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]
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.
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.