Friday, 28 February 2014

Small But Fierce (Little League Baseball Championship Series, The Little Mermaid, Little Ninja Brothers)

Canada is not very good at baseball. This is a fact demonstrated by my play of Little League Baseball Championship Series for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Japan creamed them. Japan is very good at baseball, because it does not exist. There is complex calculation at work with these sports games. Where to stand, when to swing, what way you must throw the ball. Complex calculations far beyond that of a little leaguer. The Japanese machine, on the other hand, can perform these just fine. JUST. FINE. My own lack of skill at sports games forces me to blame the machine. A crude excuse, to be sure, but I just plain don't like sports games. There were so many of the things; especially baseball. We're nowhere near close to done with sports on the Nintendo Project. There's a baseball diamond not far from my house. Very little baseball is played there anymore. The field is massive, though, and I was once tasked to mow it while I was on a summer works program. Not fun at all. To hell with Little League. To hell with mowing grass. I'm too hot. Throw me into the goddamned ocean.

Huh. The Little Mermaid. Another of those Disney/Capcom darlings. Phil Sandifer covered most of them (including Darkwing Duck, which was my jam from the rental store) but now I get one. The Little Mermaid is a good game, albeit a somewhat easy and short one. Then again, it was likely designed for children and little girls in mind. Dare I touch the "games for girls" mentality? I remember renting the Beauty And The Beast video game from the rental store once. My brother looked at me oddly for doing so... and it wasn't because that video game turned out to be kind of a dud, either. I, as a heterosexual white male, really have no perspective on talking about gender issues and discrimination and whatnot. This isn't my first dance with The Little Mermaid though, and I don't mean the movie. Five years ago I wrote about how Ariel was out of her mind. A raw and untempered piece from a long ago time and a long ago group. At least in the video game, Ariel's goal is not to marry Prince Eric and sire a bunch of little royals. Her quest is to save the sea from Ursula, and confront the aquatic alchemist in her own domain. It gives her a little more agency. King Triton and his mermen need not go to war. Ariel shall swim through the danger and confront the beast herself. A mythic destructor if there ever was one. I'm fine with this.

Little Ninja Brothers. It feels like we've jumped ahead. I'm staying up past my bedtime to watch the late late movie. Big Trouble In Little Chinaland. I can hardly keep my eyes open, though. It's not the game's fault. It's just me, exhausted after that undersea battle. We have the inklings of something interesting. An RPG plot with real time battles wherein our ninja friends fight in real-time. Kind of like those Kung-Fu Heroes. I wouldn't be surprised if they were related. There are towns and items and things and oh god I'm going to fall asleep here sweet dreams zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

The Goddess Valya appears again, in the usual form. Her hair is flowing against an invisible wind in the void of space, and I do not even need to hear her speak to know what is happening. I am in the Dreaming again, the Sub-Con of the Subconscious. Here, then, the goddess I pay tribute to with my sermons of words has summoned me. The Nightmares are coming back. The twin knights, Anxiety and Insecurity, rampaging through a calm world.

Time to once again take up the Rod of the Dreaming, and battle my demons.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Spelunky, Dark Souls, And The Reincarnation Simulator

Hi there! This has not a thing to do with Nintendo games. It does deal with death in video games, and a certain genre that had to at least somewhat influence the NES. More on that eventually, but this is something I've been chipping at for a little bit. If I can't post it on my blog, where the hell can I post it? Enjoy, hopefully. We'll get to more games that start with the word "Little" on Friday.

Death is an inevitability. Doubly so in video games. Video games, however, offer a chance at rebirth. Extra lives. Continue points. Saves. Luxuries that video game players take advantage of, in every possible way. Living a long and full life is the aim of every human being. Doubly so in video games, again. Consider the concept of the "no-death" run. A challenge where one attempts to survive for the duration of their quest without death setting them back. Really, we're all living the no-death run, but eventually it has to end. Before we get far too morbid, let's take a step back. Let's look at how death defines video games, as a concept.

It is the 1980s and everything is neon. America and the USSR dance the Dance Apocalyptic, and the video arcade is a bustling hotbed of dim-lit video screens, the acrid stench of cigarette smoke lingering in the air. Quarters jingle and jangle in the pockets of the many, and every machine is lit with a dazzling array of primitive pixels. Dozens of them sing out their basic beeps and boops at once, creating a cacophany of computerized chaos. This, then, is the lair of the Dread Beast GREED. He is ruler of the land of Video Game Death, and like Charon the Ferryman of old, he demands a single coin to give the player access. The rules of the games vary. Blast asteroids. Eat all the dots. Shoot all the missiles. In later years, our video games would gain depth. They would become narrative forces of their own, telling detailed stories and guiding one along the Experience. That is not so here. You play, and you keep playing until death strikes. The stray fragment of space rock collides with your tiny fighter, venting its metals into space and splattering its poor captain into the vacuum of the void. The foul spectre of the recently departed, vengeful and angry upon its own death, lashes out at the hungry creature in the maze, and it collapses into a singularity. A Soviet nuclear missile strikes an American city, and the resulting backlash causes an apocalypse in red and yellow. THE END.

In this space, a new genre is born. It is a genre that many are familiar with; the roguelike. The genre has a gravity like no other; so much so that its very name defines itself. A roguelike, then, is a game like Rogue. This is not territory I wish to dwell on for too long, as it is not quite the point here. While we are here, though, let us take a look at Rogue. My god, what a thing of beauty. A 30 year-old wonder from a forgotten age. Now, there are hacks and versions that update this ancient concept... but forget all that for now. The original game is built from ASCII characters. Letters and punctuation. It is a world built entirely out of words, and if that concept doesn't make you starry-eyed, then I do not know what would. Now that we have gazed in awe, let us read the sacred tomes of this world's rules. The Gospel Of Rogue, if you will.

1) Death is not an inconvenience. Death is a hunter to be feared. Death of the player character in Rogue is death to all that you have achieved in your play session.

2) This world of words is ever shifting, always changing. You can return upon untimely death, but you will find a completely new world awaits you. The song is similar, but your exploration will be of an unknown world every single time.

3) Items of mysterious power may be found on your adventure. Colored potions. Scrolls with cryptic incantations. They have various effects, both positive and negative. However, just like the world of words, their effects will shift upon your demise. Cyan can heal you, or blind you. 

4) Time revolves around you. The world reacts to your every move. Enemies will move when you move. Attack when you attack. You will not hunger if you stay still... but you will not progress further either.

This is a rough sketch of the heart of Rogue, the so-called "Berlin Interpretation". Appropriate, that. It brings to mind the impenetrable wall that cut through the very soul of Germany when Rogue was in vogue. Eventually the wall would fall, but Rogue would live on, a candle lighting the way for countless others. Nethack. Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. Mystery Dungeon. Dungeons Of Dredmor. These are the roguelikes; those who are like Rogue. They all follow the four base rules of Rogue, as true heirs to the throne of the Berlin Interpretation. Now we have refreshed ourselves on the mechanics of the genre. We can get to more interesting things. What happens when we throw some of these rules out the window? What if we removed the random nature of the items? What if we made everything real-time? These are the roguelike-likes... which is a silly name. I have a different name for what I want to talk about.

Let's talk about Spelunky, a reincarnation simulator.

For many of you, Spelunky will need little introduction. For the rest, it is a game that follows rules 1 and 2 of the Gospel of Rogue. Your player character, by default a bulb-nosed Indiana Jones wannabe, delves into 16 to 20 floors of randomly-generated bedlam in order to seek out fortune and glory. Death in this labyrinth is a setback, and will send our spelunker back to square one. Once there, the ancient curse of the place will make the walls shift ever onward, creating entirely new hazards for our hero to escape from. The key difference, and the reason this thing has sucked away over 28 hours of my time in the past two months? Spelunky is played like an action platformer. Real-time running, jumping, and whipping. This makes the game slightly more accessible for me, being a veteran of such jumping and attacking games. Spelunky is a very good game, a must play, five out of five socks... but I am not just here, building my labyrinth of words, to merely talk about how great the video game is. I wish to talk about Spelunky as a reincarnation simulator; as a game that teaches you how to play it as you play it. One of the first ways you'll do that? Pots.

Amidst the earthen walls of Spelunky's mazes are several pots. Your first time playing, you will likely attack them head-on, as they can sometime contain jewels and gold. Jewels and gold are good! I want more of the jewels and gold! You will continue attacking pots, and then it will happen. There will be a snake or a spider inside, and you will take damage. You might curse at the pest that's taken away one of your precious hit points, but a lesson has been learned. Never attack pots head-on. Always throw them away from you. If they have jewels inside, you can collect them. If it's a creature, you just gave yourself distance between you and the monster. This is a simple example, and a non-lethal one... but even your deaths will teach you something that you SHOULDN'T do on your next run through the maze. Those arrow traps in the walls will react to anything moving in their range, and might pierce you through the heart. Dead. Looking down before you leap is important, lest you impale yourself on spikes. Do NOT stand next to those tiki statues, for death awaits. Every death, every dance with the Dance Apocalyptic and the Reaper of Souls, defines your experience with Spelunky. It is learning from life through death... and one day, your studies will pay off. You'll make it to a new area. A lush jungle. A frozen wasteland with an infinite abyss. A holy temple with ancient masters of death ready to tear you asunder. Eventually you might meet the god of this place, the reason for the endless cycle of death and rebirth... and topple him from his golden throne. If you wish, you could go on and attempt to conquer the realm of hell itself. The point, as always, is that Spelunky is a game that teaches you by killing you... in a way that is superior to most other hard games out there. A Battletoads or Super Ghouls is content to kill you for not burning a pattern into your brain. Spelunky will kill you for lacking knowledge of your world... but the reincarnation will leave you with your memory intact. Hell, reincarnation is even a key part of getting into hell; at one point, you must purchase an ankh from a shopkeep, and then allow death to take you on a later level. Only through death and rebirth will you make it to your true goal. What a beautiful game. Let's talk about one that's a lot harder, believe it or not.

Dark Souls is a thing. A brutal, draining, meticulous thing. Like Spelunky, it has sent many friends of mine into a fervor of death and rebirth at the hands of their adversaries and monstrosities. It would be difficult to class Dark Souls as a roguelike, considering it discards yet another of the Berlin Interpretation's rules. This world is static and immutable, a constant of your existance within it. All that remains of the Gospel Of Rogue is your ever-constant companion; death. The game knows this. Revels in it. Grabbing the game case and glancing at the back reveals its family creed: PREPARE TO DIE. Death is a certainty in Dark Souls, and it will happen to you. A lot. It is much like Spelunky in that regard, which is why I mention it in the same breath as a rapidly expanding wall of words about roguelikes. It is an experience with death and rebirth that I had at the same time I was experiencing death and rebirth in Spelunky. I am afraid, however, that our time here must be short. I simply have not experienced the sheer lurking terrors that await me in Dark Souls. Orstein and Smaug, Blight Town, Twin Gargoyles... these are dread beasts that have yet to darken my world. Here, then, is what I do know about Dark Souls. It hurts. My last extended play session lasted about 90 minutes. In Undead Burg. It was, much like Spelunky, an endless loop of my untimely death at the hands of some mistake or misinformation, followed by my reincarnation. Unlike Spelunky, everything I had defeated was reincarnated with me. Thus I entered a cycle of repitition that fatigued my very being. To quote a friend; this game demands a goddamned engagement ring in order for you to experience it. I danced ever onward, defeating the same foes, swearing every time I made stupid mistakes. Dark Souls and I were engaged at that point, a Proposal Peridot that eventually resulted in the death of my ego. With this battering of your very senses comes some sort of zen-like awakening. Death upon death will rack your bruised sense of self into frustration, loathing, and self-doubt. In that regard it's quite a lot like other hard games. Eventually, though, you will triumph. The dread beast TAURUS, who has broken every bone in your body a good five times with its hammer, will fall. You will sing the song of victory, and move on. Eventually I will delve back into this realm. One day, I shall come back.

That, then, is the grim waltz of the Dance Apocalyptic. The death that drives the roguelike genre is as constant as ever, but things like Spelunky or Dark Souls give you that ray of hope as you experience loss of multiple digital lives. A critical error in Spelunky or Dark Souls will take away what you have earned. What your death and rebirth can never take away from you, however, is what you have learned. That is the thread that ties Spelunky and Dark Souls together. Both are reincarnation simulators, where your unique perspective and experience of the void of death shape your next go through the gauntlet. Fantastic games. Both of them.

Friday, 21 February 2014

What Is It Good For? (L'Empereur, Lethal Weapon, Life Force)

It's 1796 A.D. and we are in France. Goodness, I think that we've travelled a little too far back this time. What the hell is this? Am I some pawn in a wizard's game? 1796 is much too early for Nintendo. It's much too early for anything. All that exists here is war. Austria wants us dead. England is confident that it can destroy us. Mother Russia, 200 years before they would start the Dance Apocalyptic with the USA, is challenging us. We are Napoleon Bonaparte, L'Empereur, and this is a land of pure war. I somehow get the feeling that we'll eventually go further back in time and experience the tactical power of pure war. I have a problem with that; I am not a tactician. The problem of realism has faced us again; put me in charge of an army and I will get that army killed. Witness the fate of Napoleon, who immediately charged into battle against a neighboring country. Oh, it was a battle, to be sure! Cannons firing wildly into the air! Soldiers meeting on the fields and clashing blades, firing muskets, whatever the hell else people did to end human lives in 1796. The commanding army had 200 men. Way more than Napoleon. His forces whittled them down, but in the end they had to retreat. What a disgrace. If one were more tactically inclined, they might enjoy this experience. Certainly, I must confess to some joy as I moved my forces like chess pieces. There's something morbid about commanding electronic equivalents of real human beings into battle. Real human beings who fought in wars, who took lives, who became conquerors of the real space and not just video game space. This unsettles me. Take me back, spirit.

Oh god. Lethal Weapon? An NES game from Ocean? Eurocom Software? 1992? This is not an alchemic formula I like. These films involved war... in a sense. A war against Vietnam veteran heroin cartels. Against corrupt South African diplomats. Against corrupt ex-cops with a stockpile of confiscated police weapons. None of that is here. You just... walk forward and shoot men. It's war, alright. Shoot or be shot. Violence in video games is a hell of a thing. I mean, the third movie had Danny Glover get torn up over shooting a teen... and now you're shooting people without question. Men in purple, men in green, black guys, white guys, Asian guys... all mowed down. To its credit, the game is competent... but it makes you wonder. Why? The game didn't even need to explicitly call me out on being a bad person, but what is the reason for this rampage? Are these criminals? Would they shoot you first? Fair argument, but why not just shoot them in the kneecaps? Be a John Reese instead of a Captain Walker. I am aware that I am thinking too far into this... but the war of 1796 is fresh on my mind. I'm too old for this shit. Take me to the future.

Ah, a college course in the summer! Applied Biology And Economics 2500. The syllabus states that we can expect similarities to the professor's other course, History Of The Bacterion Empire 3000. There aren't as many students this time around, so the course is much easier. Failure does not set you back farther this time. You remain where you are, though still in a tight spot... but that's the nature of a college course, isn't it? We are studying the inner workings of the dread beast GREED. We learn about trickle down and the 1%. We learn, of course, that speeding up and firing missiles at the capitalist ships heading your way is best. As is a laser. Or an option. There does exist a way to get extra chances at the test, and one will need them. This is a war of knowledge. A war of learning. A war of piloting a ship. This war is not one I am used to, but what we have here is classic. Over time, we get to advance further. We learn of the Japanese dual-scrolling theory. Learn more about the ancient Egyptians and how their beliefs line up with the themes presented in the course we must survive. Reincarnation, always ever-present. Gradually we learn of the true amebous heart of the dread beast GREED, called Zelos... and its Ouroboros defense system. This course is a hot mess of interplanetary war, but it can be won. The final exam is a tricky one, though. One wrong move will set your grades back. Too many wrong moves and you're out... but of course we can pass. You can take the course again if you like. I pass. I've learned enough. War is hell. GREED is bad. The disgusting nature of its body is beyond comprehension.

Now what?

Monday, 17 February 2014

Praise Be To Helix (Legendary Wings, Legends Of The Diamond, Lemmings)

I woke up today and all of my friends were singing the praises of a new god. Somehow, while I was away at the Shrine of Endless Adventure, a god rose to the pantheon. He is a timely god, one who thrives both in the Ago and in the now. Like our Goddess Valya, his disciples have created their own furvor. I am no Alan Moore, but I am told that the man has his own beasts to worship. Oh, we've had many a god and devil here already. Valya, the White Light of Hope. Nightmare, the Black Darkness of Despair... one day I'll probably work Peko The Destructor into this weaving narrative, and that will be a tale. For now, we speak of the Spiral God HELIX, and may his swirls twist you into your own center of balance. HELIX has existed since the ancient times, and much has been foretold of his rebirth. Supposedly it shall bring order to the utter chaos of the world. Let us look back at that chaos, through the lens of our Nintendo Project. Two more legends remain to us after our Endless Adventure was cut short, so now we must delve in.

This legend concerns a man with wings. In a time before the light, he soared above the sky, blasting... things. Legendary Wings, as the tome calls it, is an odd case. At first, the tale is muddled. The winged hero of HELIX cannot shoot the waves of... things faster than they come at him, and he perishes. Repeatedly. Boy, what a mess. Gradually, though, he spirals out of the pit of despair and becomes stronger for his experience. He can deal with an onslaught of fire backing him into a corner of the sky. With the heavy beat of his wings, feathers fly as he zips past the ancient superweapons, countering with his own blasts. A medley of wild... things come after him. Squares and shapes and disembodied heads of statues, springing to life and into the sky. An impossible set of beasts. Don't blink. Eventually our hero finds a mythic dragon, but he is strong enough to match its leathery wingbeat and destroy it. Ahead is a palace, and the words of HELIX ring forth. THE DEVIL IS WAITING FOR US IN THE PALACE. Our perspective shifts, and now our winged hero rushes forward courageously. Ancient statues of the goddess Valya line these walls as we fly and shoot. At the end of it is the devil... or, at least, his champion. We'll speak more of the devil in a moment, but his champion bears note. It is a monstrosity of technology and living matter, pulsating and quivering as it advances, its multiple eyes gazing upon our hero with malice. This is the eternal bio-mechanical dread beast GREED, and it smites our hero. HELIX has failed us. Now comes the realm of the devil.

Ah yes. The devil of this ancient place. Not the Nightmare that we know, but a being diametrically opposed to HELIX. Say hello to the Rounded Devil, DOME. We are in his domain now. A dome which encases a diamond. A baseball diamond. Dear god! Baseball! Even Phil Sandifer couldn't cover them all! He did his best to crack at all of them at once, but the Rounded Devil's crabby little claws have spread them all around! Worse yet, his game involves the very legends of the sport itself! Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and more... all encased within his dome for his amusement. We are in there with them, and we must lead the Samurais to victory. Oh, it seems hopeless. Just like every other sports game, this is going to be a convoluted mess of control. DOME will lead his bionic baseball soldiers to victory through machine power, and we will be stuck! I pray to Valya as I swing the bat again. Surely the white light of hope can illuminate this dome. It turns out that it can. I hit a home run. From there, I found that these Legends of the Diamond are easy to resonate with. The soft whisperings of Valya be praised. She and HELIX are enjoying each other's company, and the Goddess Valya is always helpful. Even during the bottom innings, I am able to stop the Titans in their tracks. The Rounded Devil can see that I am enjoying myself. It is no sport unless the voyager is suffering. The dome opens, and I am free once more. We have experienced HELIX. We have experienced DOME. Where the hell do they come from? I'll tell you. Lemmings.

Yes. Lemmings. That game with the little green-haired guys. It got an NES port. That surprises me, considering that it's a PC game and all. Sure, it was ported to the SNES, but that's a story for another day. Besides, the SNES had a mouse. The NES controller, as boxy and brilliant as it is, is not quite a mouse. The control here takes getting used to, but a clever mind quickly adapts even without a legendary manual.
Lemmings on NES is actually quite good. That's where we would end, but now comes the explanation. The secret origin of HELIX and DOME is Pokemon. A shrine of its own, fueled by the dread beast GREED. Does Pokemon have anything to do with NES? Well, according to Jon Jafari, there was a bootleg NES Pokemon game. It's a weak tether but I'll take it. This is all about timing. As I write, a stream is ongoing. Twitch Plays Pokemon. The idea is that a game of Pokemon Red is underway, and it is controlled entirely by a stream chat. Typing a button input will register that input. The twist is that this thing took off, and there are upwards of 40,000 people currently inputting things into the chat. 40,000 Lemmings, trying to do the job of one. Amidst this nonsense, people have created their own narratives, much like I am doing. The Spiral God HELIX is what the stream chose, and he is their champion. They have praised him. Asked him questions. Drawn him. All while condemning the Rounded Devil DOME of course, for he is the diametric opposite. They are fossils, and one can only choose one or the other. In an alternate reality, HELIX would be the enemy. Alas, here we are, praising him and the fervor he has created. The 40,000 are like Legion. Like the Lemmings. They are one from many, and united they just might be able to bring victory to House HELIX.

Meanwhile, we must continue on. Perhaps we will see these ancient gods again sometime. Perhaps not. The Goddess Valya has curious whispers for us. The Nightmare is regaining its strength. We have not the time to fiddle about with the pantheon of video game gods, for we have an old foe to best. We have much to learn. After all... only a Dream Master can truly vanquish the Nightmare.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Endless Adventure (The Legend Of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link)

So, here we are at last. The world I've anticipated visiting ever since I picked up this dusted and forgotten idea in August. I didn't know what Valya was back then. All I knew was the despair of my own situation. That passed. Time was needed to meditate, but I came back with renewed vigor. Then my friends got engaged and... well, you know the rest. This is the form that the Goddess Valya takes. The form of friendship. Every positive feeling I've ever had, expressed in one gentle smile. We are in her world now, at a Shrine of Valya. This is the Shrine of Endless Adventure, and we have much to discover. Much to talk about. One wonders where the hell to begin. This is our first big one. Our first really big one. The scope of this pair of games is beyond our comprehension. Their gravity has tugged at everything over the last 25 years of video games. Anything that can be said about the games themselves has probably been said. We cannot tackle these things directly. The gravity would destroy us. We need to use the power of Valya along with the power of alchemy to craft ourselves some protection. There will be other methods to be employed in a moment... but come. Take a look at what we've got here as the compounds for this ritual.

This is a Nintendo Entertainment System. There are about 34 million of these in the world. Maybe more. It is 10 inches wide, 8 inches long, and 3.5 inches high. What sets this unit apart from any other? That's an easy answer. It is mine. This is the console I have had for the majority of my life as a sentient human. I have only one memory of a time before I owned this NES. In a sense, it is my familiar. The dance of nostalgia is a possible angle to take when discussing the games for today, but we will need more than that. For now, we must not gloss over this console. I may be wrong, but I do not think that the Nintendo Project, either by Phil Sandifer or myself, has ever properly examined the Nintendo Entertainment System itself. What a sight it is to behold. A boxy product of its era, a time when the world danced the Dance Apocalyptic... along with video gaming. We are told that E.T. and Pac-Man and a host of other things sent the world of video games spiralling into its own World War III. Darth License and the dread beast GREED almost won, and the world of video games would have ended. Not with a bang but a whimper. We know this legend. We have been told it many times before. When all looked grim, a little red and white box from Japan managed to hold on in its native land and survive. Within secret corridors, it allowed itself to be upgraded two years later. It crossed the Great Sea on a raft, arriving on our shores and eventually taking the world by storm. We know this legend, because we lived it. How much of it was true, and how much has just been embellished by our own nostalgia? Nostalgia is itself a sort of alchemy, and its involvement in this formula cannot be avoided. Let us examine the next two ingredients.

There they are. Already these two have been through some sort of alchemy. These NES Game Paks are 5.25 inches tall, 4.75 inches wide, and 0.75 inches thick. Unlike the majority of NES Game Paks, they are emblazoned with a very reflective gold. The quest to turn lead to gold has already succeeded with these two. As already stated, to talk about the games themselves would be a redundant folly. The original Zelda revolutionized action-adventure, and introduced the world to battery saves on cartridges. It was like nothing that had come before, and it influenced everything to come after. Its sequel is maligned, but one of my favorite games on the console. Together, they are the children of Endless Adventure. Pure unfettered Valya. Here they are, in their base forms. We have been experiencing these planetoids as voyagers of some grand library, dealing with data files directly. Here, then, are the original cartridges. The original, boxy, finicky little cartridges that take forever to get to work and require proper maintenance. The stories these carts could tell are immense. These were formerly the property of our local video rental store. I eventually purchased them at the turn of this century for 6 dollars each. How many children enjoyed these exact copies? How many people I grew up with played what I now own? I took the liberty of wrangling them into some working order last night, and I have been a fool. The emulations, the Xbox 360 controller, the computer monitor... it is a poor substitute. The feeling of inserting a cartridge into that boxy slot. Fiddling with it to make the connection just right. Blinking blue screens. Glitched-out graphics, and then... it works. A rectangular controller fits into your hand. The feeling of the rounded buttons against your thumb, and the contours of the directional pad... along with the firm pressure of the corners against your palm. It is something not easily replicated. I would go so far as to say it is impossible to replicate.

There's one more thing I want to talk about regarding these cartridges; the tagline. While we're at it we should bring up the TV ads for the original game. They are rather infamous for being products of their time... but on closer inspection, they tell you almost nothing about the game itself. The only information one can gleam from these is that the game is really rad, and it has odd enemy names that a man can yell about. That second ad comes the closest to summarizing it; "a never-ending adventure". Indeed, if one examines the box itself one sees the tagline. "Experience the challenge of endless adventure.". That is where we find ourselves now, at the Shrine of Endless Adventure, still preparing to talk about Zelda. We've talked about everything but, it seems... but now we have begun. There is one more unique factor about my copy of The Legend Of Zelda worth mentioning. As I am a citizen of Canada, its taglines are bilingual. The English is the same as above, but the French side proclaims "Acceptez l'ultime défi d'une aventure interminable.". Thanks to Google Translate and a French friend, we find that this comes out to "Accept the ultimate challenge of an endless adventure.". I like that phrasing more than the other. The English offers to let you experience something. The French beckons you. It beckons you to take the plunge, and wander into a world much too big to fit inside an NES cartridge. With 128 game screens and much exploration, The Legend Of Zelda is bigger on the inside. This is what wowed the world over 25 years ago. This is what the Shrine Of Endless Adventure's influence is. A wanderlust that has rippled across time and space, making countless ideas and inspirations orbit around it. This is the power of the Goddess Valya. My god. How can I possibly begin to fathom this?

The methods of Phil Sandifer come back to me. How I first found his work. The "psychochronography" of a little show called Doctor Who. That program deals with things that are bigger on the inside. It embodies the spirit of Endless Adventure that we now find ourselves meditating before. What is psychochronography? I quote directly from Mr. Sandifer here:

"I've quietly described what we do here as psychochronography - a term adapted from the existing concept of psychogeography, in turn yanked from writers such as Alan Moore and Iain Sinclair, both of whom I saw give a talk this week, making this a particularly opportune time for some debt repayment. Psychogeography describes a form of writing in which the nature of a place is captured via the experience of moving through it. Its most common technique under Iain Sinclair is the walking tour, in which the physical experience of walking through an urban space provides the narrative frame for an exploration of its history and future. (Psychochronography, a term of my own invention, attempts to move through stories and histories, providing a "walking" tour of a time period, generally through a specific cultural object.)"

Here they are, then. The final two ingredients we need to survive the crushing gravity of Zelda and its influence. Psychogeography and psychochronography, partners in crime and paired together. I shall use the two to talk about Zelda. I am going to step outside of my door, outside into the wide world that is the southern coast of the island of Newfoundland. The island of my birth. My home. There will be a great many photographs of my daily walk, a journey I traverse in order to give my body exercise and my mind relaxation. As we walk, I shall relate what we see in terms relevant to our discussion. Both to these massively influential video games, and to my own nostalgia and memories of life growing up here. There are many legends being forged here. The legend of my childhood. The legend of endless adventure. Most important of all... this is the legend of Zelda, and the adventure of a young lad in green named Link. Let us begin. Oh, what's that? It's the heart of winter and everything is frozen? Not to worry. I anticipated. I took these photographs in August, when our resumed blog was in its infancy. Even then, the Goddess Valya was whispering in my ear. I just had yet to hear it. Anyway. On with it.

According to the NES Game Atlas (an important tool for anyone setting off on an adventure) we have begun on screen H8. There are exits to our east, west and north, as well as a cave that draws in our attention. We are also on one of Newfoundland's many routes. To divulge the number would be telling, but we are near the coast, on a crossroads. The road, by sheer coincidence, twists three ways. East, west, and north. You see it, right? Looming in the distance. It is Death Mountain, and its craggy peak cuts through the sky like a knife. It towers over every other series of hills for miles, its presence dominating the skyline. It has been here for eternity, and will remain for another eternity. As far as I can tell, no mystery beast with a triforce of "power" lurks inside. From the outset of the journey, we have a clear end point. Our physical walk will not take us up this peak... although I have been. The view is breathtaking, but do not worry. You shall see more things of beauty as we go on our quest. It is dangerous to go alone, so take up whatever arms you can and follow me forward.

Another crossroad. This one would lead you on a journey of hundreds of miles, a way to escape the coast of Newfoundland and enter the main line. You are staring at the true gate of adventure here, and in Zelda's case that is what you stare at constantly. The original Zelda has constant crossroads, constant ways for you to travel. At first, one would be lost while exploring... but gradually this world becomes a familiar one. The soft whispers of the Goddess Valya, she of Endless Adventure, take heed. You learn to plot out your path, and you learn where your landmarks are. The lake of four corners. The Gnarled Root. The Lost Woods and the Endless Hills. All become known quantities. Zelda II even provides you with roads. A safe space to walk on. Eventually you will have to walk off the beaten path, but not yet. For now, ignore the opening to the rest of the island. There will come a day when you explore the wide world, but it is not this day. This is only a tiny quest, a familiar one. Ignore this turn and continue onward.

Ah, here we are. A town. A tiny little hamlet on the coast. We will be walking further into it, of course. This is the town I went to school in. I have many friends and relatives from here. My memories are tied to this place, and my mother grew up here. Near the water's edge. Much like I did. There are no towns in the first Zelda. There is very little world that is not hostile towards you. The odd dark cave with an old man who spouts a cryptic hint. It certainly adds a layer of isolation to the quest. Just you and your little green man with a sword against the expansive world, a world like nothing the NES had seen before. That gold cartridge showing its impossible size again. Zelda II, on the other hand? Lousy with towns. Plenty of people to talk to and gather hints from on your quest. A world even bigger than the last. 128 screens is a lot, but an entire overworld with towns and landmarks? That is something to lose yourself in... as I did. More on that later, but walk to the right.

Now isn't this nice? A temporary reprieve from the journey. A little spring. The water isn't very clean, but perhaps a fairy will revitalize you. Link and the fairies would become more familiar as time went on, but for now they just soothe his wounds. Could the fairies be emissaries of the Goddess of Endless Adventure, sent to ensure that a lucky traveller in need of their help does not fall victim to the perils of the journey? In any case, one would do well to mark this spring on their map, or note its location in their atlas. One has to have a map while exploring the fantasy land of Hyrule. What adventurer is without one? 128 screens is a lot to keep track of in the head, and writing things down can make things clear. It is how they did it in the old days. I remember those days. This pond would freeze over in the winter, and right about this time of year was when Winter Carnival would happen. There would be a mass of people on the frozen ice, serving hot chocolate. There would also be sledding. I partook in both as a young child, and enjoyed every bit of it. Neither NES Zelda game had ice. Good for them. The heat of adventure kept the land warm.

This has nothing to do with Zelda. This is my own memories bleeding in. That grassy mound appears to be nothing of note. Only nostalgia and my own mind can fill in what was once there. It was a house. The year was 1992, and my parents would both be working. As such, once school was out I would walk down this road and head to a relative's place to spend my time until 5 PM, when I would go home. There was another child who lived in this house. He wasn't very nice. I feared him as I walked by, like any nervous seven year-old would. Eventually he moved away and the house was demolished. There is nothing left of that child's influence but my own hazy memories, and this photograph of the spot where he once resided. Funny how that works, isn't it? It appears to have nothing to do with Zelda... but just walk up the road a bit. You'll understand.

There it is. There it is. Oh my god. It may appear to be an ordinary house to you, but this is the place. From the basement of this house exists a family-run independent video rental store. Disciples of the Valya and the Nintendo, welcome to my childhood. As we look, the memories flood back and make time fold in on itself. It's 1993. I've rented We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story along with The Legend Of Zelda. I'm eight years old and staring up at an old TV as I explore the depths of a dungeon located within a tree trunk. The Goddess Valya is present, whispering to me as I am introduced to endless adventure. Far away, in the wide world, the NES begins its swan song. Much later now. 2000. The NES is long gone, but a way to explore its lands fresh has been found and her name is the pirate ship NESTICLE. On a winter day, I explore the corners of this place and find a game called Zelda II. I rent the thing, and experience the challenge of endless adventure for real. The spirit whispers to me again, and I am now old enough to comprehend. I adore Zelda II. Many call it the black sheep. It is a beautiful and wonderful experience, and one man's "too different" is another's "unique". Eventually I purchase both games from this place. You saw the copies before we began this wild journey. My childhood experiences and nostalgias are now part of my collection, to be enjoyed at my leisure. How lovely. Let us continue.

End of the line. Sort of. This house is that relative's place, where me and my love of NES games only continued to blossom. They did not own the Zelda games. They owned a trilogy of games that were just as massive and influential, if not more. Also Dr. Mario. I adore Dr. Mario. There is very little to say about this place in the context of a Zelda post, but we are walking by it so it is important to stop and appreciate what has brought us here. This house is a keystone to my history with the NES. Every Christmas, we go there for drinks. Two months ago I was there, and during the few hours I was there I was hit with an onrush of memories. Fridge magnets that were there when I was a child are still there. The cupboard where I would get cans of Chef Boyardee ravioli to eat after school. The little TV that used to be there in the corner of the room. A nice old lady giving me sticks of Juicy Fruit gum. Endless memories locked away for years, all brought back at once on Christmas night. What a lovely place. Now for the interesting stuff.

As I said. End of the line. The road stops here, but the journey continues. Adventure is like that. You have to step off the beaten path to find the treasure. If you stay on the road, always following the rules, how will you find all of treasures? How will you discover the heart containers? The blue ring? The secret to everybody, the water of life, the power bracelet, the candle, the power glove, the money making game. Eastmost penninsula is the secret, and now we must venture into the wildlands. Anything could happen, but fortune rewards an adventurer who is not afraid to explore. That is what endless adventure is all about. So, without fear and with our sword at the ready, let us step into lands unknown and see what the rugged coast has to offer.

Spectacle Rock rises above us, an ancient thing only recently vandalized by girls who thought themselves more important than eternity. In all the years that people have visited this wondrous rock, none have ever thought to tag it with their name. Why these people? Ah well. This is a convienient rest spot. Take a seat on the rock. Don't worry, Ganon does not lurk here. Some other beast may be rumored to walk these pathways, but that was probably just bullshit from my best friend when I was 10 and exploring this path. Nowadays, the only people that explore this place are walkers like myself, and teens looking to drink. Ah yes. You can't see it, but there are shards of broken beer bottles here. Watch your step. People have been known to come out here and drink and be merry on a Friday night. Less endless adventure, more comraderie in the face of nothing to do. By night you can hardly see your hand in front of your face... but by day?

What a sight. This is what we have sought out. Tranquility. An escape from the doldrums of sitting around and writing things or doing chores. Endless adventure offers beautiful sights like this. One can simply sit on this large rock, and shut their eyes, and listen to the sweet sound of nothing. A slight rustle of bushes in the wind. The constant beat of surf against rock. This is inner peace, and it is what keeps me sane. It's comforting. That's what video games are. A comfort. We play Zelda and Zelda II in the year of our Lord 2014 because they are comforting. It's nice to explore a simple little world and have simple little fun. In the end, that is what I live for. The simple day-to-day things. It's comforting to write about things like this, and let thoughts pour out of my head. It's comforting to play old video games from my childhood. It's comforting to explore a very pretty landscape. Come on, then. Let's soothe our souls further. That island in the distance. Let's get closer.

Of course, now we've really entered the wilds. The creator of Zelda supposedly got his idea from exploring Japanese caves as a child. I have never been in a cave, but exploring forest trails gives me much the same effect. Now I really do feel like an adventurer, walking along a path and embarking on a quest. It is a quest to understand my past, and to find my own inner peace. That's why I came up with the Valya. A concept of everything that is good in the world, in a meditative shell. Did every child who played Zelda imagine such things? Did they pretend to be Link as they ran through the forests of their backyards, swinging pretend swords at pretend Moblins? I'm certain some children did this. Imagination is a hell of a thing, and adventure can easily foster it. Hell, even in Zelda II we have a clear goal. A sleeping beauty to be awakened with the acquisition of the Triforce of Courage. Zelda II actually deals with the titular "legend" of Zelda. We don't need Anna for this one, you get the idea... but it's amusing. The game that deals with the legend of Zelda doesn't use the phrase "The Legend Of Zelda" in its title. Odd, don't you think?

Even in these woods we have branches in the path. All roads lead to the same destination, of course. The destination can sometimes be hard to reach. The Zelda games, while not demonic things that only madmen and monsters can beat, may have intimidated some. In 1993 I had no idea what I was doing as I stumbled around the world, searching for the adventure that would never end. Certain elements seem awfully cryptic now. The Lost Woods, with its precise path to take in order to explore the western lands. The secret hills. Burning specific bushes, playing flutes at lakes, knowing that the grumpy man blocking your way wants that bit of meat that looks more like a bonbon thanks to the NES's limitations... and this doesn't even get into Zelda II. Zelda II is less cryptic, but it trades its mystery for increased difficulty. Zelda II can get sadistic at times, and maybe that soured a lot of people. I personally adore the challenge, and have learned to cheat the system to my own benefit. That takes time, and the me of 2000 didn't know this. Somehow, the adventure spoke to me. Goddess breath in my ear again. Moving on.

We reach our destination. Land's End. The point at which we must end our adventure for now. Behold the island before us, standing tall in the water. At low tide, it seems like one would be able to walk across the ocean floor and explore that tiny island's coast. What would one find there? A palace? A dungeon? I do not know, for I have never been. This is where we must end, then. Take a breather and sit on the rocks that jut out towards the sea, and feel the ocean breeze. Hear it crash gently against the land. I grew up around here, and the ocean gives me much inner peace. This is my sanctuary, and I claim it in the name of Valya. In the name of Zelda. At the end of the day, this journey has been a celebration. Both of the experiences and places that made me who I am today, and of two incredibly good video games for the NES that changed video games forever. So, as we look out at the endless ocean and distant lands across the sea... we must part ways with the Goddess Valya and her shrine of Endless Adventure. The triforce has been saved and the legend of Zelda has been completed. There will be good games after these. There will be bad games after these. One must never forget experiences like Zelda. The influence they had are the reason why blogs like this one exist. No matter how many shit sports games I encounter, the NES gave us endless adventure. That's something to keep in mind.

When the snow melts and the grass gets green again... go take a walk somewhere nice, kids. Take pictures. Share them with your friends. Then once you're done with any work you've got to do... go fire up a Zelda game. Pick any one you like. Go have fun and be comforted. You earned it. Thanks, you. You're the hero of Hyrule.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Welcome Back To The Stage Of History (Legacy Of The Wizard, Legend Of The Ghost Lion, The Legend Of Kage)

Before we start today, I'd like to introduce you all to someone. She should be to your immediate right there, drawn to life by a dear friend. Meet Anna Michelin. She is a character I created, a character who has thrived and survived three National Novel Writing Month competitions so far. She was being written about when this resumed Nintendo Project started. In a sense, she has been lurking throughout the project this entire time. Funny, that, considering why I'm mentioning her. Anna Michelin is a historian, a woman with an intense love for the history of her planet and her family. She has other qualities that made her one of my favorite characters to write for, but it's her love of history that make me mention her now. That and I needed a punchy opening paragraph. Lord knows I stretched out the word count a little while I wrote for Anna in Nanowrimo, and those tricks never really leave you. Anna is our thematic link today. We must deal with folklore and history today, in 8-bit form. A legacy, and some legends. There's one other quality that set Anna head and shoulders above others in my mind. It was her desire for exploration. With access to future technology, she was able to visit her own family history directly, and learn by experiencing it first-hand. In that regard, you could say that she was blessed by a spirit. The spirit of Endless Adventure beckoned her, and its siren call is faint but audible even now. Let us see what the legacy of adventure has for us.

Ah yes. Legacy Of The Wizard. A cute little title with a double meaning lost on many, especially at the time of release. One reads it and presumes a prior legacy of some mythic wizard from a time long forgotten, a legend of spellcraft and sorcery that continues on into the present day. In a land that did not exist in 1987, it was called Dragon Slayer IV. Part of a series called Dragon Slayer. Our fourth game came to the land of opportunity that was North America and changed its name, though it left some of its familial pride intact for anyone who wanted to look. It was also made with the assistance of Falcom, a company well-versed in the serene siren song of Endless Adventure. Legacy Of The Wizard is a quest, make no mistake. Its world is vast. We will talk more about vast worlds and Nintendo carts once we fully reach the shrine of Endless Adventure... but for now, bear witness to the scope of this legacy. To put things into perspective, my one voyage into this dread labyrinthe turns out to have been about 15% of this place. That was with one character. To succeed in this adventure is to use the bonds of family, and take each member to different spots of the labyrinth. Anna, being a woman with strong ties to her own family legacy, would approve of these folks. I know it because I write her, and to write her is to know her. This adventure would require much dedication, a willingness to spend untold hours charting out the twists and turns of this place, learning who can go where and what to find. It is not a bad game. Just one that someone cannot just jump into and enjoy. Legacy Of The Wizard is demanding, and I respect it just a bit for that. Not enough to bring myself to map out this dark place in full, but much more than I do for some of the games we have covered.

Now for the land of legends. We will be dancing in this playground for quite some time, so sit and listen to Anna. She's found an interesting tome about a ghostly white lion. Two parents, inspired by the legend, set off for endless adventure. They never returned. Were they unprepared, or was the adventure too great for them? Either way, their daughter Maria set off for her own endless adventure, and found herself in a brave new world. The legend reminds one of the legendary Erdrick, or Loto as the historic translations later knew him as. Maria, however, was different. Erdrick drew his strength from his own experiences as an adventurer, and was rumored to have grown stronger as he survived deadly encounters with monsters. Maria, on the other hand, drew her power from the world of Valya itself. Hope. Courage. Dreaming. These are the virtues that Maria was rumored to have used to overcome her adversaries... or so it says here. Legends are curious things. She may even have been able to summon forth other beings to battle alongside her, and assist her in her fight. I like this lady. She sounds like she was a true warrior of Valya, a mythic heroine lost to the fog of legend and folklore. There's another legendary woman like that, and her tale will be told in due time. A legend for the space age. This tale would be worth the dedication to research, to sift through. I am curious as to what happened to Maria. Aren't you?

What a curious legend to close things off for the day. The legend of a man named Kage. He came from a land that did not exist, with minimalist colors and tossing throwing stars at enemy ninjas. Someone had kidnapped a lady he cared about. This is impetus enough for Kage to go on a killing spree, tossing the throwing stars with impunity. Lightning flares in the background as Kage is let loose on his rampage, a blood-soaked beast in red from distant lands. I am not as enthralle by this tale. It is mindless and a little repetitive, and frankly reeks of something... odd. Ye ancient beast of fear and dread, GREED. How do you fight something that is eternal? The eater of worlds, and of currency? The starter of wars? You simply do not. Here, then, lies our hero Kage. Cut down in his prime by precise throwing stars from the enemy. Aimed perfectly, mind. Some ninja of despair has been waiting, and just as Kage finishes his jump... in the moment before he notices the counter attack, he is nicked. He falls. He falls again and again. Kage could not climb the tower, and the dread beast GREED held sway over all... but this is not how it should go. Look. We have arrived at the shrine of Endless Adventure. The gravity of this place is massive. Historic. Its pull alters everything around it, as well as everything to come since. Time and space are drawn towards this place, as she floats above the cosmos, her white dress billowing in the wind as she gently smiles. She is Endless Adventure. She is the Goddess Valya. As she gives me a warm smile, I can feel it. I feel the call of the wild. I feel adventure. As I feel it, she begins to tell me of another legend, one I thought I knew before now.

It is time to be regaled about the legend of Zelda.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Does It Offend You? (The Last Ninja, The Last Starfighter, Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf)

Okay, phew. I'm sorry for that. Didn't quite mean to go to that dark of a place with the last entry. It was firmly supposed to be positive, and at least one person was honored that I took that much time to write something about her. The power of inspiration, kids. It's a two-way street that fuels us both. Now then. Two games that begin with "The Last" and one I've been looking forward to talking about if only for the title. This entry is going to be fluff, but that's okay. I'm banking all my creative energy for two entries from now. It's gonna be fun.

"Fun" is the polar opposite of The Last Ninja. I know certain things about it. I know it was developed by Beam Software and they made that Red October game I'm not fond of. Be that as it may, Red October did get me to where I am now so I owe it some gratitude. How unpleasant. I also know that this was a game for the Commodore 64. As I've never touched one of those, I can't say much about it. Phil Sandifer, being a voyager in time longer than I have, has memories of it. Due to its presence early in his life, video games have become iconoclast with his own existance. The same could be said for me, seeing as how I came into the world at around the same time as the NES in America. The song of the NES's life is the song of my first nine years, as I've stated earlier. The song of the Commodore was not one I knew, but I respect its influence on the world. Now, maybe The Last Ninja lit up the world and maybe it didn't. I'm really out of my depth here, but it came out in 1987 for the Commodore. This version isn't even a port of that, but of Last Ninja 2. Yet it's called The Last Ninja. Ah, the heady days of name changes! How I yearn for thee! Whatever history led to this cartridge, I can see one truth before me. The Last Ninja on NES isn't very good. It's some sort of isometric action-adventure. I advanced a few screens, but found some... issues. Fighting people is basically a slugfest where I kicked them in the groin a few times as they punched me back. Jumping and kicking are the same button. Then you come to the first jumping puzzle of the game. I had to jump on a boat sailing down a river. I failed, yet it didn't look like I should have. Some sort of rules were being fiddled with. I didn't care for The Last Ninja, but hey. It got three games on the Commodore, so someone must have. Not me, though. Not me.

The Last Starfighter, on the other hand? Good lord. Where do I begin with this? The best way to describe it is... that it's a bullet. A bullet I have avoided for 20 years but has now finally hit home, tearing into my flesh and causing considerable pain. This was one of the many Nintendo games that were available for rent at our local rental store. I'll have more to say about this place two entries from now, but for now know that I never rented The Last Starfighter. I am thankful that I did not because this is foul. This is wretched. The conceit of the film (which I've not seen) is that some space arcade game is a secret training mission for people to become real star pilots in some intergalactic war. If you do well at the game, they teleport you to the future and recruit you. I am not about to be recruited any time soon, and thank God for that. We have a horizontal space shooter where you can speed up or down, and turn backwards to go to the left. Sounds nice so far, except one hit and you're dead. The enemies give you about a split second to react. Some things shoot homing bullets at you. The worst offender, the thing that again goes against the rules. Some parts of the space cruiser you're flying under will kill you if you collide with them. You can shoot THROUGH them, but touching them will kill you. This is a violation. This is horrifying. It is offending. It took me four full continues to beat stage 1. I would not continue this game. It appears to have unlimited continues, but I don't have unlimited patience. How dare you, Mindscape.

Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf. I have no idea who Lee Trevino is, but we're once again playing in licensed territory. And golf, to boot. Still, the game is named FIGHTING GOLF. I knew there wasn't going to be any fighting, but this is passable for golf. I got to play as a lady named PRETTY AMY. That's something unique, right? Otherwise this is golf. It's a half-decent golf game.

Um. I'm out. I got nothing else on golf. The sports games I don't have much for, and there will only be 40 million of them in the future. Lovely. Maybe I should just pull a Phil Sandifer and consolidate them all into one mega-entry. Get it over with. In the meantime, I've got to start planning. There's something coming on the horizon. Can you hear it approach?

It's the whispers of adventure.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Importance Of Player Two (Laser Invasion, Last Action Hero)

Welcome to the letter L! A bit late, but L is for late as they say. Wait. Nobody's said that in the history of forever. We have two video games ts time, since I need to cut one in order to space things out properly for... reasons. Neither of them are particularly remarkable. Where do we go from here, then? One could consult Phil Sandifer's guide on how to read and write the Nintendo Project. We need mystical logic. Themes and variations. Something to cohesively tie two electronic video games together. They have nothing to do with one another besides their alphabetical proximity. There seems to be very little of a link between the two. We have no tether. Thus, I have to jury rig one together. It will be janky and messy and full of feelings, but it's the day to do it. Why do I say that?

Because today is my friend Demi's birthday, and she has helped to save me from the nightmares lurking within myself. What good is a writer if he can't dedicate a post to someone he cares about? Two people, in this case, as another friend of mine, a lovely miss Elizabeth, shares a birthday. In this case I have made myself into the tether, a link between the Internet lives of two people. The tether of a birthday, the tether of friendship. Too many things are interconnected here, but I'm going to go with it anyway. One must take a risk with these sorts of things. So, Demi. Liz. This one's for you.

Where do we go now? That's easy. We go to the primal fear that lurks within the paranoid workings of my oh-so-human mind. We go to the fear of abandonment. Abandonment is something that this project is deeply rooted upon, so it seems almost fitting that I bring it up now. Abandonment is what has happened to the majority of these games. Electronic marvels that sank or swam, in the long-forgotten time that was the years between 1985 and 1994. The first nine years of my life. 20 more have passed since then. The NES, of course, has not been totally abandoned. Its gems are still strip mined by Nintendo, even now. Of course we all remember those classics. Mario, Zelda, Mega Man and more. They have evolved with the times and remained relevant. Then we have things that were left in the past, but still remembered. The hidden gems. Your Journey To Siliuses. Your Startropics. Things like that. Then the solid bedrock of eternity. The detritus of the NES, the things that existed to make a buck at the time and fell into almost deserved obscurity. Laser Invasion by Konami seems to be one of these. It has only been talked about twice in my passing; once by James Rolfe and once by a reviewer friend of mine. It is a flight simulation game and very similar to Top Gun. It was also compatible with some sort of voice-activated zapper gun. That's all I have on Laser Invasion. It's unremarkable. It's a game that exists and on any other day I'd move on from it... but now we have a reason to dwell on it.

Abandonment. The fear of being alone. The anxiety that comes from those nightmarish thoughts that float in my mind. When we fought my Nightmares with the happiness of an impending wedding, it was glorious. We blasted it into stardust. Nightmares, unfortunately, never die. They adapt. They have taken root in my brain and twisted those once happy thoughts. The what ifs dance through my mind like sadistic shrine maidens. What if I am unable to make it to the wedding? What am I going to do if I'm forced to sit here in isolation, alone as everyone else I care about meets for this celebration of love? How utterly miserable will I be, stewing in my own negativity? How much will I have let those two down by not being part of the festivities? These are the dark thoughts that I must combat. I am a simple creature. I don't want to be alone.

In 1993, the NES was alone. Last Action Hero came out on it. It was not a very good game. It was a slog and the average player ran out of patience with it quickly. You will note that I've dedicated all of two sentences to the games in question this entry. They are but single notes in the song of the NES. Flat notes that altered nothing. This entry has been negative so far, but it is time to talk up the positives. This is supposed to be a tribute. A celebration. Let me celebrate, then, the power of friendship. The raw untempered energy of hope that these two, and many others like them, bring me every day. Hell, I just found another tether between these two. They were both fans of my LP videos. My nonsensical ramblings in the year 2008 made them smile, and they became fans. Comments led to correspondence. Correspondence led to group chats. Group chats led to the close band of friends I have been part of for the past several years. It's more than that, however. These two... they care. The simple truth of my world view is that they care. If I find myself in a total funk due to the harsh whispers of my own insecurities, they will listen. I can pour myself out and they will do their damn best to make sure I feel even slighty better. Because they care. I, of course, would not hesitate for a second to do the same for them were they in need of someone to talk to. This is the power of hope. The power these two instill in me. The power to fight back against whatever bullshit plagues my head.

Happy birthday, Demi.
Happy birthday, Liz.
My life would be worse without you both.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Inner Focus (Krusty's Fun House, Kung-Fu, Kung-Fu Heroes)

Do you remember how we began exploring this universe? We were meditating and attempting to find our own inner Zen. Our own Valya, the Light of Hope to burn away the darkness of despair. I have been searching for inner peace for quite some time, and I've found it. For now, anyway. Let us focus our thoughts and turn back time. Back to the NES. Back to the finale of the letter K. Back to another letter down for this blog. This makes our third that we've completed all by ourselves. Three is a number of power. Three games will see us out. Meditate a while as we escape to lands unknown. Lands that will offer endless adventure. Be you Valyan apprentice, constant reader, or confused newcomer... here is what awaits us.

Oh, rats. Krusty's Fun House exists on the precipice of the end days of the NES. The beginning of the end, as it was. The SNES was out for a good year. This game did have a "super" version. Of course I didn't know that when I began playing it. This is another one I had as a young child, so it's one that I can talk about for a bit. The Simpsons will, of course, get its own entry months down the line... because it's the fucking Simpsons and it deserves it. Every other Simpsons game on NES is frankly kind of shit... but this one is okay. Whether or not that's due to the deluded nostalgia that colors all of us who grew up with this system, I'm not sure. What I do know is that the premise of this game is absolutely batshit, and this is coming from a series of games that previously had aliens invade Springfield. Krusty the Clown's fun house is infested with rats, so he now has to delve into the labyrinth room by room, leading the rats to elaborate rat extermination machine operated by Bart and Homer. That's it. That's what you do for five worlds and god only knows how many levels. It's reverse Lemmings. You lead the rats to their imminent deaths without fucking up and getting them stuck in places you can't get them out of while avoiding Matt Groening pixel art snakes and listening to some sort of hellish calliope. I have also never beaten this game. Now that I'm some sort of monster, I should do it. I have little else to say without actually talking about The Simpsons, and I want to save that wad for a massive Simpsons post in the distant future. Come, then. The real reason for our meditation. You have honed your mind in a maddening nonsensical realm. The sensory deprivation has done you good. It is time to go back to the start of it all. It is time to use your body as a weapon.

Another of the black box games. Another black monolith existing in the space between Famicom and NES, the big bang that set this entire song in motion. Kung Fu. A martial art made popular in the 80's by several films. This video game capitalizes on that. It is also an arcade port of sorts, and its secret history has you playing as none other than Jackie Chan. The warrior of Valya whose original waterfall meditation inspired all of this, once I returned from my novel break. His prayers are miraculous. What could have been a simple brutal arcade port, slavishly filled with the dread beast GREED's snarling and drooling, is something more. It is the video game circa 1985, distilled. There are bad people and they have someone you care about. Go defeat the bad people in your way and save the person you care about. Super Mario Bros. did this. Ghosts n Goblins did this. It is the plot of the video game, purified. For a moment, let us try and forget that human creativity muddles with this. Folks like Anita Sarkeesan have made critical assessments of how this formula more often than not involves a woman being put into a situation of peril, an object to be saved. She's not wrong, and she should not be getting the amount of shit she gets for stating that fact... but we must focus on the purity of that message. Kung Fu, the martial art, is not a means to go hog wild and attack things. It is a means of focusing your body and mind. That is what one must do. Kung Fu, the video game, is by extension a focusing of what it was to be a video game in 1985. One kicks and punches because the alternative is to assailed by the enemy. One leaps over snakes to avoid nature's bite. Sweep kicks, jump kicks, all delivered with HI-YA noises. All to save the person you care about. Then you do it all again, for this is a video game in 1985. It doesn't have an end. Do it again, but harder this time. The dread beast cannot be fully tranquilized. He never will give you an ending, but at the least his appetite has been quelled enough so that he does not kill you in seconds.

Kung Fu Heroes, on the other hand... this appears to be carnage for carnage's sake. Punching men with loud yells and making them explode. Is this the measured and focused approach, or fucking Fist Of The North Star? What the hell is going on here? You can't even move on to the next level, it seems, until you murder enough marauding martial artists. This is not the land of Valya. This is a spiral descending down into sheer madness. This is nothing like what I have been preaching. Is this how we leave the land of K? I feel drained. I feel as if a giant fire monster has wandered onto the screen unceremoniously. Yeah, that happened during my play time with Kung Fu Heroes. Funny enough... I remember this game from childhood. Vaguely. The same people I played it with borrowed an NES game from me. It was Krusty's Fun House. I'm not even making that up right now. How much of this has been decided for me already? Who the hell knows? With that, we escape the letter K. It has been a wild ride, even if part of it already popped up thanks to overwhelming feelings. Most of those have been smoothed out, however... but that's a story for another time.