Just say neigh: National Face Your Fears Day

What are your fears? Even the bravest person has a weakness. It could be a phobia of something like heights, spiders or flying; or it could be something a more obscure. National Face Your Fears Day tomorrow encourages everyone stare their fear straight in the eye.

For me, it’s horses – yep, horses. I know they’re considered to be majestic and graceful but I’d rather not be around the creatures and certainly wouldn’t stroke or ride one. Their huge size and the fact you just can’t tell what they’re thinking make me feel very uncomfortable. But Fed from Fed’s Life asked his Sunshine Blogger Award nominees last month what their irrational fears were so perhaps it’s time to get over my equinophobia. In honour of Fed and National Face Your Fears Day, here are six video games containing horses.

Ponies from Pony Island

Ok, so the first entry on my list doesn’t feature horses but it does include another type of four-legged steed. In Pony Island by Daniel Mullins you’ll find yourself trapped in a malevolent and malfunctioning arcade machine. The surprise is that it was actually devised by the devil himself and you’re now forced to play along with his demented game of ponies. Certain sections require you to jump your creature over obstacles – but make no mistake, this is a ride into digital hell rather than pleasure.

Four Horses of the Apocalypse from Red Dead Redemption

With the Undead Nightmare downloadable content (DLC), Rockstar Games unleashed all sorts of supernatural baddies into the world of Red Dead Redemption. One welcome sight however was the Four Horses of the Apocalypse: War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. Each mythical steed had unlimited stamina, extremely high health and their own special power and aesthetic. They could be found and tamed so they were the ultimate companions, but remained a nightmare to look at.

Agro from Shadow of the Colossus

The world created by Team Ico in Shadow of the Colossus is a lonely one, but Agro is there to keep Wander company and watch his back. There aren’t many horses who are brave enough to ride headfirst into battle with a stone giant for their master. A real bond is formed with her throughout the course of the game, so much so that watching her ‘death scene’ towards the end is absolutely heartbreaking. As much as I don’t like horses, I can see how everyone would want an Agro.

Mounts from The Elder Scrolls Online

You may begin your journey with a standard brown Sorrel Horse when you reach level ten but that doesn’t mean you can’t upgrade as you gain experience. Perhaps you’d prefer a White Mane, a cross between a midnight steed and a Skyrim ice-horse; or a regal Aurorian Warhorse with its gold-plated armour; or even a flaming Nightmare Courser, whose origins are mysterious and obscure. I think I’ll stick with my Pride-King Lion though – primarily because it’s not a horse.

Epona from The Legend of Zelda

What kind of list about video game horses would this be without mentioning Epona from The Legend of Zelda? She’s first encountered in Ocarina of Time as a young filly who’s wild and untamed, shying away from Link when she approaches. But after Malon teaches him Epona’s Song on his Fairy Ocarina, the creature develops a fondness for our green-suited hero and a life-long friendship commences. Nintendo have created one of the most famous and well-loved relationships between a boy and his horse here.

Hudson Horstachio from Viva Piñata

This entry has been added on today’s list for Dale from UnCapt because I know he’s a fan of Viva Piñata! But unlike the other horses in this post, Hudson Horstacio is a lover rather than a fighter. Give him a toffee apple, a few carrots and a snazzy rosette and he’s in the mood for romance: he’ll stare longingly at his mate from across the house to the sound of his jukebox, before rushing towards her and planting a kiss on the muzzle. I’m sure that would be pretty hot if you were a horse.

So am I ready to face my fear of horses and go riding some time soon? No, definitely not; but hopefully I’ve reminded you of some of the best steeds in gaming with today’s list. Thanks once again to Fed for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Will you be facing your own phobias tomorrow?

Pieces of 8-bit: pirate video games

Argh me hearties! Tomorrow it be the most booty-full time of year: International Talk Like a Pirate Day. All you scallywags must ask Polly if she wants a cracker and joyfully yo-ho-ho with a bottle of rum – or face a meeting with Davy Jones’ Locker after walking the plank.

Video games based on buccaneers have been a little hit-and-miss over the years (take that from someone who played Risen 2: Dark Waters on the Xbox 360, narrowly escaping the bugs and living to tell the tale). But there’s some treasure to be found out there; you just need to grab your shovel and dig around for it among all those shipwrecks. To get ourselves in the mood for tomorrow, let’s hit the digital high-seas and take a look at some of the better releases in honour of Talk Like a Pirate Day.

1984: Treasure Island

Gold, buried treasure and wealth beyond your wildest dreams! All you have to do is guide young Jim Hawkins through this action-adventure’s torturous maze to the treasure trove. Based on the book Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, fierce pirates will slay our hero at the stroke of a cutlass and with a limited amount of weapons available to him, it’s important to choose your targets wisely. Be careful though because Long John Silver will stop at nothing you prevent you from leaving with his haul.

1987: Sid Meier’s Pirates!

This was the first game to include the name ‘Sid Meier’ in its title in an effort to attract fans of Meier’s earlier releases. In a move away from vehicle simulations, players could live out their buccaneer dreams by attacking enemy ships and seeking buried treasure – or avoid violence altogether and increase their wealth through trade. The thing I like most about it is that the original versions included disk and manual copy projections, and if users got it wrong the game would continue but at a much higher difficulty setting. Pirates against pirates!

1990: The Secret of Monkey Island

What kind of list would this be without a mention of the Monkey Island series? A bilge-sucking one, that’s for sure! The original instalment was the point-and-click that got me into playing video games as a kid and made me a lifelong fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets. Perhaps the highlight of the title was the insult swordfighting mechanic. Who’d have thought that buccaneers were so intellectual, and would use witty comebacks to defeat their opponents rather than hacking them to death with a cutlass?

2002: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

In a change of direction for the series, the tenth instalment in The Legend of Zelda series is set on a group of islands in a vast sea. The fun begins during the celebration of Link’s coming of age when pirate captain Tetra is dropped into Outset Island’s forest by a large bird. After being rescued by our green-suited hero, the pair discover that his sister Aryll has been taken and so the pair set out on a voyage of discovery. Queue an adventure full of talking boats, water spirits and castles suspended in time under the oceans.

2007: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

What’s one of the first things that pops into your head when you think of buccaneers? Hidden treasure, that’s what. And who else is known to like a bit of lovely loot? Smarmy action-pro Nathan Drake, that’s who. Pirates the world over just can’t seem to shake off this annoying douchebag while searching for ancient relics throughout the Uncharted series. Ok, perhaps I’m being a bit harsh; but after listening to Drake’s irritating quips and seeing how funny he finds himself, I’m not surprised they react to him so strongly.

2011: LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean

A movie franchise with a likeable protagonist that’s proving to be popular with viewers? Then prepare yourself for yet another LEGO title! My stepson had this one for his 3DS when he was younger and went through a period of playing it obsessively after he’d been allowed to watch one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Everyone loves a bit of Captain Jack Sparrow and with your typical LEGO video game gameplay-style, it was a great title to keep an eight-year old wannabe pirate amused.

2013: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

The sixth instalment of the Assassin’s Creed series is set in the 18th century Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy and follows notorious Welsh pirate Edward Kenway. About 40% of the game takes place on water where players can hunt, harpoon, dive and take part in naval combat so a real pirate would approve. Speaking of which, Black Flag features a number of characters based on real life people; Edward Thatch, better known to you landlubbers as Blackbeard, even makes an appearance.

2018: Sea of Thieves

Fancy exploring the digital world via ship in search of treasure? Then team up with a group of friends to fight against other players and claim your stake in the endless sea. Embark on quests, engage in combat and collect loot to become a pirate legend. Although this title didn’t receive as positive a reception as we’d all expected it would at launch, the rumour is that its new content is actually pretty good so now might be the perfect time to return to the high seas.

However you’re going to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day tomorrow, I hope this post has given you enough inspiration to do it in a suitably grog-filled way. Shiver me timbers!

Wonderful women in video games

Female characters in video games have come a long way over the past few years. When I was a kid, all we had to look up to was Chun-Li from Street Fighter and pointy-boobed Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. The industry may still have some way to go when it comes to representation but there are far more protagonists nowadays who are worthy of our admiration.

A big thank you to LightningEllen from Livid Lightning for including Later Levels in her Underrated Ladies! tag and giving me the opportunity to write about the following fabulous females. She’s pretty awesome herself so if you’re not already following this lady, do yourself a favour and make sure you check out her blog today. In honour of all the amazing women in video games and the blogging community, let’s take a look at some of the best female protagonists.

A heroine who is always overshadowed by the male characters in the story

Mass Effect, video game, female, FemShep, Commander Shepard, faceAlthough FemShep has a huge following, she’s always overshadowed by male Commander Shepard. He’s the one pictured in screenshots used in articles devoted to Mass Effect; and she was a half-hearted addition to the first game in the series after BioWare only bothered to record a couple of romance scenes, change the pronouns used in conversations and tweak the armour designs. But somehow she works and she kicks butt. In not particularly trying to create a great female character, the developer lucked out and made one of the best.

A heroine who is always overshadowed by the other female characters in the story

Night in the Woods, video game, kitchen, cats, conversation, Kandy, Mom, MaeMy favourite character from Night in the Woods was Candy Borowski. I love the way the story hints at her being more than just a mum: she’s had a history (one I like to think was pretty wild) and she’s dealing with issues she’s trying to keep her daughter shielded from. Although female protagonists Mae and Bea Santello take up most of the screen-time and are the focus of the story, it’s Candy who brings both a sense of humour and the warmth of compassion to the title with her comments about eels and town gossip.

A character who had potential but was greatly underutilised in her story

The Secret of Monkey Island, Elaine Marley, woman, pirate, face, Guybrush ThreepwoodAlthough The Secret of Monkey Island will always be one of my favourite games, I wouldn’t necessarily say Guybrush Threepwood was one of my favourite characters. He becomes more and more sarcastic and idiotic as the series progresses – and it’s poor Elaine Marley who has to put up with that crap. It was she who saved the day in the original title before Guybrush mucked it up and managed to defeat LeChuck through sheer luck – and I think that makes of worthy of being a playable protagonist in her own game.

A character who you want more backstory on

Dreamfall, The Longest Journey, April Ryan, face, womanThe first game in The Longest Journey series featured April Ryan as the primary character; then the next, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, jumped forward ten-years in time to Zoë Castillo. April still made an appearance but she’d changed, the hesitant young girl replaced by a cynical woman hardened by the things she’d been through. Although Ragnar Tørnquist has said it’s very unlikely we’ll ever see a direct sequel to the first instalment, I’d love to find out more about what exactly happened to April in that missing decade.

A character with traits that are sadly overlooked by everyone

The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, Navi, fairy, LinkEveryone who’s ever played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time really dislikes Navi. I’ll admit she annoys me too with her constant ‘Hey, listen!’ but she has a lot of good traits that are continually overlooked. She’s loyal, staying by Link’s side throughout his quest to save Hyrule; she’s patient, teaching him the controls and providing clues to solve puzzles; and she has his back during battles, becoming his focusing target. So many great and caring aspects to her personality yet all we do is yell at the fairy to shut-up.

A morally-grey character

Fable II, video game, Theresa, babyIt’s difficult to share much about Theresa here as her Fable backstory is so detailed. But the most intriguing thing is the fact you’re never quite sure whether she’s on the side of good or evil: is she telling you all she knows, or has she seen the future and is now trying to guide you down a certain path? Zoë Wanamaker does such a great job at portraying the Seeress, with a perfect balance of mysticism and threat in her voice. Now whenever I see a television advert voiced by her I feel as if Theresa is trying to sell me something.

A character who should be more famous

Cognition, An Erica Reed Thriller, Erica Reed, FBI, face, gunShe may be a kickass FBI Agent who’s searching for the evil Cain Killer, her brother’s murderer, and her ‘psion’ powers might give her an advantage by enabling her to see into the past. But Cognition’s Erica is by no means a superhero and her weaknesses are exactly the reason why I love her. Raleigh Holmes does an amazing job of portraying her as a real person who’s struggling with a stressful job, tragic past and powerful secret. It’s her wonderful voice-acting and some great writing which bring Agent Reed to life.

Thanks so much once again to LightningEllen for the tag and giving me the chance to talk about these wonderful ladies! I didn’t respond to all of the prompts as there were a couple I couldn’t quite decide on answers for, so head over to her post to see the whole set. Hopefully I’ve done enough today though to celebrate wonderful women in video games and she’ll approve!

Fowl play: chickens in video games

It’s Easter! For those in the UK, I hope you’re having a lovely bank holiday and are reading this while juggling a controller in one hand and copious amounts of chocolate in the other. A long weekend is the perfect excuse for doing nothing but playing video games and eating Easter eggs.

Last year I paid honour to the oval objects by writing a post to give you all sorts of eggy-inspiration when it came to choosing your next game to play. This time however, I’m going to mix it up and focus another thing it wouldn’t be Easter without: chicks. From mothers trying to save their eggs to fowls with guns to birds with a grudge, read on to find out about the best chickens in gaming.

1982: Chicken

The earliest release on our list today, Chicken is a modified version of the Atari arcade game Avalanche. Instead of catching falling rocks with a controllable set of paddles you’re now in control of a hen who’s trying to catch her eggs in a basket after a fox pushes them from the top of the screen. If one reaches the ground it’ll hatch into a chick; and if you step on one of your children, the farmer will appear and kick you off the playing field. There are so many clichés and metaphors here that I’m not entirely sure where to start.

1993: Alfred Chicken

Eggs have been disappearing in the wild and wacky town of Pecklesville and it’s up to our hero to save the day. Alfred Chicken has amazing abilities such as walking, jumping, pecking and falling, and must use these to overcome bizarre levels full of balloons, telephones and cheese. I’m not sure what the worst element of this game is: the fact that none of it makes sense, the terrible MIDI music, or because the protagonist doesn’t look anything like a chicken despite his name.

2009: Chicken Blaster

If you fancy getting out your lightgun and reliving the days of Duck Hunt, then this Wii release might be for you: there are chickens and you blast them. Sadly though they can’t really fly away like ducks and therefore have a very limited chance of escape, which means you’ll kill an awful lot of the creatures while trying to work your way through all eight levels. I like my KFC as much as the next gamer but I’m now starting to feel a little uncomfortable about including this game on the list.

2013: The Sims 3: Fowl and Feathers Chicken Coop

Fancy making some feathered friends in an add-on for The Sims 3? You can go and talk to your chicken about important things (such as why they decided to cross the road) and if you’re lucky they’ll receive some Universal Enlightenment. If you’re not so lucky however, you’ll run into something far worse. Selecting the ‘Fight with Charles the Evil Chicken’ option causes the glowing-eyed fowl to viciously attack your Sim and it’s up to you to show him who rules the roost.

2016: EGG-K-47

The eagle-eyed of you may notice that this title also appeared on last year’s list, but I wanted to bring it back again for two very special reasons. First, you play as a chicken armed with a gun: pick up eggs as ammo for your weapon, fight off the zombies and collect all the golden eggs to continue on your epic journey through this single-bird shooter. And second, I wanted an excuse to be able to use the phrase ‘clucking rampage’. That’s comedy gold

2018: Chickens Madness

This release is included in today’s post for no reason other than the Steam trailer (which isn’t the one above, because I couldn’t seem to find it on YouTube). I’m not sure what I like about it the most: perhaps the group of kids around ten seconds in and their enthusiastic interpretation of the game’s title. Or maybe the dancing teenager in the next scene, or even the chicken opera singer. I actually have no idea what Chicken Madness is about though because I was so distracted.

Bonus: The Legend of Zelda

Ever since the introduction of a Cucco in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, a large group of indestructible chickens will appear and gang up on Link if he attacks one of them enough times. They won’t stop until he flees the area in fear or painfully perishes in a flurry of pecking beaks. I think it’s clear from the other entries on today’s list just how poorly mistreated chickens in video games have been over the years, so I can’t say I blame the Cucco’s Revenge Squad for their actions.

Hopefully this selection of games hasn’t ruffled your feathers too much (ahem). Let us know what you’re playing this Easter in the comments below, and make sure you eat plenty of chocolate!

Resident Evil 2: not going back to Raccoon City

Resident Evil 2 is all over the gaming world right now and with good cause. The remake looks utterly brilliant and is smashing it in the reviews. I was also asked by someone if I would be picking up and I had to say no.

Partly because my gaming time is limited and I don’t want to spend it wetting my pants (the main reason for not playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard) but also because I remember it the first time round. Yes, I’m of that vintage, but this isn’t a ‘games were better back in my day’ thing. It’s about experience.

It’s like the dogs through the window in Resident Evil. I’ll never have the sensation of shock and surprise of the unknown again. I expect the dogs now, I know where they’re coming from and I know when. It would be the same with the Resident Evil 2 remake. I accept that the design is different and the levels changed but I still won’t have that sensation of delving further into the station with Leon or Claire as I did in the 90s.

But what it did do was make me think of any other games that had such an effect on me that I simply refuse to play through them again. Not because I think they’re bad games, far from it in fact, but because I don’t dare sully the memories and experiences I have of them.

The first two are relatively straight forward. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening has been a mainstay in my greatest games of all time list for 25-years now. An amazing story, beautiful twist at the end, absolute pinnacle of top-down Zelda gameplay and in glorious yellowy-green and black screen of the Game Boy.

The next is Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube. Which, to explain why that seems against my opening couple of paragraphs, is because I played it in a time before I had kids and was stronger of stomach. I’ll never forget the switch in gunplay, the fear that only a chainsaw could bring and an utterly insane story. Insanely brilliant. Finished it once, put down the controller and never picked it up again despite multiple remasters being available.

Journey, video game, mountain, stranger, dessert, sky, star, sand, clouds

The big one, however, is Journey. I wish I had the words to explain the feeling I had when I made it to the end. I can remember just sitting there on my sofa, PS3 controller in hand trying to process the wave of emotions that had just hit me. I still can’t do it now but it was in that moment, that I knew games were art. They were more than just a fad, or something for kids, or a medium to be looked down on.

Journey affected me as much as my favourite song; it drew out emotions like the greatest cinema. It, to me, announced that gaming was more than pictures on a screen.

I would say it was my gaming epiphany.


The way to a hero’s heart (a QotM answer)

June’s Question of the Month is brought to you by Luna from GamersUnited GG Blog: one of the friendliest bloggers in the WordPress community who has a positive outlook on life. To find out more about her and her site, as well as how you can get involved, take a look at this post.

How on earth is a villain meant to successfully take over the Mushroom Kingdom, Green Hill Zone and Hyrule? Each are protected by some of the most well-known and loved heroes, feared by their enemies and adored by their fans: Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog and Link. If you were a boss who was planning on taking over the world, you may decide to revise your plan when it came to these locations or even give up on it altogether.

However, this is the challenge set for the community by the lovely Luna and it’s one we must therefore see through bravely. I have to admit it stumped me for quite a while and at one point, I was going to opt out of this month’s entry; but while browsing through Instagram recently, inspiration hit and I think I’ve now formulated the perfect scheme. And it’s one that doesn’t involve any violence or bloodshed, just plenty of calories.

What do Mario, Sonic and Link all have in common besides being courageous defenders of their realms and sometimes incredibly unlucky? That’s right: each member of this trio is male. And what’s the thing they say is the way to a man’s heart? Apparently, it’s food. To be honest, it’s one of the ways to many women’s hearts also – including my own – so this answer is intended to be tongue-in-cheek and not in any way discriminatory!

First let’s head to the Mushroom Kingdom. Watching The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! in the late 1980s taught me that Mario’s favourite meal is spaghetti but we also know he’s partial to a slice of cake: Princess Peach usually bakes her Italian plumber a sweet treat upon her rescue. So he’d clearly love a homemade carrot cake and Peach would be thankful that someone had given her a break from the kitchen. No mushrooms harmed in its making and plenty for all the Kingdom’s inhabitants.

Next up we have the Green Hill Zone. Continuing my education from cartoons, it’s obvious from the Sonic the Hedgehog show that the blue hero’s preferred food is chili dogs (apologies for the poor quality of the video opposite). After speaking to him about the poor nutritional value of such a meal, someone would be able to persuade him to try a spicy meat skewer instead; and he’d then declare that everyone in the Zone, particularly Robotnik, should switch to a healthy diet.

Hyrule is last on our list. Although not something learned through watching The Legend of Zelda cartoon (well excuse me princess!), Breath of the Wild revealed how well Link could cook. But the last thing you want to do after completing a bunch of quests is make dinner and it must be really difficult getting a takeaway delivered by horse in the kingdom; so if someone was to step in and offer to make this green-suited saviour a three-course meal while he put his feet up, how could he say no?

And who would this someone be? Why, none other than the gorgeous Teri Mae from Sheikah Plate. She’s the hostess with the mostess and has been putting out her interpretations of recipes from the latest instalment of The Legend of Zelda series since May last year. While scrolling through Instagram recently, I came across her photograph of Wildberry Crepes and note about her first blogging anniversary – and then it struck me how she’d be the perfect villain for June’s QotM answer!

The thing is though, this blogger isn’t the sort of person who has it in her heart to be villainous. She could easily sneak a little something extra into any of the meals mentioned above and knock out the heroic trio in an instant but this isn’t a deed I ever could imagine her doing. She’d be more likely to invite the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom, Green Hill Zone and Hyrule to a dinner party and win them over with her kindness and charm.

So that’s my answer this month: my ‘villain’ would be Teri Mae and her ‘weapon’ would be amazing food. Congratulations to her on her first blogging birthday and may there be plenty more to come.   🎂