The long-overdue continuation of the Star Wars Battlefront series is set to land in the next couple of months…and it seems to be missing half the features that the old games had. Huh. Well, since we’re braced for a disappointment it seems like a good excuse to do a sequel of my own, offering five MORE games licensed from one or another intellectual property but which buck the trend and manage not to be awful. Not necessarily brilliant, but not awful.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (PlayStation)
Developed by Argonaut, Published by Electronic Arts
Given the obscene popularity of both the original books and the film adaptations, it’s safe to say the developer asked to make a Harry Potter tie-in game could’ve churned out literally anything and it would’ve made enough money to fund serious research into real-life sorcery. So it’s doubly commendable that what actually resulted from the deal was a very solid escapade that mixes platforming, action and puzzle-solving. Your selection of spells is small but fun to screw around with, especially since hearing pre-teen Harry squeak out the incantations never stops being funny, and the game manages some surprisingly emotional moments such as the horrifying encounter with a troll. And in case you needed any more convincing, the fact that I once spent hours of my life hunting down every sodding jellybean in order to get 100% completion proves they did something right with this one.
Wolverine as a character almost seems designed to star in his own video game, and this forgotten spin-off from the least offensive of the X-Men movie trilogy does a commendable job exploiting this potential. Not only can Logan slice and dice his way through hordes of baddies, a simple but cathartic stealth option lets him literally sniff out victims with smellovision before quietly tearing their lungs out. And you need to master the stealth because even the adamantium man can only take so much gunfire before he turns into a shiny skeleton in a pool of giblets. The game’s biggest letdown is the frustration caused by some imprecise controls and lengthy stretches of gameplay between checkpoints, but it’s still an ambitious little hack-‘n’-slash adventure with way more soul than most other attempts to gamify the X-Men.
Tragically released just as the original PlayStation was bowing itself out, this is a thoroughly unique and thoroughly fantastic puzzle/stealth/platformer hybrid based on a Loony Tunes series. Each level tasks you with nicking some mutton from its shaggy protector and the gadgets you get to play with employ delightfully cartoonish logic, like using a hairdryer to thaw out a frozen sheep or a fan to propel a raft along a river. Every mission adds some new element to master and the challenge gets pretty severe later on, which only makes it all the more satisfying when you figure it out. A real swan song for its generation, Sheep Dog ‘n’ Wolf is an utter gem that not nearly enough people know about.
It took them over a decade, but someone eventually realised you could turn Spielburg’s dinosaur franchise into a theme park builder. The result is a subtle spin on the formula, because your rides might occasionally break in Rollercoaster Tycoon but at least they don’t eat people if you neglect them. The dinos are at the core of every business decision you make and it’s hard not to get genuinely sad when your star attraction dies of rabies because you were too cheap to research a vaccine. Then there are the hurricanes, which always without fail decide to turn up just as you can’t afford to repair stuff. Operation Genesis is surprisingly playable on the consoles and makes a nice, laid-back Sunday afternoon experience, especially since it’s actually quite hard to go bankrupt. Just keep putting the prices up on the toilets. Hey, we ain’t running a charity here.
The Battlefront games might be the best thing to come out of the Star Wars prequel trilogy whose very name has been reduced to a punchline. Fighting as one of four factions across every iconic film setting and a few more for good measure is just magical, especially since effort was clearly put into giving the different teams unique gimmicks, from the shielded rolling death-ball Droidekas to the three-dimensional hijinks of the jetpack troopers, and you can get to tear around the field as famous faces like Yoda and Boba Fett (or at least his helmet). The PC version offers such extra pleasures as multiplayer and jumbo-sized battles, and given that Steam charges a tuppence to play it one has to wonder what exactly the upcoming reboot will offer other than shinier textures and forced Origin use.