I'm Gaming Jay and I'm on a quest to try every game in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. Each week I play two games and record the results. I post my videos as Let's Plays on YouTube and write short written summaries of each game here. So are you a retro gaming fan? If so, I invite you to join me, and follow along, as I attempt to play 1001 video games... before I die.

Skool Daze
Episode 127

Played on Sept 1, 2016

❝ Just like Dennis the Menace if Dennis the Menace were utterly confusing and unclear...❞

Jay's Thoughts
Skool Daze

On paper, the idea for this game sounds pretty awesome. Skool Daze has you take the role of a trouble making student who has to navigate through a school in an attempt to cause mayhem and trouble. You get in fights with other students, have to avoid getting caught for skipping class by teachers, and ultimately solve some kind of weird puzzle involving school crests (as, you know, all trouble makers in school must do).

I really did like the idea behind Skool Daze. And the game does have some neat retro-graphics for its time to represent the school yard hi-jinx. However, past that, I had some problems with this game. First off the controls were convoluted and confusing. I can't criticize the game too much for this though, as most older computer games from this era, especially ZX Spectrum games for some reason, seem to have very counter intuitive control schemes and use an odd arrangement of buttons. But getting past the controls, the game itself is quite confusing. I was looking forward to cause trouble with my slingshot and skipping classes, but its easier said than done. It was hard to navigate through the environment, easy to get caught for things, and confusing about which class you actually needed to go to.

In the end, it's possible that with enough time and experience, all these issues would've faded away and Skool Daze might have gotten fun. But all that means is it has a very steep learning curve. And so in the end I wouldn't recommend this as a game to play. If you're interested in the concept for Skool Daze you may instead want to check out Rockstar's Bully, which seems to be a modern reimagining of the game in some respects.

➙ Must You Play It?
A game about school yard hijinx and being a bad student, it actually was quite ambitious for its time and offered some unique and complex gameplay... in theory at least. The actual game is quite confusing and very difficult to control. For ZX Spectrum fans this might be a game to try, but for everyone else I'd say skip it. At the end of the day, much like school itself, Skool Daze just wasn't that fun.

California Games
Episode 125

Played on Aug 29, 2016

❝ Like the Summer Olympics but with Hacky Sack and Half Pipes!❞

Jay's Thoughts
I never played California Games growing up, but I heard of it. It was one of those games that existed on EVERYTHING. NES, Commodore, DOS, Sega systems... the game was everywhere! And I do recall people speaking fondly of it as kids.

California Games is essentially a series of sports-based mini-games. From surfing to hacky sack, half piping to boardwalk roller skating, the game isn't so much about serious sports as much as its about "cool" alternative sports inspired by the Californian lifestyle of the 80's youth. And in that respect, the game is a nostalgic look back at the 80s.

As far as gameplay, the mini-games are fairly simple and fairly tricky. There really isn't much depth to many of the games, and the controls are usually no more complex than one or two buttons being pressed at the correct point. When this game came out, such controls and complexity were not that unusual, and in fact the game was ahead of its time in that it offered so much variety of gameplay with the different mini-games in addition to allowing you to compete with friends or teams of friends. So its not all bad here. But that said, by modern standards I did not find the gameplay to hold up all that well.

Ultimately, California Games is a classic. Indeed, its sheer recognizability is a testament its popularity in the 80's. That said, beyond checking it out for its old school charm, I wouldn't recommend this one too widely.

➙ Must You Play It?
California Games is definitely a classic game that many know from their childhood. And for nostalgia's sake, this may actually be a game worth trying. However, the game is essentially just a handful of mini-games, and said mini-games do have tricky controls and are quite simple. So ultimately, this may be a game you want to try to say you did, but I don't see modern gamers finding lasting gameplay here.

Hitman: Blood Money
Episode 124

Played on Aug 25, 2016

❝ He's Bald and He's Angry...❞

Jay's Thoughts
Hitman: Blood Money

In the world of video games, "infiltrating an enemy base" often involves loading up with machine guns and running into a heavily guarded facility, guns a' blazing! And hey, that can be fun of course. But there's something to be said for the stealth genre. A genre that rewards patience, planning, and cleverness over killing. In fact, killing is not always the most effective route, and sometimes letting someone escape rather than blow your cover is the better option. Sometimes...

The Hitman series are stealth games through and through. You take on the role of, well, a hitman. I believe his name is 47 or Agent 47. To be honest I never really played Hitman games much myself, so I have only a passing knowledge of the back story. But it doesn't really matter, the main thrust of this game is its creative and inventive stealth mechanics. You may need to hide in a clock tower and snipe out some key guards, use noise or movement to distract others as you sneak by, don the uniform of a guard you've just killed and bluff your way past the on duty guard into more high restricted areas.

Hitman may not be the first stealth game, but it's a series that does the genre justice. It's a game that will reward careful planning and strategizing, and that will punish you for trying to go commando and just kill everyone. If you've never tried the series before, I recommend checking it out. I had fun with this entry, and I think it's a game worth trying before you die!

➙ Must You Play It?
Hitman is an iconic series that eschewed the typical run and gun and kill everything mentality of so many shooters of the day. Though not the first stealth game, it definitely hones the experience and offers a lot of inventiveness in terms of sneaking through your missions to kill a high value target. If you've never played a Hitman game before, you should make the time!

Knight Lore
Episode 123

Played on Aug 18, 2016

❝ A game about wizards and werewolves!❞

Jay's Thoughts
Knight Lore is an interesting game in that it focuses more on wizards, werewolves, and adventurers than it does on knights per se. Hence, the title is a bit confusing. That said, the game itself is one of the first isometric platforming games and at the time was seen as a bold and daring step forward in game technology. Though that may intrigue you, sadly, I didn't find the game holds up all that well.

The core of the game revolves around adventuring around through various rooms of a castle or dungeon, trying to find magical items and defeat weird creatures. On this quest, you take the role of Sabreman, an adventurer, who occasionally turns into a werewolf, and you have 40 days (of in game time) to find the cure to your werewolf affliction.

The game acts essentially as an isometric platformer, and in that regard it was often hard to judge where things were precisely in a room, and not always as easy as it should be to move and jump around to where you wanted to be. The enemies seemed fairly random and would usually kill me off pretty easily, especially as it wasn't really clear how or if any could be defeated. And the items you find don't seem to do all that much other than fill your inventory with random things.

All in all, Knight Lore is a game that deserves some recognition for being one of the first of its kind to popularize the concept of isometric platforming. But it wasn't a game that I necessarily enjoyed all that much myself. For fans of the ZX Spectrum or other such computers that this game was launched on, it may be worth checking this game out, as you may have an easier time dealing with older games than me. But for most other games, I recommend skipping this one.

➙ Must You Play It?
Knight Lore was one of the first isometric platformers and helped launch the popularity of the idea of this style of gaming. For fans of the ZX Spectrum or other early computers, this might be a game that could be enjoyed quite a bit, offering a bit of maze and exploration-style adventuring. However, dated controls, gameplay, and slightly confusing graphics mean that most other gamers probably should skip this particular title.

Snake Rattle 'n' Roll
Episode 122

Played on Aug 15, 2016

❝ Tongue the Boot!!!❞

Jay's Thoughts
Snake Rattle 'n' Roll

Snake Rattle 'n' Roll is a game about a disembodied snake head that roams around eating balls, using said balls to grow a long tail and ultimately ring a bell, so he can proceed to the next level. Along the way you'll need to use your only attack, your tongue, to lick boots and bombs and defeat your enemies. If this all sounds weird it's because it is, and hey, that's OK.

Snake Rattle 'n' Roll is a classic game in the truest sense of the word. Like many NES games of the day, it was a platformer at heart. Unlike most NES game however, it was an isometric platformer. This wasn't the first isometric game out there but it definitely was one of the earliest games of its kind and that made it pretty unique for the NES.

Now the isometric angle of Snake Rattle 'n' Roll has pros and cons. The pros are that the game ultimtely had a more complex and free roaming environment than most other platformers. And the faux-3D effects made the game feel quite advanced. The down side is that Snake Rattle 'n' Roll sometimes requires precise platforming jumps, and it can be hard to judge your position and/or control your jumps properly along both X and Y axes.

In the end though, this is a classic game. I had never played this one before now and I had a decent amount of fun, and I could see why people enjoyed it when I was growing up. That said, by today's standards its a fairly simple affair, and if you can't get used to the isometric jumping, it may be a little frustrating. I think this is a solid retro game that will appeal to people looking for an old school platformer.

➙ Must You Play It?
A solid retro platformer with an isometric twist. Though the isometric angle was a bit ahead of its time and offers a unique change compared to 2D platformers, it can occasionally be difficult to judge your position or make precise jumps. Still, Snake Rattle 'n' Roll is a fun game and will appeal to those gamers looking for some old school platforming fun on the NES.

Myth: The Fallen Lords
Episode 121

Played on Aug 11, 2016

❝ Before Halo, there was Myth...❞

Jay's Thoughts
Myth: The Fallen Lords

Myth is a tactical RTS game from Bungie, the developers of Halo. Interesting bit of trivia, Halo itself was originally envisioned and developed as an RTS before it evolved into the FPS we all know and love today.

As far as Myth goes, the game is a fairly interesting tactical experience. Unlike most RTS games that involve you building a base, managing resources, training soldiers, and engaging in a series of tactical battles, Myth focuses more on the detailed micro-management of limited forces during battles. In Myth, there are no bases, no resources, and no training new soldiers. Each mission gives you an existing force and requires you to use those soldiers efficiently to defeat your foes.

The tactical take on strategy makes Myth a unique strategy experience. On top of that, the game features a fairly realistic physics engine for its time. For example, if you lob an explosive at an enemy and it lands on a hill, it can actually roll back and at you! Arrows also damage whatever they hit when they land, creating an interesting dynamic with ranged weapons as its very hard to hit moving targets but dangerous to fire into frays of friendlies and enemies engaged in melee combat.

Beyond the unique gameplay, Myth definitely feels like a Bungie game. This parts a bit intangible, but the personality and characters and detail in the game feels very Bungie, and this is a good thing. Ultimately Myth is a solid tactical strategy game that will likely appeal to strategy fans and provide a fun and engaging tactical experience.

➙ Must You Play It?
Myth is a unique tactical strategy game from the developers of Halo. It features an emphasis on efficient micro-management of your forces during battle, rather than base-building. All in all, a decent game that would likely appeal to the strategy gamers out there.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
Episode 120

Played on Aug 8, 2016

❝ This game belongs in a museum!❞

Jay's Thoughts
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

Like all LucasArts adventure games, this game is chalked full of personality and humor. Case in point, the game opens with a cinematic-style opening credits sequence, during which you control Indy as he bumbles his way through some university archives. It's a fun and humorous way to introduce the player to this particular adventure, and sets the stage for things to come.

In terms of actual gameplay, this is a LucasArts game, meaning that you needn't worry about Sierra-style traps or dead ends. For every given puzzle, the pieces needed to solve it are always available, meaning that getting through the game is usually just a matter of patience.

As far as adventure games go, this game does seem to feature a lot of dialogue. In a way, this pushes the game a little bit more towards interactive fiction, which is not a bad thing considering Indiana Jones adventures are awesome.

This game offers a few interesting twists and turns, and as you'd expect for Indiana Jones the story mixes supernatural with the archaeological. Like any true Indiana Jones adventure, the game also features a number of exotic settings from around the world.

Ultimately, this was a fun and safe adventure game, and one that Indy fans and adventure fans alike would probably enjoy.

➙ Must You Play It?
Seeing Indiana Jones in a new adventure is almost reason enough to play this game. Though adventure games are not for everyone, this game has LucasArts' trademark humor and attention to detail. Though the game focuses a bit more on dialogue than challenging puzzles, overall its still an interesting adventure to play through. Probably worth a shot!

Ecco the Dolphin
Episode 119

Played on Aug 4, 2016

❝ Join the eternal struggle between dolphin and alien❞

Jay's Thoughts
Ecco the Dolphin

Ecco the Dolphin is an interesting a unique action-adventure game that sees you take on the role of a dolphin and explore the ocean in an attempt to (somehow) save your family from aliens. In typical Sega fashion, the gameplay is fast. At the time of this game's release, Sega and Nintendo were locked in a bitter console war, and Sega was known to advertise its "blast processing" capabilities. No one knew what blast processing really meant, except that games looked kinda fast on the Sega Genesis. And Ecco was no exception.

The gameplay is relatively simple in concept: you can swim around as a dolphin, jump out of the water, lunge at enemy fishes, and otherwise just sort of swim around. You do have the ability to use sonar, which both allows you to talk to other dolphins or whales, as well as to quickly map your environment. I actually really liked the creativity behind using your sonar for these dual functions. Other aspects of the game are that you need to watch both your health and your oxygen levels, as you do need to breath air to live. You can also eat little fish to recover your health if you're injured.

Much of your time in Ecco will be spent exploring labyrinthine caves in the ocean and having to find gem stones which give you the power to unlock other areas. One of my major complaints of this game is regarding these gem stones. All the gem stones seem to look alike. Hence, when you encounter a gem you never know if this one is going to give you a key or is locking off an area... it's an annoying an unnecessary aspect to the game. My other issue with this game is its difficulty. Not only is it actually kind of hard to stay alive, but levels themselves are needlessly obscure sometimes, making the game almost feel like a puzzle game at times. I actually had to look up a tutorial on the first level of the game as I got stuck. And just so you don't think I'm being over-dramatic here, the game's designer himself has said that he regrets making Ecco as hard as he did.

In the end, Ecco is actually an inventive and refreshingly novel idea for a game. It makes good use of its setting and was kind of fun to play around with. That said, it is a challenging game, both in gameplay and in figuring out what to do on any given level. Though I appreciate the inventiveness of the game I don't think it's ultimately so fun that it's a must play. You could maybe check this one out if you're curious. But it's also one that could be easily skipped.

➙ Must You Play It?
A unique and inventive game centered around dolphins. The gameplay is kind of fun, though it is hard and levels are quite obscure. If you're looking to have a bit of fun exploring some 16-bit caves in the ocean, this game might be worth a try. But if you're not super interested, I'd probably skip it.

Episode 118

Played on Aug 1, 2016

❝ A wizard in ball form trying to restore color to the land...❞

Jay's Thoughts

OK so all the color is stolen from your magical land. Now you, being a wizard, what is your first move? If it's to transfigurate yourself and your cat into magical balls with the power to shoot lasers and then venture off into the colorless and oddly moon-like world in search for those colors, well then you sir, belong in the game called Wizball.

So the story of Wizball is kind of weird. Also, I don't fully buy the story. The background of the game clearly makes it seem like you're out in space, and the grey landscape makes it look like the moon. So was this really a game that was developed as a game that takes place in some medievil fantasy kingdom? Or did they just develop a space game where you bounce around as a ball and decide at the last minute your ball is actually a wizard? Hmmm...

Anyway, let me preface my whole review by saying that I had never played Wizball before, and while I appreciate some people may have grown up with fond memories of this game, I personally found this game very challenging. To start off, when the game first starts your only means of locomotion is to bounce, and it is very difficult to control your speed and direction when you're bouncing, so you kind of just bounce all over. However, if you get lucky and kill a few enemies you can purchase an upgrade which lets you hover and move freely in 4 directions. Essentially, once you buy that upgrade, the game becomes a totally different game. I don't get what the point of bouncing was other than to waste a bit of time and occasionally kill you through randomly bouncing into an enemy, as it seems like everyone's first upgrade will be the movement upgrade.

Once you get the ability to fly, the game becomes much easier, though still rather difficult. You can gradually buy more upgrades, such as better lasers or even a small companion (your cat in ball form), and these upgrades do help, but it's still quite easy to die. Once you have most of the upgrades the goal seems to be to kill random enemies and collect certain colored paints to recover the stolen colors of the world. This wouldn't be so bad if you could collect the paints yourself but instead you have to have your cat do it, and you control your cat a little awkwardly by pressing the movement keys after you hold down the shooting key (which locks you in place as long as its held). It's a little hard to explain but suffice to say, it seems a little needlessly complex.

All in all, Wizball I think is just not my kind of game. I found it difficult and not very intuitive. The idea of buying upgrades was neat and actually, to buy upgrades you had to wiggle your joystick. That may sound like yet another convoluted control but honestly, that worked quite well so I have no complaints. I don't think that Wizball is a horrible game or anything like that, but I do think its the kind of game that has a limited audience, and so for that reason I really wouldn't recommend this to anyone who's never played it before.

➙ Must You Play It?
Wizball is an odd and challenging game by today's standards. Though fans of these older types of games may enjoy such a retro challenge, as someone who had never tried this game before I found it just too weird and difficult. If you grew up with this game I suspect you will still enjoy it today. But for people who've never heard of it before I suggest skipping it.

Halo: Combat Evolved
Episode 117

Played on Jul 28, 2016

❝ Time to meet the Chief...❞

Jay's Thoughts
Halo: Combat Evolved

Halo is the most iconic game of the Xbox. Originally starting off as a real-time strategy game on the Mac, the game gradually shifted into a first-person shooter. Its developer, Bungie, was purchased by Microsoft around this time and Halo shifted from a Mac game to a flagship Xbox series. In an ironic footnote, the marketing department at Microsoft didn't this "Halo" was a clear enough title for the game and insisted on the "Combat Evolved" tagline. What exactly "Combat Evolved" even means is itself kind of unclear. And it turns out it was an unnecessary addition anyway, so every Halo game since hasn't bothered.

The game itself is a science-fiction first-person shooter. You take on the role of the Master Chief, a super-powered soldier (known as a Spartan) in the human ranks, helping to fight against the Covenant, an alliance of several advanced alien species. The crux of the game is that humanity is actually losing the war against the covenant, and you are one of the last of the super-soldier-esque Spartans. The game revolves around the discovery a ring-world called Halo, which is actually an ancient alien space station that was constructed well before both humanity and the Covenant ever existed. Fighting your way through hordes of aliens while uncovering the secrets of Halo forms the core narrative structure of the game.

Now, in terms of story, Halo is great, and its universe is rich and full character and detail that put it right up there with other space operas like Star Wars. However, the thing that really made Halo so damned impressive is its gameplay. Halo was a very unique game in that introduced or included a number of great conventions to the first-person shooter genre. First, you could only hold 2 guns, meaning that you had to make a strategic choice about which guns you would carry into any given situation. In other games it was not uncommon to literally carry around every gun you'd ever found. However, because of the 2 gun innovation, every gun in the game was designed to be useful. Rather than a hierarchy of good to bad weapons as was found in games like Doom, Halo had a rock-paper-scissors-esque system, where different guns were good in different scenarios but weak in others. As well, you could use almost any weapon in the game. If you killed an alien and wanted to see what their gun was like, you could literally just pick it up. Most games don't allow this, creating clear segregation between player weapons and enemy weapons, not so in Halo.

On top of the unique weapon system, Halo included regenerating health, allowing players to take a bit of damage but then take cover to recover. This is a gaming convention that countless shooters have copied since. Rather than having a separate melee weapon every weapon in Halo had a melee attack, allowing you to essentially "quick shot" a melee, something that more traditional shooters (again, like Doom) didn't allow. Grenades were also allowed to be thrown at any point. The ability to melee or throw a grenade instantly (rather than switching over to them first) made the firefights feel far more complex and sophisticated than in previous games. The worst part about games with too many weapons is when you have to retreat from combat to scroll through weapons to get to the right one. Not so in Halo... everything is right at your finger tips.

And then there's the AI. The AI in Halo blew me away when I first played the game. Enemies will actually take cover rather than just stand out in the open shooting at you. They will dodge your grenades and flee from you if you take out their commander. The bigger aliens will order the little ones around, and they will even shout taunts at you or berate one another for not doing better. Unlike other games of the era, the enemies don't feel like a bunch of mindless bullet sponges. Instead, they feel a little more real. Mind you, they're still just AI opponents, and so they're not *that* smart... but still. It really does add to the game.

I could go on, but suffice to say, Halo is a brilliant game that did so much for the FPS genre that its influence cannot be understated. The Halo series would only get better from here, and though Halo: Combat Evolved wasn't my own personal favourite entry in the series, I think it's definitely a game that you should play before you die!

➙ Must You Play It?
Halo: CE is a massively influential game that shook up the first-person shooter genre in a way that I don't think any other game really has. Though I personally prefer some of the later Halos a bit more, this game is still terrific and holds up quite well. Definitely a game to play before you die!