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the playstation budget games review: part ii

The Sunday Session

This was the second stint of our budget gaming marathon. Jon was absent for this one, so missed out on the below delights.

Swords of Destiny: This made so little impression on John, that when asked for his recap three hours later, he couldn’t remember anything. I was doing the ironing in the kitchen at the time and just from the sounds emitting from the speakers, concluded, “Sounds like a generic scrolling beat-em-up.” I was very close. Leather-clad, sword-wielding, Matrix crossed with samurai affair. Blah.

Samurai Jack: the Shadow of Aku: Being a TV series tie-in, we didn’t have high hopes for this, although the animation style, which we both love, does lend itself well to gaming. We were both pleasantly surprised in the end. The tutorial is pitched well, the controls are generous, the combat involved but not complicated. Levels sprawl pleasingly without getting you lost, the difficulty curve is satisfying and the sounds the villagers make when you rescue them made me giggle every time. On top of this, the game seems to have good replay value – you have to search out relics and villagers to rescue, many of which are not immediately obvious and plenty are hidden well, encouraging you to return to each level.

Goblin Commander: A Real Time Strategy game on a console is rarely going to work. Based on the cover, it looked intriguing with nice art (although possibly Warhammer style rip-off) but without the fine control that comes with with a mouse-driven RTS, we expected it to be frustrating and dull. It turned out to be better than that, although the initially decent tutorial degenerated into large blocks of text. The troop control was simplified to allow you to assign a group to a button and so minimising the frustration but even so, it was ultimately still an uninteresting RTS on a console. Stick with the desktop versions.

Charlotte’s Web: I feel I brought this suffering upon myself. John picked this up because I’d sparked a return (or in Jon’s case an introduction) to E.B. White’s novel earlier this year. If I hadn’t, we might not have had to suffer this insult to one of the greatest children’s books of all time.

Despite predicting that this game-of-the-Dakota-Fanning-starring-movie would be a hideous and soulless experience, neither of us thought it would be quite the travesty it turned out to be. It’s essentially a string of mini-games linked by a vague storyline that I certainly don’t remember from the book. On the semi-upside, considering the market it’s aimed at, the game begins with little preamble but that’s where the up ends. The controls are obtuse, twitchy and lacking in any subtlety; the instruction screens make no sense; the camera, especially indoors, is one of the worst I’ve ever seen in a game; the menus are completely broken; the Farmer lurches about like a zombie. The whole game flickers like a fluorescent light bulb at the end of its lifespan. Plus the grammar and punctuation is all over the place. We cannot believe this game ever made it to release.

We were gamed out by this point and ended up watching BBC Three’s Young Butcher of the Year. Against my will, I enjoyed it (damn you, iPlayer and your way of making me watch things I never intend to!) It was oddly compelling and now I know that sausage skins come from intestines; sweetbreads refer to a lamb’s testicles or thyroid glands; and that sausages burst when they have a high bread content – which is why they’re nicknamed ‘bangers’.

I do have some gripes. The set was weird (what was that backlit wind tunnel thing about?) I resent the current documentary fashion to have so many quick cuts all over the place, it gives me a headache. And I dislike the elimination aspect. We don’t need the dramatic music and that annoying time delay intended to build suspense before announcing the person who’s going out. I would rather they went for a points-based set of tasks instead, if only to get to see what other ‘out of the box’ thinking went into window displays.

All that said, I actually cheered on the announcement of the winner – and then immediately sat back stunned that I had just celebrated a display of butchery. I am a little in awe of the BBC for doing this to me.

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