Top 100 Games – 94 – Space Station Silicon Valley

27 Feb

Space Station Silicon Valley
Year: 1998
Genre: Platform/Puzzle

The minds at DMA Design were some of the most inventive and talented in the gaming industry. The studio became Rockstar North after the Grand Theft Auto series became immensely popular, but before then they produced this quirky and underrated gem. Featuring a thoroughly unusual plot in which a spaceship crashes into a bizarre space station populated by robotic animals. With the pilot of the ship incapacitated, it’s up to the microchip brain of his robot companion to save the day. If this sounds a little odd, then the gameplay will seem even more so. Evo, the aforementioned microchip, can jump between animals, taking them over and allowing the player to control them. This concept is not only brilliantly creative, but also perfectly suited to a game which is as unusual in its approach to plot and character design as to gameplay.

The humble 'dog with wheels' is one of the early animals available

Space Station Silicon Valley is ostensibly a platformer, but after a few levels it becomes abundantly clear that this is something altogether more taxing on the mind than Mario 64 or Banjo Kazooie. With each animal having a unique set of attributes, each level becomes a case of finding the right tool for the job. If there’s a large jump to be made, a sheep can float across, but a mouse can speed boost up a ramp and over. Later levels see larger animals, and surviving long enough to even figure out what to do can be challenging. This is what makes the game great though, there’s a huge amount of reward to figuring out how to take down a bear or lion, as you gain their power. This sudden move up the food chain changes the way the game is played, and allows different approaches to the unique puzzles to be explored. It encourages the player to use their imagination and intellect to solve problems, and there are some genuinely tough levels to contend with.

On top of the great gameplay, there is a real sense of humour throughout the game. Each animal is ridiculous in its own way. The sheep are lovable balls of floating fluff, the penguins angry snowball throwing lunatics, and so on. DMA offer an experience full of charm and not quite lovable, but certainly appealing characters. It’s really not like any other platformer, offering a variety in gameplay rarely seen and a personality all its own. With the huge amount of Mario 64 imitators that hit the N64, this is one of the few that stood out and created its own identity, one that not only appeals in terms of its strangely crafted characters, but also in its perfectly executed core mechanic. DMA, and later Rockstar, have always been able to offer a unique slant on the gaming world, and this is some of their best work, up there with GTA for sheer creativity and intelligence, but without any of the controversy or violence.

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