RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: Late Teens

Following on from yesterday’s post, in which I described a few of the albums that formed the basis of my musical taste in my early teens, here I will list a few from the next stage – my late teens. They occurred in the second half of the 90s, which will naturally be reflected in my choices here. It was an exciting time in my musical life, one in which I was as constantly seeking out new experiences, buying an album or more every week, and expanding my horizons from the metal and punk that filled the previous half-decade.

As before, this list will include albums that were important to me at the time, and that I still listen to today. Some albums have aged less well, and they won’t be included here.

PUSA

The Presidents of the United States of America – I randomly discovered PUSA back in 1995. Having seen a video of their song Lump on the ITV Chart Show, but thinking it was an old 70s punk song, I was surprised to find it when I visited Strawberry Fields – the music shop on Rickmansworth High Street. They had a crate of 99p singles on their counter (CD and Vinyl) that I would raid every week after collecting my paper round money. This one was in there, so I bought it and fell in love. The album came soon after, and it became my mission to make sure everyone in my school year heard it, whether they wanted to or not. In Summer if 1996 they became the first “proper” band I saw live, age 15. We had to travel through a tube strike to Brixton on the other side of London, where they played the Academy, supported by Kula Shaker. A defining moment in my life, one that had us buzzing all the way home on the night bus and into the following weeks.

MorningGlory

Oasis: (What’s The Story) Morning Glory ? – Still in 1995, there’s not a person alive at the time who wasn’t impacted in some way by the album. Naturally, many already knew the band thanks to their excellent debut album, but this was the one that blew up. Full of fantastic singles, with not much filler, the flow of this album is superb. I finally saw Oasis at Wembley Stadium in 2000 (having sold my Knebworth ticket to see Metallica in 1996) and even those five years later it was the songs from this album that got the crowd singing the hardest. Wonderwall may elicit a groan at an open mic night or as you walk past a busker, but there’s no denying the impact it had on popular music at the time.

Stoosh

Skunk Anansie: Stoosh – Oh my this was a big album in my life! As a budding guitarist there was plenty of fun to be had playing along to this album, with elements of punk and metal and occasional acoustic softness. When I started to play bass three years ago, this was again one of the first albums I turned to. When I saw Skunk Anansie at Watford Colosseum (March 1997, supported by Stereophonics and Gravity Kills), an already favourite band was burned into my soul. Hugely powerful sound, superb musicianship, topped by Skin’s fantastic voice. So still play this one regularly, with two of the songs on my “bass” playlist when I’m practicing.

Glow

Reef: Glow – There’s a pattern forming here, for Reef is another band I saw live, in 1997. This one was at Shepherds Bush Empire where they were supported by Number One Cup and Feeder. This is an album to make you feel good. With unmistakeable elements of Led Zeppelin, there’s not a bad song here. Place Your Hands was the big single that may class them as one hit wonders, but there’s a lot of good to be found in this album.

Pulp

Pulp: Different Class – I didn’t actually own this album until the early 2000s when I received it as a gift, but had a copy on cassette and the singles Common People and Disco 2000. A slow burner in some ways, a lot of the songs start off slow then open up with the first chorus. A collection of anthems to normal, or “common” life, this album spoke to us as we grew up in the grey town of Watford. I never saw Pulp live, but I do remember staying up one night to record their Glastonbury set from Radio 1, and enjoyed listening to it many times.

TheBends

Radiohead: The Bends – Everyone knew Creep, one way or another. I first heard it on the CD album Go Ape!, which came free with Donkey Kong Country on SNES. A good friend had the game and lent me the CD, which introduced me to this band and Pop Will Eat Itself (who would also be in this list, except that I don’t really listen to them any more). Thanks to that introduction, I grabbed this album as soon as I could and it became one of my favourite of all time, and remains so to this day. Some will tell you OK Computer was the finer work, but not for me. This is where Radiohead peaked.

13

Blur: 13 – I remember the first time I heard the lead single from this one, Tender. I was in Phoenix Records in St Albans, having a browse, and the song was playing over the speakers. Not quite able to place who it was, I asked and was told it was Blur’s new single. Wow. Blur has reinvented themselves with every album before this, but still it was a shock quite how far they’d moved from their poppier past. I bought the limited edition of the album, and absolutely loved it in all its dark, depressing glory. I actually met the band in December 1999. My girlfriend’s dad had represented the band’s chauffeur and managed to get us passes to the aftershow party! What a night, until she ran off and puked and kept puking for the following week, by which point I caught it too! Still, I met Blur! 😀

Various: Fat Music For Fat People – A compilation of songs from the Fat Wreck Chords stable, showcasing their talent, this album soundtracked a school trip to Barcelona in 1998, shortly before my 18th birthday. I could listen to this one over and over, and many of the bands have remained favourites ever since.

FrogStomp

Silverchair: Frogstomp – Another favourite for the guitarist in me, there are so many good songs on this album. Grungey by nature, and owing more than you may realise to Pearl Jam, Silverchair had a harder edge to their sound, and this first album of their had a particularly raw sound to it. Dealing with various angsty topics, it was perfect for teenage me.

Alice in Chains: Unplugged – For my 16th birthday I received from my stepdad The Blues Brothers on VHS. After our VCR chewed the tape on the first viewing, I was taken to the shop and told to choose whatever I wanted. It was this. And what a choice! This album floats around my top five albums of all time. Alice in Chains are a favourite band of mine, but I don’t always enjoy the tone and production of their albums. This one though, with everything stripped back to acoustic instruments, is very raw and full of emotion, and essential listening for fans of the band.

Queen

Queen: Greatest Hits – This will be the last one, this list is getting a bit long, but I couldn’t leave without mentioning this one, which should honestly have been on yesterday’s list of formative albums. I can’t get enough of it. Every song (except Flash, which irritates me no end) is perfect, and as a collection there is no finer compilation of songs in the history of all music. Absolutely my favourite album of all time, one I return to frequently, this is the most influential album on me. It even influenced the name of my son. Strangely, it was many years before I listened to any Queen except for this and its sequel (Greatest Hits II would you believe), and a cassette copy of The Works that if found in my Dad’s collection. In fact, I was 30 before I heard any of their other albums, at which time I certainly made up for lost time by repeatedly listening to many of the albums until they sank in. But still, it’s Greatest Hits that remains the perfect collection overall.

Well that was cathartic. I hope you enjoyed this insight into the second phase of my musical awakening. I’ll soon be tackling some favourites of the 2000s!

Find me on Twitter @BitlandComic, I’d love to chat about your favourite albums.

RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: The Formative Years

Inspired by a thread on Twitter today, in which all the cool kids labelled Nirvana the most over-rated band, I felt compelled to write a list of my favourite albums. The criteria for this list are pretty simple – these albums were a big part of my formative early-teens (first half of the 1990s), and I still listen to them today. Bear in mind that many of these will also be massive sellers that have gained the attention from that special sort of elitist who can’t help but tell you how they are over-rated. Nevermind them.

InUtero

Nirvana: In Utero – Well, let’s start here then, shall we. I was 10 years old when Nevermind came and shook things up. I was still listening to Michael Jackson and Thompson Twins at the time. For In Utero, though, I was 12 and in Senior School (High School if you like), and as such the album hit me hard. A friend gave me a cassette with Nevermind on one side and In Utero in the other, and told me to listen to it. I did. It changed me, probably more than any other tape ever has, and In Utero was the stronger album for me. Sure, as a kid there were lyrical elements that elicited a giggle – “rape me my friend”, “I wish I could eat your cancer”, and so on, but the power of the music is what ultimately grabbed me. Perfectly soundtracking my life as an outcast, drifter, and the family’s black sheep, the haunting harmonies stick with me to this day.

Metallica

Metallica: Metallica (The Black Album) – Another one that came along when I was 10 and was therefore missed, for a while. Of course in Senior School, where so much of this begins, the album was soon shared along with their earlier output. Perhaps because it was the most recent one, or the most accessible, this was the first one that resonated. The opening two tracks were amongst the most divisive in our peer group, with some staunchly believing that Enter Sandman was the best, and others (myself including) favouring the heavier edge of Sad But True. This isn’t now my favourite of their albums, and certainly isn’t in my top ten albums, but it was supremely important at the time.

SeventhSon

Iron Maiden: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son – My dad left when I was 10, ran off with someone from my uncle’s company. Soon thereafter I went rooting through the drawers in the cabinet that housed the stereo he’d left behind, and found this one on CD, and instantly fell in love with it. I’d heard nothing of the sort before, growing up in a house full of Genesis, Marillion and Pink Floyd, and it struck a chord. I wonder why it lived in that drawer, why it was separated from the rest of my parent’s collection, but I assume either my mum didn’t approve of it (see also Appetite for Destruction below, another drawer find), or she didn’t want me and my sisters to find it. I’m glad I did, it remains my favourite Iron Maiden album to this day.

Appetite

Guns N Roses: Appetite For Destruction – Now this one is very much in my top ten albums to this day. Perfectly recorded and produced, this is to me the ultimate rock record. Massive sounding, with great tone, this was the sound of a band (and producer) that knew what they wanted and knew how to get it. Not a bad song, this is as close to the perfect album as I know. And compared to many of its 1980s peers it’s aged incredibly well. Another that I found in Dad’s abandoned music drawer.

ChaosAD

Sepultura: Chaos A.D. – Now this was a turning point, the album responsible for pushing me into the deep, dark underworld of metal. Let’s be clear, this was not a cool album to listen to. I was ridiculed for my maturing tastes. But so what, it’s a fantastic collection of songs from start to end, and we shouldn’t be listening to music to score points from our peers. Some will prefer the earlier albums (a theme common to so many bands is that people claim to like them, but only the early stuff) and I certainly do love Arise which came before it, but for the purposes of this list, this is the one that introduced the band and cemented them in my psyche.

AJFA

Metallica: …And Justice For All – Metallica again. Today you’ll notice many experts discussing the mastering of this album, which has hidden the bass guitar and with it all the lower frequencies of the recording. Back in the early ’90s though we were absorbing most of our music from cassettes copied from cassette copied from records – hardly ideal, but it didn’t matter the slightest bit, particularly given that we were listening on a cheap walkman from Boots with the headphones that came with it. Kids bemoaning the audio quality of MP3s and Apple earbuds don’t know they’re born. I digress. This album, or songs from it, came to me on the same mixtape that introduced me to Sepultura, and so made a massive impact. Also teaching me that before Black, Metallica had done something quite different. Again not my favourite Metallica album (Master of Puppets as you asked), but at the time this was one of my favourite albums ever, and helped push me to learn guitar.

RATM

Rage Against The Machine: Rage Against The Machine – Another seminal album in the “rap metal” genre, as we knew it at the time. I was an angry child, I think that’s why I fell so hard for metal and punk music. Life wasn’t always easy, and people had a habit of pissing me off – a habit they haven’t shaken in the intervening years. This one spoke to me on many levels, with its tales of injustice spoken over fantastic guitar-based grooves. The first album that made me appreciate the role of the bass guitar in the music I loved. I love this album so deeply that I know that the second song’s name does not end with “of”.

Dookie

Green Day: Dookie – Moving on from the metal that soundtracked my pre-teen years, as I entered my teens I opened up to other ideas. Around this time if started a paper round, earning me £15 a week. Music at the time was quite expensive and that would have bought me an album a week, or several singles. I mostly went for singles for the sake of variety, and one of the very first I bought was Basket Case. Another perfect album, the main complaint I’ve heard about this from the hipsters is that it’s “too well produced”, which is an interesting argument, akin to “it sounds really good”. And it really does.

Smash

Offspring: Smash – Basically a kind of sister album to Dookie, this sufferers from the same problems of the other – too many great songs, too well-recorded to be accepted by true punks. Full of energy, this one. They subsequently went a bit off-the-rails, entering the mainstream as something of a comedy band, though their albums were pretty solid throughout, with the singles genuinely being amongst the weaker songs. This one though, this one is great.

Parklife

Blur: Parklife – This one may be a little surprising given the harder edge if other albums in this list, but this album came along at exactly the right time to impact me. Full of fantastic songs, swinging from hopefulness to despair, this is far more than many will assume from a “pop” band. Damon Albarn is a prolific musician and song writer, putting his name to many different styles of music, but this album captures him (and the band) at the top of their game. Youthful energy coupled with a streetwise knowledge of the world around them, I still get a tingle when Girls & Boys comes on.

Troublegum

Therapy?: Troublegum – I saved the best for last. This was my favourite album in its day, and remains amongst my very favourites today. Another album instrumental in my learning guitar, and the first that I learned to play through! I can’t quite say what magic they bottled for this one, and they certainly haven’t quite managed to repeat it in subsequent albums, but this one represents the perfect storm of anger and anguish. Truly a masterpiece, and largely forgotten today. Not by me!

So there you have a few of my earliest musical memories, with regards to my own musical awakening. Before this lot I was listening to Michael Jackson’s Bad, Thompson Twins’ The Gap, and The Simpsons Sing The Blues. Needless to say, life changed.

What are some of your most important albums, and why are they so? Find me on Twitter @BitlandComic to chat about it!

Dark Souls: An Addiction

DSR

Last night was a quiet night in for us. Our whole family has been suffering with a winter lurgy for the past week, so I ended up sat on the sofa alone with a couple of beers while everyone else snoozed upstairs. Making the most of sales on PSN I had early bought Dark Souls 2 and 3 (and I owned the DLC for 3 on my previous PSN account, so had the full experience. I already had them on my Xbox One, but seeing as I am soon to put the two consoles into different rooms in different floors, I figured I’d get them while they were cheap (€23 for both) so I can play them in either room.

Around 11:00 last night, expecting to stay up well past midnight with my two cats, who were already disturbed by New Years Fireworks, I was playing Dark Souls 2, but remembered that Dark Souls Remastered was on sale right now. €30 instead of €40. I’d ignored it previously, knowing that in a few months it would be cheaper still, but I was drawn to it. Strong Belgian beer may have been a factor. Or maybe it was that Lemon Meringue Pie liquor I’d quaffed earlier in the evening. Whatever it was that influenced me, I drained my struggling bank account yet further and proceeded with the 7.5GB download of what I think I can safely call my favourite game ever.

I mentioned that I have the sequels already on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. I also have physical copies of Dark Souls Remastered on Xbox One and Switch. The latter is a lot better than you might be expecting. I’ve been playing the two concurrently with slightly different builds, and just yesterday beat Seeth the Scaleless on both to earn a second Lords Soul. Now those two versions can wait while I catch up on PS4 with yet another load out. Shouldn’t take too long…!

It’s not common that I will buy a game on more than one console. There are a couple of Indie titles that I’ve picked up for less than €5 on sale that I may double dip, particularly buying a second copy on Switch, which is a perfect home for those games when you can’t use the TV. Dark Souls though I now own on Steam, PS3, and in “Remastered” form on PS4, Xbox One and Switch.

It’s been out now for seven and a half years, and I’ve had it since then. It took a long time for me to get into it, having struggled previously with the extreme difficulty of Demon’s Souls. I suffer from a lack of focus in general, and this series demands that you crawl inside it and forget everything else you could be doing instead. You have to live it. The moment you let your mind wander, you are overcome and returned to the last bonfire you visited. This is part of my reason for playing is concurrently on multiple systems – I will run through a zone, defeat a boss, then swap to the other version and do the same zone again. This time I’m more familiar, and it’s slightly easier to progress through the area. The bosses are often easier the second time through, when you’ve gained a better grasp of their patterns. This second run through a zone acts as a kind of cleansing, the next best thing to a rest. And it sharpens my skills, even if only a little.

I couldn’t quite tell you how this game succeeds in keeping me so entertained over multiplier plays through; such a discussion would become an even messier ramble than my typical writing. But needless to say I do love this game. And as much as I’ve enjoyed the sequels, it’s this first title that truly captures the imagination in a way that even Bloodborne has failed to do for me.

It’s a good thing there are only a handful of upcoming games on my radar. I’ll buy New Super Mario Bros U on Switch next week (even if I am annoyed that they’d re-release it at full price instead of a new game). The Last of Us 2, Yoshi’s Crafted World and Resident Evil 2 are pre-ordered, though I may just wait a few weeks before the inevitably appear on sale. Other than those I am waiting on Metroid Prime 4, Bayonetta 3 and Nioh 2. That’s it. Of course there will be occasional indie games popping up that may take a few of my credits. Otherwise I’m planning a relatively sparse update to my games library this year. Instead, I’m going to beat Dark Souls Remastered, and for the first time ever beat the other two games in the series. Maybe I’ll even get into Bloodborne, why not.

We all have a game or a series that captures our imagination like no other. A lot of Nintendo’s series do this for a lot of people, with Super Mario, Metroid and The Legend of Zelda often chock full of inspirational design and characters. I’ve enjoyed all of those series also, but there’s something that pulls me back to Dark Souls time and again. I wish I could give it a name. Jeff. I’ll call it Jeff.

Into 2019

Another year over. Each one seems to fly by faster than the last. It’s been a good one by all accounts, with many great video games released, some good music, films and TV, and in a personal note watching my son grow to be two and a half has been a pleasure. I succeeded for the first time in completing a daily project without missing a single day (results to be found here). So, what’s next?

The first thing to announce is my next daily creative project. I’ve thought over several options, including a daily webcomic, a weekly song (last done in 2015 with 45 songs recorded) and continuing the daily sketches from this year but with a more focussed theme. I even contemplated taking a year off to avoid burning out. It was the recent purchase of an iPhone XR, with its fantastic camera and large screen, that made up my mind – 2019’s daily project will be one of photography.

There is an accidental, recurring theme in my general photography of paths. The simple act of travelling from one place to another, literally or figuratively, is fascinating to me, and so next year’s project will take that name and concept towards its natural end – “Paths”.

As with all my projects, this one will not be done for its own sake. Instead it will be used to focus my creativity and improve a particular set of skills. In this case the art of photography itself, with framing, composition and so on improving through the year, whilst at the same time learning how to make the most of my iPhone’s camera, associated software and, at least at weekends, teaching me better use of my DSLR (a Sony Alpha 390 that has been stuck in its bag for several years, largely unused.) I have a new battery and an empty SD card waiting for me.

I also intend to purchase various equipment that will help me to learn and improve. In this case this will most likely come in the form of various lenses and (probably the most important) a tripod. I have a desktop one, but not a full-height stand.

All in all by this time next year I hope to have come a few steps closer to mastering photography and to have permanently upgraded my ability to take better photographs.

I mentioned a daily comic as one option for this year’s project, and that idea is not entirely out of the frame. In addition to my new photography project, in addition to finally setting up my Etsy shop and trying to sell some of my art, I intend to start work on a comic.

There’s not a lot to say at this point, except that it will involve a video game setting and will take its name from this blog, and my main social media brand – Bitland.

Watch this space.

So. These are my loose plans for staying busy in 2019. I’m quite excited to get into it all and enjoying the satisfaction in a year’s time of having successfully completed another daily project, and carrying the improved skills that go with it into the future. How about you? Do you have any creative projects planned for 2019? Or maybe you just have a list of video games you’d love to finish this year? Come chat me up on Twitter @BitlandGaming.

Retro Ram’s Top iOS Games

Some people hate gaming on a smartphone, citing poor control options as a major reason. Hear, however, I will discuss some of my favourite games that I play on my iPhone that have simple controls and can be played comfortably on a touch screen. Whilst I now have an iPhone XR with its large screen, for the past couple of years I’ve used an SE and so can confirm these games play just as well on all the various sizes of iPhone. For the sake of this article I will ignore games that inherently play better with a controller.

HoPiKo

HoPiKo – As the game loads it recommends using headphones, and it’s a sound recommendation. A thumping soundtrack accompanied a one-finger game that responds to taps and swipes to control the direction in which your avatar will leap. If you’re doing it right, each leap will take you around the varied obstacles and onto the next platform towards the goal. Fast reactions are needed here as there is a target to beat each stage in a (tight) time limit. Five stages are grouped together, and any failure takes you back to the start of the group. Also available on PS4, and pairs well with a nice sound system!

FlickKick

Flick Kick Football – A simple enough premise, this fun little game has you flicking a football at a goal. That’s about it. Various stationary defenders get in the way of your free kick, a goalie may be moving from side to side along the goal line, and the ball will be dropped at various positions around the field. The longer you swipe your finger the higher the kick, and you can curve the ball by tracing a curve in the screen. Simple, yet addictive.

SuperMarioRun

Super Mario Run – Oh come on, you’ve played this haven’t you? Haven’t you!? Well, in case you haven’t here’s the basic idea. Mario runs ever onward, and a tap of the screen causes him to jump. He will leap over small enemies (Goombas and Koopas) automatically, with a tap causing him to leap off them with some flair and earn bonus coins. The main game mode has you tackle sets of four stages. Each stage has 5 coloured coins to collect to “perfect” it, with subsequent attempts (after collecting all 5) moving the coins to more difficult locations. Other game modes have you face off against the ghosts of other players in a game against the clock. The winner is the one who has collected the most coins and impressed the most toads with their aerial acrobatics. There is even a third game mode that remixes random sets of 10 stages as you seek to rescue Daisy. All in all this is a fun take on the Super Mario series. It is made to the usual high standard of Nintendo’s first party titles, and condenses the formula expertly onto the format.

Lifeline

Lifeline – How would you update the choose your own adventure genre for the modern age? Whilst Charlie Brooker is exploring his own ideas with Bandersnatch on Netflix, Lifeline came along a few years ago with its own plans. A sci-fi story in which a crashed spaceman contacts you and asks you to guide him along the surface of a strange planet, the real twist in the gameplay mechanic comes with real-time waiting. When Mr Spaceman says he’ll be in touch when he’s walked to a distant landmark, the game is paused. Some time later (perhaps hours) you’ll receive a notification that he’s contacted you again, allowing you to continue the tale. Clever, and at times frightening and even moving, it’s well worth a play through (or a couple more when you inevitably fail). There are numerous sequels, and whilst I’ve downloaded several – at very low cost – I have yet to delve into them.

RaymanRun

Rayman Jungle Run – My comments regarding this game can largely be thrown at its sequels, which are fine games, but it’s the original that has the most purity in its design. Another auto-runner, this one has a little more complexity than most. Initial stages allow you to control Rayman’s jump as he runs ever onward, but later on you gain the ability to float along and punch at enemies. These abilities are only available from the levels in which they first appear, and the level design reflects this. Collect 100 lums on each stage and you’ll collect teeth for Death. Enough teeth and you unlock that world’s “final” stage, which ups the difficulty significantly. It’s an older game now, but so much fun.

AltosAdventure

Alto’s Adventure – Infinite running games are dime-a-dozen in smart phone App Stores, but how about… an infinite snowboarding game! Beautifully crafted, Alto’s Adventure starts off simple enough. Snowboarding to the right, your basic goal is to get as far as you can whilst collecting coins. Adding depth are rocks to avoid, bonus items that can help for a limited time, large chasms to leap over, and as you progress further you will upset some fellow camping in his tent, who then takes chase for sometimes quite some time, until you get to the next chasm and leave him behind. The risk factor during these chase sequences is high. You must keep performing tricks (grinds and backflips) to maintain your speed and avoid capture, all the while avoiding rocks that bring an instant game over. As each new game begins you have up to three extra goals, such as to collect X coins in one run, or to leap over X rocks. Simple targets to begin with, but increasingly difficult as you unlock the next trio. This one would almost be relaxing if it wasn’t for the ever-present threat of failure.

OneMoreJump

One More Jump – I love this game – enough that I’ve recently repurchased it on Switch. Your little square avatar slides along the white patches of ground, and is killed by just about everything else. Tap the screen the jump (a popular mechanic in this list), with gravity changing according to the platforms around you. Make your way around increasingly complex stages to the goal, collecting 3 blue spots along the way if you are a perfectionist. Various mechanics are introduced as you go on, with platforms changing around you to add to the challenge. Another thumping soundtrack helps to keep you focused. A polished game this one.

CrossyRoad

Crossy Road – Another one you’ve probably heard of. Crossing (pun intended) the basic gameplay of Frogger with the infinite running genre, you wind up here. Tap the screen to progress one space further, and swipe left, right or down to move one space in those directions. Vehicles move at different speeds, and the threat of the creeping screen means you need to keep moving. Collect coins on the way to play a bonus game to win new characters, many of which will change the entire game board with different themes. Simple, yet compelling, this one is quite essential. A Disney version will satisfy fans of that particular media giant.

SSG3

Super Stickman Golf 3 – One of the very greatest smart phone games, Super Stickman Golf is a deceptively complex game that keeps introducing new game mechanics with each new course. Aim your shot, set the power, and thwack! Set in 2 dimensions, you’ll encounter plentiful obstacles including sand traps, sticky surfaces, water and more. Besides this there are special ball powers than grant various bonuses, such as sticky balls that stick to the first surface they hit, or ice balls that make water traps solid. There’s so much depth in the gameplay, and I’d like me you have a natural compulsion to better your course scores, you can play this for hours.

So, there you have it. A selection of the games I most enjoy playing in my iPhone. You can’t go wrong with any of these. I’m sure there are plenty of great games that have come to the App Store in the last couple of years (I haven’t bought one for some time), so if you know any let me know – either in the comments below, or on Twitter @BitlandComic.

Some Of My Favourite Indie Games

Indie games have become quite the force to be reckoned with in recent years, with something of a resurgence in the 2010s. Many years ago, particularly in the UK, a huge number of “bedroom coders” created games that have since gone on to be legends. I shan’t focus on those old ones today – instead I’m going to discuss a few of my favourite indie games from this new golden age.

Super Meat Boy – I may as well start strong… Super Meat boy is one of my favourite games of all time! Well-polished, with excellent music, varied stages, tight controls, and an amusing array of characters, the game has you, as the titular Meat Boy, navigate increasingly deadly stages to save your girlfriend, Bandage Girl. Spinning saw blades, lasers, spikes, salt, hypodermic needles, lava…. there are many obstacles in your way – and they all kill you. Many times. Complete a stage within a quick (but unpublished) time limit to achieve an A+ rating. Certain levels contain hidden bandages (plasters to us Brits) to be collected, and yet others contain warp zones which take you away to weird and wonderful lands drawn in the style of retro consoles – notably Super Nintendo and Game Boy – which present new challenges and physics for a laugh. In a game full of genius moments, perhaps the greatest is that upon completion of each stage you are presented with a replay of every attempt you made – enabling you to watch sometimes dozens of Meat Boys meat their sticky end. These replays can be saved for posterity!

Originally slated as a Wii exclusive, the game never came to that console. It did, however, come to both Wii U and Switch, Xbox 360 (backwards compatible on One), PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and the usual PC operating systems. To give you an idea of how much I love the game I have bought it on every single one of those systems!

supermeatboy

Shovel Knight – Honestly I didn’t enjoy this one a lot the first time round, but given time it has worn away at my scepticism and become another favourite. Yet another retro-styled game, with graphics and music that wouldn’t be possible on retro consoles but still evoke the memory of olden-times gaming, this one has you play as Shovel Knight as he seeks to save his partner in adventuring – Shield Knight – who is under a curse. As his (or her – you can sex swap any major character in the game, why not) name implies, our hero’s weapon of choice is, rather unconventionally, a shovel! Use it to strike enemies in the usual manner, or in a downward attack reminiscent of Scrooge McDuck’s pogo attack in Duck Tales, you will adventure through (quite long) stages as you overthrow various other knights who stand in your way.

A secondary objective is the collection of treasure, found in chests, dropped by enemies, and dug out of the ground with your trusty shovel. Die during a level and a portion of your treasure is left behind, waiting for you to collect it – unless you die again then it’s gone forever! Oh No! Each stage has a few checkpoints at which you will continue after death, but you could choose to destroy a checkpoint and gain a nice amount of extra treasure. A nice risk/reward mechanic that can be used to your advantage once you’ve learned your way around the stages.

Bosses are ostensibly the same throughout, with most of them vanquished by holding down throughout and drop attacking them over and over until they fall. Once you get the rhythm of things there isn’t too much challenge, and you can afford to lose a little health as you fight.

The main game is long enough to present great value for money, and when you add in the (free) DLC packs that have you play as other (enemy) character with their own play style, it’s something of a no-brainer for fans of old-school platform fun.

shovelknight

The Swindle – I first got hold of this one via Sony’s PlayStation Plus service, but loved it so much I’ve since purchased it on Switch. Break into houses, steal all the money you find therein, hack computers to syphon money to your bank account, and avoid guard robots along the way – all with the intention to prevent Scotland Yard from launching a new initiative that will end your line of work forever.

You have a 100 days to achieve your goal, with each new heist counting as one day. Get killed by a guard (or a mis-step) and you get no swag from that day’s efforts. Spend the money you earn on upgrades to your toolset, and to unlock new areas with bigger houses and grander hauls – but also with better security. It’s a tense game and one I’ve yet to complete though it’s exciting to progress a little further as your skill improves.

theswindle

Sally’s Law – A strange one this. It tells two tales, which come to converge. I don’t want to spoil anything but I will say I found this one to be quite moving. It made me think. Its quite a short game, a couple of hours or so, and gameplay is relatively simple, but the narrative pulls it along expertly. Essential for those who are fatigued by the fast pace and big bangs of modern gaming.

sallyslaw

Axiom Verge – Sitting firmly in the Metroidvania genre, Axiom verge is another not-quite-retro-styled game. Explore the large map, shooting beasties and gaining new weapons that unlock new paths. You know the drill. What makes Axiom Verge stand out is the fantastic sense of style – from the graphics, animation and design to the fantastic soundtrack. Seriously, I’m not one for listening to video game soundtracks when I’m not playing, but this is an exception. Find it on Spotify and hopefully you’ll agree with me that it’s a thing of beauty.

Another thing it does incredibly well is to give a sense of power as you progress – but the end you feel like a superhuman, with massive guns and other augmentations leaving the weedy peashooter of the early game a distant memory.

Available on every platform, I recommend you pick up the Multiverse Edition which comes with an artbook, poster, making-of DVD and (Switch only) a soundtrack CD – all for a great price. I don’t know why the soundtrack is only with the Switch version, but I imagine they’re using it as a sweetener for the extra €10 of Nintendo tax you’ll pay for that edition. Well worth it.

axiomverge

Not A Hero – A fun game in which your main goal is to assassinate various gang leaders, with each stage hiding a selection of optional bonus objectives. Different characters have different strengths that will affect your approach (and sometimes your chance of success). Highly-stylised, with a great cast, this is an outlyer that you will often find for a very cheap price.

notahero

There you have a few of my very favourite indie games from the last few years. It’s a good time for indie devs. Except that guy who made Fez then snapped. It’s not a good time for him. So, what do you think? Have you played any of the above? Loved them? Got any other “essential” titles you’d add to the list? Let me know below, or find me on Twitter @BitlandGaming. Peace.

Gaming PC? Probably Not

I last built a gaming PC in 2009, to play Left 4 Dead in a clan I had then recently joined. It costs £1000 and lasted until I gave it to a friend near the end of 2014, before I left the UK, still running new games at least at 1080p60 on medium to high settings. It was fun, I always loved to sit at my desk, isolating myself in a digital realm and getting away from the real world, a feeling that console gaming on a sofa doesn’t quite achieve. Since I gave it away I haven’t had much desire to replace it.

Things have changed a lot in console gaming over the last decade. Starting with Xbox’s launch, and continuing through the seventh and now eighth generations of video game consoles, we’ve seen the gap between console and PC gaming close. Once upon a time, games on DOS were quite different to those on Nintendo’s consoles, which were again different to Sega’s. Not just in terms of graphics and sound; the style of gameplay itself was different. As we moved into the early days of 3D gaming in the mid-1990s, things didn’t change. Each manufacturer (including Sony once they joined in, and Sega until they stopped) had their own way of going about things that was reflected in the games released on their systems. Look at PlayStation or N64 for example. Two systems doing much the same thing at the same time, but if you saw a screenshot you’d likely immediately recognise the flavour of the system, and therefore know what system the still was from.

Roll on to today, and there is little to distinguish a game on any of the two major consoles, or Windows. Sure, there will forever be someone running comparisons of graphics across the three, and sure Windows will always win… but if you take this away, the games are the same. No scenes are cut to fit the game onto a disc, or levels reduced due to RAM limitations. The only tangible difference comes down to how important those graphics are to you, and your choice of controls.

This ignores console exclusive games, which may or may not be a selling point. They may influence your decision to choose one system over another, but they don’t fundamentally change the fact that the experience is similar throughout. I’m also discounting Nintendo consoles because they don’t quite fall under the remit of this article; Nintendo have been, and continue to be, on their own path basically since they joined the race.

In respect of the Xbox One, many of the games I play include cross-buy, meaning if you buy a game on Xbox One, it is also playable on Windows 10. This assumes you bought the digital license, and is not applicable to discs for whatever reason.

Ultimately my point is: I don’t need a gaming PC, with its high outlay, to enjoy the games I want to play. Sure they don’t look as nice, but the current consoles sure look great at 1080p, sitting 3 metres away from my TV, even before you consider Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. It’s far more comfortable to sit back on my sofa, controller in hand, with carefully optimised surround sound.

Since I ran a Left 4 Dead team I’ve suffered long-term effects of repetitive strain injury, making keyboard and mouse use difficult, but a controller remains comfortable. Sometimes it helps to turn of vibration, but that’s a small concession. I’ve become quite adept at playing the games I want with a controller, and game developers have at the same time become quite adept at satisfactorily using the controllers.

Thanks to my iPad and my Switch I can also enjoy a game whilst sitting on the sofa with my family – no need to isolate myself in a separate room any more.

My PC used to double as a workstation, using a Wacom tablet (sometimes just a mouse) to create art. When I discovered iPad Pro and Apple Pencil a little over a year ago, this role (that had in any case been perfectly filled in the interim by a Mac Mini) became redundant. GarageBand on my Mac Mini (and at a pinch on iPad) has become my choice of software when recording songs, and my USB interface works perfectly with both. Entertainment is handled by the iPad, with apps for Netflix, Youtube and Spotify keeping me going. I can mirror these apps to Apple TV while I work, or plug my iPad into any HDMI port via an adapter – useful on trips.

I’m struggling as I write this to come up with a single reason to purchase a gaming PC. It seems the only reason is improved graphics. And, if it means anything to you, the use of mouse and keyboard. And maybe a few games that aren’t available on consoles.

Anyway, there’s no point to this post. I just feel like writing. If, however, you feel like sharing your feelings – please do, either below, or find me at Twitter @BitlandGaming. Cheers.