Tuesday, 31 December 2013

End Of The World Cyber-Freak Festival (John Elway's Quarterback, Jordan vs Bird One On One, Journey To Silius)

It's December 31st, 2013. Outside is blue sky and radiant sun shining down on mounds of snow that are entirely too tall. On the island of Newfoundland on Canada's East Coast, the news advises us to keep your dogs safe from fireworks. Inside, on iTunes, a portal to 1972 has casually opened inside my computer speakers, and David Bowie warbles about his moonage daydream. Today is a day about looking back, but let's not kid ourselves. This entire project is about looking back, about tracking the story of the NES through time and the alphabet. I glanced back at Mr. Sandifer's earlier work the other evening, and I found an entry that fits with what we have to talk about today. As only he can, he turned an entry about Fisher-Price games into some waffling about the end of the world. It's relevant today, considering. The world was supposed to end in 1990, according to Mr. Sandifer. It was also supposed to end in 2000, due to some dating bullshit. If I wanted to, I could make a comparison to the Millennium Bug, UNIT Dating, and the Doctor Who TV movie starring Paul McGann... but no. Best to leave Doctor Who talk for other people to talk about. The final game of the resumed Nintendo Project's 2013 will deal with the end of the world, but what caused this apocalypse? I'll tell you. It was Darth License and the forces of darkness. They did it for sports.

John Elway's Quarterback is a game about football endorsed by a man named John Elway. It came out in 1987 and was developed by Rare. I'm beginning to wonder just what the hell was up with Rare. Not only did they fire off a galut of this licensed dreck as mavericks for hire... but when it looked like the world wasn't going to end in 1991, they fired off Battletoads to try and make sure that at least FUN would die in 1991. This is a football game. I'm Canadian. We have a Canadian Football League, but who in the holy hell watches that? In Canada we mostly like hockey. I suppose this is why I can tolerate the likes of Ice Hockey or Blades of Steel. It's in my blood and I know the rules. Football? What is this? You pick plays? You run across a field while men try to knock you down? I have absolutely no idea what's going on, but I can tell you that this is no classic. What I lack in football knowledge I make up for with NES knowledge. I know that Tecmo Bowl is supposed to be the "good" football game. It's the one that the Trickster Beast ROMHACK has toyed with, mucking about with time and adding new rosters. We'll have words with him in a year or two, with luck.

Jordan vs. Bird: One On One is a game about basketball endorsed by two men named Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. It came out in 1988 and was developed by Rare. Has the record skipped? Rare, what are you doing? You keep that up and you'll cause the apocalypse. This one is a little better than Mr. Elway's game, and it's just a battle between two men. Mr. Jordan and Mr. Bird had a one on one basketball game. I lost because I have no idea how to control this thing. I kept getting fouls and I had no idea how to stop Mr. Bird from scoring points. We did this already. It was called Hoops. This game is better than Hoops, but why should I give a fig about basketball on NES? Why should anyone? This game is 25 years old. Soon to be 26. In a very real sense, the world has ended for it. Let's talk about something that people care about. Let's talk about the end of the world.

Journey To Silius, on its surface, is a very good run and gun game made by Sunsoft with some (gulp) realistic falling physics involving momentum. Being from Sunsoft, it has amazing music and graphics. Some say it's a classic, a forgotten gem. There's another facet of the game, though. One that a child in 1990, awaiting the Red Death, would not have known. This game was supposed to be a Terminator game. With the impending release of Terminator 2, it was changed to a generic little action video game. This game, covered as 2013 falls, has roots in a series wherein the machines cause the end of the world. I can remember this summer, just before this resumed Nintendo Project began. I looked up a list of films from the 1980s that dealt with nuclear apocalypse. The list is quite modest. Mr. Sandifer was right. The world really was on a powder keg during the 1980s... during the rise of the Famicom and NES, and the fall of Doctor Who. Isn't it amusing, though? The two games we have here made during the time when the world was on the brink of nuclear oblivion are boring sports game made to cash in. I might understand the corporate greed of the 80's now. Money is useless once the bombs start flying, so start making it while the making is good. Even Journey To Silius has its roots here, but it became something different. Something good. It's a good game, but very difficult. The bleakness has not left us just yet. That would be later, when the NES had its own fall. A year from now, the Super Nintendo will be announced. The Soviet Union will collapse, and the Cold War will die. The world will shift into a new age; the age of the 90's. Coincidentally, that's when my own memories as a sentient human come in. I may be a child of the dark times, and I may hold a bit of the darkness in my heart... but I will always remember the light.

What I'm trying to say is Happy New Year. We'll see how far this project can go in 2014. Ideally, I'd like to finish the thing. It, plus my books, plus other writing I've done this year, have made me feel like I'm becoming better at this thing. People tell me that I'm a good writer. Maybe I am. We'll see where we can go from there.

Onward to 2014, lovelies.

Monday, 23 December 2013

George, Jimmy, And Joe (The Jetsons, Jimmy Connors Tennis, Joe And Mac)

Okay. I shook off the beast of hacking. It wasn't easy, but I think we've finally emerged to something of normality... though the transformation has left certain surprises upon the world. One of them being The Jetsons: Cogswell's Caper. This one really is a relic of its time, huh? The animated imaginings of 1960's retro-futurism, done in the style of the Flintstones. George Jetson's ridiculous-looking utopia of 2062 is a reminder of how people back then looked forward. They expected articles like this to be written on Mars. With telepathy. Regular rocket ships to the moon and shit like that. Not the case, sweethearts. Not the case. We do live in the damn future, though; just yesterday, I was out for drinks and dinner with family, a barbecue on the winter solstice. Someone mentioned getting their son a "smart TV" that is also a computer. That shit baffles me, man. I'm writing this on a machine that's like something out of Star Trek, while also listening to some music... of which I have a selection of thousands on the same machine. Hell, even the game we're talking about is a perfect representation. In 1962 it would have been considered a technological marvel. In 1992, when it came out, it would have been a well-made NES game released during the twilight years, when all eyes were on the next big thing. Now, as 2013's embers fizzle and a new future looms, we get to look at it. You know what? It's good. It's not going to set the world aflame with quality, but it has a charm to it. A charm, granted, it has taken by ripping from another popular NES game. In this game George Jetson picks up crates to throw at enemies. It's a damn Rescue Rangers ripoff, but a charming one. Would have blown someone's mind in 1962, I bet. Gold star, George.

Jimmy Connors Tennis probably would have done that, too. Rather unfortunately for that game, I was not alive in 1962. Mind you, it doesn't reek or anything. It's not a blight upon the land of dreams, the last gasp of the Nightmare's vortex. It's just a tennis game with some guy's name on it, made in 1993. I'm disappointed that they thought they could do this back then. Nobody was around for the heat death of the NES, but at least most people were trying. Don't put yourself on the same level as LJN, Jimmy. What we have here is tennis. Plain-ass tennis where the computer hits the ball like a wizard, even on beginner, and the music is a 15 second loop. Jimmy, why should I care? Why should I have cared in 1993? If I wanted tennis on NES in 1993, I had it. I played it. It was called Tennis and it had come out eight years prior. You hit the ball back and forth. I scored exactly once and then the computer rolled me. Good job, Jimmy. Good job.


To close off the snowy night, I went back to the past. Way back. Depending on how you look at it, it's either the 1990s or the distant past of prehistory, the Ago of cave dwellers and dinosaurs. Joe and Mac, on the NES. I have but one memory of this game that was not forged on this cold evening. The 1990s. An uncle's place, an uncle who will be paid proper tribute should this blog ever reach the letter N. Joe and Mac on the NES, and a very large and very dangerous T Rex. Loading up Joe and Mac now, it looks quite nice for the twilight time of Nintendo. I'm impressed. Moreso than I was with Jimmy. It's like Adventure Island, only it's.. a bit off. I defeated a T Rex that was about my size, and wondered if that was it. No. Not a chance. Venturing further we find the real thing, looming and large, hucking boulders at me. I was unable to hit it. My childhood terror, that long-forgotten It which crashed to Earth in the Ago, beating me again... but now I am older. I possess the smarts to realize that some ability must be present to beat this creature, and then I find a high jump. I am now pelting axes into the beast's maw. I am overcoming the first hurdle, the hurdle of ancient men. The hurdle of the beast. I come out on top, and I smile a little. Not bad, Joe. Not bad at all.

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Question That Must Never Be Asked (Jeopardy Games)

Now, where were we? Ah, that's right. Jeopardy. We're back in that improbable fantasy from Hollywood Squares. The dream of being on a game show. Big money. Big prizes. Jeopardy is a different class, though. It's the "smart" game show. What always struck me as a child was how simple Wheel of Fortune seemed. 300 dollars was a lot of money as a child, and you could earn that on Wheel of Fortune just by saying a letter of the fucking alphabet. Jeopardy required smarts. Real smarts. You had to know things to question the answers on this show. I do not watch Jeopardy often, but it makes me feel smart to know the answers to these things.

So here we have some NES games made by Rare Ltd, those purveyors of fun from jolly old England. There's no high speed here, only high learning. Rare and Game-Tek also found the best solution they could to the Problem Of Game Shows. You remember this one, right? We brought it up in Hollywood Squares. Game shows have writers on staff to come up with questions and answers for every new episode. Jeopardy is a constantly happening thing, and it's had millions of questions and answers. I would estimate that an NES cartridge could hold hundreds of answers. Again, the unlimits of imagination meet the limits of technology. The solution? Make more cartridges. I briefly played through Jeopardy 25th Anniversary and Jeopardy Junior Edition. They are the same game. Same engine, same music, same controls... only the questions differ. It's a novel idea, I suppose, but who was starving for more Jeopardy on NES in 1990? Very few. If you liked Jeopardy, you picked one. If you liked Jeopardy and were a small child, you picked Junior Edition.

They've done it. They've gone and done it. After all my zipping along the galaxy, after all of this talk of Valya and Yin, after darting into a possible future and defeating my insecurities with the power of friend love... I'm spent. I've got nothing. These games are unremarkable. It's Jeopardy on NES. You question answers and earn fake money and maybe learn something. Eventually you learn all the questions and you either put the thing away or shell out for another cartridge. This is not heaven. This is not hell. It's a purgatorio of trivia from a time when 8 bits were all we could handle. For the love of god, give me something new!








wait






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Oh no, now what have I gone and done? My wails have summoned a creature from the future. The tinkerer. The corrupter of both Valya and Yin. The Trickster Beast, ROMHACK. We weren't supposed to dance with him at all! We were supposed to play on the straight and narrow, but the remnants of the Nightmare Vortex have led to... rips in the fabric of reality. Anything could happen. Any

1989 and 2013 are leagues apart; two years separated by that impasse we call the past. 24 years. 8,760 days(roughly). I was four years old in 1989. I have no memory of the year, save a fuzzy one of crying outside a grocery store after being stung by a bee. That might not have even happened in 1989. The memory cheats. The memory, dear reader, straight up lies. Of course, thanks to 2013 and its Internet, I can decipher a history for 1989. A secret history; the history that happened while I was a small child, just barely sentient. The Cold War was beginning to crumble. Reagan was out, and Bush was in. Doctor Who died. The Simpsons was born. Indiana Jones went on what looked like his Last Crusade. It is a time of The Bangles and Madonna, of Miami Vice and ALF... and oh yes, the Nintendo Entertainment System. The grey box was still a year away from influencing my life, of course. For now, it remains lurking within the secret history, waiting in the wings. A lot of games were put out for the thing in 1989, but only on
e has managed to create a solid link with the present; Ducktales. 


thing. Oh god we need to get out of here before it's

Alright then. Let's go back to the past. The year 2004, to be precise. Hell of a year, as far as known history goes. Facebook was born, the Olympics were in Athens, and Janet Jackson flashed her nipple to the world and caused a hoopla. All of that is the known history, but there's always the secret history; the important things that few are around to witness. In 2004, a filmmaker from Philadelphia named James Rolfe made a short film; a hobby of his. This particular short film was little more than him complaining about an old video game. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. A game I happen to like, thank you very much. He swore at the game for wasting his time with text boxes, and invisible platforms, and an easy final boss. You probably know this already. I mean, you are on the Internet, after all. This history isn't so secret any more because of 2006. Many things happened, but the birth of Youtube is the one we want to look at. Someone in the secret history must have convinced James Rolfe to put his short films on this newfangled video site. He did, and that included the two short films he made bitching about old Nintendo games. They became popular, and he kept making them. For better or worse, The Angry Video Game Nerd was born.

too late. Run. For god's sakes, run. I'll see you on the next planet. First, I have to deal with these hacks.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These (Kirby's Adventure)

Hello! This sure as hell isn't an entry on Jeopardy games. Rather, we've skipped ahead to a game from the K galaxy. Why? Well, because I can. I doubt anyone is really sore about me jumping ahead a bit, and I promise not to make a habit of it... but sometimes you just get a good idea inspired by timely events, and you have to go with it. To do this in January or February would betray the heart of the piece. With that said... on with the show.

Wait a minute. Something's wrong. This isn't right... this is not the right time. Gravity has made time go haywire. It's several times at once. Somewhere between December 13th and December 14th, 2013. A man takes his girlfriend's hand and asks her to marry him, She can only nod in agreement, and as he slips the ring onto her finger, she says "You asshole.".

It's the early morning of December 17th, 2013. I have awoken from a nightmare in which I yell in frustration at people before storming out of a room. As I leave, I hear someone offering to talk to me, followed by a man yelling at them in anger about how I just want attention and should be denied it. In this nightmare, I am alone.

The dream of a perfect wedding day. The nightmare of being abandoned. These incidents are related, and pulled into our maelstrom of a blog entry. Sucked into the collective consciousness of an adorable pink mascot. Somehow, these events that occured over a thousand miles apart have converged, and are relatable to our subject matter. This is Kirby's Adventure.

At the heart of the time vortex, in this Tornado ability of a gravity storm, we can see that it's three dates at once. All three are dated from a time we have visited before. It's March 23rd, 1993. May 1st, 1993. December 1st, 1993. The events of 1993 are 20 years old as I write this. Remember 1993? We're at the edge of the lifespan of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Buried within this swirling void is one simple fact: the NES is all but dead. You have children like me who cannot afford the hip new Super Nintendo, who enjoy the handful of video games they can rent or buy on the cheap. My own memories of this time are lost to the cutting winds, but I can remember seeing the box of this video game on display. I remember it looking interesting, but I do not remember the game itself. Kirby's Adventure came and went. It did not light the world on fire... but maybe it should have. A man can dream.

Dreams. That's what it's all about. Hell, the original Game Boy game this is a sequel to had you dancing about in Dream Land. As the story helpfully suggests, that wily King Dedede has taken the Star Rod and broken it into seven pieces. Seven is a number of significant power. It's good luck. It's the number of dreaming children you need to defeat a shapeshifting It that has existed for eternity. Our job is to restore the dreaming to the world. A Dream Land without dreams is just a Land. Just a continent on a planetoid circling a star. Kirby the pink, a true agent of the Valya. What force of pure positive energy can rival the power of dreams? Dreams give us creativity. Creativity gives us both our voyage through this blog, and the games we cover themselves. Imagination is the true force of this place... and now we've tumbled along, just as Gene Wilder said, into a world of pure imagination.

Dream Land, 1993, is unlike any world we have experienced yet. This should be a dying ember of a world. The NES has no place in a universe where Star Fox is making jaws drop... and yet, here we are. Instead of a dead planet, we have one that is more alive, more vibrant, more... imaginative than any we've seen. As I swirl through this vortex, I can see it. The dizzying heights of the Butter Building. An aurora borealis on an alien world of dreams, lighting up the night sky. The tart fuschias and violets of other galaxies, other worlds that have yet to be dreamed. This is not the death of the NES. This is the NES, more alive than it has ever been. In this moment, we realize what it's all been for. 1983 gave Japan a little red box that could play a conversion of an arcade game. 10 years later, the cocoon has burst. The butterfly of the dreaming now flutters across the sky. Kirby's Adventure is beautiful. A masterpiece. We could escape the vortex now and go about our business... but no. I've been denying it, but I know that there's a reason for coming here early. We have to deal with the dark side.

Reuniting the seven pieces of the Star Rod makes King Dedede plead and beg with you in a comical, wordless fashion. He is a light and fluffy little penguin, despite being an agent of the Yin. Even he fears what is about to come. Despite his protests, we know what must be done. The Fountain Of Dreams has been corrupted by nightmares... and It bursts forth, a cosmic cocoon that rockets upwards through the stratosphere. Even an agent of the dark must help us now, this close to the purifying power of Valya. He blasts us up after it... and we are now fighting the Nightmare. Of course. We established this before. You cannot have the light without the dark. You cannot have imagination without laziness. The Nightmare is our every fear and insecurity come true. It is the shapeless form that manifests as a cosmic cocoon before hatching into a cloaked figure, its body the very vortex we need to escape. This is the force that gave us Ikari Warriors. The ultimate dread beast. It. By all accounts, we should be powerless against this creature... but there's one thing he didn't count on.

The power of dreams. The Star Rod is now in the hands of an agent of the Valya. Its power courses through us like wildfire, and a hit cuts through that dark vortex. The Nightmare is now screaming in agony, its own sense of self threatened. As we fight on, in this swirling storm outside of time and space, I can see... things. Events which have not come to pass. Are they merely my own dreams, or visions of a future that is yet to come? Whatever they are, they manifest as 8-bit stars. Pure imagination meeting the limits of technology. Every hit, every dream, it damages the Nightmare more. Here is what I use to cut through my own insecurities. The Nightmare has brought me terrible fears. I will be abandoned, it says. I will be alone. I am not liked, I am a burden and a bore to the masses. I am tolerated rather than loved. The people you care about will toss you aside, toss you away and you will never know why... and the Nightmare will be right there, using your imagination to think up every scenario possible to make you feel like shit about it. Then, a light in the darkness. A distant pair of voices, speaking directly to me within the void of despair.

"We want you to be at our wedding."

Then, we see the dreams.

A yellow taxi cab pulls up outside the door. I walk out of the house and enter it, placing my bag in the backseat. I shut the door and tell the man to go to the airport.

The inside of an airplane. I have not been in one of these in over 10 years. The thing speeds up and I grip my seats, remembering the last time. With a rush, I look to my left and see the ground below me grow more distant. I have left the island of my birth.

I am in an airport in a foreign land. There are too many people here, too many strangers. Walking forward, I see the one familiar face. I approach, and extend my hand and greet him. In that moment, I am not Frezno. I am just another person in the world.

A city that dwarfs my expectations. The size is too much for me to even comprehend in terms of imagination. The city, like another space, is bigger on the inside.

Hugging the bride-to-be. Shaking hands with people from all corners of the world, from lands distant to my own. People I have laughed and joked with in the past, but now share real physical space with.

With a set of words from an official, and a ring sealed with a kiss, a Miss becomes a Mrs., and it is beautiful and wonderful.

White Russians made with ice cream. Alcohol, dancing, laughter. Good feelings.

This is what destroys the darkness. This is what destroys the Nightmare, collapsing its own vortex in on itself. They care. They care, you miserable blight, and they care enough to believe that my presence will make their own day that much better. They care enough to invest their time and money in bringing me across the void, across the sea. To bring all of us together in one unified moment of triumph. That, folks, is the power of dreams. The power that uses imagination to put a smile on your face. The vortex calms, and we are back in our own time.

It's December 18th, 2013. Christmas is a week away. Kirby's Adventure came out 20 years ago, and it's a wonderful Nintendo game... but there's a more important lesson to be learned here.


My friends are getting married, and they're some of the best friends a guy like me could ask for.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

To Defy The Darkness (Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu, James Bond Jr., Jaws)




Well, that was fun. We're back here again now. Back to the realm of the Nintendo, the J galaxy and whatever lurking gems and terrors might be hiding in the recesses of the secret history. Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu. The name, as well as the names of our other two explorations, can strike fear into the hearts of some. The fear of a new foe, the apprentice of the dread beast GREED. Darth License, Sith Lord of the Cash-In. We already saw how professional golfer Jack Nicklaus fell to the dark side. Jackie Chan, on the other hand... he is beyond such reproach for now. He is not a famed actor in North America as of 1990. As the game begins, we see him meditating under a waterfall. At first I was going to liken this to my own meditative state, writing a book in the space of 40 days. Now I believe that this is more than that. In my novel, my protagonist had his own meditative state. I hastily dubbed it "Valya" for the sake of sounding otherworldly. Let us borrow that term for the Nintendo Project. If the Cash-In represents the depravity and pointlessness of the 8-bit era, its Black Guardian who revels in Chaos... then there must be a White Guardian. The Valya, the force that keeps several of these forgotten relics alive in our minds. The Yang, the Light Side of the Force, the White... it's had many names. That's what Jackie Chan is doing at the start of the game. Invoking the power of Valya to keep the dark at bay. He leaves his waterfall, he bows to his mentor... and the game begins. Jackie Chan's prayers have succeeded, somewhat. This game is enjoyable! One that I would play to completion, probably. The time is about right for it. Cold winter afternoons with not much else to do are ripe for completing old video games. Jackie, however, is just an apprentice. Some of the dark slipped through. There isn't much post-damage invulnerability. It is a minor complaint, but I'll live with it. Why? Because I punched a tiger in the face, that's why. A power fantasy if there ever was one. Well done, Jackie Chan. Fight on with the power of Valya.

James Bond, on the other hand... this fellow has always been known to toe the line. In the end, he is a secret agent of the Valya, but he is not afraid to delve into some of the forbidden delights that the Yin can offer. Martinis, girls, and guns. As of 1992, he was in a bit of a dark place. The same dark place as Doctor Who, when you think on it. A couple of bad decisions in the mid-80's, followed by a renewed effort in the late 80's, followed by nothing much of note until 1995 or so. James Bond himself still played by the rules. Darth License had little power over him... but his nephew was still young. Easily corrupted. Thus we come to James Bond Junior, secret agent of the dark, carrying out a mission for Darth License. The mission? Maximize all the negatives of realism, and destroy any positives. Junior here has a gun with 99 bullets. The Ikari Warriors problem all over again... except when you get under 20, the gun magically recharges to hold 20 bullets. This baffles until you realize that the enemies take over 20 bullets to kill. You're looking at the first enemy of the game there. A man twice your size who takes 40 handgun bullets to kill. You take much less damage than that to kill, trust me. Bounce around on toxic waste that damages you. Fuck realism! Fight bouncing moai heads! Fuck realism! Oh, you're going near that rocket blast? That will hurt you because realism! This all culminates in a puzzle to deactivate said rocket. Some sliding tile game. The hell with it. Junior is lost to the Black Guardian. Let him be MIA.

And now we come to Jaws. This is not a case of a good and friendly creature of the sea being corrupted. This is Peter Benchley's killer great white. This is Spielberg's force of sheer terror. Jaws is a creature of pure Chaos, and it is up to Law and the Valya to put a stop to him. Well. If I had patience. If you need proof that Jaws is on the side of chaos, look no further than the publisher. LJN Limited. I have a reason to dread them, and it has nothing to do with Jaws or Crash Dummies. Maybe I'll write about that for this blog sometime. Maybe not. Jaws, the video game, is actually not the worst thing I've ever played. Just dull. Repetitive. The entire concept is to get into battles with sea creatures, and earn shells. You then sell the shells to "power up". Presumably, when you are powered up enough, you battle Jaws and take him down and prevail over Chaos. Will Chaos go down that easily? Of course not, it's Chaos. Anything can happen. A manta ray can nudge you and kill you. You lose power by dying. Failure to elements of chance will set you back. You can see here that I at least engaged in a battle with the harbinger of the Black Guardian. He bested me... for now. I can always go back. I can always defeat Jaws.

I'm the Hard Game Beater. I am an agent of Law. Of the Valya. They won't beat me down so easily.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Break Time

Might as well come out and say it, while I'm here. We've stalled. We've hit hiatus. Lost adrift outside the letter J. Unfortunate, but it's where we are. Why? Because I am a bit of a lazy fellow. Also as I alluded to in the last post, I was working on a book. I finished it a week or two ago... but another is coming up. National Novel Writing Month, the test of a writer's steel. 30 days. 50,000 words. A coherent plot. Many and tried and many have failed, but I usually have succeeded. I've got books that I want to get out of my head, and I have to focus my writing time on it. Ideally I should be doing both, but I'm a simple man with hobbies and junk. I am deciding to prioritize the book over Nintendo game blog.

So I guess we'll see you in December or something. I really do want to finish this. I kind of understand why Phil Sandifer bowed out of the game now. Most of these games are unremarkable, and the remarkable ones have been talked about since they came out. What the hell am I gonna add to Mario or Zelda? We'll find out should we ever get there. Fingers crossed, 'cause I had neat ideas for those posts.

I'll see ya when we come back. If we come back...

Monday, 7 October 2013

This Post Sponsored By FreezingInferno (Ivan "Ironman" Stewart, Jack Nicklaus, Jackal)

I said I had renewed interest and spark in this thing. That was a month ago. I'm sorry, I really am. I went through some shit, and I've been trying to finish the Camp Nanowrimo book I started. In July. I gotta finish that thing by the end of the month... because November 1st is the honest-to-god Nanowrimo. So if updates are a bit... sporadic around here, that's why. While we're here talking about the blog, do feel free to comment on
the thing because I am a fragile little human being who thrives on attention. Talk about old Nintendo games with me. Alright then, enough waffling. We're going to finish our course through the I system. What have we seen, exactly? The futility of war. The insatible hunger of the dread beast GREED. I'm sorry to say we didn't get out of that one untainted. In the furthest reaches we have Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Super Off Road. Now, do you have any idea who that is? I don't. This fellow is another unperson lurking within the secret history. Presumably he made a lot of money by licensing his name to this video game. Normally this would spell disaster, but we're in luck! Rare Limited is behind this one and it's actually quite fun. Another system's gravity affects us, as this game reminds me a lot of RC Pro Am. Except with big monster trucks and a top down perspective. Still, I had a good time with this one. A realization hit me as I played, though. I raced and raced, and the more races I won the more in-game money I got. Not a useless pretend currency like Hollywood Squares, but a useable commodity to upgrade my truck into a racing king unlike any other. Then it hit me. I kept playing to win more money. I had become the dread beast GREED. That's what happens when you tangle with a devil. You awaken the darkness within you. Well, let's get our monster truck out of here and go to the world of the J.

Another sponsored game. Jack Nicklaus Championship Golf or some such nonsense. Hoo boy. There are quite a lot of golf games. Some were already covered by the original Nintendo Project. There are still plenty left for us to tackle. I'm curious to finally play Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf, just to see if that title has much action in it. This is not one of the better golf video games I have played. From the first hole, you are faced with a large lake on the south of the course. The ball goes into that thing every time. Try to hit to the side and you go out of bounds. I accept that I am not very good at it. I also accept that I don't have the patience to get good at it. Jack Nicklaus, it seems, has embraced the corruption of the dread beast GREED in full. At least I was horrified to find myself becoming a greed machine. A poor start to the J's, but I have hope for the next game. I've heard good things.

The good things were right. Jackal is a Konami game. A Konami game adapted from an arcade title. Normally this would fill us with fear. A hateful spite-filled experience would await, to siphon our fake quarters and laugh at us for daring to want more than three minutes of entertainment. That's what I've come to expect, but Jackal is an adaptation. Somewhere along the line, they learned. They exorcised the dread beast GREED, or maybe he was out whispering sweet nothings into the ear of Jack Nicklaus. Either way, Jackal is a damn fine video game. It's what Ikari Warriors should have been; fun. We're in a motor vehicle again; did our souped-up truck follow us through the void? You blow up soldiers and turrets and tanks and you save people. It's a video game. It's fun. It's what playing Nintendo games SHOULD be. Not a wasted opportunity. Not a cheap cash-in. A fun electronic video game. God, I missed these things.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Mediocrity (Infiltrator, Iron Tank, Isolated Warrior)

Well, it didn't take long for the hope to die, now did it? Infiltrator is some sort of combat flight simulator. Look, why don't we just defer to Phil Sandifer and the original project on this one. He had this to say about a game called Airwolf.

Let's discuss realism. 

Fuck realism.. 

Or at least that's my usual speech on the subject. If I wanted realism, I'd interact with reality. What I want out of a video game is playability, which is generally largely distinct from realism. For instance, I cannot fly an airplane. In that regard, Airwolf was an INCREDIBLY LIFELIKE SIMULATION of what would happen if you put me in an airplane, which is that I could not take off, and if I did take off, I would promptly crash and die.

Pretty much me and Infiltrator. I flew around in circles shooting glowy things at a plane and missing. The plane shot glowy things at me and eventually I went down. I didn't even take a screenshot of the game; just this. The opening mission briefing mentioned some guy wanting to make nerve gas. Then it shows me this. It's the only remarkable thing about Infiltrator. Jesus, at least I could play Ikari Warriors.

Speaking of, we have... (gulp) Iron Tank. An SNK game that feels a lot like Ikari Warriors. You get in a tank and move forward, running over guys and shooting at other tanks. SNK took the only part of Ikari Warriors I liked and made a game about that. It's decent, to a point. Then something odd happened. I got a "call" in-game. I went into my menu and answered this call, and the commander on the other end referred to me as "Snake" before telling me to do something. How... interesting. Even from here, that system's gravity is tugging on us, ever so faintly. A shooting star from a far-off system, reaching the orbit of Iron Tank. Iron Tank is okay I guess. I'll give it a pass.

Isolated Warrior next. Not Ironsword. Ironsword has been flung into a time warp and will be dealt with in the far future. Isolated Warrior now. You're a guy named Max Maverick and you run around all isometric style shooting at things. Sounds decent enough, but I have a complaint. Your basic gun shoots straight ahead. Upgrading it makes you shoot two shots... at an angle. With no straight shot. Great, so now it's harder for me to hit things. I ended up dying to the miniboss and stage boss due to this... only to find them easier when I came back because I had a straight shot. The Gradius syndrome, somehow reversed. This was short. Like I said, these are not hidden treasures. They exist, we have noted it, and now we move on. There's a new letter coming up. A new realm to explore. Oh boy.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

It Belongs In A Museum! (Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade x2/Temple Of Doom)

Sorry. We're not dead. Just needed a recharge. The original Nintendo Project needed one of those as well. I'm discovering now what Phil Sandifer must have learned all those days ago. Video games are mostly crap. I mean, let's look at the NES library. About 800 games, roughly. Off the top of my head. Let's be generous and say that 100 of those are out and out classics, with another 100 being games that are decent and playable. Even this generous estimation still leaves us with the bitter pill of truth; 75% of the great and bountiful NES galaxy we're exploring is crap. Utter crap. Thank goodness we got some good ones today.

ar·chae·ol·o·gy  [ahr-kee-ol-uh-jee]
noun
1.
the scientific study of historic or prehistoric peoples and their cultures by analysis of their artifacts, inscriptions, monuments, and other such remains, especially those that have been excavated.
2.
Rare. ancient history; the study of antiquity.


Kind of what we're doing, huh? Indiana Jones video games. A quantity, like Hydlide, done by everyone's favorite James Rolfe. The difference here is that most of the ones we're looking at here are playable. Not classics, but certainly playable. It gives me hope for the Nintendo Project Resumed. I have come back to my travels to discover that all is not lost. There are still good games to be found, hidden gems left unfound by the retroarchaeologists of the Internet age. See how they proudly display their findings online. Best games ever. Hidden gems long lost to time, memory, and the secret history. Kids, this shit is what I live for. So let's talk about Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. Wait. Wait. Something's wrong here. There's a rift in space and time here. Reality has worn thin, and we have a game with a mirror. A Twinner, if you will, sent through the thinny in the canyon of the Crescent Moon, where nothing is as it seems. We'll set aside that strange alternate, and look at this game. Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, released by Taito.

This is one of the few video games I played as a child, purchased blindly from a video rental store for 6 dollars at the turn of the millennium. Yeah, so hi. I'm intruding on this one, in more ways than just being the idiot who writes this thing. I'll talk about the game a little more before that, though. What we have here is a game that can be beaten in all of 10 minutes if you're good at it. Getting good at it can be difficult. It emulates the movie's major scenes fairly well (though no Venice speed boat chase, I'm afraid) and can be fun. The action beat em up scenes are a little wonky, and there's nonsense involving confusing mazes and finding the "correct" Holy Grail. Despite all that, I have nostalgia for it. It's a gem I'd put up in my personal museum... and I'm not the only one. Witness the personal memoirs of one "Captain Nintendo". Here is a man who embodies the concept of the secret history. Beneath the veneer of an unknown Nintendo Power editor in 1988 was a champion who brought change to the world in his own way. He created what would become Captain N; you know, that one cartoon show. He eventually made his way to Taito, and it's here where I just let him take over.



One of the high profile projects we produced at this licensee company was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for the 8-bit NES. I am particularly proud of this one as I had a great deal of impact on its design. For several reasons. It was one of the first non-linear games for the old NES. It contained several different types of gameplay in one cartridge, which was very unusual for the time and the platform. And before all you critics respond with how YOU personally hated the game (and you are in the minority), there was one more reason I was especially proud. After we completed the game, one of our producers talking with George Lucas over the phone during a team meeting relayed that he said, “It was the best conversion of one of his films into a video game he’d ever seen. In any format.” For about five minutes, I didn’t care if we ever sold one cartridge. We had managed to please (someone who I consider to be) one of the most creative geniuses of our time. This was a guy who has gone back and remade and remade his own films. Adding. Editing. Polishing. Always striving for perfection. One more thing that will make it better. And we had prompted that kind of praise. I know I spent a large paragraph talking about this, but indulge me a second. That was a big moment for me personally.

So George Lucas thought this game was good. Good enough for me. Now for the fun part. If you want to see this game, I've played it. You probably know this already, but I play video games for the Internet. And talk over them. They call this "Let's Play." It has its own storied secret history, but it feels right to bring it up here, while we talk about retroarchaeology. God, I love that word. I'm going to use it a lot from now on. That's the draw of Let's Play for me. The idea of retroarchaeology. It isn't about dusting off the big triple-A blockbuster from last week and playing it poorly for views. It's about freeing the hidden gems of lost history from the maximum security wing of Obscurity Prison, and letting them loose in a brave new world. Letting others discover what the secret history has to offer. If you'd like to watch me play the thing, then here you go. Enjoy yourself.


Now comes the tricky part... this game's dark twin. It's 1993 on the planet Mondas, and we're going to play Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade... by Ubisoft. It, of course, is quite foul. We hit many of the bad game notes. Oh boy! Fall damage! A strict time limit! Enemies that are better at attacking than you are! The water hurts you! Hooray! Why does this exist? It was 1993, for christ's sakes. The movie was 4 years old. The game wasn't any good. Ubisoft, the Qlippoth of this parallel world, buzzes with its mechanical voicebox. WEEE MUZZZZT SURVIVVVE. Stay away from Planet Mondas. Stay away from the Last Crusade's dark mirror, lest you find yourself drained of your energy and transformed into a being of pure mercury. Whitaker be praised.

By nature of the alphabet we jump back to find a rare treat; a video game based on the middle Indiana Jones film. The one nobody liked until that fucking movie about the aliens. It also existed in 1984, which is sort of the black hole of the secret history. Video game crashes and ET and all that junk. It's quite interesting to see. Oh, and Tengen had a hand in it, and they were a branch of Atari. So, you know, I'm not completely insane. Or maybe I am because I kind of like this game. It's decidedly arcade-styled, but that's all you need sometimes. It's not the virtual arcade we visited with High Speed, but its own thing. These sorts of games have to draw you in and make you want to play, and Temple of Doom did just that. Yes, changing weapons is weird. Yes, the world is some sort of flat Escher dimension that loops eternally. You know what else you can do? You can swing over chasms with your whip. You can ride mine carts at high speed through dangerous caves. You can attack Thuggee cult devotees repeatedly and knock them into LAVA. You can whip spiders and make them explode in a gout of blood and bug guts. This thing is fun. Not a classic, but fun. I'd give it a corner spot in my museum.

Alright, time to ride off into the sunset, to brave new worlds in the I galaxy. No matter how bad it gets, I'll keep hope. Indiana Jones has shown me the way. This secret history we tote around has a lot of duds and portals to terrible dimensions hidden away... but there are good things buried in the sand. Things that should not have been forgotten. Even a watch buried for a thousand years becomes priceless.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Money, Money, Money (Image Fight, The Immortal, Incredible Crash Dummies)

Sorry about that. Had a little breather. We're back with more Nintendo games that start with I and we are starting with Image Fight. Our first shooter game. Oh, joy. All that talk last time, about the dread beast GREED? It feels like his gluttonous spirit is still lurking, waiting to gobble up more fake money. I was thinking about this, and I was going to talk about how the shmup was a genre born from the dread beast GREED and his perverse lust for quarters. Then I realized that all console video games were, in essence, born from the coin-op days of the arcade. The dread beast GREED, then, is the dark half of us all. Everything in the Nintendo Project has some of his power within it. Here, then, I have found it. The Qlippoth of video games. Our secret Silence, guiding us along before the fire, building power and munching quarters. This explains so much about hard games. I'm on the verge of an epiphany here.

So, uh... Image Fight! It's a vertical shmup by Irem. Their gravitational field extends to things like R-Type. R-Type is an example of something which embraced the forbidden principles of GREED. It was a horizontal, though. These primitive worlds are still in two dimensions. Flying through the third, along the Z-Axis... it was beyond us just yet. Image Fight is okay. It's a little difficult, though. I will admit that shmups are not my speciality. Part of the problem is that failure is a death sentence in these things. They even have a name for it. "Gradius Syndrome", they like to call it, after that one planetary system. It's just how these things work. You power up as you survive the waves of things. You become a tiny god. One stray bullet, and you are powerless. The waves don't get any easier. You are now an ant trying to dodge a tsunami. That's all it takes in life to take out a man with delusions of immortality. One stray bullet. Image Fight, ever the realist.

Delusions of immortality abound in The Immortal. This man is nowhere close to immortal. To be fair, he is stuck in one hell of a place. Some sort of trap-filled dungeon. There's fire shooting everywhere, and goblins ready to beat the crap out of you with their maces. You are some sort of wizard and you can shoot fire... on the overworld. When you encounter a goblin, you enter this weird battle mode thing. Here is what happens; you try to attack, and miss. You try to dodge, and get hit. Part of me feels there is some risky dodge-and-strike mechanic I am missing, but another part of me feels that this is just a slog. Whoever Will Harvey is, he's made something that can probably be enjoyed by very strange people. It's just on the cusp of being worth looking into, but the hell with it.

"The hell with it", oddly enough, could be taken as the slogan for the creators of The Incredible Crash Dummies. Who are they? LJN Ltd. Gravity once again comes in as we hear James Rolfe echoing in our ears, yelling about putrid rainbows and cheap licensing knock-offs. The dread beast GREED, living on in the hearts and minds of many. HUNGRY. MORE MONEY. MAKE GAME BASED ON FRANCHISE. QUICK GAME. HUNGRY. Of course, LJN was merely the publisher for a lot of these... but whatever. Let's play this damn thing for as long as we can stand. Video games under the LJN banner have a... reputation. This is our first, and what do we have?

Nothing worth mentioning. Well, there is the fact that "Don't be a dummy, fasten your safety belt" is trademarked. Yes. We own a trademark on telling you to buckle up when you're driving. The dread beast GREED is strong with this one. Additionally, we're in 1993 now. The end times for the NES. Trenzalore has not arrived yet, but it will. So you're on a unicycle constantly for some reason, and anything that hits you sends you flying into a wall where you explode. Cute. What made me stop was a part where you jump over platforms, and failure to do so puts you back down onto old ground. I hate that shit. Especially in a game that doesn't control that well. I'm beginning to think the I's aren't going to give me anything good or fun to talk about. These games just exist. They were products you could buy. Feed the dread beast GREED.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Love And War In Heaven And In Hell (Ikari Warriors/II/III)

Great. A whole solar system at war. Is this it? Is this what's out here in the uncharted frontier of Nintendo space? The Ikari system? This is the Nintendo Project's Mariner 5. We've dreamed of breaching the long void for ages, and now that we're here... there's nothing. The hollow pointlessness of war, memorialized forever in SNK's Ikari Warriors. You know what else is pointless? This game. It's a waste. I say without hyperbole that it is the worst thing I have encountered in the project so far. Nintendo space utopia was a fleeting dream.

Oh, I knew it was bad already. I had hindsight. I had James Rolfe. His unending fury, creating its own pockets of localized gravity around certain systems. Hydlide was one of them. Ikari Warriors, another. I knew this when I went in, but the game still managed to surprise me. I went in with the knowledge of what was to come. Knowledge of Contra. Of Commando. I sprayed my bullets about like John Rambo, shooting down whoever I could, and then. Click. Click. Click. I ran out of bullets. Let me stress this. I ran out of bullets in a top-down run and gun game. Dear reader, can you fathom how horrible a decision this is? It rivals  Ecco the Dolphin in design decisions seemingly born out of utter contempt and hatred for the lucky player who just handed you money. I mean, my god. The mere fact that this exists baffles me.

Of course, this will hardly ever affect you because you die so often in Ikari Warriors. Enemy touches you? Death. Shoots you? Death? Too close to an explosion? Death. Three lives and no continues, unless you use a code. A B B A. You can dance, you can die... but you're not having the time of your life. Now, these decisions strike me as those of realism. Of course you die in one shot. Of course an explosion kills you. The game's being realist, like Home Alone was. That gets thrown out the window when stone faces start to shoot arrows at you. No, these people just want you to suffer. This, then, is the dark side of the arcade. The dread beast GREED. It cares not if you lose your three lives in the span of 30 seconds. It got your quarter. Want to try again? Feed it more. HUNGRY. HUNGRY. ALWAYS HUNGRY.

Of course, back in the 80's, these sorts of things were everywhere. Then they got ported to the NES, a platform where you have given the dread beast GREED a five-course meal of money. It slurps it up, of course, because it is ALWAYS HUNGRY... but that does not mean it will grant you mercy. It is a beast. It only knows how to kill and how to eat. A B B A. Non-existant money for the beast. It's too stupid to realize that its meal does not exist. It will keep on killing and eating until the end of time, or the end of the game. Level 1 seems to go on forever. You and the beast, locked in a purgatory of death and gluttony.

Ikari Warriors II, then, is a much different beast. In our struggle with GREED, we have fallen out of the world. Fallen into the future, in space. On this distant moon we find that things are better than before. We have a life bar, though A B B A is still a dance required. We fight through space, a sort of star war if there ever was one. The game has even advanced enough that it can speak to us... though it's still learning. Shops and hearts and black hole bonus games. What the hell happened? I mean, it's not the best game ever... but compared to that other hell hole fueled by GREED it is a wonderful innovative thing. Something to be appreciated.

And then we hit Ikari III. The Rescue. We have cinematics now. Another popular game's gravity affecting this system. The positions of these planetoids is a bit odd, when it comes to cosmic forces. This one is by far the most enjoyable, and is sitting just on the edge of the "good game" line. There is very little gunplay now. We are playing a top-down beat-em-up. Punching, kicking and jumpkicking. It satisfies. After enduring my war with GREED, this planet feels the anger within. It gives me an outlet. A focus. The power to knock three men to the ground with one well-timed kick. It also gives me a tank boss whose attacks all fell me in one hit. Not the best, but it'll do. This system has been most... interesting. We've made an enemy. The dread beast GREED will remember us. He will return, demanding more food and more suffering, for he was unleashed upon many a game thanks to the 1980s. Thanks to the arcade. What once was a diversion while waiting for food has now become a beast that can never be slain. Only endured. At least we have an alchemic formula to keep ourselves immortal as well.

A B B A.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

What Killed The Dinosaurs? (Hydlide, Ice Climber, Ice Hockey)

Well, we're not out of the orbit of bad things just yet, I'm afraid. This is the proverbial it, though. Once we rocket out of here, we finish the H of Nintendo games. The tether we have to June 14th, 2011 will vanish. We will be all on our own in the void of Nintendo game space. One last H game. Hydlide. It's a doozy. It suffers from what I will dub "The Problem Of Dragon Quest". In a land that did not exist, it came out in 1986. For the standards and culture of that time, it may have been appreciated. Here, in 1989, it is a relic as soon as the alchemy that transfers it from a Famicom cartridge to an NES cartridge is complete. One song, looping endlessly and sounding a lot like Indiana Jones. At least you could turn off Red October's sensory attack. I ended up listening to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's Tarkus as I played this thing. Played is a misnomer. Endured, is more like it.

Look to your right. You see that? That's 90% of my time with Hydlide. You walk towards these slimes and press the A button while walking into them. You stand like this for half a second and the slime dies. Maybe you've taken damage from this, since your starting HP is pathetic. Stand still for a moment to replenish it. All good? Excellent. Now go fight more slimes. Level up. Grind. This is what we expect of you. We are Hydlide, a planet of work. Fight slimes. Hold A. Stand still. Fight slimes. Hold A. Stand still. Thank god for progressive rock from 1971. Fighting slimes inside an armored armadillo tank protects my sanity. Eventually I gain two levels and explore my world. Treasure is inside a cemetery but before it can be grabbed a zombie kills me. That's it. Start all over again. Well, fuck that.

(Something I just noticed, and that terrifies me in how things connect; Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's Tarkus came out on June 14th, 1971. 40 years later, Phil Sandifer got us up to Hatris and left the project to fall out of the world. Coincidence has been cancelled.)

Even our reconstruction of the past is less than pleased with Hydlide. I'll get into this in future entries, but I have a Nintendo tip book that I recieved as a child. A chapter is devoted to Hydlide. Re-reading it now, their strategy amounts to "oh fuck it, here's a bunch of passwords and some tips for the endgame". Even in 1989, the people were apathetic about Hydlide. It's that apathy that launches us away from the letter H. Time to enter the ice fields of I.

Well. Fortune smiles upon us. Not because Ice Climber is a particular masterpiece or anything, but because of what it represents for our colorful blast off metaphor. Here we are, rocketing up into worlds unknown... and we get a game that's all about the vertical. It also credits itself as being from 1984, so we once again find ourselves in the nowhere-land of the NES. NEs does not exist. Only the Cold War does. Cold. Ice. Dear god, this is just too much. Ice Climber is another of those "black box" games like Hogan's Alley. We're starting our own letter with one of the launch games! I can't believe how perfect this is. Ice Climber is not a perfect game... but it's not bad, either. It's just... annoying. The point you see here is where I stopped playing. Fast-moving clouds you have to ride to smash open a gap. Then you go back down and try to get up. Then a little yeti thing fills in the gap in order to undo your work. This close to planet Hydlide, the work ethic and harsh punishment is still affecting us. Ice Climber still has its own gravity, though. It sent scouts to the far future in the year 2001. (Thirty years after Tarkus and ten before Hatris, recall.) They fought in a celebration, a battle arena possibly constructed by the dread beast NOSTALGIA. That star system does not concern us. Let's just play hockey, okay?

That was pretty fun. Canada vs. Russia, in a hockey battle of the ages. Recreating the Summit Series of 1972, in an 8-bit form 16 years after the fact. I am no Paul Henderson and I found the thing a bit hard to control. Against the socialist machine that has pursued me since I fled its docks in a Typhoon-class nuclear submarine, I am sub-par. Well, at least I got a goal against them. I'm sure this game has a lot of charm to it, and I have some memories of fiddling about with a ROM of it when I should have been doing schoolwork. In school itself. God, I need to work in those days somewhere into this blog. As it stands, the ice age has given me some good times. Better than Hydlide, at least.

Okay. What's next to explore out there with my very own letter?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

This Is A Cold War (The Hunt For Red October)

Monsters are real. I should know. I'm one of them.

We've talked a bit about gravity in the past. Certain video games have massive gravity, fueled by the dread beast NOSTALGIA and its alchemy. Words have power in this realm. Mario. Zelda. Metroid. Mega Man. Alchemic black holes that compress time into one singular instant. Sometimes this gravity is only felt by a few people. For an unfortunate number of my comrades, The Hunt For Red October has a gravity. A terrible pull that we can still feel in the cold of night. It's November 12th, 1984. It's sometime in 1991. It's August 2011. It's August 2013. All at once, I am pulled by the nightmare.

Some explanation is in order. The Hunt For Red October is another game based on a movie. The 1990 film starring Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery was quite good. This game is not good at all. From the moment you hit start, you are assaulted. You've landed on foreign ground. The heart of Soviet Russia at the height of the Cold War. You must escape. The socialist regime will do all it can to crush you... including sensory attack. The music in this video game is horrendous. I'm sorry to have to do this to you, but if you haven't heard it, you must. Please be wary. This track plays for the majority of the game. It can mercifully be stopped. You should just stop the game though. It gets points for being one of the few submarine action games out there, but all of this is negated by it being a poor video game. Lack of post-damage invincibility means touching a wall for four seconds results in thermonuclear death. How lovely.

Why, then, does its gravity affect us so? To anyone unfamiliar with this electronic storm, it would be unremarkable. You'd play it and go "Oh, well that's quite shit" and move on. That is not the case with me. This is where I enter the Nintendo Project. This is the game that made me a hard game beater, a blood-
soaked beast in the shape of a man who left fragments of his soul within 8-bit hells. I am a fucking Lord Voldemort of a video gamer, and this game is why. Oh, it started innocently enough. Much like Doctor Who, really. It started in the Queen's England. An Internet fellow named MegaGWolf had this game as a child. He knew, even then, of its gravity. Of the absence of quality found within. The gravity's pull never left him, and it stayed. August 2011. NES talk between two friends. A half-hearted joke is said. "Maybe I'll beat that Red October game you hate so much.". Then the wager. Beat it and you get a sonic screwdriver. It is very nice and can play Wii games.

None believed in me. They knew of the gravity of that planet well. It pulled me into its depths, but I had a weapon. I had the power of emulation on my side. The notion of the save state. The scientific method of practice makes perfect. So I charted the thing out, section by section. Every step of the way, the game was designed to surprise and trap me. To cause my death. To drain my lives. No continues. Why would it work any other way? This place is damned, its gravity immense and all-encompassing. No human could chart it. Yet, in that darkness, I became more than human. I became beast.

Three days in that void, and I had my victory. A 40-minute video of the entirety of The Hunt For Red October on NES. My prize was won... but the collapse of the cosmic entity OCT-BR had its costs. Of course it did. Now I knew how to survive the darkness. Other worlds beckoned to me with their black songs. The realm of the Ghouls and Ghosts, obsessed with the cyclic and the Ourobouros. The Battletoads, born from a culture that only lives on through the dread beast NOSTALGIA. No explorer of that Yggdrasil Labyrinth made it past the Turbo Tunnel without losing part of themself... and what lay beyond was worse than any you could imagine. Even realms that are not in this project's scope were charted. The deep depths of despair that the Hungarians call "Ecco" with hushed whispers. A world of meat and sawblades. These places have been seen by many monsters... but this monster has charted them. More worlds of horror call to me. The planet Touhou, its atmosphere swirling with bright specks of dust that can kill. There is only death there.

Don't play The Hunt For Red October. Keep your humanity. Watch me lose mine.

Let's Play The Hunt For Red October, in one sitting. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Skateboards Are Cool (Adventure Island/II/III/IV)

Well, that's a little more like it. An entire series for us to play with. I would hesitate to call it one of the pillars of the 8-bit era, but god damn. These are the best games I've gotten to play for this thing so far, so they have that going for them. Together, these four games span the years 1986 to 1994. I'm no psychochronographer, I'm afraid. I'll do my best to track how these things evolved over time, but they're just kind of fun games. Let's look at that first one.

My music player of choice has helpfully shuffled towards Peter Gabriel's 1986 album, So. Adventure Island does not quite want to be your sledgehammer, but it will be your stone axe without hesitation. What we have here is a game starring a nice fellow named "Master Higgins". His real name is Takahashi Meijin and he can press a button very fast to kill a space monster named Larios. He can also throw stone axes at snails and go out for adventure wearing naught but a hat and a grass skirt. Adventure Island has you running through 8 different worlds, each 4 levels long. At the fourth level of each world you face an enemy and are allowed to move to the next world. Clear all 32 stages and you save the damsel in distress. This may sound familiar to some of you. The nature of the Nintendo Project means that we are hurtling towards that particular planet of a video game, possibly at the speed of light. Its gravity and the gravity of its sister planets is inescapable. More a black hole than a planet. So yes, Adventure Island does take several cues from 1985's Super Mario Brothers. What it doesn't take is being particularly good.

Don't get me wrong, it is more fun than something like Hook or Hudson Hawk... but certain things mar it. You get three lives. 32 levels, levels which become fiendishly difficult at around the world 3 mark. No continues... at least, not in plain sight. A hidden Hudson Bee powerup lies at the end of stage 1. Grabbing it lets you continue... if you hold Up, A, and Select on the game over screen and then press start. This baffles me. It takes the game and just makes it flawed. You'd have to be a madman to try and beat it.

This brings us to Game Center CX. A Japanese television program wherein a middle-aged Japanese comedian attempts to beat old video games. The trick is that he is not very good at video games. Adventure Island is suggested by many as a good starting point for viewing the show. In 2013, Japan exists. Of course it does. It exists, and in 1986 it had a game that was like Adventure Island in just about every way, barring the title screen. Game Center CX took it on, and the results... well, they're best seen. Here's a link to the Something Awful thread about the show, if you dare venture into the secret history of Adventure Island. See how far they go to beat the thing. Trust me.

So then we hit 1990, and Adventure Island II. It is a better game than the first, but in my experience it still got very difficult. Somewhere around the ice world. It is still easier than Adventure Island, the original. It also adds more variety in the levels and worlds, and dinosaurs you can ride. It may feel inspired by the gravity of Super Mario Bros. 3, but riding dinosaurs feels like a trick Nintendo managed to hold on to once video games metamorphed. Better than riding a skateboard, anyway. Always moving forward. Never looking back. This is emphasized by the secret I found in the fourth level. A cloud lifted me to the heavens and a pterodactyl asked me if I wished to skip this island. I hit the warp zone. This, then, is the power of the video game. Sometimes you can break the rules. If you're good enough, you can transcend space and time. Sometimes this is a blue box. A green pipe. A black hole. A pink pterodactyl, flying over the blue sea.

Adventure Island III. 1992. The NES is in what I like to call its "twilight years". The world has become Super. It has become 16-bit with thousands of colors and 6 mega memory. It has become Mode 7 and blast processing and turbo power. The NES somehow still exists in this void. Not on top of the world, but somehow still thriving and surviving. Its song is winding down. It doesn't want to go. Adventure Island III feels like a prettier Adventure Island II. The one new dinosaur I got, a triceratops, spun in a ball. The gravity affecting this series now isn't even from the NES solar system. Things are getting bad in the universe. Very bad indeed. The sun is turning red and Adventure Island III is relegated to the secret history. It was experienced by many as history itself, but the majority knows it now by its reconstruction.

1994. Oh no. This is it, friends. Adventure Island IV did not even reach us. This is where the song stops. This was the final game for the 8-bit system we knew as NES, called "Famicom" in Japan. This game, then, is the Nintendo Famicom's Trenzalore. Its gravity comes from its own past. That strange creature some might have known, called Wonder Boy. Its twin evolved into exploration and item collecting, while Adventure Island was content to stay with dinosaurs and skateboarding. Here now, as the sun turns supernova and the end is inevitable, Adventure Island looks back on itself. We explore a free world. We get a hammer by killing a bat. Now we can go where we couldn't before. Now we can go.

Feels different this time.


Monday, 19 August 2013

The Bitter Comes Out Better On A Stolen Guitar (Hook, Hoops, Hudson Hawk)

Oh dear god. What the hell happened? Things have been strange since we hit movie land. Home Alone, the accurate simulation of a burglary, led us to a nightmare where suitcases and mops were sentient. Macaulay Culkin's hell is a New York hotel, and Tim Curry is in charge. Of course he is. Didn't you see Stephen King's It? We all float down here, and Kevin McAllister will too. With all the dead kids. All these Lost Boys. Then things get even stranger. A deviant vacuum cleaner comes at us as Tim Curry gives chase. Its suction is overwhelming, and we are pulled into its maw... but instead of death, something different. Something new. We fall down the rabbit hole, and we find out Carroll was wrong. Dead wrong. It doesn't lead to Wonderland.

It leads to Neverland. Now we are Peter Pan, but not in a good way. We have no defense against pirates. They can shoot and stab us, and all we have to wave at them is this butter knife. We got it from the hotel cafeteria in the vain hope of defending ourselves. It doesn't work very well. Even getting our feet wet causes us to leap from the water with a cry of agony. Of course it would. We have fallen out of the world. We're in a video game now. Haven't you heard those game review frustrations? Video game heroes can't fucking swim, except when they can. It's Neverland. It doesn't have to make sense. If it were a video game, it would be quite bad. At least Neverland is lush and colorful. It assails your eyes like the writhing mass of Axos assailed the eyes of England in 1971... but there's no glam here. No Starman, waiting in the sky. If you think Peter Pan is going to make it, you'd better hang on to yourself. 

But then what happens? In a flash of something, you return from Neverland to find yourself on... a basketball court? Realism, back again? The age of Nintendo terrifies and confuses. One minute you can descend into a world of pirates and monkeys, and the next you're stuck playing basketball. The transition jars you. Your opponent is good. Very good.  You're barely able to take the ball from him, but he can't seem to make shots. Eventually you get one and you say you win. Why? Because that's all you can stand of this nonsense. Let's go pretend to be Bruce Willis or something.

Except our pretend game has to be Hudson Hawk. What the hell is Hudson Hawk? seems like something out of the secret history of 1991. Whoever he is, he's not very good at whatever he's trying to do. Dogs keep biting him. He keeps falling off of tall buildings. Lasers exterminate him. Here lies Bruce Willis. 1955-1991. Blasted by a Dalek laser gun mounted as a security measure by some fool named Rutherford. Bruce Willis is not the Doctor. Hudson Hawk is a foolish looking fellow with a foolish looking game. At least we have returned to the world of the normal. Let Hudson Hawk float for all I care. Let him forever remain in the deadlights.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Is This The Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy? (Hollywood Squares, Home Alone, Home Alone 2)

Maybe it's just where the Nintendo Project happened to leave off, but I can't help but notice the theme of Nintendo games as some sort of transformative property; attempting to adapt something from the real world, the physical realm of planet Earth, into a video game. Video games, I always thought, were a sort of fantastic escape. A way for an imaginative player to delve into the depths of Transylvania. Blast through hordes of bad guys with a machine gun. Things impossible to do in our real world. We have done this already with Heavy Barrel, at least. Everything else? Snowboarding. Pinball. A shooting range. Today we start by doing something that is not impossible to do... but improbable. Today we're a contestant on a game show.

Hollywood Squares has another credit from Rare on it, as far as the audio-visual department is concerned. At its core, it's essentially Tic Tac Toe with trivia questions deciding who gets each square. On the television show itself, real celebrities of the time would presumably reside in each square. The game does not recreate this. The nine squares are filled with random, wisecracking nobodies. No Michael Jackson or Alec Baldwin or whoever else would be on this show in 1989. Not even any fake celebrity names. Just Mary and Daz and Val and friends.

The idea of pretending to be on a game show is nothing new. I had a home version of Wheel Of Fortune as a child. I had fun with it, but there is a major flaw, one that prevents it from being a true reconstruction; you're going to play it more than once. The game cartridge or included home version material has a finite amount of questions and answers. The real deal has writers coming up with new queries every week. I only played Hollywood Squares once. That is how things would have really gone, were I a contestant in 1989. I would not get to play at my leisure, or learn the questions. Our reconstruction is yet again flawed... yet, it tries. Oh how it does try.

A few moments of my experience on Hollywood Squares stick out to me, the first being this question here. The tether is powered by memory, and the memory cheats, as you may know. In 1989, this is nothing more than a trivia question. What do these things have in common? In 2013, they are alchemic ingredients. By nothing more than putting the words together, you get a formula... and that formula is a summons of the beast NOSTALGIA. Half of our formula has been stolen and exploited by Michael Bay in a bid for billions. That should tell you how powerful alchemy and nostalgia are. An equivalent exchange. The memories of the masses, for the millions of the master. The dread beast NOSTALGIA will sit in the furthest reaches of space for now. Its gravity may pull us into its orbit from time to time. Be cautious, lovelies.

Then we have the prizes. I assumed I was simply playing for points against the CPU, but in round 2 something happened. My CPU opponent was given a task; to find a secret square. If she answered the question correctly, she would win a trip to Australia. Related to this tangent, when I won the game, I was given a choice of 5 keys. I chose one, and was then shown 5 cars. My task was to choose a car, and use the key I had chosen. If the key worked, the car was mine. These elements are obviously taken from the real-world show, but they are meaningless here. The fact that neither I nor the computer won the trip or car is irrelevant. Even if we had, what would it have accomplished? "Oh, I won the game and a new car. Neat." I would have thought. A brief imagining of me driving the vehicle would then pop into my mind, dispelled a few moments later by the obvious reality; this is a video game and not a real game show. It's not even like a board game, where one is rewarded with pieces of paper made to resemble money. It is simply text rendered by a video game console from 1985. "YOU'VE WON A NEW CAR.". The words themselves have no alchemy. Not like Decepticons and Transformers. I was a contestant on a game show, and I won nothing except imaginary money.

Which brings us, of course, to Home Alone on the NES. Our first movie game, but not our last... because the sequel will be dealt with momentarily. This game, surprisingly, has a credit by Bethesda Software. This surprises me. This game also, surprisingly enough, fits snugly into our theme of realism and reconstruction. It is a reconstruction of the events of the 1990 holiday classic, of course. A young boy in a house under siege by two criminals, using household items to stun them and stall them, to protect the home from burglary in the absence of adults. This is a fantasy situation concocted for the purposes of a family friendly Christmas comedy, of course. Put a real child in that situation, and they would never survive the onslaught. Why would they? An adult criminal is faster. Stronger. Relentless. One touch and the child is as good as dead. The house is looted.

Home Alone is a pillar of realism. The game expects you to survive the onslaught of its crooks for twenty minutes. My best time was three and a half. The house is small, and to win you end up walking in circles, laying traps when appropriate. It feels like a relic that somehow jumped forward in time. This game belongs to 1980, not 1991. Plus, you know, it's not very good. I had to look up a FAQ to figure out how to take and set traps. Looking at the FAQ also reveals that I discovered the optimal route to beat the game. All I had to do was continue to walk in circles, taking my route, for twenty minutes. Set traps when a crook is near and you win. To this I say, no thanks. Home Alone is our first movie game. It is our first bad game. Our second of each will probably be its sequel.

Home Alone 2... well, it is a movie game. It is bad. I will tell you what it's not, though. A pillar of realism. Somehow, in between games... we have fallen out of the world. Home Alone 2 is a video game. An electronic portal to a world where suitcases and vacuum cleaners are alive. Where mops hop in place, where maids throw blood-stained pillows, where suction-tipped dart guns stun. It's not a very good game at all, and lacks anything holding it together. Devoid of design, a reaction to the realism of its prequel. I almost wanted to continue playing to see how ridiculous things could get... but some worlds are better left uncharted. Best left to the imagination. Like the free trip to Australia. Or a new car.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

A Pocketful Of Quarters (High Speed, Hogan's Alley)

Well, that didn't take long. My first unexpected surprise. Never judge a book by its cover, they say... but back in the heyday of the NES, books didn't cost 50 bucks and have misleading or shitty covers. I mean, let me just grab the first book from my bookshelf that's from this time period. Stephen King's Four Past Midnight. The cover tells me that it is a #1 bestseller. It also helpfully suggests, in large white and orange letters, that this is a book called "Four Past Midnight" by Stephen King. All we have to go on besides that is a drawing of a clock in space, a large crack between XII and I with orange energy pulsing from within. A book about evil clocks? A book about the nature of time? Of course, the advantage a paperback has over a video game is how it's displayed. I can go to a book store and hold the paperback in my hands. I can turn it over and read more about the book on its back cover. Hell, I can even open the book up and read its first few pages. There's no such luxury with video games... or not as I remember them. Always sealed behind glass at the local Wal-Mart, and you only had the front cover to judge.

The cover of Tradewest and Rare's High Speed gives you everything you need to know by looking at it. World's #1 pinball. There is a helpful picture of a pinball table called High Speed. Flippers and ramps and flashing lights all over the place. Anyone looking at this box at the store would know what to expect. Pinball. Not so for a fiend like myself, reconstructing the past through dubious files. All I get is the title. High Speed... must be some sort of driving game. I load it up, and oh look. Pinball. And by Rare, too. I am inclined to like Rare, as they went on to make my favorite video game of all time, Donkey Kong Country 2. I am also inclined to hate them, as I spent a week playing and beating a game they made called Battletoads. The original project has gotten to that already, but I will have words to say about Battletoads and its brethren in a later entry. Don't worry about it now. High Speed. Pinball.

A glance at the title screen shows that this is based on something from 1985 called High Speed, and copyrighted to Williams Entertainment. This is interesting to me. I presumed it to be based on a real-world pinball machine, and a cursory query to Google shows I am correct. Pinball games on consoles are, by their nature, already a sort of flawed reconstruction. You can't replicate the tactile force of pinball flippers and tilting a real world pinball machine on today's consoles, let alone one with an 8 bit processor from a time when Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch were on the music charts. Besides, there is a bit of investment with this thing as intended. If we assume a flat $40 price for the game cartridge in 1991, and also assume that a real-world High Speed pinball table charges 25 cents per game... you are buying 160 games of simulated pinball. I don't think I've played any real world pinball machine 160 times. I played the simulated High Speed pinball machine four times. It was enough for me.

It's a fun game of pretend, this reconstruction. I pretended that I was at my hometown restaurant. It's had many names over the years, but the locals just call it "the Take-Out". Because you can eat in or take out, and we take out a hell of a lot more than we eat in. They've had lots of arcade machines there over the years, but never more than one or two at a time. Mostly pinball machines, though. My favorite was the Twilight Zone pinball machine. So, the reconstruction turns to imagination. I've ordered a nice burger with a side of fries, and it will take a while. I have a dollar in quarters and some time to spare. Oh, look. The Take-Out has a new pinball machine. It's called High Speed, and it looks like a Nintendo game. Let's spend my dollar and play some pinball while I wait for my delicious burger.

Except this approach failed due to the game adding elements that would be physically impossible on a real pinball table. Now, I confess that I have never seen a High Speed pinball machine. I'm sure the NES table got lots right. The three flippers. The flashing lights. I don't think they had boxes and helicopter powerups spawning on the table. Or puddles of water coming out of nowhere. Or a magic fireball that drags your ball down between the flippers and ends one of your "lives". Now I wonder just what the heck the point is. What reality are we even in? Pinball machines don't do this. At least the music when you lose a ball is quite nice. Rare NES chiptunes. I didn't even get a high score. How sad.

You know what I did get a high score in, though? Hogan's Alley. Here we are, a good six or seven years before High Speed, and we're starting the dance we'll still be dancing. Hogan's Alley is little more than a simple arcade-style game where you use the NES Zapper to shoot at things. It is also one of the 18 original "black box" games for the NES. Four games in, and we have found ourselves back at the beginning. Further than that, even. Hogan's Alley credits itself as a 1984 video game. We may have gone too far. We've gone back to a time before the NES. Of course, now we know that it says 1984 because this was a Famicom game first and nobody cared enough to update the year on the title screen. But here, on the back end of our tether, we must remember what a wise man once said. Japan does not exist. 

Of course, certain sacrifices had to be made in this reconstruction. We are in 1984, the year of The Terminator. We have travelled back from the future, not to save Sarah Connor, but to understand Hogan's Alley. As such, non-organic matter was not allowed. We are naked, bereft of weaponry. We are lacking our orange toy gun that plugs into the NES and makes a satisfying clicky sound when you pull the trigger. We're missing our Zapper. A controller instead of pinball buttons is one thing. A left mouse button instead of an orange gun is something else entirely. Hogan's Alley itself is quite simple. Games A and B are shooting ranges. Cardboard cutouts of people pop up. Some have guns and must be shot. Others are innocents and must not be shot. There is no chance to explain why Officer Friendly had to die, as Will Smith did in Men In Black. It's 1984. Will Smith exists, but he is not famous just yet. You get a miss for your error. Ten misses and you are out.

Game C involves shooting barrels and bouncing them into gates. Each gate is worth a different point value. It is simple, but somehow the most fun. The most kinetic of the three, because the barrels are always moving. There is little waiting. Still, the reconstruction falters. Duck Hunt has less variety, but is somehow more fun. According to research, Hogan's Alley would eventually end up as an actual arcade experience. Maybe it was put next to a High Speed pinball machine. I don't know for sure, and I'm kind of done with these two now. Why?

The waitress just came out with a tray. My order is ready.