This is the first of an ongoing series of posts in which I list, in ascending order, the games that have most influenced me. As it’s early days for the series you can expect the games to be pretty poor, my memories of them to be sketchy, and their significance to me to be of a fairly trivial nature.
If you want to know how and why this project started, read this introduction.
Now, let’s jump right in shall we?
ZX Spectrum, 1988
This was a combat-based platformer in which a large and, given the Spectrum’s limitations, impressively animated warrior must traverse a series of environments in search of a dragon. Along the way, Rastan, our burly hero, comes into conflict with a host of baddies including skeletons, ninja type people, mythological monsters, and some kind of squat four-legged creature I think. You dispatch these enemies using your mighty two-handed longsword, and your unique ability to climb ropes while using it. Eventually you fall into a modestly sized hole or just meekly run out of energy while being gnawed by a goat. Maybe it was a goat. Life takes its toll. And then it ends.
Rastan was influential on me as a child mainly due to the clear discrepancy between the hype afforded the game in the Speccy press, and the actual experience of playing it. The character graphics were impressive and highly detailed. The backgrounds were highly detailed and impressive, and the same colour as the character graphics. That crime against readability could be forgiven if it was any fun, but it simply wasn’t. And I remember knowing that it wouldn’t be before I’d even played it. But how could you possibly miss out after seeing this advert? Thus a cynic was born.
Atari ST, 1989
You could be forgiven for thinking that Golden Axe, Altered Beast or even Rastan might have totally sewn up the contest for greatest Sega side-scrolling beat-em-up, but then maybe you missed a little game called Dynamite Dux. If you did then, oh boy, I don’t know what to tell you.
So you walk along a drab grey road. You punch enemies in the chops. More enemies appear and you punch them too. You hold down the punch button to do an extravagant uppercut, preceded by your entire arm rotating from the shoulder in a windmill blur of mighty vicious death. You’re a duck in a blue onesie. Occasionally power-ups appear, special weapons like stones, bazookas, and cherry bombs. No not dynamite bombs. That would have made too much sense. Finally you reach a boss fight. Bosses range from an angry-eyed flame to a giant man made of balls.
Influential only due to its strangeness, Dynamite Dux is a memorable game but probably best forgotten.
ZX Spectrum, 1989
Spitting Image was a popular comedy show, 18 series of which ran on the UK’s ITV channel in the 1980s and 90s. It featured political figures appearing in satirical sketches, albeit represented by rubber-faced puppets. It involved some incredible writing and voice talent, won numerous awards, and even span off a 1986 number one single.
Alas, the video game released in 1989 lacked the style and wit of its television progenitor. It saw a selection of world leaders, from Maggie Thatcher to P. W. Botha, facing off in hand-to-hand combat. Queen Elizabeth oversaw the action as a sort of commentator. Much of the “laughs” came from the characters’ unique fighting moves - Ayatollah Khomeini could use his beard as a weapon, for example. Hilarity ensued, as you can imagine.
It was far from being the best fighting game on the Speccy, and equally far from achieving anything of the humour of the show. I do count it as influential to some extent, as even at this early stage in my life I was beginning to find an interest in alternative comedy. It’s also, to my knowledge, the only game before Assassin’s Creed 2 where you get to fight the pope.
Purple Saturn Day
Atari ST, 1989
Why was this game so well received? I just read the Wikipedia article about it and discovered that it received a frankly ludicrous 98% score in ST Amiga Format magazine. I’ve returned to this question almost daily for a few decades now and I still don’t really have an answer.
Purple Saturn Day is basically a series of mini games. It’s supposed to be a sort of science fiction sports event, the Space Olympics if you like. You play in individual events or attempt to complete the tournament, in a fashion similar to The Games Summer Edition or any number of others. There were only four events, and only one of them was interesting. The lesser three were a sort of 3D-ish racing game, something that passed for a first person shooter back then, and an on-rails duck-hunt shooter. The interesting example was a competitive puzzle game where you had to hack the circuits of an electronic brain. All the games were polished and smooth - in fact the whole thing was very well put together. But 98%? Come on!
Incidentally the Wikipedia entry is as sarcastic as it is brief, including the wonderful: “if the player wins they get to see the queen of the tournament do a short dance around a pole.”
So there you go. Four down, only 454 left to go (assuming nobody releases any more games in the next two years and I don't remember any I forgot in the first place). Once we're a few more entries into this I'll put up a post with a table of all the results so far.
Next: Army Moves to Game Over
Thanks for reading. Did you rate these games or hate these games? Hit the comments below.