Five of the Best is a weekly series about the small details we rush past when we’re playing but which shape a game in our memory for years to come. Details like the way a character jumps or the title screen you load into, or the potions you use and maps you refer back to. We’ve talked about so many in our Five of the Best series so far. But there are always more.
Five of the Best works like this. Various Eurogamer writers will share their memories in the article and then you – probably outraged we didn’t include the thing you’re thinking of – can share the thing you’re thinking of in the comments below. Your collective memory has never failed to amaze us – don’t let that stop now!
Today’s Five of the Best is…
Bikes! That is, bicycles without a motor. Push bikes, although no one actually calls them that do they? There’s a serenity to pedalling around on a bike that you don’t get on a rumbling motorbike. You can hear the world around you and you can see it too, providing you’re not plummeting down the side of a mountain. There’s a romance to biking as well. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to be those boys in ET, cycling away from the cops while jumping off grassy ramps on their BMXs. So here’s to bicycles and here are five of the best.
Okay so you can’t really ride Yakuza’s bikes, but you can go one better and lamp someone with them. One of the joys of Yakuza’s combat is grabbing street furniture and whirling it around as you fight off a mob of thugs, and I think the bike is the best of all of them – it’s overstated, over-the-top and feels simply brilliant when you connect a bulky frame with a bad man’s face.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill
I’m tempted to say that Lonely Mountain understands bikes better than any other game I’ve encountered. Despite this being a biking game, the bikes aren’t the star – rather it’s what they allow for that matters.
This is a game about getting to the heart of nature, following the track until there’s nobody else around for miles. Your bike is your means of getting here, but it’s also your reason for being here in the first place – and it’s a companion, too, skidding over skree and serenading you with the gentle, irresistible ticking of the chain.
My favourite biking moments are the rest stops – you find a vantage point and hop off the saddle for a few seconds. There’s no reason to include this stuff, but it strikes me as an indicator that the fiction of place the game creates has become so overpowering the developers have fallen into it a little bit. I’m not big on bikes but if they get me to the heart of the wilderness like this then they must be special after all.
When I first arrived in Cerulean City in Pokémon Yellow, I was tired from battling far too many Zubats in Mount Moon and I wondered, wearily, whether my journey had to be completed by foot. Thankfully, within this city, I found a solution: the bicycle shop. Or I would have if bicycles weren’t apparently the most luxurious items in the Pokémon world, costing a full $1,000,000 each.
Not only is this price exactly one dollar more than the maximum amount of cash you can carry in a Gen 1 Pokémon game, but it suggests bicycles are more expensive to produce than Poké Balls, which can be used to capture literal gods. In fact, you can purchase 5000 Poké Balls for the price of one bicycle, which says a lot about the economy in the Kanto region.
When I eventually exchanged a voucher for a bicycle I discovered that, despite the price tag, it was just a normal bike. Still, while later Pokémon games have fancier bikes which allow you to perform tricks or contain a sentient being, nothing has ever been as satisfying as slowly dragging my bike up Route 17 so I can zoom back down to the bottom of the hill again.
Grand Theft Auto 5
Rockstar’s series has been built around its satire, and when it hits home it really hits. You’ve no doubt noticed the phenomenon of overweight middle-aged men squeezing into Lycra on any given Sunday morning – I’m ashamed to admit I’m one of them – and GTA5’s own overweight middle-aged man of course found himself with a nifty carbon road bike. While the satire was spot on, the bike was too – there’s real tranquillity to be found by heading away from the city and out into the country, where all you can hear is the wind whistling in your ears and the soft whirr of skinny tires on tarmac. It’s a wonderful thing.
How exactly do you keep control of a bike while chucking a heavy newspaper with one hand towards someone’s front door? I’ve always marvelled at this inherent skill all American children seem to have. No one does that in England. Here, we politely get off our bikes when we’re delivering papers, then stuff them through the letterbox, mangling them. It’s a regional difference I’ve always found so intriguing.
Odd thing to make a game about, though, isn’t it? I remember being very underwhelmed when I got it on NES as a kid. ‘What the hell is this?’ I thought. I don’t remember how I got it, come to think of it – it just seemed to be there.
But it was oddly compelling – I suppose as a child you’ll play anything to stave off boredom – and there was an art to timing the perfect throw, whether it was to hit a mailbox square-on or to smash a window on a posh house. And it was doubly hard doing this while trying to dodge all manner of increasingly bizarre hazards the game threw at you. There was a random breakdancer gyrating on the street outside one of the houses and even a person who came bursting out of a house with what looked like a knife, stabbing wildly in the air!
Then, when you got to the end of the street, and it took me a while to accomplish this, Paperboy turned into a kind of BMX game where you jumped around a dirt track before skidding to a halt in front of a grandstand of fans. A strange game; I’ve never forgotten it!