They say time flies when you're having fun, so 2014 must have been nothing but playing Doom while eating cake and getting back-rubs for me because I'm sure it was only a few weeks ago that I was writing the last year-end review. Despite what my internal clock seems to think, the year is indeed drawing to a close and that means it's time for the 2014 VGJunk Review - a look back at the past year's articles, with prizes awarded in categories that I may or may not have pulled out of my backside at the last minute. So, what was 2014 all about?
Biggest Rip-Off of an Existing Game
An easy one to start with: the winner of this award is Attack Animal Gakuen, because Attack Animal Gakuen is Space Harrier with altered sprites and inferior music. Instead of playing as a man with a flying gun you're playing as a schoolgirl with a flying gun, which was apparently enough of a change to keep Sega's lawyers at bay. However, one of the game's basic enemies is a skeleton wearing sunglasses so Attack Animal Gakuen is clearly a vast improvement on the Sega classic.
Most Blatant Copyright Infringement
Konami's arcade gig-em-up Rock'n Rage is all about music - okay, so it's mostly about smashing people in the head with a guitar, but there's a musical theme to it, and that theme is "famous songs that Konami surely didn't pay a licensing fee for." How much would the rights to a Madonna song have set you back in 1986? I'm going to guess "millions of dollars," but that didn't stop Konami from slipping a snippet of "Like a Virgin" into Rock'n Rage's Ancient Rome stage, along with "Rock Me Amadeus" and this version of "Twist and Shout," among others.
Most Frivolous Moment That Captured My Heart
The animation on the mud from The Chaos Engine. It's just so perfectly gloopy, so soothing to look at, so inviting. You could slide right into it and have all your troubles and worries just melt away, and as the troubles and worries of the characters in The Chaos Engine are of the "deranged mutant army bent on humanity's destruction" variety then they could definitely do with a nice relaxing soak.
This one goes to Greg Hasting's Tournament Paintball Max'd for the Game Boy Advance, a first-person shooter that takes away the usual no-rules power fantasies of the genre and replaces them with a digital recreation of an activity that's more fun in real life anyway, catering to the extremely small subset of players who would rather shoot a wad of paint at a human than launch a missile at a giant robot or something equally outside the realm of normal human experience. Being a first-person shooter on the Game Boy Advance, it also attends to a second niche group - masochists.
Most Surprisingly Enjoyable
I'll be honest, playing a console-based strategy game recreating the trials and tribulations of founding, expanding and managing an airline did not sound like a fun time, but once I got into Aerobiz Supersonic I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would. That might not sound like a glowing endorsement because I thought I was going to enjoy it about as much as watching a twenty-hour video compilation of my most embarrassing high-school moments, but it turned out to be pretty good fun, with a great balance of complexity and simplicity.
An honourable mention must go to the ZX Spectrum version of Ninja Scooter Simulator, a game which by all rights should have been an unmitigated disaster but which actually played quite well (in an extremely limited way).
A very difficult choice between F-Zero and Castlevania: Dracula X, both of which are firm personal favourites and contain some of the best tracks on the SNES. In the end I decided to give it to Castlevania, because, well, it's Castlevania music, isn't it?
It wasn't supposed to be a comedy, but one game got more genuine laughs out of me this year than any other - the computer text adventure Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man. From the hilariously ugly sprites like the villains pictured about, to freezing Hydro-Man merely by turning an office thermostat down, to carrying in my inventory the unconscious bodies of at least four people as well as half an Ikea catalogue's worth of office furniture at once, the whole adventure was so completely bizarre that to laugh at it was the only sane response.
Most Frustrating Moment
Trying to pull off the joystick gymnastics pictured above in the Commodore 64 multi-event "sports" title Western Games. Even the cartoon cowboy from the manual knows that it's complete bullshit.
Second place: that bit at the end of Toki. The bit with the rolling platform and the narrow gap you need to jump through. The bit where I died more times than during the rest of the game combined. Yeah, that bit.
There were some excellent contenders for my favourite bit of in-game text from this years games: here are just a few of them.
This one from Spinal Breakers really appeals to my immaturity. His "magnum missile" is his genitals, you see.
Smash TV's promise that you're entering a Lazer Death Zone is so honest and to-the-point that it's impossible not to love.
The post-fight trash-talking from awful C64 fighting game Fist Fighter was definitely the best thing about the game.
My number one favourite piece of text, however, is this large pink-haired kabuki man calling me a jackanaps in arcade boxing game Prime Time Fighter. At once completely nonsensical and deeply insulting, this boxer's cruel barb will live long in my memory.
On the subject of Prime Time Fighter, the reason I didn't include that game's hugely aggravating final bout in the "frustrating moments" category is that it didn't feel like a moment, it felt like a goddamn eternity.
Playing as an alien who comes to Earth to feast on delicious human blood is weird. Playing as an alien who is in love with a human nurse and must fight his way through a hospital filled with flying pills and giant syringes to reach the object of his affections? Super weird. Put them together and you've got Bloody, runaway winner in this category.
While I find it hard not to talk about how great Knuckle Bash's wrestling Elvis impersonator Michael Sobut is at any opportunity, as anyone who has spoken to me in the past month or so will testify, my deepest affection is reserved for the skull from Pirates who pops up between stages to rattle his jawbone and say "you got it!" in his heavily-accented digital voice. I don't care if he's not a "character" in the usual sense of, you know, having some character, but he's my favourite all the same.
Also near the top of the pile for this category is Michael Joden from bootleg fighting game Top Fighter 2000 MK VIII, a martial arts master from an alternate universe where NBA star Michael Jordan's life took a different path and he trained in unarmed combat instead of basketball.
Most Disturbing Character
In a year when I wrote a whole article about clowns, it's something of a surprise that this award doesn't go to one of those mirthful merchants of malevolent merriment. Instead, the character that upset me the most this year was the boss of the Mad Bull group from Knuckle Bash.
He's a grotesquely overweight psychopath who cut the face off a pig and stitched it over his own face. As a lover of horror movies I have seen all manner of unsettling and horrifying bodily mutilations, but something about the surgically-affixed pigskin mask makes me feel uncomfortable on a visceral level.
Runner-Up: Junior, the deformed, colossal mutant baby from CarnEvil. One of Junior's main attacks is to vomit on the player. Eww.
You know, when I played Diva Starz: Mall Mania, I thought to myself "this insultingly half-arsed melange of eye-gougingly bad graphics and gameplay so underdeveloped Sea Monkeys would get bored of it after five minutes will be a shoo-in for the worst game I play this year," but I was wrong. Instead that "honour" goes to Russell Grant's Astrology, a cynical cash-in predicated on human gullibility. I admit that some of my contempt for it is down to a personal distaste for the subject matter, but no matter your feelings on astrology there is no excuse for a game with a section labelled entertainment that consists of sudoku, a pair-matching game and a bloody sliding block puzzle.
Unlike 2013, a year when my subconscious apparently decided that I needed to be punished for my sins by playing a lot of really terrible games, in 2014 I reversed that trend and played a decent amount of genuinely good games. As such, there are a quite a few contenders for "best game I played for VGJunk this year" - Castlevania: Dracula X is a great "classic" Castlevania game (final boss battle excepted) with excellent presentation, Smash TV is a masterpiece of full-on, unrelenting arcade action, CarnEvil satisfied my love for horror movies in a wonderfully gory fashion, The Chaos Engine is beautiful to look at and fun to play, Punch-Out is one of the very finest NES games ever made and it's almost puzzle-based gameplay is still hugely enjoyable today and while it's not really that great I do have a huge soft spot for Mega Man Battle and Chase. However, top of the pile for reasons including its razor-sharp gameplay, the amazing soundtrack, its unparalleled sense of speed and a healthy dollop of nostalgia is F-Zero. I loved F-Zero as a kid, I still love F-Zero now and I will love it in the astro-year 2071 when my disembodied brain is playing F-Zero to distract itself from the ever-increasing threat of robot armageddon.
My Personal Favourite Article This Year
I think it's probably the one about the bootleg videogame tat I found on Chinese shopping site AliExpress. I still think about that "Pretty Good Final Fantasy Phone Case" sometimes and laugh to myself. As for articles about one specific game, I'm fond of the one about Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man, thanks to the absurdity of the entire enterprise, or the Crude Buster article for similar reasons and because it's just so darned crude.
Right, 2014 can get lost now. That's it for another year at VGJunk - a pretty enjoyable one, truth be told. Big thanks to you if you've been reading this nonsense over the last year, and if you've got your own suggestions for any of these categories then hey, feel free to tell me in the comments. I'll be back soon to take VGJunk into the alarmingly futuristic-sounding year of 2015. Maybe I'll get an obnoxious robot sidekick.