Welcome to the second edition of the Bargain Basement. It’s as sure as death or taxes that anyone who takes up videogaming as a hobby or profession will find themselves rooting through a bargain bin at one point or another. Few things feel as satisfying or rewarding as saving hard-earned cash AND getting a game fix at the same time. In order to help you uncover some low-priced, previously played diamonds (and also to avoid titles which look promising but are actually just lumps of worthless zirconium) this feature is aimed at giving you a heads up on some titles you may have missed during their runs on the New Release racks.
The discs covered below can all be purchased in nearly any shop that has a selection of discount or used games—usually for $20 or less, live or on the web. In my experience, they are easily located by doing a search online or digging deep in the picked-over sale racks. Please keep in mind that since the games recommended in this feature are older and are not on the latest hardware, it’s generally assumed that the visuals aren’t going to be bleeding-edge. The final scores for each title are based on a rating which takes that into account, and does not penalize them by comparing them to today’s graphic standards. Gameplay is what we’re talking about here. Happy hunting, and more importantly… Happy Gaming!
Rocket: Robot On Wheels
Developer: Sucker Punch
On a system designed to play 3D platformers, how this title slipped under nearly everyone’s radar is beyond me- especially given the extremely small amount of games released for the Nintendo 64 over the system’s lifetime.
Rocket: Robot On Wheels is a 3D platform/adventure jaunt along the same lines as Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario 64. The game is set in a space-age theme park run amok, and it’s up to our one-wheeled hero to set things right by collecting vital items and stopping the evil raccoon mascot before the park’s opening day.
You often hear the term "physics" bandied about in reference to nearly every game on the market these days, but Rocket is one where the P.R. people actually got it right. Everything feels right, and moves like it would in real life, if real life took place in an interstellar amusement park. To overcome the game’s obstacles, you’ll often encounter a higher level of core design than most games attempt. For example, you’ll need to get a strategic rolling start to make long jumps, there are a wealth of specialized vehicles which use varied models for movement such as gliding or hovering, and when you toss an item, it will bounce, roll, and skid to a stop depending on the arc you threw it in and how heavy the item is.
In addition to the polish in the mechanics, the objectives and level design are extremely logical and diverse, while always making sense in the context of the level. This is extremely refreshing as a contrast to the number of times I’ve been stumped or confounded because I wasn’t able to wrap my brain around the type of twisted logic that sometimes comes about when you get a team of overworked and over-caffeinated developers together. Playing through the stages in Rocket’s theme park was truly a pleasure, and progress was steady and deliberate, as any good game’s should be.
The only downsides to the game are that Rocket doesn’t receive any character development throughout the adventure, and there’s basically zero dialogue. These two drawbacks help to hold him back from reaching the same type of uber-character status that more outspoken or outgoing mascots can achieve. Also, the developers obviously felt that it wasn’t worth rewarding you with an ending if you finish the game with anything less than 100%, so prepare to be disappointed if you aren’t going to go the distance. If those particular issues had been addressed, Rocket: Robot On Wheels would have easily scored a full point higher. However, as it stands it’s a solid addition to any 64 owner’s library, and a requirement for all 3D platform fans.
I had heard absolutely ZERO on Builder’s Block before rescuing it from the bottom of a dusty pile of used games, and I doubt it’s possible to release a game with less hype or push than this one. Honestly, I don’t think many people even know it exists.
Builder’s Block is a puzzle game with three different modes to play- arcade, battle, and puzzle. The basic style of play is the same in all of them. The game takes place on a rectangular board divided up into a grid. The player then places colored pieces, one at a time, onto the board with the goal of arranging like colors into large squares. When you complete a square, it transforms from a flat puzzle piece into a 3D building of various architecture depending on the size of the square. A 7x7 square becomes a metropolitan skyscraper, while a 2x2 square is something more like a modest suburban home. After creating a dwelling, the player then removes it from the board in exchange for a fat points bonus.
It’s a very interesting game in that it features the completely non-Politically Correct goals of covering every inch of the earth with high-rise buildings in the puzzle mode, treating you to some before-and-after shots of a tranquil wilderness or pristine seaside transformed into a bustling concrete cityscape. If raping the earth isn’t your speed, there’s a blindingly fast arcade mode where you can select from one of eight anime-style characters and go head to head against the computer or another player. It’s fast and aggressive, with the characters unleashing flashy poses while dropping attack combos, similar to the taunt attacks in Super Puzzle Fighter II.
For a game that nobody’s ever heard of, it’s a surprisingly complete and bountiful package. Not only is the arcade mode solid adrenaline action, you get a huge amount of puzzles to agonize over if you’re in the mood for something more cerebral. It’s well worth the price of admission for anyone brave or curious enough to overlook the deathly dull disc cover. Whoever approved that piece of art needs to get out of the business.
There’re a lot of cheap shooters lining the shelves of any game shop, and I’ll be the first to admit that it can be pretty tough to tell them apart. However, there’re a few key things that make G-Darius stand out from the crowd, and I think that it’s worth the time involved in tracking this title down.
Basically, it’s a side-scrolling shooter that places you in control of a powerpacked one-person spaceship. Your mission is to wipe out monstrous schools of robotic fish (no, that’s not a joke) and return a series of planets to the control of some minimally-haired bipedal monkeys. While one effective strategy would be to overfeed them and then wait for them to float to the surface, you instead decide to take a more pro-active approach.
While none of this is particularly original as far as shooters go, the gameplay gimmicks here are what make the disc an interesting keeper. For starters, while there are only a small variety of weapon powerups to collect, the game makes up for this by giving your ship the power to capture ANY enemy you can see (except for bosses) and turn THEM into a powerup! Each type of robo-fish you encounter can be captured and will function as a companion gunner and shield right alongside you. The various species each have different attacks ranging from spread shots to rapid lasers, with a very large variety in each stage adding strategic elements. If you get tired of your little finned friend, you can turn him into a screen-clearing superbomb and fly solo once more.
The second original twist to G-Darius are the huge energy superbeams. While any shooter worth its salt will have a fair amount of blistering energy weapons, G-Darius goes one step further. If you save your super-laser until an enemy uses theirs first, you can counter their laser and will double the size and power of your own. If you happen to counter another one while yours is still going doubletime, it powers up again. Needless to say, with a bit of luck and timing your beam can take up the entire screen and pour on the punishment—a real rush of power for people who get off on the rush of adrenaline a good shooter gives.
Jumping Flash! and Jumping Flash! 2
Jumping Flash! Rating: 9.0
Jumping Flash! 2 Rating: 8.5
Selecting the Jumping Flash! series bends the rules of the Bargain Basement a tad since these games aren’t really laying around stores in the numbers they once were. It may be a tad more challenging to track either (preferably both) of these down, but it is SO worth it.
The premise of these games is that you are Robbit, the robotic bunny. The rest of the plot is negligible, but the rabbit part is important. The game is played from a first-person perspective, but despite its age, it’s still quite easy to say that it’s one of the most original games in the entire genre. The twist that makes it stand out from every other FPS (I hesitate to even call it an FPS) is that your robotic bunny can leap incredible distances and unbelievable heights. In fact, that’s the game’s main mechanic.
Most of the levels consist of island-shaped worlds filled with platforms, ledges, tall buildings begging to be bounded and basically, a lot of really vertical stuff. In order to pass a stage, you must locate carrots hidden strategically at various altitudes. You can reach nearly any point you can see, provided that you start your jumps from the right spot. Exploring the levels and trying to leap onto objects is amazingly fun and incredibly immersive. One of the best parts is that Robbit can do multiple jumps in the air, and with sufficient height you can often see the entire level laid out below you. People with vertigo should stay away since it’s so easy to get into the game that you’ll often get a queasy feeling in your stomach if you can’t handle heights. For me, this was a huge plus.
Jumping Flash! was one of the first (if not THE first) titles on the PlayStation to really use the system’s 3D prowess to attempt something wildly and creatively different which simply could not have been done on earlier machines. The graphics are quite rough compared to today’s silky visuals, but there’s just an undeniable thrill when you see a platform floating in the distance and touch down on it by the skin of your teeth after some literal leaps of faith. That iron rabbit’s feet serve a purpose besides being on a keychain, after all.