Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Test post. Employ me or at least buy me a pint.

Dark Souls 2 is out soon. Rejoice. Rejoice in the fact that just like Nicolas Cage's box office results in the last 10 years, you're going to die over and over again. To celebrate, or rather worry about the lost time and broken controllers that are going to be stocking up once the game is out, here's a short list of some of my most difficult moments in gaming.

Super Mario World – Tubular.

There's a secret world in Super Mario World. A world of pain, countless deaths, and a wildly inappropriate use of 80s slang. It's the second level – Tubular – that still manages to give me weird, 2D nightmares. It's a level that's mostly a wide, gaping pit, beckoning Mario to his doom, over and over again. Pirahna plants jump out of awkwardly placed pipes, Chargin' Chucks occupy the few platforms there are to land on, and innocent-looking plants spit out fire to make your life just that little bit more difficult and chargrilled. Oh, and you're supposed to gracefully float through the level as Balloon Mario. As a child I must've unwittingly revealed to my parents just how many swear words I knew as I cursed every failed attempt to get my portly plumber pal across the barren, surreal land of the dead. Think you can just fly through the level? Not unless you have Rain Man-like control over Mario. Instead you're just going to be divebombing the poor thing into the abyss forever, as the lives tick down, and the Chargin' Chucks chuckle as you get closer and closer to chuckin' your SNES (or Wii, or GBA, or Wii U) through the window.

Football Manager 2014 – Anything as Aston Villa.

Here's a picture of a cat, because it's impossible to take an interesting FM picture.

I've been playing Championship and now Football Manager for donkeys years. At least 3 donkeys worth of years. The very first game I played, at a friend's house, was a revelation. You mean I can control my beloved Aston Villa and charge to the top of the Premier League? I hopped into my friend's computer cupboard (it was basically a cupboard with a chair, a desk and a badly ventilated PC) and took charge for a friendly against Brighton. I was smashed 6-0. Tommy Johnson ignored my instructions. Mark Bosnich flapped like a wounded dove, and Dwight Yorke might as well have been Dwight York, imprisoned leader of the Nuwaubian movement (you remember him, surely?). I fell in love with the game at this point. Just like in real life, Villa would be terrible, but they'd be my kind of terrible. We'd have highs (beating Man City 4-3 at home, Benteke scoring a last minute penalty) and lows (one of the many match engine quirks leading to a player scoring a hat trick of own goals). There's something about this year's installment that just seems harder. Tactics have been simplified, but also somehow more complicated. Players do odd things on and off the pitch. FFP is biting me in the arse. I'm just about keeping my head above the relegation zone at the moment, but it would be unrealistic to expect my boys to do any better. 

Gitaroo Man – Born to be Bone.

Before Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Ukelele Master, there was Gitaroo Man. The cult PS2 title, developed by iNiS (you may remember from such titles as Elite Beat Agents and, um, The Black Eyed Peas Experience), was noted for its mental, hallucinatory imagery (a young boy turns into an intergalactic rock god, battling skeletons, space sharks, aliens and funky disco bees, all the while accompanied by a talking, transforming dog) and wonderful range of songs, from the bouncy J-pop of Flyin' to Your Heart and the unexpected, acoustic warmth of The Legendary Theme. It was also hard as nails. Button prompts flying from all sides of the screen, the deceptively simple-looking lines that you have to trace when playing the space guitar get increasingly complicated and unwieldy. Born to be Bone, on the blisteringly-hard Master mode is where the musical shit hits the fan. There was something about this level that just slayed me. The prompts were too quick, the lines too squiggly, the skeletons too dead and mocking. I went through two controllers until I finally completed it, but I can still remember the sweaty blur that was my hands as I tried to keep up with all the insanity that level throws at you. I can still hum the song, although hearing it now just reminds me of pain and endless failure. It's the song they'd play to me in Room 101.

Kid Icarus – That aubergine chucking guy.

I'd heard tales of Kid Icarus. The missus had enjoyed it on her Game Boy, my best friend raved about it, but it wasn't until it popped up on the Wii's Virtual Console that I decided to finally drop some Wii points on this apparent classic. I want to like it. I love the idea of Nintendo tackling Greek mythology, and Pit is a delight to control, but man, about 20 minutes in, these guys show up, chucking aubergines around, which turns Pit into an aubergine, and I just cannot avoid it and yes, this is now the 500th attempt at trying to avoid them and get this doohickey that I need to get to the place that I'm not sure where I am and oh god, what is going on? It's like a maze I don't know I'm in, a riddle I don't know the end of, a jigsaw with random pieces taken away. And a bloody guy who keeps turning me into aubergines. I am not built for Nintendo-hard games. I crave map markers and quest logs, shotguns and Super Bells. To this day, I can't see an aubergine without thinking of poor Pit and his misshapen, vegetable head.

Superman 64 – Everything.

1999. The day before my birthday, and my aunt delivers a wrapped box that I instantly deduce is probably an N64 game. That, or a tie and blazer combination pack. Either way – Christmas has come early. I wait until the next day to tear the wrapping away, only to be met with the face of Superman. Okay. That's cool. I didn't have the internet back then, and didn't know what eldritch horrors lay within the ghastly silicon in its plastic prison. It's Superman. He's not too bad. He's a bit of a wimp, and he's no Batman (he's not even a Deadpool or Thor), but it's a new N64 game, which was about as rare as rocking horse shit. Everything that can be said about Superman has been said. You only have to read one of the countless reviews, or see James Rolfe's video to see how insanely, fascinatingly bad this game is. Superman isn't graceful in flight, it's like trying to control a plane with controls made out of jelly. A plane that isn't actually a plane, but a duck with mental problems. A duck that is actually just a badly rendered, low-poly bundle of soiled bandages. The now legendary ring stages, which punish you for failing to master the idiotic and just plain wrong controls, are like being smashed in the face – smashed in the face with the receipt for your £49.99 game that is barely a game. It's a hate crime of 1s and 0s. It's a developer with a kink for inflicting pain. It's just a bloody awful game.

Still better than the new Dungeon Keeper, though.

Order a 15 Pound Nintendo eShop Voucher to see just how insanely hard Tubular is in Super Mario World or to get your aubergine on in Kid Icarus. Football Manager 2014 is available for £23.99, a massive £11 saving on the current Steam price. Don't buy Superman 64. Don't even take it if it's offered for free – that's just someone trying to pass along the curse.

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