I had chosen four games that had given me trouble preciously. There was the cute little bastardathon, Yoshi’s Island on GBA for some portable challenge. For a completely different atmosphere and an all out not-cute-at-all-at-all title, The Suffering: Ties That Bind on PS2 reared it’s incredibly ugly head. Also on the menu was the triangle titted nightmare, Playstation’s Tomb Raider: Revelations, which has mocked me since about 2001. Last, but certainly not least, was an epic that forced me to delete my file on the original Playstation and restart from the very beginning about four times over the last decade, yet never allowing me to view the final scene- Final Fantasty VIII. I knew from day one that these games were gonna put up a fight, but I cracked my knuckles, reached for my joypad, bellowed out the words “Let’s Rock!” in my best Duke Nukem voice, and jumped headfirst into the challenge!
I started with Yoshi, a game that I was more bemused by than beaten by. It’s been on the backburner for so long that it pretty much evoprated into clouds with eyes a long time ago. I’d forgotten all about it until my girlfriend brought it back to my attention. The mechanics of the game always kinda put me off it. The idea of launching eggs and trying to richochete them off walls to hit more impressive shots and slap seed-spitting monkeys out of trees just kinda bored me... and made me want eggs. It’s an adorable game, but I always just wanted it to play like Mario. Luckily, it’s not only cute, it’s also incredibly easy. I’d turn it on any time I had a few minutes to spare and no eggs to eat, and blast through a handful of levels before putting it away. This way, it was like a shotglass of multicloloured dinosaur goodness. Even taking it in short bursts like this during lulls in the day or sitting on the jacks, I still managed to beat it within about a weekend, with 140+ lives to spare. I must admit though that by the time I’d finished this title, I’d found myself completely capivated by it’s charm. It’s crayon inspired art style that looked like it was drawn by Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls, the main tune that plays throughout most of the levels, the absolute cutesiness of a dinosaur with boots on; it all got me in the end and I wound up having a really good time. I certainly don’t consider it one of the best platformers of all times, as many people do, and it’s not a patch on the original Super Mario World, but it is a fun little game.
While playing through this time around, I’d forgotten how far into the game this bastard section actually was. By this time Lara had already been tricked by her mentor, battled some mythical rhino, and taken a train ride with an army of machine gun tooting ninjas. I’m starting to think that this game may have been where the Tomb Raider series lost sight of itself, and why it was all but dead until Legend was released several years later. Having said that though, when Lara gets some time alone to actually raid tombs, this game is nothing short of gorgeous.
Out on the costal ruins, enjoying the sun and the skeletons, I found myself very lost once again. I must have spent hours traversing over and back through these ruins, back to the town, back to the ruins, under the castles, on top of the castles, returning to the town once again. I even wound up in a humongous underwater tomb, buried beneath the castle, but with my current inventory, there was nothing I could do there except follow the road back to the coast once more. I was stumped! No matter what I tried, I would just find myself running around in circles again in what I’ve come to refer to as “chicken form”. In fact, I didn’t even get as far as I did back thirteen years ago.
The final result: England 1- Spud nil. Tomb Raider may have beaten me, but there were still two games left on my challenge. There was still a chance that I could pull this back and come out on top like a gaming action hero. I wasn’t going to stop there, I wanted to beat this challenge. I wanted a reason claim that I was the Arnold Schwarzefingers or Jean Claude Van Thumb of video games, and so I broke out the PS2 (not that my arm would need much twisting there) and began The Suffering: Ties That Bind.
If ever there was a series deservant of a reboot, TheSuffering would be it. A damn horror shooter based around a man with Hulk sized anger issues, inprisoned for murdering his own family. Ties That Bind takes the setting out of the prison and onto the streets of Boltimore where hideous creatures are running rampant and destroying the city. Because of this, there is a large military presence throughout this game, and they’re just as happy to put holes in you as the monsters are. One thing this game could never be called is “easy”. Your health drops from full to fucked in a matter of seconds, and healthpacks are never as plentyfull as you might like them to be. This is a game that quite simply wants to destroy you. A game that knows it can beat you, and will happily prove it time and time again. The Suffering: Ties That Bind simply doesn’t give a damn about you! With that in mind (proven to me in spades during the opening levels), it was time to unleash my inner animal, just as the game’s star, Torque, needed to unleash his.
In a few scenes, you’re the gunner on the back of a military vehicle as it rushes through the streets. A typical turret section really, but it leaves you with absolutely no cover and even less time to react as monsters use long range weaponary to put you to death. These sections were cheap as cheap could be, and I barely survived them.
When I finally floored the chopper, I moved on to the next section to be greeted by a gigantuan worm boss and a bunch of shadow Triggermen. Shadow version of enemies can only be killed when you’re in beast form. This is done by building up a power bar, which simply takes forever to do. Again, before I killed the worm, it showed no signs of damage, and had me second guessing myself about whether or not I was actually hurting him.
Finally, I was onto the final boss. This guy continued the game’s bullshit trait of never letting you know if you’re actually doing it right. He would only damage if I was in beast form, but even then there were no tell tale signs that I was actually hurting him. The final battle felt like it lasted forever, as I had to constantly refill my beast bar by murdering smaller enemies. But they were usually acompanied by shadow version which also had to be stopped. However stopping them would usually drain a whole precentage of my bar, thus catching me in a tedious loop. Add in Arsonists (monsters that can set you alight and pretty much annihilate your health bar over time) and you’ve got yourself a tough boss battle. Patience and perserverance were the key here. When the big bad boss finally bit the big bad dust, I was greeted with one of the cheapest endings I’ve seen in many years. But that didn’t phase me, because it meant that I’d beaten another game, and I was that much closer to completing my challenge.
Now, years have passed, and this game has still been staring at me from my shelves. Beckoning me to try again. I’m older and maybe even a little bit wiser. I like to think ahead, as oppossed to just attacking with the biggest moves I can find. I like to strategise, and I’ll happy take a back seat and play the waiting game when the time calls for it. Plotting, planning for every concievable outcome while in the heat of battle, making sure that no attack goes unchecked. All this, and I still manage to get the spelling wrong when nicknaming my GFs.
I started as I usually would, on a mission to collect all sixteen of the game’s GFs. This in itself is quite a feat, as it’ll take about three of the game’s four discs to obtain them all. I had no intention in using them in battle though. Instead, I wanted them to work with me behind the scenes. Each GF can learn different abilities, which will help the human team out. When a GF is “junctioned” to one of my team, they’ll then possess the GFs powers. As the GF level up, the learn more and more powers, creating more oppertunaties for my team to become stronger in various fun little ways. My stratedgy was to make these monsters turn my boys into absolute killing machines, but without dragging the beasts into battle at all.
Some of the GF abilities, when used right, have potential to create powerhouses out of the girly little team. Str Up gives characters a strenght bonus each time the level up. Hp Up does the same thing for hit points. Seperating the GFs to juntion with certain party members in such a way that no one character is overpowered was my aim. Instead, my whole damn team slowly became overpowered! As I continued my grind against the game’s hardest enemies on Island Closest to Hell, I’d receive huge helping of EXP to quickly level up. In turn, coupled with the Str and Hp Ups, my team could easily do anyway between 4,000 and 9,999 damage each time they attacked. That’s more damage than even my strongest GF could dish out. A little more junctioning to make sure I had the upper hand, and suddenly one of my team you put the enemy to sleep each time she hit it, and another would blind them. All in all, I tried my very best to give the computer no fucking chance to attack me.
The boss here picks a three man team from your six characters at random. She threw Squall (the game’s main hero) in with a two character’s that I hadn’t even junctioned. It was up to Squall to lead the fight. Knocking what can only be known as “the bejaysus” out of the evil sorcoress with each hit, Squall held his own until this team mates were eventually destroyed and replaced with two fully junctioned, battle-hardened bastards... who still looked like girls. This team pulled through, without the ability to even use their GFs in battle, or used their Limit Break attacks, they fought bravely, landing hit after hit while circulating enough health magic to keep them on their feet all the way through the boss’s four forms and finally onwards to the game’s credits. Those same credits that I’ve been trying to see for twelve years. After That ending that I often dreamed of, finally played out before me.
It’s been an exciting challenge, to see if I’ve improved throughout the years. It took half a year, 100+ hours of play across four games in six discs, one cart, and three consoles. It’s had it’s ups and downs; the joys of getting to replay games that I’ve loved for years, and the desperate panic when the PS3 wouldn’t play discs three and four of Final Fantasty VIII. The whole challenge almost ended upruptly there and then. I thought I’d lost 50 hours of playtime. Luckily, the PSN edition plays from the same internal memory card, so I bought that in a desperate bid to play on. I’ve enjoyed challenging myself this way to see if I’ve evolved as a gamer, and if I’ve learned from my mistakes. Ultimately, I think I really have grown. Like a Squirtle to a Blastoise, I’ve changed everything about myself except for the bare essentials; the want to win. Over the years, I’ve learned patience, I’ve leanred to think ahead, to delph into the game’s mechanics and use them against it. If nothing else, I’ve become more ruthless, using everything I can to my advantage. I’ve also learned that Yoshi’s Island is more than just a cuddly little game. It’s been a rough ride over the last six months, but it’s also been a fun one. For many, this could be the most boring journey imaginable, but for me it’s been one of self discovery, and a whole lot of sitting down. What makes a true gamer? I don’t know, but if I can continue to play and enjoy the games that I love, I really don’t care.