Retrovania | Voodoo Vince

In this week’s Retrovania, we travel back to the early days of Microsoft’s first console and the cutesy platformer that went largely unnoticed: Voodoo Vince.

voodoo vince 2Back in 2001, when Microsoft was first dipping its toes into the games industry, things were a-changing. Electronics giant Sony has made it’s own debut into the industry six years prior and had won the fifth generation outright – and their follow-up, the PlayStation 2, was fast becoming another runaway success.

New kids on the block

Microsoft might have been the purveyors of Windows, but in the world of home consoles Bill Gates and co were as green as they came. The first Halo, Combat Evolved, was pretty much carrying the console on it’s augmented super-back, but Microsoft were still hoping for another mascot to appeal to the younger market – like Crash Bandicoot of old.

The problem was that Microsoft was still playing catch up in terms of establishing their key audiences. The once bankable presence of cute mascots like Sonic the Hedgehog was long dead. Blood-drenched death dealers were the icons of gaming now: Solid Snake, Kratos and Dante were just some of the ‘mature’ characters that followed in the footsteps of a certain buxom raider of tombs.

A voodoo-powered punt

voodoo vince
Stop looking, you perve.

But Microsoft was still willing take a punt with the idea, and in 2003 Voodoo Vince was birthed unto the world. Developed by Washington-based studio Beep Industries, Voodoo Vince was a cutesy platformer with a sadistic twist. Playing as Vince, a voodoo doll imbued with life, you could do your usual mixture of jump and spin attack moves, but it was the twisted self-harming mechanics that really set it apart.

And stop giving us those eyes, Vince is a voodoo doll, getting hurt is only his real weapon! Let us explain: by collecting the voodoo beads dropped by the many enemies in the game, Vince could fill his Voodoo Metre and perform a special move that destroyed all the enemies in vicinity. One move would see Vince impaling himself, while all his enemies suffered the same fate; other variants saw Vince happily setting himself alight as his enemies were engulfed in hungry flames. Kirby’s Epic Yarn this was not.

Dark, but self-aware

voodoo vince
“Wow, that is one big pile of…”

And while these mechanics were hardly breaking new ground, it was great to see a game that could be as striking as Spyro the Dragon without losing itself to overtly-adult content like Conker’s Bad Fur Day. And, for a game developed by a studio that had never created a console game before (ironically, it would also be their last) Voodoo Vince is as tight mechanically as anything else in the genre. The camera could be less dynamic and more “Hello, I’m in a wall now! Good luck judging that jump!” at times, but it was far from a game-breaker.

There was also one other thing that made Voodoo Vince so unique: it’s style. Infused with all the cultural magic of Louisiana, Voodoo Vince took its beats from the architectural stylings of New Orleans and the black magic inspired atmosphere of carnivale. Oh and the music! The soundtrack to Voodoo Vince remains as one of the most unique OST for a game out there, perfectly nailing the tone with it’s charming jazziness. If you’ve played it before (or you’re just looking for some great VGM) you pick the soundtrack up here from Amazon.

voodoo vince
The swamp levels were rock solid.

Voodoo Vince might not have the level depth of Double Fine’s Psychonauts, but it’s a forgotten gem that’s been lost a genre now dominated by forgettable Disney-licensed tie-ins. Sadly, you can’t pick it up on XBLA, but you can find it in most second-hand game retailers for a measly few pounds/dollars. It works on the Xbox 360 too, so there’s never been a better time to travel back to a time before achievements and experience a black-humoured slice of fun.

For more adventures into the world Retrovania, check out our thoughts on Tekken 2, Beyond Good & Evil and Batman Begins.

Retrovania | Disney’s Action Game Featuring Hercules

This month Retrovania returns to the good ship Infinite Robots after an extended break. To celebrate we take a look back at one of the most underrated platformers on Sony’s original PlayStation – Disney’s Action Game Featuring Hercules!  It’s 2D! It has a ridiculous title! It’s Retrovania!

HerculesWhen you we say the words ‘PlayStation One’ you’d probably say “Lara Croft”, or “Tekken” or “How did you survive with only 32-bits, Grandad?”. If we said the word platformer you’d probably think of Spyro, Crash Bandicoot or one of the many other platformers that took off with Sony’s record-breaking 3D platform. You might not, however, immediately associate a 2D side-scroller based on a Disney movie.

Despite its obscurity Disney’s Action Game Featuring Hercules is one of the console’s hidden gems and stands as one of the best 2D platformers of the last fifteen years. Harking back to the simple but intuitive platforming mechanics of Aladdin (MegaDrive/SNES, 1993/1994) Hercules was more than just a last hurrah for a dying style.  It was a celebration of what made 2D platformers great in the safe & familiar animation of the Disney universe.

Whereas hand-drawn, 2D spites have seen something of a renaissance in recent years – thanks to the success of downloadable platforms like Xbox Live Arcade, Steam & the PlayStation Network – back in 1997 it was an antiquated hallmark of the early nighties console war. Hercules wore its Disney charm with a certain sense of pride and the soundtrack, voice-over work & in-game lighting managed to create an experience that felt like a seamless addition rather than a parody or cheap tie-in.

Hercules
The faux-3D sprites helped create a unique sense of depth to Hercules

The platforming mechanics have a much lighter feel than many other platformers from previous generations, with a focus on nuanced transitions between platforms & interactive elements. It also used the animation style to create multiple layers of terrain that ol’ Herc could move between with specifically placed connecting paths. It was a neat way of utilising the 2D animation in a way that didn’t stray too close to the third dimension running riot elsewhere.

From urging you to explore these layers to find collectables & extra health to evading enemy projectiles, these elements were even utilised in on-the rails-sections that saw Hercules racing third-person through ‘gauntlet’ style stages. It was pure Sonic Special Stage but it was still an authentically 2D feature.

Hercules
One of the many ‘rush’-style gauntlet levels

Even the combat of Hercules was more than just single strike of old. You could throw punches, swing a sword or throw a mean uppercut that could shatter pillars & send bosses flying off the screen. Herc’s sword could also be suped-up with the power of the Gods from lightning strikes to fireballs. Being Ancient Greece the many levels of Hercules, from the city streets to the depths of Hades, were filled with some pretty nasty enemies so these power-ups were never in danger of overpowering the Demigod hero.

Even now, fifteen years after its release, Disney’s Action Game Featuring Hercules is still a ridiculously fun game. The hand-drawn animation style is, and always will be, a timeless presentation so it’s dated only by that tell-tale PlayStation intro we all remember so well. Being a PS1 game it can be downloaded off PSN & played straight off your PS3 but on a handheld device like the PSP or the Vita Hercules really shines like a treasure waiting to be rediscovered. Pure vintage platforming.

Retrovania | Batman Begins (Xbox/PS2/ GameCube)

To celebrate the release of Chistopher Nolan’s epic conclusion to his Batman saga The Dark Knight Rises, infinite robots bring you a special edition of our retro review feature Retrovania. This week we swoop back to 2005 with Eurocom’s ill-fated Batman Begins

Continue reading Retrovania | Batman Begins (Xbox/PS2/ GameCube)

Retrovania | Beyond Good & Evil (PS2/XBLA/PSN)

In this second edition of Retrovania our fortnightly retrospective, we take a look back at one of Ubisoft’s greatest triumphs, the unique & much-loved action-adventure Beyond Good & Evil.

In recent years video game writers & developers have made a conscious decision to create stories & narratives driven less by mindless fiction and more by real world themes & emotions. But back in 2003, the video game landscape was a very different place.

Continue reading Retrovania | Beyond Good & Evil (PS2/XBLA/PSN)

Retrovania | Tekken 2 (PSOne)

Welcome to Retrovania, infinite robots new addition to the virtual roster. Every fortnight we’ll be taking a look back at some of gamings greatest achievements, and some of the hidden gems just waiting for a decent dust off.

This week we’re taking a mosey on back to 1995 and the first true king of 3D fighters, Namco’s mighty Tekken 2.

Continue reading Retrovania | Tekken 2 (PSOne)