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Today in Retro Gaming: Twisted Metal (PS1)

Does going out for a leisurely drive downtown send involuntary twitches up your spine? Does hearing the cheery, upbeat tunes of an ice cream truck make you want to curl up into a little ball? Do you secretly suspect all taxi cabs have spring-mounted machine guns hiding behind their headlights? If so, don’t be afraid! There’s nothing at all wrong with you. You’re among friends. Relax–you’ve just been playing a bit too much Twisted Metal, which arrived on US shores twenty years ago today. We’re here to help. Just put down the flame thrower and everything will be fine. We promise.

For many gamers, Twisted Metal was what sold them on Sony’s flashy new game system. I remember finding it impossible to go into a Target or Wal-Mart back in the mid-90s without finding a PlayStation kiosk complete with two controllers and a copy of this game taunting you to give it a test drive. Racing titles were nothing new, but games like Super Mario Kart and Rock ‘n Roll Racing had begun laying the foundation for a new branch off the racing family tree, where the point wasn’t so much to cross the finish line first as it was to ensure your opponents were incapable of crossing it at all. While there had been other games in the past which flirted with this concept, going all the way back to titles like Bump ‘n Jump on the NES and Demolition Derby on the TRS-80, Twisted Metal was the first to really cement the idea of complete destruction as the only viable outcome for a race for the home gaming crowd. They mainly did this by eliminating the concept of ‘racing’.

Title screen

Title screen

Developer SingleTrac instead chose to focus on the combat aspect over the checkered flag. Instead of more traditional racing fare, where drivers upgraded their shocks and engines, Twisted Metal encouraged gamers to outfit their chosen rigs with landmines, homing rockets, and flaming oil drums. Needing some excuse for why a bunch of sociopathic misfits would ever enter such a ridiculously dangerous contest, they borrowed liberally from the backstory of virtually every major martial arts film and one-on-one fighting game: the tournament.

Admit it: you forgot the first-person camera even existed.

Admit it: you forgot the first-person camera even existed.

Calypso, a strange man with otherworldly powers, has opened the streets of futuristic Los Angeles to create the ultimate battleground. At stake is not the fate of the world, or some beautiful princess, but rather anything the contestant’s heart desires. Calypso’s prize is the granting of one wish of the user’s choice. Money? Fame? Revenge? There are myriad reasons to enter such a tournament, and each of the twelve competitors seeks something different. Part of the fun was playing through as every driver to see how Calypso would screw them over.

"Test Your Mi--" er, sorry, wrong game.

“Test Your Mi–” er, sorry, wrong game.

Yeah, you read that right. Calypso graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Sadistic Game Master School of Wish Interpretation, which means anybody who isn’t extremely specific with what they want from their wish is going to wind up wishing they’d never gone through all the trouble in the first place. This hilarious twist added some dark, grim replay value to what could have otherwise been a one-trick pony, and it went on to define the series as it spawned new sequels and spin-offs.

Just your average day on the LA freeway.

Police cars, taxis, big white vans…just your average day on the L.A. freeway.

It also spawned an iconic mascot in the persona of Sweet Tooth, a demonic clown with a pimped out ice cream mobile who launched flaming icons of his own head as a special weapon. There may have been a dozen drivers on option, but if you ask anybody to name a driver from the series, Sweet Tooth will be the first to come to everybody’s mind. Sony made sure teenagers and adults understood the console they were selling was absolutely not aimed at the under-18 crowd. Crash Bandicoot may have wound up as Sony’s mascot later, but make no mistake: Sweet Tooth was the face of PlayStation in 1995.

The face of your nightmares, but still...

The face of your nightmares, but still…

Hope you enjoyed our little trip down memory lane, and enjoy the complimentary two-page ad spread:

Michael Crisman

In 1979, Michael Crisman was mauled by a radioactive Gorgar pinball machine. After the wounds healed, doctors discovered his DNA had been re-coded. No longer fully human, Michael requires regular infusions of video games in order to continue living among you. If you see him, he can see you. Make no sudden moves, but instead bribe him with old issues of computer and video game magazines or a mint-in-box copy of Dragon Warrior IV. If he made you laugh, drop a tip in his jar at http://paypal.me/modernzorker (If he didn't make you laugh, donate to cure his compulsion to bang keyboards by sending an absurdly huge amount of money to his tip jar instead. That'll show him!)

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