You’ve probably never had to program a physics engine from scratch. I mean, anyone can program a simple physics engine these days in Python, Java, or whatever, but there was a time when all that sort of programming was groundbreaking.
You remember the Goonies, right? Beloved 1980’s cult flick involving pirate gold, Cyndi Lauper (along with some pro wrestlers) and truffle shuffles? Remember the sequel where the Fratellis kidnapped all of the Goonies except Mikey as well as a mermaid, and Mikey had to rescue them with the help of a colorful cast of characters such as an old man and woman, a fish man and an eskimo?
“The thing about video game basketball is that the computer decides whether or not the ball goes in when you shoot. So say you’re playing against the computer team, you’re down by one and let’s say you take a last-second shot to win the game. It’s the same program you’re playing against that decides whether or not the digital ball goes through the digital hoop on that final shot. So it can arbitrarily make you lose or arbitrarily let you win.” – John Dies at the End
While the above is obviously applicable to a wide variety of video games (essentially any game with a random element), it is especially true of basketball video games in a peculiarly infuriating way. Yes, there is a significant element of skill involved – you do, after all, have to control your little basketball player man as he runs down the court and make sure you don’t accidentally commit offensive charging or some other foul. At the end of that court, though, you leap up to shoot a basket or make a dunk and the game decides, completely on its whims, whether your shot is successful or not. That isn’t to say that some shots aren’t more or less likely to go in the basket, which, of course, gives you the illusion of control. In the end, though, I’ve had a series of seven or more dunks fail in a row while a single half-court shot sinks instantly.
(Although, if you enjoy exploiting coding errors, you can take a shot jumping out of bounds in the upper corner next to the basket, and the shot will go in every time. Every. Single. Time.)
The exception appears to be free throws – when you shoot a free throw, there’s an indicator that shows you when you should hit the button to successfully take the shot. Why isn’t there a timing based element to every shot? Hell if I know.
John’s Rating: 2.0 out of 5. It’s not an unplayable game, it just doesn’t have any enduring element of fun. Once you’re proficient at moving on the court, the game has one of two outcomes – you beat the computer consistently, thoroughly and viciously, or you lose completely on the computer’s whims. Why? Because it gets to decide.
Publisher: Data East Year: 1987 Genre: Shmup Side-Scroll In BreakThru, you are the driver of a jumpy car (a fairly common video game theme even today) who must drive into enemy territory, assault their base and recover a top secret jet of some sort (top-secret jets are also a fairly common theme).
Along the way, you’ll battle enemies that shoot constantly into the area you have to occupy to even have a chance to shoot them, parachutes that prevent their precious cargo from ever reaching all the way to the ground, and chunky controls that will kill you more effectively than any of the enemies can hope to.
John’s Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0. There’s not too much mechanically wrong with this game, it’s just hard to pinpoint anything this game did right. The graphics are lackluster, the gameplay is bland and unsatisfying, the enemies are dull yet difficult, and although the sound is not overly annoying the best that can be said of it is that it is forgettable.
Bomberman is a game about a little robot guy who, presumably, lives in a dytopian future where sentient robots are relegated to menial production jobs and all structures are comprised of a combination of bricks and blast doors. Bomberman’s deepest wish is to become human, and he heard a rumor that any robot who makes it to the surface becomes human and gets to star in a considerably less fun game. As such, the bomb-making droid sets out on a quest to escape his dull factory existence and kill everyone in his path, a plan that is, frankly, awesome.
Arguably one of Nintendo’s greatest strengths has always been the ability of their publishers to create compelling characters that stand the test of time. Character concepts that stick with people by not trying to capitalize on “edgy” concepts the way that a lot of products of the 80’s and early 90’s did, but rather giving us silly, lovable figures that we can enjoy without added baggage. We love Mario because his defining characteristics are saving princesses and jumping on turtles. We love Kirby because his defining characteristics are self-inflation and eating everything in his path. We love Bomberman because he blows things up.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, this game is not good. I mean, really lousy. It is inconsistent, unforgiving and brutal in ways that are consistent with programming issues rather than deliberate efforts to make a hard game. Its controls are sticky and touchy at the same time, and the positioning of bombs can be genuinely bewildering. There is nostalgic value to the game, of course, but it’s not something I would invest a lot of time and effort into playing.
John’s Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0. Playing this game is often a comedy of errors due not only to the scarcity of power-ups, but also to the dull playing fields, touchy bomb placement and ugly graphics. Fortunately, like a surprisingly large number of dull games with redeeming mechanics, it inspired many fruitful, glorious sequels, all equally filled with that awkward moment where you bomb yourself into a wall.