LucasArts Time Machine: The Secret Of Monkey Island

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So I guess I got what I wanted out of this project. Despite having played through The Secret Of Monkey Island six or seven times over the past three decades, and despite already thinking of it as a stone cold classic, experiencing the trials and travails of LucasArts prior to its release gave me a whole new appreciation of why it’s a classic. It’s an adjunct to my Bad Game Theory, where you need to play the occasional bad game to give you the right context for what a good one looks like; here I needed a better appreciation of the games that had come before it to fully understand why Monkey Island was such a groundbreaking tour de force of art, humour and puzzle design.

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Thoughts: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

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The reviews of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla mark yet another occasion where I wonder what on earth the mainstream games media have been smoking. “A saga for the ages!” exclaims Eurogamer, who are clearly hoping I’ll forget that they once gave the Bad Company 2 single-player campaign a 9/10 rating. “A big, bold, and ridiculously beautiful entry to the series!” bleats IGN, presumably because they couldn’t find a more generic set of superlatives for their review strapline. And quoth the usually-on-the-ball PC Gamer: “Valhalla is Ubisoft’s best Assassin’s Creed to date!”, a statement that quite overlooks the fact that the series has undergone so many reinventions over its 13-year history that it’s like comparing Doom to Doom 2016. But assuming, for a moment, that that’s possible: as someone who has also played and reviewed quite a few Assassin’s Creed games, I am here to tell you that Valhalla is nowhere near Ubisoft’s best Assassin’s Creed to date. In fact it barely scrapes in ahead of the worst of the pack, and it is a remarkable step down from 2018’s Odyssey.

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LucasArts Time Machine: Loom

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I have been aware of the existence of Loom ever since meeting the pirate in Monkey Island wearing an “Ask Me About Loom” badge who is otherwise monosyllabic, but who spouts flowery ad copy for the game at you if you Ask Him About Loom. A more serious, fantasy-themed adventure game from the same people who made one of my favourite games ever? Sounds great, sign me up! Unfortunately despite first hearing about Loom in 1995, I was not actually in a position to play Loom until 2009, as the game had almost immediately disappeared from UK shops and wasn’t available on digital distribution for another twenty years, and by that point I had all but forgotten Loom existed. Not only that, but so did nearly everyone else; it seems that despite the generous advertising plug, the release of Monkey Island in the same year massively overshadowed that of Loom. LucasArts were known as the Monkey Island studio afterwards, not the Loom studio1, and while Loom is more fondly remembered than, say, Zak McKracken, it remains little more than a footnote at the bottom of the list of LucasArts’ greatest achievements. Yet there remains a cult following of people who talk fondly about Loom, and not just because they’re characters in a game who have been explicitly written to advertise Loom, and so I was genuinely interested in experiencing Loom for the first time as part of this series just so that I could see what it was about.

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  1. Now, you might wonder why LucasArts weren’t known as the Star Wars studio at this point since they were part of Lucasfilm and should have had easy access to the IP. The answer is very simple: the rights to make Star Wars video games had been sold to Atari years earlier, and so the first titles from LucasArts had to be based on original IP — this is why we got Maniac Mansion, Zac McKracken, Loom and Monkey Island instead of a cavalcade of Star Wars tie-ins. LucasArts didn’t get the rights back until 1992, with X-Wing appearing the following year.
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Thoughts: Möbius Front ’83

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If you go back and read one of my earliest reviews on this blog, you might notice a slightly different tone from the one I try to take today. Back then I took bad games rather… personally (this was before I’d formulated my Bad Game Theory1) and if I played a bad one I had a tendency to lay into not only the game in question but also the developers behind it, and with quite a bit of venom, too. Now that I’m older, wiser, and a little bit calmer, I can see now that this was unreasonable and unfair. Making videogames is hard. There’s any number of reasons why a game might not come together in the way it should, many of which are wholly or partially out of a developers’ control — not enough budget, truncated schedule, interfering executives, key personnel leaving, and so on. Nobody sets out to deliberately make a bad game, and so these days while I’m perfectly happy to continue giving bad games the kicking they so richly deserve, and while I might still have some choice barbs for the corporate aspect of game development, I try and give the individual developers themselves the benefit of the doubt. It didn’t come together for them this time. Maybe it will next time. There’s no reason to get nasty about it.

Or so I thought, until I played Möbius Front ‘83.

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  1. Which is that playing bad games is sometimes necessary in order to understand what a good one looks like.
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LucasArts Time Machine: Zak McKracken And The Alien Mindbenders

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Zak McKracken And The Alien Mindbenders. For something with such a mouthful of a title, and especially for something produced by LucasArts, it is surprising that I had never even heard of Zak McKracken until it was added to GOG in 2015. Nobody talks about it — or at least if they do, they don’t talk about it anywhere near as loudly as the later classics like Monkey Island and Day Of The Tentacle.  Even Maniac Mansion sometimes gets a mention just for being the first modern adventure game (not to mention the entire thing being included as an easter egg in DOTT) but Zak McKracken? Might as well have been lost to history until GOG rereleased it.

This seemed strange considering how well-loved all of the other LucasArts games are, but after having played through it now I completely understand why nobody ever talks about it. It’s because Zak McKracken sucks so badly it deserves to be thrown into the memory hole and never spoken of again.

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Thoughts: Cloudpunk

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I really, really want to like Cloudpunk. You’re playing Rania, the driver of a flying car in a cyberpunk city on her first day of work for underground delivery organisation Cloudpunk. You drive around the city, taking packages from point A to point B, while people talk to you over the comm about the city, the world, corporations, identity, AI, androids, the rich getting obscenely richer, the poor being trapped by debt and prejudice and left to die the moment they’re not economically useful — all of that classic cyberpunk shit that’s becoming uncomfortably real as we hurtle headfirst into a capitalist dystopia of our own. Where modern “cyberpunk” properties tend to co-opt the look but not the themes, Cloudpunk at least understands what cyberpunk should be. It’s clearly a labour of love made by real people who have been on the receiving end of some of this stuff themselves, and unlike certain other big-ticket cyberpunk releases that are scheduled (for now) to come out this year, Cloudpunk’s heart is definitely in the right place.

I just wish it was a better game.

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