BITMAPS 89: Get With The Times!

Gamers are uncommonly attached to the past, a trend that has manifested in kitchy merchandise and rumors that refuse to die. While I can’t pass arbitration on the infatuation in terms of objective value (ego has yet to reach such levels of entitlement), I have noticed that this behavior often obscures newer, more credible releases from gamers’ eyes. These folks spend their days replaying Final Fantasy VII until the optical laser burns its way through the disc. Perhaps it’s the comfort of the familiar or the distrust of the new. For these gamers, I present this no-risk guide; a list of newer games containing all the elements that made the classics such fun.

If you liked Final Fantasy I – IX

The first nine Final Fantasy games set the gold standard for JRPGs. Blending fantastically original settings, memorable characters, engaging leveling systems, and stellar soundtracks, these games forged a bond with players that is strong more than two decades after the initial game. A casual stroll around a fanfic message board or Deviant Art offers but a glimpse of the passion fans hold for the series.

…then you should play Lost Odyssey.

Lost Odyssey is a modern-day reimagining of all of the great Final Fantasy elements from years past, due in no small part to the pen of Final Fantasy scribe Hironobu Sakaguchi. Reviewers detracted the game for being too similar to previous Final Fantasy games, but for some reason that never bothers reviewers when dealing with games featuring space maries…

While I don’t view such similarities as a negative, they’re certainly obvious. Lost Odyssey features Kain-alike amnesiac Kaim and even Palom and Porom revivals Cooke and Mack. However, rather than being an insipid retread, Lost Odyssey is a refreshing update of all the concepts that now-dated hardware couldn’t do justice. Cities tangled in a mishmash of magic and machinery a la Final Fantasy VI look amazing on modern hardware, and drama is relayed much more effectively with full voice acting and cinematic camerawork. From the Uematsu-composed soundtrack to the battle system designed by ex-Nautilis (Shadow Hearts) developers, the game is in all ways a modern-day Final Fantasy in the tradition of games past. No Final Fantasy fan should overlook this.

If you liked Smash TV

"I’d buy that for a dollar!" 

It’s fitting that my ignorant adolescent mind attributed this quote to Smash TV before seeing Robocop. After learning the true origins of the quip, its reuse made sense. Smash TV is about gratuitous violence and enough tongue-in-cheek humor to choke a donkey (which would then explode, sending donkey guts into the cleavage of a hot woman). Smash TV is a tribute to Paul Verhoven-levels of excess, embodying brutal difficulty and gratifying reward.

…then you should play Earth Defense Force 2017.

Some gamers need bells and whistles with their games. They need pretty menus, online multiplayer, seamless graphics, and orchestral soundtracks. Earth Defense Force 2017 is not for them. EDF is clunky, buggy, and raw – but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. In EDF, Earth has been invaded by aliens including ants – red ants. Giant red ants. And a robotic dragon. It is the duty of the Earth Defense Force to fight these damn aliens back (presumably in the year 2017). Hopefully you’re already sold.

The game offers a surprising amount of play time with unlockable guns, upgradable health, and pure fun. What’s more, the game doesn’t take itself seriously – how could it? Fellow Earth Defenders will frequently speak during battle, shouting such cheesy lines as "Go back to where you came from!" and "My family, how could you?!" As if that weren’t enough, the game also offers brutal challenge. On the hardest setting I had to strategize with my co-op partner about which guns to bring, when and where to place turrets, and interweave reloading so someone could always lay down suppressive fire. While the game may as well come in a white cardboard sleeve for all its polish, it offers more fun than you’ll find in most triple-A titles.

If you liked Tetris

One need only look at Tetris’ impact in all areas of life to see its value as a puzzle game. From mathematic theory to music to game shows, Tetris is perhaps the most ubiquitous video game ever. My mom even used to play it. My mom won’t send text messages.

…then you should play Roogoo: Twisted Towers.

While it may not have an immortal soundtrack, Roogoo’s mechanics are just as easy to learn as those found in Tetris, and just as tricky in execution. Roogoo centers around passing certain shapes like stars, squares, and cylinders through a plate. This is done by llining up the right hole with the right shape. This sounds simple, but the game introduces plenty of complications in the forms of spinning plates, obstacles that pass in front of the screen, bosses that arbitrarily rotate the plates, and the enemies that swipe pieces.

Unfortunately, most gamers will probably shun Roogoo due to its cartoonish design and juvenile color palettes. In the past ten years hyper-masculine marketing has turned serious gaming into something only cool nerds do, while everyone else is decried a heretical casual gamer. If you happen to be one of these then you’ll probably think yourself too good for Roogoo. It looks like a game that teaches kids about colors and shapes. It looks like one of those toys you see in a dentist’s office. Get over yourself. Roogoo is damn fun, and challenging enough to make any player adopt a very adult vocabulary.

If you liked NBA Jam

This game introduced the awesomest thing that has ever, and will ever, be in a video game – the Bill Clinton windmill dunk. NBA Jam introduced gamers to sports free of tedious simulation. Shoving another player to the ground, scooping up the rock, and then doing two somersaults before slamming it home captivated players in ways that NBA Playoffs: Bulls vs Blazers could not.

…then you should play NBA Street Homecourt.

Don’t let the Street moniker or Carmelo Anthony’s sneering visage fool you; NBA Street Homecourt is every bit the modern day NBA Jam a fan could want. The game focuses more on the history of basketball rather than its modern-day glintzy hip hop image. With goofy basketball shorts, giant afros, speia-toned visuals, and a liberal application of Herbie Hancock’s Rockit, Homecourt boasts charm galore in addition to a glorious triple dunk.

Aside from increasingly creative dunks, Homecourt also allows players to create and guide a player through a career, balling from the mean streets of the chosen home town to the gilded courts of the NBA. Dunk contests and online abilities wrap around a core game mechanic that allows players to dunk a ball after banking it off another player’s face. The only factor that may detract NBA Jam enthusiasts is the lack of an announcer screaming "Nail in the coffin!"

Remembering the past is all well and good – hell, I just watched Die Hard for about the tenth time last week. However, nostalgia should be kept in check lest it obscure newer and potentially better releases. The past gave us some great games, sure, but sooner or later you have to get with the times!

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