April 28, 2006 3:05 PM | Danny Cowan
When suicidal rodents become passé.
In 1998, developer DMA Design faced a crossroads. Known previously for the creation of the Lemmings series, DMA experienced a dry spell in the mid-90's when Lemmings's popularity waned, following a glut of rereleases and expansion packs. 1998 was to mark a new beginning for the company, however. This year saw the release of three DMA-developed titles, one of which would propel the company to new heights of fame and fortune, while the other two would languish in relative obscurity.
Suffice to say, DMA's biggest success in 1998 was not with the Nintendo 64 sci-fi action title Body Harvest, nor was it with this week's featured game, Space Station Silicon Valley. In the end, neither game had the impact of DMA's other 1998 release, Grand Theft Auto.
Attack of the killer ROMs!
Compared to Grand Theft Auto, Space Station Silicon Valley is a silly game indeed. As a new arrival at a space station inhabited by robotic animals, you play as a mobile computer chip with the ability to temporarily possess and control any deactivated creature you encounter. Gameplay is based around a series of objectives, many of which can only be accomplished by using special abilities unique to certain animals. One level may have you possessing a dog in order to herd sheep into a pen, for example, while others require a more complex series of tasks that involve using some animals to attack and deactivate others before objectives can be completed.
While Grand Theft Auto represented a radical departure for DMA Design in terms of genre and gameplay, Space Station Silicon Valley shares many similarities with the company's earlier Lemmings games. There's no central character, for one thing; the player-controlled computer chip has no special abilities of its own, and serves only as a medium of travel between deactivated animals.
The concepts of player-encouraged cooperation and teamwork are present here as well, and are made more challenging by the fact that some of the animals instinctively want to kill one another. In many ways, Space Station Silicon Valley represents the last great evolution of the Lemmings-styled puzzle game, as the subgenre is rarely attempted in modern gaming.
Save a hooker, possess a robot dog.
The game contains a good amount of wit and charm that makes it stand out among character-driven puzzle titles. Character design has a goofy Nick Park vibe to it, and there's a lot of subtle humor to be found throughout. The implementation of the game's soundtrack is particularly clever: background music is piped into every level through a series of speakers, which can be destroyed if one wishes to play in silence.
Space Station Silicon Valley's cutesy look and puzzle-rich gameplay may seem like a far cry from Grand Theft Auto, but the games share some common ground -- both feature gameplay that involves the hijacking of transportation, be it vehicle or animal. It's not too much of a leap in logic to equate beating a hooker to death with biting a sheep on the butt in order to take over its body, either. Well, okay, maybe it is. Still, few titles can claim to be even remotely similar to Space Station Silicon Valley, and it occupies a unique position in the N64's library of forgotten classics.
[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]
Categories: Column: Bastards Of 32-Bit