Thirty-something geek on the south coast of England. Think I'm sort of smart, but I might just be fooling myself. Player of games, reader, feminist, humanist.
Sometime podcast contributer at maximumpowerup.com
Number 8 on my list of perfect albums is a trip into Dance music (I’m assured the cool kids refer to it as EDM, but what do I know), with the debut album from Faithless, Reverence. This blog series started with my original post setting out the “ten perfect albums” premise, so start there if you’re new.
I discovered Faithless in 1996 with the re-release of Insomnia being everywhere. At the time the only other person I knew who liked them was my high school best friend. I’m not sure how long after that it took me to get the album, but it must have been one of the first CDs I purchased for myself. I do remember being very pleased that it also came with the remix album “Irreverence” in the package, everyone likes a bit of value for money.
The title track of the album, and it’s also up first. I still remember getting the album home and putting this on. Masterpiece. The main draw for me in wanting Reverence was for the lyrics and flow from Maxi Jazz, the album starts strong for this.
Took me a while to appreciate this one at the time, certainly wasn’t what I was expecting when I bought the album, and those Maxi Jazz vocals are no where in sight. Don’t Leave went on to become a favourite track though, and as we’ve established, the album is perfect.
This was my favourite song on the album for ages. Certainly the first one I knew all the words to. Maybe because I was also 14…
If Lovin’ You is Wrong
If Lovin’ You is Wrong almost breaks my perfect album rule of “not skipping any tracks”, however I’m letting it slide since I only skip this when listening would be inappropriate, like when it comes on in the office.
Relationship with the album
Listening to Reverence at once takes me back to high school. It’s that rare album that is just as perfect to throw on when you’re feeling a bit melancholy and just want to relax for a while, as it is to crank up loud and and sing along.
It’s funny, when I bought Reverence, I didn’t think I was buying “dance music”. Even when I picked up the album Sunday 8pm, that still didn’t feel like what it was about to me. The later albums all feel much more ‘EDM’ to me though, and I pretty much fell off. Years later I got a bit into Trance (specifically Above & Beyond) and found I appreciated the later Faithless stuff much more. The remix album Faithless 2.0 even features an Above & Beyond version of Salva Mea, along with other EDM acts remixing classic Faithless tunes.
In retrospect, I wonder if Maxi Jazz did more to set up my later love for rap music than Faithless did for me with dance.
Other albums and songs
Bring My Family Back
Depressing? Sure, but still a great song. Hearing this performed live on Jo Whiley’s TV show (I’m 80% sure it was that, otherwise it was Jools Holland) was how I found out their second album “Sunday 8pm” was available. I grabbed it soon after.
There are loads of Faithless tunes that just set a scene perfectly, and take you to a place. Postcards is one of those.
Tweak Your Nipple (Tiësto Remix)
The original version is great, but I do love this remix from Tiësto.
If I was just picking my favourite Faithless album, there is a strong chance I’d lean more towards Sunday 8PM, I think that’s probably them at their best. Reverence though has both a sentimental edge for me, and also feels like the more complete piece. Sunday 8PM has a couple of tracks I’m not so keen on, that I might find myself skipping. Not so with Reverence, it is perfect.
Nintendo are currently (in Europe at least) running an extensive digital sale on Switch and 3DS games on the European eShop, until 23rd May 2019. While scrolling through the list of 130+ discounted titles, I noticed the majority of the best offers were on games I already played through on other systems.
In this post I’m going to point out the games I think are worth picking up for Switch, but will include which format I originally played the game on for context / disclaimer in case the Switch port turns out to be terrible.
These are games I’ve already played elsewhere but heartily recommend on Switch if they have previously passed you by.
An underwater adventure, something like a cross between Ecco the Dolphin and Journey. It’s beautiful, atmospheric and a delight to experience.
I’ve lumped these two together as I did when I included them in my top 5 horror games, despite them being separate purchases on the store. They’re puzzle/platformer games, where you’re uncovering a story that is pretty open to interpretation, while trying to avoid traps. If you’re only going to get one of them, I’d suggest picking up Limbo first.
Version played: Vita (Limbo) & PS4 (Inside)
I almost missed this one myself. The title really doesn’t give anything away does it? Oxenfree is an excellent adventure game. It has a bit of a Science Fiction theme, and in parts is genuinely creepy. The writing is pretty good, and I found the dialogue system to be really engaging. Particularly worth a look if you like classic adventure games like Monkey Island and Broken Sword.
My only complaint for Tesla vs Lovecraft, is that it isn’t Nex Machina, Housemarque’s masterpiece in the same genre. However, TvL is still a really competent Twin-Stick Shmup, in the style of Robotron 2084 and Smash TV. I was tempted to pick this up and play it again on Switch, but then remembered I still have a couple of difficulty settings to beat on PS4, so I should go back to that instead.
If the idea of fighting off a variety of Lovecraftian horrors using a selection of “Tesla-esque” electric weaponry appeals to you at all, then this is an easy recommend.
Futurlab’s Velocity series started out as a Playstation Mini for the PSP and Vita. The first of those games I was really interested in. It was then followed up with a full release in Velocity Ultra for the Vita and PS3, and later we received this sequel, Velocity 2X. I played all 3 of these games on my Vita, and they are amongst the best games on the system.
On the surface, the Velocity games look like typical 2D Space Shooters, however with the teleportation mechanic and focus on speed running, there are also significant puzzle elements to the game play. Velocity 2X added platforming sections to the game, but these still play very similar to the ship sections, thanks to maintaining the teleportation element.
The music in the Velocity games is also incredible, one of very few I’ve ever bought the sound track for.
Version played: Vita
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
This remake of the incredible Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon’s Trap from the SEGA Master System, was also my top game of 2017. An absolute masterclass in how to do a remake/remaster.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is one of my favourite games of all time, expect it to feature prominently when I get round to listing my All-Time Metroidvania games. While I played this on PS4, the Switch seems like a good home for it, as I probably did 40% of the game using my Vita to remote play from my garden.
The Worms series placed highly when I looked at my favourite local multiplayer games, and if anything I’m more certain that Worms W.M.D. is the best iteration of the game. It’s at least as good as Worms Armageddon, my previous favourite. Given the Switch trying to position itself as the local multiplayer system of choice, Worms is a perfect fit here.
Version played: PS4
Okay I haven’t actually finished this, but I have played it quite a bit. Wulverblade is a brawler in the style of Golden Axe, although it goes more in favour of “brutal historic combat” rather than the fantasy magic & dragons of Golden Axe. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am friends with the developer so may be carrying some bias, however I still very much recommend Wulverblade, and other people I’ve introduced it to have also enjoyed it.
A few other titles I’ve played elsewhere that are worth looking at if they appeal to you, but are perhaps not going to be for everyone. “Your mileage may vary” as they say.
I find it quite hard to recommend Another World in 2019. This remaster was very polished when I played it on the Vita, but I feel like 90% of my enjoyment was based on my fond memory of playing it on the Mega Drive back in the day. If you have nostalgia for that, this is a worthy purchase. The game play hasn’t aged well though in my opinion.
Version played: Vita
The second “Lovecraftian” game on this list, Darkest Dungeon is another game that is hard to recommend. I did discuss my thoughts about this game on the Lovecraft episode of the Maximum Power Up podcast, but basically, it’s just brutally difficult. It’s important to appreciate before you start that the game isn’t really about completing dungeons and gathering loot.
It’s much more about the physical and psychological toll on those adventures going into the dungeons and facing eldritch horrors. You’ll die. A lot.
It’s 10/10 for capturing the essence of despair and futility of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, but I’m still not sure if it is fun.
Version played: Vita
An enjoyable shmup with a unique element in that you’re playing in two play-fields at once. The only reason I’m not straight up recommending this in the list above, is that I simply haven’t spent enough time with it. I have very much enjoyed what I’ve played so far.
Version played: PC
For both this, and Dimension Drive above, I won codes for these games on Twitter. I’ve played a bit of GRIP on PS4 now, and while in some ways it does capture the fun of Rollcage from the original PlayStation, it hasn’t completely nailed it. Even in this sale it remains a more expensive ask than other, better, games on the list. Hmm.
Version played: PS4
I loved Pang (also known as Pomping World or Buster Bros depending which version you played) back on the Amiga and PlayStation. This modern release captures the classic game play, and if you’re a fan, it’s easy to recommend this. Doesn’t really do anything new, but it’s pretty cheap. Does tend to feel a bit “mobile game” though, which I found quite jarring playing on the Xbox One, but may be less of an issue on the Switch.
Version played: Xbox One
I was quite enjoying this on my PS4, but when it first came out some issues with the camera meant it kept making me nauseous, and I couldn’t play for more than half an hour or so at the time. I understand this was fixed in a later patch, and shouldn’t be present in the Switch version. Unfortunately I never went back to it to find out though, so for now it’s gone back into the PS4 backlog.
Version played: PS4
Lastly, these are the ones I’m thinking of picking up myself, haven’t played them yet so can’t vouch for quality, but this is why I’m interested.
Horizon Chase Turbo
I’m on the fence about this, heard lots of positive comments but not entirely sure it’s for me.
I have now bought this, although still not played it as my Switch is still a dedicated Hollow Knight device. I really like what they’re trying to do in channeling the aesthetic of the fighting games on the Neo Geo Pocket Color. I loved those games, and miss having them around. While I still don’t really consider the Switch a handheld system, I’m hoping that in portable mode it’ll give me some nostalgia of that glorious console.
Sundered: Eldritch Edition
Only reason I haven’t bought this already is that I’m 40 hours into a different Metroidvania in Hollow Knight, so it’s likely to be a while before I want to jump into a new one. It is Lovecraftian again though so I might crack before the sale ends.
April has been a bit quieter games wise. after completing six games during March, I managed to not finish any this month. I didn’t give up on anything either, so there is that.
Games played during April
Hollow Knight – Switch
Yes I mentioned this last month, but this is also why I haven’t finished anything else. Hollow Knight has consumed almost all of my gaming time for the last 4 weeks. I think I’m perhaps as much as 60% of the way through now, so hopefully I’ll finish it during May. Some of these boss fights get quite tough though, so we’ll see.
Apex Legends – PC
Not often one for the Battle Royale style games, but I do enjoy a good multiplayer online FPS. My current online gaming group have picked this as our back up for three of us to play if someone can’t make our regular Vermintide 2 session. I’ve been really enjoying it so far. I do prefer a more frenetic game like Quake Champions, but this is a much better social experience for an evening hanging out online with friends.
RIVEN – SEGA Saturn
Finally got around to making a start on this after picking up a mouse for my SEGA Saturn last June. I’ve played the first couple of hours and really enjoying it so far. I have taken some advice from Lewis Clark over at SEGA Driven, and am using a walkthrough for any puzzles I find myself spending more than 10 minutes on. The puzzles are particularly obtuse, even by MYST standards.
Misc Games Played at EGX Rezzed
As per my EGX Rezzed blog post, I also played a bunch of games at this event, and wrote that round up of some of my favourites.
A Way Out – PS4
Picked this up to hopefully play through with Phil from the Maximum Power Up podcast, we’ve played a few other games in co-op, and I’ve heard great things about this.
Slain – PC
I had my eye on this for my Switch. When Slain first came out it received a bit of a bashing from critics, and I gave it a pretty wide berth. However, the Back from Hell edition apparently addresses some of the issues so I thought I’d give it a look. While I was on the fence about picking the Switch version up for around £6, it popped up on PC for 75p. That’ll do.
Sunless Skies – PC
After talking about how much I had enjoyed it in my Rezzed round up, it turns out I won a copy of Sunless Skies from a twitter competition I entered at the event. Bonus. Looking forward to spending more time with this one.
Textorcist: The Story of Ray Bibbia – PC
I played the demo of this when it first appeared on Steam, and really enjoyed it. Not sure where I originally heard about it, but I’m always a sucker for a good typing game. It got a bit of a discount during April so I picked it up. I had a quick go, and was very pleased to see my progress carried on from where I’d got to in the demo, which was a nice touch. I can see it getting pretty difficult, but I love the mash up of typing game meets “bullet hell” style shmup.
With “Feeling Strangely Fine”, we are up to number seven, and approaching the last stretch. If you’re new to this series, please do check out my original “ten perfect albums” post first, then hopefully read all the others too.
I think I discovered Semisonic at the same time as a lot of other people in the UK, around the time they released “Secret Smile”. It was their biggest hit here, and I’m still surprised it didn’t break the top 10.
The song was all over the radio during summer 1999 and clearly stuck with me as I found myself asking for the album for Christmas that year. I think one of my sisters, either Heather or Helen, bought it for me. Probably Helen as I’m pretty sure she likes them too.
This was a much bigger hit elsewhere in the world than it was in the UK. Although it was released first, I don’t think I heard it till after I was already familiar with Secret Smile.
Closing Time sets the tone for the album, and the opening riff feels like a comfortable old shirt.
While the implied double-entendre of the lyrics is ever present, it is subtle enough that you could happily interpret “Secret Smile” as a simple love song. You present a version of yourself to the world, but there is that someone where you can be the real ‘you’.
Once you hear Semisonic’s single “Get a Grip” from their third album however, you kind of have to assume the more lewd interpretations are what they were intending.
Secret Smile is still a great song though, and if like me you mostly ignore the third album, it can retain that original innocence.
Singing In My Sleep
Relationship with the album
This was the original “perfect album”, and to myself and the same buddy for whom The Streets is #TheArtist, Feeling Strangely Fine is simply #TheAlbum. Unlike with other albums in this list, I find it hard to recommend ‘if you weren’t there’. It’s also the best example of how “perfect album” differs from “favourite album”. While I do love this album, I doubt it would make a Top Ten album list of simply my favourites.
Listening to Feeling Strangely Fine takes me to the few years after finishing high school, but before I moved “down South”. Funny though, when I listen, in my memories it is always sunny. Given that those years were in Stoke-on-Trent, England, that seems very unlikely.
As with Glasvegas, I’m the worst kind of Semisonic fan. I was convinced for years that this was their first album, and never got round to picking up the first one “Great Divide” even after I found out about it. I did pick up the third album “All About Chemistry”, but never took to that either.
I don’t think I’m really a Semisonic fan at all, merely a fan of this excellent album.
Other albums and songs
This is decent enough, but to be honest I just wanted to add something here, without resorting to “Get a Grip”.
Though I can’t really say I’m a Semisonic fan, this remains a beloved album. I will continue to listen to Feeling Strangely Fine several times a year, and be grateful to them for its creation. It is perfect.
Over halfway through the list now, and I’m only slightly slipping in post frequency. Original Pirate Material from The Streets is the sixth of my Ten Perfect Albums.
I can remember the first time I heard Original Pirate Material, mostly because it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen any more. It was after I’d moved “down South” and I was working in a nearby town in another indie PC shop (not a patch on the one in Stoke mind). The manager from our other store in Brighton was visiting, he insisted we go out to his car to listen to “this incredible new tape”. We left one of the other lads in charge, and went and sat in his car out the front of the shop, listening to the album straight through in its entirety, rewinding “The Irony of it All” twice for repeated listens. Yes, it was on tape.
It’s almost a cliche to say, but it didn’t sound like anything else I’d heard before. This was around the time I was just getting into Hip Hop (as referred to in my discovery of Jay-Z). Unlike the American rappers I was listening to, Mike Skinner’s lyrics were immediately more relevant to 20 year old me.
The Irony of It All
The track that stuck with me most from that initial listen, still sounds great today and remains pretty relevant.
Let’s Push Things Forward
UK Garage seemed to be a thing for 6 months or so, but as much as I enjoyed some of the tracks at the time, the genre didn’t seem to be going anywhere. (UK Garage compilations over the last 20 years seem to agree with me, featuring the same tracks by DJ Luck, Craig David & The Artful Dodger etc, in slightly different orders.) The Streets emerged from that sound, and essentially added poetry. Let’s Push Things Forward is something of a manifesto.
Too Much Brandy
Bit of light relief for an album that at times is pretty melancholy. Too Much Brandy takes us along for a night out, which is all very familiar. Why yes I will dance the fandango and sing all my favourite jingles.
Relationship with the album
Original Pirate Material is the sound of an era for me. The soundtrack to the time of my life where I’d just left home, and moved 200 miles away to start my own story.
I found a great review of the album below, well worth a read as it really touches on why it’s great, and I’d echo much of the sentiments.
For a while it seemed that Mike Skinner was going to capture every element of life in music. His knack for producing a relatable song for every emotion led to myself and a good mate simply referring to him in conversation as #TheArtist.
I remember The Streets being dismissed by some friends and family at the time with “he’s just talking”. I don’t think that’s really a criticism. There is a poetry to The Streets that is bridging the gap between Spoken Word and Hip Hop.
I’m delighted The Streets is a thing again, and hope the recent new music leads to more albums.
Other albums and songs
Never Went to Church
Devastatingly haunting, but lyrically real; Never Went to Church did for loss what “Dry Your Eyes” did for breakups. Always guaranteed a listen on my late brother-in-law’s birthday. Miss you Kev.
The Sherry End
Another more lighthearted track, The Sherry End captures the easy friendship of close mates, and the comfort found in shared experiences.
Love You More
Mike Skinner does relationship insecurity.
On the edge of a cliff
There were easily another eight or so tracks that could have made this section, but thought I’d round it out with some existential reflection.
A compelling case can be made that “A Grand Don’t Come For Free” is the better album, and as a concept album it rewards a straight play through with a coherent story. If I did fifteen perfect albums, it would make an appearance. The Streets narrowly missed out on having two albums in this list.
For me however, Original Pirate Material is the one I go back to most often. It is perfect.
Originally held in Brighton in 2012, EGX Rezzed was launched as a spin-off event (then simply called Rezzed) of the much bigger Eurogamer Expo held in London. Although it doesn’t have so many of the big “AAA” titles, there are still plenty of new and pre-release games to play, particularly those from indie games studios. The event also includes the opportunity to play and buy various tabletop games, a variety of games industry talks and presentations, and a selection of merchandise traders. Oh and a bar, because of course.
Rezzed has been a feature in my calendar since that first one in 2012, and although Brighton was much easier for me to get to, its current home at the Tobacco Docks in London is an interesting and unique venue that really suits the atmosphere for the event.
This was my first year attending as press though, with the aim of writing this post, and identifying games to cover in further detail both on here and on future episodes of the Maximum Power Up podcast.
There were over 200 playable games this year, and while I certainly didn’t manage to play them all, I did get hands-on with quite a few, and thought I’d cover those that I’m most looking forward to or that otherwise stood out to me.
The surprise “game of the show” for me, this is an ocean exploration game similar in style to the Endless Ocean (Forever Blue in Japan) games on the Nintendo Wii.
Beyond Blue is inspired by the Blue Planet II TV show, and the publishers, E-Line Media are working in partnership with the BBC Studios to produce the game. E-Line Media previously produced the well received Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) in partnership with Upper One Games.
I really enjoyed the relaxing deep sea exploration of the Endless Ocean games, and have long hoped they’d get picked up for a new version on modern hardware. The story already feels familiar, and a play through of the demo at Rezzed confirmed it is just as enjoyable to play. Thankfully the creature identifying mechanic is more ‘scanning’ and less ‘rub them with the Wii pointer’. Beyond Blue already looks and sounds incredible, and first impressions suggest it is going to be essential for anyone fascinated by sea life.
One of the games I was most excited to try at Rezzed this year. I was a huge fan of their previous game “Epistory: The Typing Chronicles“, which I played back in April 2017, and was very pleased to hear that it was receiving a spiritual sequel. Like Epistory, Nanotale is a really pretty and absorbing isometric RPG, with exploration and combat controlled by typing. Along with Beyond Blue, this is probably my most anticipated title at the moment.
Sunless Skies is firmly in the realm of those games that can be said to be “Lovecraftian” and if you’ve heard me on the Lovecraft episode of the Maximum Power Up podcast, you’ll know I’m very much a fan of these games. This follow up to Sunless Seas will be instantly familiar to players of that game.
When I first heard about this follow up, I was originally turned off by the idea of flying trains. However, when I tried this at the event, those concerns were instantly forgotten the moment I left port. In retrospect, I’m pretty glad it wasn’t just zeppelins.
With just a demo to play, and the map still procedurally generated, I set off out into the murky distance to see how far I could go before something terrible happened or my crew ate each other. Fittingly I stumbled into an area called something along the lines of “Grey Wilderness” (this is definitely wrong, but I can’t remember what it was actually called) and lost a fight with a train that had tentacles coming out of the front. A chat with one of the writers afterwards revealed some interesting ideas for the future of these enemies in further content.
Like Sunless Seas, I love the idea of these games. The atmosphere and story is very much my kind of thing. Unfortunately I have limited patience for the roguelike genre of games so I might not make much progress with it, but I am looking forward giving Sunless Skies a proper go all the same.
I’m really glad I got to play this at EGX Rezzed, as although I’ve been looking forward to this and included it in my 2019 in Games post, recent trailers have had me slightly concerned. The demo however has mostly put those concerns to rest. I still don’t really like the graphics, while everything about the game screams the best of the metroidvania style Castlevania games, I do wish it was closer to Symphony of the Night in graphical style. As it stands, Ritual of the Night is a 2.5D game, and the graphics are reminiscent of the Dracula X Chronicles game on the PSP, albeit it much more polished.
The gameplay feels perfect for the genre though, and they have nailed everything else about it. Happily back to just looking forward to this now, and think it’ll be a perfect fit for the Switch.
As I was passing the Application Systems Heidelberg booth, I was captured by the 19th century Victorian aesthetic of Lamplight City, and I do enjoy a good point & click adventure. The nature of the EGX Rezzed event means I only got to enjoy the first few screens and puzzles, but I’m now very much intending to play the rest of the game later.
This was another pleasant surprise on the day. I had heard murmorings of Dicey Dungeons over the last month or two, but didn’t know much about it. I sat down to the demo because one of my friends was interested in seeing it. I didn’t immediately take to the art style, but the mechanics were quite addictive. It felt a bit similar to playing Slay the Spire, with deck-building supplemented with added dice rolling.
Startlingly simlar to 2015’s Duck Game, the premise to both games is still great fun. A single screen arena for four players to shoot each other. On my second day at Rezzed I was joined by three friends, and we had a blast with this.
Super Arcade Racing
Another game that the four of us enjoyed playing together, and I still enjoy the novelty of 4 player split screen racing. The world needs more top down racing games. Haven’t been able to find much more about the game since the event though, but I would like to pick it up.
A pretty shameless Diablo clone in the Warhammer universe. Did have fun with the demo, but I found it lacks the charm and polish of Blizzard’s game. So far as the demo went, it didn’t really do anything new for me, but would certainly fill a gap if you’ve exhausted Diablo 3 and don’t want to go down the Path of Exile rabbit hole. Games Workshop fans can expect to get a lot more out of it too.
Warhammer: Vermintide 2: Wings of Magic
Was a bit disappointed by the demo of this. Vermintide 2 is the current game of choice for the four of us who attended Rezzed together. I had hoped we could try this expansion together, but they only had two PCs linked so we gave it a miss.
Dirt Rally 2.0
Was nice to get hands on with this demo. Like the original Dirt Rally, it is really impressive. Looks fantastic, the cars feel great and it oozes polish. Difficulty from the first game remains though, and thus it is still impossible for humans. (Well, for me anyway.)
The best events are always those where you can spend a good amount of time playing new games, but also take in the atmosphere, meet new people and spend quality time with friends. Rezzed has always ticks these boxes, and 2019 was no exception, an excellent event. Personally I think this year was the best EGX Rezzed yet.
March was a pretty solid month for gaming, mostly because I had a week off work to use up before the end of March, so I stayed home and played games.
Games completed this month
God of War (2018) – PS4
Really enjoyed this, although it has probably ruined all the earlier God of War games for me. Taking the best elements of various action/adventure games, I think this is my favourite 3rd Person Action game of all time.
Yoku’s Island Express – 100% – Xbox One
So I originally cleared the story for this back in December, but unusually for me I felt the urge to go back and complete all the optional stuff. 100% completion, what a really great game!
Batman Arkham VR – PSVR
This is a pretty short game, probably only 40 minutes to complete, but it is an amazing VR experience, and essential for a Batman fan.
Armored Warriors (Capcom Beat ’em up Bundle) – PS4
Might take me a while to get round to clearing all 7 games on this compilation, but I did enjoy Armored Warriors.
Tetris Effect – PSVR
Okay so I’ve only cleared the Journey mode on this, and still plenty to do. Beating that last stage was a challenge though, and worth logging the achievement just for that. I did play a little bit of it outside the VR and it is still great, but it really shines as a VR title.
Golf Story – Switch
A substantial reason behind why I bought the Switch last month, and it didn’t let me down at all. I really hope we get a sequel to Golf Story. The golfing gameplay reminds me a lot of Game Boy Golf, and it has an amusing story to follow as you play a selection of increasingly ridiculous, but fun, courses.
Games played during March
Modern Warfare Remastered – PS4
This was free on PS Plus, and while I’m still toying with the idea of replaying the campaign (not on Veteran again though, that was madness) I found time this month to jump online with my mate. While we struggled to make an impact initially, the old muscle memory started to come back and we were winning more. Enjoyed it for a couple of afternoons, even if I don’t end up going back again.
Vermintide 2 – PC
In PC land I’ve been playing this one with three friends as our new “we’re definitely going to regularly play this game together” game. Unlike all the other ones that died off after one or two sessions, we’ve already had three goes on Vermintide 2. I’m optimistic we’ll play it for a bit longer. It’s as well designed for 4 players as left 4 dead was, and I find it much more enjoyable for not involving zombies.
Hollow Knight – Switch
Partly playing this for an upcoming podcast episode, but also because one of my friends keeps raving about it and I was ready for something else to play on the Switch after clearing Golf Story. Really enjoying it so far, although it’s tougher than I usually like my metroidvania games to be.
Hidden Agenda – PS4
Picked this up preowned for like £3 or so. It’s a “PlayLink” title, a multiplayer game when each player uses their phone as a controller. I was curious about this as a narrative based game as an alternative to the various quiz style party games that this format usually takes. Four of us did a full competitive playthrough, and it was fairly well received.
Grip – PS4
I’d been following the development of this game for a while. It’s pretty much a tribute to Rollcage (from some of the same people) which I enjoyed back on the original PlayStation. However, when it was released the reviews were a bit average, and I was concerned about paying full price for it. I managed to win a copy of it on Twitter in March though, so I’m now happily dabbling with it for free.
Nefarious – Switch
Another game I’d had my eye on for a while, Nefarious is in the vein of 90s platform games, but with you playing as the villain. I heard about this on a podcast back in 2017. I’ve had it on my Steam wishlist since then, but hadn’t got around to picking it up because I know I don’t really play platform games on PC. The Switch is an ideal format for it though, and it popped up in sale for half the price it is on Steam. Result. Time will tell if I actually get round to playing it though.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World – Switch
Narrowly missing out on my top 5, but scoring an honourable mention in my All-Time Top 5 Videogames, Alex Kidd in Miracle World is one of my favourite games. This was a no-brainer to pick up the day of release on Switch. Maybe I’ll finally complete it now.
Games retired in March
Quantum Break – Xbox One
Had to give up on this, as ultimately I just wasn’t enjoying myself. I put a few hours in, and was about 40% through the game. I really liked the format of having a TV episode to watch after each act, and the story was interesting enough. Unfortunately it was the gameplay segments that felt like a let down.
Album number 5 is from the Pet Shop Boys, and we go back to the 80s for the oldest entry on my list of ten perfect albums.
As well as introducing me to Bros, my brother-in-law Ray is also responsible for a number of my other tastes. Amongst those we can count the Rocky movies, a selection of martial arts films, the music and movies of Elvis Presley, and most importantly, the Pet Shop Boys.
My initial experience came from borrowing Ray’s “Showbusiness” VHS tape, featuring music videos that still stay with me now. Of the six songs featured on this video, four of them are taken from “Actually”, with the other two being from the Pet Shop Boys’ third album, “Introspective”.
From the header image above, you’ll see I have two copies of “Actually”. You won’t have to look too closely to see that the copy on the left has a poorly printed cover. This is my original album, purchased for £3 back in the early nineties on a shopping trip with Julia, my eldest sister. Julia was keen to show me a new shop that had opened up in Hanley, selling “allegedly” ex-jukebox cds without covers (to this day I’m not sure if that was the case, or if they were just selling off the stolen contents of some poor record shop’s back room – answers on a postcard). I bought “Actually” there and then, delighted to finally own my own copy (on CD no less, one of the very first I bought myself). I went back a couple of weeks later with my mum and picked up “Introspective”. I produced the terrible covers on the family inkjet printer a few years later.
Much more recently I picked up the copy on the right in the cover photo and shown in full below. This is the “Further Listening” re-release, and is a much more complete package. I’m still sentimentally attached to my original album though, and won’t be parting with it.
We’re going all hits here, do sing along.
It’s a Sin
Probably the first Pet Shop Boys song I heard, being the first one on the above mentioned VHS tape. I was captivated by the fairly ‘spooky’ video as a child.
“What Have I Done to Deserve This?”
The Pet Shop Boys have gone on to record many excellent collaborations, but I don’t think any will ever top this incredible song with the iconic Dusty Springfield.
Another great single from the album, and I’m going to stop here with these, because I could just link the whole album, and that’s not the point.
Relationship with the album
From that very early age, I’ve remained a fan of the Pet Shop Boys up to the present day. This album though, connects me to my youth, and to my relationship with Ray, more so than any other. Later albums still resonate, and I really enjoy 2016’s “Super”. However, listening to “Actually” takes me back to my childhood and weekends spent with Ray, renting action movies and playing Sega Master System.
When I try to pick a favourite Pet Shop Boys song, I frequently change my mind because there are so many that I love, but at least four of the top contenders come from “Actually”.
Pet Shop Boys
I find people’s perception of the Pet Shop Boys to be interesting, since many seem to dismiss them as just ‘pop’ even if they begrudgingly accept their staying power over the last 30+ years in the industry. Widely recognised as one of the most successful pop acts of all time, there is no way I could do real justice to them here.
As with Placebo & Glasvegas, I finally managed to see the Pet Shop Boys live last year, when they played the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London. It was an incredible show at a great venue, and because we’re “cool”, my friend Nicky & I made a day of it, with front row seats at the matinee performance of the “Bat Out of Hell” musical. Best day ever.
I’m pleased to also report that Ray is still a huge Pet Shop Boys fan, and last year we managed to take our awful SingStar duet out to the people, and perform karaoke in a local pub. It was magic, bonding time with my brother. I’m sure everyone else hated it. Would do it again tomorrow.
Other albums and songs
I’m in the process of re-buying all the albums in their “Further Listening” editions, and very much enjoying listening to the bonus discs of material I haven’t heard before. Staying with singles here though, because there are just so many tracks to choose from and I’m supposed to be writing a blog not making a playlist.
Can You Forgive Her?
Another favourite, and the first track from “Very”. The change in sound for that album meant that 11 year old me didn’t get into it straight away, as it wasn’t what I was used to. I appreciate the whole album a lot more now than I did at the time.
Always On My Mind
One of my favourite covers of all time, a masterpiece. Also love that the video is cut from scenes from the movie “It Couldn’t Happen Here”, mentioned below.
West End Girls
Yeah okay, so it’s pretty much the law I have to include this one. Fair play, it still sounds great.
This Bluray / DVD / CD boxset is the live recording from the gig I went to last year in Covent Garden, mentioned above. At the time of writing it’s not out yet, but I have a pre-order in, and I’m putting it here because I’m excited. Also because it’s pretty.
It couldn’t happen here (Movie)
Last up, is the feature-length film “It Couldn’t Happen Here”. An incredibly surreal journey, but essential viewing for fans. Once you’ve watched it, you can also enjoy drunkenly explaining the context of the “Always On My Mind” video to your friends at parties, like I do. (No promises that your friends will enjoy this though)
I think every Pet Shop Boys album is worth listening to, and has something to recommend. However, “Actually” stands out as the one album I always come back to. It is perfect.
I came to Hip Hop pretty late really, despite the first record I ever bought being Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby. Actually, maybe that was why…
I had a few friends in high school who were into Snoop, Dre and the like, but I didn’t hear enough of it to get into it. I did like the Beastie Boys but I was only really exposed to them via MTV2. I guess they were just ‘alternative’ enough for that playlist.
After I left school and started a part time job building computers in a local indie PC shop, the majority of the staff there listened predominately to hip hop. I think I tried to resist it for a while, but eventually it started to stick.
Initially I only really enjoyed ‘club hip hop’, finding the way in was via artists like Ice Cube, DMX, and ODB. I enjoyed some of the singles from Jay-Z’s Blueprint album, but it was The Black Album that I fell in love with, and solidified Jay-Z as my favourite rapper.
Very much a favourite, Encore carries the implied weight of the album. The Black Album was presented as Jay-Z’s retirement from hip-hop. I remember at the time being mildly disappointed that I’d discovered Jay-Z just in time for him to retire. Repeated listens to the album though made it clear retirement wasn’t going to stick though. “When I come back like Jordan” indeed.
Probably the most distinctive single from the album, 99 Problems is almost the definition of catchy hip hop. This song was everywhere when it came out.
I love this, so much of rap is biographical, but December 4th is a very literal telling of Jay-Z’s life story. Including memories delivered, by his mother.
Relationship with the album
When this album came out in November 2003, I think I pretty much grabbed it on day one. In December I was given my first solid state portable mp3 player as a Christmas gift from work. It only had a meagre 64 mb of storage, and The Black Album was the first and only album I put on it. I basically listened to this one album every day for the next 4 months.
It still sounds fresh to me now, and remains my favourite Jay-Z album.
My relationship with hip hop involves some pretty heavy cognitive dissonance. Jay-Z is my favourite rapper, but I also unashamedly love 50 Cent. I think Jay-Z is probably the ‘best’ rapper, while 50 is much more of a ‘performer’. Both artists, along with many, many, others are problematic. However, their upbringing and background is so dramatically different from my own that it feels impossible to judge.
I do like to see areas where hip hop takes positive strides though, and while it’s easy to find examples of misogyny etc in Jay-Z’s lyrics, he has also used his platform to champion areas of Social Justice.
Other albums and songs
There are far too many great albums from Jay-Z to cover here, I’ll just touch on a few, but there are many more I could easily have included.
While Linkin Park’s – Hybrid Theory was a strong contender for my list, it didn’t quite make the cut. However this EP collaboration from Linkin Park & Jay-Z deserves a shout out here. Numb/Encore was the single, but all 6 tracks are great fun.
The Blueprint 3
Another favourite album, the Blueprint 3 is one of those albums that just “sounds like summer”. A real go to whenever the sun is shining.
Already acknowledged in my Mighty Mighty Bosstones post, Jay-Z – Unplugged is an outstanding live album, with Jay-Z collaborating with The Roots.
I’m sure people who have been listening for hip hop much longer than me, with arguably much better taste, would point to any number of Jay-Z’s albums as being better than The Black Album. Not me though, I adore this whole album and it’ll forever be a favourite. It is perfect.
Well it was hinted as a possibility for this year, I’ve cracked and bought a Nintendo Switch. I didn’t even wait for Animal Crossing. More thoughts on that in the Pick-ups section below. No games completed, but hey, at least there are more games in the backlog now…
Games played during February
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Switch
It’s Mario Kart, I’ve been playing quite a bit, but haven’t taken it online yet. Was trying to at least 1 star all the cups first, but 200cc races are madness. I may need to rethink that.
Tetris 99 – Switch
This was a surprise announcement / release from Nintendo. A free (providing you pay for the online service) Tetris game where you play a “battle royale” style competitive game. You versus 98 other people. Last one standing wins. It did what it was supposed to, and made me pay for the online service.
As headlined at the start of the post, I caved and picked up a Nintendo Switch. I had been toying with the idea on and off, particularly now there is an Animal Crossing announced. The main thing that sold it to me though was just the urge to get properly into a Mario Kart game again. There still aren’t many games I want for it, but I expect that to change in the future. I anticipate the Switch becoming my preferred platform for those indie games that previously I would have got for my PlayStation Vita.
Hyper Sentinel – Switch
My second Switch game. A fun little C64 style shooter, I originally played this at a retro event last year. It was £1.49 in the Nintendo eShop, where almost everything else is comically overpriced.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas – Switch
I’d heard good stuff about the core game of Starlink, but I think the expensive toy mechanic meant that the game pretty much tanked, and is now available very cheaply. Nintendo’s version of the game also includes Star Fox as a playable character. This month they announced the Switch version would be getting some free DLC to add the rest of the Star Fox crew to the game, so I figured I’d pick the starter pack.
Tetris Effect – PSVR / PS4
I had been waiting for a price drop on this since trying the demo last year. Found a bargain online and can’t wait to get my face on it. The demo was incredible. Pretty much the trippiest way to play Tetris.
Puyo Puyo Tetris (yes again) – Switch
The Switch is the perfect home for this as a great multiplayer puzzle game. This does however mark the fourth time I’ve bought Puyo Puyo Tetris, and the third Tetris game I’ve picked up this month! What year is it again? Fortunately I managed to sell my Japanese copy of Puyo Puyo Tetris on the PS4, recouping 70% of the cost.
SEGA Ages Thunder Force IV – Switch
The Switch has a whole bunch of shmups old and new, but annoyingly they tend to be much more expensive than on any other platform. I expect I’ll pick up more when they go on sale, but Thunder Force IV was the most tempting of the SEGA Ages range of games to start me off.
Golf Story – Switch
The only Nintendo exclusive I’ve really wanted to play on Switch so far outside of Mario Kart and the as yet unreleased Animal Crossing. Looking forward to giving this a proper play, definitely up for Golf the RPG.
Games retired in February
SEGA Heroes – Mobile
I haven’t been properly into a mobile game for years, unless you count Ticket to Ride & Hearthstone, which I don’t. This game is a standard “puzzle quest” style match 3 bejeweled clone. It is from SEGA though, and I was highly entertained by the fan service in the game. However, they launched a recent event to obtain “Tails” that was ridiculously cynical even by mobile game standards. It was looking at a purchase of upwards of £49 just to take part in, so I’m out.
I appreciate there is money to be made chasing “whales” in the mobile or free to play market. However, a company like SEGA should probably be more protective of its IP. Or we might be looking at the demise of the SEGA boy…