A screenshot from Flynn: Son Of Crimson. It's some absolutely gorgeous pixel art! A cave scene with purple lightning bolts blocking the exits either side. A rotund knight with a big axe meanders across the floor as the player leaps through the air.

I’ve been reading a lot of nineties videogame mags these past few weeks and as anyone around at the time can confirm, there really is rather a fixation on things always pushing forward -on the next new thing – around that time.

I mean, videogames nearly always has a fixation on the new but the nineties were all that and more so. A decade where a game would get puzzling looks if it didn’t at least do something different.

To be honest, I found it exhausting then and I find it exhausting now. No wonder I meandered off for a bit to do just about anything else.

It's Flynn again. This is a forest scene, there's an Audrey-esque plant sitting atop a platform, a few gems, Flynn leaping through the air (again) and a big cute doggo.

One of the joys of the past decade, for me at least, has been watching originality become an almost useless metric as the sheer volume of games released pretty much guarantees that folks will be working on similar games in their respective genres.

To the surprise of no-one who thinks about this for even a cursory amount of time, this hasn’t come at the cost of exploring new things – we’re still making remarkable progress in that regard – instead it’s allowed folks to put their own personal (or impersonal!) stamp on things. It’s allowed players who enjoy certain genres to rarely find themselves short of different games to play in those genres.

It’s a ridiculously abundant time. I say it often but I really do feel rather spoiled by it all. It’s nice!

Flynn again. He's riding the doggo through a dungeon. Careful now!

I grabbed Flynn: Son Of Crimson on a whim. I can’t say I knew anything about it or that I even read the store page properly before grabbing it! I had fifteen quid left over from grabbing the eldest something, it looked kinda pretty, I figured “why not, eh” and *click* bought.

I don’t mean this in any derogatory sense whatsoever, it looked like a safe purchase. This sort of platformer usually is (and I should know because I keep buying the things).

There is always the platform game curse to consider – that perhaps there will be a point where the skill and effort the game requires is more than I can manage – but for the most part, I’ve usually had more than my money’s worth at that point anyway and there’s always another one to play.

It's Flynn! This one is a bit Dead Cells with how the platforming arrangement looks. Goblins galore here and one is even riding something or other that doesn't look too friendly. Flynn is still leaping! He likes leaping.

At the time of writing I’m around 30% in (according to the save data) and it hasn’t had me beat for skill yet. I’m not sure how much that is in time spent as I’m forever having to put games down for a bit to go and tend to the kids or whatever so time is pretty much meaningless to me by now. It’s a while, anyway.

Mind, I wouldn’t say the game has a difficulty curve as much as it’s just a bit all over the shop from stage to stage. Sometimes it can be a bit all over the shop within a single stage. The consistently wonderful art and all round polish hide a game that’s rougher round the edges than you’d perhaps expect. Certainly more than I expected at times.

Flynn again! He's not leaping this time! He's on a rope (they got him on a rope) over some lovely blue water. A winged beasty carries an explosive barrel above him.

Dips and spikes aside, if you’ve played a modern indie platformer that isn’t fixated on brutalising you then you’ll have a fairly good idea what to expect of Flynn.

A world map, the odd village or stop off hub to chill in, discreet stages with the usual sort of puzzle platforming trickery at play. Fiddle with switches to open doors, move platforms and all the usual stuff, all punctuated by the odd moment of not too strenuous combat. Hit things, get gems, find the odd secret pathway. You know the drill.

It is very much a “if you’ve played and liked something similar and fancy more of that sort of thing, here you go” kind of game. It’s pretty in the same way a fair amount of these games tend to be. No surprises, basically. Oh, and it has a big doggo that’s really cute. Or at least, you might find it cute. It’s not a cat so it does nothing for me. (Meanie – Ed)

In summary, it’s a genre piece and a perfectly fine one at that. I’m not sure I’ve got it in me to be especially excited over it but I have been comfortable with it. I’ve mainly been having a relaxed time with it, give or take the odd niggle with the odd level here and there, and most definitely don’t regret the almost random purchase.

That said, they should take the dog out and replace it with a really big cat (or a really small cat. Just less dog, more cat in general). Cats improve everything, especially videogames.

As usual, I’ve been playing on the PS4. Other formats are available.

The cover art for Doctor Who And The Mines Of Terror. It's a TARDIS.

CW: Gratuitous and explicit picture of a brain.

Whilst there’s far, far more famous examples of misfiring videogame adverts out there I can’t help but keep a special place in my heart for the Dr Who And The Mines Of Terror advert.

Not only is it the thing least like something from Dr Who, beating the Dapol Davros to the star prize, it’s absolutely nothing to do with the game either. And it’s a squidgy brain with a blood splat.

Even by the standards of videogames in the eighties – notorious for often painting a far more vivid picture than the videogame could manage* – it’s, erm, somewhat off on a tangent. A whole big ‘why’ of an advert.

On the other hand, it does rather stick in the memory so I guess that’s job done?

It's the advert for the videogame Dr Who And The Mines Of Terror. It's a close up photo of a squidgy brain, complete with bloodsplat, and the words "are you ready for brain to brain combat?"

*Although I disagree with this! I have an imagination and back then (and now) my brain was/is able to quite vividly fill in the blanks, more so than any box art can manage. I appreciate this isn’t possible for everyone though.

I don’t really like the whole “old games=hard” thing games has a tendency to default to assuming, mainly because there were a lot of old games and amongst them, a lot of kinds of old games. From the humble text adventure to the platformer to the shooter, difficulty and approachability tended to be rather all over the shop!

So, you know, not that different to now really. Saying old games were all hard is a bit like saying new ones are because Dark Souls exists. It’s silly.

That said, some of them are absolute monsters and I had forgotten quite how monstrous Space Cruiser was/is. My main recollections of the game shrouded in the mists of a lot of life having been lived since it sat in the cafe at the local swimming baths alongside Hunchback and Scramble, and I don’t think I ever really consciously paid it much attention on MAME in more recent years – not out of any particular dislike or concern, just I hadn’t really thought about it in a lifetime.

Partly out of necessity (a dude needs his old games) and partly after finally letting the wisdom of Yak from a few years back sink in after one of my more grumpy moments about the Arcade Archives range (“if we won’t pay a fiver for an arcade game, who will?” and as ever, man has a point), I’ve been grabbing some stuff from the all too tiny bunch of old games you can buy on the PS4 and trying to not just stick to another copy of Scramble or I, Robot either.

I definitely wish the games had more pleasing bezel artwork instead of whatever that is.

So yeah, that’s kinda meant if I’ve got a fiver spare or whatever, taking a punt on some half remembered thing because, well, why not? The worst a game can be is not to my tastes. As I’m going through a bit of a space shooty (and in particular, space shooty with a simple coloured scrolling pixel starfield if possible) phase I figured why not eh over Space Cruiser.

Oof. I know my reflexes and co-ordination are far from what they used to be but still, oof. I’m definitely spending more time losing lives than progressing on this one. Enjoying myself, mind!

I have no idea what the term du jour for this sort of thing is but it’s a bit Moon Cresta, even down to having a ship docking sequence. Think one screen at a time, bunch of aliens flying around in some formation – not rigid like Space Invaders, more chaotic like the latter parts of a Galaga stage. A very dawn of the eighties blast.

Coloured pixel starfields are the best starfields.

It’s got some lush presentation going on, some definite showy-offy bits. A short animated sequence of your spacecraft launching opens the game, your progress is marked in an on-screen map at key stages and my personal favourite thing – the colour cycling asteroid blasting stages that start off fairly reasonably paced but quickly descend into a glorious nightmare of, like, a whole few colours cycling pretty fast.

It’s as effective a simple trick here as it is in today’s games, though obviously needs a hefty epilepsy warning just in case.

There’s definitely the occasional thing here where I’m like “Ref! Ref! Come ‘ed, that was a foul, easy” (the first time I got wiped by the first stage’s high speed red ball, I swear I swore swears no-one should swear) but in space, no-one can hear you appeal to an imaginary referee so I just had to get on with it.

You can try Space Cruiser for yourself through MAME or on a bunch of consoles as a title in the arcade archives series. It’s pretty good.

Here’s me failing repeatedly to make any sort of decent progress. Like I say, this game is hard.

A screenshot from Catlateral Damage showing a cat paw lurching into the screen to trash a bacon sandwich.

Actually breaking off writing about something else here to quickly mention that Catlateral Damage, my favourite cat game that isn’t the wonderful Calico, gets a shiny remastered version launched today. Not only that but an already perfectly named game (Catlateral! Brilliant!) gets a variation on “Remastered” that puts Red Faction Guerilla’s awesome “Re-Mars-tered” to shame.

(And yes, I don’t trust anyone that doesn’t have a favourite cat game. I’ll even accept Artic’s Paws).

Catlateral Damage is a sandbox (litterbox) game where you get to pick one of many cats and do what cats do best – get the zoomies, push things off shelves onto the floor thus causing a massive mess and having a ball with the bog roll. Oh, and nap, obvs.

For anyone with a long enough memory, it’s more Off-Road Velociraptor Safari than Goat Simulator. – compact and focused on doing what it does well.

(Oh, and yeah, there’s a dedicated meow button because that’s important)

It’s great and out on just about most things today. A wonderful piece of family friendly silliness that I’ve adored for a fair few years now and I’m glad it’s getting another go round because it’s great.

GLOBAL CHAOS (in a very nineties, grainy, style)

In “videogames I haven’t thought about in years” corner, it strikes me that it took indie games approximately 30 years to reach the visual heights of the Archie/Amiga game, Top Banana.

It's Top Banana. A purple and black striped border surrounds a mass of digital detritus masquerading as a videogame in the best possible glitch-aesthetic.
all pics from Moby Games

Which would be less strange if Top Banana wasn’t an early footnote in indie game history courtesy of (latterly) Pom Pom’s Miles Visman.

Pom Pom, of course, being responsible for Mutant Storm and that – games which would have been a lot of people’s gateway back into the world of the super small team long before anyone had even considered thinking about making Braid or whatever the first indie game is this week.

Another pic. Same deal as the last but more.

Here’s the ever reliable HG 101 if you want to know more, though I disagree that “it’s just plain bad”. Personally, I prefer “difficult and before its time”. Also “looks astounding“.

GLOBAL CHAOS

Wading through some old Amiga mags at the moment and last night I ended up down one of my rabbit hole things, stumbled into this old piece (again) on why and how the Amiga version of SDI ended up with curiously defaced credits.

Picture, in your mind’s eye, 1987. A buoyant and flourishing games market on home computers such as the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, with Activision extremely interested in exploiting it…

What begins as a bit of a “well, this is odd” ends on a bunch of lovely recollections on how things ended up as they did.

I recall reading all this a while back but it’s worth another kick round all the same.

Snip Snip is an occasional look at a magazine cutting from computer games past. Where necessary, names and addresses have been removed to protect the innocent.

A cutting from Amiga Power, I'll try and get round to transcribing it in a bit. In the meantime, sorry.
A passage from issue 1 of Amiga Power’s Gods review

I’ve been playing a bit of Gods (courtesy of the PS4 remake which is fine providing you stick to the original game art) in-between other things recently.

I can’t say I got on with a lot of Amiga era arcade adventures, as pretty as a lot of them are there’s a tendency towards showboating sprites and, well, slowness. Given I’m as ADHD up to the eyeballs as can be, this really can rub me the wrong way. So, you know, I tend to avoid them.

However, given I’m more at peace with myself these days I’ve been finding a fair bit of joy in the slowness of Gods. It is an achingly slow game, ponderous even, but that’s precisely why I’m enjoying it. That slowness gives it a curiously satisfying rhythm, one where it encourages you to be meticulous in examining the level around you in order to progress.

Anyway, I went to root out some reviews from the time and in any excuse to read some magazines, ended up browsing through the Amiga Power review. Nothing too exciting there but I did end up thinking about the box out describing what we’d now call “dynamic difficulty” or, in a post Left4Dead world, attribute it to a game director.

It’s not so much that Gods does this stuff but that videogames still find themselves in a position of explaining the exact same stuff in 2021.

Don’t misunderstand me here, I don’t think this is a problem! The audience for games is always going to consist of new people or folks who only normally tinker with one genre but they just couldn’t resist a particular game.

If anything I want us to keep getting better at explaining stuff. There’s a time and a place for videogames being for an incredibly specific, incredibly niche, audience. There’s a time and a place for them being absolutely opaque too.

Videogames can be remarkably insular and obtuse and there’s genre traits which seem mystifying to me still, never mind. Sometimes that’s an important part of what a videogame is!

For those moments where it’s not, I hope we’ll keep explaining stuff and making this stuff easier to grasp even if we’ve been doing it for 30 years.

Fallen London is a game that’s probably sucked more hours out of my life than, well, any other videogame ever. Yes, even No Man’s Sky or Left4Dead can’t hope to compete with it as we’re talking a game I’ve been playing most nights for yonks now.

Partly it’s because I am nothing if not an ageing goth and Fallen London’s the closest a videogame has ever gotten to fitting in perfectly alongside my music tastes (please videogames – less Tim Burton, more Bauhaus), partly it’s a comfort thing because I can log in from bed, have a little bit of an adventure, then nod off or crack open a book or whatever.

Mainly though, I keep coming back for the writing. It is so b____y good (which is lucky for a game that is entirely words really). For a few quid a month, I get one (extra) story each month to play through and I can count the ones which haven’t quite done it for me on one hand. An exceptional hit rate by any standards and one that speaks to the talent Failbetter have been able to rope in to contribute over the years.

(I have a sekrit mental wishlist of people I’d love to see have a pop at a story because, basically, I’m greedy and would have everyone whose writing I adore in games write me a Fallen London story if I could)

One of the things that I find remarkable is after all this time playing Fallen London I must have read some passages in the game an absurd amount of times (sometimes multiple times a night if I’m knackered and just doing a bit of lazy making a number go up), I still enjoy reading those passages. Nothing has me going “oh, not this” or glazing over and stuff that made me smile an age back, still makes me smile now.

There’s been times when I’m exhausted, my brain residing in some sort of chemical toilet or whatever and I can’t bring myself to even play something I enjoy this much. It doesn’t bother me so much because I know that when I get round to feeling better, I’ll have accumulated a bunch of new Fallen London tales to play through. Best kind of reward for being able to drag myself out of a crappy malaise.

Mind, I’m not the kind of person able to roleplay a character easily. I’ve never really been able to inhabit someone or something else in that way. Any games that ask me to make a choice are going to find me pressing ahead with whatever choice feels like the one I’d make.

I appreciate how much the writing, the multiple interweaving stories, of Fallen London accommodates that every bit as well as someone who has the ability to not be themselves for a while and with purpose. I don’t think I’ve even once felt like the game pulled the rug from under me, ever felt like a story cheated me from a choice I’d (like to imagine I’d) make in a particular situation.

It’s quite the balance to maintain! Especially over this many years, this many stories, and throughout that time I’ve changed a lot! Still the contributors to this videogame and Failbetter in general always seem one step ahead.

It’s a wonderful thing to exist and so many times over the past while I’ve been thankful it does.

It's a dude, on top of a giant snake/sandworm thing. It's really hard to describe how ridiculous this screenshot from Weapon Of Choice actually is.

If I could make just one videogame thing happen that wasn’t Alcatraz Harry 3, it would be for the bulk of XBLIG games to have a continued lease of life.

Happily, a number have escaped their confines and exist in ways people can play them much, much, much more easily in 2021 so it’s not a complete write off. I would always like more, you know?

Amongst the absolute best XBLIG work, in my entirely less than humble opinion, is the work of Mommy’s Best games. They’re dead good, all of them (though I confess, I bought but haven’t gotten round to putting decent time into Pig Eat Ball yet. What I have played of it is wild.)

It’s saying something when Weapon Of Choice is, to my mind, the least good of all of them and it is very good. I’d do murders to have a body of work that strong myself.

Perhaps it feeling less good to me is that in 2021 there’s a whole load of run and gun games, though my experience has largely been of the more retro ones, and that the ‘death brushing’ (the game adjusts when you’re about to have a nasty moment so as to give you a chance) is routine now where when Weapon Of Choice launched, it felt remarkably fresh. Well, for the genre anyway.

I cannot stress enough, it’s not that it’s aged badly – it hasn’t – it’s just wow, we have a lot of games now eh. And the small point that the games from the Mommy’s Best stable just got better and better and better and no less wild.

I’m writing this now because this morning I was super chuffed to find that Weapon Of Choice is now available on a whole bunch of modern consoles to play and it’s silly cheap to boot. Definitely the good kind of surprise when opening PSN for a gander this morning.

I honestly can’t recommend it enough. It’s a game that doesn’t screenshot well but running through the stages and encountering whatever thing comes next, it feels vibrant and alive in a way I wish every game could be.

The enemies are ridiculous, just completely ridiculous. Love ’em. Ah, what am I talking about? I love all of it. I didn’t quite get it the first time I looked at it and reviewed it on release but past me being wrong isn’t exactly a revelation these days.

Weapon Of Choice, then. Definitely my weapon of choice. For the budget price especially, it’s a lot of good game for not much money.