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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Games that went ignored

The best games of 2003 that you don't own.

Last week, we had a pop at PR people. That was clearly therapeutic for us, but apart from a bit of churlish blustering from people who preface their emails with "LONDON, JULY 29TH--," all we really did was tickle your sides on a soggy Friday afternoon in July.

So this week we've decided to harrang you. Yes, you. Every month, we take it upon ourselves to make heartfelt gaming recommendations. And yet despite our best efforts, we see more of you gushing endlessly and fawningly from your fingers than we do actually going out and buying modern classics.

Forget what other hacks might tell you, there are plenty of good games doing the rounds, and if we want this medium to survive a holocaust of marketing and hype, then we need to go out there and buy the best games, whether or not they were on fifteen consecutive official magazine covers. Rest assured, there's more to those scoops than natural born enthusiasm and gaming innovation.

So given the time of year and the apparent lack of top tier releases here in the third quarter of the third place, we thought we'd take it upon ourselves to go over some of the most tragically overlooked original titles of the year so far across the various platforms we follow.

The sad fact is that if you don't buy these games, sooner or later you won't be able to, and because they're really bloody good, by ignoring them indefinitely you'll only be hurting the industry you all sit there pretending not to pay attention to while the boss is standing in the corridor shouting at Maureen the cleaning lady.

Here be dragons

Xbox fans are amongst the loudest and most evangelical on the Internet: FACT. And yet, they clearly don't practice what they preach, or at least not in Europe, because whilst investigating sales figures it became apparent that the lion's share of unpurchased titles are exclusive to or at least best played on Microsoft's gaming behemoth.

The most unfairly dismissed title is one of the best on any system this year, and that's Panzer Dragoon Orta. Anybody, whether they're a shoot 'em up fan or they despise the genre, can plainly see that it's utterly beautiful. And not just because it's reflective enough to wax your eyebrows with. The textures are rich, the framerate solid, the enemies and bosses in particular are gobsmackingly detailed and the gameplay shines brightest of all. There are few games which can be over in a matter of hours and yet last you all year, and PD Orta is unquestionably one of them.

Our love affair with the game was so intense that half of the staff here imported it, and we even trooped en masse to Rob's pad to play the game on his since departed projector. But even more tragic than watching a grown man sob into his beard over a deceased display is the fact that none of you bought Panzer Dragoon Orta! So stop pining over your empty shopping trolleys and buy this game right now!

Chop socky

Perhaps sadder than the PD Orta debacle is that you didn't even pay lip service to one of the UK's homegrown triumphs, the wacky and cringe-makingly comical Kung Fu Chaos. Apparently it isn't enough if a game's funny, playable and good looking. Shove in a pretend hacking mode or a big-breasted noblewoman who thinks she's Indiana Jones and you can stuff your enriching gameplay, right? Eh? Shop ye in this direction, guys and gals. You are unlikely to regret it.

Oh the Xbox, though. We feel for it. Even the hallowed spectre of Ridge Racer looming like a butterscotch-bearing grandfather over this powersliding piece of princely programming wasn't enough to convince you of Racing Evoluzione's worth. You may look down on it because it doesn't lap Project Gotham Racing (and if you don't own that by now then God help you, because we certainly can't), but we weren't lying when we said it was almost as good as that and Ridge Racer Type 4. We fired it up last night in the hope that we'd been bewitched or something and its charting failure was some sort of harsh lesson in overexcitement, but we're still right! It's still better than all sorts of racers which do undeservingly well on Sony's ubiquitous breezeblock. And unless we missed something, you don't own it.

Before we leave the Xbox, we'd also like to remind you that the masterwork of Lost Toys, a developer made up of some of the finest gaming minds in this country, is sitting there doing absolutely nothing - probably lying dog-eared in a bargain bin alongside an endless procession of deservedly unloved Acclaim and Midway titles. Battle Engine Aquila is like that transformy Rage mech game that wasn't very good, except it's great. It's really well designed and the AI is for once absolutely brilliant - the only comparison we can think of is having a little war simulation going on next to your first person shooter. If you could control the most agile and destructive force on a battlefield of the future, swooping down like a hawk on a field of ants, you'd do it, right? No! You wouldn't! You'd sit there doing absolutely nothing! It's waiting for you!

Streuth, sleuth!

You're lucky this isn't a pop-up website today, mongrels! We're not talking about Gator Corporation certificates and Viagra adverts, either - we're talking about origami cutlasses slicing your jugular veins to exact retribution for crimes against hard-working game developers! [Now now Tom -Ed] Ok, it's not as if PS2 owners are running out of things to buy these days, with a back catalogue of classics longer than Dirk Diggler's wang, but after going mental on account of Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank, the least you could've done was pay a bit of mind to the wonderfully enjoyable Sly Raccoon. To start with, it's beautiful, and to end with, it's fun.

What else is there to talk about? Well how about a myriad skills and gameplay additions spread over the game, more hidden collectibles than a kleptomaniacal jackdaw could handle, the sort of wholesome platform gameplay that Haven or Vexx could only dream about, rhythm-action bosses and swamp-based grinding rails, and pursuit sections that would have knocked that leather clad Trinity wench's block off?

Throw away your television

You may have to sacrifice electronics on the altar of doing stupid things (by flipping a 36" Trinitron on its side), but if that's what it takes to play Ikaruga, then it's a sacrifice worth making. "It's too hardcore for me!" you're probably murmuring, like a discarded Christmas puppy in the alleyway boot camp of Colonel Stray, but dammit if it isn't the finest 2D shoot 'em up invented since Radiant Silvergun, a game which you not only do not own, but couldn't possibly own without giving loads of money to some clown on eBay.

For all the stupid things Atari do, bringing Ikaruga to GameCube owners in the UK was brilliant. Financially ludicrous, of course, but they obviously have to look silly somehow. The game though. What a game. We're all for so-called high-concept titles around here, and the system of alternating colours and intricate level design had us scrambling further and further along Treasure's electronic gauntlet until our fingers, your fingers, their fingers and our fingers' fingers were nigh on severed. It's great. Buy it.

Shiver your timbers, Rob's here

We interrupt your regularly scheduled dose of vitriolic Mugwum to bring you a quick message for the PC gamers in the audience. Frankly, you've done a bit better this year than your console brethren, and there aren't many genuinely good PC games which didn't sell one or two copies - even if the more moronic tendencies of Joe Public, not to mention the EA hype monster, meant that a hell of a lot more of you bought C&C Generals than bought the sublime Rise of Nations. Fools!

That said, when we hunted through the sales figures to find under-selling PC games, we discovered that actually there haven't been very many hidden gems on the PC this year (some might argue that there haven't been many particularly visible ones either). You still managed to ignore a couple of damn fine games though - like Tropico 2, a Sim City style game with buckets of humour, fantastic gameplay, pirates and monkeys. Yes, monkeys! And pirates! What on earth stopped you from buying it? Was it the vaguely archaic 2D engine? We'll probably never know. But if it sounds like even remotely your kind of thing, you should bloody well go out and buy a copy. Or stay in and buy one for all we care!

We also noticed that you've been slacking off in other purchasing departments - like the magnificent Praetorians, a tactics/strategy game which puts you in charge of the Roman legions and lets you beat the crud out of various indigenous peoples around Europe and North Africa. Stunning stuff, with great graphics and addictive gameplay. So there. We suppose you were all too busy saving up your pennies for the thousands of pounds worth of kit you'll need to play Half-Life 2, though.

Oh, and absolutely sod all of you bought Planetside - but being an online game, this fact failed to cause any measure of shock. There's still a lot more heat than light being generated by massively multiplayer gaming.

We now return you to your normal broadcast, wherein Mugwum will probably say rude words a lot and compare you all to obscure genus of shellfish.

Back and refreshed

Now then, where were we? Ah yes. The humble Game Boy Advance. While it goes without saying that many overpriced games on this up-until-recently unusable handheld should be flatly ignored, or perhaps ridiculed in the streets, there are one or two that we want you to buy in huge numbers more than we desire to draw our next breath. Ok, it's one. And you know which one, too.

Wario Ware, right, is the sort of game that deserves its own placard at the Kyoto-based shrine to fading gaming genius. It's the sort of experience that everyone can understand and get along with, and its simplistic control scheme and rapid-fire entertainment make it the most supremely accessible game since Tetris. However clearly it won't be remembered in the same light or even remembered at all unless you splash the cash! Wario Ware not topping the gaming charts is not just a bit criminal, it's Jack The Ripper, Fred West and Ghengis Khan freestyling in a nursery.

Game Over...

Man. Ok, we lied when we said this would be less therapeutic than last week. But ultimately it was for everyone's good this time, even if we did go a bit over the top. So, a small amount of apologies for those of you who don't deserve to be molested by our murderous collective tongue, but on the whole what we're offering is sound advice. In a time when mould-breaking and entertaining games seldom reach their deserved audiences, we feel it's our duty to bring undiscovered gems like these to your attention. If you own them, good on you, and if you don't, then we heartily suggest you mug the next old lady carrying a suitcase full of money that you encounter and propel yonselves shopwards. Have a nice weekend.