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What's New (29th July 2005)

A virtual wasteland.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Needles, history tells us, are not easily retrieved from haystacks. Indeed, assuming a fairly standard-size needle and a stack of fairly disorganised hay - the likes of which you might feed to a goat, for example (although, for those of you interpreting that as an open invitation to feed spiked grass to the witless protagonists of popular bedtime fables, we do frown on attempted grufficide) - it's easy to imagine someone having great difficulty extracting said sewing utensil once inserted into said stack. Similarly, it's easy to imagine Team 17 having difficulty re-establishing what made Worms so entertaining in the first place (worms, incidentally, should also steer clear of haystacks, unless they're blessed with a tremendous sense of direction), and today's only noteworthy European release almost wipes away the need for imagination in the first place.

Something chaotic this way ensues - Worms 4: Mayhem (PS2/Xbox/PC)

Worms 4: Mayhem is not a bad game. Indeed, with a bit of application it can be an extremely entertaining one. Unfortunately though, whether you believe that it should have learned lessons from the response to Worms 3D or you stubbornly insist that Worms 3D was excellent and that the rest of us who thought otherwise are simply cretins (an accusation we reject because, while we may be somewhat confused in the head, we do lack certain defining characteristics of cretinism; try "idiots" instead), the fact that its designers were clearly unbowed by those who rejected the 3D version virtually guarantees that it's going to miss out on a few sales. And, as you'll see shortly when my review pops up, a few marks.

Clinging onto the past is almost as pointless as storing thin metal objects in bundles of goat-fodder, in most cases, but it seems like Team 17 might have done a bit more to make it feel like a proper successor; as it is, both versions so far seem to have lost sight of a few fundamental aces in the hole (presumably having stored them in haystacks for safe keeping) and then striven for 3D-ness all the same. The latest version expands upon what was there before in plenty of ways that justify bullet-points on a press release, but it still doesn't punch bullet-holes in the way that made Worms in 2D such an accessible, well-balanced and deliciously over-the-top little game in the first place.

To, to sum up, it's more of the same with some fairly satisfying bells on top. But Worms don't need bells; they need enormous world-tearing pyrotechnics and explosive sound effects that become so emphatic they make your crap fifteen-quid speakers crackle.

Farm-a-see - Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life (Cube, import)

Leaving the goats (and hay) on this side of the Atlantic, we next venture forth to Yankland where, er, we find ourselves dealing with lots of goats (and hay). And, er, we find ourselves being a girl. The name "Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life" is either misleading or depressingly accurate, depending on how much hay you like to eat, but, whatever your reaction, the key thing to note is that this is fundamentally the same game as Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, already released on the Cube in Europe, except this time you get to play as a girl instead.

The rituals are the same. Year one is spent setting up farm with the help of your absent Dad's friend Takakura, who will flog your eggs and whatnot in a nearby town while you spend the days watering, milking cows, dealing with pesky chickens and trying to carve out a bit of time to spend fishing, visiting nearby farms to buy seeds and the like, and generally socialising. It's a laboured and extremely repetitive life, but it's quite cosy and absorbing. You don't just level up your hoe at the end of the month in either sense; you get yourself a horse to ride around on, new people move to the valley you call home, and you can start thinking about getting married, settling down, having kids, buying that blasted sheep you've been eyeing up, and so on. Harvest Moon felt like A Wonderful Life to us in the middle of a hectic schedule when it first came out, and may well be perfect fodder for lazy summer days.

But, well, this is just Harvest Moon with a girl, so you needn't really apply unless you can't handle the idea of being a man. And to be honest, if you can't, you've probably found other ways to deal with that already.

Straight ooota Scorrtland, perhaps - Makai Kingdom (PS2, import)

Okay, okay, it's nothing to do with Scotland (and, mercifully, absolutely nothing to do with goats, hay, bedraggled punnery or indeed being a woman). Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome, to give it its full name, is due out here in October but that hasn't stopped our frothing (Scots) correspondent from getting into it. Since I haven't played it, I'll borrow liberally from the MSN conversation I just had with him. "It's [unprintably] brilliant!" he declares. "Because it's like Disgaea [a previous, wonderfully humorous and inventive RPG released by the same company] in the way you're rewarded, but way more accessible, and because it's so streamlined you have a better idea of how the game works and you can drop yourself in deeper. Disgaea always had an element of complexity that it was hard to bridge, but you let it off because it was ace. Makai Kingdom is totally on the level."

"And you can build fortresses/academies/whatever that give you bonuses and let you hide inside them or swap characters in and out. And you can have tanks/mechs/flying-flowers/guns-on-a-spring, and paint them, upgrade them, level them up and drive around being general maximum badass." Let's pause here a second and breathe. "AND unlike Disgaea your game revolves completely around the team that you create, and not characters that you're given, so you feel the love so much more." I can certainly get a sense of your lo--"AND I have a small boy in a cat's suit whose main job is running around picking stuff up." Smashing, bu--"AND a walking carrot of death, AND a samurai who uses a fishing rod instead of a sword, AND a thief who uses his UFO to steal stuff. In short - amazing." In short?

The final count-top-down - Nanostray (DS, import)

...All of which leaves a little room to talk, briefly, about Nanostray. The German-developed unofficial follow-up to the GBA's Iridion shoot-'em-up series, is apparently a delightful top-down shooter that uses lots of fancy 3D graphics without dropping frames. Instead, rather like a gangsta rapper, it drops bombs without bothering to pay much attention to its roots - in this case the power of a system that has, although the developer doesn't seem to have noticed, a second touch-capable screen at its disposal. The consensus seems to be that it's enjoyable, short, and a good example of how to make a pretty and pretty good game on the DS. Worth importing? No idea. I'll try and track down a copy when I'm done finding my wallet. Because, in what's surely an accidental ode to today's main theme, I've managed to put it down somewhere on my coffee table, and now it's vanished completely. "Vanished, Lord Percy, not varnished." Toodle-oo.

  • PAL Releases
  • Worms 4: Mayhem (PS2, Xbox, PC)

  • Key US Releases
  • Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life (Cube)
  • Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome (PS2)
  • Nanostray (DS)

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