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 this isn't what I


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.