Know what this game reminds me of? “Second Coming” by The Stone Roses. You wait ages for it to drop, and then … it’s good, it really is, but it also sort of struggles under its own weight.
For one thing, Yu Suzuki has almost wilfully ignored everything that has happened in the last 20 years of game development. Shenmue 3 is a Shenmue game, which means that it is completely a noughties game. The controls are deeply weird, the pacing is slow, the dialog stilted. It’s … Shenmue, basically. It’s like GTA, The Witcher and Red Dead never happened.
Visually, it is very very lovely. What Yu Suzuki and team have captured, magnificently, is a sort of idealised pastoral of rural China in the 80s, with saturated colours and glow turned up to max. It has a sort of dream-like quality. Combine that with the music, which is as sweeping and beautiful as ever, and you have a game which – while painfully slow at times – is never less than epic.
Does it still stand up as a game in 2019? Hmm. Not really, if I’m honest. I mean, I’m a total Sega fanboy, and I played and loved the first two Shenmue games on the Dreamcast. But you can’t pretend that the last two decades haven’t happened, and Shenmue 3 just doesn’t have the “wow” factor that it had back in 1999, and which made us overlook so much of the clunkiness in the game mechanics.
Still, for all that, it’s undeniably good to hang out with Ryo Hazuki again. Now, does anyone know where I can find sailors?
In order to force myself to calm down a bit on the political ranting, I figured I would do one of these. Here for your delectation are a few choice retro pickups from the last few months. Apologies for the bad photography.
First off, there’s this bad boy:
A friend of mine had one of these when I was a kid, and I was always oddly fascinated by it. I mean, honestly it’s little more than a socially ambitious PDA, and is oddly less usable than the Cambridge Z88 which predates it by several years, but it’s small, it’s interesting, the hinge is really cool (those icon buttons rotate down into the case as you close it) and I’m having fun getting it to talk to my Amiga. Because reasons.
Second up, I’ve finally got a Saturn light gun again:
I never had Virtua Cop 2 back in the day; my Saturn lightgun escapades were limited to House of the Dead (a darned good port as it happens, but stupid expensive now). So far the gun is a lot less accurate than I remember – or maybe I’m just getting old and slow.
Finally, we have this pleasingly batshit action RPG for the Nintendo 64:
This is a deeply weird game. I can’t work out if it’s actually good or not. There’s a video about it here that’s worth watching.
So, that’s it for now. I’ll probably post some more retro pickups as and when I have something interesting to show.
In no particular order, and (mostly) applying equally to modern and retro games alike, here is a list of things that games do all the time and which really really boil my piss.
Compulsory stealth sections in games with crap stealth mechanics. If you’re going to force the player to navigate a section by stealth, at least have the decency to build solid, fun stealth mechanics. Don’t just shoehorn it in, especially early in the game. It’s annoying, it’s not enjoyable, and as often as not I will just rage quit and play something else.
Escort missions. There has never been an escort mission that’s actually good. No, you’re wrong. There just hasn’t. Ico doesn’t count.
Putting token female characters in completely stupid clothes because “sexy” or some shit. I had thought this cishet-dudebro “hur hur tits” ridiculousness was dying out. Then I saw “Quiet” in Metal Gear Solid 5. I mean, come on people. She’s basically in her birthday suit, and she doesn’t speak. Quiet is to gender equality what Jim Davidson is to race relations. She’s worse than Barbarella, and that was an actual piss-take. And if you find Kojima’s spurious explanation (something about breathing through her skin or some bollocks) even remotely convincing, then I’m sorry but you are definitely an idiot, probably a misogynist and very likely had something to do with Gamergate.
Sub-titles turned on by default. Why. Just … why. I know games have to support sub-titles for localisation or for the hearing-impaired. That’s a good thing. But why are they turned on by default? I can hear and understand English. I don’t need your inane dialogue provided to me in text form too.
Up to jump. One for European gamers of a certain age. See, consoles weren’t really a thing here until the Megadrive/Genesis and SNES era. Before that, we played games on home computers like the Spectrum, the C64 and latterly the ST and Amiga. All of which only supported one joystick button. Which meant that most games which needed both a jump and fire/attack function (i.e. most games) used the single button for fire and up on the joystick to jump. And, rose-tinted nostalgia aside, it was utterly shit. Up to jump is wankballs.
So, yeah. I’m sure there’s loads of stuff I missed. But this is what I could think of for the moment.
A few weeks ago I bought an untested, loft-find ZX Spectrum+ from eBay. This is the first model of computer I owned, and I still remember the endless hours I devoted to fiddling with it and playing the simple games it could run. It taught me to code, too. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Spectrum+ was my best friend when I was a kid.
Anyhow, the untested loft buy didn’t work. Quelle surprise. But Speccies are pretty easy to fix; even my limited knowledge and rudimentary soldering skills can deal with a machine this basic, surely?
Turns out that I was right. First problem was that the power supply was shot. A modern PSU with the right pinout, voltage etc cost me about eight quid. With that in place, the machine powered up just fine. But the keyboard didn’t work. OK, so I replaced the membrane. Still no joy. After a certain amount of swearing it turned out I had neglected to reconnect both of the ribbon cables properly. Hook those back up … and everything works except the sodding Enter key. Which is a bit crucial, really.
So, after taking the keyboard apart again, I found that the rubber mat which presses down onto the membrane had lost rigidity under the Enter key and wasn’t quite making proper contact. A couple of small stickers to shim out the difference and … we have a working Speccy!
A bit of a scrub later, and I reckon it’s come up lovely.
Yes, I know. It’s no Amiga, or ST, or even C64. And yes, I do own examples of all of those machines. But the humble Speccy was my first love, and it’s wonderful to own a working one again. No, you have something in your eye.
It’s a 520STE upgraded with 4MB RAM and TOS 1.62. It has an HXC floppy emulator (for loading disk images from a USB thumb drive), an adaptor to allow for a modern-ish USB mouse rather than those horrible bricks from back in the day, and best of all an UltraSatan, courtesy of the magnificent Lotharek.
I do own rarer or more collectible retro machines, but the ST is a bit special. I’ve deliberately kept it very close to how the the original machine would have been in the 90s, just adding a few useful modern conveniences here and there rather than going overboard on the upgrades.
When I was a kid with a Spectrum+, it was the Atari ST that I drooled over rather than the Amiga, for some reason. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Amiga very much. I own two of them. And yes, I know that the Amiga was technically superior to the ST. But there was something about those old Silica Shop adverts that made the ST seem like this whole other world of possibilities. And let’s be honest – it just looks way cooler than the Miggy. Look at the slant on those function keys; totally pointless, but so awesome.
Starting in the top left, we have a Gamecube (with 3x Wavebird receivers and a Gameboy Advance player), a PS1, a Dreamcast, a Megadrive 2, a Mega CD 2, a Neo Geo Pocket Colour, a PSP, an Atari 2600, a Saturn, and a PC Engine CoreGrafx. On the lower shelf we have a Cambridge Z88, an Atari STE (upgraded to 4MB RAM and with a Gotek USB disc emulator in place of its 3.5″ floppy drive), an Atari 65XE and a Sinclair QL. I also have an Amiga 1200 that normally sits behind the QL, but that’s currently off with Mutant Caterpillar Games being recapped and having some dodgy soldering around the mouse port sorted out.
Because I’m a self-indulgent nerd, I also just ordered an UltraSatan for the STE. I am unreasonably excited for its arrival. There’s a whole world of STE homebrew stuff out there that requires a hard drive. I can’t wait to go delving into it.