As must be apparent to those who frequent these pages, I'm not one for time off. Worse for me, even on those occasions when I am legally obliged to stop working, I tend to get dragged off to exciting places by relatives (You know - Bognor, York, Eastbourne - places like that), which doesn't leave me with much time for the things I'd ideally like to be doing. As a result of this over the years I've developed quite a large pile of "must-play games" that lies unchecked in a corner of the living room - partly because I horde things like crazy, and partly because I seldom manage to set any time aside. For much of anything.
It was with no small amount of joy and nostalgia then that I finally got round to unpacking and tinkering with my old Super Nintendo last night - a move that led to a spate of eBay purchases aimed at repopulating my waning collection of carts, which used to be the envy of the neighbours but these days consists of a few beat-'em-ups (Killer Instinct, SFII Turbo, SSFII, MK2 and 3), a few racing games (including Stunt Race FX) and a shiny copy of Starwing, probably one of my favourite 16-bit games of all time. I'm currently trying to talk myself out of bidding for a pristine copy of Final Fantasy III.
Obviously I bought up copies of the various obligatory Mario titles - World, All-Stars, Kart - and I also sniped for the first two Donkey Kong Country games, F-Zero, some things that were going cheap (including DMA's legendary Unirally/Uniracers and Super Star Wars), and a few RPGs I never managed to find in those pre-eBay days, namely Actraiser, Legend of the Mystical Ninja (does that count?) and Shadowrun. One game that I didn't bother to spring for, however, was Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, which I remember playing for all of about ten minutes in 1995. No need, I reasoned - there's that new Pitfall game out tomorrow, and Amazon seems to be flogging it for £22.49. I could always give that a punt.
Which brings us inexorably to the question of whether the industry's latest "re-imagining" falls into the same camp as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, or whether it's more of a Pac-Man World. [And brings to a close one the most pointlessly elaborate introductions you've ever written - Kristan, fresh back from the hols he was quite prepared to take!] It also leaves me wondering if the original was even any good, because I certainly don't remember.
Well, whatever - the general consensus seems to be, despite a couple of early positive responses, that Pitfall: The Lost Expedition really ought to be Pitfall: The Last Expedition. Then in order to regain its proper title it would have to get lost (see what I did?). It's out on PS2, Xbox, Cube and GBA, but when some of our more excitable American brethren call games like this bland, generic and under-achieving, the net result could actually be a lot worse. I'd strongly advise you to steer clear of this, or at least give it a go before you cough up that £22.49. Or just play Starwing instead - it's shitting brilliant.
There are other games out this week of course, and you're probably surprised that we're not focusing more on Final Fantasy X-2, which is surely the most intriguing prospect on the shelves. I'm sorry about this myself, because obviously we'd love to tell you whether Barbie Fantasy X-2 is worth putting on make-up for, but due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances (Kris in Thailand, Rob's PS2 being broken, muggins here sweating blood to keep everything else going), it hasn't happened. Judging by the box artwork on my US copy though it's bloody brilliant. There are girls and everything. (Expect an actual review sometime next week.)
One game I did get a chance to examine this week was Sony/Namco's Kill.switch, one of the games SCEE has decided it doesn't want other gamers to play. It's a PS2 exclusive in Europe for no obvious reason, but one benefit of that arrangement is that it comes with a playable demo of SOCOM 2 and some video footage of Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain. The game itself is pretty playable too, even if it's deadly simple and short - all you do is point a crosshair at people and then lean out and shoot them. For six hours. If you see it going for less than £20 then by all means avail yourself - otherwise it's a solid rental and a bit overpriced at £30-£40.
By no means overpriced on the other hand is Ubisoft's stupendous Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, easily my favourite game of 2003 on PS2 and PC, and released today after another of those irritating exclusivity-delays on both GameCube and Xbox. It should be a bit better looking than its PS2 cousin, and although it's probably still bound to the appalling port of the original 2D Prince of Persia which popped up as a bonus in the PS2 version, there are allegedly other trinkets in there to uncover too. That's on top of being the most effortlessly engrossing 3D platform game ever made (I'd still rate Mario World higher) - a true masterpiece that redefined our expectations for rival platform titles, and will no doubt influence what we end up playing for years to come.
With that in mind it's probably the wrong Friday for THQ to launch its warmly received Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, and yet that's what's happened. Sphinx has gathered respectable review scores from all manner of sources, but in Xbox and Cube terms it's surely bound to be overshadowed this week. PS2 owners might well find it to their tastes (and the consensus is that it's definitely the one to pick over Activision's Pitfall), but there is quite a lot of choice in the "decent platformer" stakes at the moment, with both I-Ninja and Maximo vs. Army of Zin released recently and well worth owning. (Ya hear that? Stop ignoring the bloody things!)
Elsewhere on the shelves this week we have March! Off World Recon, Morrowind: Game of the Year Edition, and Gotcha Force from Capcom. I know nothing about that last one, and Capcom didn't have any review copies this week, so I couldn't even tell you what the box looks like. Review scores vary wildly though, so if anybody's played it and has an opinion, your comments are welcome below - and you could always submit a Reader Review. In fact I'd be most grateful.
A curious week for new titles then in all shapes and sizes. Given an open choice though, I think I'll probably spend the evening with Starwing and SFII Turbo. I'm sure it's just a passing phase, but I'm more than happy for it to linger - much like the long, long, long overdue release of Jet Set Radio GBA, which Amazon also reckons is out today. Quite frankly, I wouldn't believe Jet Set Radio was out on GBA this week even if I did see it; such has been Atari's baffling inability to get the cart on the streets. It does sow the seeds for next weekend's adventures in nostalgia though - a marathon of obscure Dreamcast games. Who needs new releases, eh?
- Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2)
- Gotcha Force (Cube)
- Kill.switch (PS2)
- March! Off World Recon (PC)
- Morrowind: Game of the Year Edition (Xbox)
- Peter Pan: The Motion Picture Event (GBA)
- Pitfall: The Lost Expedition (PS2, Xbox, Cube, GBA)
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Xbox, Cube)
- Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
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