Games as escapism during tough times

We are living in troubling times. Here in the UK we are in our third national lockdown to try and stop the spread of COVID-19, and, with no firm end-date, who knows how long it will last. It’s both a trying and tiring situation, although there are silver linings with the vaccine rollout. Bingeing on all manner of media entertainment and struggling to muster the will to regularly exercise are my two main symptoms of lockdown limbo. And I know I’m not the only one. “Normality” seems a long way away, and with the chilly winter in full flow, quality escapism provides some small relief.

This post is about comfort gaming with a good old fashioned 2D game. Continue reading

Contra: Hard Corps is a hidden ura-Treasure gem

Contra: Hard Corps looks and feels exactly like a Treasure game, before Treasure was born. A great solo or two player co-operative experience, hyperquick pace, relentless action, boss fights galore, kaleidoscopic visuals, wacky and inventive designs – these are the hallmarks of Treasure game design. These qualities shine so brightly in Treasure games like Gunstar Heroes and Alien Soldier, and it turns out these are all are present in the Megadrive/Genesis’s sole entry in the Contra series, Contra: Hard Corps. Continue reading

When Akon worked on Sonic the Hedgehog

I just had to share this fun bit of Sonic trivia that gave me a good laugh today. (And you know it’s going to be good because Sonic the Hedgehog is involved. Sonic’s involvement is a must for trivia to be considered good in my book.)

This story begins with Sonic 1 and 2 for the Megadrive/Genesis. We’ll get to Akon later, rest assured. Now, the music for the first two Sonic games was written by Masato Nakamura. Nakamura was the lead composer for a popular J-pop band called Dreams Come True. I’d vaguely heard of Dreams Come True but hadn’t ever listened to them until recently. I shouldn’t have been surprised, given the early Sonics have easily some of the most iconic videogame music there is, that Dreams Come True look to be a really good band. I know basically nothing about J-pop but this group makes me want to know more about J-pop. They sound a bit like classic Michael Jackson but with a great female vocalist.

Here they are performing live in 2014. Look out for Nakamura on bass!

Around the time of Sonic 2’s release in 1992, it seems Nakamura decided to use a melody from Sonic 2 as the basis for a Dreams Come True song. The melody he used shows up in Sonic 2 in a few different places: it’s most developed form is in the ending music, but there’s a short form of it used in the options menu. Here’s the ending, which has the fullest version.

Personally I always liked this tune but have to admit it never jumped out to me as having potential to be a pop hit. Well that’s why I’m not a superstar music producer, clearly…

Is it cheesy? Sure, a bit. But all things considered, this is a cracking arrangement and performance. I find the English vocals by Miwa Yoshida especially impressive – she sounds completely comfortable and natural singing in English despite (presumably) not being a native speaker.

This would be a nice story on its own, but unfortunately I have promised Akon content, so here goes. More than 10 years after Sonic 2 and Sweet Dream (also known as Sweet Sweet Sweet), the game commonly referred to as Sonic ’06 saw a number of bands and acts hired to record songs for the soundtrack. The results are both amusing and cringeworthy, like with one of the game’s main themes performed by Zebrahead:

Zebrahead remind us here in the chorus, lest we ever forget: in Sonic’s world, life is an open book and compromise does not exist. Sega knew that, which is why they hired then-superstar Akon to remix Sweet Dream by Dreams Come True for Sonic ’06! 

In this one remix everything comes full circle. The scales have fallen from my eyes and life suddenly seems somehow complete.

14 years after Masato Nakamura walked away from the Sonic series, he returned (in a fashion) for this oddity of a game. To recap: a song from Sonic 2 was arranged and performed by a Japanese band. Akon covered the band’s song and contributed those ridiculous autotuned vocals that made him a household name in the mid 00s. Sega then put the end result in Sonic ’06 and a trivia is born.

A nostalgic lens on ailing businesses in The Lost Arcade (2015)

The Lost Arcade is a well made, nostalgia-steeped 2015 documentary about New York videogame arcades. It charts the rise, but mostly the decline of arcade culture through to the mid-2010s. The people and themes it looks at are a much more ambitious and frankly, much better done, form of what we at Very Very Gaming were interested in with our blog posts about game stores in the UK. As a film it looks at the histories, the people, the stories, the owners and their passions in and around New York’s arcade scene.

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Frustration reigns in Dark Souls

An old friend of mine is a musician. He’s always been a musician. And his first solo album was… well, even if I listened beyond the opening track, I never mentally got past that first song, hilarious as it was. The album opened with an extended narration discussing the concept of chaos with a musical bed underneath. The monologue’s delivery was like a heavy academic paper, but the content was nonsense: “Like all good stories, this one begins with a great flash of light”. Really?

I mention the above because, like my friend’s debut, I got past but never over the opening of Dark Souls. I’ve played this game through twice now, once on the PS3 and once again on Switch. Both times, the opening hours were enough to sour the whole experience for me. (By the way, in case it weren’t already obvious, what follows is going to be rather complain-y. If you would prefer a more balanced take, try my previous post on Dark Souls). If you’re sticking with me, I’ll take you through my own experience with the Undead Burg, one of the opening areas of Dark Souls. Continue reading