It's neon maze. The walls are blue with rounded corners, the rest is a sea of shapes and colours exploding.

Please sir, I cannot tell a lie – I absolutely love Radian Games stuff. One of the select few developers that I’m fairly likely to grab pretty much anything and everything they put out, if at all possible.

Whilst their very first XBLIG release (the wonderfully titled “Joy Joy”) slightly missed the mark for me, I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve played of their twin stick and shootybang games since, XBLIG, phone and on. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite (seriously, I like them that much) but if you really made me choose, Inferno in all its incarnations would be pretty much near the top of my list.

Again, a blue neon maze but now with even more explosions and brighter colours.

It was the easiest sell for me. It’s essentially Berzerk meets Gauntlet with the faintest hint of ARPG to it. Pretty much the kind of game I’ve spent the best part of 40 years losing hours to and I don’t really see any reason to change in that regard. Especially not whilst I’m still enjoying myself so much with that kind of thing.

You no doubt know the drill already. You find yourself in a maze, you have to get to the exit. Between you and the exit lies an enormous amount of enemies and a number of locked doors. Collect keys to pass through the doors, use lasers to get rid of the enemies. Get to the exit, find yourself in a new maze with more enemies, more doors more keys and do it all again.

It’s a videogame in the absolute purest sense. A direct descendant of I don’t know how many arcade and home computer games, a game that does exactly what it needs to do with absolutely no bloat or complication. A game where you get from one end of a maze to another, with colourful lasers.

I love it.

More colours, shapes and explosions. The maze is a deep blood red now.

I love that there’s very little in it that couldn’t have existed in the eighties but also, it absolutely could not have existed as the game it is then. The upgrade shop, the absurd amount of particles, the much more relaxed difficulty curve make it more a game of the now. Did I mention the absurd amount of particles? It has an absurd amount of particles. It’s great. I love particles, me.

Anyway, it’s been around a few years on the PC but with it recently (finally!) seeing a console release I’ve been playing through it all over again and yep, still works for me. Still works for me very well indeed.

A screenshot from Skool Daze Reskooled. It's a side on cutaway of a school to the left, the rest of the screen is taken up with a school field. A kid rides a scooter whilst some other kids and a teacher mill around

I’m not sure at what point I managed to lose my way but I do know me of relatively few years back would be ashamed by more recent me for avoiding Skool Daze Reskooled because of how it looks.

Like, I’m not here to argue it’s an amazing looker of a game but I’m definitely here to point out that for someone who defends making games at most levels, it’s pretty bloody hypocritical of me to make a thing of this. Especially when what it might well lack in looks, it more than makes up for as a remake.

I’ve been kicking myself about this for week or so now. Considering my roots in remakes, it’s pretty atrocious of me. I’d be made up to be able to write a Skool Daze a tenth of what this is and Molyneux only knows, I’m personally responsible for making games that look worse. Honestly, I’ve no defence.

Crucially, I’m not damning it with faint praise. It is a great take on Skool Daze. If this had landed on my old remakey haunting grounds and/or been entered into one of the prominent remake competitions I used to run, I’d have been a strong advocate for it. You would think the recommendations of my friends and peers would have tipped me off, but nooooo.

Live and learn though, eh. Not exactly the first time I’ve been wrong.

Skool Daze Reskooled is pretty cheap on Steam as well as Android/iOS. It’s pretty good! Sorry.

A black and white picture from Far Cry: New Dawn. It's the player caught mid dance.

I know it’s almost like the Ubi-game fan club round these parts recently but I promise, that’s mainly because I’m clearing out a backlog of things I meant to post but didn’t.

I enjoyed my time with Far Cry 5 a lot though it certainly had its Very Ubisoft issues with magic villains and a side order of out of place Very Ubisoft nastiness, amongst other things.

It’s par for the course with the main entries into the Far Cry series, that’s 3 out of 3 now since folks settled on the icon clearing formula where the joyous systemic chaos of crashing a car into a tree, accidentally setting fire to some wildlife then getting into a boat just to crash that into a tree and now everything is on fire and is that a bear, oh no is offset by the edgy and ill fitting nonsense of a story.

Maybe I’d appreciate it more were I fourteen or something, I dunno! That was quite a long time ago now.

The inbetweeny games are where I look to for the more interesting stuff. Blood Dragon misfired as much as it worked but painful tutorial aside, made a great showcase for how well the base raiding silliness works with a lot of the peripheral stuff sidelined even further or removed entirely. Primal’s riff on survival clearly filtered through to Days Gone and stretched the formula a bit. New Dawn, on the other hand, felt a lot like the game I wanted Far Cry 5 to be.

With only a short interlude into absurd magic mans stuff and its embrace of allowing the player even more freedom with few interruptions, it fixed a lot of the issues of 5. Also! What an amazingly beautiful game!

Its colourful view of a post nuclear future incredibly at odds with the usual videogame grey and green dullness gave the folks working on the map rework the leeway to go to town. Still very much the photorealism of Ubi games that we’re used to but now with a slightly more fantastical bent and honestly, I loved it.

An in-game screenshot of a field. Purple flowers are dotted throughout grasslands. The sky is blue and a sign reads "garage" and "helipad"
It's a videogame screenshot of a body floating in a lake, taken from underneath the water, at night.
It's the player bursting through a fence on a motorbike
It's the player driving uphill on their motorbike with a dog in the sidecar.
It's the dog running through a forest
A painterly view of the same forest, a light mist covers the view.
A black and white shot of the player walking forlornly through some burnt out woods.
A view from inside a derelict boat storage area, looking out to the lake. A lantern is lit at the front of the picture.
A dust track by the burnt out woods. It is morning and somewhat eerily misty.
A man with a motorcycle helmet on, welding a flamethrower in the woods at night. The area surrounding them is on fire.
The dog looks out of the window of a van, their tongue is sticking out.
A black and white mysteriously lit shot of a power generator at night.
An absolutely great looking sheep.
The player wearing a leather jacket and a fetching hat with their arms raised as though appealing to heaven.
A wooden water wheel, in the fog, on fire.
A worryingly realistic picture of the in-game forest.
The player squares off against a turkey whilst defensively holding a shotgun.
The player dives into a lake. In the distance, a forest and mountain.

A screenshot from the game Funtime. It is a neon lit maze in space, there's pink spikes, yellow squares and red and yellow barriers as obstacles. A red spaceship is trying to escape.
A screenshot from Funtime. A mazey bit, at that.

Back in glowing arena shooter territory (you know, for a change), I’ve been playing a fair bit of Funtime recently. It’s enjoyable!

If you’re already well acquainted with Geometry Wars RE 2 then the arcade modes will be fairly familiar. You’re plonked in the middle of an arena, glowing things are going to attack you, you shoot them before they kill you. Videogames!

A screenshot from the game Funtime. It's over on the right side of a glowing arena, an enemy sprays colourful particles whilst a bunch of other colourful enemies accumulate ready to give the player a hard time.
Particle spuffing enemies right here.

I’ll be honest, that was all I really wanted from it and it acquits itself well in that department. I’ve easily sunk a few hours into it and been really happy, all told. Would recommend etc…

It’s worth noting that the survival modes (as they’re known) come in three flavours too, each presenting a different sized arena. I found the initial survival mode a bit too cramped and the third choice, “open”, where the game moves to an infinitely scrolling asteroid field, a bit too much. Large, on the other hand, is where I’ve settled.

There are other modes, mind. The main attraction is a colour switching dodge and shoot variation, navigating the arena requires a lot of button pressing to ensure the player is the right colour at the right time and constant movement is a must.

It's Funtime. Still neon stuff, there's some colourful lasers stretching across the screen this time.
Lasers. Every game needs lasers.

Not going to lie, I couldn’t play it. That’s not really a slight on the game, I’m just older and more sore these days and my ability to rapidly button mash is not what it was. I genuinely couldn’t tell you if that aspect of the game is any good, so I won’t! It looked nice, if that’s any consolation.

Dragging the game back into more familiar territory is the waves mode requiring the player to clear one wave of baddies, then another, then another.

There’s a few walls placed within the arena to shuffle things up a bit and I’ve churned through around 20 of the 50 possible stages so far and it does get pretty frantic. I wouldn’t even consider ducking in to this mode until you’ve unlocked the maximum level of firepower, the friendly drone and have a few bombs under your belt unless you’re really good at this sort of thing though.

It's Funtime again, very yellow this time as the player paints a grid yellow, yellow explosions are going off and there's orange bullets which is nearly yellow if anyone asks.
A yellow thing goes boom. In yellow.

I’m not 100% sure but I think some of the later stages may be impossible to complete without either earning the colour switching or having some bombs in your inventory. It’s an odd thing to let you play unequipped but maybe I’m just rubbish and can’t see the way out! Can’t really rule that out with my attention span. I do have a really poor attention span. Did I mention I have a really poor attention span?

The final two modes, “Zones” and “Funtime” require colour switching so I can’t say I’ve been compelled to give them a shot for all the reasons I mentioned earlier. I can’t really do them justice so no point really.

All told, that’s a fairly nice selection of modes to toy around with. Survival and Waves are enough fun that I really don’t mind there being modes I rather literally cannot play.

No idea what mode this one is from as I grabbed the screens from Steam. It's a slightly more spartan grid with a giant 3d cube tumbling around the place.
If your mum asks, I haven’t got your rotating space laser cube.

Oh! There’s also an unlock system where the stuff carries across all modes that I’m not entirely convinced has much benefit in being an unlock system (rather than just handing the player all the abilities from the off). But! I am the person who starts the player off overpowered in virtually every game I make so maybe don’t listen to me. Regardless, it’s not exactly a grind to get everything maxxed out so perhaps it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things anyway.

A few rounds before you’re a colourful death machine never hurt anyone.

On the whole, I’m enjoying Funtime! I’m playing through the PS4 version, other versions are available.

Sorry that it’s a bit of a Dare-fest round here at the moment, just in a comfort read mode for some reason.

art by Martin Wheeler, pic from ZX Art.

Anyway. One of my more profound early (earlier?) inspirations lies with Martin Wheeler’s art for Dan Dare II. Both of the Gang Of Five Speccy Dare games are great (Probe’s entry, not so much) but gosh, the tile work in Dan Dare II still kind of blows me away. It’s up there with the more recent Vallation as one of the best examples of Speccy tile art.

Look at this! What an amazing thing to wring out of a Speccy. The colours! Just wow stuff still for me.

art by Martin Wheeler, screen from ZX Art.

Martin’s still plugging away at games, their latest is Separation for PSVR. Sadly, I can’t play it due to my sore noggin not really being receptive to weighty things being placed on it. It does look gorgeous though.

I’m not sure I could, in good conscience, recommend anyone play through the Lost On Mars DLC for Far Cry 5 as it’s honestly quite a chore.

For reasons I can’t entirely fathom, just moving around is quite atrocious (something I’m not used to seeing in recent videogames). It’s not Driv3r levels of bad but it certainly does take a lot of patience to tolerate.

Rather unfortunately, it’s a pain compounded by also having to tolerate erstwhile Far Cry companion and all-round obnoxiously loud recurring character Hurk throughout. One of those characters that’s probably more enjoyable to write and perform than to have to endure, even when they’ve been dismembered, as is the case for this DLC.

However! It is an obscenely good looking thing. Pitched somewhere between Starship Troopers and prog rock album, it’s astoundingly beautiful.

There’s a real sense of fun to the art as the game takes place in what may as well be a quarry masquerading as Mars and recycles scenes from Far Cry 5 but now in traditional videogame floating-rock-dream areas to break up the monotony. Much like New Dawn later would put old work to a new, revitalised, purpose, the same can be said for Lost On Mars. But in space.

I’m not going to fib, I sat through the DLC from start to finish precisely because it’s so very up my street visually. I had great fun finding new corners of the map to take photos in, even when the game seemed determined to make that painful.

Whilst the best Far Cry In Space game remains The Signal From T繹lva (I can’t believe I haven’t put proper words down about this yet!), I’m an absolute sucker for how Lost On Mars looks and would relish a full on proper Space! entry into the Far Cry universe.

But then again, there’s very few games I wouldn’t want a full on proper Space! variation of. I am me, after all.

The title screen to Polybius. It's full of stars.

Polybius is the videogame as fairground ride. You must be this tall to play. Scream if you want to go faster. I can’t hear you, I said scream if you want to go faster.

Polybius is a Doug Trumbull dreamscape – the 2001 stargate made game, the TARDIS in the time vortex. This is your brain in slitscan.

Polybius is the dull thump thump thump of the sound of a sweaty club dancefloor heard from the bar, the bogs, somewhere, it’s walking from the sidelines to the euphoric centre, the relentless drive of the music building, building, building and…

SHIELD DOWN

Polybius. It's a psychedelic tunnel.

If Slave Of God is the game as local nightclub after one too many, Polybius is a case of white labels, a warehouse and let’s hope the fuzz aren’t onto it.

It’s a game that grips and releases like no other I’ve played. It is dance music. It is the videogame rave. It’s really incredible. It is a night out, in. I don’t know how this works, it just does. Trust me. It works.

Polybius is purest videogame. Polygon spinning, pixel shattering, the ultimate arcade videogame. The very definition of The New Arcade, impossible in 1983, oh so possible today.

Polybius is I, Robot, Polybius is the modern Blaster, Polybius is Tube Panic. Polybius is Horace Goes Skiing?!? Polybius is a lot. Seriously, it’s so much.

A screen from Polybius bearing the words "smile upon fluffy sheepy". It is an explosion of colour beyond that.

A game that dares to wear the name Polybius has to go hard. No questions, that’s the deal. Polybius goes hard. Polybius, the game, earns its mythical, legendary name and then some.

Polybius is a Nine Inch Nails video. I don’t know either, it just is.

Polybius leaves me breathless. No exaggeration, no kidding. I can only play it for so long before I need a bit of a sit down. Problem? I’m already sitting down. I haven’t worked out how to deal with this yet.

Llamasoft are at the top of their game right now, Jeff and Giles leaning in to the beasty, furry, psychedelia. Reaching deep for the soul of the arcade, pulling out videogames that feel profoundly digital, made from finest ones, zeroes and silicon. Implausibly ending up with videogames to dance to.

Riding the outside of a tube in Polybius

Polybius is a few years old now and unjustly ignored. That feels like a wrong that needs to be righted, you know? Even to a die hard Llamasoft admirer like myself, it feels special in ways I can’t put into words anywhere near well enough.

Maybe a sound then? Yeah, that’s it. A sound.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

That’s the one. That’s Polybius.

Like the man says, scream if you want to go faster. Press X for enlightenment. Yes yes yes.

St Brides surely has to rank as one of the more curious development houses in our history of videogames.

A school for young girls age 13-18 where anyone could be a girl (and more usually, realistically aged 20 upwards) with a foot firmly cemented in an almost victorian view of the world. Not the first place you’d expect to find game development done but there we go. Throughout the eighties they produced games that ranged from quirky “in school” adventures to spoofs of known and popular adventure games (a surprisingly well filled niche at the time) to an excellent game based on Jack The Ripper. Obviously

The prospectus (courtesy of Mocagh) gives little away about any game development done there (and why would it?) and an old Crash interview does wonders in skirting what St Brides as an institution is although you get the strange feeling that no-one quite expected what they found there.

It was a more innocent time, I’m sure.

There’s a fantastic article [archive link] from one of 2014’s GamesTM mags that details some of the chequered history of St Brides both as a development house and as an institution and, well, a cursory online search provides many stories about what came after St Brides with the founding of Aristasia [archive link] amongst other things. There’s also a Channel 4 documentary on life with Miss Martindale from the mid nineties, the first part is embedded below.

And if you’re looking for a starting point? The Secret Of St Brides is as good as any but well, it’s very of its time and the situations you find yourself in far from conventional. Conventional is for bores though.

[first published March 30th 2015, updated Dec 2020]

Honestly, I think Ant Workshop, makers of Dead End Job, should be in touch with the Guinness Book Of Records because if they’re not the frontrunners, they’re definitely in with a shake for the Most Puns In A Videogame world record. In all my years (which are many), I don’t think I’ve ever seen the likes. It’s practically obscene.

Luckily, some truly rotten puns are a fairly good way to crack a smile out of me! The more of a leap, the better. Which pretty much means I spent way, way more time laughing at Dead End Job than is probably healthy.

Such a relief too because as much as I adore videogames, what passes off as humour in videogames is fairly often lost on me. For every game that manages to sneak a memorable joke under the radar, there’s a thousand where the joke is “I just said that thing off the internet” and oh, oh dear. Please, no.

So yeah, Dead End Job got more than its fair quota of laughs out of me. It’s also a really grand looking and sounding game. Styling itself around the idea of what if Ghostbusters arrived freshly formed as a nineties MTV-era cartoon, it doesn’t exactly pick itself an easy look to pull off. It does pull it off though, incredibly well.

Everything bops and squidges nicely, characters land somewhere between cute and grotesque in that oh so very nineties fashion, it even has title cards for the start of each mission! And it’s a small touch but one I loved, Dead End Job does that sort of “meanwhile, back at the house…” interstitial scene cartoons lifted from a myriad of sitcoms over the years complete with guitar break. Oh, and it has a theme song too because of course it does. If you’re going to do this stuff then might as well go all in and then some, eh?

It’s a pleasingly tough but not too tough twin stick shooter. You’re tasked with clearing an area out to earn money, each area is (as is oh so in vogue at the moment) made up of a shuffled around selection of rooms. Clear all the rooms, rescue a couple of folk on the way, get out and cash up then head onto the next bunch of rooms.

It’s a fairly routine set up made more interesting by having to work around incredibly cluttered rooms where things often have a tendency to explode, managing some (thankfully far, far from obnoxious) weapon cooldown timers and having to catch the ghosts with your ghost vacuum in fairly short order after hitting them with your definitely not a proton pack (honest guv) laser beam.

Everything is so big and chunky that there isn’t quite as much room to muck around in as you need so making space (by blowing things up) becomes a priority very quickly. Ghosts also have a tendency to leave slime trails behind them which should you try and wade through them, slow you down. There’s always plenty to be taking into account in order to make the space less cramped and more amenable to a bit of busting.

There’s a reasonably sized bestiary of ghouls and ghosts to catch, certainly far more than many games would bother with, and best of all the game allows you to rename each and every one of them. Not since Fable 2 have so many things found themselves mysteriously called Bernard by my hand. Look, I know it’s a problem I have, I’m trying to be better but gnnnnng BERNARD.

I really, really enjoyed myself with Dead End Job and it’s one I can see myself coming back to for a good few years. Helped, in no small amount, by it making me smile so much with its awful, awful puns.

Dead End Job is on Windows, PS4, Switch, Xbox One and Apple Arcade. It’s (wait for it) dead good.