The final days of 2015 lumber into view, and thank god for that - it's been a pretty miserable year for me on a personal level, and I will be glad to see the back of it. Fortunately, the act of writing about videogames has helped to thrill and entertain me over the last twelve months, although the same may not be true of VGJunk's readership, wonderful darlings that you are. Yes, even games with such dubious pedigree as Silent Assault and Pipi and Bibis helped to keep me sane and put things into perspective: the fact that I don't live in a universe where the only videogames are licensed Game Boy Color tie-ins is proof that things could always be worse. So, with a new year almost upon us, it's time for the annual tradition of the VGJunk Year Review, where I award prizes to some of the games I've covered this year in categories made up on the spot and selected according to my whims. Let's get started!
Most Shameless Rip-Off
There was absolutely no contest in this category, as Codemasters' Commodore 64 and Amiga title Prince Clumsy (AKA The Sword and the Rose) was such an unabashed clone of Ghosts 'n Goblins that it is scientifically provable that you can't talk about it without making reference to Capcom's lance-slinging classic. Even if you try to describe Prince Clumsy through wordless mugging and silent charades, an unseen force will carve the words "it's just bloody Ghosts 'n' Goblins!" into your forehead, the blood-markings forever serving as testament to Codemasters' sheer cheek.
I said he would take this title way back in January, and I saw nothing in the intervening eleven months powerful or moving enough to change my mind - the winner is King Ape from Mad Motor. I'm not a complex man, I don't need much more than an enormous, helicopter-riding gorilla wearing a crown, spiked underwear and the Lord Mayor's chains to capture my heart.
Honourable mentions go to the entire cast of Captain Commando, especially Mack the Knife (even his in-game bio describes him as "very cool") and the floating, disembodied head of Sir Clive Sinclair from A Day in the Life. Turns out A Day in the Life of Sir Clive Sinclair's Floating, Disembodied Head is a harrowing one indeed, but Clive bears it all with grace and good humour.
Biggest Waste of a License
Beavis and Butt-head are difficult characters to build a game around, and Doug is so phenomenally boring that any game based on his adventures was always going to be a one-way ticket to Snoozeville calling at Boredom Junction and Pointlessness Central, so the title has to go to Indiagames' Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Quest for Oz. Buffy's a superb fighter and gymnast who beats vampires and monsters to un-un-death with karate and (that one time, at least) rocket launchers, so it was a shame to see her appear in what is quite possibly the most half-hearted Prince of Persia clone ever created. It does absolutely nothing with the license, either, with Buffy herself being the only character from the show to appear in-game. I know the last boss is supposed to be Drusilla, but even taking into account the tiny resolution of a mobile screen it looks nothing like her and so I'm not counting her.
Most Brutal Difficulty Level
Looking through this year's articles, I noticed that I didn't write about that many really difficult games. I'm fairly sure that's because my very first article of 2015 was about Spelunker, a game so viciously committed to inflicting sudden and near-constant deaths on the player that it's taken me an entire year to recover from agonisingly grinding my way through it. I don't think I have ever uttered such a stream of foul invective at a videogame in my life, and I've played through Dragon's Lair on the NES.
It wasn't any of the games I wrote about during the Halloween Spooktacular, that's for sure - no, the only game this year to elicit a frisson of fear was Paul Norman's The Trivia Monster. After the unsettling weirdness of Norman's Forbidden Forest, I was hoping for more of the same from Trivia Monster, and boy did I get it in the form of the titular monster's scream, the horrifying sound of a robot programmed only to feel pain trying to drag itself out of a burning cheese grater.
It was a fairly weak year for top-quality soundtracks, but as is so often the case Castlevania came to my ears' rescue with the music from Castlevania Legends.
Most Pleasant Surprise
Quite a few games this year turned out to be much more enjoyable than I first anticipated: Moon Crystal is very close to being a true "lost" classic in the Famicom's library of platformers, Riding Fight was so beautifully dumb that I could overlook many of its flaws and Heavy Smash is just pure arcade fun. However, I have to give this one to Big Fish Game's pixel-pecking hidden object spook-a-thon Halloween Trick or Treat. The cluttered, kitschy mess that makes up the game's environments is an aesthetic that's wired directly into my brain's pleasure centres, and I found the act of hunting around for disguised items deeply relaxing. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I have developed something of an addiction to horror-themed hidden-object games, and since Halloween I have played a considerable amount of them including both the Halloween Trick or Treat sequels and several others. There you are, then: final proof, if proof were needed, that I have no business writing about whether a game is good or not.
Most Poorly-Timed Article
I probably should have saved all those words about Return of the Jedi until a couple of weeks ago, huh?
Scare Bear for the C64. Why was it called Scare Bear? Where was that bear even going? Why were tiny astronauts trying to kill him? Did he defund the space program for tiny people or something? There are no answers to any of these questions, leaving Scare Bear as a true enigma for the ages.
I was looking at the list of this year's articles. Battlecry is on there. I could not remember a thing about Battlecry other than you punch people in it and honestly, that's fifty percent of the games I write about. As someone whose brain is nothing more than a fleshy filing cabinet for side-scrolling beat-em-up information, this means Battlecry might be the most generic slugfest ever created.
Best In-Game Text
Always a hotly-contested category, this one, and amongst my favourites are the various messages in the wonderful Advanced Lawnmower Simulator, even the ones that cruelly compared me to Helen Keller.
Shadowgate was another highlight, with text that veers between sarcastically calling out you, the player, for your dumbass decisions like, I dunno, punching yourself in the face, and describing even the plainest items as though they were artefacts of such wondrous beauty that you eyeballs will rub their eyeballs in disbelief should you happen to glance at them.
Doug's Big Game featured a goat emergency, which was nice.
However, the clear winner in this field is Riding Fight, a game packed to the rafters with poorly-translated and utterly charming dialogue, from the orders that villains should be "manacled and punished" to the hero's quip that his wild adventure is "only a daily experience." Best of all is the enigmatic phrase "what a gravy day," a phrase that manages to communicate it's meaning despite not really meaning anything.
Always a tough choice, this, and I'm still undecided whether that's because the vast majority of retro games are shite or because I am compelled to inflict mental anguish upon myself by playing the worst of the worst. So, who were the contenders this year? Imagine: Doctor was seemingly an attempt to put all who played it into a coma with a one-two punch of extreme tedium and being deeply patronising. The same is true of Disney's Doug: Doug's Big Game, and the manufacturers of sleeping pills the world over are praying Doug's Big Game doesn't become common knowledge because it'll put them straight out of business. TimeCop on the SNES? I'm not going to finish describing it, just like the developers didn't finish making the game. Silent Assault was a typical dollop of unlicensed NES misery, and Penalty Soccer must surely have been the result of one man's quest to remove everything you could consider beautiful from the Beautiful Game. You might be thinking "maybe the winner is Barbie: Fashion Pack Games, a title that contains neither fashion nor games?" Well, you're close, but Barbie takes second place. The winner, and winner by some considerable margin, is Game Boy Color abomination The Mask of Zorro. Hateful gameplay and controls, graphics so bad they'll make you wish the very concept of pictoral representation had never been invented and parts of the game that are almost literally impossible all add up to create a steaming pile of excrement that is this close to dethroning NSYNC: Get to the Show as the worst videogame I've ever played.
On the flip-side, there were some games I didn't hate this year. It was nice to finally finish Shadowgate, which remains a jolly little adventure, accidentally leaping out of windows notwithstanding. Captain Commando has been a favourite for many years and thankfully I haven't become any less enamoured with it over time. However, head and bat-wings above the rest this year was Capcom's mighty monster mash Vampire Savior, a product from a company at the very top of its game that is absolutely drenched in detail, care and attention. It's got a great cast of characters, the presentation is fantastic, the gameplay is pitch-perfect and one of the stage backgrounds is a giant god-foetus with an eyeball in the sole of its foot. Play Vampire Savior now or at your earliest convenience, is what I'm saying.
My Personal Favourite Article This Year
It has to be the one about Halloween Trick or Treat. I just had so much fun writing it that I was disappointed when I'd finished, and it left me feeling more Halloween-y than I have in years and that is very important to me. Also enjoyable were the Street Fighter II Character Encyclopaedia, (because I got to marry my twin loves of Street Fighter and really stupid jokes,) Fright Night, that time I played a bunch of Super Mario Bros. hacks and the big, beefy men of the Amiga's title screens. Rarely have so many lazing tracings of Boris Vallejo pictures been collected in one place.
And there we go, another year down and still somehow VGJunk trundles on into the future. I hope you've enjoyed this year's articles, and grateful thanks to everyone who's sent me an encouraging message or comment. I'll be back in the new year with more of this sort of thing, assuming I can tear myself away from Bloodborne.