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.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Welcome Back My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends (Heavy Barrel, Heavy Shreddin')

Time gaps. Hell of a thing, ain't they? Before we even begin to face our first game of the resumed Nintendo Project, we face a hell of a time gap. The gap between June 14th, 2011 and now is large, to be sure. A gap of two dates, two writers, two minds. It's nothing compared to the gap between 1990 and 2013. 23 years. God damn. Still, that's the gap we need to cross in order to cover Heavy Barrel. An interesting title, to be sure. Let's try and jump the gap and see what we've got. Don't worry, I'm good at this sort of thing. Trust me, tethering secret history together is my specialty.

The original Nintendo Project left off with Hatris. A Tetris clone with... hats. Made by Alexy Pajitnov itself, it seems. To be honest, I'm not sure why that needed to be a thing that exists... but whatever. That's where the machine stopped. I cleaned the dust off it and now I'm driving it again. The road ahead is Heavy Barrel. A run and gun game by Data East. Things have started off promising for this iteration, let me tell you. I only played this game for the 18 minutes it took me to use all my lives and continues, but I got what I needed to get out of it. Arcade action. Explosions. Running and gunning.

Of course, there are certain elements that are undeniably ripped right out of the wildly popular Contra and Super C, also for the NES. The entirety of Heavy Barrel is top down run and gun, not unlike the top down segments of Super C. Or Commando. Or Ikari Warriors. Or the ten billion other top down run and gun games of the time. I will say that I like Heavy Barrel more than Commando. Lucky enough, I get to be the one to talk about Ikari Warriors and Super C. If we make it that far. No promises, but I'll do my best. Much like I did when playing Heavy Barrel. I did my best to shoot at the waves of enemies. I was rewarded with better weaponry from boxes on the ground, unlocked with keys by shooting red enemies. It's a little odd, but it worked. Shame there are more boxes than red enemies, though. I suppose you'd have to remember what's in what box.

What is in there are the usual power-ups. Better grenades. Better weapons. I swear the weapons are straight

out of Super C. I got a spread gun, and then a large flamethrower. I really liked the flamethrower. Even if this was derivative of other run and gunners, it had its own charm... and then there's the Heavy Barrel itself. The titular weapon is split into six or seven pieces, each in boxes. Fitting for our first game here. We are trying to reconstruct a defunct public domain blog, and here we are reconstructing a powerful weapon. On my last life I managed to do it. I completed the Heavy Barrel, and lay waste to everything in my way. Soldiers fell instantly. Attack helicopters took a blast or two and then flared with explosions. The power overwhelming was mine. Time will tell if I've reconstructed anything good out of the Nintendo Project... but considering its original owner seems pleased at the idea, I have a good feeling.

Heavy Shreddin', however, leaves me with mixed feelings. It is a snowboarding game in which you descend down a mountain and do various snowboarding things. I kind of dig it, in the sense that if I ever saw it at a used game store for five bucks I would probably purchase it for my collection. The first level was split into three parts. First was simply getting down the mountain to the goal as fast as I could. I did so, dodging trees as I went. The game felt like a combination between Skifree and something like the Turbo Tunnel in Battletoads... but not that bad. I noticed that the game barely gives you enough time to reach the goal. I made it with hundreds of seconds left. After dodging some other snowboarders, it was on to slalom. I didn't like slalom very much. It was hard to judge where to move between the gates. The final section really grabbed me, though. Survival. We've hit the core of what makes most video games tick; survival. Don't die. Survive what the game throws at you. Jump a truck. Jump a gorge. Duck power lines. Dodge trees. Don't die. It was the best segment by far, and I would have loved a game of that.

Sadly, all good things come to an end. I reached a half pipe segment where tricks are required to proceed. I didn't know how to do tricks. That's the thing about reconstructing the past. It's never perfect. You're always missing something when you tether back to 1990. In this case, I was missing the instruction booklet. Too bad. Heavy Shreddin' was not terrible, at least. Just not remarkable. It gave me some enjoyment though, and that's more than I can say for a lot of NES games. We'll hit the shit eventually... maybe. For now, I've spent some time playing two old games that I haven't touched before, and I had some fun with them.

Isn't that what this is all about? The tether has pulled June 14th, 2011 a little closer to us. The Nintendo Project has returned, in some capacity. I can't hope to match Mr. Sandifer's quality, but I can hope to see it through as far as I can. Our tethers and secret histories have taken us a little farther than we were before, and that's what matters.


Hi. You can call me Frezno. I like several things. I like reading. I like writing. I like Doctor Who, and old video games. Those four things combined are what have brought me here, to do this. I suppose we should start by talking about the guy who inspired this venture; one Mr. Phil Sandifer. I discovered his work due to a love of Doctor Who, and fell in love with his blog, TARDIS Eruditorum. He writes the "psychochronography" of Doctor Who. The story of the show itself over 50 years of real-world time. It is a very good blog, and if you like Doctor Who I suggest you give it a go. More relevant to our discussion is his other blog, a project he started before the Doctor Who one. The Nintendo Project. A blog dedicated to playing and writing about every NES game released in North America, in alphabetical order. A blog now defunct. Outside forces and who knows what else led Mr. Sandifer to abandon The Nintendo Project, just as he reached the letter H. He eventually made the blog public domain, and focused on the Doctor Who blog. 

I wish to continue his mad work. I wish to restart the rusted engines of the Nintendo Project, and chronicle the rest of the NES games. From H to Z. I am aware of many things. I am aware that this is somewhat ludicrous. I am aware that Mr. Sandifer is, quite frankly, a far better and more skilled writer than I. He is an academic. I am a hobbyist. I don't know much about psychochronography, or psychogeography. I have no idea about the Qlippoth or William Blake, or occult symbols or anything of that nature. I just really want to see the story he started reach an ending. Doctor Who may go on for time immemorial, but the Nintendo Entertainment System is a part of history now. I will tell you what I do know.

I know that eastmost penninsula is the secret.

I know that I now prossess Dracula's rib.

I know that Heat Man is weak to the Bubble Lead.

I know that almost 30 years later, these old games strike a resonance within me. Even the ones I've never played before. I know that I want to talk about what makes them good, what makes them bad... and what sort of world they were born into. I want to delve into the secret history of the world, that which went on while I was but an unaware child. 

I know that old video games hold their own power. They are symbols of alchemy, teleports to another world. Sometimes they are beautiful symphonies. Sometimes you inadvertently summon a monster that must be slain.

I know hard video games. I know good video games. I know bad video games.

I know that the Doctor is a mad man with a box. I know Phil Sandifer is a mad man with a blog. I know what I am.

I am a madman with a silly voice who likes video games, and writing about them. Welcome to the Nintendo Project, Resumed. Let's pick up where he left off.