More TV Memories – Thumb Bandits.

Thumb Bandits (Channel 4, 2001-2002)

One thing that I have enjoyed looking back at on this blog is the history of TV shows about computer games. It could be argued that this subject has never really been that well represented and analysed on TV over the years, but because I have enjoyed playing games that have got the fingers and thumbs pressing those buttons, and I have a read a lot of gaming magazines, I felt that this was a show that would definitely be of interest to me.

From 1999-2001 there was a show rather late at night on Channel 4 about computer games called Bits. I reviewed it a while back and it gained a small following as it was hosted by three rather enthusiastic young women, but it wasn’t that high-profile really. Not long after Bits ended, a similar show was launched called Thumb Bandits (nice pun guys) which was a slightly more straightforward and serious look at gaming. vlcsnap-01031

Indeed, the show could be seen as a sort-of sequel to Bits, as Aleks Krotoski who was one of the hosts of that show was kept on, and she was joined by Iain Lee, who at the time was best-known for hosting the Channel 4 satirical comedy The 11 O’Clock Show, and in more recent years he has become a familiar figure for hosting shows on various radio stations. vlcsnap-01026

I do remember around the time that Thumb Bandits launched, Aleks and Iain did some publicity, including being interviewed in a few gaming magazines where they said that they were really into their games and this would be a show that would reflect that and so on. So I thought that this was worthy of a watch, although I had to set the video as it was usually shown in a post-midnight timeslot. vlcsnap-01024

Thumb Bandits was your usual mix of reviews, along with some interviews and competitions, and Aleks and Iain would also be joined by a few guests to share their views. As this was the early-2000s, it was the era when the PlayStation 2 was in its infancy, Nintendo had hopes for their Gamecube, and there was much speculation about what Microsoft would offer with their imminent Xbox. It really is remarkable to see how gaming has evolved in the years since, isn’t modern technology fancy. vlcsnap-01032

You could also visit the show’s website, social media in those days mostly consisting of arguing with people on forums. Thumb Bandits only had a short run on Channel 4, and their commitment to computer game shows (or indeed any late-night programming) since has been rather disappointing. However, nowadays of course anyone can put their critique on any aspect of gaming on YouTube in five minutes for all to see, so maybe these shows aren’t needed so much on TV now anyway, but least they had a go.

Gaming Memories – Worms.

Worms (PlayStation 1, 1995)

Worms is a game that has a rather strange idea. Teams take part in strategically throwing various weapons at one another to try and eliminate their rivals – but they’re all worms! Who would’ve thought that they all would be so violent? They have all suddenly turned on one another and this was just one of the ideas that made the game so creative.

Each team consists of four worms, and up to four teams can play at once so there can be a maximum of 16 players on the screen. You can also select the name of your team and its members and I enjoyed putting silly-named teams together as much as playing the game which really adds a more enjoyable edge to it. vlcsnap-01658

When the game begins all of the worms are randomly placed on a playing area and then they are encouraged to take it in turns to try and eliminate the others in a limited amount of time against the clock, with everyone starting with 100 points of energy. Another funny thing about the game was the creative variety of weapons that could be used. vlcsnap-01659

Among these were banana bombs that always had to potential to do a lot of damage and eliminate lots of worms at once, although you only had a limited number of times you could use them. You could also use things like Uzis to blast a rival, and most memorably of all, an exploding sheep. If you began to get stuck though boxes were occasionally dropped down which contained extra weapons. vlcsnap-01660

It was always a satisfying moment when you took out a lot of rival worms in one go, and they would always rather worryingly explode and turn into a gravestone as they became an ex-worm. There were lots of funny sound effects and voice clips too. The game continued until there was only one worm or one team of worms remaining, and then after the game ended all the statistics were shown so you could discover which worm on your team was a mean killing machine. vlcsnap-01661

I enjoyed Worms so much that I had the original version on the Nintendo Game Boy, and I also had the PlayStation 1 version which was one of the first games that I got for that console. Worms was also released on other consoles including the Sega Mega Drive. I also bought the sequels Worms Armageddon and Worms World Party which I thought were great too, and in more recent years there have been many more variations released. vlcsnap-01662

Having a look at some reviews from the time it seems that Worms drew a mixed response from critics, mostly based on how funny you found the idea of worms slapping or bombing one another, but I always enjoyed playing it myself as I like quirky games and it was one of the reasons why I became fond of the PlayStation 1 in the late-90s.

Gaming Memories – Vib-Ribbon.

Vib-Ribbon (PlayStation 1, 2000)

Vib-Ribbon is a very odd game and I knew that I would be a fan of it from the first time that I saw a review and played a demo of it. You play as a rabbit-type thing character called Vibri who walks along a straight white line as music plays in the background. The music will generate various symbols along the line and you must press the correct combination of buttons to navigate them. vlcsnap-01642

If you can navigate lots of symbols successfully in a row then your character will grow in size and become more confident. If you collide with the symbols though or press the wrong buttons, then your character will decrease in size and the line they are walking on will become wobblier which will make it even more difficult to succeed, and the game ends when your character has become too small after too many misses or the song ends. vlcsnap-01641

As well as this, there are various symbols at the top of the screen called coupons which represent your score, which when you get to the end is then calculated, and there are even bonuses on offer if you do well, and there were also various modes. But Vib-Ribbon also contained a really clever idea that makes it stand out even more. vlcsnap-01643

It was possible to insert a music CD of your own choice into the PlayStation and still play the game, with the sound of the song that you choose randomly generating the symbols that appear along the line, and it was really interesting seeing how the various genres of music would affect the game, going from being fairly straightforward to play, to symbols flying all over the place and making it impossible to reach the end. I didn’t have a very big music CD collection at the time but I did enjoy putting various discs in which means that there can be a huge amount of variation in what will happen, and there were some surprises along the way. vlcsnap-01640

I’m not sure how successful Vib-Ribbon was as unsurprisingly I don’t think that it was a huge seller, but it seems that it was well received in reviews though, although of course it was a very unusual game but I always enjoyed playing it. There is of course another great musical PlayStation game where you have to press the correct buttons to go along with the flow which is Parappa The Rapper and its various sequels. Although I liked what I saw of that game I never got around to buying it unfortunately, although Vib-Ribbon is definitely a good alternative for people wanting to try a quirky musical challenge.

Gaming Memories – Crazy Taxi.

Crazy Taxi (PlayStation 2, 2001)

When I got a PlayStation 2 early in 2001, I began to have a think about what games I would like to play, and I’d heard a lot of good things about Crazy Taxi so I decided to make that one of the first games that I bought, and for me that turned out to be a good decision as I regularly enjoyed playing this game.

In Crazy Taxi you can play as one of four characters who all have different attributes, but the basic idea of the game is the same for all them. You have to drive around in your taxi in the city and pick up fares, and then get your customer to their destination as quickly as possible. If you do get them there in time, you win a bonus from them, plus more time is added to the clock. vlcsnap-01612

You have to carry on getting fares until you run out of time, at which point the amount of money that you made is revealed. You can also score bonuses from achieving stunts which will usually horrify your customer but will increase your score. Alternatively you can play for a fixed time limit such as ten minutes. If you don’t get your fare to their destination in time though they leave without paying and they make it clear that they aren’t very happy with you. vlcsnap-01611

One thing that I liked about Crazy Taxi was that thanks to some advertising deals some of the destinations in the game were based on real places, and you could clearly feel the tension as you wondered if you could get someone to KFC or Tower Records on time whilst trying to stay on the road and not knock everything over in the process. The soundtrack also featured a lot of American rock bands including The Offspring. 

There was also another mode in Crazy Taxi where you had to perform stunts and you would score points. For example there was a challenge where you had to drive off a ramp and travel for as far as you could before landing. There were several tips as to how to increase your power to jump really far but as I have never learned to drive I did find it a little difficult to grasp to more technical side of how to achieve this but I did enjoy having a go. There were also against-the-clock games such as trying to pop all the balloons or pick up multiple customers and these had varying levels of difficulty. vlcsnap-01610

Having a look online it seems that Crazy Taxi was fairly well received by critics and gamers, the PS2 version averaging a score of about 8/10 in reviews, and it was also a big seller on the various formats it was released on, and there were also several sequels released. In more recent years there was even a feature reminiscing about the best moments of Crazy Taxi in Retro Gamer magazine which was a great read and brought a lot of memories back of this very enjoyable game.

Gaming Memories – Tetris Attack.

Tetris Attack (Nintendo Game Boy, 1996)

After writing about my memories of Tetris last time, here’s a look back at a variation on that classic game that I have also enjoyed. Tetris Attack was another Game Boy game where you had to line up the blocks to eliminate them and score points, but there were several variations on this. The game also featured various characters from the Super Mario Brothers series to encourage you along such as Yoshi. vlcsnap-01517

There are five different modes to play, the first mode endless. You have lots of squares on the screen which contain different shapes in them. You have to move the cursor using the directional buttons to create three squares with the same shape connecting either horizontally or diagonally to make them disappear and score points. vlcsnap-01523

Because the shapes scroll on the screen rather slowly at first, you can use the B button to make them appear quicker, but when your squares are one row away from going off the top of the screen which will end your game, they start bouncing up and down and the music gets more intense so you must act quickly to rescue your game. As you progress the speed of the shapes appearing increases so you have to keep going for as you as you can. vlcsnap-01519

One of the things that I like most about Tetris Attack is that when you link three squares which disappear, if the remaining ones drop down and create a link too you get a bonus, and if you can move the squares quickly enough you can set off a chain reaction which gives you a really high score. vlcsnap-01520

There is also a time trial mode where you have to score as many points as possible in two minutes which was always a good challenge. I also liked puzzle mode where you had to clear the screen of all the squares in a limited number of moves. As the levels progress this gets much harder and I spent a lot of time playing this mode. There was also a stage clear mode where you had to eliminate a particular number or squares to progress to the next level. vlcsnap-01521

Finally there was the versus mode. You play against a computer opponent, there are two bars. You have to empty yours to defeat the character by creating chain reactions. They make it harder for you by having a bar which when it fills up every time makes them drop more squares on you. There are various modes of difficulty and if you can defeat the final character which was Bowser then you win the game. vlcsnap-01522

Tetris Attack was one of my favourite puzzle games to play when I was younger, and I must have easily played it as much as the original Tetris and Tetris DX. Even when recently watching various clips that have been uploaded online of people playing the game still got me pleased when they had a big-scoring chain reaction and all kinds of weird things started to happen on the screen, and there was also a version released for the SNES. Also around this time I used to enjoy another spin-off called Tetris Blast and I’ll be writing about that next time.

Gaming Memories – Zoop.

Zoop (Nintendo Game Boy, 1995)

I got a Nintendo Game Boy in 1994. And a year later I got a Super Nintendo for Christmas along with a Super Game Boy! This was where you could play your Game Boy games on your SNES and they would have various extra colours and backgrounds. I never used to read games magazines at this time, so I bought all the Game Boy games that I had without knowing much about them, but because I do like the puzzle genre I decided to try Zoop as that seemed an interesting idea. vlcsnap-01506

There are two modes, continuous and level. In continuous mode when you complete a level everything stays on the screen and you carry on, in level mode every time you complete a level everything disappears on the screen and you start the next one from scratch. You can also choose which level you want to start on from 1-9 and the difficulty from 0-4 which determines how much is on the screen when you begin. vlcsnap-01507

The idea of the game is that you are in a 4×4 square and you occupy one of the spaces. To your left and right are six spaces, and above and below are five. You use the directional buttons to move your square to eliminate the ones surrounding you, but only the ones that you touch which are the same colour as your square will disappear. vlcsnap-01509

This means that you have to constantly change your square to eliminate the others, and you have to get so many to complete a level. You also score points based on how many squares you can eliminate in one go, with different sound effects for one, two, three and so on disappearing, with a bonus for eliminating a whole line of the same colour in one move. vlcsnap-01508

There are also bonuses on offer as the game progresses. If you collect five springs it removes every single square on the screen which can be useful. There is also a shape which eliminates every square of that colour whether it is in the line or not, and another which eliminates the whole line even if all the squares are different colours. vlcsnap-01510

As you progres you need to eliminate more squares and they appear on the screen quicker. When one line is one space away from entering your area you will hear a buzz noise which indicates that you will have to remove those quickly. When a space finally enters your area because it is full up it’s the end of the game and your final score is revealed. vlcsnap-01511

Zoop is a game that I remember playing on my Game Boy very often throughout the 90s, and there were several versions released on various formats. Although it seems that Zoop wasn’t a huge success and received average reviews I did find it a challenging puzzler which had a good idea. I’ll be reviewing some more memorable Game Boy games here soon.

Gaming Memories – Brian Lara Cricket.

Brian Lara Cricket (PlayStation 1, 1998) vlcsnap-01417Brian Lara Cricket was released just before I got a PlayStation. Because as I have said before I wanted to try and collect a game from every sport because I noticed that this one had received good reviews I decided to buy it to experience what a cricket computer game is like. Brian Lara who endorsed the game is of course the West Indies cricketer who holds the record for the highest individual score in a test innings. vlcsnap-01418It does take some time to adjust to how the game works, there are of course several tactics that you can apply and there are lots of different shots on offer. It is very satisfying though when you finally get the hang of it and you start to be able to start knocking the stumps over or hitting the runs with the best of them. The game also features all of the main test players and nations of the time, and it is up to you whether you want to play just a quick one-off game under the floodlights, go through a test series or even play a world tournament to try to become the champions. There are also various grounds from around the world featured so you can play the game in various conditions which will really test your abilities. vlcsnap-01419

Now I must admit that sometimes I do like to use cheats, but only if I get completely stuck, or if I read about some that will enhance the game in an interesting way. Among the cheats available in this game were using an oversized ball, being able to have superhuman batsmen who would hit a six almost every time, making the stumps unbreakable, and having the fielders develop butterfingers when they are about to take an easy catch, which can make all manner of amusingly odd things happen. vlcsnap-01420

Also enhancing the game is commentary by Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott, who have covered cricket a lot on TV and radio over the years. Their comments definitely add to the game, although people had noted that they do end up rather frequently saying “it’s in the air, and it’s caught” when nothing like that has happened. There are also great sound effects, action replays, and umpires waving their arms about. vlcsnap-01421

Because I enjoyed playing this game, I also bought a sequel to Brian Lara Cricket on the PlayStation 2 about five years later, and again it is a very good game which definitely gives me a feel of what it is like to be able to play the game properly and understand the tactics because when I had a go in the school playground I was completely useless.

Gaming Memories – Strike It Lucky Interactive DVD.

Strike It Lucky Interactive DVD Game (2006)

This is one of the better interactive DVD versions of a classic game show. Michael Barrymore hosted Strike It Lucky on ITV from 1986 to 1994, and this is the version that the DVD is based on, ignoring the Strike It Rich sequel which ran in the late-90s. This DVD was released in 2006 so it features Barrymore hosting the show for the first time in seven years, and it was made not long after his memorable appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. It’s clear that he’s in a computer-generated studio though acknowledging some canned applause. vlcsnap-01407

This DVD is good because it is very faithful to the original version of Strike It Lucky, with even the correct music and sound effects, with only a couple of changes to the rules. Three teams can take part. They answer questions on a category for two, three of four moves. Get them right and then they can have a turn at striking the screens. vlcsnap-01408

In this version, because there are no prizes on offer, categories appear on the screen, and you can bank them or move on to the next screen, risking one of the two Hot Spots turning up, and we all know that is not a good thing. The idea is that, the more categories you bank, if you get the end, the more choices you have of being able to pick a category that will give you a question that you could get right to win the game and make the final. The cover of the DVD boasts that there are over 2,000 questions in the game. Are you any good at history? vlcsnap-01412

One more point that I would like to make about the fad of interactive DVD games was that I remember something that Stephen Fry said in an interview when he was talking about a DVD version of QI that he had hosted. He said that making them mostly consisted of being sat in a room and saying many variations of “yes, that’s the right answer” or “no, that’s the wrong answer”, and that’s what happens in the Strike It Lucky DVD too, with Michael very eagerly telling you if you’ve got it right or wrong and he seems to be on good form. vlcsnap-01410

When you make the final, again it is similar to the TV version, and you have to pick the top, middle or bottom screen. Get a move and you carry on, get a question and you have to answer a true or false statement correctly, but a Hot Spot will land you in trouble. Find more than three of those and you lose the game. The computer will now jumble them all up… If you get to the end though and win, your prize is access to a screen for a competition to win an HD TV. I suppose that someone must have won it. vlcsnap-01414

This is the final interactive DVD that I have to review for now, but it definitely one of the best ones that was released and is great fun.

Gaming Memories – Blockbusters Interactive DVD.

Blockbusters Interactive DVD Game (2006)

Because Blockbusters is one of my all-time favourite game shows, when I heard that there was going to be an interactive DVD version released I was very pleased. It was also great when it was announced that even though there have been some revivals the DVD would be based on the original ITV version and Bob Holness would be returning to voice the questions over a decade after he last hosted the show. vlcsnap-01384

It is just a shame then that the DVD version turns out to be somewhat disappointing. We open with the familiar famous theme, but a rather bad-sounding version which is similar to what was used on the Sky One series in the mid-90s. Also, there would be some rules changes, so the promise on the back of the DVD box that the game was “just like the TV show!” wasn’t exactly right. vlcsnap-01385

The game begins with a computer-generated version of what the Blockbusters studio looked like in the early-90s. Then we see the familiar game board which has had some 3D effects added to it making it look similar to the one that was used on the Challenge revival after this DVD was made. vlcsnap-01383

Although there are two teams, you can’t pick the letter that you want. It is predetermined for you by the contestant on the DVD. When the question is asked, you are given no answer options, you are simply asked to be honest when you enter whether you got it right or not after revealing the answer, winning the letter if got it right. vlcsnap-01386

You are also endlessly asked by Bob to “get ready” before every letter is selected. You also take it in turns, so if you do get the next answer right, you can’t choose where to go next, and it does become frustrating as you get the answers wrong and the computer contestants constantly pick the same letters. Bob does say “that’s Blockbusters!” though when the connection is eventually made. vlcsnap-01387

The first team to win two games can then put themselves on the Hot Spot. Again, the rules are different. Your contestant again picks the hexagon for you, and they all seem to feature two-word clues. There is no time limit, the idea is that if you get more than two answers wrong you lose the game, but if you get across the board you win the somewhat underwhelming star prize, and what an honour that is. vlcsnap-01388

Around the time of the fad of interactive DVDs of classic game shows which was around the mid-2000s, there was also a website called We Dig TV where you could play interactive versions of game shows using a combination of archive footage from the shows combined with newly voiced contributions from the hosts. Although I thought it was a good idea and I did go on the site a couple of times, the games kept crashing and I think that the site is now long gone, and I’m fairly sure it featured a version of Blockbusters too. Although it wasn’t great, I’m still pleased they had a go.

Gaming Memories – Telly Addicts.

Telly Addicts (PlayStation 2, 2007) 

One thing that was surprising about the wave of interactive DVD versions of classic game shows was the amount of veteran presenters who were persuaded back to host the show they were most famous for one last time, sometimes as much as a decade after they last did so on TV, and Noel Edmonds got out his remote control again to host a version of Telly Addicts that people could play at home. vlcsnap-01375

There were a few interactive DVD versions made of Telly Addicts, but I have the PlayStation 2 version. One thing that must be noted right from the start is that the design of the game is clearly based on the late-80s/early-90s era of the show, ignoring the final disastrous series 1998 when everything was changed, which isn’t much of a surprise. Also, Noel appears to be hosting the show from a tiny room so this doesn’t seem to be big budget stuff. vlcsnap-01376

There are six rounds to play, by yourself or against an opponent, to test which one of you has the best TV knowledge. Most of the rounds were similar to the TV version. The first round has you having to choose from one of six screens. You then see a picture of a classic TV show and have to answer a multiple-choice question about it. vlcsnap-01378

The second round is similar, but this time you see a short clip of a classic TV show and then you have to answer three questions on it. There has been a good look back through the archive and a wide variety of clips are featured and anything can turn up. Round three is the spotlight round, where five questions have to be answered against the clock, similar to the final round of the original TV version. vlcsnap-01379

Round four is the reveal round. A picture of a TV personality is slowly revealed, the quicker you correctly identify them, the more points you score. In round five you are given a question about a TV show and you have to guess the year in which it launched, and then you are asked some further questions about the show. vlcsnap-01380

In the final round you spin a wheel which features various genres of TV. Where you land will determine what TV genre your question is about. Each player has three goes. Then it’s end of the game and the final scores are revealed. Have you done enough to prove to Noel that you really deserve to be called a Telly Addict? vlcsnap-01382

It seems that these Telly Addicts games were made about a year or two after Noel returned to the screen with Deal Or No Deal and I assume that he enjoyed hosting the show again as it’s a great combination of TV nostalgia and trivia. The fad has passed for interactive DVDs of game shows now, with most shows now releasing mobile app versions or even traditional board games, but it was a good success while it lasted.