Welcome to our RETRO KLASSIX series! Here we take a look at some of the most memorable titles in video game history. As always, we’ll be playing in Iron Man Mode so the game’s over the second we lose one life, but each entry in this series is only one post long. Perfect if you don’t have the staying power for our main features (you philistine.)
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I think one of the main reasons why retro games have such appeal is because the focus of older games was placed squarely on good gameplay. Owing to – and in spite of – hardware limitations, developers had to put extra thought into the game’s mechanics, graphics and audio if they wanted to stand a chance of leaving an impression on the player.
The limitations of 16 and 8 bit consoles saw the creation of some of the best and worst games ever made; in the birthing cosmos which gave rise to modern gaming, the fact that games either sank or swam solely on the strength of their playability meant that very few memorable retro games are just ‘mediocre’.
That’s not an original observation, of course, but another notable aspect of retro games is that there’s very little context to them.
In fact, try and write a synopsis of most early-90s games and you’ll end up sounding a bit odd. Let’s give it another go.
“You control two aliens – one is a large orange blob, and the other is a three-legged hotdog thing. You crash land on Earth where an annoying synth-funk soundtrack plays incessently, and you need to pick up presents and ship parts while avoiding mad scientists, sentient mailboxes and giant hamsters.”
Enter ToeJam & Earl.
I have some very fond, albeit vague, memories of ToeJam and Earl. I was introduced to the game by this kid, Michael, who was the first person on the estate to get a Sega Mega Drive (that’s a Genesis to you Yanks). He often waxed lyrical about the latest games he’d gotten hold of and implored me to come round and play them, so when I think of ToeJam and Earl I mainly recall sitting up in his room watching him play it while I ate strawberry laces.
i do remember that he was very insistant on it being a great game. Saying that, Michael once got a Micro Machine stuck up his nose so far he had to go to hospital so perhaps his critical thinking skills aren’t anything to write a blog about.
Let’s try it out for ourselves and see how far we get…
… IN IRON MAN MODE!
(that was supposed to be a dramatic echo)
The game kicks in and my retinas are treated to some colours which should never be seen outside of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air intro. It turns out that our titular heroes come from a place called Planet Funkotron (of course they do) and manage to crash land on Planet Earth. It’s my job to find the ten pieces of the broken ship and get them back to Funkotron. Sounds like a hoot!
I select One Player mode since Michael isn’t around to play as Earl. In my mind’s eye he’s still in A&E getting the Micro Machine surgically removed from his nose, twenty years later.
So, this is Planet Earth. Yes, this looks very familiar. I’m guessing we’re in Idaho.
This brings back memories, in particular the funky music which starts off enjoyable but gets rather annoying after twenty seconds or so. I step out of the elevator – which vanishes shortly afterwards – and wander around the greenery looking for a space ship part which I’m told is on this level. I also pick up some gifts strewn around the place; these give ToeJam (who, I’m informed, is a wiener) power-ups such as the ability to sprint.
I put these abilities to good use and tear around the place like a man possessed. Still, I’m not seeing this rocket ship part anywhere – I’m not expecting the game to offer it up to me on a neon-lit plinth or anything, but it sure is elusive.
I keep walking. I’m sure it’ll crop up eventually.
I also take a look at the mailbox over there, which offers me more goodies if I give it a couple of bucks. Sadly, I don’t have a couple of bucks so no presents for me. I keep on walking to try and find some cash, as well as the elevator to take me to the next level. These guys show up and ruin my day:
These dicks work together to poke holes in my delicate frame. I have to rip open some of the presents I’ve got – they’re unidentified until I select them, and if I’m unlucky I’ll spring a booby trap – but fortune is on my side. I gain some health, and some more running shoes, before high-tailing it out of there. I make it to the elevator, which as we all know is the primary mode of international transport on Planet Earth.
The next level goes without much incident, save for nearly being rolled over by a gerbil in a giant ball, and I even pick up a second space ship part. You never know, but this might be the first game I complete in Iron Man Mode?
Nah, you know. You always know.
On level four, I find a hoola girl and a pondering carrot. I have no idea if the latter is friend or foe since I have very little experience with sentient vegetables, but the hoola girl looks friendly enough. I follow her for a bit, then hit on her with my own dance moves.
I open up a present to see if I can get some more sprinting shoes, but things are going from bad to worse here – I open a thunder cloud, which follows me around and zaps me. With nobody else to turn to in my moment of despair, I speak to the wandering carrot. He agrees to identify all my unopened gifts in exchange for the buck I just found. Sounds good to me!
Only kidding! I accidentally open it.
Aaargh. This is not going particularly well. I’m in desperate need of health and all the presents I have contain only death.
But a saviour comes to my aid in the form of a mailbox. If I remember rightly from five minutes ago – and I’m not sure I do – I should be able to feed a couple of bucks into this thing in exchange for more presents.
I can honestly say I never saw that coming.