Video Games

Mini reviews of 5 games with great controls

Star Wars Episode 1: Racer by Lucasarts

A great rent but a lousy buy, I much preferred the arcade version of Racer to the surprisingly tight N64 rendition. Nintendo 64, the first home console with an analog gamepad, made the most of its comfy and precise input device with this unique racing title.

The game is based on the pod racing sequence in the first movie of Star Wars’ second trilogy, like a lotus growing from a gaseous bubbling bog. Podracers resemble chariots in design with their lean metal carriage drawn behind one or more harnessed rocket engines. The single analog stick on the N64 had to be minutely twiddled and adjusted, very convincingly simulating the experience of tugging furiously on the reigns to avoid collisions with obstacles and other racers. The incredible speed and acceleration coupled with floaty inertial brakes and an agonizingly slow engine repair system made this an absolutely frantic game whose diabolical tracks and unmerciless difficulty turned me off forever after a few days.

It should be mentioned, however, that Sega’s arcade version of Racer is quite an experience. The player is seated in a very reclined position, rather far from the huge display. Screenshots of the cabinet hide handles on either side which the player grasps with both hands, tugging and twisting in a co-ordinated fashion to steer the pod around. I was amazed at how quickly I got used to this very unique control scheme and it hugely upped the immersion factor. If you’re lucky enough to come across this rare gem, give it a sit and try 2 races.

Here’s your chance to act better than Anakin!

Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail by Sierra On-Line

When Sierra transitioned from its text parser keyboard interface to an entirely mouse-driven one in King’s Quest V, the colliding fronts of acclaim and sacrilege caused a hurricaine in the adventure gaming scene. Most gamers got used to the new UI, but some lamented the game-with-a-game of cleverly phrasing commands just right (plus seeing the game’s response to potty mouth).

That’s why everybody is satisfied by – er, with – Leisure Suit Larry 7. The world’s most lovable programmer, Al Lowe, masterfully inserted the best of both interfaces by making the game 100% playable with icon or classic text-based input. In fact, the game succeeded in illustrating how much better freeform text-based interaction is by allowing the player to use his intuition by posing questions and probing topics hinted at teasingly by NPCs, but are a conversation or two away from becoming available in the clickable dialog tree.

Easter eggs were also available by typing secret words at the right moment, which yielded some wilier feminine wiles. As Larry lady Jamie Lee Coitus says while baring her necessities in a dream, “C’est mag-na-feet!”

It’s Larry! (heehee!) Larry Laffer!

Smash T.V. by Acclaim

Before dual analog (or Ace of Base) was a household phrase, there was Robotron 2084. This game featured a pair of joysticks which controlled the player’s (8-way) movement and (4-way) fire, respectively, from a top-down view. Although this game was the epitomy of arcade bliss for thousands, the limited directional fire rubbed me the wrong way. Robotron was HARD.

And Smash T.V. is no different in that respect. The number of sprites this game draws is mindboggling, and the empathy you feel for your little “dude”, pitted against scores upon scores of mindless goons for cash and prizes, is frenetic and white-knuckled. However, the 8-directional movement and fire was what it took to convert me to this style of gameplay, and despite some very heavy competition I still say that nobody did it with more style than Smash T.V. Somehow those 8-way controls freed the player and restricted the player just enough to make it accessible to more casual gamers, making the game instantly playable without being overly intimidating.

Incredibly beautiful and difficult spiritual successors, such as PomPom‘s Mutant Storm and Bizarre CreationsGeometry Wars (two English follow-ups to two American classics) have captured the hearts and injured the thumbs of millions as they bestow the honour of Xbox-Live bestseller on these twitch titles month after month. Overhead 360° shooters are a testement to the old school model of simplistic but addictive games that can be instantly appreciated by all.

I’d buy that for a dollar!

Abuse by Crack Dot Com

A successor of similar spirit, Abuse is an underappreciated, undersold masterpiece that added a fine touch to the platform shooter.

Not content to be a simple console holdover, Abuse made the most of its platform by incorporating traditional character control with a mouse aiming scheme (as illustrated by the in-game instructions – what a masterpiece of technical communication!). While difficult and unwieldy at first, this interface felt smooth as silk after just a bit of practise, with unparalleled precision. And you’ll be thanking your lucky stars for this directional dichotomy as you never know when you’ll be ambushed by a football team worth of gushy alien baddies, forcing you to turn tail and run for dear life while you blare your lasers and grenades behind you. The synergy between the very digital keyboard and the very analog mouse breathed a never-matched breath of innovation into the wretchedly overpopulated Contra-esque genre.

A well placed grenade makes some scrumptious alien flambé!

Marble Madness by Atari Games

What better representation for a marble than… a marble? In arcades, Marble Madness’ trackball control provided one of the most tactilely fitting video game experiences.

It couldn’t be simpler – roll your ball to roll your ball. Though it’s not a one-to-one ratio of movement, you can’t help but put your body right into the action as you delicately glide your shiny orb down a series of perilous isometric mazes populated by surrealistic globe-grating grunts. Alternate paths of varying difficulty help make the game quite replayable and a vehicle for bragging rites – riding those waves in the second level is a commendable feat!

Beware; this is one squeal-inducing game – of joy and of pain! While frantic and adept twists and twirls of the trackball can spin skilled players to safety, losing yourself in the game can yield quite a variety of aches and owies. Injuries attributed to overzealous sessions of Marble Madness and Golden Tee Golf have caused all manner of aches, strains, and pinches due to vigorous shoulder movements and inadvertantly squeezing soft hand flesh between the trackball and the lip of the cabinet. Take your antipsychotics beforehand, lest you delve too deeply into Marble Madness!

Havin’ a ball!

By brian

About Brian Damage:

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I live in Toronto, Canada, and work for an IT firm. That's about as much real-world info I'm comfortable divulging here. What you read on my blog is the real Brian, but, for the sake of freedom of speech, I feel most comfortable leaving a gulf between my cyberspace and meatspace personae.

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