Feature: Summer Sizzlers
Posted by Javier Santana Panero
Dust off your swimming trunks and stock up on sun cream because summer is upon us. While this may not be completely true if you live in a certain southern hemisphere (or a country like Great Britain, where meteorological conditions defy all logic and expectations), here are some games that will bring you that warm, fuzzy feeling of the hot season — even if your umbrella is never too far away.
An obvious but nevertheless deserving first stop, Mario’s GameCube outing embodies the jolly, sunny feeling of abandonment that takes over anyone who enters holiday mood like no other game. Playing Sunshine is the closest you can get in the digital world to sipping on a sambucca while listening to a marimba lying on some forsaken Caribbean beach. Not only does the game begin with the Mushroom Kingdom troupe on their way to an actual vacation on Delfino Island before trouble strikes, it also introduces Mario to the wonders of FLUDD, a water pistol with a mind of its own that becomes his faithful companion throughout this adventure. In fact, water plays an essential part in Sunshine, whether that's by squirting it at others or diving into it in several stages straight out of the real Magaluf experience: seaside amusement parks, sandy beaches, hotels, casinos, pools, waterfalls and quaint local villagers are all present.
Sunshine is so hell-bent on ticking all summer boxes it even features an unlockable pair of sunglasses for Mario that will reduce the screen brightness like real shades would do. You have to wonder whether the whole game isn't just an elaborate cry for a well-deserved rest from some overworked programmers. After all, this wasn't a launch title and a lot was riding on its shoulders when it came out in July 2002. Famously rushed to meet its release date under enormous pressure from Nintendo executives, some of this tension translates into random difficulty spikes that jar with the general laidback tone of the game. But what is a vacation without a little stress?
HOT! HOT! HOT! — It took nearly 20 years but finally Mario’s overalls got a makeover and his t-shirt got short sleeves to deal with the heat of Delfino Island; he's one hairy, fatty dude after all.
Blame it on its cheap B-movie roots reminiscent of teenage-bait holiday flicks or the fact that the original Resident Evil was released in Europe during one of the hottest summers on record in 1996, but everything about this seminal survival horror series feels like it was made to be played on long summer nights. Although the season with the highest number of light hours may seem a little at odds with the moody, sombre atmosphere the Capcom franchise first built its reputation on, a closer inspection reveals a very different beast to the Silent Hills and Project Zeros of the genre – Resident Evil is as loud, bombastic and dumb as any summer blockbuster film, with a penchant for nonsensical dialogue, ridiculous bioterrorist plots and plenty of tentacles to rocket launch.
This is especially true of the latter entries in the series, and Resident Evil Revelations goes one step further by setting the majority of the game on an adrift holiday cruise ship across the Mediterranean, featuring naff casinos, abandoned swimming pools, lots of bad water and sink or swim scenarios straight out of the granddaddy of all disaster films, The Poseidon Adventure. Any doubts that Revelations is pulp fiction of the highest order are dispelled by the brilliantly cheesy recaps at the beginning of each episode and an ending with more twists than a cruiser dance floor. Subtle stuff this is not — it’s meant to be digested with a half switched-on brain and a half-open window bringing a gentle summer breeze (and some zombie grunts) into your bedroom.
HOT! HOT! HOT! – Jill Valentine goes full Lara Croft and learns how to swim and dive just in time to face the first underwater sections of the series.
The first clue is in the title. Although it didn’t achieve the immortality of its predecessor, Wii Sports Resort remains the ultimate declaration of intentions of what the Wii stands for: an active but not too taxing break for every member of the family in a relaxing environment, in this case Wuhu Island, the ever-sunny virtual holiday destination in which the different Wii Sports Resort games take place. Where other developers would have simply created a series of idle backgrounds, Nintendo crafted a wish-you-were-here scenario brimming with landmarks (the duckling lake, the volcano, the mysterious ruins) to create the illusion of a true summer escapade.
As expected, the friendly vibe is permanently present and the competitive elements are minimal beyond an overall ranking and some personal stats – after all, you wouldn’t want to rub your victory all over your granny’s Mii's face. If the game has the sanitised whiff of a computer-generated Butlins, advising rest after long periods of play, constantly holding players' hands and preventing them from delving deeper into any of the activities, it’s because that is the precise experience Nintendo was after. Wuhu Island is Gran Canaria meets Brain Training and was never meant to be twinned with Dragon Roost Island. If you can make peace with that, you may even find yourself enjoying the subtle nuances of the Wii Motion Plus and forget about the daily grind of the average Dragon Quest-like game you pile through during the rest of the year.
HOT! HOT! HOT! – Like any good packaged holiday, Wii Sports Resort offers plenty of activities under the sun, but none can match the joyful sense of relinquishment found in a bit of beach frisbee throwing.
This season wouldn’t be officially summer without a catchy song from hell following you wherever you go, bellowing in the distance in the park, blasting at full volume from a passing convertible or stuck on repeat in a cocktail bar's jukebox. In some countries, an unofficial "Song of the Summer" competition occurs among Latin radio stations, transforming the airwaves into a baffling one-upmanship of repetitive melodies and relentless beats. You will recognise immediately this type of song if you have ever been to Rio, Cancún or the Greek Islands — or if you’ve ever played Samba de Amigo.
SEGA’s demented rhythm game is the equivalent of being trapped in a cheesy holiday resort with a slightly amateurish house band playing the greatest “Song of the Summer” hits of the last 30 years while the sun glares mercilessly on your fourth glass of sangría. Amigo perfectly captures the slight derangement and drunken stupor of a Latin fiesta through the prism of a very kawaii sensibility courtesy of a Sonic Team in a state of grace: a pink bear and a catgirl in a leopard catsuit (!) encourage you to shake your Wii Remote and strike ridiculous poses to the beat of what feels like an infinity mix of Bellini’s Samba de Janeiro — and it feels right. Never mind the lack of proper maracas or the broken controls of the Wii version – if you're playing this game in any competitive frame of mind whatsoever, you're doing it wrong.
HOT! HOT! HOT! – Samba de Amigo is so hot it’s practically on fire, but a special mention must go to the rainbow haze that engulfs the characters when players achieve A rank mid-song, sending them into a Macarena hypnotic trance.
Shigeru Miyamoto’s naturalistic real-time strategy series is based on the old premise that sometimes what is nearer to you is what is most unknown. If you can still picture those care-free childhood summer times where you would while away your long days exploring the nearby woods before turning in for teatime, you'll feel right at home in Pikmin’s bucolic world, where you're put in charge of an army of plant-animal hybrids an inch in size, thereby transforming the bushes and puddles in the game into Amazonian jungles and insurmountable oceans chock-full of secrets and perils.
This childish sense of wonder of the familiar nature resonates strongly not just with children but also nostalgic adults and is a common place in Japanese culture; the film My Neighbour Totoro, set during a summer holiday in the countryside, explores a very similar sentiment. Nintendo, however, ensured Pikmin wasn’t just a collection of pastoral vignettes by adding a fair amount of challenge to its gameplay – remember when you fell from the neighbour’s tree while trying to steal an apple or the time you got chased by a straw dog exploring the abandoned mill? Miyamoto understands these backyard exploration thrills to a tee and danger is never too far away thanks to adverse geography, natural traps and the most characterful collection of beetles, flies, caterpillars and terrifying snake-bird enemies. Just remember to get back home before sunset and everything will be fine.
HOT! HOT! HOT! — The game is split into 30 days, a generous but inexorable countdown akin to the summer holiday period that anyone who’s ever been a student will understand all too well.
If there's one aspect of summer we clearly can’t get enough of, it's water - in swimming pools, at beaches or along quay promenades, getting near the deep blue is a rite of passage of the season, as is dusting off Wave Race 64’s old cartridge (or loading Wii's Virtual Console version instead) for a few splashes around its now legendary circuits. At the time of its release, the water effects in this jet ski racing game were jaw-dropping. To an extent, they still are: undulating turquoise waves, still lakes reflecting the surrounding landscape, golden sea swirls bathed by the sunset, turbulent port town waters, thin icy surfaces to slide over… if it's H2O and you can ride on it, it’s in the game.
Wave Race 64 was also an unexpected success in the bumpy history of the Nintendo 64 in that it managed to ride the zeitgeist of cool that had historically avoided Nintendo. Here was a game borne out of a semi-forgotten Game Boy IP and the desire to showcase the N64’s technical capabilities that suddenly touched a very real nerve in its audience: let’s face it, in the hierarchical order of awesome things to do at the beach, jet skis trump over beach tennis, inflatables and snorkelling any day. Most of the gamers who had only gawked from the sand banks at the cool kids riding along the coastline were finally given a chance to become these daredevils themselves. As a result more than two million copies were sold worldwide and several copycats spawned along the way, but none could match Wave Race 64’s effortless handling, iconic stages and overexcited commentator (“Maximum Power!”). There may have been more nail-biting racing games already in the market and games with arguably better water physics have come along since, but Wave Race 64’s refreshing combination of both remains unbeaten, even by its own GameCube sequel (Wave Race: Blue Storm).
HOT! HOT! HOT! – The stunt mode, where players gain points for performing ridiculous tricks such as handstanding over the handlebar or somersaulting like a madman with only the mercurial water as a safety net.
These are just a few games to help you enjoy the summer heat or cool off on a humid summer's night. What are some of your favourite summertime games?