My blogging-friends and the games we’ve shared

Valentine’s Day is the celebration of love – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that feeling must be romantic. Love can encompass all sorts of relationships, from family members to good friends, from people you’ve met through blogging to your cat.

This is recognised by DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog in February’s EXP Share event. The subject for this month is ‘Share a story that involves someone special to you’ and as he points out himself, this can be ‘a significant other, older or younger sibling, parent, close friend, your Twitch chat, the voices in the wall or your pet’. I’ve decided to give a shout-out to the people who have been keeping me sane during the lockdown and share some of the video games we have in common.

Ellen from Ace Asunder

As covered in my post for the #CreativeChristmasCollab, the awesome Ellen is now someone I speak to every day and share hundreds of cat memes with. Our friendship was tested when we participated in a game-swap last year and she made me play Final Fantasy XIII in return for Her Story. I’m just joking: after over 50 hours of gameplay, getting hit with instant death attacks by the final boss several times and a 03:00 finish, I’m still talking to her. And that’s even though she doesn’t like full-motion video (FMV) heroes Poe and Munro.

GD from Gaming Diaries

When I decided to revisit a nostalgic game as part of our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 last year, GD was one of the only people who supported my decision. Sure, Herdy Gerdy is an old PlayStation 2 title that not many people have heard of and won’t be to everybody’s tastes: there’s no action or explosions but there are plenty of cute little animals. It’s funny how it’s now become a running joke in our Twitch chat and GD champions the return of Herdy Gerdy while everybody else groans.

Luke from Hundstrasse

Luke and I have known each for ages through the blogging community, but we finally met in person for the first time at the Rezzed expo in 2018 where we watched a talk by Tim Schafer. When COVID-19 put a stop to our plans for meeting up at the London Gaming Market in March last year, we decided to do a game-swap by post and this saw me working my way through crazy platformer Whiplash. This game sums up Luke’s sense of humour: random, hilarious and absolutely perfect.

Teri-Mae from Sheikah Plate

Although Teri-Mae and I met through blogging, it’s pretty rare that we talk about video games nowadays. We’re more likely to discuss politics, world events, social commentary and baking. Saying that though, I’ve recently been trying to persuade her to give The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a go after she decided to pick up something different and play Uncharted. Hopefully we’ll soon find Teri-Mae sneaking through Tamriel as a Khajit, going undetected and stealing all the sweet-rolls.

Kevin from The Lawful Geek

I’ve known Kevin since I started blogging in 2013 and he finally convinced Pete and I to try our first tabletop RPG towards the end of 2019. A year later and we’re still surviving in Shadowrun thanks to the support of fellow players Kat, Ozzy and Diane. Head over to the The Lawful Geek on Twitch every other Thursday to find out how we’re getting on – and you can also join Kevin there for an evening with special guests in support of GameBlast21 from 20:00 GMT this Saturday.

Friend-of-the-blog Phil

Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve known Phil for over 15 years. We first met when I started working at our current workplace in London and now he’s making himself known on Twitch (although we still haven’t managed to convince him to start up his own blog yet). Our shared love of FMV games started when we had the chance to meet Her Story creator Sam Barlow at an expo in 2015 and he streamed it shortly afterwards, and now we both keep an eye out on Steam for upcoming releases in the genre.

My stepson, Ethan

He used to be so cute and then he turned into a teenager… still, at least he realises how good the classics are. Ethan and I have shared many gaming memories over the years but my most recent one is us playing The Secret of Monkey Island together for its 30th anniversary. He spent the first hour or so of the stream talking in a Russian accent (I have no idea why) and no doubt he’ll return for another one soon. Unfortunately I can’t tell you which voice it will be next time though.

My husband, Pete

One of the questions Pete asking me during our first conversation was who my favourite Street Fighter character was. Since then we’ve played plenty of video games together and I have fond memories of us huddled together over a laptop in my small flat when we first met. The one we probably spent the longest on was The Witness; he even went to the trouble of making a physical board and pieces that replicated some of the puzzles in the title so we could solve as many of them as possible. There’s nobody else I’d rather be tackling these challenges with.

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog for a heart-warming subject this month. If you’re interested in joining in with February’s EXP Share, you have another week until the deadline and can find all the details in this post.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


Whiplash: weasel your way out of this one

COVID-19 has meant many gaming events have been cancelled this year. EGX Rezzed has been pushed back by three months; Insomnia66 was abandoned in favour of Insomnia67; and my other-half and I made the decision to not go to the London Gaming Market in March.

This may have been the right choice but obviously we were disappointed. You see, not only were we looking forward to picking up some additional games for our PlayStation 2 and Master System collections, we were also planning to meet up with the awesome Luke from Hundstrasse at the event. We hadn’t seen him in person since the meeting for the first time at EGX Rezzed in April 2018 and so we’d all been excited about some retro-gaming talk over a coffee or two.

In addition, Luke and I had been plotting a collaboration about our time at the London Gaming Market: we were going to search the stalls to find an obscure title for each other within an agreed price limit, so we had something to take home and review. Rather than letting the coronavirus ruin our plans completely, we decided to carry on with our project using snail-mail and you can find out about the strange games I sent to him in this post on his blog (he knows how sorry I am).

One day a package landed on my doormat and opening it revealed 2004’s Whiplash for the PlayStation 2. It’s not a release I’d ever heard of before this collaboration, but at first glance it certainly seemed to fit the brief of being ‘weird’. The front of the case pictured an angry white rabbit being thrown at a pane of glass by a weasel and I was surprised to see the Crystal Dynamics logo in the bottom corner; this looked nothing like a Tomb Raider game and I wasn’t sure Lara Croft would approve.

As with all good retro games, the accompanying booklet provided a lengthy overview of the storyline and characters (I really miss those manuals). The title is set within the walls of the Genron Corporation, a high-tech laboratory where animals are used to test products for humans. Spanx is a crazy weasel once used for electro-shock testing; Redmond is a know-it-all rabbit who failed his last mascara test in the makeup lab; and they’re now due to be chained together and shoved inside the Genetic Recombinator.

The company’s diabolical plan is to fuse them together into a freaky new creature but a miracle happens: our heroes somehow escape from their cage at the last second and now they must get out of Genron together. What lies in front of them is a perilous journey through a place where chimps with afros are given extreme haircuts, hamsters are fired at walls just to see how well they stick, and a cheery announcer provides messages about new product lines and how the abuse of animals is great.

Whiplash, video game, box, PlayStation 2, Spanx, weasel, Redmond, rabbit

Although there are two main protagonists here, Whiplash plays like most 3D-platformers from the PlayStation 2 era and it’s clear the developers drew inspiration from releases such as Ratchet & Clank. The left analogue stick or directional buttons control Spanx (and drag Redmond along behind him on the chain) and pressing L2 gives him the ability to sprint or scurry along rails. Tapping X makes the character jump and he can interact with the world using the triangle button.

So what’s the point of Redmond if the player is controlling Spanx? Well, the testing of Genron’s super-hold hairspray means that his fur has turned into a super-tough suit of armour so he makes the perfect indestructible tool. He can be used as a whipping weapon to defeat oncoming enemies, thrown into air-purifying spheres and turned into a grapple, swung around the weasel’s head to provide a gliding skill and attached to ziplines. It seems like the rabbit got the raw end of the deal.

A selection of baddies including scientists and robotic spiders will try to prevent your escape but the combat isn’t difficult. A variety of combo moves are available including an Air Smash and Hyper Dash, but mashing the square easily deals with most of them if you can’t remember the buttons like me. It’s worth noting that enemies won’t be completely destroyed and will eventually wake up after being temporarily stunned; but if you can’t be bothered to put up a continued fight in a particular area, you can simply run around them.

Although your main objective is to get the hell out of Genron, you can do a lasting service for animals everywhere by hitting the company where it hurts the most: in the bank. Freeing creatures around the facility sees them take revenge on their captors and makes your escape slightly easier, and you can drive Genron into bankruptcy by destroying everything that isn’t nailed down. This is probably the most fun part of the gameplay mechanics and it’s great seeing Redmond enter Hyper mode once he has caused enough damage.

Sadly though, it’s not all good with Whiplash. There are a fair amount of lasers-in-corridors and fire-ducts-in-ventilation-shafts sections which feel like filler. The hub-based level system can be difficult to navigate and sometimes it’s not clear what your immediate objective is. And as with a lot of old games, bad camera angles cause unnecessary deaths and frustration when they don’t look in the right direction – so much so that I passed the controller to my other-half for a lot of our first session.

I’ve seen been back and played the game again off-stream, and I can see a certain sort of charm even though I haven’t finished it yet. The title’s absurdist humour is its highlight and I love the way the protagonist’s personalities are reflected through their movement and one-liners. Even when they’re standing still, Spanx and Redmond perform little dances or look around for enemies; and Redmond comes out with phrases such as ‘You do realise I’m a rabbit and not some sort of asbestos plush-toy, don’t you?’

But again, it’s not all positive here. The relationship between the characters is a pretty violent one and although this suits the type of humour Crystal Dynamics were going for, at times you do find yourself almost wondering whether it’s entirely appropriate. The poor bunny is electrocuted, set on fire, filled with helium, frozen in ice and dumped in radioactive waste. Pete and I couldn’t help but look at each other and grimace each time Spanx shoved Redmond into a grinder to open a door.

Whiplash appears on Wikipedia’s List of controversial video games and this references an article published on The Telegraph website on 15 February 2004. It reports concerns from several bodies about the way animal testing is depicted and Labour MP Dr Ian Gibson is quoted as saying: “It is a nasty and vicious way of prejudicing young minds for the rest of their lives… Young people with fresh minds need to be brought into an understanding of the problem with both sides of the argument being put forward in a rational and reasonable way.”

Whiplash, video game, weasel, rabbit, Spanx, Redmond, grappling hook, electricity

This is despite the whole premise of the release being against animal product testing and it not causing the same reaction when it was released in America during the previous year. In a statement, publisher Eidos Interactive said: “Whiplash is based in a fictional animal-testing laboratory where the object is to rescue all of the animals and destroy the evil testing lab. Although the video game is fictional, we hope that it raises positive awareness of animal testing among children.”

Whiplash may not be the best game I’ve ever played but it’s definitely one of the best choices Luke could have made for our collaboration. It perfectly meets our brief of being something ‘weird’ and the gameplay, artwork, voice-acting and humour encapsulate the feeling of the early 2000s. On top of all that, the stories about the controversy mentioned above are a reminder of how overreactions to video games were quite common back then and it’s a nice slice of gaming history.

The next London Gaming Market is due to take place on 19 July 2020 and who knows, maybe Luke and I will get to do a follow-up on our project in person there. Until then, stay safe everybody.

Hop to it: bunnies in video games

It’s Easter! There may be a lot of other stuff going on in the world right now but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to celebrate the start of spring. The days are getting lighter, the weather is getting warmer, and our gardens are full baby birds and budding flowers.

In past years I’ve shared some egg-cellent characters and feathery protagonists, so what do we have lined up this time around? This post has been written in honour of the awesome Luke from Hundstrasse after he sent me a bizarre game for my PlayStation 2 last month which features an indestructible rabbit. So from creatures who want to become famous stars to others who just want to save the world, let’s take a look at some of the best bunnies in video games.

1992: Tiny Toon Adventures: Bab’s Big Break

Tiny Toon Adventures, video game, Game Boy, Babs' Big Break, rabbit, Plucky Duck, Buster Bunny, Babs Bunny, Hamton

This is probably one of the only platformers I’ve ever completed, and I did so numerous times on my Game Boy as a kid back in the early nineties. The player takes control of Buster Bunny and friends as they attempt to prevent Montana Max from thwarting Bab Bunny’s dreams of becoming a big star. The thing I remember most about the title was its mini-games and spending hours gambling gems on ‘Montana Mash’ – which probably wasn’t the most suitable pastime for a ten-year old.

1993: Sam & Max Hit the Road

Sam & Max, Hit the Road, rabbit, dog, detectives, Sam, Max

Although he retains a few characteristics consistent with a bunny such as white fur and big ears, Max’s disposition is somewhat different. This ‘hyperkinetic, three-foot rabbity thing’ is unhinged and uninhibited, preferring to use violence to solve problems rather than more peaceful methods. But that’s why we love him! He shows a huge amount of enthusiasm for new experiences, isn’t afraid to jump in at the deep end and always has an energy level like a toddler on a bag of Smarties.

1994: Jazz Jackrabbit

Jazz Jackrabbit, video game, rabbit, platform, sky, cloud, bird, bullets

A platformer with plenty of jumping and a story based on the tale of The Tortoise and the Hare could possibly be the best game out there for a bunny. In this title, an evil mastermind called Devan Shell starts conquering planets and kidnaps Carrotus princess Eva Earlong; so hero Jazz Jackrabbit searches for clues about her imprisonment and eventually saves his planet from the army of Turtle Terrorists. I’m not sure I can take any more bad puns so I’m going to leave this entry on the list there.

2003: Whiplash

Whiplash, video game, rabbit, weasel, chain

I hadn’t heard of this before Luke sent it to me but I can’t wait to try it. Let’s see if you’re as bemused by the plot overview as I was: weasel Spanx is chained to an indestructible rabbit called Remond and they must find a way to escape from an evil testing laboratory. The RSPCA, the Research Defense Society and the Police Federation of England & Wales were apparently shocked by the depictions of cruelty in animal product testing – despite the whole premise of the title as being against it.

2006: Rayman Raving Rabbids

Rayman Raving Rabbids, video game, Rabbids, rabbits, chicken

I bet these creatures were the first you thought of when I said this was going to be a post about rabbits in video games! These wild animals like to cause a whole bunch of mayhem, speak gibberish and yell ‘BWAH!’ whenever they experience an adrenaline rush. They were originally cast as the series’ antagonists but, due to their level of popularity, they eventually became the protagonists in Rabbids Go Home three years later and feature in a whole bunch of other media. Babs Bunny would be jealous.

2014: Five Nights at Freddy’s

Five Nights at Freddy's, video game, rabbit, face, Bonnie

Now this is one rabbit you really don’t want to meet. His creator has confirmed that the character ‘does not abide by the rules of time, space or physics, even going so far as to say: ‘The original Bonnie gave me nightmares. That was the only one out of the whole series.’ He might initially come across as a purple bunny who wants to be a rock-star, but between the hours of midnight and 06:00 when he’s on free-roaming mode, Bonnie would love nothing better than to forcefully stuff you into a bear suit.

Don’t be hopping mad if your favourite rabbit character didn’t make it on to today’s list. Find yourself some-bunny to play video games with and have a great Easter Monday.