Games Asylum, twenty years ago today

If you were to travel back to 26th March 2001, we’d definitely recommend grabbing as many factory-sealed N64 and Dreamcast games as you can carry. If we recall, retailers were clearing out stock around this time. We certainly remember Oxford Street’s HMV having rows and rows of Dreamcast games at rock bottom prices, including the now highly desirable Rez. If only we had known.

If you happened to go online, perhaps via a super-speedy 56k modem, you’d find Games Asylum as fresh as a newborn lamb, celebrating our launch. Yes – we’re twenty years old this month. Twenty flippin’ years!

The first full entry saved on the WayBack Machine is dated 31st March 2001, giving an insight into what our launch week content entailed. Turns out we had a full quota of content ready to go live on launch day – 26th March – including an ambitious mixture of reviews, previews and features.

It’s fair to say it was mixed bunch.

Actual reviews

Being launched off the back of DigiApe, a Dreamcast site, there was plenty of coverage of Sega’s soon-to-be-discontinued console.

We didn’t have much nice to say about European Super League – Virgin’s attempt to fill the gap left by FIFA and ISS.

AI? “Did I mention the goal keepers yet? Or would they be better described as scarecrows?” Graphics? “The year is 2001, yet Euro Super League looks like an early PlayStation title. The players are all square jawed – not due to their muscular bodies, rather due to the few dozen polygons that were used to create each player.” Anything positive? “Oh, I should maybe also mention the custom celebrations after you score – a unique feature that might provide minutes of fun.”

It ended up with a 5/10, mainly because there wasn’t a better football game for the Dreamcast.

Championship Surfer wasn’t exactly the stuff of dreams either. We dished out a disastrous 2/10 after finding that surfing doesn’t translate well into video game form. Weirdly, this was one of the few games published by Mattel’s new gaming arm. They didn’t hedge their bets very well – Max Steel: Covert Missions, developed by Treyarch no less, didn’t fare any better. Treyarch did at least go on to bigger and better things.

Fighting Vipers 2 fared a little better. We started out excitedly: “Yet another triple A game from AM2? How have things changed since the 1998 arcade original? Find out here!” Some 1,200 words later: “arcade perfect”. Brevity was not our thing.

Away from the Dreamcast, Star Wars: Starfighter was “one of the first games to hint at the speculated power of the PlayStation 2,” and earned an 8/10 for its trouble. It was an innovative double-review for Oni meanwhile. Adam wanted it to be better but liked its style, and it had the saving grace of being “one of the few PlayStation 2 games that isn’t total rubbish”. Matt found it “samey”. A 6/10 and a 7/10 respectively gave it a 6.5/10 overall – a rare non-integer score.

Previews, or an approximation thereof

The previews came with the sort of exclusive insight you could expect from a bunch of late-teens in their bedrooms. Which is to say that there were plenty of regurgitated press releases, scarcely concealed in the cases of PS2 space shooter Silpheed: The Lost Planet and Commandos 2 for Dreamcast – which, like so many late DC games, ended up being cancelled.

Elsewhere, the breathless enthusiasm of youth. Pokemon Gold & Silver were previewed, with the confident assertion that they will be “the greatest Pokemon game to date”.

And basically everything in the Game Boy Advance preview was a “must have” or similar. On the prospect of a portable F-Zero we concluded simply: “Thank you Nintendo.” Bit much.

That preview ended by relishing the prospect of the GBA sparking a resurgence in platform games. It’s very easy to forget now that 2D platformers all but faded away in the 32-bit era.

Featuring features

Some of the features were at least a little more informed, including asking questions to actual developers. Not that our interview with Team 17’s Martyn Brown, about then upcoming DC/PC release Stunt GP, got anyone very far.

The mainly one-line answers were probably equally attributable to our questioning skills, and how many very similar questions he likely had to provide answers to. “Will Stunt GP feature online play? No, it’s not a game that could benefit significantly from it. It’s best played multiplayer in split screen mode.” Amen to that. We were also told that PS2/Xbox versions weren’t planned, although it did end up coming to PS2 around a year later.

In true humorous guy fashion, we ended the interview with a daft question: “And finally, do you have a favourite alcoholic beverage for those long nights near the games deadline?” Cutting edge stuff.

We were obviously concerned that there was a lot of negativity around – “the Dreamcast being killed off in its prime, magazines closing left, right and centre, developers and publishers laying off staff”. And right from the start we were keen on obtuse references. Hence the feature Reasons To Be Cheerful, 1… 2… 3… about what was to come from Nintendo.

It was pretty positive.

In the present, the reader was advised to “go and buy” all the now cheap “quality N64 games”. And of course there was the Game Boy, declared the “Best Thing Ever”.

Though later in 2001, the Game Boy Advance would become the new Best Thing Ever, and “allow you to play Mario Advance, Mario Kart, F-Zero, Chu Chu Rocket, Sonic, Castlevania, Street Fighter, and many, many more, anywhere. As long as it isn’t dark. And underwater is probably out too.” Bit of a joke there!

And further in the future, even the huge delay in Europe getting the GameCube was given a positive spin: “just imagine if the GBA and GC were launched too close together – you wouldn’t have the time to play all of Nintendo’s gaming nuggets of gold.” And there was a bit of space for some good old console wars, as the GameCube was all set for “something our Sony console owning friends have no idea of – original games.” What a burn.

And a forum!

The Games Asylum forum was also available on ‘day one’ – we weren’t calling ourselves “The Gamer’s Community!” for nothing. Hot topics included the upcoming DVD release of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the new Aliens versus Predator 2 demo for PC, and a bunch of no doubt hilarious “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” memes. Now we’re really feeling our age…

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