Given the opening paragraph included mentions of both 2017 and Fist of the North Star, “biggest disappointment” seems like an appropriate category to begin with because I’m awarding this dubious honour to the Super Famicom one-on-one fighter Hokuto no Ken 7. I love Fist of the North Star, I love fighting games, so a Fist of the North Star fighting game should be something I really enjoyed… but not like this. Not when it’s a dull, clumsy mess of wildly unbalanced characters and special move inputs that capture the grace and power of the Hokuto Shinken fighting style about as well me singing along to Rock Band captures the grace and power of Europe’s "The Final Countdown."
Amiga platformer Demon Blue gets a mention here, because it has a strange visual style packed with torso-less angels and walls made of eyeballs… and then you read the manual and find out you’re playing as some kind of astral projection of a dead Scottish schoolkid. However, top spot on the weirdometer goes to the unreleased NES game Drac’s Night Out. It takes the crown for two reasons: it’s a game where you play as a cutesified Dracula who’s looking for his lost love but who gets information by creeping into women’s rooms at night and turning them into puppets helpless against his powers of mental domination, and also because the whole game was a tie-in with Reebok trainers. When you think basketball shoes you think vampires, right? Well, you do now, even though Dracula can turn into a bat and thus would have little use for shoes that help him jump higher.
There was also ZX Spectrum shooter Death Star Interceptor. The gameplay was perfectly straightforward – “spaceships shooting other spaceships in space” is one of the most foundational of all videogame concepts – but the weird semi-licensed hinterland that it occupied, making it half an official Star Wars game? Now that was strange.
Biggest Waste of a License
You might think Hokuto no Ken 7 would also cover this category, and there’s definitely some overlap. However, there are some good Fist of the North Star games out there but beloved claymation kid’s show The Trap Door has never had a good videogame adaptation. The home computer waddle-em-up Through the Trap Door was an incredibly fussy jumble of hard-to-discern puzzle triggers and viciously exacting platforming sections, and it’s a damn shame because with some skill, effort and talent The Trap Door could make for a really great point and click adventure. I’m aware that calling this the biggest waste is a little overblown when the amount of people clamouring for a good Trap Door game is limited to, well, just me, but I can’t help but be sad that there wasn’t even a mediocre NES platformer where I can control Berk and clobber ‘orrible scunge monsters with a rolling pin.
Most Pleasant Surprise
On the other hand there were quite a few games that were better than I expected, or that I had no expectations about but turned out to be fun. Video System’s barking-mad arcade racer Lethal Crash Race was an invigorating jolt of high-speed action with a pleasing layer of madness in the characters and endings. PS1 ollie-em-up Street Sk8er was no Tony Hawk’s but it did it own thing and did it well, and NES bootleg Donkey Kong Country 4 did an admirable job of squeezing a SNES classic into a pirate NES cartridge. In the end, though, I think I’ll go with Bruce Lee on the Commodore 64. It wasn’t a total surprise, because I know some people view it as a genuine classic, but I still didn’t expect it to be as fun as it was. Slick controls, solid run-n-jump action and the lack of the frustratingly high difficultly level that plagues so many C64 platformers made Bruce Lee a little treasure to play.
Biggest Rip-Off of an Existing Game
Even when excluding bootleg NES conversions of existing properties, this was still a hotly-contested category. London Taxi Rushour (I’m still annoyed about that spelling of “rush hour”) took Sega’s Crazy Taxi changed little besides replacing the “crazy” with “boring.” Cocoto Kart Racer wanted to be a Mario Kart game so badly that banana peels began spontaneously generating behind me while I was playing it. Those are egregious examples indeed, but only one game I played this year was pulled from store shelves for being a blatant, unrepentant theft of intellectual property, and that’s The Great Giana Sisters.
Best In-Game Text
Batman telling Mr. Freeze to “chill out” in Batman: The Animated Series for the Game Boy was the first choice that sprang to mind, just for how out-of-character it feels. I can just imagine Mr. Freeze actually stopping in his tracks and saying “c’mon, Batman, I thought you were better than that.”
I also enjoyed Frank’s ending from arcade brawler Legionnaire, because as an extremely unambitious person myself the idea of someone’s lifelong dream being to run a fun-fair hotdog stall is strangely heartwarming. If you want to become the E. Coli Fairy, Frank, you go for it.
Halloween: The Pirate’s Curse saw the return of “spooky dooky,” the series’ trademark catchphrase and a pair of words that have such a strong effect on my brain’s pleasure receptors that I’m beginning to suspect that they were used by the government as part of a brainwashing program that didn’t quite take.
My absolute favourite in-game text of the year was the song titles from execrable “dance” game Rhythm Beat, though. I hope you find it as impossible as I did to pick a a favourite from such amazing tracks names as “Bloddy Dusk,” “You’re Disgusting” and “Flying Flies.”
Toilet Truble on the ZX Spectrum included this fun gag about notorious joystick-mangling sports game Decathlon, which elicited a genuine laugh from me.
Arcade shooter Crossbow’s antagonist the Master of Darkness was another highlight, looking as he does like someone who once appeared in a made-for-TV adaptation of a Shakespeare play but who now teaches a drama class at night school. You can’t see his body here, but I guarantee he’s wearing a turtleneck jumper.
McDonald’s-themed Famicom platformer Donald Land's ending also stuck in my mind, because Ronald McDonald standing on an oil drum with the word “HERO” painted on it allows for two equally hilarious interpretations: either Ronald saved McDonaldland and all its inhabitants and this was all the thanks he got, or he painted the barrel himself and set it up in the middle of town in a shocking display of sore winner-ship.
But when the dust settles, a clear winner emerges and it’s the blank-eyed and clearly psychotic visage of Shrek from (whisper its name with a shudder) Game Boy Color beat-em-up Shrek: Fairy Tale Freakdown. Just imagine this face softly whispering “donkey, donkey, donkey” over and over again.
I can’t believe I’m saying this but I was considering an honest-to-goodness clown for the title of this year’s best character. Kid Klown from Kid Klown in Crazy Chase is full of, well, character, and even though the game itself was often a chore to play seeing all of Kid’s various comical and very charming animations was definitely a pleasure. Also in the running was the brave and loyal rat from generically-named C64 adventure Dark Lord, a companion so just and true that he even forgave me when I used his tiny rat body to short-circuit an electrical contraption. I have yet to forgive myself.
Top billing definitely goes to Mr. Meringue from The Movie Monster Game, however. He’s a fake Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. That’s really all you need to know. The Movie Monster Game also features an official, fully licensed Godzilla, so for Mr. Meringue to top that just goes to show how much I love him.
Oh no, I didn’t cover a Castlevania game this year, did I? That always makes it much easier to pick a favourite soundtrack of the year, so now I’m going to have to put some thought into it. Well, there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, with it’s high-energy interpretations of the TMNT cartoon’s theme song – that’s a good soundtrack. Mega Man 4’s soundtrack might not have been quite as good as Mega Man 3 and 2’s, but it’s still well above average.
And then there’s Sonic the Hedgehog’s soundtrack, which is head and shoulders above even the OSTs mentioned previously. While my feelings about the Sonic games are mixed I can’t fault their soundtracks, and that level of musical quality was present right from the first game in the series. From the iconic, sun-dappled Green Hill Zone theme to the smooth bass groove of Starlight Zone, it’s a delight from start to finish.
As always, I played a lot of really bad game this year. Is that because I’m a masochist who feels a need to punish himself? No, of course not, that’d be weird. It’s just fun to write about truly awful games and heaven knows there are plenty of them out there. So, what did I find this year after scraping through the bottom of the barrel and deep into the dungheap that the barrel was sitting on? I already mentioned Shrek: Fairy Tale Freakdown, and “Game Boy Color fighting game based on Shrek” sums it up rather succinctly. Also on the Game Boy Color was Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course. I’m sure many of you thought that this’d be a shoe-in for the title, and it’s definitely a very close second with it’s barely-there gameplay, hideous graphics and nonsensical love-gathering board game sections. And let’s not forget (as much as I’d like to) Rhythm Beat, the dance game starring nightmarish cardboard golems that can be completed by doing nothing but rotating the analog stick, or the soul-dulling animal cruelty misery-thon of Family Dog.
The crème de la crap this year was the first game I covered in 2017, so at least it was all uphill from there. I’m talking, of course, about the Commodore 64 adaptation of the cult classic decapitation-themed movie Highlander. Highlander is a game truly jaw-dropping in the simplicity of its badness: it doesn’t work. The controls don’t work, the collision detection doesn’t work and frankly I’m amazed it even loads up at all. I’d say you’d have more fun with a blank cassette tape, but then you’d be missing out on Highlander’s solitary redeeming feature – the SID rendition of Queen’s “A Kind of Magic.” Sadly, Highlander is so bad that even this one positive feels like a kick in softest parts of your anatomy, like finding twenty pence in a pile of dogshit you trod in.
Best game, huh? Best game… now, let me see. Hmm. Okay, so I kinda feel like I didn’t play anything exceptionally amazing for the site this year. Not for a “proper” article, anyway – I wrote about both Bloodborne and Silent Hill 2 and those are my two favourite games of all time. But for full, start-to-finish articles? I covered a lot of games that were good but none that I felt really moved into “excellent” territory. Some of the strongest contenders are, unsurprisingly for me, a trio of classic arcade beat-em-ups in Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sega’s Golden Axe and Alien Storm. All three are fun, solid brawlers with great presentation but they’re all lacking that special something: TMNT’s combat is a little simplistic, Golden Axe feels a bit rough around the edges and Alien Storm goes on too long. Sonic the Hedgehog is a very good game and I had fun playing it but it’s just not quite me. Mega Man 4 is also a very good game but it’s also hard to escape the feeling that it’s a slightly less enjoyable version of Mega Man 3.
You know what? Screw it. I’m going to say Halloween: The Pirate’s Curse is the “best” game I played this year. Why the hell not? I’m not saying it’s objectively a better game than Sonic the Hedgehog or Mega Man 4 and I wouldn’t expect anyone else to rank it that way, but it’s the game I most enjoyed playing and I’ll definitely play The Pirate’s Curse again before I go back to Golden Axe, you know? I’ve made my peace with having terrible taste in basically everything, and I’m comfortable with this decision.
I am almost entirely incapable of deciding whether any article I’ve written is any good, but a few do stand out as being particularly fun to write. The NES version of Predator was enjoyable thanks to the overall strangeness of the product, with a very pink Schwarzenegger and the shocking appearance of Big Mode. Also starring Arnie was The Terminator for the Megadrive, and it was nice to finally put a childhood ghost to rest by finishing that one. Going through all the monsters found in Quake was a real pleasure, and I always love writing about the beautiful game so the article about football game covers was another highlight, even if it did mean I ended up thinking about Peter Beardsley’s face.
My absolute favourite piece of the year was the Ephemera article about Bloodborne. I love playing Bloodborne, I love writing about Bloodborne, I love texting anyone I know who owns a PS4 whenever Bloodborne is on sale. It’s on sale on the PS Store right now, buy it if you haven’t already.
And so concludes 2017 here at VGJunk. I’ll be back in the new year. Will I play some god-awful Game Boy Color games? Yes, I will. Will I play any good Game Boy Color games? I suppose it’s possible, although unlikely. Will I be upset when I reach October 2018 and realise I’ve run out of Halloween: Trick or Treat games to cover? My friends, I shall weep the most bitter of tears. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s articles, and many thanks to anyone who has read them, commented and shared the articles around the internet. I’ve got my fingers crossed for 2018.