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.

Box art for Astro Aqua Kitty. A bunch of cats pose in various heroic positions. Oh, and there' a rabbit, I think?

The original Aqua Kitty, a kitten-ified homage to 16 bit home computer takes on Defender, is one of my favourite games of the past decade.

It also has the dubious honour of being the only game I’ve felt compelled to buy PS4 themes for too. Look, I really like turning my PS4 on to be greeted by jolly pixel cats. Yes, I’m that easy.

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from a sequel but Astro Aqua Kitty isn’t it. This is a very good thing! Astro Aqua Kitty is lovely.

The player is inside a giant mechanical boss. A purple sphere sits behind the player.

Leaving the arcade behind, Astro Aqua Kitty is a game of cave exploring, shooting and the occasional bit of inventory twiddling to make a number go up.

Each world (so far, anyway) has popped me into a small hub area and charged me with heading out, exploring the surrounding area and bringing back a number of things to open some other things. The caves are chock full of things to shoot, invariably they’re reasonably durable things to shoot so that’s where a bit of stat juggling comes into play.

Lasers! It's the player in a darkened underwater cavern, their route through blocked by lasers.

It’s a familiar formula and one that thankfully isn’t a Metroidvania game or a roguelike so I can actually enjoy myself with it. Hooray!

It really helps that there’s few games that tread 16 bit home computer territory. So many games seem intent on replicating the experience of playing on a Nintendo console that there’s a huge amount of videogame history left untouched.

Home computer homages seem to be Tikipod’s speciality. Rock Boshers is a modern ZX Spectrum game and both Aqua Kitty games are tremendously reminiscent of Amiga games. Obviously, the graphics are a giveaway but also, there’s a really specific rhythm and speed to a lot of Amiga games that’s replicated here perfectly.

The player by an underwater docking station. A cat in spacey futuristic diving gear is asking the player to find some batteries.

It’s slow. Not in a super padded out way, not in a numbers going up slowly way. I guess a better word for it would be “relaxed”. Here’s a game that knows it’s being played at home so there’s no need to rush, take your time a bit and all that.

The pace being more relaxed means it’s much, much easier on the reflexes and on the noggin. Yeah, there’s moments where the screen is full of bullets and enemies to clear but it’s never really frantic. There’s zero stress here and in 2021, I’m grateful for anything that goes a bit easier on my brain.

I tend to play this sort of thing slowly where permitted. I’ll clear a few small areas, pause the game, go do some reading or pop the kettle on, unglue the kids from the ceiling or remedy whatever pickle it is they’ve gotten themselves into this time. I prefer to play games this way these days so I’m always glad when a game is designed with that in mind.

I’m fairly certain it’ll take me much longer to wade through than most other people but I don’t really mind. Not whilst I’m in the company of space cats. And a rabbit.

More lasers! I like more lasers.

It is a game that fits around me, not requiring me to dedicate myself to it and not requiring me to think beyond “that’s a higher number, that’ll do”. Obviously I want the game to be enjoyable too and Astro Aqua Kitty clears that barrier with ease.

All told, a more than pleasant surprise of a game. Some absolutely gorgeous graphics (with a special shout out to the portrait art which is universally glorious), a chill game and cats. Lots and lots of cats. It all adds up to a properly brilliant videogame that I’m super happy losing myself in.

Astro Aqua Kitty – it’s properly brilliant.

As usual, I’m playing on PS4 but other formats are available. If you’re quick, there’s even a Vita version.