Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The End Of The 2014 Mess

This will be quick. Oops, I neglected this again. There's only 15 minutes until 2014 is done here, so I have to hurry. I just wanted to wish you all a happy new year and also post this nice list I did of games I played in 2014. Some of them I've written about here in greater detail. Here you go.

It's been a wild year. Book writing and general disillusionment with video games led to some long absences, and I apologize for that. Video gaming really seemed like the absolute worst cesspool this fall. You know why. Still, let's have hope. I give you this hope via a stupid dumb anime game I played. Observe.

This is Chiaki Nanami. She's a character from Dangan Ronpa 2, which I gave the Game Of The Year nod to. The conceit of the Dangan Ronpa games involve high school students of a prestigious school called Hope's Peak, who are the best of the best at what they do; "Ultimates". So you have stuff like Ultimate Musician, Ultimate Gymnast, Ultimate Mechanic, as well as more oddball ones. Chiaki Nanami is the Ultimate Gamer. I played this game at the peak of the putrid "scandal" that made everyone hate everything, and it was Chiaki here that gave me hope. The mere idea that, in the Dangan Ronpa world, that the best of the best, the Ultimate Video Game Player was a lady? That kept me going. Not to mention that her English VA is also the English VA for Madoka Kaname from Madoka Magica... a direct inspiration for the concept of the Valya on this blog.

So what I'm saying is, Dangan Ronpa 2 is the most important game I've played in respect to this blog. We can all believe in Chiaki. We can all keep hope. Let this narcoleptic anime girl guide us to the golden age of the future. I'm going to go watch the New Year's Eve countdown. See you on the other side.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Big Money, Big Prizes, I Love It! (Nintendo Campus Challenge, Nintendo World Championships)

We've jumped ahead just slightly now. It's 1990. Nintendo Power has become a success, chugging along into the brave new 90's. The Wizard survived Video Armageddon, but its hype fled the silver screen like a demon, spreading like wildfire. By now it had been fully unleashed in cartridge form, and Mario mania had gripped us all. This is not that story. This is the story of the brave maniacs who decided that it wasn't enough for Video Armageddon's harbinger to become reality. By God, they were going to harness its full power and bring it forth into our realm. Ancient tomes were consulted, seals were drawn, prayers were chanted and planted among us. In a summoning ritual involving blood and microchips, it came to us. Video Armageddon exploded across America in a wave, and we Disciples Of The Grey Box still feel the effects of the summons today. In 1990, they called it... the Nintendo World Championships.

I hear they were very good. I was also four years old, and on another island entirely while they occured. This, more than anything, is a reconstruction lost to time. The Nintendo World Championships are dead and gone along with 1990, just like all those missing Doctor Who tapes that got burned. They were an event, but what really happened? The real answer is something mundane like "a bunch of kids who were good at Nintendo games competed with one another", but when have we let that stop us? No, this was a clash of titans. Hard Game Beater against Hard Game Beater, the strong surviving and the weak faltering. Here, in this gladiator arena of the Gods, the barriers between America and Japan were weakened. Things could bleed over and be called "sneak previews". Video Armageddon had been summoned to darken the skies. Anything could happen in this arena of divinity. The competition continued to rage, gods and devils battling alike with their controllers. Destruction rained from the heavens as heavenly light radiated from square grey boxes, the alchemy at hand here beyond the grasp of mere mortals. The heavens shook and trembled. The power of Valya, even here, surged through the competition... until finally it was Thor, God of Thunder, who surmised victory. He had survived Lady Capitalism's challenge, and ventured into the heart of the Plumber's rip through time to collect 50 golden coins. He had taken Endless Adventure's unorthodox driving challenge, and steered himself across the coast at 250 miles per hour. He did these tasks quickly for the true prize, Captain Communism's test of reflex and quadratic thinking... for this was where the points really mattered. With mastery of them all, Thor was crowned Supreme Champion of Video Ragnarok. All hail Thor, our alchemical Destructor.

As for the rest? Lady Capitalism took pity on them, and her sadness brought her to tears. 116 of them fell like rain into our realm, with the first 26 being the most powerful among them. This is the continued legacy of the Nintendo World Championships; the rarity of its cartridges. Most can simply be a teenage ROM fiend, or move up to a reproduction cartridge. For the true madmen, there is shelling out thousands of dollars for one of Capitalism's Tears, an actual divine portion of Video Armageddon used in the battle of the gods. I played the games tonight. To talk about them here is to give away the future, but suffice it to say that my score was nowhere near that of mighty Thor's. The Angry Video Game Nerd had a run-in with the thing as well. Tempted by its greed at first, he plays in competition for the Golden Tear of Lady Capitalism, only to realize that it consists of games he already owns. He rejects the siren song of the Big Time, and... Well, I won't give away the end of that. There was also a Nintendo Campus Challenge in 1991. College students taking breaks from finals to partake in their own little Video Armageddon. Unlike the World Championships, this file is not available for a teenage ROM fiend. The reconstruction cannot happen. It lacks the popularity that the first competition had, and this would be the last on the NES. 1992's Campus Challenge was in 16 bits, which are a place we cannot go.

What we can do is play football or something.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

California (The Wizard)

Still not ready to talk about the Nintendo games yet. The entire point of the Nintendo Project is looking back, and I find myself looking back to December of 2013. There, I postulated that the end of the NES was a thing of beauty. To be fair, this was mostly brought on by me being mushy about my friends getting engaged, but I'm going to stick with it. 1994 and 2012 were both about Nintendo partying in the face of oblivion, and doing it with a vibrant celebration of the life that the NES and Nintendo Power had led. Today we go to 1989, where both were riding high. Millions of children were getting the Power every month, and the end of the 80's signalled Nintendo's arguably highest heights with the NES. 1989's silver anniversary is waning, set to be subsumed by a future in which we make the same tired fucking joke about hoverboards and Pepsi Perfect for 365 days. How depressing. Now playing at the Holomax of Infinity, where time is a construct and we flit through it like antsy and esoteric little hummingbirds, it's The Wizard in 5.1-D totally schway vision.

God help us, what are we doing here? A movie starring that Wonder Years kid about road trips and Nintendo games. Dear god in heaven, have we sunk to these meteoric lows? Still, there are things to be said about this movie. It's little more than a historical relic at this point, an artifact of 1989. Is it a very good film? Not really. I don't even know if one could call it a cult classic. It is riddled with problems and things that people on the Internet mock it for... like its video game inaccuracies. Roger Ebert called them out on this. The mental image of Roger Ebert in 1989, playing the first Ninja Turtles game on the NES, speaks to me on so many levels. Part of it is the "secret history" Phil mentioned ages ago, but with me being used to the main reason people call the first Ninja Turtles one of the hardest NES games being the dam level... I want to know if Roger Ebert ever beat it. Short of a seance, I will never know the answer to that question and it fucking haunts me. Just like the NES and Nintendo haunt this film, the spectral force of Nintendo's influence being the fabric that binds it all. Here we sit, at the tail end of the Dance Apocalyptic, and yet in the cinemasphere we have a looming Destructor to rival Peko. It is Video Armageddon that blazes in the skies over Universal Studios in California, and the secret harbored beneath its gates will send the world into chaos and frenzy. But let it sleep for now.

Then you have the weird moments. Jenny Lewis screaming about breasts, for instance. Ah, Jenny Lewis. Looking back again, it was this time nine years ago that I first became acquainted with her voice. Imagine my surprise when I learned that she was in this. How about that. Of course, the Power Glove shows up as well, Nintendo and Mattel's joint gauntlet of doom in these dark times. The camera trickery led us to believe that this would assist our alchemy. We were wrong. Oh god, were we wrong. The muddled power of control was not in our hands. We were fooled into creating a monster... but this is only one of the monsters birthed by our Wizard. The next lies buried within Universal Studios, the harbinger that is the final test of Video Armageddon. Video Armageddon, you see, is a test of the best. The children who have mastered the video games flock, pitted against each other in glorious 8-bit alchemical combat. We come down to three in the final round. A girl that the movie does not care for. Lucas, wielder of the Glove of Deception. Jimmy, our protagonist and Wizard of California. The final test is unleashed upon these three Hard Game Beaters, and it is nothing they could comprehend. They know only the games that have existed. Now, as Video Armageddon strikes their hearts, comes the world of anti-matter, screaming at them in chiptunes. As the gate is raised, the full fury is placed upon them. In this unknown land, they must beat their rivals and become the champion of all video games, both existant and non-existant. As for us, we witness something amazing. Something that set the world on fire in 1989, when we knew naught about it.

Holy fucking shit. Super Mario Brothers Three.

To speak more is to risk being sucked into the open wound that Mario unleashed upon time in this period. Already, I fear the winds are gale force. Still, this is the monster set loose upon the world in 1989, the bringer of Video Armageddon and the vanguard who let Nintendo rule the world. Only a beast altered with superior alchemy could possibly take it on... but that story is not ours to tell. The Wizard probably made money. It probably cemented the hype for Super Mario Brothers Three in the minds of every child of the time. What I know for sure is that this film created several monsters. The Power Glove was one. Super Mario Brothers Three is another. The third came about when Nintendo sought to bring the film to life. That story comes later. God help us all.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Get The Clues That You Can Use (Nintendo Power)



That was fun. As promised, I'm back at this space again. The highly elaborate post about the Ninja Gaiden games will happen someday, but like I said; in the interest of chugging along, we will do just that. Right away, we hit a roadblock. Chugging along, according to my Wikipedian roadmap, gives us a duo of games with some importance. Therefore, a little context is in order. We are firmly in the world of the letter N, and now we are far enough along that we must talk about the Big N. This is the Nintendo Project, after all, but it is time to turn our gaze to the creators themselves; to Nintendo. We know the alchemical machine already, the grey box. We know that its game cartridges are bigger on the inside. Hell, we even know what power words can hold. I am nothing less than an amateur alchemist of the keyboard, firing words off into the aether. Nintendo seized upon that and created an entire magazine about it. Today, I fear, we must talk about Nintendo Power.

Here is where this all gets morbid. Nintendo Power is dead and dusted. Two years ago, its final issue shipped, a loving tribute and celebration. 24 years of fun and profit, going out with a grandiose fiesta of print in the face of oblivion. All returned to nothing, but Nintendo Power embraced it with a smile as it looked back. Peko The Destructor partook in punch before purpose took the Power. This entry, I am afraid, is all after that fact. It's December 1st, 2014, and we are visiting the memorial of Nintendo Power. What do we hope to gain here? Perhaps it is just understanding. The era of Nintendo Power is remembered fondly by some. I was not around for it. I grew up in small-town Newfoundland. Magazines were a rare commodity, and the only subscription I had was to Disney Adventures. Another dead magazine, incidentally. The information rags of our youth die tragically young. Hell, I don't think I bought an issue until 2000, and that was for the Pokemon Gold and Silver strategies. A few years later, though, during my days as a teenage ROM fiend, I bought an old issue from a used bookstore. Mega Man 4. Monster In My Pocket. Super strats for Super Castlevania 4. A thing of incredibility.

What can I say, really? I mean, this is of course a part of the song of the NES. Phil talked about it when he came back for Mega Man 3. The games featured in Nintendo Power, and on its cover, were Important. In a Dark Age with no Internet and only the word of friends to guide you, the book launched all sorts of games into fame. Mega Man thrived. Ninja Gaiden cut through the competition. You had guides for the games, and an entire cabal of secret agent children submitting their codes and cheats to the magazine, electronic espionage hard at work. High scores were on full display, showcasing the madness of the young Hard Game Beaters. Howard Phillips and that smarmy kid with the spiky hair ran around video game worlds, their antics entertaining and educational. When Nintendo Power was on, it was really fucking on. It had its moments of accidental brilliance, like the moment when it almost let Mother exist in our realm officially. Its previews teased and enticed, of course, breaking down that impenetrable curtain between nonexistant lands. As the Wall crumbled and Captain Communism began to crumble with it, so too did Japan and its army of ghosts secretly take over. Nintendo ruled the goddamn world, and Nintendo Power was one of its vanguards. Now it is gone, reaped two years ago after its final party. Its legacy lives on. Nintendo Force is a fan magazine that has fired up the dormant engine and continued the work abandoned by the brilliant official creators. Sound familiar, much? The magazines themselves exist, or scans can be found. The days, however, are gone along with it. I was a subscriber of Nintendo Power, if only briefly. I registered some DS games in 2007 and earned a three-month subscription. Part of my ritual when travelling to visit my grandparents, around that same timeframe, was purchasing Nintendo Power magazines and poring over them during my times without Internet. I longed for the Final Fantasy III remake. I was dazzled at Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. Super Smash Bros. Brawl looked incredible.

It came 20 years late, but Nintendo Power enriched my world and I can't thank it enough for that. Here and now, two years after it has left us... I eulogize it. Celebrate its life, friends. Watch the AVGN wax nostalgic about it. Read about the legendary Captain Nintendo. Enjoy some Howard and Nester comics. Let us remember Nintendo Power, and create our own magic with our memories. Rest well, you silly little book. Rest well.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Mad Science (How The Final Fantasy Legend Is A Work Of Genius)

(Oops, been away for a month without comment again. Sorry about that. Nanowrimo is in full swing now as well, so that is getting most of my attention. Gonzo Secret Project is somewhat stalled, so let's make a promise. We've played with time here before, throwing entries from the future into our present. I'll do the reverse. If Gonzo Secret Project is not finished by the time I complete my Nanowrimo work, we'll hop over it and I'll make progress on the lesser-knowns of the NES library. Then one day it will come screaming at us, a missile fired from the past. Now that that's said and done, here is something I've wanted to write for a week or so about a game I beat. Enjoy.)

Four days before November, I watched a video made by another video game psychochronographer, Jeremy Parish. He's doing something called Game Boy World, which is a look at every Game Boy game ever made. God help him, as he's doing the Japanese releases as well. Anyway, his video was the 18th game ever made for the Game Boy: December 1989's Makai Toshi SaGa, or as it became known when it crossed dimensions, The Final Fantasy Legend. I can't remember what drove me to want to play it upon seeing the video, but I was. Despite the obvious fact glaring me in the face. SaGa, you see, is an Akitoshi Kawazu creation. I've liked to describe video game creators as alchemists on this blog. If that's true, then Akitoshi Kawazu is nothing less than a mad scientist. He got his start fiddling with the original Final Fantasy, and if I'm to believe what The World Wide Web tells me, he took strides to make it a lot like Dungeons and Dragons. Elemental weaknesses and character classes and stuff like that. Final Fantasy was of course a hit, and for whatever reason the powers that be gave Kawazu the keys to the kingdom for Final Fantasy 2.

That's when he showed his true colors. 

Final Fantasy 2 is seen as the black sheep of the Final Fantasy series, and that's a term that always makes me grimace. Whenever I hear it, I can't help but picture a child turning up his nose at a new vegetable. "Black sheep" is codeword for WAH WAH TOO DIFFERENT WAH. Black sheep is the phrase people use to dismiss Castlevania 2 and Zelda 2. Black sheep is the phrase people use when talking about Final Fantasy 2. Kawazu, ever the mad scientist, used his newfound power to influence the game design. Experience points were done away with, and now what you did in battle determined how good you were at it. Swinging a sword 100 times would make you Level 2 Good At Swords. Casting a magic spell a lot would make it more powerful for that character. Taking a lot of damage would increase your constitution and maximum HP. It wasn't a bad idea, but the problem (for me, anyway, when I beat it) was that the game was too damn brutal unless you gamed the system. Confirm an attack on an enemy and then cancel it, and your Good At Swords counter went up to 1/100. Now sit there for five minutes attacking and cancelling 99 more times to get your Good At Swords stat to level up. Do the same for your magic. As for HP? Hit yourself over the head to knock your own health to critical levels and earn the gains. It is tedium, and if you do it incorrectly you can mess up the entire game. When I beat Final Fantasy 2, it had taken part of my soul away from me. It was a new sensation at the time. I whispered "never again" and bore a grudge against the cackling mad scientist who had concocted this creature, a Kawazu's monster that shambled around Japan for 15 years before finally breaking through and terrorizing us.

A year or so later, development on Final Fantasy 3 began, and now I'm going to quote Pitchfork Pat regarding Kawazu and that game because it's one of the best comparisons of a thing I've ever read:

"Using a long piece of string tied to a 10,000-yen note, Masafumi Miyamoto (SquareSoft's founder and top dog) managed to lure Kawazu away from the Final Fantasy division of the Square building and set him up elsewhere, giving him the SaGa series to mess around with -- much like that Simpsons bit in which Marge bakes a separate birthday cake for Homer to ruin."

So here we are. December 1989. Makai Toshi SaGa, hereafter referred to as Final Fantasy Legend because I'm a stickler. I saw the video, and despite knowing what I knew about Kawazu, I wanted to try this odd concoction he had created. I decided to not go it alone, so I put the call out there. Crono, Jetstorm, Zeloz, and anyone else... thanks for going into this madness with me. What we have discovered is something special. The Final Fantasy Legend is brimming with potential and wonder. It has Kawazu's stamp of unpredictability and madness, but this time he's eliminated the tedium of it. This time, it's compact and charged with the janky and unpolished simplicity that only early Game Boy can bring. In short, it's a work of genius from a madman who dares to go against the grain. That doesn't even take into account the really weird shit that happens in the latter half of the game.

Okay, this is your spoiler warning. Warning: There are spoilers. If you're curious about this game, I'd say give it a shot. If you're one of my pals still going through the game, I'm about to yell at everything cool it did in the latter half. This includes the ending, so be wary. I mean, it's a 25 year-old Game Boy RPG so it's not going to have any really big scary twists, but the way I talk about it might influence your own reactions to these bits. Hence the warning.

Alright, so right away the thing that sets Final Fantasy Legend apart from Final Fantasy 2 is choice. This is Choose Your Own Obtuseness. Kawazu's madness can and will swirl you up if you so choose, but you can mitigate that. With a party of four humans, you get a somewhat normal game mechanics-wise. Granted, humans buy all their stat upgrades in stores instead of fighting X amount of battles, but you still build them how you want. Take a mutant, too, if you like. They gain stats as they go along, and learn and un-learn special abilities depending on... something that I don't know. Then there are monsters, who eat meat dropped by monsters at the end of battle to change into other monsters. There are rules to the transformations, of course. They are never explained in-game. That's Kawazu for you. Instead of a Frankenstein-like Kawazu's monster, he creates a swirling storm composed of pure chaos. The KAWAZU VORTEX grows in strength as he makes more SaGa games, but you don't have to worry about that. Only I do.

Now let's look at a GameFAQS review of Final Fantasy Legend. I should note that this game has the most varied scores of anything I've ever seen. With an X/10 scale, it has gotten every number. I'm about to quote from the only 1/10 review on the site, a review which also rates every aspect of the game on an X/10 scale. This annoys me, but that's a whole other entry. Let's look.

"Control 5/10- The controls are somewhat responsive yet really simplistic. The controls also play a big role in the battles, your weapons break after a while so its a real downer.

Gameplay 1/10- Wow, this really sucks!!! This whole game is a big mess of frustration and annoyance. You start fighting and your weapons only last for so long so when you need to upgrade to some better armor, you save up for it and by the time your ready to but it you need to buy another weapon so you play for hours through boring battles and stupid music until you FINALLY save up enough to get your armor! This is the biggest flaw in the game!

Story 1/10- Simplistic, crappy..... A whole bunch of people find a tower go inside expecting to find paradise, but, none of them come out! Sou you go in and.....
Its really stupid! You get one character at the beginning and you go to the guild and buy three more. There I've mainly summed up why the game sucks."

The weapons have durability? Someone had better tell Fire Emblem that it's actually a 5/10 and "a real downer". Also you fight monsters to earn gold and get new equipment. In a Japanese RPG made in 1989. The grinding in this game isn't even that bad, trust me. I've beaten Mother. I've beaten Dragon Warrior. The grinding in this game is Not That Bad. As for the story... they didn't have room for any complex 80 hour sprawling epic with anime cutscenes. It's Game Boy. It's simple. You want to climb to the top of a tower to find Paradise. Along the way you fight monsters, enter strange new worlds, and try to solve people's problems by killing the Four Symbols of Chinese mythology.

The game's divided into four "worlds", with floors of Tower ascent in between. I don't have much to say about the first and second worlds. They're cute in their own way, and involve simple tasks. The first world has you collecting armor, a shield, and a sword from three kings. The only real eyebrow-raising moment is getting the shield. A traitor kills the king before you can get it, and you then kill the traitor as he begs you not to hack him to death with swords. Once you do so, one of your party members will speak for you. "You're scum. You make me sick.". That's the first clue that something is amiss. Then you use the equipment and find a Chinese myth turtle wants to kill you, so you kill him first with swords. World 2 has nothing really like that. It's an ocean world with islands and a palace under the sea ruled by a Chinese myth dragon who you kill with swords. World 3 is where the fun sort of begins. There's a resistance against Byak-Ko, the Chinese myth tiger oppressing the people from his flying fortress. You infiltrate and try to save the sister of one of the resistance members, only to find that she's sided with Byak-Ko for power. You bust out of jail and find Byak-Ko ready to kill them both... but the resistance sister sacrifices herself to save her sibling, and then you kill Byak-Ko with swords. Welcome to your first taste of grimness. It's about to go into overdrive.

World 4 is a post-apocalyptic ruin of Japan, something straight out of Shin Megami Tensei. You move underground through subway tunnels, and have to collect old circuitry. Eventually you get some sort of jet scooter to zip around the overworld quickly, and you need it. Because a Chinese myth bird named Su-Zaku is constantly pursuing you on the overworld. Every encounter you get into will be with him, and he is invincible. You can only run away. Let's stop and take stock of this. By now, if you've made it this far in Final Fantasy Legend, you have a handle of how things work. You've got a super mutant, or a great monster form, or some humans with 99 strength. It was at world 3 or so where I felt like I could take on anything and everything with my superpowered team, and world 4 shatters that confidence with something you can't kill. It's more than that, though. It's a monster that forever comes after you, wanting to make you dead, that you can't kill. Forget Pyramid Head. shrug off Nemesis. Hell, even cast aside your memories of Scissorman. Akitoshi Kawazu invented the survival horror monster, in December 1989, on the fucking Game Boy.

Now let's talk about ambiguity. I love ambiguity. I've been looking at the newest series of Doctor Who critically for the past few weeks, both in text form by myself and in audio form as co-host for a friend of mine. What we keep coming back to are elements of the story that aren't explained in the story itself. I can shrug this off easily in a narrative, either not caring in favor of the exciting things happening or papering over any "plot holes" with little effort. Some of the other guests don't like doing this and see it as a shortcoming of the writer for Not Explaining Shit. Whether this is valid in a Doctor Who sense is irrelevant. It's valid here because early janky Game Boy physically had no room to explain things beyond the simplest of lines. We never learn what cataclysm wrecked Japan in the World Of Ruin. Was it the final result of the Cold War? Did a god disguise himself as the President and launch ICBMs to cleanse Japan of the demonic? We don't know. My personal thoughts? Suzaku did it. An invincible firebird burst forth one day, and no weaponry could break its shields. 1999. The Day of Suzaku. Well, in any case, you combine broken machine parts with plutonium to create ERASE-99, and then you go through a skyscraper and a subway before fighting Su-Zaku on top of the train and beating him.... but not before its wrath descends upon a town and kills every inhabitant. You can investigate the bodies, and the prompt tells you "This man is dead.". Remember that.

With the four Chinese direction bosses done, we ascend more Tower. Hidden away in a side room is the most grim moment of the game, more grim than an entire town dying to Chinese fire bird. Once again we find a room full of corpses. Examining them, however, doesn't tell us that "this man is dead.". Instead we get the far more chilling "This child looks dead.". Further examining the bodies will yield a diary where the children state that they're running out of food before praying to the "Creator". If you do this, the game doesn't tell you the item you get; a nuke. Holy shit. That's dark as hell, and again it's brimming with ambiguity. It's like a horror movie where you don't see the monster; any scenario we can come up with to how and why these kids died is more horrific than the scenario writer jotting something down and making it canon. But no, guys, the story's a 1/10. It's a simplistic and crappy story about climbing a dumb tower, right?

A final gauntlet awaits you, with a boss named Ashura and a return to the beginning of the game before climbing way way up and fighting the Chinese myth monsters again in more powerful forms. Final Fantasy Legend has one save slot and you can save anywhere. I saved during this ascent and found myself at very low HP. I could have made the game unwinnable in this way. That's another trap set by the KAWAZU VORTEX, but you reach the top and find healing. You also find the Creator. He explains that the entire tower ascent was a fun game he created because he was bored. The party reacts in abject horror, and as became customary in RPGs to follow in the PS1 era, you kill God with swords. Except... it's not God. Give it a quick think. His name is the Creator, he talks about everything being a game... it's Kawazu. Akitoshi Kawazu is the final boss of his own goddamned game, the characters are horrified at the concept of their fictionality... and what are you to do but hack away at him with swords? That's what you do to the last guy. You fight him and you win. The entire thing was a metafiction, and the party approaches a door behind the Creator. Where does it lead? We don't know. They reject it, and go back to the base of the tower. I think the door is Kawazu's entry point back into our universe. He can cross over because he is creator, and this is his charged emboited space. Our protagonists are but code. They cannot leap out of the screen, so they remain in the world they know. It's comfortable, and they can kill monsters with swords any time. As they stand at the entrance to the tower, they proclaim "See you again!".

Fucking. Genius. 10/10. Hundred out of a hundred, best game. It's a janky early mess of a game but it does so many neat things and makes you think that... I love it. By god, I love one of mad scientist Akitoshi Kawazu's hot messes of alchemical chaos. He made more SaGa games, and some of us are playing them now. Some of us are planning to play more. God help us all as we brave the KAWAZU VORTEX. We may not survive, but I've learned things about going against the norm. Things that will stick with me. Including the lead of my party, who personally struck the final blow on the Creator Kawazu. It's appropriate for this blog, and there's only one way to close this massive bit of rambling.



All hail Peko The Destructor.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Take A Melody, Simple As Can Be (Mother In Super Smash Brothers)

So that new Super Smash Brothers game came out for the 3DS last week. I got my copy a few days ago, and from what I've played... it's not half-bad. A bit different to control, since I don't have the Gamecube controller I've been playing these games with for ten years. Maybe the Wii U version will be easier to adapt to. I don't know. We've never talked about Smash Bros before. Mostly because it's not an NES game. Still, though, it's steeped in the history of Nintendo. That does mean NES. It means all sorts of things, but it means NES on the side. NES, coincidentally enough, is one letter removed from Ness.

I could make this whole post a spiel about how much I love the Mother series, but I'll try and keep it to a paragraph. I love the Mother series. I've linked Phil's original Nintendo Project post on Earthbound Zero a million times already, but here it is again. It's a small miracle that he even did it; I guess he just happened to have the PERFECTLY LEGAL GAME CARTRIDGE on hand when he got to the letter E. It was the basis for the whole "Japan as nonexistant land" thing that I co-opted. You know, along with the entire idea of this blog. I'm glad he did, though. Earthbound Zero, or Mother, whatever you like to call it... is brilliant. It's Dragon Quest with the heart and soul and wide world of adventure jacked up to 11. It's aged about as well as the NES Dragon Quest games (which is to say poorly) but the GBA translation patch fixes this. There's an Easy Ring which makes the whole "grind out three levels in an hour" malarkey nonexistant. With this, Mother becomes a light RPG where you don't need to worry about party wipes and overlevelling, and you can just experience the goddamn world and love every second of it. This is how I played the last time I beat the game, and I zipped through it in one wonderful weekend. Amazing.

Of course, then there are the sequels. Earthbound for the SNES was a random file I downloaded during my early days as a file bandit. Something about it sang to me, and I adored it. For years, owning a legitimate copy was a holy grail dream of mine. I achieved it last year, thanks to a generous friend who cut me a deal. Mine even came with the guidebook, and that's a pretty thing. As for Mother 3? I owe my everything to that game, because it was the first Let's Play I ever watched. In 2007. Before the translation. Summarized by a French man. It drew me in, and a year later I was making my own idiotic videos and making friends and creating connections. Not bad for a twilight gem for the GBA. All of this relates to Smash Bros, of course. Even if the Mother trilogy is an obscure thing only loved by anoraks. The video game equivalent of Doctor Who in the 1990s. It's gotten representation in Smash Bros, of course. Ness has been a mainstay for every game. Mother 3's protagonist was in Brawl, and he ended up being the first character I used. My little tribute to the girl who introduced me to that Mother 3 Let's Play. He ended up becoming one of my mains, along with Mr. Game and Watch. Even if Brawl casually ended up spoiling the final boss of Mother 3 for America.

So let's talk stages, because this is what I'm building up to. There have only been a few. Melee had Onett and Fourside from Earthbound, and they were okay to play on. Brawl added Mother 3's New Pork City, a gigantic sprawling mess of a level that I'm not fond of. Smash 4's addition is representation from the original game. The mystical, dreamlike land of Magicant is playable. It's beautiful. A nice fellow named Pitchfork once wrote a huge manifesto about how good Mother was, and he paid special attention to Magicant:

"Magicant is to MOTHER what Zeal is to Chrono Trigger: it's the most important place in the game and the heart of the story. This is the point where the hero/player tumbles into the rabbit hole, where Ninten catches a glimpse of the true nature of his quest. Magicant is not located on any map and can only be accessed through the XX stones in certain remote caves or by using the Onyx Hook. It's a seriously bizarre place ? and its introduction comes as an especial shock, as it introduces inexplicable magical forces into what has thus far been a game that purposefully removes the fantastic from a genre dominated by fantasy worlds."

Ninten being Mother's protagonist. The childlike embodiment of the red and white box? We could have a field day with that. Magicant is something else entirely. It's pink and cotton-like and filled with the power of dreams and imagination. It is everything that a nonsense word like "Valya" is meant to represent. The stage? Perfect. There's plenty of series iconography, but the real draw is the background. Every so often, it flashes glimpses of past Mother games. We see Earthbound, but we also see the original Mother. After 25 years of being stuck at the terminal, a Mehran Karimi Nasseri of the video game age... it's made it. In dream form, but I'll take it. Millions will play this level, and see that footage... and wonder where it's from. For the lucky few who delve deeper, they will discover a true gem. One that might resonate with them for the rest of their lives.

Oh, and the music is pretty, too.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Don't Touch The Edge, Okay? That's Part Of The Game! (Touhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom)

Sorry for the lull in activity here. I'll explain. See, I've had a stroke of genius regarding three of the "big" games coming up. A trilogy on the NES that starts with N, no big surprises what that is. Problem is, I had the idea too close to me making it to those games, and I've been busy with errands and also dragging my feet a little when it comes to working on those gonzo entries. It'll be fun, though. A hint: Ain. Ain Sof. Ain Sof Aur. Now that you're all mystified, I'm going to not neglect this blogspace for a brief moment. So let's talk, you and I.

Let's talk about a different project: The Touhou Project. I just learned that Touhou means "Eastern". Well, that just fits with that one article of Phil's I keep quoting, about how Japan didn't exist. By 1996 it kind of did, though. Not entirely, but it kind of did. The veil between our worlds had become transparent, much like the veil between the world of humans and the demonic realm of Gensokyo. On the other side, an alchemist known only as ZUN tinkered with a Japanese computer, first creating a Breakout-style game. A year later... who knows what happened? Perhaps in his dreams he saw them. The bullets. The patterns. The patterns are so pretty. They entice, like an angler fish, and then the jaws come. Each one spells certain death for you, a meeting with Peko the Destructor should you touch their beauty. But you know that. You've seen them before, haven't you? Gaze upon the face of madness that has shocked and horrified many who know of Touhou. Gaze at the relentess spread of instant death bullets. Gaze at a new creature, born from the heart of Japan-Gensokyo and tearing through the veil to terrorize us. Look upon the Dread Beast DANMAKU, and feel ultimate despair. I have. I have ventured into Gensokyo, and I have come back after three days of weaving through its curtain fire. I have come back to tell you...

...that I love every bit of it.

To be clear, I played the seventh game in the series: Perfect Cherry Blossom. I have previously dabbled with some of the PC-98 games, including an extended series of attempts to best the first true shooting game, Story Of Eastern Wonderland. Perfect Cherry Blossom is the second in the series to be made for Windows, and... It's perfect. I almost have no words to express how satisfyingly good I found this. I understand the Kool-Aid that fans of this series adore so much now. All of this despite the fact that I am complete garbage at shooting games. You've seen some disdain for them here; hell, the whole Dread Beast GREED thing was invented because of Image Fight. The scrolling shooter was built to siphon your quarters, and in the 8-bit era they were still learning not to do that. Touhou, like Axelay before it, was created from the ground-up to be "not for the arcade". Axelay exorcises the Dread Beast GREED with its reversal of Gradius Syndrome. Perfect Cherry Blossom is set in a realm where it can't even exist. This is the land of the Dread Beast DANMAKU, and its multi-colored eyes glare at dear GREED and send it running to hide in a pile of hundred dollar bills. Now, I made the mistake in the past of running as well at that glare. One shouldn't. A German Let's Player pal of mine, who is a whiz at Touhou, has lots to say about Touhou and its status as an Impossible Video Game holy fucking shit look at those fucking bullets Joe--

Sorry? I was rambling. Anyway, Gesh here has lots to say. Basically, the average Video Game Fan will look at one of the really intense Touhou challenges and assume that all the game consists of is ridiculous curtain fire. Untrue. It eases you into things before throwing the scary stuff at you. So it went with me and Perfect Cherry Blossom. I will confess. I started on Easy Mode. Now, a lot of super Touhou fans will scoff at Easy mode. Fuck that, I say. It's probably a bad idea to coddle yourself outright and only play Easy mode Touhou without dipping your toe in a higher difficulty, but that shouldn't make it verboten outright. One must learn to crawl before they learn to walk... but one can't crawl for the rest of their lives. I spent two days learning to crawl. Here is how you crawl in Perfect Cherry Blossom, and how wonderful it is. You've got three playable characters, each with two different "styles" of shot, so to speak. I went with a maid named Sakuya who shoots knives, and gave her a homing shot. She also had four bombs per life. These are the tools Perfect Cherry Blossom gives you to survive. Shooting, moving, and bombing. Those first two we understand. The bombs? In my case, they did damage and cleared away bullets in a set area around me. They are a panic button, something to press when you weave your way incorrectly and need to save yourself. Losing a life will cost you all the bombs of that life, but using a bomb just costs... well, one bomb. Still, one cannot bomb willy-nilly. In my case, I hit a balance. I learned to weave through certain patterns of danmaku fire, moving gracefully and not letting my tiny dot of a hitbox get poked. At some points I thought I was in a field full of cows because of all the damn grazing happening. At others? HOLY SHIT SCARY PATTERN BOMB BOMB BOMB.

Oh, there are mechanics for getting high scores. Like the Supernatural Barrier. Get a bunch of points and you get this temporary shield that will absorb one hit. The kicker is that you can dismiss it early and clear every bullet off the screen. Since I gave more of a care about completing the game, I considered these bonus bombs and used them accordingly. If you save the shield, though, you get a point bonus. Which could be helpful if you're good. Which I'm not. I'm rambling, but these are almost all of the tools the game gives you. The mission then is to clear it and get a "good ending" by beating all six stages without using a continue. In this realm, the Dread Beast GREED's usual scheming is thwarted. Touhou doesn't want your quarters. It wants you to feed it as little as possible. Unlike GREED, who couldn't care less about your victory so long as you give it money... DANMAKU wants you to succeed. So much so that it gives you the option to practice any stage you've cleared. In my case, I used the continue option to clear the whole game, and then set to work on practicing the other stages. Learning the spreads as best as I could. Attempting to optimize life preservation and bomb use. I eventually succeeded. No continues... on Easy mode. I then bumped up to Normal, expecting pain... and it wasn't so bad! The things I had learned still applied! Some patterns were faster and more involved, but I handled it within a day. By the absolute skin of my teeth, I got the one credit clear on Normal. A difficulty which Touhou fans recognize. This counts. This is a realm I have survived.

This game lives up to its name. It's perfect. Perfectly balanced with difficulty. It's scary, but completely learnable and passable given some planning and practice. The game's length of about 30 minutes also means it doesn't drag on. The six stages go by, and a failed attempt can still teach you things. It respects you enough to want you to succeed, but doesn't patronize you by pulling its punches, even on Easy. By god, I like it. I like Perfect Cherry Blossom. I like it so much that I don't want to play another Touhou game. Not because it exhausted me and made me wary of putting my soul through that again. No. Because I want this experience to stand resolute in my mind. My three days in Gensokyo, dodging the dread beast DANMAKU's assault and bettering my reflexes with each retread. To do it over again with a new coat of paint would almost cheapen it. No. For now, this must be my only foray.

Perfect Cherry Blossom is perfect. Why can't more shooter games be like this?

Friday, 12 September 2014

All Of Your Dreams Go Down The Drain (NFL, Nigel Mansell's World Championship Racing, A Nightmare On Elm Street)

This is like a bad dream or something. NFL by LJN. You know what? No. Fuck it. From now on, whenever I come across an unremarkable sports game I dislike, I'm going to instead quote a Wikipedia article about anything else. NFL on NES, published by NES, is irrelevant and not at all fun. Instead, let's learn about electrical engineering.

Electrical engineering is a field of engineering that generally deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. This field first became an identifiable occupation in the latter half of the 19th century after commercialization of the electric telegraph, the telephone, and electric power distribution and use. Subsequently, broadcasting and recording media made electronics part of daily life. The invention of the transistor and, subsequently, the integrated circuit brought down the cost of electronics to the point where they can be used in almost any household object.

Electrical engineering has now subdivided into a wide range of subfields including electronics, digital computers, power engineering, telecommunications, control systems, RF engineering, signal processing, instrumentation, and microelectronics. The subject of electronic engineering is often treated as its own subfield but it intersects with all the other subfields, including the power electronics of power engineering.

Great. Next.

Nigel Mansell's World Championship Racing. It's like Rad Racer in first-person. Also sort of frustrating because the opposing racers are nigh-impossible to pass. They weave around too much and I rear-ended them. I made no progress in this game. It is a better game than NFL on NES but not by much. It also came out in 1993 and was but one version of many. This is what happens when the Nintendo Project dies. All we have left is mediocrity. It's enough to put you to fucking sleep. I have nothing to fill this space. I have nothing constructive to say about any of this. At last I understand the futility of it all. The Nintendo Project died for a reason, and so did the NES. So did the NES. So, too, will all your favorites die. Entropy rules absolute, and Peko the Destructor holds sway over all. Perhaps, then, we should visit her. Why the hell not? Video games are a goddamned nightmare these days. Let's delve into the nightmare and face our destiny. We've done it before, and by god we'll do it again.

Rare Ltd. brought me joy in the mid-1990s. Here they bring me supposed despair. Here they drag me into the nightmare. A world where progress is unclear, where snakes and bats swarm and rocks fall from the heavens just to kill me. This is not the domain of Peko the Destructor, or even the Nightmare. This space was created out of malice and revenge. A very bad man did very bad things in 1968, and in response the public took justice into their own hands. They burned a murderer alive in his home, and his vengeance brought him back. He is Frederick Krueger, of the Bladed Hand. We are in his charged space, and it is horrific. He screams for justice and revenge. How dare those people kill him? In revenge, he shall kill as something beyond a human being. He will kill as an idea, living within the nightmare. His havoc will spread to the waking world. His dark seed, his cries of justice... they resonate with some. In his dream realm, Frederick cries for the blood of the Dream Warriors. In the waking world, the zealots of the Church Of Gaming cry for the blood of the social justice warriors. There is no integrity. There is only misplaced anger, a sense at being wronged when they themselves have cast the first stones. We enter this space, and we seek to exorcise the demon once and for all. A Bladed Hand with disconnected orbs for limbs threatens us, echoing the future heat death of the NES. Echoing the nightmare which taught us about death in the first place. How can anyone stand up to this?

Without fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Just as the nightmare has its heroes, so too do the zealots have their targets... but they fall victim to infiltration. Their scheming exposed. This is not a crusade. It is a witch hunt. The fighting continues, as it always has and always will... but they can never win. These are not dominoes. These are people, and these people will not topple. Frederick is a spectre. He is an idea haunting the subconscious of promiscuous teens. All one has to do is remain unafraid, to remain brave... and one may burn his bones. Then Peko the Destructor shall descend, and Frederick will pay for his transgressions. Then will come the Lady Valya, bringing the truth that we had forgotten when we got too angry at football games. It is a truth that will send the zealots screaming back to their caves, plotting for "next year".

The secret of alchemy is material social progress.
Video games are alive again.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Gettin' Mad About Video Games (NARC, NES Open Tournament Golf, NES Play Action Football)

Welcome to the letter N. It stands for Nothing. As in, nothing today is actually any good. Okay, maybe one game, but it sure as shit ain't NARC. We're in War On Drugs territory here. Also Williams Arcade territory. Also Rare Ltd. programmer territory. Mother of god, these are bad lands to be in. So how do we fight the war on drugs? Kill it. Kill them all. Destroy every drug-peddling criminal scum shooting at you. They are the enemy, and you are the Law. The absolute, the champion of virtue and of right. They shot first, so it's within your rights as a gun-toting officer of peace to mow them all down. How dare anybody question otherwise. Attack dogs? Mow them down too. The powers that be have deigned them threats. There are no cute dogs in this world, only attack dogs that will gnaw your leg off. Men who throw hypodermic needles. Gun not enough? Blow them up with a rocket. Create a cascade of corrupt corpses in your wake, no remorse or worry... and then go for a round of golf.

This is better. This elicits warm memories of the 1990s. Borrowing this game on the same day as art class. We had to make placemats. I made a crude drawing of the cover art of this game. Is it still here, I wonder? Let me check.

By God in heaven. There it is. Littered with signatures from classmates. "AFA." A Friend Always. Here's the punchline; I have forgotten who some of these people are. Who the hell is Holly, or Billy, or Jennifer? Was AFA just some cool thing to say in 1995? I don't know, but somehow this game still has power over me. Somehow it's a fun golf game. Even if I can barely make par on some holes, and end up triple bogeying on others. Somehow, it's still fun. No bullshit, no nonsense, just you and a golf club and hitting the damn ball. No Jack Nicklaus, no Lee Trevino. Just Mario. And a golf club. It's the best game today, and I have nothing else to say about it. It's a golf game and it's fun.

NES Play Action Football is a football game. It is not fun... but it's had a strange effect on me. I went in expecting very little. I got, of course, very little. It is football. Just like I've done before, and will do again and again until the end of time. It uses an isometric perspective and sometimes zooms out. Then the conspiring begins. Plays and attack patterns that I have no comprehension of. The screen zooming out as it's my turn to move, such that the tiny red man I'm controlling collides with a tiny yellow man and I lose my turn. No gain. Controls that are unintuitive. God. I know that I'm not playing it as intended. I am meant to have the instruction book with me like a bible... but I guess I'm just used to a certain level of figuring stuff out. Something simple would work. B to pass. A to tackle. Select to switch player. This is all you would need. Instead, it's B plus a direction to pass. B PLUS A to change players. This is never told on screen, of course. I had to look it up after finishing play. Good riddance. Bad rubbish.

Then I thought further. I thought of Gamergate, of the faceless swarms that are descending on women in gaming and driving them right the fuck out with their virtual pitchforks and torches. All in the name of "weeding out corruption". Bullshit. Bullshit. I have yet to see an example of Gamergate doing anything of a sort. A woman has had dirty relationship laundry aired out for the world to see. Another woman has been driven out of her home by threats of rape and death. Another woman has quit writing about video games entirely. The Faceless Ones are claiming victim after victim to their crusade... and for what? To protect this? To protect their darling dear video games? Emboiting a closed space upon which nothing that is not a privileged white male can enter on pain of death? Literally fuck off. Real people, real living and feeling people on planet Earth, are being hurt by this. Hurt by the mob, in favor of protecting video games. Literally. Fuck off. Video games are not worth protecting. Even if they were, they wouldn't need it. They have survived market crashes and system changes and social upheaval. A couple of "non-games" aren't going to kill it. Get out. Video games were corrupt from the moment they were born. They exist to make money, and they will continue to make money until the end of time. The fuckwits behind Gamergate are no better than the NARC men, shooting at everything that dares to be Not Them.

Destroy all "gamers". Ruin all video games. Video games are dead. From now on, this project is a postmortem.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie

(Hi there! This isn't really a Nintendo game post, but I was inspired. After years of filming and production and stuff, the Angry Video Game Nerd movie finally came out! I watched it last night and I had words to write about it... sort of. There will be spoilers in these words, so do beware. If you'd like to see the film, here is a legal avenue for you to do so. Regardless, here we go.

PS: If you got here from Cinemassacre, hi! I hope you like my silly Nintendo game blog!)

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie (henceforth referred to as the AVGN movie) is many things. "Terrible", surprisingly enough, is not one of them. Believe me, I'm the first to call out an AVGN-related product when it falters. I've done it before. Still, this is not a review of the AVGN movie. Not quite, but let's get housekeeping out of the way and give quick thoughts anyway. It's okay. It's not a classic or a masterpiece, but it's a movie I'd watch again. My favorite part, aside from all of the esoteric bullshit I'm going to write about it in a second, is how it handles cameos. This is an Internet Celebrity Movie, and in my mind I immediately compare it to Doug Walker's Internet Celebrity Movies for his website, That Guy With The Glasses. They are not very good in my eyes, and one of the reasons I dislike them? Their reliance on cameos and reference. They exist to light up the audience's memory neurons regarding Internet Celebrity Inside Jokes And Appearances. By contrast, the AVGN movie is also brimming with cameos from other Internet Celebrities (even Doug Walker himself shows up!)... but at almost no point is it ever directly stated that the person appearing on screen is Someone From The Internet. Doug Walker gets his cameo, but it's a scream of horror at something. He does not identify himself as Doug Walker. He is a cutaway reaction, a piece of a larger montage that actually is relevant to the plot of the film. There are other things I liked, but let's not go into those now. Let's talk about alchemy again.

Oh, is the AVGN movie dripping with alchemy and the totemic power of the Nintendo pantheon... even if it doesn't really involve Nintendo. For starters, let's look at the Nerd himself. If the Nintendo Project is the TARDIS Eruditorum of the NES (which, really, Phil deserves all credit for)... then the AVGN web series is the About Time. Or the Jeremy Bentham or whatever. Thanks to him, creations of the Nightmare are spotlighted and targeted by the masses. We know to treat Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde as a dread beast. Top Gun and its plane landing are nonsense. The Power Glove really is that bad. (We'll get there, in a roundabout way, soon.) He jumps all over time with these games, as we do, and doesn't even limit himself to the grey box. Atari is fair game as well. The 2600, the once-king of the wastelands of woodgrain. What happened next is recorded history, of course. The impossible king rose to great heights, in conjunction with the dread beast GREED at the near-peak of its capitalist power. They were invincible, and they recruited an alchemist to make something to give them more money. A video game based on that one Spielberg movie. Yes. Eee Tee. They gave their microchip alchemist no time at all to turn lead into gold, and the half-baked creation was sour and malformed. The capitalists, in their hubris, made far too many. Their assumption was that Darth License's brand would fly off the shelves. How wrong they were. Video games suffered a mortal blow, and the lead blood splattered everywhere, poisoning the well. They died in 1983, but the trickling blood splashed into a void, reaching a land that did not exist. It touched a white and red box, and the Famicom was born. As for the E.T. carts? Buried with countless other unsold Atari stock, in a landfill in the wastelands.

All of this is true. Even the landfill part.  The movie, of course, embellishes things slightly. And by "slightly" I mean that every Eee Tee cartridge ever made actually contains a piece of alien super-metal harvested from the Roswell UFO, as well as the floor plans to Area 51. Things go farther than that. There's an alien who tells us that our reality is its own ridiculous video game. Entire planets and nebulas created with alchemy far surpassing our own... and the entropy that can stop it? A Lovecraftian death god lurking under Mount Fuji. Who awakens during the third act of the film and lays waste to the world like a kaiju monster. The Nightmare, Peko The Destructor, the dread beast GREED... all just concepts without form. Here, then, lies the true horror. Video games exist to further capitalism and line the pockets of their creators. The side effect of that? Sometimes they're fun. Sometimes the microchip alchemy creates something beautiful. Sometimes, the grace of good fortune awaits. There is good in this universe, and there are good games.

The Nerd himself, whether he knows it or not, is a force of good. He may swear and fight and drink and vomit, but above all else his greatest fear is the suffering of those who have grown to laugh at his work. The idea that people would actually play E.T., let alone go out to the harsh desert to dig the damn things up? It horrifies him. He spends the film trying to deny the entire thing, even as the conspiracies and revelations about the inner workings of the universe rack up. He doesn't want us to become the mindless zombies of capitalism; indeed, a nightmare sequence early on features just that. A carnival of capitalism with Eee Tee and the Nerd's face plastered everywhere, the undead buying and winning and buying... then playing their product. Furthering the brand. Consuming not just what the fools at Cockburn put out, but human flesh. How horrifying.

In the end, it is too much. In order to save the day, mankind needs to rid itself of this burden. Every cartridge of Eee Tee on the planet comes together, the ultimate alchemy. It forms a spaceship, and this is what sends the death god back to its realm. We are deprived of our so-called "worst game ever", but as the credits roll, we get what we have wanted. We get our AVGN E.T. review... and you know what? It's not the worst game of all time. In the end, E.T. isn't really some earth-shattering calamity that can be used to make it so nothing ever existed. It's a flawed game that some greedy old people rushed out the door for Christmas 1982. It's a game that one man worked on to the best of his effort, creating some weird thing about telephone pieces and falling into holes. It has its cryptic moments, but it was intended to come with instructions. You read them, and understand, because the game has no room to tell you what to do. Its alchemist has no time to explain to you what to do. Sure, it may have brought Atari to its knees and almost killed video games, but that set the scene for the NES, and the 30 years of video gaming that followed. A new empire, forged on the ashes of the old.

In that regard, E.T. might be the most important game of all time.

Monday, 25 August 2014

You Shall Beeee Like Uzzzzzz (The Mutant Virus, Mystery Quest)

My my, we've been in this realm for a while. This is a milestone, of sorts. 26 letters in our alphabet, and once we sort out these last two mediocre bits of electronic entertaiment, the Nintendo Project will have mapped out 13 of them. As there aren't equal games represented for every letter, this isn't a true halfway point but a spiritual one. A Valyan one, if you will. As we sit here and ponder what the wonders of the letter N will bring (not much, and then a shitload of really interesting things, incidentally), one must ponder. What is a bad game made of?

If you believe The Mutant Virus, it's made of a literal infection at the very core of the microchips of the thing, spreading and multiplying and taking root of everything. I've oft called the magic of the NES "microchip alchemy", so let's see what went wrong here. At its core, a game is but an idea. The heart of The Mutant Virus is an idea about a spaceman inside a computer fighting off a computer virus by shooting at it and stopping the spread of the infection. It could have been a fun game, but there's a vagueness to it that comes when one dredges through a emulated file. In the absence of microchip alchemy, the game about microchip alchemy's infection has no equivalent exchange. It cannot function, and thus it loses its soul. A shambling infected husk, the virus spreads and spreads. You can shoot at it all you want, but the infection doesn't slow like it should. It keeps spreading, and even coming near it is hazardous. Worse yet, the system itself has gotten wise to your attempts. It is now turned against you, and can smite you in one blow. The grey box can create worlds with but a thought. One hit of a fireball may not seem like much, but the fireball is a representation. A construct. What is really happening is nothing less than the unmaking of your player character. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Game over.

Mystery Quest, then, is a bit better. Platforming, shooting things, and a lengthy segment inside a castle where the only way to progress is to shoot at nondescript walls and find hidden things. So, Milon's Secret Castle territory again. Great. I want to discuss my own experience with the game. I accidentally brought forth a portion of the true experience of playing it, screaming forth from 1988 or whatever. I was in the castle, and I discovered that holding up and firing shot your projectiles upward in an erratic spread. It appeared to be a useless move. Later, as I was wandering, I came back to an area with an item above me, stuck in an alcove. I could not get it, and I didn't know where else to progress. I tried the up-shot, and broke the block below it. I got the item, and I discovered this by thinking it out and experimenting with the buttons. No walkthrough, no Youtube. All me. It's still not all that good, but by god did I do it all by myself.

On to N, then. Hold tight. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Not A Time Warp, But A Time Rip (Motor City Patrol, Ms. Pac-Man, Muppet Adventure: Chaos At The Carnival)

(Before we begin: holy mother of God, I'm on TARDIS Eruditorum! I wrote everyone's favorite Mr. Sandifer a guest post on Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock. I had choice words about it. Choice words you can go read. If you jumped here from Eruditorum: Hello! I'm Frezno and I write longwinded words about old video games! I'm about to do it again! See below.)

Motor City Patrol is weird as hell. Like, unsettlingly so. We're dealing with late 1991/early 1992 here, according to the Internet. So the SNES exists and the NES is dying. I expected a crapfest when I booted this one up. What I got was a crapfest that just disturbed me to look at. The point of this game, as far as I can tell, is to drive around and patrol buildings as a police officer and catch people who speed or something like that. It's a game about driving in circles. Dull, but look at it. The perspective and vehicle-based gameplay resonate with our futureminds. This is a proto-Grand Theft Auto. Except it's not designed at all like that and it's only the trickery of the mind doing it. It doesn't help if, say, the person playing Motor City Patrol has beaten Retro City Rampage... which is a GTA-esque "retro" game that doesn't have nostalgia bombs so much as nostalgia thermonuclear warheads. It's been said before, but with the collapse of video games and the impending heat-death of the NES, reality is growing thin. That's how things like this can bleed through into our world. Things from futures that never were.

This thin fabric of reality is what lets other things through. Things like Ms. Pac-Man. The version I played is the official one, released in 1993 by Namco. In dragging itself forward 11 years on a dying grey box, it created a splinter of itself. A splinter capitalized by Tengen, themselves an arm of Atari, itself a major leash-holder of the dread beast GREED. Before Ms. Pac-Man arrives in 1993, she has already been here. Under GREED's command, this splinter-Ms is an embodiment of Lady Capitalism, eating all in her way and demanding quarters for the honor of assisting her. Ghosts, dots, cherries, pretzels... none stand in the way. The 1993 version is no quarter-muncher. It is a simple diversion from a simpler time, and does not kill you outright with unfairness early on. That comes later. The dread beast is still at the heart of things, but its death will come. He has been tricked into a dying realm, and there is no escape from the swinging blade. Ten hearts stop beating and this iteration is slain. All hail Peko the Destructor.

And then Muppets. I suppose this one is penance. I inspired a man to play this game live, and now it's my turn to experience it. It's not very good. What I played was playable enough, but it's not very good at all. It's from Hi-Tech Expressions even. My favorite publisher in all the land. The two segments of this game I played and beat were Kermit's and Gonzo's. White water rafting and bad Asteroids controls, respectively. Playing this incites memory of the Muppets. I sort of missed the Muppet Show, but I did have a stuffed Kermit the Frog. He had a Muppet University jersey and I took him everywhere with me. I remember the Muppet Christmas Carol, a film which I take pains to watch every year when the holiday approaches. I remember Muppets Tonight, and I liked it because I was 10 and didn't know any better. Remembering these things is what this game is supposed to siphon off of. My memory of Muppets precludes me buying this. I refuse the call. My memory is too powerful for even this bit of alchemy to exchange. The power of a man's Kermit impression is too much. The power of a Hard Game Beater can best Gonzo's gonzo space bullshit with minimal fuss.

It's about time we get away from the letter M. This corruption needs cleansing.

Monday, 18 August 2014

I Am Everything You Ever Were Afraid Of (Monster In My Pocket, Monster Party, Monster Truck Rally)

Monsters are real. I know. I'm one of them. The entire idea of video games is monstrous, in a way. We take concepts and grand worlds born from our imaginations, and then perform arcane rituals to squeeze them onto tiny discs and plastic cartridges. Witness the jam that led to Konami's Monster In My Pocket, a game that ties in to a toy line of tiny monsters, not unlike the M.U.S.C.L.E. toy line. Difference is, this game is pretty good. It is also an exercise in madness. Look at the included screenshot. Really look and comprehend what is happening here. Frankenstein's monster is standing in front of a tape deck while a zombie comes after him. Both are a few inches tall. The first two stages of this game are the domestic clashing with the monstrous. Jump on a giant bed while witches warp in. Leap across the kitchen counter as goblins hurl sugar cubes. Avoid the stove burners and press onward, eventually fighting a Yeti. Not in the loo in Tooting Bec, but in your freezer. To gaze upon the monster is to go mad; you cannot grasp the true form of its creativity. The deadlights beckon you, and you go mad. The laughter of the damned echoes through your house as you continue to play, controlling Frankenstein's monster, itself a symbol of flawed alchemy and what happens when creativity goes too far. We have stolen video games from the gods, and now our guts belong to the fucking crows. We are the Nintendo generation: the modern Promethea.

So now that sanity has left us in one brutal swipe of the monster's claw, it's time to have ourselves a party. Monster Party is madness itself, filtered through a CRT screen and rendered with an 8-bit processor. Men in Japanese school uniforms shoot psychic blasts at you. Pills turn you into a dragon man. A spider apologizes for being bead. Halfway into level 1 everything melts and becomes a blood-soaked hellhole with spotted mandogs and oozing skulls. Level 2 has a fried food boss that transforms into an onion ring and a piece of shrimp. A later level has a kitten in a box that angrily hurls kittens at you. A wishing well attacks you with coins. I write these things to help emulate my own experience with Monster Party. I got to read about it in a Nintendo tip book. It was text only. When you read the phrase "swing your bat at the Bull Man and his tiny Bull Kids" at the age of 10, it leaves an impression. Eventually I found the game and it was even wilder than I had anticipated. My own gazing upon the monster. Was it that moment that gave me power? Hell, look at Doctor Who(as I so love to do); the moment that gave the show the power to last for 50+ years was not two schoolteachers falling out of the world, or being yelled at by cave people. It's the moment when a woman is threatened by a plunger and screams in absolute horror. Doctor Who got its longevity when the monsters came. So, too, did video games.

Sometimes we went too far. Monster Truck Rally is awful. I hate it. I hate it for one simple reason; I am bad at it. I race against the CPU in my monstrous pink truck with the huge wheels. It always goes faster than me. I do not know how to accelerate as fast as it. I do not know how to beat it at the myriad of events the game gives me. I do not know how to overcome the perfect machine, and it angers me. I accept that it is my fault, but at the same time I doubt we will get any defenders of Monster Truck Rally who are offended by my dismissal of it. Maybe it's fun with another human player, when the odds are evened. Fighting the machine is no goddamned fun, however. This is the truth of the NES. It, like Doctor Who, draws its power from the monstrous. The Dread Beast GREED and the holder of its gargantuan leash, the Lady Capitalism, know this. 50 dollars for the privilege to get defeated time and time again by a machine-mind, created with dark alchemy. That's the real horror here; the fact that you cannot win. They have your money, and soon they will have your life. You've gone mad now. You're part of the Nintendo generation, and you're a monster now too.

Which makes what's about to come even worse.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Happy Birthday, Nintendo Project Resumed!

What a difference a year makes. The Nintendo Project has been resumed for a year now. Hooray hoorah and many happy returns. Allow me to indulge myself and tell a little story. Once upon a time there was a nice man named Phil. Phil had a very bad series of days and subsequently decided to write about old Nintendo games. All of them. From A to Z. The writing was fresh and exciting, but also very sad in places. Eventually Phil started writing about a TV show called Doctor Who, from 1963 to the present day. It was very very good writing, and Phil eventually decided to shelf the Nintendo Project somewhere around the letter H.

In 2012 or so, a weirdo named Frezno found Phil's Doctor Who blog as it was dealing with the exorcism of the Colin Baker years. He quite liked it! He continued to read and even tossed some money to Phil's Kickstarter, reading the entries in book form. Then the Nintendo Project was found and its arcane tomes consumed. Being a Hard Game Beater, Let's Player, and general old video game fart... he appreciated the idea.

August 2013. Poor Frezno was going through a bad series of days of his own. Somehow or another, the Nintendo Project came back to him. The idea of continuing took root, and the seed was planted. To continue the Nintendo Project, to go through Nintendo. Letters H through Z. Could it be done? Would it even be allowed? Phil was consulted, and his blessing was given. He even said he was honored... and with that, the Nintendo Project was resumed.

So hi. Here we are a year later, and what have we learned? Writing for Nintendo is fun, if not interesting and a little narrow in scope. A lot of the NES library is unremarkable, or even outright bad... but there's enough magic in that grey box to make all of it worth it. Something else interesting happened to the blog, after the first few rocky months. In its infancy, there was just a lot of straightforward talk about video games and whether they were good or bad. Then I went and took a break for a month to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month. In it was a smart-mouthed teen with psychic powers who, as it turned out, had a precognitive sixth sense that allowed him to dodge danger before it came at him. I came up with a name for this power, and that name was Valya. Nothing special. Just the Valeyard from Doctor Who, made a dash more exotic and otherworldly. I always write with cute little in-jokes like that, it fuels the word count and keeps me going. When I came back, more Doctor Who had inspired me. The Key To Time saga, featuring a White Guardian representing Order, and a Black one representing Chaos. I turned this into a battle for the state of video games. Lady Valya, standing for the powers of innovation and imagination that led to classics like Mega Man and Zelda and whatnot. The Nightmare, the advocate for everything wrong with the 8-bit. Cheap cash-in licensed dreck. Terrible controls. Awful and abhorrent things that existed only to make a buck. As time went on, we saw other deities approach. The dread beast GREED, the Trickster Beast ROMHACK, Peko the Destructor, Lady Capitalism and Captain Communism... the list goes on.

The second major shift in the blog happened about two weeks later. Some thoughtless human being went ahead and proposed to his girlfriend on a livestream, and I got to wake up and read about it on Twitter. I was happy for those two kids. They were great friends of mine! Then they went and invited me to the wedding... and happy feelings bubbled forth. I had to pay tribute. I went non-linear. I tackled Kirby's Adventure before I was supposed to, and made it about them. About the daydreams of travelling to a big city and meeting my good friends. Non-linearity would also become a Nintendo Project thing...as would dreams. So now here we are. I've taken an abandoned blog about old Nintendo games from an academic, and turned it into a ridiculous and esoteric pantheon of pretend gods, all vying for control between the years 1983 and 1995... and beyond. That's got to count for something, right?

Here's to the Nintendo Project. We cleared out five letters of the alphabet in a year. That's about a fifth of them! It's in no way close to being done, especially since I'm prone to vanishing or dicking around with other things... but it's my own little pet project for now. One day I might give up on it and pass the reigns to someone else, but I'm happy with what I've got here. A small handful of people read and (hopefully) enjoy my ramblings about old video games, and some of the big names have gotten above-average view counts. Time to give thanks, I suppose. To Phil Sandifer; it couldn't have happened without you. You started the machine, you gave me the go-ahead, and you were even nice enough to write about Mega Man 3 for me! I don't know how many of these you actively read (my fanboyish heart hopes the answer is "all of them") but credit where credit is due.

To the many Constant Readers; I would be talking to a void were it not for you. Some of you have even spread the little blog around to blossom its readership; mostly the big-name games. I appreciate it. You keep coming back for words on these old games, and I adore you all for it. Very special thanks to everyone who has contributed a guest post or otherwise collaborated with me. That would be John, Phil, Rainiac, CarpetCrawler, and Froborr. It was great having different perspectives on things, and I thank you for putting up with me.

Let's blow out our candles and divvy up this cake. Here's to you, silly red and white blog. Here's to you, grey box. Hell, why not? Here's to me. Now how about we see about that next year, and get a little farther this time?

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Castlevania Adventure

The Castlevania Adventure is not a very good game. I'll defer to a happier nerd than I on this one, but to summarize: You move too slowly to avoid hazards and enemies, your whip can be downgraded by taking just one point of damage, there are no subweapons, and the platforming feats the game asks of you are ludicrous. It is a product of its time, a novelty of action platforming in the palm of your hand that was limited both by the grey rectangle it was created for and its design decisions. A miss from Konami, and not a game many people like.

Which makes it all the more astounding that I kind of grew fond of it.

Not in its original version, though. Not quite. I cheated here. I sought the darker side of alchemy, the neutral path. The Trickster Beast ROMHACK's domain of madness. Many come to its realm to improve their favorite games... or some evil clerics of the Nightmare come to turn the beloved classics of Pure Platforming into bloated hellscapes. Witness how they formed their own nation, the shadowland of Kaizo. We are not going there. Nestled deep within a faction, I found it. The Quick Fix. Once applied, some of The Castlevania Adventure's flaws melted away. Your Belmont walks at a faster clip. Direct damage does not downgrade your whip. This makes the game "playable" but it also defangs it. I just beat it this morning, and suffered a single death. You see, Adventure is designed for a certain speed and jumping style. Mucking with that breaks it, but this brings to light how the game is made; it has been designed on a foundation of obnoxiousness. The whip downgrading, for one. With a fully powered whip you are king of the mountain, but all it takes is one or two hits to give you a weak whip and hinder your offense. After thinking on it for a minute, I realize what this is; it's the Gradius Syndrome. Early Game Boy Platforming 1080. You are punished for your mistake and ordered to do it again, but with less advantage. It's madness. Without that, you just run ahead and whip things and kind of win.

The same thing happens with the platforming. Several of the daring leaps in this game are what I like to call "pixel jumps". Leaps with no leeway, where you must have the reaction time of a saint to walk to the absolute edge of a platform, and then leap in the half-second before you walk right off that edge. The Castlevania Adventure has a truly sadistic extreme of this in its third stage, where spikes chase you up a vertical shaft. You climb ropes and avoid worms to ascend... and then they throw these platforms at you. Pixel jumps in quick succession, under pressure, some of them on platforms that fall. With that slow move speed. The Quick Fix makes this trivial. The entire challenge of the game is the "wrong" kind of difficulty; the kind that deigns to piss you off instead of terrifying you. With it removed, The Castlevania Adventure has but one thing to terrify you; its atmosphere. Despite knowing that I could actually navigate these platforms, I was still a little spooked and thrilled at the danger of death!

Which of course leads us to Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth. A 2009 Wiiware game that takes the name of this game and makes something completely different out of it. Polished graphics! Bombastic sound! No whip downgrading, perfect control, and lots of loving touches and nods to the Castlevania games of old! I adored it in 2009. A flawed game, finally improved. Last night I was part of a large Twitter discussion about the original Game Boy game. The nice fellow tweeting about it was not fond of Rebirth. Here is the wild daisy chain, but Rebirth is basically a piece of dread NOSTALGIA in his eyes. It references things and incites memories of old Castlevania things in the name of lighting up those neurons that remember Castlevania... but it lacks the atmosphere. The Castlevania Adventure filled me with the "silent horror" even with the Quick Fix.

Rebirth is just a pretty game. This is all confusing. Play them both or something.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich (Mission Impossible, Monopoly)

I put this off for far too long. Turns out there was a reason for that. Due to wanting to hit a naming theme of three next time, we only have two games today. Neither of them were that good. Mission Impossible sure does live up to its name. We were six years away from the Tom Cruise vehicle with the guy getting crushed by the elevator and that real tense hacking sequence and blowing up a helicopter with exploding gum and shit. Instead we get this. Blah blah accept your mission, message self-destructs. I begin the game, walk forward, and shoot the first person I see... prompting a helicopter to arrest me for killing an unarmed civilian. Lesson learned. I switch to a black guy who punches things and don't punch that person as I move forward. A car comes and sends me flying. The third person is a guy with boomerangs. He accidentally kills a civilian. Game over. Back to start. Okay, so then I explore, get a tip to go into an alley, and... keep exploring. Nonlinear levels. Ah, good. Aimless wandering and unsureness of what to do. Molotov cocktails that drain your health. Men with riot shields in sewers who push you into the water and kill you. Great. This is just great. It lives up to its name alright. I wasn't fond of it.

Nor was I all that fond of Monopoly on NES. I feel obligated to waffle a bit about it, considering that I've made Lady Capitalism into A Thing here and this is a board game all about capitalism and the free market and bankrupting everyone else to win at capitalism. It's what I thought M.U.L.E. was. Why does this need to exist? Game show adaptations I understand, but this? You can play this game at home, on a table, and the price of entry is far less than the electronic video game version. Okay, you lose out on being able to play Monopoly by yourself... but was that a high demand? I played Monopoly tonight with a CPU. It wasn't as fun as playing with a real person. I do have memory of the board game, of course. Snow days with my young niece. Frigid winter days stuck in the house with no school, and she demanded to play Monopoly. Ours was the Canadian edition with Canadian street names and railroads, but it was the same game. Newfoundland was represented by the cheap purple squares. Come to think of it, I just remembered another Monopoly game we had. The CD-ROM version. That one had fancy 3D graphics for moving across the board, and you could play over the Internet. There's a reason to buy the game version; bankrupting some silly son of a bitch from Iowa, in the comfort of your own home. Not this one. Even if it was legitimized by Howard and Nester. We lost. They won. Arthur the machine mind out-capitalized me after 15 minutes and made all the money and net worth. Lady Capitalism sings his praises... for now. She's underestimated me, and all the other hard game beaters out there who suffer through the things her acolytes create via microchip alchemy, in order to make her monopoly of video gaming.

We're monsters.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Use The Shrink Potion On The Glove But Beware Of Bugs (Mike Tyson's Punch Out, Millipede, Milon's Secret Castle)

Well, we've got another whopper here tonight. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. What could have been another licensed disaster, saved by the first party. Everyone loves Punch-Out! Oh boy, video boxing! This is quite the good NES game and it's beloved by many. I think it's pretty good. Now to continue waffling about it for a paragraph. Unlike the other usual licensed adventures we've dealt with, this one is more of a direct challenge. Look no further than the commercial. Iron Mike is laughing at you! The world heavyweight champion boxer of two realms, he is! Both our planet, and that weirdo Nintendo land where mushrooms sing and fairies dance. The WVBA needs an underdog to rise up. Little Mac has become his own character, but he's basically a character expy here in 1987. He is You. Hell, the arcade original just had a wireframe man. Little Mac is you, and you're facing gigantic hulking boxer brutes created from the finest microchip alchemy that nonexistant lands have to offer. Appropriately enough, when I played for the blog tonight I made it to Soda Popinski before getting floored. The Cold War's not ready to end in 1987, but one might make it to Mike Tyson. God help you if you do, because he's tough. I've never done it. Daniel Sexbang's never done it. Mike Matei's done it! How in the hell does Iron Mike not make it on the top of hardest video games list? Forget the Turbo Tunnel, forget beating Ghosts n Goblins twice, forget goddamn Silver Surfer. This is the shit right here. Perfect reflexes and split-second timing are required. Iron Mike was a tough champ in 1987, and he's a tough champ here. Life imitates art; Mike Tyson is a son of a bitch to beat in the ring.

Then in 1990 they took him out for a white guy named Mr. Dream. Valya's champion boxer packs just as much of a punch. Everything else is exact. What's next? Bugs.

I've spoken a lot about tabletop gaming in some of the off posts. It's relevant here because of Incompetence Quest, one of the campaigns I'm involved in. A nice fellow is playing an evil cleric whose loyalty lies with the god of death (not Peko, but Nerull). His favorite trick is summoning gigantic monstrous centipedes to distract the enemy forces and take care of them. Stelle would be right at home in Millipede. Another Williams arcade port from Hal Labs. Millipede is fun! The dread beast GREED's lumbering specter really only rears its head in the later days of the arcade, when the games actually ended. Millipede is bottomless. It was created to suck up quarters and eat away time at pizza parlors. Its main form of control, the trackball, is lacking here. Funny enough, it isn't even the millipede that causes death frequently here; it's those goddamned spiders. They like to crash into you. Little bastards. The dread beast doesn't know when to just let you have a good time. I checked. Millipede's high score is over 10 million points. I didn't even get to 150k. Oh well. I still had fun!

Then we come to Milon's Secret Castle. How lovely. Once again we're haunted by the Nerd. This is the sort of game that thrived in Japan, but Japan was not our shores in the late 80's. It is a nonintuitive adventuring platformer where the goal is to discover all the required hidden nonsense the creators stashed away in nondescript blocks. It also appears to require an exact order to go about things and purchase items, barring continue codes or some way to exit levels. I am willing to blame my mild dislike of Milon here on a culture shock. Someone like Shinya Arino can do it, and has. He seemed to enjoy it, while over here our western nerd yelled about its cryptic nature. Here I stand, in the middle. Milon is not the best, but is not the worst. Were I younger, and had the head start of discovering that things could be broken and blocks could be shoved, I could see myself dredging up the hidden goodies in this one. Maybe I'll get at it someday. Maybe I won't. Who knows? We've got a lot of Nintendo games to play.

Seems like an impossible mission, don't it?