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THIS IS HARDCORE 4 - May 1999

Gimme a "Hello viewers!" Gimme a - hang on, I've done this wrong. Well, anyway.

With Christmas still seven months away, it's been another pretty slack few weeks for exciting new games. So uninspiring have been the Playstation games dropping through my door ("Ooh, another snowboarding game. Ooh, another football game using the WLS engine. Ooh, another Gex game. Ooh, another another snowboarding game. Ooh, two new crap ice hockey games. Who the hell is it in this country who gives a shit about ice hockey anyway? Surely the publishers can't expect the Manic Street Preachers to buy 10,000 copies each?") that half of them are still sitting in the cellophane waiting for someone to come round with an electric cattle prod, because that's what it'd take to persuade anyone with an ounce of self-respect to load them up and go through the motions of playing the stupid things. (I mean, Big Air - what on Earth is the point?) As for N64 games, well of course there haven't been any, and on the PC - well, the chap down at Games Exchange asked me if I'd played my copy of Championship Manager 3 before bringing it in to sell, and I had to break his jaw with a display stand. Just what kind of twat-faced dullard loser did he take me for?

So - and here's the twist - I've ended up spending more time this month than anything else playing Game And Watch Gallery 2 on the Game Boy "Color". Except you can shut up sniggering right now, because G&WG2 is, in fact, a work of not inconsiderable genius. Nintendo have had several attempts already at bringing collections of ancient Game And Watch titles to the Boy, and every one of them was rightly panned into the ground. After all, it's difficult to pack much replay value into games where nearly all you could ever do was go left and right, and after a five-second burst of nostalgia at seeing them at all, the appeal wore off and you were left with a 25 paperweight that wasn't even very good at weighing down paper.

In this latest incarnation, though, Nintendo have packed the cart full of cute little secrets (museums, music rooms, whole extra games) which you unlock by earning bonus stars for achieving set scores on all the individual games. At a stroke, games which were previously pointless, tedious exercises in getting high scores measured in double figures ("Ooh! I scored 23!") have been transformed into tense, exciting battles to reach a certain point in Donkey Kong (Original Version Hard Mode) and bank that crucial star that'll get you access to Yoshi Ball or whatever. And since individual plays hardly ever last more than five minutes, and you have to play all of the 20 different game variants on the cart to get all the stars, you just never get the chance to get bored. As a play-on-the-bus Game Boy title, it's all but perfect. As a lesson in how to turn extremely limited basic gameplay into something hugely compelling and fun, it's nothing short of awe-inspiring.

My point, for the hard-of-thinking amongst you, is this - sometimes, the line between colossal success and idiotic failure is an extraordinarily thin one. Sometimes, it's only the extra hour of thinking time in development that turns a stinker into a big chart smash like G&WG2. Would that more publishers had the common sense (or, indeed, the Common Sense Wrangler) to put that extra hour in, eh?

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