Weird Retro Mumblings: Second Games…

Soooo… Who’s getting a Switch? I’m not getting a Switch… are you getting a Switch?… 

All this Switch talk is getting me nostalgic for console ownership; my various feeds have filled up with first impressions, trailer breakdowns, comparisons, loving sonnets, and angry monologues all in honour of Nintendo’s latest upcoming home console (are we calling it a home console?). Being in the PC party, all I can do is fidget with an overly complicated low-latency mouse and jealously watch as the Nintendo faithful flip-out about the good and the bad and how Mario has now decided to rent a trendy Manhattan apartment and… erm… drink coffee. I assume that’s what people in New York.. sorry.. New Donk City … do. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to own a number of consoles and those special first few weeks of exploring that new tech are something that it’s difficult to recreate in the PC realm. One aspect about getting a new console that sticks out was the limited game library; sure there was always ‘That One Game‘ that I really wanted, but my parents (And I’m grateful to my parents for buying me consoles growing up to feed my interest) always seemed to know that I probably wanted a little variety so would pick out a second title to go with it… ‘The Second Game‘ … These second games were a curiosity, I hadn’t specifically picked them out, but they nevertheless made up 50℅ of my playing options on this new and wondrous entertainment box. I spent many happy hours on these, often B-team, offerings so the least they deserve is a ramble now that I’ve brought them to mind:

G-LOC: SEGA Game Gear

… why pyramids?…

Whilst ‘Castle of Illusion’ occupied the top spot on this AA guzzling monster of a handheld, G-LOC (‘Air Battle’) was the underdog and, whilst I enjoy a well meaning but flawed title, G-LOC was inferior to a mischievous mouse running around an enchanted castle at every level. Being under 10 years old at the time I can’t vouch for the accuracy of my assessment of the game’s difficulty, I don’t think I ever made it past three levels of handheld aerial dog-fighting action. Two main gameplay flaws are clear in my memory; the first was the viewpoint, which placed the player right in the seat of a low-res cockpit. This conveyed very little information about the ‘size’ of virtual aircraft being piloted so, unlike the superior ‘After Burner’, dodging projectiles was a frustrating exercise. Similarly, continually scrolling games (erm.. ‘Space Harrier’ style) suffer from the projectile ‘chasing’ the player; graphically it may look as though you are turning away from the oncoming danger, but in reality the player is simply moving left or right on a  flat plane. The missions made up the second fault of the game; these begun with straight forward “Shoot down X fighters”, but moved on to destroying tanks/ships. The sluggish targeting combined with the scrolling speed made eliminating these pixilated blobs difficult at best and near impossible without missiles. Visually it was wrapped up in an unappealing package; the grey control panel took up nearly a third of the view, the sky was bland and the terrain seemed to consist almost entirely of pyramids… or smaller blue pyramids if you were over water. Of course, being only one of two games available, it didn’t stop me from trying to make progress, but it’s telling that the first thing that springs to mind when I think of those hours is the ‘Game Over’ screen showing the pilot gently parachuting back to earth.

Sonic Spinball: SEGA Mega Drive

I always kinda liked this monster…

Firmly in team-SEGA during the 16-bit era (Nobody talks about ‘bits’ anymore, but in the early 90’s they were all anyone talked about) my Sister and I spent most of our early exploration of the ‘Mega Drive II’ in those deliciously detailed zones of ‘Sonic 2’ (Top Retro Tip: Sonic 2 two-player mode with teleport boxes only is an underrated gem of couch gaming). Given that Sonic was ubiquitous at the time it is unsurprising that we were gifted a second Sonic title as the ‘other’ game, but in true ‘second game’ tradition there was a twist, dropping Sonic into a giant pinball adventure in a move that fell into the developer’s lap from the moment someone conjured up Casino Night Zone. Spinball, whilst not my favourite MD game, was a surprisingly strong addition to the library; the integration of platforming aspects, including a degree of air-control, added depth to the niche genre of virtual pinball. That red besneakered ball of blue spines bounced his way through 4 different vibrant stages, each requiring exploration to find emeralds (because it is always emeralds with Sonic) needed to unlock the boss area. Given that most of the game was restricted to flipping Sonic around toward targets and bumpers, there was a surprising amount of variety, each level distinctly themed with some interesting and fun areas to explore. Visually it had a distinctive ‘comic-book’ vibe, particularly grotesque bosses, and unique hazards & enemies which made the game stand out as different when held up next to the platform games. For the most part the game was challenging, but enjoyable, with a few frustrating sections to negotiate; the addition of the bonus stages comprising of playing a pinball mini-game as Sonic himself were a neat touch.

Men in Black: Sony PlayStation

A big problem with the game was that everything was so obscured in shadows; can you even work out that there is a bomb on a shelf here?

Whilst my often mentioned love affair with ‘Resident Evil 2’ was the driving force behind moving to the Sony system, ‘Men in Black’ was apparently “recommended  by the man in the shop” to be the vegetarian option. True to movie tie-in form, MiB has essentially been forgotten; a minor entry into the list of games released in 1997. Branded with the hallmarks of the era, it bore a number of similarities to Shimji Mikami’s zombie masterpiece including the fixed camera views, tank controls, and pre-rendered backgrounds. The game put the player initially in the shoes of James Edwards as a New York cop, then those of an MiB agent in the three remaining stages. I have never seen all four stages thanks to a particularly range-inducing section of jumping between moving platforms in the third… I cannot emphasise enough how jumping challenges should not be part of a fixed camera game with pre-rendered backgrounds… that wasn’t the first point I remember getting stuck (it took me a long time to work out how to diffuse the bomb in the first scene), but it was the last, and I’ve barely bought the title to mind since I made the decision not to pick it up again. Unfortunately those rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia have slipped over my eyes and now all I want to do is give it another shot. There were aspects of it that I remember being interesting; I enjoyed the mysterious nature of it, there was a dash of ‘point-n-click’ in there and from what I remember the spirit of the films was captured well in the enemies, cutscenes, and MiB headquarters. Maybe I didn’t give it the time it deserved as the ‘second’ game, but where the PlayStation was concerned those first few months were all about Resident Evil 2.

Ridge Race V: PlayStation 2

I guess this was one of the more scenic areas of the city

The PS2 was the final home console that I owned and I had it from launch… at least once it had been returned and replaced because of a faulty power switch. I know that some people are feeling blue about the launch lineup for the Switch, but compared to the PS2’s launch lineup it is positively sparkling. The alpha game here was ‘Tekken Tag’; I’d been a fan of Tekken 3 on the PS1, so tag felt like a safe choice, but ‘Ridge Racer V’ was a wild card. For a long time all I had were these two games and I squeezed every last bit of value out of this arcade racer, all unlocks, all courses… I ground through the 99 lap challenge on more than one occasion. After all of that I don’t have anything interesting to say about it, I enjoyed the city lights at night and the glowing brake discs, but as a game it was run-of-the-mill arcade racing. Looking back, it was a very grey game; the roads lined with concrete walls, no variety in road tone, and blocks of offices making up the Ridge City skyline. I’d describe it as ‘functional’, which may not be the most glowing praise, but as a way of showing off the new tech in a smooth fast paced way it seemed to do the trick.

So what about you? Did you have any of these? Were they your ‘second’ games? Did you have other more bizarre or excellent ‘second games?  Have you ordered the Switch? … and if so what game(s) will you be picking up on launch day?

13 thoughts on “Weird Retro Mumblings: Second Games…

  1. Extermination for PS2 was a second game for me, a game supposedly inspired by the movie The Thing and filled with Resident Evil style gameplay. I don’t remember how it made it into my collection, but I’ve always had it. Rune: Viking Warlord was the same way. It was kinda like a God of War style game, but with vikings and mead.

    My N64 was the same way, where I ended up with a copy of Donkey Kong 64, which was good, but totally not what I was interested in at that age.

    I was interested in Goldeneye, in case you wondered.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve just looked up the box art and I vaguely remember seeing Extermination. Having never owned an N64 I was totally oblivious to how much Nintendo players were into Goldeneye… I always find it weird when I stumble on something that I just completely missed, but was such a landmark to others.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Extermination is actually a pretty good game. It has a robust weapon customization system and decent graphics, along with some not-entirely-cringy dialogue.

        I just sucked at it when I was younger, so I never beat it.

        The Sega systems were the ones I never got to play around with much, and our NES and SNES stuff was all hand-me-down, so I didn’t get to pick our games really.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I miss being a kid and not realizing/not caring that video games cost money and that money is something that should be managed wisely. The whole thought of “second games” and just oddball titles in general makes me think back to some of the quirkier games I played in the N64 era that were an absolute blast. I feel like totally weird gems are still out there, but now I’m too afraid to pay for them lest they turn out to be lousy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I never owned any of these games, but I do remember wanting Sonic Spinball. I owned the other Sonic games on the Mega Drive, but the fact that I could not play this game made it seem more mysterious (especially as I had managed to play the first level using a friend’s copy). I do not remember if I owned any “second games”, but I do remember having games we called “random games” (games that we received as Birthday or Christmas presents, despite not asking for them). These games included titles such as Paperboy, Ecco the Dolphin, Pete Sampras Tennis and The Mummy Returns. Some of these games were enjoyable and some were not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, random games certainly fit in this category… Although it sounds like you didn’t end up with too much of a bad selection. Let’s face it, ECCO was a mega drive classic, despite being a feindishly difficult title (but enough of that because I’ve written about it before).

      We had a pinball game called “Crue Ball” featuring the music of Motley Crue… Who I’d never even heard of at the time!

      Liked by 1 person

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