Thursday, 24 November 2011

A change of pace...

Chicks dig...ocarinas?
Ever since the heady days of my youth when I first heard the magical, jingly melody of Bubble Bobble on the Commodore 64, I've had a deep seated love of video game music. From the epic to the chilled, these days my iPod is overflowing with music from some of the industry's most gifted composers, and there aren't many days go by without me having a little listen to the likes of Kondo, Mitsuda and Uematsu.

As this is music that I genuinely enjoy listening to, I thought I'd share some of the more downtempo examples with anyone and everyone who visits Crystal Blue Dreams.

Below is my first and (to this day) favourite playlist, first created in 2007. It is very RPG heavy but that's because RPGs tend to have the best relaxing music...and for those not fond of the genre, there are some non role playing bits and bobs knocking about in there too.

Anyways, here is the complete track listing, and for anyone who's interested in having a listen, the download link can be found below.

VGM Unwinding Vol I: Original and Best
  1. The Prelude - Final Fantasy IX OST
  2. Theme of Crysta - Terranigma OST
  3. Kakariko Village - The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Symphony 
  4. Holding my Thoughts in my Heart - Final Fantasy VII OST 
  5. Reminiscence - Genso Suikoden Music Collection: Produced by Hiroyuki Namba
  6. Another Gardov - Chrono Cross OST 
  7. Shattering the Egg of Dreams - Xenogears Light: An Arranged Album 
  8. 600 AD (Chrono Trigger) - OC Remix
  9. Descendent of Shinobi - Final Fantasy VII Piano Collection
  10. Orrizonte – Genso Suikoden II Music Collection: Orrizonte
  11. In the Earthen Womb - Illusion of Gaia OSV
  12. Because I Love You (Mother 2) - Orchestral Game Concert Part 1 
  13. Radical Dreamers (Chrono Cross) - Eminence Symphony Orchestra: Passion 
  14. Theme of Celes - Final Fantasy Potion: Relaxin' with Final Fantasy
  15. The Sandy Beach of Ganbo - Grandia OST
  16. Theme of Evergreen - Terranigma OST
  17. Stickerbrush Symphony - Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest OSV 
  18. Torvus Clockwork (Metroid Prime 2: Echoes) - OC Remix 
  19. Maian Tears - Perfect Dark OSV
  20. Faraway Promise - Xenogears OST
  21. My Lady's Sigh - Genso Suikoden II OST
  22. The Place I'll Return to Someday/Melodies of Life - Final Fantasy More Friends: Music from Final Fantasy
  23. Village Theme - SimCity OSV
  24. Fisherman's Horizon - Final Fantasy VIII: Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec
  25. Theme of Final Fantasy - Final Fantasy: 1987 - 1994
I own physical and official copies of all albums/games this music was taken from 

Download VGM Unwinding Vol I: Original and Best

I'm probably going to post a few more of these playlists over the coming weeks, and if they prove popular enough then I'll make sharing them a regular feature on the site.

Also, if there are enough requests, I'll definitely consider suggested playlists.

Happy listening!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Sneaky and unassuming NPCs part I: Jianmin from Shenmue II

Behind those wrinkles hides a martial arts phenomenon! 
None player characters (NPCs)...pretty much every RPG has them in one form or another. Historically the NPC species can be split into two predominant groups; the first are your average run of the mill town folk, who will spend their days and nights aimlessly milling about villages and cities sharing snippets of (often crucial) information, running shops and inns or generally just misbehaving (ala Johnny from Final Fantasy VII). Common traits amongst these characters include looking identical to their neighbours, having their houses pillaged by adventuring types and kind of just being there to make up the's not a prestigious existence but someone has to do it, right?

The second group, is brimmed with much more interesting and alluring personalities. It's here we find the characters that are chosen to make up the core of the story and fulfil vital roles within it's plot. Beings in this most hallowed NPC group can range from the angelic to downright satanic, usually each one will have their own distinct persona, a properly developed back story and outrageous dress sense. These are also the characters responsible for some of the most famous moments in RPG history...the wondrous Leknaat reviving the ever faithful Gremio in Suikoden for instance (guaranteed to make fans of all ages weep with joy!).

Generally speaking, it's easy to spot when one of these alpha NPCs is about to get unpleasant or is plotting the hero's demise. It is often signalled by a sudden dramatic musical score or a sweeping cut scene, occasionally though one or two will catch us out, and that meekly innocent non player character will turn to be a bit of a sly dog.

The classic text book example of this unassuming NPC has to be Jianmin Tao from Shenmue II. Although he looks very much like your typical Chinese pensioner going through his daily exercise routine, Jianmin is actually a master martial artist. And after a brief introduction he subsequently decides to teach our hero Ryo a comprehensive a lesson in speed and counter attacking, much to his own amusement it seems!

After leaving Ryo sufficiently bemused by his speed and guile, the roguish old codger decides to teach the naïve young warrior his awesome Iron Palm technique of the Tai Chi style. Aside from looking the business, this move is also powerful enough shake the very leaves from the trees! Who'd have thought it eh...

Jianmin can be found day or night (where he lives is somewhat of a mystery), practicing his Chen style Tai Chi in the beautiful Lotus Park, located in the South Carmain Quarter of Wanchai...which incidentally is also home to some of my favourite music from Shenmue II. And although his role in the game's story is ended when Ryo learns the Iron Palm technique, Jianmin is always ready for another sparring session should you wish to engage him, good luck besting him in combat though.

The South Carmain Quarter itself remains one of my favourite areas in the entire Shenmue saga. It's faded glory really captures the depth and real life feel that Sega painstakingly attempted to portray to the player. The run down and built up streets are completely without glamour and it's oppressed residents display that stoic heroism often synonymous with decaying and deprived inner city areas. Also hailing from the South Carmain Quarter is Jianmin's friend and resident Shenume II battle axe, Guixang Lee...this stern old lady also happens to be a master of Tai Chi so best be polite to her.

So the next time you're wandering around an RPG town or city, remember to keep a beady eye on the quiet and retiring NPC in the never known what surprises they might have in store for you!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Obscure gems part II: Turbans, capes and cartridge slots...

Turban? Check. Cape? Check. Weird egg mascot that you can throw? Check!
Following in the recent footsteps of Xandra's Big Adventure is another dazzling yet largely (and sadly) unknown masterpiece from the from the 16bit generation, this time for the Sega Mega Drive...or Genesis if you live on the other side of the big pond. The hilariously titled Magical Hat no Buttobi Tabo! Daiboken, loosely translated as Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure, is a platform game that was released by Sega in the pre Sonic era of 1990. To this day I still find it to be far and away the finest example of the platform genre on not just the Mega Drive, but on any Sega machine, period.

This game may seem strangely familiar to some people…even those who’ve never even heard of it. This is probably because it was developed by (the usually underwhelming) Vic Tokai, the same company responsible for the equally fantastic but ultimately shunned Psycho Fox on the Master System and Kid Kool on the NES. Whilst Magical Hat isn't a direct sequel to either of these titles, the lineage the three games share is plain for all to see, and many of the traits and ideas you come across in the Mega Drive title are derived straight from it’s 8bit ancestors. The other reason this wacky game may look familiar is that it did actually receive a release in the west...albeit in horrifically bastardised form, more on that travesty later though.
After 18 years, my very own copy...yay!

Magical Hat is something of a gaming Holy Grail for me. Back in 1993 I was among the staunchest of SNES fans, however the first time I encountered Hat’s fantastic world it left me floored. There were very few games around at the time that married such vivid and wonderful graphics with genuinely addictive game play. My love for it was such that I promised myself I would one day own a copy. I sort of forgot about that until recently though, and so some self-indulgent eBay action ensued and I'm now the very proud owner of an immaculate copy of Magical hat Flying Turbo Adventure! I have to say, it was worth the £20 for box art alone.

The bad news regarding this little impulse purchase is that I own a PAL Mega Drive…which doesn’t play NTSC games. So rather than bother with a boring universal adapter I decided to perform some minor "home surgery" on my console, which involved filing away the little plastic tabs that shape the cartridge slot. Once these had been rounded off, the game slotted in perfectly, I adore this novel approach to regional security from Sega, it's wonderfully barn door. To anyone who is thinking of attempting this little operation, I can happily confirm that it is fairly straightforward and only took me about 30 minutes in all. Just be sure to refer to one of the many useful internet guides, like this rather helpful one I happened across.

Back to the game then…

The story (I think) goes something like this; an earthquake has literally ripped apart our hero's island home and so he dons his excellent turban and sets off to reunite the scattered lands and defeat the (awesome looking) Demon King. To accomplish this feat, Hat must traverse seven different continents, each containing three stages laden with cunning traps, numerous secret passages and insane looking enemies. Although the game features the obligatory ice, desert and water levels, the design and complexity is nothing short of exceptional...especially when you take into consideration the game's age, eighteen years old! As well the traditional left to right routes, the player must explore the heights and depths of each level whilst scouring all over for hidden objects (necessary for progression in later stages).

I'm chuffed to say that Hat is a breeze to control, and his epic quest is made so much more enjoyable by the magnificent array of abilities he has at his disposal. Accompanying the main man on his journey is a strange grinning egg which can be hurled about the place to help fend off enemies. As well as helping Hat with attacking his enemies, the little maniacal egg also acts as a kind of extra layer of protection, offering to take a hit for you. Hat can also collect various different potions and pills which unleash a plethora of flashy moves such as; a rapid fire attack, a shield (which a certain Hedgehog seems to have took a shining to), a hidden turban gun and the best by miles...he can even transform into a giant robotic ape (how Japanese is that)!! It's true to say that every quality platfomer begins with a lovable and distinctive character and Hat's game is no different, his mannerisms are top notch and his wacky animations would put the likes of Bubsy to shame...the face he pulls when you accidentally walk off a ledge for example, is nothing short of hilarious!
Go go baggy pants...

In graphical terms, Magical Hat really is up there with the best the Mega Drive has to even rivals some of the more illustrious offerings from the Super Nintendo. The characters are large, bold and bursting with colour, the artists really outdid themselves by blessing the game with hoards of amazingly well designed sprites, all of which perfectly fit the setting and background of the game. Kudos must also go to the music composer because this game is awash with gloriously upbeat tunes that really get inside your head from the first level onward. It's this almost unnecessary level of detail that propels Hat's world to the top tier of the platform theatre.

Although this game looks cute and colourful, it also possesses a proper mean streak and it can easily catch you off guard. The difficulty level can make it extremely frustrating at times and as with most platformers of the day, one hit and you're dead. Luckily the delightful bonus levels in-between the stages will keep you stocked with extra lives, this is countered though by the fact that you'll probably end up ploughing through them at rate of knots.

Understandably Sega wanted to push Magical Hat into the lucrative markets of Europe and North America, at the time however, the localisation of many Japanese games went much further than mere text changes and a bit of censorship here and there. Games of Japanese origin were often considered a bit too weird and wacky for us easily offended westerners, as a result some would undergo a process known as Americanisation. This was a practice that pretty much ripped out any and all interesting content and ideas, and set about replacing it with stuff that was deemed more "familiar and acceptable" for it's new audience. Basically, it would amount to nothing more than removing the heart and soul of games that underwent the process, and Magical Hat along with Ranma 1/2 on the SNES (which became the appalling Street Combat) is by far the worse example of this that I've ever witnessed.

And so, as a result of this questionable and deplorable method of localisation, Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure emerged in the west as as Decap Attack.

"Whaa...where'd all the colour go!?"
Now to be honest, (and putting aside my bias for Japanese games) Decap Attack is actually a pretty solid attempt and if you've never had the pleasure of trying Magical Hat, then you quite could happily consider Decap Attack to be a title of real quality. However, when the two games are compared side by side, the ugly truth is impossible to hide from. Decap Attack is completely devoid of life and imagination, also (just to make matters worse) it was swathed in some of the most dull and drab colours you could possibly think of. It's worlds are home to boring characters who inhabit not very interesting surroundings. It is obvious to me that Sega were trying to make a game that would appeal to a mass market, but what depresses me most about Decap Attack is that by removing the patented Hat lunacy, they also took away the majority of the game's charm and identity...which is unforgivable.

The molestation of Magical Hat was truly abhorrent in my eyes and the fact that Sega, a company well renowned for bold (if possibly ill judged) gaming decisions, made the call to basically lobotomise it, makes the whole situation even more rancid. As is well known, the 90's thrust upon us an extensive collection of generic and unimaginative platform pulp in the form of smelly turds such as Family Dog and Cool World. Magical Hat would certainly have brought some welcome creativity and spark to these shores, had it arrived here untouched. As it was, we in the west were fobbed off with another run of the mill platform game, and this is truly a great shame because Magical Hat had so much to give us. It boasted not only the visual finery to match the very best of the generation, but also, terrific game play...most of all though it was fantastic fun to play.

So if you enjoy great platform games or just happen to be searching for a bit of the magic and humour that seems absent from many of today's games, then Magical Hat is an absolute must. Along with the likes of Streets of Rage 2, Gunstar Heroes and Phantasy Star, Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure finally made me acknowledge the Mega Drive as a truly great console…one thing I would say though is do yourself a big favour and play the proper Japanese version, it's just better.

In my humble opinion, it was this game and not Sonic that was the Mega Drive's true answer to Super Mario World, and praise doesn't come much higher than that.

As a final note, Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure also occupies a slot in my Underrated games list. It's a place where unloved games can be showered with much deserved attention, have a quick gander, you might just find your new favourite (old) game!


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Gaming's great intros part III: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I think it would be fair to say that the majority of Nintendo fans will forever remember their virgin experience with the colossal Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Rarely has a game so massively hyped delivered so comprehensively, and rarely has one game singlehandedly revolutionised not only a single genre, but also the games industry as a whole. Within days of it’s release in 1998, Ocarina of Time had cemented itself in the hearts of gamers across the globe as one of the most revered titles in video game history.

Something else that most fans will doubtless remember is the first time that they fired this game up and witnessed the majesty of Link in full polygonal glory, sat astride Epona, as she gallops through the stunning vista of Hyrule Field. Watching as the two of them are bathed in the glorious pink light of dawn...even today, is a sight to behold, and then as the camera sweeps by we get a glimpse of Hyrule Castle, resplendent in all it's grandeur. By this point it was clear to most people that this game would be beyond special.

Nintendo’s controversial choice of cartridges as storage medium infamously left the N64 unable to produce the outrageous CG and FMV sequences that were proving so popular on the CD based consoles (PSX and Saturn) of the time. On the plus side however, this decision left Ocarina of Time without the unnecessary burden of CG costume jewellery, and gave it the ability to show off it's (very) ample assets in a more subtle and natural light. Nintendo's almost minimalist approach here gently alluded to what awaited the player and ensured that no gamer would be left downhearted by a flashy looking intro that the game itself couldn't hope to match...(cough Dragon Valour...cough).

The storage space (or lack thereof) afforded by cartridges did have a large effect on the N64's ability to produce quality music, and it's games were often criticised for containing very basic tunes that looped much sooner than their CD counterparts. Step in veteran Nintendo composer and all round genius; Koji Kondo, who somehow managed to eke out a soundtrack of genuine class and an intro aria fit to rival almost anything from Square, Capcom or Enix. The simple yet elegant piano and the unmistakable melody of the now series signature ocarina, make for a delicate and intensely warm short, there was very little at the time to better it.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time showed the world and proved to Nintendo's critics that even without huge storage space, the N64 could produce cut scenes that were simply without superlative. And even though today the character models are beginning to look a little dated and the backgrounds look even fuzzier, this intro sequence is still beautiful in every way I can think of. More importantly and perhaps more impressively though, it still gives me that massive buzz of anticipation at just what is waiting to begin...and as any serious gamer will tell you, that is all too rare.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Friday bargain hunting...scraping the barrel?

Better than a Greggs sausage roll any day...
Searching for ludicrously cheap video games is fast becoming something of a Friday lunch time tradition for my work mates and I. Recent trips to the local branch of Cash Converters have yielded some outrageous spoils, the likes of Popo LoCrois (PSP), Sonic Jam (Saturn) and Colony Wars: Vengeance (PSX) were all picked up for under £5 (in the case of Colony Wars, it was only 99p)!!

Last Friday's foraging was equally fruitful, and I snagged the bargain of the day...the fantastic Taito Legends 2 on the Playstation 2, for just 2 English pounds (lots of twos there sorry!). That's £2 for a disc (which looked brand new) loaded with 39 arcade games from 1979 right through to 1996. Now I know that every one of these titles pre-dates the PS2 by many years or even decades in some cases, and the rehashing of classic arcade games is an acquired taste but regardless of that, most of these games have more heart, soul and depth than a lot of the generic muck we see cluttering the shelves at present.

Upon firing the disc up, you're greeted by a sweet intro, showcasing all of the classic games on offer, and much to my surprise and joy, this slick show is also accompanied by some quite gorgeous music...more thumbs up action from me. The games themselves are sorted chronologically which unfortunately means that you'll initially be greeted by some decidedly ropey looking and underwhelming examples of gaming from the early 80's. Things soon pick up though and in a big way too, everything from the late 80's onwards is bullet proof, and you're soon rolling in SHMUPs, scrolling beat 'em ups and addictive puzzle games.

At this point, rather than wade through all 39 games individually, I've just picked out my five highlights from the collection for further inspection:
    Kiki Kaikai (1986)
    The ancestral grandfather to the Pocky and Rocky series (which I absolutely adored), Kiki Kaikai is a old style overhead run and gun game...only there are no guns, just Japanese cards and a wand! It is set in that cool period of feudal Japan, which comes complete with a ton of mythological spirits and monsters trying to put an end to your plucky character, Sayo-chan. The gameplay is fairly basic but it's also really addictive, and I was taken aback at just how difficult the game can get. The cute graphics still hold up (quite) well, and although things do get a little repetitive, the setting makes a nice difference from all the sci-fi styled offerings that are the norm with this kind of game.

    Dungeon Magic (1994)
    Being a big fan of scrolling beat 'em ups and also being partial to the odd isometric game as well, I was fairly embarrassed to discover that I'd never even heard of Dungeon Magic before buying the Taito Legends collection. This game is quality, plain and simple. If you harbour any fondness for scrolling beat 'em ups then you need to play it. The characters are chunky, brilliantly animated and look intricately detailed, it's also nice to see that even the enemies are given this treatment. In fact, this game looks so impressive that it could easily pass for a Neo Geo title...which is ace in my book. Neither the story nor the gameplay are particular revolutionary, but four players can play at the same time and this makes a fantastic experience even more fun. Add in an epic musical score and that unique isometric viewpoint and it makes for a real unexpected gem.

    Darius Gaiden (1994)
    The Darius series is one of Taito's most famous and beloved franchises, but not one I've ever been overly familiar with. After playing Gaiden for five minutes though I could tell that this would change...and soon, the game flies along at a fantastically fast pace, and although it is very chaotic at times, you never feel like you're just along for the ride with no control. The graphics are big, bold and colourful, with some hugely impressive enemies appearing along the way...the Golden Ogre from the end of the first stage is a genuine "wow" moment. Darius Gaiden also happens to possess one of the most extravagant soundtracks I've ever heard from a non RPG, there are haunting vocal melodies that are almost operatic at times (sounding very much like Parasite Eve on the PSX). A real surprise this one.

    Metal Black (1991)
    Here we have another horizontal shoot 'em up and one that I have to an absolute revelation! Metal Black is home to some properly charming visuals, and especially worthy of note are the sumptuous backgrounds (which remind me somewhat of Square's Einhander) and the insane end of level bosses, which are absolutely enormous and so well drawn. One of my favourite aspects of this game though is the power up system. You collect small additions to your weapon capability throughout the stage, and this enables you to unleash a massive beam attack when required. Interestingly though, the bosses can also snare these power ups and launch a ridiculous over the top attack of their own, ensuring that these battles often get quite interesting.

    Elevator Action Returns (1994)
    Having been a huge fan of the Impossible Mission series years ago, the looks of this game appealed to me straight away, and although Elevator Action Returns is much heavier on death than stealth, it's still a thoroughly enjoyable romp. You choose from three (pretty cool) secret agents, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, the objective is then to travel to different buildings and disarm bombs that have been that are set to detonate...whilst also giving the good news to any bad guys that get in your way. The controls are glorious, helping the game to flow at just the right pace, the animation is top notch and as well as gloriously distinctive graphics, there are also an admirable number of anime style cut scenes along the way. As with all the best arcade games, you can have a friend tag along with you to add to the fun (and chaos).

    Overall then this is a fine little collection of games from yesteryear...some are proper classics, some are not (in the slightest), but all at least have a distinct story to tell and all are worth at least five minutes of your time. I found myself remembering a time when high scores did actually matter and when video games were unmerciful in their difficulty. I used to play these kind of games throughout my childhood, but for years now I've been a massive fan of console and JRPGs, the Taito Legends collection made me realise just how rusty my gaming skills have actually become. With this in mind I think it's time to put Rudra No Hihou on the back burner for a while and attempt to rack up some respectable scores on the likes of Syvalion and Puzzle Bobble.

    The one major gripe that I have with this collection is that Bubble Symphony (Bubble Bobble 2) was only available on the XBox version...that does stink a bit of money grabbing to me, but it's not enough to spoil the overall experience.

    As a footnote for anyone who's interested, the full list of games contained in this fine collection are as follows.
    • Alpine Ski
    • Arabian Magic
    • Balloon Bomber
    • Bonze Adventure
    • Cameltry
    • Chack 'n' Pop
    • Cleopatra Fortune
    • Crazy Balloon
    • Darius Gaiden
    • Don Doko Don
    • Dungeon Magic
    • Elevator Action Returns
    • Football Champ
    • Front Line
    • G Darius
    • Gekirindan
    • Grid Seeker
    • Growl
    • Gun & Frontier
    • Insector X
    • Kiki Kaikai
    • Kuri Hinton
    • Liquid Kids
    • Lunar Rescue
    • Metal Black
    • Nastar
    • Puchi Carat
    • Puzzle Bobble 2
    • Qix
    • Raimais
    • Ray Storm
    • Space Invaders '95
    • Space Invaders DX
    • Super Space Invaders '91
    • Syvalion
    • The Fairyland Story
    • The Legend of Kage
    • Violence Fight
    • Wild Western

    Thursday, 27 October 2011

    Obscure gems part I: Platforms, pitch forks and a green Jelly Baby...

    I never really liked the 'green ones' until I played this game...
    I've recently been remembering some of my favourite lesser known treasures from the 16 bit era, and first up is a marvellous offering from Namcot (Namco's old Japan only brand), Xandra's Big Adventure. Believe it or not, this wacky looking game actually made it (almost) unscathed to Europe back in the day, but to be honest, very few people paid it any interest and Xandra sadly toiled away in relative obscurity...which is something of a shame, because what we're looking at here is one the Super Nintendo's most enjoyable and polished platformers.

    Thanks to the success of Mario and Sonic et al, platform games were massive business back in the early 90's, as a result of this popularity a whole host of 'imitation brand' titles flooded onto the shelves. The likes of Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt, Out to Lunch and Plok were actually pretty good, but on the whole the genre became home to many efforts that were ropey to say the least...the likes Home Alone and Lester the Unlikely spring to mind. Fortunately though, Xandra slots nicely into the top bracket, sitting just below the first and second party titans like Super Mario World, Yoshi's Island and Donkey Kong Country 2.

    I first laid eyes on Xandra no Daibōken: Valkyrie to no Deai in 1993, whilst perusing an old issue of Super Play Magazine. After reading their review I was totally captivated...a Japanese game, starring a green Jelly Baby, wielding a pitch fork?? Count me in!! Years later and via the joys of emulation, I finally got the chance to play it, and as suspected I'd missed out big time.

    Although the star of the show does indeed look like he belongs in a packet of Bassetts finest, Xandra actually started his gaming adventures on the PC Engine, as a side kick in Namco's famous Valkyrie series. The transition from cohort to main man (or Jelly sweet) went well thanks in no small part to the harrowing (though quite thin) storyline within the game. The evil Zona unleashes a deadly and mysterious virus upon the land, causing the inhabitants of Xandra's village to turn to stone, and Xandra's own son to become gravely ill. So, armed with nothing more than a pitchfork he sets off on the obligatory quest to collect the magic herbs necessary to save his son.

    Happily the little green guy is a joy to control and you'll be genuinely amazed at just what he can do with his humble pitchfork!! Visually the game is impressive for the time, the stage backgrounds can get a little bland but as you might expect, Xandra's animations are top notch. His facial expressions range from hilarious to actually quite sad and, rather unusually for a platform character, he oozes charisma and you really do want him to do well. It's this kind of detail that in my eyes makes Xandra one of the most memorable characters of the period and makes it even more of a travesty that the likes of Bubsy gained much more limelight than he did.

    Also really worthy of note is the musical score which, for a platformer from the 90's is pretty awesome. There are lots of melancholic tunes that are more akin to an epic RPG than to a game that involves much running and's a glorious surprise and something that really helps the game to stand out from the crowds.

    The gameplay is solid but as a warning, there are parts of this game that you'll need saint-like patience to get through. The game spews out passwords at decent intervals but anyone too used to modern games is in for a shock, Xandra's Big Adventure has a ball breaking learning curve and can get pad smashingly difficult in me! If challenge is what motivates you then you're sure to enjoy this side of the game. Also keeping things fresh and the replay value high are a multitude of endings...many of which are 'bad'.

    As mentioned before, this game did receive a limited release in Europe, where it was re-branded as Whirlo: the Bubble Boy, discarding any references to Xandra's previous exploits in the Valkyire series. I can only assume this new identity was due to the PC Engine's lack of release in the PAL territories, even so, it's a pretty feeble title. On the plus side though, a lack of US release meant that Xandra was thankfully spared the awful act of Americanisation which blighted many 16 bit games that crossed from east to west (Ranma 1/2 becoming on the SNES Street Combat for instance).

    So what's the bottom line on on Xandra's Big Adventure then? Well, while it can't quite touch the majesty of Super Mario World (what can though eh?), it is cute, fun and immensely challenging. At a time when generic platform games were two a penny, this represented something different and interesting, it also boasts one of the most memorable lead characters from any platformer of the period. So if you're a fan of the genre, Japanese games or just green Jelly Babies then it's definitely worth a look.

    By the by, Xandra's Big Adventure is also featured in my Underrated games list, it's worth a look, you might just unearth a little gem in there.

    Tuesday, 25 October 2011

    Devolution of the species?

    I've just been alerted to a stunning little project that any fan of the original Gameboy should definitely check out.

    Super Smash Land is a 'demake' of one of Nintendo's biggest and most famous franchises...Smash Brothers. For anyone not in the know, a demake is an unofficial version of a (usually current) big selling game, the difference though is that the fan made adaptation is created in the style of games from yesteryear. If you're the kind of gamer who lives for cutting edge graphics in your games then you'll probably wonder what all the fuss is about, but for anyone who still hankers after the sprite based offerings from days of yore, these games can be a stunning way of re-experiencing your favourite titles.

    Super Smash Land plays in exactly the way you would expect a Gameboy offering of the classic franchise to and, the controls are tight, the characters (Mario, Link, Kirby etc) are well animated and although the in game sprites aren't the official Nintendo ones you'll be used to, they still look fantastic and you can tell they've been crafted with such love and simply won't matter that they're home made. Also present are the stages that we usually find in the official games, all lovingly displayed in classic Gameboy monochrome. As with it's bigger brothers, Super Smash Land is best experienced with friends, all the chaos and fun is present, but with a gorgeous twist.

    I'm all for projects like this, they showcase the skills of the developers and leave you in doubt that the love for gaming, both modern and retro can extend beyond sales figures and chart positions. So if you like your news games old...or your old games new (bare with me here) then get yourself over to the Super Smash Land site right now and download the game for free.

    Also, check out this Listal page for images of how some other popular games could look if they got the demake treatment...if only Final Fantasy XIII really looked like that, I might actually like it.

    Wednesday, 19 October 2011

    10 Wii games that really surprised me

    The much maligned Nintendo Wii has been criticised by many gamers and media types alike for the amount of truly awful titles that call the machine home, indeed many of these of these are little more than mini games, shamelessly packaged as family entertainment. Recently though, I've come across quite a few that defy this label and stand up against anything from the PS3 or are my ten picks.

    Xenoblade Chronicles

    Xenoblade was a huge surprise to me not because it turned out to be great (you could tell that it would from the video previews), but because of just how great it actually was.

    For me, Xenoblade is the game that Final Fantasy XII should have been, and if Squenix had put as much effort in with that as Monolith did with Xenoblade then the Final Fantasy series may have avoided the dire straights it currently finds itself in.

    Xenoblade is probably the best looking game available for the Wii, it certainly the has the most depth and the greatest soundtrack and is a timely reminder of just how good the Wii can be in the right hands.

    There is a good 60 hours of gameplay, which can be extended easily if you choose to play the side quests too. There's no other way of saying this, Xenoblade is worth getting a Wii for...and it's not out in America either, you don't see that every day.


    This game was a genuine revelation and a definite contender for top spot in this list.

    Madworld surprises for two reasons, first and most obvious is it's a Wii game that is dripping in ultra violence, true it's done in a comic book style (ala Sin City), but it's still brutal. Second is that it's a thoroughly enjoyable game to play, it's funny, looks amazing and has a surprising level of depth to it.

    The aim is take your character through a Running Man style gameshow in which victory is achieved by killing your opponents in the harshest (and often funniest) ways. The entire game is displayed in black and white (like a comic) with the exception of blood...of which there is a lot, this really helps it to stand out, and makes it one of the most striking games on the Wii.

    Because of it's questionable content, Madworld bombed badly and as a result can be picked up for peanuts now...I wholeheartedly recommend it.

    Lost in Shadow/A Shadow's Tale

    This game is an absolute cracker, in my eyes it's up there with the likes of Mario Galaxy and Twilight Princess as one of the best titles ever released for the Wii.

    Lost in Shadow (or A Shadow's Tale in the UK) is a puzzle/platform game that takes much influence from the legendary ICO on the takes so much in fact that at times it feels almost like a sequel. Whilst it falls slightly short of the standard set by ICO, Lost in Shadow is easily the best game of it's kind on the Wii.

    You're greeted to stunning (for the Wii) visuals complete with immense vistas, soothingly ambient soundtrack and tight controls. Unusually for a game of this ilk, it lasts for about 30 hours too, which isn't to be sniffed at.

    Lost in Shadow is one of the most overlooked games on the Wii and would grace any collection.

    Tatsunoko vs Capcom

    This game really caught me off guard, not because it's worse than any of the other Capcom 'vs' games, but because it starred a franchise that (Tekkman Blade aside) I knew nothing about and it was a Wii exclusive. However, maximum respect to Capcom because they produced the Wii's premier fighting game (sorry Smash bros fans), and also a game that is easily the equal of Marvel vs Capcom 3.

    Anyone familiar with the premise of the Capcom 'vs' games will feel right at home with this one. It has the usual hyper exaggerated carnage we've come to expect from the series, glorious graphics and a decent roster of characters.

    The control system has been simplified somewhat for the Wii, but strangely this doesn't seem to dumb the game down. There is enough content and depth to keep hardcore fans happy while it remains accessible for those who aren't...or are new.

    Tatsunoko vs Capcom is now relatively cheap so it's definitely worth a look, as is the awesome arcade stick that is also available.

    Muramasa: The Demon Blade

    Muramasa is the game that I consider to be the prettiest on the Wii. It boats glorious hand drawn, water coloured 2D visuals and is set that classic Tokugawa inspired period of Japanese history complete with sharp swords and samurai.

    The big surprise with this one is that it's not just about the graphics, there is a quality game to be found here as well. It plays like an action RPG with platform elements, there are numerous weapons to collect and beating enemies helps you gain experience and progress through missions.

    The story, though never ground breaking is solid and enjoyable, and is backed up by a breathtaking soundtrack. Any fan of ARPG's or games with a Japanese flavour should seek this out.

    This is another Wii game that's available for very little money these days and as such, it's definitely worth a bash.

    The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces

    I must confess that I was first drawn to Innocent Aces because of the box art (I have a weakness for nice looking Japanese covers)...and after watching some videos and reading a few reviews I decided to take a punt on it.

    Happily it was a good decision because Innocent Aces is a great game. It's made by the same Namco team responsible for the Ace Combat series so there is tons of arcade style dog fights and some really pretty anime cut scenes to boot.

    The control system takes some getting used to and can be slightly off putting at first, but stick with it and you'll find yourself barrel rolling and ruling the skies pretty swiftly.

    For fans of flying games or even just anime fans, this one is really worth a look

    Little King's Story

    Little King's Story is on the face of it another cutesy game for kids on a Nintendo console, but after spending just five minutes with it, you can tell it's been crafted in the mould of the awesome Animal Crossing, and is very close to being just as good.

    It's one of those rare games that you can lose days in without even knowing it, there is lots to do but it never becomes repetitive or boring, and while progression is easy early on, later battles require the use of tactics and planning.

    One of the standout features of the game is it's soundtrack. There are countless Nintendo style versions of classical tracks from the ages (Ride of the Valkyries, Land of Hope and Glory etc) and if you're not a fan of the originals, you'll soon find yourself humming along.

    Little King will no doubt be dismissed by many, but it's easily one of the most addictive games I own for my Wii, it's brilliant.

    Anno: Create A New World

    When you think of the Wii, the historical real time strategy game probably isn't the first genre of game that will pop into your head. This is probably one big reason why not many people have heard of Anno: Create A New World.

    Anno is a game in the style of Civilisation and Age of Empires and is genuinely brilliant. It combines empire building and expansion with trade, war and exploration, this is all backed up by a (slightly annoying at times) fully voiced cast of characters which adds a real sheen to the game.

    It also makes excellent use of the Wii remote, something many games failed to do. The controls are responsive and easy to get the hang of...which is lucky because there are times when it's crucial to navigate the world quickly.

    Although Anno certainly won't to appeal to all tastes, if you enjoy this kind of simulation title, then it's an absolute must.


    On first inspection Opoona is just another cutesy Wii game aimed at kids, but give it a chance and you'll find a surprisingly deep and enjoyable RPG romp.

    It's worth pointing out first though that if you pick this game up expecting something of the caliber of Xenoblade or Dragon Quest then you'll probably be disappointed, it's definitely a lighter experience.

    Opoona kind of reminds me of an old style console RPG (ala Dragon Quest), it's blessed with some really imaginative graphics and a fun, interesting job system. It's not going to last you months and it won't have you emotionally involved like some games can, but if RPGs are your thing then definitely check it out.

    Endless Ocean

    Endless Ocean is one of those games that you either love or hate, there doesn't seem to be much middle ground. Gamers who enjoy non stop action should avoid like the plague, but if you like to play games that are relaxing and that promote exploration and have an open ended feel then you could do a lot worse than Endless Ocean.

    The objective basically is to take your character (a scuba diver) to the seas and help them to explore, photograph and catalogue various types of creature.

    When it was first released, I can remember spending hours marvelling at how nice the underwater environments looked and how the fantastic music adds to a really tranquil experience.

    Definitely a good game to unwind with.

    This list is also available in it's original form, over at Listal.

    Thursday, 13 October 2011

    30-ish Criminally underrated games

    Here we have a short list of video games that far too many people have never heard of, and even fewer actually care about...but I adore them none the less.

    I feel a certain sadness when genuinely good games miss out on commercial success, it seems a crime that all the love and effort the developers put into it is wasted. What makes me even more irate is that these gamers are often over looked because some generic piece of turd has just been released and given a massive advertising campaign to the convince the hordes that they must buy it.

    Anyways, listed below are 30 games that I feel deserved more recognition from Joe Public, so without further ado...

    Lost in Shadow/A Shadow's Tale - Nintendo Wii

    Whilst ICO has (rightly) taken the plaudits as the critic's moody and artistic game of choice, this little gem has had to be content with watching (aptly) from the shadows...which is a shame because it's a cracking game.

    The game is played from the unique perspective of a shadow and so, the majority of the action takes place in the background. The graphics and ambient soundtrack are wonderful and you actually feel empathy for your poor character's plight.

    Unusually for a Wii title, this has depth and character in abundance...which shows what the little white machine can do in the right hands.

    Earthbound - Super Nintendo

    When I first laid eyes on Earthbound as a kid, I remember thinking that compared with Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana et al, it looked pretty shoddy. Years later, when I realised what a blind little whelp I had been, I finally got to play the game and was totally blown away.

    There are few RPGs I've ever played which can match Earthbound's humour, sentiment and sense of morality. It is a wonderful journey that any RPG fan should experience, and shows that the Japanese can do 'American' better than even the Americans themselves!!

    It's quirky, basic and looks a bit old fashioned...and I just don't care.

    Terranigma - Super Nintendo

    I'll come clean now...Terranigma is my favourite RPG of all time, and my thoughts are probably best summed up in this blog rambling about it.

    This game is cruelly unknown to many SNES and RPG fans alike, it suffered the terrible fate of never receiving a north American release, and as such has never gained the reputation it deserves. In my eyes the world missed out a piece of unadulterated majesty because of this, it's literally nigh on perfect.

    Please, I beg of you, do anything you can to play it.

    Ico - Playstation 2

    ICO is the game that probably best defines this entire list, when it was originally released back in 2001 it was largely ignore by a public that was more interested in the likes of FIFA and Grand Theft Auto.

    The importance of the game simply cannot be understated, it really kicked off the whole "games as art" movement with it's stunning vistas, minimalist dialogue and huge emphasis on the intense relationship between it's two main characters.

    Mercifully, thanks to a HD re-release ICO is now starting to garner some of the success it deserves.

    Shenmue II - XBox

    After the hype, furor and commercial disaster that was Sega's incredible Shenmue, many eyebrows were raised when Microsoft ploughed yet more dollar bills into releasing Shenmue II for the XBox, complete with brilliantly comedic voice actors.

    Although it too never sold well enough to even begin paying back the investment, I personally couldn't care less because it gave me the chance to experience more of one of gaming's finest works of art.

    Shenmue II carries on where the original left off and thrusts the player into the bustling world of Hong Kong. Words don't really do this one justice, so just try your best to play it...please?!

    Rez - Dreamcast

    Being released on the Dreamcast meant Rez was never going to have much of a life in the public eye, and even though Sega's wonder machine was years ahead of it's time, the fact it didn't say Playstation on the lid meant it was doomed.

    Still, Rez is one of those games that when you eventually play it you wonder how you've only just heard of it. It's a kind of on the rails shooter with mesmerising visuals and a barn storming techno inspired soundtrack. Probably one of those games that you have to play to realise just how amazing it go on!!

    Also, playing Rez on a massive TV with a good pair of headphones on really is one of life's little pleasures.

    Beyond Good and Evil - Playstation 2

    Another game that was released into the fickle world of the PS2 with no hope of grabbing the attention of the public.

    Time has at least been kind to Beyond Good and Evil though, and over the years it's reputation has only grown. A recent HD remake should also ensure that it experienced by many who missed it first time round.

    Combining (with great skill) adventure, stealth, fighting and driving along with a wonderful story and high class soundtrack, Beyond Good and Evil is definitely worth the meager few pounds it can be picked up for these days.

    Paladin's Quest - Super Nintendo

    A bit of a strange one this, if you like your console JRPG's then it's definitely worth a portion of your time...if you don't, then steer well clear.

    Asmik's attempt at a SNES Dragon Quest clone wasn't very well received back in 1994 but being a pointy hat fan, I loved it. It's got really bizarre visuals and an innovative battle system that really help it to be different, don't get me wrong, it's a bit basic and it'll never rock the boat of Chrono Trigger et al...but it's a blinder in my book.

    Bahamut Lagoon - Super Famicom

    Underrated probably because it never received an official translation or release outside of Japan, but these days, thanks to the efforts of ROM hackers, this genre defining tactical RPG can now be sampled by those of us who can't read Kanji.

    Boasting a story and graphics that rival any of Square's other legendary SNES offerings, Bahamut Lagoon is an absolute must for anyone interested in RPGs. It's easily 60 hours long and has such an intense battle system, that you can find yourself losing hours in it.

    A marvelous fan translation also keeps the plot riveting.

    Jet Set Radio - Dreamcast

    Another of the Dreamcast's pioneer titles that shone briefly before being forgotten.

    Jet Set Radio is possibly (still) one of the greatest looking games I've ever played, making perfect use of the then revolutionary cel shading technique. Add in lovable characters, a stomping soundtrack and gameplay that aims to get you spraying graffiti tags all over can soon see why this was a special game.

    It's amazing that a game so old can still have that wow factor, and I can never help but be amazed every time I fire this thing up.

    Shadowrun - Super Nintendo

    A unique RPG for the SNES which was based around the world of cyber-punk...which is cool as we all know.

    Shadowrun took a radically different approach to the majority of other role playing games of the era by being gritty, violent and very dystopian in appearance.

    You start the game on a slab in the morgue(!) and after coming to, you have to find out who fried your head and basically seek revenge.

    For being so original, this game deserves a portion of any gamer's time, be warned though, it's hard as nails to beat.

    Front Mission - Nintendo DS

    Another game that was deemed unworthy of an official release in the west back in the 90's. It's hard to see why though, it's got big robots, awesome characters, and looks stunning...and that's before you even get to the brilliant combat system.

    Square realised their error (finally) when they re-released Front Mission on the DS many years later. Now there's no excuse not to play this mecha masterpiece.

    Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom - XBox 360

    A fairly new offering from Namco here, and one that's suffered greatly from the influx of FPS games into the console markets...this is a particular shame because it's a glorious action adventure title that has lots to offer any gamer.

    It's a bit like a cross between Shadow of the Colossus, the new Prince of Persia games and Metroid Prime. You must help Tepeu restore peace to the kingdom by enlisting the help of the Giant Majin...much graphical finery ensues and a thoroughly enjoyable adventure unfolds.

    As a result of consumer indifference, you can pick Majin up on Amazon for buttons these days.

    Astonishia Story - PSP

    This game really is a personal pick on my part and even I won't try and pretend it's not riddled with faults (which have made it the butt of many a joke).

    However, for anyone who is a fan of traditional 16bit RPGs, you can do far worse than Astonishia Story. It looks like an uprated SNES game and has beautifully drawn and animated characters, a decent grid based battle system and a fairly lengthy story...that is let down terribly by a ropey translation.

    Definitely not for everyone, but those willing to part with a few pounds and put in the effort will surely see the rewards.

    Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure

    A platformer from the glorious 16bit era, when I first laid eyes on it's wacky appearance I was hooked, but luckily there's also a really tidy game underneath the insanity. I get the feeling it's based on an anime of some sorts but I'm not sure, what I am sure about is that it's one of the most imaginative games I ever played on the MegaDrive

    Magical Hat was boringly re-branded as 'Decap Attack' for it's western release and consequently lost 90% of it's charm. So if Japanese games are your thing, then this game is a must.

    It also remains to this day, the perfect excuse for taking a file to your Megadrive and performing some home modification to the cartridge slot!

    Legend of Mana - Playstation

    When Legend of Mana was released for the PSX back in 2000, the entire industry expected a proper sequel to Secret of Mana (to make up for the Secret of Mana 2 debacle). What we got instead was a game that rather than spinning a long epic story, took the path of scores of smaller intertwining tales.

    This direction was met with much apathy and as a result, Legend of Mana was consigned to the missed opportunity bin.

    In my eyes though, it needs to be looked at as it's own game rather than any sequel, if you do this, you soon realise that it has boat loads going for it.

    Stunning water-colour style visuals, epic soundtrack and a solid battle system...without doubt one of the best ARPGs on the PSX. No it's not as good as Secret of Mana, but then what is??

    Wild Arms - Playstation

    When the PSX was first released, the world was infatuated with the likes of Ridge Racer and Tekken, so much so that Wild Arms with it's 16 bit roots kind of went unnoticed to all but the keener eyed gamer.

    Those who did take a punt on it though were rewarded with what must be one of the generation's greatest RPGs. Taking the direction of wild west meets cybernetics, Wild Arms shied away from Final Fantasy VII style cut scenes and instead relied on brilliant story telling and well crafted characters.

    I've yet to meet anyone who played this game and didn't enjoy it. Being rare these days it can get pricey, it remains however, a worthwhile investment.

    Vandal Hearts - Playstation

    Another of the first wave of PSX RPGs, and another to go largely unloved. Konami's first tactical RPG offering stylishly combined classic story telling with an addictive battle system and lashings of violence.

    Although probably largely overshadowed by the (superior) Suikoden duo, it still remains one of the PSX's unknown gems and provides a stiff challenge in comparison with many of today's games.

    Xandra's Big Adventure - Super Famicom

    A classic platformer from the early days of the SNES featuring what looks like a green jelly baby wielding a pitch fork as it's lead character (although he's actually from another Namco series).

    Xandra's Big Adventure combines great controls with a ball breaking learning curve, it can get pad smashingly hard, but it's worth the effort.

    Xandra himself remains one of the best obscure lead characters I've ever seen. His animations are top notch for the time and his facial expressions are hilarious.

    Neo Geo Battle Coliseum - Playstation 2

    For a fighting game fan like myself, I was astonished to see this game languishing in the bargain bin so soon after it was released.

    Neo Geo Battle Coliseum pits some of SNK's most famous (and some not so) fighters against one another in classic 2D arcade style. A massive roster with tag team play, loads of team combination attacks and some sweet unlockables make this game one of my all time favourite PS2 fighters.

    Perhaps not as good as Capcom vs SNK, but a very close second.

    Fighters Megamix - Sega Saturn

    Fighters Megamix came on the scene around the time that Tekken ruled the fighting game kingdom with an iron fist, and while it probably never matched Namco's behemoth, it was a corking game in it's own right and really appealed to fans of Sega's AM division fighters.

    Bringing together characters from Virtua Fighter, Fighting Vipers and some of Sega's less predictable series (Virtua Cop anyone?), Fighters Megamix proved the misunderstood Saturn could indeed handle a fantastic 3D brawler.

    It's also got a fighting palm tree...what more can you ask for?!

    Einhänder - Playstation

    Square's first (and only I think) foray into SHMUP territory was something of a graphical and sonic tour de force. Einhander came along when Square were at the peak of their powers and it really shows just how much they were able wring out of the PSX.

    Anyone familiar with the shoot 'em up genre will be instantly at home with this game. It's usual mix of legions of enemies topped off with a huge over the top boss at the end of the level.

    It's not particularly revolutionary and doesn't last forever, but it's certainly a stand out PSX title for me and will keep you coming back for more if you enjoy beating high scores.

    Muramasa: The Demon Blade - Nintendo Wii

    Probably one of the prettiest games to have graced the Wii, Muramasa is a glorious hark back to the old school values of vivid 2D graphics and addictive gameplay.

    As the name and box art probably suggest, Muramasa is very Japanese in appearance and is essentially an action RPG with platform elements thrown into the mix. It really goes against the now accepted grain of "realistic is best"...and for this I salute it.

    There is no doubt that there are games out there with deeper plots, but as a package Muramasa is one of the Wii's best offerings for real gamers and fans of quality hand drawn visuals.

    Body Harvest - Nintendo 64

    Before they were famous worldwide for the GTA series, DMA (now known as Rockstar North) were busy making brilliant but unknown games like Body Harvest for the N64.

    The objective of Body Harvest is to travel through time to various periods of human history and fight off an invasion of aliens looking to harvest humanity for their own evil gains. Perhaps a blueprint for the future GTA games could be seen here with it's liberal approach to violence and open world feel.

    Graphically, it lacks the panache of the likes of Goldeneye and Ocarina Of Time but it's still very much worth a bash, and takes it takes an age to beat.

    Body Harvest went against Nintendo's then stringent anti violence policy and showed the world that the N64 could quite happily produce a "grown up" title full of gore.

    Mischief Makers - Nintendo 64

    Another throw back to simpler times, Mischeif Makers was a rare beast of the N64's few 2D games, and a true platform classic. Developed by Treasure, long time purveyors of the gaming world's most uniquely obscure (and usually rare) games.

    Mischief Makers was no different from the the Treasure norm, with bizarre and colourful graphics and a cast that could have only been dreamed up by a Japanese was a gentle reminder that 3D and polygons were not the be all and end all.

    If you retain any interest in platform games, then this is definitely worth some of your time. It's insane, funny and really well put together.

    Final Fantasy Adventure - Gameboy

    One of the very first RPGs available in the west for the Gameboy and one never got anywhere near the amount of attention that it warranted (thanks to a certain Link getting stranded on Koholint Island).

    Final Fantasy Adventure is actually the first game in the legendary Mana series, Square thought a little name change would help get it noticed outside Japan.

    It's easy to see the Mana lineage at work here, Square crammed a great little story into this little cart along with a large, interesting world that was ready to be explored. The gameplay is basic compared with it's SNES brother but it's solid and for a Gameboy title is pretty amazing.

    The GBA remake of this game is also glorious, but the original has the innocent charm that you just can't capture in a remake.

    Opoona - Nintendo Wii

    Opoona has often been (unfairly) referred to as an introduction to RPGs for the younger gamer, but this really unfair in my eyes. Sure, it is nowhere near as complex as Xenoblade or as good looking as Twilight Princess but it's got a certain magic to it...almost like an old Enix game.

    This may be because many of the heavies responsible for the Dragon Quest games were involved in it's conception and development.

    Opoona offers a light hearted and novel approach to battles and the ability to take on a number of jobs which helps to open up the world...classic RPG stuff.

    Graphically it's a little bland but crisp, and some brilliant character design from Akira Toriyama saves the day, musically it's pretty good too, with tunes that you soon start humming to yourself.

    It's certainly not a genre defining title or anything but Opoona is really surprisingly deep RPG.

    Tobal No.1 - Playstation

    Tobal was Square's first attempt at breaking into the fighting game market, and recognising that they had no chance of dethroning the likes of Tekken and Soul Edge, Square decided to take a different route.

    Tobal combines traditional fighting game mechanics with RPG style adventuring. Whilst in adventure mode, the player can engage in battles against other characters from the game. Tobal also gave us a fairly comprehensive counter attack system, which heavily influenced a lot of games released after it.

    it's a little obscure and probably lacks the overall quality of something like Street Fighter EX, but it has a certain charm to it that makes it worth a look.

    Monster Max - Gameboy

    Anyone familiar with Rare's classic Head Over Heels from the C64/Spectrum days will be instantly at home with Monster Max. For those not familiar, it's an isometric puzzle platform game that was released for the Gameboy in the early 90's.

    If you like this sort of game then it's genuinely addictive with devious traps and puzzles waiting to do you in at all times. It also happens to have what is probably the greatest soundtrack of any Gameboy title.

    If you want to know what Rare were upto before the likes of Perfect Dark and Donkey Kong Country the here it is.

    Hanna Barbera's Turbo Toons - Super Nintendo

    On the face of it, this game is appalling. It's got not very good graphics, and the gameplay is so basic that I could have programmed it myself. However, it remains one of the most addictive games I've ever come across.

    All you need is a multi-tap and 5 players and this unassuming game becomes of the funniest things you're ever likely to play.

    The basic premise is to race one of your Hanna Barbera characters (Yogi, Top Cat etc) around a static track against 4 opponents. I know it doesn't sound much like fun, but it's really one of those games that needs to be played rather than talked about.

    In my eyes, this is even better than Micro Machines V3 for multi-player madness.

    So there we are, for anyone bored of the likes of FIFA and Call of Duty, you could do much worse than give one or two of these runts a look in. They're not all triple A admittedly, and won't appeal to all tastes but there should be something there that everyone will enjoy.

    This list can also be found in it's original form over at Listal.