Maneater (PlayStation 5, 2020)

Not every game has to be an emotional soul-searching journey or some dazzling feat of gameplay wonder. Sometimes you just want big dumb gaudy fun, which in this instance comes with razor sharp teeth and an insatiable appetite for Floridians.

I’m talking about Tripwire Interactive’s shark-em-up Maneater. Following in the footsteps (tailstrokes?) of unjustly forgotten 2006 Xbox/PS2 game Jaws: Unleashed, you play an extremely ticked off bull shark out for revenge on humanity (and one human in particular).

You begin the game being unjustly cut from your dying mother’s belly by Ahab-a-like Scaly Pete and tossed into a swamp. As a veritable tiddler you scurry through the reeds, gobbling down catfish and trying to avoid attracting the attention of the local alligator gang. But the more you eat, the more you grow… and evolve.

Seven hours later you can return to the swamp as a 20 foot long armored MegaShark behemoth. You are now king of whatever body of liquid you choose to occupy and can get your revenge on the gators that once made your life a misery. Take that *chomp* and that! *chomp chomp*.

I will grant that there’s quite a bit of repetition here. Each area comes with a shopping list of tasks to do, with every one featuring dull “population control” quests in which you must eat 10 of one animal in locations a, b and c. But while the mission design isn’t going to win any prizes for originality, at least you can burn through each set in about 15 minutes and they give you the vital nutrients needed to upgrade your shark.

Transforming your baby shark into Asylum Pictures’ wettest dream is what kept me going. Every time I unlocked some new bony carapace or electro-shock fin for my guy felt like an event. By the final chapters I was covered from nose to tail in bulletproof, boat-destroying bone armor and felt very pleased with the primordial death machine I’d molded.

By this point I had also become fully amphibious and I’m sure the terrified humans foolishly attempting to host a rave on a beach appreciated the work I’d put in. I’m sure I caught an admiring glance as I thrashed around in the laser beams, bisecting unlucky dancers in an orgy of blood, screaming and dubstep.

I wrapped up the campaign in about eight hours and felt like I’d had my fill of bathers and various aquatic snacks and uninstalled. I suspect if I’d tried to 100% the game or get the platinum my opinion would be a bit lower, but cutting and running just when the joke started to get old felt like a smart move.

Maneater isn’t going to win any awards but dammit, this was the B-movie sharkstravaganza I didn’t even know I was craving.

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris (PC, 2014)

Lockdown remains and with it continues my never-ending quest for virtual hang-outs. This time I’m cracking open Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, Crystal Dynamics’ 2014 sequel to 2010 isometric puzzler Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.

The big difference is that while Guardian of Light was two player co-op, Temple of Osiris can boasts four player simultaneously. Unfortunately I don’t have three friends that are into games, so I played through the game with just one partner.

Right off the bat you’ll spot that there’s not a tonne of evolution from Guardian of Light. You’re still be engaging in a mixture of straightforward, piss-easy twin-stick combat and environmental cooperative puzzles (often involving rolling balls through mazes). But hey, if it ain’t broke….

But there’s a panoply of annoyances that go some way towards making this a bad sequel. For one, the puzzles are straightforward and simple: most of them less about figuring out what to do and more about the difficulty of executing it (iffy netcode doesn’t help). Also, the dungeons all end just as they’re getting good (which is a shame when you have a rad aesthetic like the Tomb of the Torturer) and the whole game is only about four hours long.

My suspicion is that Crystal Dynamics spread themselves too thinly. Each dungeon effectively comes in four separate variants, with different puzzles designed for single-player and with one, two and three more companions. Consequentially the developers tasked themselves with making (at least) twice as much game as Guardian of Light, though the average player will only ever see a fourth of that and the game ends up only being half as long.

This isn’t exactly a game that screams out for a replay either, so while I respect the ambition of going for four-player co-op, I kinda wished they’d stuck with the focused two-player fun of Guardian of Light.

On top of that, the game is bizarrely badly optimised for PC. This is a six-year old isometric puzzle game and yet the frame-rate randomly chugs down into the teens on a modern gaming PC (particularly when there’s water on screen). Turning the graphics settings to low didn’t appear to do much and the game’s forums are full of people bemoaning the lack of a post-launch patch to fix things.

Despite all that Lara Croft and the Tomb of Osiris scratched the itch of giving me something to play with a friend while we had a nice chat. I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend it (especially not on PC), but you could probably do worse for a social game.

Metal Gear Survive (PS4, 2018)

Well, I didn’t hate it.

I totally expected to because Metal Gear Survive is an extremely hateable game. Produced in the wake of Kojima departing Konami under a cloud, the game is clearly an excuse to recycle The Phantom Pain assets while inserting a bunch of games-as-service microtransactions bullshit. It’s got a terrible reputation, is the still the butt of jokes and I was fully prepared to despise it… But while it still kinda sucks, it doesn’t suck suck.

Set just after Ground Zeroes, you play a Mother Base soldier known only as ‘The Captain’. The game opens with you being sucked through a portal to a hellish zombie-infested dimension. With the aid of an split-personality AI, some unlucky bastards also transported into the void and your wits, you must… SURVIVE.

The aim is to gradually expand your home base, upgrade your equipment and chart the dangerous environment. Your camp is on the border of ‘The Dust’, where visibility is low, monsters are everywhere, the air is unbreathable and it’s full of the vital components and resources you need. The campaign gradually guides you through it as you collect enough energy and equipment to open a portal back home.

There’s basically three core systems in play here. First is your base and equipment management in which decide how to allocate your meagre resources – fairly straightforward stuff. You also have to keep your character fed and hydrated, though this is a non-issue as the daily bonus for logging in always includes rations and a few bottles of clean water.

Very proud of my potato farm.

The second is exploration: you’re given a waypoint and must plan a trip across the dangerous wilderness to reach it. This is strangely reminiscent of Death Stranding, you fill your limited equipment slots, study the terrain, make sure your character is rested and fed and head out into the unknown.

Then there’s the tower defence, in which hordes of zombies attack a target you must protect. Early on these are fairly stressful, though once you understand that the targets can take quite a beating before being destroyed they’re not so bad. I never came close to failing one – and they got substantially easier once I was able to develop machine-gun turrets.

Inching your way through the story, toughening up and mastering the environment is actually kinda fun. The plot is stupid but vaguely diverting and it’s kinda nice to play a Metal Gear game with a potentially female hero (though it’s disappointing that he/she is a silent protagonist with no discernible personality).

It also all plays quite smoothly, though that’s not a surprise given that controls, environments and most equipment is nicked from The Phantom Pain. The much-feared microtransactions are also completely optional and primarily relegated to cosmetics. Maybe the ‘MB coins’ have more relevance to the post-game multiplayer, but as nobody appears to be playing the game (I couldn’t find a single match to join) that didn’t affect me. (There does seem to be some postgame fun in you calling in Rex, Ray and the Shagohod to assist you, but frankly I’m not putting in the legwork to unlock them).

I really adore the obvious reading of this entire game being a metaphor for the plight of those ‘left behind’ at Konami after Kojima’s departure. At the beginning of the game we see Big Boss departing for his next exciting adventure, while the loyal soldiers are forced to toil in the shadow of The Phantom Pain‘s Mother Base and picking through the leftovers of a much better game

There’s even a sly dig at Konami’s management early on, with a list of soldier codenames reading “MG KIA” (Metal Gear Killed in Action) and KJP FOREVER (Kojima Productions forever). But, as both developers and the game’s characters learn, if life hands you lemons then I guess you’re stuck making lemonade. Even if those lemons are slightly rancid and the recipe you’re forced to follow is way too sour.

Read the animal names vertically.

But there are some massive, inarguable flaws that rightly relegate the game to the bargain bin. For one Metal Gear Survive is one of the greyest games I’ve ever had the misfortune of playing. The desert map of The Phantom Pain was never the most eye-popping environment, but here it’s wrapped in grey fog, under a grey sky, on grey sand. It’s dullsville.

Then there’s the repetition. You’re going to spend a lot of time stabbing zombies through a fence, so I hope you find it satisfying. Throughout almost the entire game you’re fighting these dumb-as-hell monsters, with only a few alternative types tossed in during the final missions.

none more grey

Worst of all is that the game has to be constantly online. I hope you have a stable connection because even the slightest wobble and you’re getting tossed back to the main menu. The game doesn’t save mid-mission, so it’s possible to lose progress at literally any moment. I got hit with this a couple of times, though luckily not at a particularly bad time. It’s a dice roll though and if I’d been booted back to the title screen 15 minutes into a stressful 16 minute base defence I’d have tossed the disc out the window and watched the rest of the game on YouTube.

There’s no need for the game to always be online and when Konami shut down the servers (which can’t be too far away given the anaemic player-count) the Metal Gear Survive disc will become an unattractive coaster. Konami could release a patch to allow the game to played offline, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

All this leaves Metal Gear Survive in a weird position. The nicest thing I can say is that it’s probably the best possible game it could be given the circumstances. It’s biggest game’s flaws are clearly the result of Konami’s interference and budgetary limitations rather than the developer’s vision. Metal Gear Survive is not a good game, but it’s not the disaster either.

I’m glad I played it, but I’m also glad it’s over and I never have to think about it again.

Portal 2 Co-Op (PC, 2011)

For nine long years I’ve been searching for someone to play Portal 2‘s co-op mode. This proved to be a real Goldilocks conundrum. I tried playing the PS3 port in split-screen on a TV, but my friend got bored. I gave it a shot online with an enthusiastic girlfriend back in 2015, but she’d never played a FPS before and we hit a brick wall with the controls. I even tried to play with… ugh… random people online, but the inability to communicate properly stymied that.

In the end it was a perfect storm of circumstances that got me through the mode. A big motivator was COVID: with a strict lockdown currently on I’m hungry for social experiences in general. Secondly I met a lovely woman who knows her way around a controller (and keyboard and mouse). Unable to meet physically we headed to the Cooperative Testing Initiative and… it was great!

Portal 2‘s co-op mode turns out to be a great stress test for a relationship. Success relies on communicating effectively, acting in sync, approaching problems with patience and being open to suggestions.

Having only ever played the first few levels I was surprise at how fast Portal 2‘s co-op chambers became devilishly tricky. I’ve completed the two single-player games on release, so having to rapidly remember how to ‘think with portals’ while being thrown in the puzzle deep end was a challenge. On top of that, my co-op partner had never played either Portal game, so all this was new to her.

As such I took a lead role in figuring out the way through these puzzles, though I consciously tried not to be bossy. But it’s incredibly satisfying when I’m completely stumped at some mind-bending combination of forcefields, portal-able surfaces and traction beams… and my partner figures out what we should do.

Plus this is puzzle of neat and satisfying puzzles to work out. I felt like a bona fide brain genius when I figured out the Rube Goldberg set-up needed to simultaneously propel us across an arena to ensure we collide in mid-air over the right spot. There’s also a nice smattering of moments of despair in which you feel like you’ll never work this out, only for “Eureka!” ideas that turn out to be just the ticket.

It’s a fine co-op mode and I’m glad I can finally tick it off my list of stuff to someday get round to. My only advice would be to consider very carefully who you play with. In the wrong hands Portal 2 is a friendship destroyer, especially if frustration strikes and misery ensues.

Sadly there simply aren’t many games in this vein. Now we’re on the hunt for more co-op games to work through until lockdown is lifted… Suggestions?

Ghost Giant (PSVR, 2018)

VR famously excels at the very big and the very small. Ghost Giant is about the latter, casting you as the titular enormous invisible phantom, who can manipulate a toybox world populated by anthropomorphic animals.

To those that have played Moss this will be familiar territory. As there, we open in a woodland glade over a pond, at which we meet the game’s diminutive cat hero Louis. Soon the pair of you are allies and you assist him on his journey to get a shipment of sunflower seeds for his family farm.

The game takes place within various dioramas for you to poke, prod, explore and pick apart. Usually you’re given a simple puzzle that involves disassembling the scenery, manipulating the townsfolk and allowing Louis to get from A-B. For example, a bridge might be blocked by some snooty art-loving beatniks who you must impress by making a painting of a hot dog. It’s that kind of game.

The story eventually evolves beyond the need for sunflower seeds to deal with more weighty topics about mental health. It manages this just fine but, and I’m aware this is going to make me sound a bit hard-hearted, I’m a bit burnt out on indie games about depression and anxiety.

Compounding this is that Ghost Giant is extremely twee and its irritatingly precocious squeaky-voiced protagonist grated on my nerves. Gameplay-wise it’s competent, but there’s nothing that this does that hasn’t been done better elsewhere.

However, I also watched my housemate play through this and she was entranced from start to finish. This wasn’t just her first experience in VR but the first console video game she’s ever beaten, and it left her smiling, teary-eyed and entranced by the possibilities of the medium.

I guess that means Ghost Giant is a great VR starter game. It allows people to get their VR legs, there’s no pressure, the puzzles are simple and (theoretically at least) it’s charming. But it didn’t do much for me and, mere days after beating it, I can already feel Ghost Giant sliding down the memory hole.

Samba de Amigo (Wii, 2008)

I’ve read that there were just a thousand PAL copies of Samba de Amigo released on Dreamcast in the UK. I was lucky enough to own one of those glorious giant yellow boxes and spent many happy hours shaking those plastic red maracas in my student halls (and yes, spending my meager loan on a £75 maraca-based game wasn’t the most financially sound decision).

There’s something quintessentially Sega to bringing out this ludicrous peripheral on an already dying console and I loved every minute of it. But, sadly, I couldn’t countenance carting the thing around from house to house and it ended up on eBay sometime in the mid-2000s.

So when I saw a cheapo copy of the 2008 Wii port of Samba de Amigo I figured I’d give it a whirl. After all, I’ve got the Wiimotes, I love rhythm games and how can I go wrong for just a quid?

In an unexpected twist, the Wii port was devised and developed by Borderlands and Aliens: Colonial Marines developer Gearbox Software. Apparently they were fans of the Dreamcast original, recognised that the Wii could handle the game without external peripherals and pitched a remake to Sega. They bit and just a year later Samba De Amigo hit the Wii, where it seems to have done quite well amongst casual players.

At first dance it seems to work well. You can either play with Wiimote and nunchuk or two Wiimotes – I chose the latter because I figured the tracking would be better. In single-player you head through a career gradually unlocking songs and generally gettin’ your mambo on.

As the maracas shook those memories came flooding back. This is a sunkissed technicolor party where everybody is having a good time. Though while playing you’re not watching the dancing in the background, it’s still a real mood-lifter in the middle of a grimmer than usual British winter.

Plus, Gearbox have made some neat additions. There’s a bunch of diverting minigames, a load of new songs and cameos from Sonic and Space Channel 5‘s Ulala. That last one particularly tickled me as Ulala’s stage features Deee-Lite’s Groove in the Heart. Lady Kier of Deee-Lite famously sued Sega for ripping off her likeness for Ulala, lost the case and was ordered to pay Sega about $600k in legal fees. My thinking is that either Randy Pitchfork licensed this as some kind of sadistic dig at her or they waived some of that payment in order to get the rights to the song for this game.

All of the above makes it a real shame that this port ends up dashing itself against the rocks of the Wii’s hardware limitations. The Dreamcast maraca controllers detected the height at which they were being shaken via a sensor bar placed on the floor. The Wiimotes don’t track position, so this version works by using the accelerometers to see the angle it’s being held at.

On paper this seems like a decent compromise. Hold them up for high notes, flat down mid and down for, uh, down. In practice…? Well, on Easy and Normal difficulties it works fine. Get to Hard and Super Hard and it all falls apart.

Moving rapidly between consecutive high and low notes is simply beyond what the Wiimotes can handle and objectively correct hits won’t register. You need to score at least a ‘C’ to beat a song and the game is unforgiving about lowering your grade on higher difficulties. On some songs it felt like random chance as to whether the game would detect those inputs (especially top right for some reason) and, after I felt my nostalgia begin to curdle into annoyance, I gave up on the game mid-way through ‘Hard’ mode.

It’s a shame, as the game would have worked a hell of a lot better if it could use the Wiimote+ position tracking or even the PlayStation Move controllers. It’s still nice to have Samba de Amigo in a relatively accessible form, but this gets so close to greatness and falls short. Frustrating stuff.

Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition (PS5, 2020)

The key is to stop seeing the monsters as obstacles and start seeing them as opportunities. Standing in the boots of one of Devil May Cry 5‘s characters is an empowering feeling: get it right and you’re practically invincible, dancing between combat encounters with a cocky wink and confident strut. Get it wrong and you don’t so much feel like you’ve lost as much as you’ve let the game down.

Devil May Cry has been gradually refining its character-centric action gameplay since the 2001 original crawled from the muck of a Resident Evil 4 prototype. Along the way there’s been a couple of wobbles, but almost two decades after its inception Capcom absolutely have their shit together.

The fifth entry centers on three distinctly different characters. Returning from Devil May Cry 4 is Nero, whose relative simplicity makes for a great starting point. To the untrained eye he could be a Dante reskin, but the variety of his prosthetic arms give him more than enough depth to keep things interesting.

There’s also the mysterious V, who’s one of my favourite video game characters of recent years. Despite being surrounded crumbling churches, gargoyles and tombstones he’s by far the gothiest thing in the game: a skinny, smug dickhead who summons demons to do the fighting for him. In an incredible bit of game design you can hold R2 to make him pull out a book of poetry and mournfully stroll around quoting William Blake mid-battle.

And then there’s Dante, who at this point in the franchise is a Swiss Army Knife of destruction. He’s got eight distinct weapons (with a couple of upgrades on top of those), four very different styles (Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger and Royal Guard) and two Devil Trigger modes. Ninja Theory’s DMC: Devil May Cry made the argument that Dante had grown too complicated over the years and that only committed players will be able to keep up with all his available mechanics and capabilities. It’s a fair point, but complexity isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I see playing as Dante as the action game equivalent as piloting a fighter jet or a Formula One car. Sure it’s tough to remember all this moves, but therein lies sweet satisfaction. I’m extremely far from mastering the game, but I still feel like an action game when I’m switching styles and weapons mid-combo: stinger-ing into a group of enemies, using Gunslinger with the Coyote shotgun to clear some space, launching an enemy into the air, switching to the Cavaliere motorcycle to really max out those Style points and then dodging a counter with some nifty Trickster teleporting.

On top of all that, the game is set in a nicely weird alternate universe London (with a whole bunch of very recognisable landmarks tossed around willy-nilly), the music isn’t entirely obnoxious and the voice actors seem in on the joke. I mean, c’mon, there’s a scene where Dante performs a Michael Jackson dance routine. Who could ask for more from a video game experience?

Okay fine, the story is a bit crap, but going into a Devil May Cry game expecting a riveting story is like buying MilfMania Vol IV and complaining that the plumber never fixed the sink. There is a dumb and overblown plot but it’s the cream cracker on which the delicious brie of gameplay lies.

I’ve now played all the Capcom Devil May Cry series and the fifth entry is the best the series has ever been. In addition, the Special Edition on PS5 is particularly shiny and allowed me to put my LG OLED through its 120FPS paces. My only regret is not showing it more love on its original 2019 release, but at least I got to experience it in the best possible way.

I usually sell my games when I’m done with them, but I think Devil May Cry 5 is sticking around as it perfectly scratches a very particular itch. Dante Must Die difficulty? Bring it on!

Demon’s Souls (PlayStation 5, 2020)

I’m waist deep in a poisonous shit swamp. It’s dark, there are disgusting dirt jellyfish slurping at my heels, in the gloom ahead someone… no… someTHING is screaming incoherently. And there’s a big smile on my face. Life is grrrrreat.

This is the paradox of Demon’s Souls, a game that immerses you in misery and leaves you ecstatic. All From Software’s Souls games (also Bloodborne plus Sekiro) manage this feat, though perhaps Demon’s Souls stands out as a tiny bit more impressive as it came first and nailed so much right out of the gate.

I first played the PlayStation 3 original back in early 2018. By that point I’d polished off Dark Souls and Bloodborne and the news that the multiplayer servers were scheduled to be switched off gave me the requisite kick up the arse to get on with it. I had a great time, with my quest through a doomed world given a metatextual wrinkle by the race against time to beat it before the hammer came down on the online mode.

Cut to December 2020 and I’m striding back into Boletaria in glistening HDR 4K and at 60fps. There’s an argument that the original’s visual austerity enhances the bleak atmosphere and sense of foreboding… but I think Bluepoint’s remake is jaw-dropping and its critics have overly rosy memories. This is a sensitive and careful restoration and the graphical update makes the environments sing (well, to be more accurate, wail).

There’s only so many ways to say this looks (and sounds) fantastic, but it’s nice to have what feels like a genuinely next generation experience coming at the console’s launch. Sure, Astro’s Playroom is great, but I’m glad the only other true PS5 exclusive is a game that puts the new hardware through its paces.

Graphical upgrade aside, the skeleton of Demon’s Souls 2020 is identical to the 2009 game and it proves that great design ages like fun wine. Sure there’s quality-of-life and design decisions in more recent From Software games that are absent here, but they didn’t detract from the fun one bit.

In fact, revisiting it made me realise there’s a lot about this particular entry that I wish had been carried forward. For example, the bosses in Demon’s Souls are half combat and half puzzles. There are usual straight combat fights like Flamelurker, the Maneaters and Old King Allant, but then you have puzzle bosses like Fool’s Idol, Dragon God and Old Hero that require lateral thinking to triumph.

My most memorable ‘boss’ in the game isn’t even a fight: the suicidal Maiden Astraea is the kind of design subversion you simply don’t expect from inaugural entry in a series. And then there’s whatever the hell Adjudicator is supposed to be.

Whether they’re challenging or not they’re almost all memorable (okay, Leechmonger and Dirty Colossus are a bit meh). But Demon’s Souls felt a nice change of pace after Dark Souls III‘s gallery of humanoid bosses who charge screaming at you with a blizzard of attacks.

But it’s in its stage design that Demon’s Souls really excels. The lack of mid-stage bonfires makes each expedition into their unfriendly labyrinths a proper adventure – and it’s testament to their design that I could easily remember their layout two years on. Inching your way through these spaces requires concentration, intelligence and spatial awareness – I love that when I’m playing Demon’s Souls I am totally consumed by what’s happening on screen. The Tower of Latria and the Swamp of Despair are obvious standouts – especially after Bluepoint’s graphical facelift.

It’s now clear that Demon’s Souls is going to go down as an evergreen piece of game design. Not only did it prove to be one of the most influential games of its generation, but the wondrous dread that runs through its veins hasn’t been dimmed by the years passing. If you’re getting a PS5, this needs to be one of your first purchases. I’m in love all over again.

Bring on Elden Ring already!

Snake’s Revenge (NES, 1990)

Snake’s Revenge has a real bad reputation. After the unexpected US success of the borked Metal Gear NES port Konami quickly decided there should be a sequel. Unfortunately nobody told Hideo Kojima and he only found out when he bumped into one of the developers on the train.

A little annoyed that they’d proceeded without him, he sought permission to make Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and the rest is history. Snake’s Revenge is now a footnote and if it is ever mentioned it’s usually as a punchline.

But here’s the thing: Snake’s Revenge is actually… *waves hands* pretty good. Let’s qualify that a bit. Metal Gear 2 is inarguably the superior game, but this is definitely a huge step-up from the nearly broken Metal Gear NES port.

Snake’s Revenge boasts a lengthy and varied campaign, taking in not only the expected military bases but also trains, a ship and an occupied castle. We get a collection of gadgets any Metal Gear game would be proud of, including a powered exoskeleton, X-ray glasses, truth gas and SCUBA gear. There’s a bunch of eccentric bosses, a story with twists and betrayals, you fight both Big Boss and destroy a new Metal Gear at the end. That’s a hell of a lot of boxes ticked for the full franchise experience.

Then there’s the fact that, as a relatively late NES game, this pushes the hardware in interesting ways. You can get a surprising amount of enemies on screen at once, environments are nicely detailed and there’s some neat stuff done with overlays to represent spotlights. Aas far as I can tell this was developed by same team as Castlevania III and those guys could make this console sing.

Another common criticism lobbed Snake’s Revenge‘s way is that it’s famously racist. At first glance the game’s on thin ground here. You must infiltrate Higharolla Kockamamie’s Fortress Fanatic in Ishkabibil, Teristan. Kockamamie has teamed up with Colonel Vermon CaTaffy to get a Metal Gear, here called the… *sigh* Ultra-Sheik Nuclear Attack Tank.

It’s hot garbage and the kind of jingoistic anti-Arab shite that passed for entertainment in Reagan’s America. But here’s the thing: none of that is actually IN the game. That’s all from the instruction manual, which was probably knocked together in an afternoon by some drunk dickheads at Konami USA.

The game itself continues the plot of Metal Gear in a fairly logical fashion and though Snake has been Rambofied by at least 50% the tone is honestly pretty consistent with Kojima’s Metal Gear.

The game only really falls apart with the increasingly frequent difficulty spikes. Bosses can and will chew through your rations extremely fast, the side-scrolling sections are very punishing if you’re spotted and any resource management is vital. Still, if you’re playing it now then you’re almost certainly emulating it and save states smooth off a lot of the rougher edges.

Run out of rations, crucial ammo or equipment and you may as well reload – though this is helped by items respawning when you leave and enter the room, meaning that if you’re patient you can max out most ammo quickly. Also, the 2D Metal Gear keycard juggling is present and correct, meaning you’ll have to try each of nine cards on locked doors (or you can just check in a walkthrough…).

okay you still don’t technically FIGHT Metal Gear, but at least it’s in the game

I’m not going to pretend that Snake’s Revenge is some secret lost classic but it’s way better than its shabby reputation would suggest. In the wider ranking of Metal Gear-related games it’s near the bottom, but as far as NES games go it’s impressive stuff.

So if you’ve dismissed Snake’s Revenge as nothing more than a vestigial organ dangling off the side of the franchise then maybe give it a whirl. You might be surprised.

Guitar Hero 5 (Xbox 360, 2009)

Like Icarus, the plastic instruments craze of the late 2000s/early 2010s flew too close to the sun. Too many games, too many peripherals and a lack of gameplay innovation killed the genre off almost overnight. Guitar Hero 5 landed just after the wave broke – selling less than half as many copies as its predecessor Guitar Hero World Tour.

I was always a Rock Band purist, preferring their slightly more mature aesthetic and having some lingering company loyalty from their Frequency/Amplitude PS2 days. But with these games now worth a couple of quid it seems silly not to catch up. And – dammit – I cannot deny that Guitar Hero 5 is a shimmeringly lovely rhythm game.

It’s a beefy 85 song setlist, featuring everyone from Bob Dylan to Vampire Weekend to Gorillaz to Elliott Smith to No Doubt. Sure, there’s inevitably a couple of deeply duff tracks, but I was surprised by the ratio of hits to shits.

I was already sure I was going to like playing through Beck’s Gamma Ray, T-Rex’s 20th Century Boy and The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. But one of the fun things about getting through these setlists is finding the songs I (or the Spotify algorithm that effectively governs my music tastes) would never have chosen.

There’s the relentless beat of Mirror People by Love and Rockets, the noodly headbanging of 2 Minutes to Midnight by Iron Maiden and the annoying catchy earworm of Dire Straits Sultans of Swing. I don’t really want to be a guy quietly boogieing to Dire Straits on a plastic guitar during a pandemic but I suppose this is my life now.

Even better, I’m better at this game than any other Rock Band/Guitar Hero game to date. I don’t know if my skills have improved over time or if they’ve loosened the HO/PO timing a smidge, but I was nailing solos I wouldn’t have dreamed of ever getting down.

One of my favorite things during these games is that, at the highest difficulty, your conscious mind is effectively switched off. Your eyes are reading the note chart and your fingers are doing the moves, but there is very little thought involved. It’s insanely satisfying to work through a solo that looks like someone has randomly vomited notes onto the track, only to realise you’re on a x4 multiplier and nailed it.

Getting through Jeff Beck’s Scatterbrain on Expert on my first attempt left me feeling like I’d broken through some kind of guitar skill ceiling and can never truly go back. Then there’s the truly epic Do You Feel Like I Do by Peter Frampton – a song I’d previously only known from being briefly featured in the ‘Homerpalooza’ episode of The Simpsons. This is a 14 minute behemoth of a track and nailing it first time made me feel like I was walking on air.

I didn’t even particularly mind the weird digital Kurt Cobain they’ve got dancing around on stage. Maybe 10-15 years ago I’d have got a muso purist’s bug up my ass about Activision puppeteering Cobain’s corpse to Bon Jovi, but I can’t deny that playing through the game in a ludicrous supergroup of Cobain on lead vocals, Johnny Cash on guitar, Shirley Manson on bass and Matt Bellamy on drums wasn’t entertaining.

I’m tempted to jump straight into another one of these: I have Band Hero, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, Rock Band 3 and Rock Band 4 on my to-play shelf. But hard won knowledge has told me not to over-indulge in these games for fear of getting burnt out.

Then there’s the fact that all these games have a shelf life: these plastic guitars won’t last forever and the games aren’t backwards compatible. But I’ll try to keep rockin’ forever. Or, at least, as long as the hardware holds out.