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Games time forgot: Space Station Silicon Valley

3:51 PM on 01.08.2008 // Anthony Burch

erere

After weeks upon weeks of having to preface forgotten games with apologetic statements like "while interesting in theory" or "flawed, but somewhat enjoyable," I finally get to once again spew endless, unadulterated praise about an older, slightly obscure game.

The game in question is, of course, Space Station Silicon Valley. Developed by DMA Design (now known as Rockstar North), Silicon Valley combines the nonlinear elements of Grand Theft Auto with the puzzle gameplay of Lost Vikings, all wrapped up in clever action-platforming a la Super Mario.

It's really, really good, and you should play it.

Story:

As you can see above, Space Station Silicon Valley follows the exploits of Danger Dan and Evo, his robot. Sent to Space Station Silicon Valley (originally designed as a futuristic amusement park and petting zoo, complete with robotic animals) to investigate the whereabouts of one Professor Cheese, the duo crash-lands in the station and cripples their ship. Evo's body is completely destroyed save for his control chip. With Dan's ship out of comission, Evo has to travel around Space Station Silicon Valley and complete numerous weird, seemingly illogical quests in order to stop the out-of-control space station from crashing into Earth and ending all life as we know it.

 

Gameplay:

The player controls Evo's control chip which can take control of any disabled robotic animal, thus allowing the player to control said animal for however long he or she deems necessary (not unlike how a GTA protagonist can enter and exit any unlocked car at will).

Each animal, having somehow merged with the space station's technology, has a unique power all its own: Racing Mouse can go incredibly fast and get huge air on ramps despite his inability to otherwise jump, Sheep can jump reasonably high and parachute using their wool, Foxes can teleport and attack enemies with their tails, and so on. 

The station is split up into dozens of individual stages, each with their own specific goal. Typically, the player has to activate or de-activate some machine or security gate, then proceed to the next level -- this is easier said than done, however, as each stage is filled with puzzles upon puzzles upon platforming challenges upon combat, all designed to utilize the vastly different skillsets of each individual animal. 

This is where, to my mind, the game begins to resemble The Lost Vikings. The videos I've embedded show only the first two levels of the game, but you can still begin to see how the puzzles are structured: in the second video, after herding a bunch of sheep into an electric pen for no goddamned reason whatsoever, the game activates a portal on a small island. The dog cannot jump far enough to reach the island, so the player must take control of the Racing Mouse -- an animal which cannot jump, period. The player must use the Mouse's speed to accelerate toward the island, hit a small environment ramp, and land directly on the teleport.

This is, by far, one of the easiest puzzles in the game, but every subsequent level is based off this gameplay conceit: use an animal for its ability, ditch it for a different one, find out which animal to use when, and how.

The game's got combat, but really only as a secondary means to an end for a few of the puzzles. As Evo's chip can only enter a deactivated animal, the player must beat the living crap out of whichever robotic animal he wishes to control, which usually translates into a lot of running up, hitting the person twice, getting hit once, moving back, and repeating. Still, the combat is there, and you've gotta respect how many damned genres Space Station Silicon Valley simultaneously embodies. It is, in many ways, at least three or four games in one.

 

Why You Probably Aren't Playing It:

Aesthetically, the game is so cute and kid-friendly (the darkly humorous aborted love scene between dog and sheep notwithstanding) that it really masks how goddamned deep, clever, and, at times, considerably difficult the game can be. If I had to imagine a single reason this wasn't one of the most popular N64 games of all time, it'd probably be the fact that most gamers, upon seeing screenshots full of puffy sheep and cute doggies, would not assume the accompanying game would be terribly challenging or "mature."

It was also on the N64. Originally, DMA design wanted to make Silicon Valley a PC game, until they found that (according to what they told Nintendo Power a year before release, anyway) most PC's wouldn't have the necessary processing power to handle the pure mind-blowing awesomeness of their game, whereas the N64 did. I dunno how one comes to that conclusion, but there you have it; rather than heading to the PC market where the game could have likely found some mainstream attention, it hit the already-"kiddie" N64 and didn't attract a spectacularly large audience.

That said, get it. If you have an N64 and never played Silicon Valley, you're doing yourself a disservice. I see many copies of the game at local media exchanges, and it goes for relatively cheap on eBay. The graphics are the only truly dated thing in Space Station Silicon Valley -- the gameplay itself is every bit as fresh, intelligent, and fun today as it was ten years ago.




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