Monday, 13 June 2011

Wait A Minute Who Pressed Start? Am I On The Left Or The Right? What? Well Which Colour Am I?...Oh I'm Dead Now

Last night finally saw the long awaited meeting of six men who for certain unfathomable reasons (and some reasons slightly more fathomable like geographical location, family commitments and the need to keep mortgage companies and debt collectors off their backs) don't get the chance to actually play the precious games they hold close to their hearts. And surely that's the point of a game isn't it? Play.

The night also marked a reunion of sorts for the talented folk who brought you Screenplay, Nottingham's, the UK's and the World's (clarification needed here) first ever weekend long video game festival with the sole purpose of celebrating video game culture. The evening was also a dry run for a potential public event tentatively titled Retro Arcade, to bring classic multiplayer tournaments to as yet unconfirmed venues in Nottingham. But more on that in the future. The line up: Myself, Paul Drury (journalist for Edge and Retro Gamer and friend to the stars, well Billy Mitchell), Jamie Salmon (game reviewer for The Evening Post and several online publications), Noel Murphy (artist, musician, cinema projectionist and all round AV wizard), Leigh Heathcote (Game fanatic with an incredible talent for breaking consoles) and Rich (errm...all round nice guy).

The evening kicked off with a couple of rounds of Treasure's superlative shooter Gradius V projected on to a huge wall of Nottingham's Switch Studios, as the beer flowed (and spilled) we took a look at God Hand, Vib Ribbon and Amplitude all the while our competitive spirits reaching new highs and our command of the Queen's English reaching new lows. Capcom Vs. SNK took us over the edge, the well worn disdain for Ken reared its ugly head. But before actual flaming shoryukens could start flying trusty Leigh sat on a PS2 pad cable, flipping the machine on its head and rendering the console useless. We'd had our first casualty, but thanks to Leigh it wasn't a human one. We salute you.

The tension was so thick you could cut it with an LCD handheld, so that's exactly what Paul did, 12 of them to be exact. Wasting no time he offered up his 'Handheld LCD Score Attack Challenge' (TM) that pitted all six challengers to select a handheld, shoot for their best score, pass on to the next player and repeat. It was a joy to hear the blips and beeps of Christmas morning circa 1986, buzzing around the studio, but it also gave me a new found sympathy for my poor parents who had to endure that sound all day long. I grabbed Tomy's Caveman (ooer), a favourite from my childhood and was immediately drawn in by its colourful display and surprisingly still engaging mechanics. As I struck the dinosaur and stole his eggs my score climbed: 500, 600. I attacked the pterodactyls, struck the dinosaur again, squirrelled the eggs away in my cave: 1200, 1300. I dodged the lava from the erupting volcano, attacked the pterodactyls now swooping for my eggs, struck the dinosaur again, my cave now bursting with dino eggs: 1900, 0...0?...Fucking 0? I appealed to my fellow challengers my score had reset, but there was a more pressing issue, Leigh sat with a suspiciously unnoisy version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in his hands. The guilty, uneasy expression said it all. We'd had our second casualty. But God bless him. It was probably rubbish anyway. His uncanny anti-Midas touch was a thoughtfully time saving move as now there were only five handhelds to get through each. Leigh, we salute you.

In the mean time the others were getting to grips with the games of yore, the challenge more akin to Wario Ware, than the actual challenge of the games themselves, the first few lives often spent figuring out what the hell anyone was doing. Also in the mix were Nintendo's Turtle Bridge, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros. Cement Factory and Rain Shower. But it seemed clear Jamie and Noel were taking the leaderboards by storm, While we sat and twiddled our thumbs they furiously attacked D-pads and jabbed buttons with theirs. When the scores were finally calculated our suspicions were correct. For the finale Paul pulled out all the stops producing from his bag of dreams one of the highly sought after 2 player Game & Watches...Wait for it...Punch Out.

As Jamie and Noel duked it out on one of the slickest looking vintage Game & Watch's in existence, Myself and Leigh were tasked with rigging up a six player Saturn for the night's main event. I know what you're thinking. Leigh and electronics. But in a bizarre twist of fate everything went smoothly. Leigh, we salute you.

Noel emerged victorious from the mini slug fest, and was crowned king of the 'Handheld LCD Score Attack Challenge' (TM), first prize a copy of Horace and the Spiders for the Speccy, the runner up prize for Jamie a gold Midway pin badge. All courtesy of Paul's overstuffed vintage game cupboards, or maybe just from stuff he'd found under the bed. Either way, what a generous chap.

So the Saturn was set up, the multi tap and six pads turning the usually rather boring looking slab into an ominous looking giant black squid. Grabbing onto the tentacles: six guys with a score to settle. The final game of the night was Jamie's choice and perhaps the most bizarre and probably the most elusive Easter egg ever conceived. Death Tank Zwei is the dream child of Lobotomy Software, creators of Exhumed and is only available via a couple of strange routes. Destroying every toilet in Duke Nukem 3D on Saturn will unlock the game, or failing that creating a save file in Quake on the Saturn system, then launching the Duke Nukem 3D disc will make the game selectable from the menu. I advise Saturn owners with a multitap to go to the lengths to track down copies of Quake and Duke Nukem 3D as what we witnessed after this rather elaborate setup left quite an impression on the six of us.

Death Tank Zwei is a simplified version of the Worms style 2D combat game, however unlike Worms, battles are played out in real time on randomly generated terrains and can only be fought in multiplayer. The game is incredible fun, tasking you with judging the distance needed to launch and land your missiles (or whatever weapon you have selected) on target, and little else. The mini skirmishes are set to an ever eroding landscape, meaning as the fight goes on, that stronghold you started out with behind the mountain, is reduced to rubble leaving you and your standing opponents often in a furious machine gun shoot out to the death. The battles themselves are over in minutes, if not seconds so its lucky (?) the game defaults to a 'best of' 50 matches. Between these battles, points earned for performance can be spent on weapons and upgrades. Foolishly the others squandered their hard earned points on poultry nukes and air strikes. But I knew that I would be the envy of the battlefield when I had saved up enough points for the 'Death's Head'. Little was known of what this, the most expensive gem in the Death Tank Zwei arsenal could do. But based on the name alone, I waited, as the rounds came and went, I saved cautiously while the others spent frivolously. Finally I had the 250 points needed, and made no hesitation. The next round I cued up my Death's Head, and pushed the A button. Oh sweet pixelated death rain, it was glorious, flattening not only my opponents but the entire hillside in seconds, and well worth the wait. Make no mistake: Death Tank Zwei is a great party game, and was conceived long before party games were the sole endeavour of JLS and Ant & Dec. The game offering those essential two factors true of all the best party games: easy for newcomers to pick up, impossible for the initiated to put down.

Noel once again emerged victorious and we all declared that in a concerted effort to ensure Noel didn't win again we would call it a night. In terms of the future of Retro Arcade: things are looking promising and rolling out this kind of fun to the general public would be a blast. Plus I didn't even get the chance to pull out my designated game for the night: A Gamecube and GBA with Pac Man Vs. Until next time...

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