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p4head.jpg (8375 bytes)   November 1999

Falling backwards into darkness / laughing reckless, hiding districts / I’ve got a message for you / you’re the one that needs to come true ("Hello viewers!")

Yikes. November already? Then it must be time for... Stuart’s Annual Nice Column!

Man, I’m wasting my life.




First of all, chums, I have to make a confession – I’ve hardly played a single game for the last three months.

So few were the appealing-looking games released this year that all my games machines were covered in about two inches of dust and cobwebs. To tell you the truth, I was beginning to think that I just didn’t like games any more.

Eventually, though, the unplayed-games pile got so big it was a fire hazard, so this week I decided to tackle it.



First impressions weren’t good. I kicked off with Zelda 64, which amazingly I hadn’t ever got round to playing. I only managed a few hours, though, because it’s so unbelievably boring I just couldn’t stand any more.

Next came the console versions of Carmageddon, which were also an eye-opener – I honestly didn’t think people made games that bad any more.

I even gave Worms Armageddon a go, but that was a big mistake. Still crap.



If Mario Party hadn’t come to hand next, I think I might have given up altogether and gone to work in a bank.

Luckily, it’s such a fantastic game that after a day’s solid play (and that was just in one-player mode – with some chums round it’s going to be a riot) I felt strong enough to wade through another pile of rubbish like Rayman 2, Trickstyle, Earthworm Jim 3D and about 50 identically dull wrestling games.

And then came Pong.



And it’s Pong, chums, that I want to talk about. Not the 1977 original (although that’s just been emulated in MAME, which is nice), but the modern update version just released by Hasbro.

I had modest expectations, because I’d just played the same company’s updates of Centipede and Missile Command, which were both guff. But those very modest expectations were blown right out of the window, because the new Pong is (so far) without a doubt the Game Of The Year. I’m completely serious.



See, you might think (as I did) that it would be pretty impossible to do anything very interesting with a game as basic as Pong. A few power-ups, some pretty backgrounds, end of story.

But New Pong takes the simplest game concept of all time and twists it into so many new shapes that it’s almost a work of art. And yet, even when it’s turned into a fish-catching, sheep-herding, mountain-climbing or egg-juggling game, it’s still got the feel of Pong. Honestly, chums – it’s genius.



In several respects, in fact, Pong is closer to Mario Party (or Point Blank) than anything else – it’s broken down into dozens of little sub-games, mostly radically different from each other but united by simplicity and clever ideas.

In every sub-game, you know you’re going to be using a bat to hit a ball, but beyond that you haven’t got the faintest idea what’s coming next.

The great thing is, though, you can’t wait to find out.



By the time I finally clawed my way through Pong’s final round, the game had cost me an entire weekend, four meals, one unused ticket to a comedy show, one joypad and one glass flower vase that was unfortunately too close to hand when I was playing one of the "clown" levels. (Fair, but EVIL.)

But like Point Blank, "finishing" Pong isn’t the end. This is the kind of game you’ll go back to for ever, and that’s before you even start to think about the fantastic up-to-four-player modes.



Still, I bet you all a million trillion pounds that when the games mags review Pong they all say something like this:

"Well, it’s quite fun for a few minutes, but it’s basically just Pong and there aren’t any guns, dragons or ninja stealth commandos in it, so 70%."

Which is why most games reviewers need all their teeth kicked out, but anyway. This Christmas, chums, give pure, true gameplay a chance. You won’t regret it. And it might be your last opportunity.

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