement on its predecessor in virtually every respect, with spruced-up graphics and sound, more logical puzzles (thank the gods) and a catchy original song composition written and performed by Idle.

Perfect Entertainment got it right the second time of asking, but we still hold fond memories of the original Discworld despite its obvious flaws, and have it to thank for piquing our interest in the world that Pratchett created.

Do you have any fond memories of Discworld? Post a comment below!

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Altered Beast retrospective: Vintage arcade beat 'em up from Sega

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First Released: 1988 (arcade)
Now Available On: Xbox Live, PSN, iOS, Virtual Console

Sega established itself as one of the biggest names in the arcade business in the late 1980s, thanks to the success of titles such as Golden Axe, Space Harrier, and one of our old favourites, Altered Beast.

Debuting on coin-op hardware in 1988, Altered Beast was a side-scrolling beat 'em up set in Ancient Greece that cast players as a resurrected Roman centurion with shape-shifting abilities.

Altered Beast for Sega Arcade and Mega Drive

© SEGA


The game begins as the warrior protagonist's eternal rest is brought to an abrupt end by Zeus, who tasked him with rescuing his daughter Athena from the clutches of underworld demon Neff.

Players battled their way through five stages, slaying a menagerie of creatures from the annals of mythology along the way. It would have been another bog standard addition to the action genre was it not for the memorable transformation system.

The centurion gathered spirit balls on each level. Collecting a single orb beefed him up into a muscular powerhouse, while snagging a second turned him into a man-beast hybrid with devastating special abilities.

Altered Beast for Sega Arcade and Mega Drive

© SEGA


There was a different creature to control on each stage - from the graveyard level's Werewolf to the Weredragon of the underworld - and watching foes fall like dominoes under their savage force was among the highlights of the experience.

Each level ended with a showdown against Neff, with the player in beast form and the demon taking on the shape of a different screen-filling horror each time.

The boss battles also stick in our mind. Who could forget squaring off against Neff in the guise of an ogre-like monstrosity with endless heads, or being charged at by an armoured rhinoceros-esque creature during the final confrontation?

Altered Beast for Sega Arcade and Mega Drive

© SEGA


We'll always remember Altered Beast for its sound effects, too, with the game making effective use of digitised speech and even borrowing a howling effect from the 1981 movie An American Werewolf in London to add style to its transformation sequences.

Altered Beast was well received in the arcades and a successful release on home formats followed. The Sega Mega Drive version is by far the most memorable, preceding Sonic the Hedgehog as the console's pack-in game in the UK and North America.

Although the game was a smash hit for Sega, it never grew into a strong franchise, which is a shame considering how much mileage the concept had.

Altered Beast for Sega Arcade and Mega Drive

© SEGA


Sequels could have introduced additional beasts to transform into, new foes from Greek scripture and new deities to embark on missions for, or even wage battles a la God of War's Kratos.

A follow-up of sorts was released for Game Boy Advance in 2002 in the form of Altered Beast: Guardian of the Realms, which revisited the side-scrolling gameplay and introduced new beast forms, additional power-ups and destructible environments.

Sega attempted an Altered Beast revival in 2005, reimagining the concept for PlayStation 2 as a modern day science-fiction tale. Players took control of a "Genome-Cyborg" who was capable of altering his DNA to take on the shape of various beasts.

Altered Beast for Sega Arcade and Mega Drive

© SEGA


The game had little in common with the classic that stole our hearts in the 1980s and was critically panned.

We would like to have seen Sega take the concept in an entirely different direction, retaining the setting of Ancient Greece and reviving Altered Beast as a 3D hack n' slash offering in the vein of God of War, but that particular ship has surely sailed.

Do you have any fond memories of Altered Beast? Post a comment below!

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Spyro the Dragon retrospective: PSone's first essential 3D platformer

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First Released: 1998 (PlayStation)
Now Available On: PlayStation Network

It was a long time coming, but the PlayStation finally received a competent, fully 3D platformer in 1998 when Spyro the Dragon touched down on the Sony console.

Spyro the Dragon

© Sony


By providing tight controls, a user-friendly camera setup and countless hours of unabashed fun, Insomniac Games' colourful creation excelled where its genre predecessors had failed.

Spyro, a purple dragon with a firefly friend named Sparx, resided in a Disney-esque cartoon world where a villain named Gnasty Gnorc had imprisoned the rest of his species in crystal.

Players embarked on a quest across six worlds, each containing six levels, to free the other dragons, collecting hordes of stolen treasure and retrieving missing dragon eggs along the way.

Spyro the Dragon was never about earth-shattering innovation, but it was a 3D platformer done right, and these were in short supply on PlayStation back then.

Most levels didn't play out much differently than the ones found in other 3D platform titles, although Spyro did possess skills that set the experience apart, such as fire-breathing and the ability to ram enemies with his horns.


There were also arcade-flavoured flying stages that challenged players to keep Spyro in the air for as long as possible by collecting items within tight time limits.

Insomniac Games really nailed the level design in Spyro the Dragon, providing players with vast colourful playgrounds to immerse themselves in.

Revisiting worlds was encouraged at every turn, as there was a myriad of bonus collectables hidden throughout each level for fans to discover the second, third and fourth time around.

Unlocking all of the bonus levels required players to hunt down every solitary piece of treasure and dragon egg, and there was enough incentive on offer to keep us invested in this daunting task.

Spyro the Dragon was also a treat on the audio front, with in-game worlds brought to life by strong voice acting from the likes of Carlos Alazraqui, Clancy Brown and Harvey Fierstein, as well as an atmospheric soundtrack by former Police drummer Stewart Copeland.

Spyro the Dragon

© Sony


The game took some of its cues from Nintendo 64 classic Banjo-Kazooie, emulating its smooth controls, useable camera and bright cartoony visuals.

However, Spyro didn't quite scale the same heights as Rare's masterpiece or other genre-defining platformers like Super Mario 64, as the challenge was never quite there.

Granted, collecting all of the bonus items was no easy feat and the final boss was hardly a pushover, but for the most part Spyro the Dragon's difficulty setting was tailored for a family audience.

Spryo was more than just another me-too creation hoping to do for PlayStation what Mario and Sonic did for Nintendo and Sega, and the way the character has endured is testament to this.

After spawning a dozen sequels, the Spyro the Dragon series was rebooted in 2006 with the multi-platform release of The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning, a game that boasted an all-star voice case spearheaded by Elijah Wood and Gary Oldman.

Spyro the Dragon

© Sony


The character went on to carve out a place for himself in the current generation, with a prominent role in toys-to-life franchise Skylanders taking his popularity to new heights.

So, what does the future hold for Spyro? Following an appearance in Skylanders: Trap Team later this year, the door is open for the purple dragon to feature in another solo adventure.

Sony's Andrew House recenty said that the firm is open to revisiting the Spyro series, and could even reboot Crash Bandicoot down the line. Exciting times for the children of the 1990s!

Do you have any fond memories of Spyro the Dragon? Post a comment below!
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The Sims retrospective: Simpler times for the iconic series

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First released: PC (2000)
Now Available On: PC

Maxis enjoyed great success with the original SimCity games, but there was always something impersonal and bureaucratic about virtual urban planning and digital building work.

Spinoff title The Sims took a refreshingly different approach to the original world creation series, holding a magnifying glass to the city's inhabitants and placing emphasis on humour and personality.

Developed by Will Wright and his team at Maxis in 2000, The Sims gave players the opportunity to play god to a small group of pint-sized beings and had them cater for their every whim.

The Sims screenshot

© EA

The Sims screenshot


While this included such basic needs as eating three square meals a day and answering the call of nature, it wasn't as banal as it might sound.

The eponymous Sims were fascinating beings, oozing personality and representing a giant leap for artificial intelligence in PC gaming at the turn of the millennium.

There was rarely a dull moment watching your characters' lives unfold and seeing them encounter the same trials and tribulations that we face every day, plus hearing them babble away in their native tongue of Simlish was always endearing.

The Sims screenshot

© EA

The Sims screenshot


Sims had to be instructed to carry out tasks like get washed, exercise and learn new skills, but they also had a degree of free will, unless the player chose to deny them it in the options menu.

Watching on as they autonomously interacted with other characters, striking up friendships, relationships and rivalries was among the highlights on offer in this infinitely re-playable game.

Like its sequels, the game was applauded over the diverse range of relationships on offer, with players given the option to strike up same-sex relationships, a feature that has sadly never sat well in countries such as Russia.

The Sims screenshot

© EA

The Sims screenshot


Although The Sims was open-ended in the sense that there was no ultimate goal, characters could be killed off through starvation, drowning, fires and electrocution, or pack their virtual bags and leave the game if they were chronically unhappy.

Sim City's building and book-balancing wasn't jettisoned entirely, as players could remodel and furnish a customised suburban home for their Sims via Build Mode and Buy Mode.

The in-game architecture system was highly sophisticated, and this comes as no surprise given that Wright and his team originally envisioned the title as a house-building simulation.

The Sims screenshot

© EA

The Sims screenshot


The Sims' role was initially to evaluate the houses constructed by the player, but it soon became apparent during the development process that they were the stars of the show.

Not only was The Sims a creative trailblazer, it was also a huge commercial success, displacing Myst as the bestselling PC game of all time with more than 11 million copies sold worldwide.

EA and Maxis continued to invest heavily in the game post-launch, supporting it via the expansion packs model, a system that remains in place for modern incarnations of The Sims.

The Sims screenshot

© EA

The Sims screenshot


'Livin' Large' was the first add-on to drop in August 2000, and it was followed by six others over the course of three years, each adding new items, characters, skins and features.

The Sims' phenomenal success on PC paved the way for the game to be ported to consoles, with developer Edge of Reality charged with tailoring it for PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube.

The game survived the conversion process well, so much so that the console market received new instalments in the series for years to come, but the PC edition was always the definitive version.


The Sims has spawned dozens of sequels, ports and remakes during its 14-year lifespan, and although its core entries have grown ever sophisticated, the 2000 original will always have historic significance.

With The Sims 4 due to touch down on PC less than two months from now, fans of the series can look forward to the new instalment safe in the knowledge that the underlying framework that made the original a classic appears to be firmly in place.

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