Monday, 30 June 2014

Like, Totally Bogus (Maniac Mansion, Mappy Land, Marble Madness)

Well, that was an experience. Nintendo Project gameplay usually is. I mean, look at what we've got first off. Maniac Mansion. This is sort of an unsung darling of the NES. It's a port of a Lucasarts classic point and click adventure game! The birth of SCUMM, for Christ's sakes! Hell, this game was even on the cover of Nintendo Power! It's important. Pity, then, that I have little to say about it. Old-time adventure games are not exactly my forte. This is my failing and not Maniac Mansion's. This thing was a ride and a half, and we even have a moment of bizarre timing in the here and now as I write. James Rolfe, the Nintendo nerd for a new digital age (and really, he should get a side article on here proper someday) put up a video of him and his friends chilling out and playing Maniac Mansion for NES today. The same day I'm writing about it for Nintendo Project. Coincidence has been cancelled. There are a ton of weird tangents and little asides I can make about Maniac Mansion. The fact that the Trickster Beast ROMHACK, a rarely-seen little imp who delights in twisting the well-known, managed to create a causal link between this game and The Wizard. (Here's a hint; it's New Year's Eve. I'm in Glendora.) At least one thing I want to save for tomorrow. The Howard and Nester comic that makes Razor into a total 80's babe. (Not that she wasn't already.) Hell, where in god's name is "Pitchfork" Pat? He did a whole sprite comic using Maniac Mansion sprites! This game's fragmenting me, like three kids splitting up to explore a spooky mansion and pick up everything not nailed down. It's also creating shards of ideas that may have ramifications for the Project as a whole. Let us just say that it is a perfectly solid humorous adventure game that we should all play, and then I will leave you with Razor's rockin' 8-bit theme and move on to something else.

Mappymappymappymappymappymappymappymappy. Hey, it's Mappy! Mappy Land! This one is weird. I have a lurking bit of nostalgia for Mappy. A half-remembered moment from childhood of renting some game with a mouse. It was either Mappy or a Puss-in-boots game. Either way, I have my doubts that it was Mappy Land. This is a Namco arcade game, and it is okay. Barring level 5 or so, which has platforming without the ability to actually jump. Bounce on trampolines to reach other trampolines. Also the trampolines are moving. Also fuck you. I don't think I can quite file this one under dread beast GREED territory, but it's not my favorite thing in the world. It ain't no Low G Man, though. I really don't have a lot to say about Mappy, beyond the fact that the video I linked just now is the only thing I remember about it. I love that enthusiasm. I only wish I could hold the same for Mappy.

Marble Madness is a scary game. You roll a marble down an obstacle course and the slightest drop shatters it. Drop the thing down a pit and it fucking screams. How horrifying. It's also isometric, which is something that just fills me with dread. The copyright screen says 1984, and that is a year that puzzles me. It's an Unyear for video games, a Year That Never Was existing outside of space and time. 1983 saw the death of gaming in North America, and 1985 saw it come back. 1984 was a nothingness, a blank spot in history. Things happened, of course. Marble Madness. The Temple Of Doom. From a broad standpoint, there was a void. That just fascinates me, really. A marble floating around in the void. Let's zoom out more, why don't we? Let's take this entire silly thing into perspective, and look at the beginning and the end at once. I've got the perfect way to measure it all... though I fear the immense gravity from it.

Let's-a go.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Saturday French Toast (June 28th, 2014)

God, it's lovely out. But also ridiculously hot. The air is still and there's insects buzzing around. I don't like that but it looks nice.

As for me, I've beaten a computer game called Shovel Knight. It came out recently and it is very, very good. I will not elaborate further because that would be wasting words for my inevitable review, and I need every drop because by now you all know how nonsensical my ranting can be. I'll give you a hint: it involves the soul of Pure Platforming. Undecided if that's a proper Nintendo Project god yet. Maybe a lesser deity.

It's also my tabletop gaming day! A lovely Saturday afternoon spent rolling dice and fighting off monsters with magic and axes and crap. Just what every growing boy needs. One of my Nintendo Project off day articles will deal with tabletop gaming and DMs and stuff of that nature. For now, let's open the floor to comments because why the hell not.

So. What are you doing this Saturday? Tell me all about it. I'd love to know. See you on Monday when I play some famous adventure game where you can murder a hamster.

Friday, 27 June 2014

You Unlock This Door With The Key Of Your Imagination (MagMax, Major League Baseball)

It's always weird to have to do article math on this blog. We did a one-game article last time, and today we have a two-game article. The juggling is needed in order to keep thematic semblance... so since there are a couple of three-game sets that work well thematically coming up, plus one big game that deserves its own bonkers entry, we have to do math. So a two-game this time, then two threes, a two, another three, and then one. This is the science of Nintendo Project, my lovelies. The smart ones among you might know what's coming if you find the same list that I use. We already took out a big chunk a while ago thanks to friends. Let's get on with it.

MagMax is a strange case of a game that deserves a look beyond the base code itself. You see, I had an expectation of what it would be. I had vague memories of an unauthorized Nintendo guide book that featured MagMax in it, and I was prepared for a Bomberman clone. As it turns out, I had mixed the game up for some other one that was a Bomberman clone. MagMax is actually a horizontal shmup. I played it. I had thoughts on it, but before that I want to talk about the cover art for the game. We've probably dabbled in cover art talk before, but good god. MagMax's cover art is awesome. Lightsaber wielding robot in space blasting a robotic hydra. I can confirm that this sort of happens in-game, although it looks less impressive. I won't fault it for that. We also have just about my two favorite words ever in a bright yellow bubble: ARCADE CLASSIC. I don't have to go through the whole Dread Beast GREED shtick again because MagMax doesn't really... feel like an arcade game. It just feels like an innovative but kind of flawed shmup. The central gimmick is that you power up by equipping robot parts to your ship, thus making you a giant robot that fires lots of lasers. That sounds cool on paper, but look at the screenshot again. The robot is a huge target, and you have these swooping little critters firing bunches of bullets that you have to weave around to avoid. You can't do that when you're a giant robot sprite that takes up an eighth of the vertical space of the screen! You're going to get nicked in the foot or head and lose part of your robot body! The game's also sneaky and sort of loops until you power up your robot body enough and land on a platform to warp to the next area. It's decent at best. No continues, though. Shit, even in the arcade we could do that for money. Unless there's one of those secret Japanese continue codes. Let me check.

Okay, there isn't. Next, please.

Major League Baseball, by LJN for the NES. Can... can I go back to MagMax? Please? All you need to know about this game is that I had the same experience with it that I've had with every other Nintendo baseball game so far, and will probably have with the 45 others remaining. Batting is fun enough and I got onto some bases, but then I went into the outfield and it's garbage because I'm not a machine and controlling little ants as they slooowly run towards a ball while the computer just racks up points is not fucking fun at all. So let's talk about other things. I went to Wikipedia to look at the box art of this game, and it looks okay. There's also this:

"It is notable for being one of the first video games licensed by Major League Baseball, although it was not endorsed by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Without the backing of the player's association, the game could not name the actual players, although it was able to use their numbers, thus accurately portraying the contemporary teams and their rosters. In doing so, it became the first baseball game for the Nintendo Entertainment System to carry official Major League Baseball licensing and lineups."

Oh yes. Licensing fun facts. All it amounts to for me is a bunch of numbers that I don't know. I'm just not part of the target audience for this. My brother-in-law likes baseball. Then again he likes watching every sport. World Cup, Stanley Cup, Basketball... Cup... you name it. This isn't working. Let's talk about other things. Like the box art of this game and MagMax. I had a thought a while back about my childhood compared to the childhood of a kid today, and there's one thing that those kids won't know; anticipation. We used to borrow games from each other all the time. Hell, this is how I played Mega Man 2 in 1995. I lent someone my Game Boy for that shit and it was kind of worth it. The thing is, nowadays the kids don't need to anticipate what a game is like. If Billy borrows Jimmy's copy of Call of Duty, Billy can just go onto Youtube during recess or lunch time and see how the game looks. Not so for me in 1995. When someone lent me a game at 9 AM, I had to wait until 3 PM to get a look at it. Until then, all I could do was wistfully gaze at the cover art. Imagining and anticipating the wonders within. I know I did this for at least one game (Ninja Turtles 3, if you care.) in my youth. Major League Baseball, if I cared about it, would have that effect on me. So would MagMax. That's part of the alchemy of the grey box, really. It's bigger on the inside because your imagination is fueling the damn thing. Flick those youthful thoughts into the cart as you puff away the dust to get the son of a bitch working, and finally get the thing to load up. It's 3:30 PM and you're ready to play Major League Baseball!

Oh. It ain't that good. Daniel, I want my copy of Monster Party back.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Raving Rants From A Nintendo Madman: Ultima One And The Age Of Darkness

Last night I completed the first quest. One of the oldest quests known to electronic quest-dom. Ultima One: The First Age Of Darkness. Mother of god. The version I was playing was a prettied-up 1986 DOS port of some type. Close enough to be within the realm of our Nintendo Project wheelhouse. The original release? 1981. I mean, my god. That is a time before I existed as a sentient human. My birth roughly coincides with the birth of the NES in America, so in a mad sense I have existed along with video games. This is from before that, from the Ago. When floppies were floppies and kilobytes ruled the world and internal speaker sound was an honest to goodness thing. Did Richard Garriott watch Raiders Of The Lost Ark as he coded away at this Great Old One? He knows. I don't know. What I do know is that Ultima One was kind of fun to break over my knee.

Of course, I had resources. Internet look-ups and maps and guides and things like that. I in no way played this pure. That might discount my victory, but what the hell. I experienced part of the Ultima One experience, and that will be enough for me. Most folk in the year 2014 just can't replicate that experience. In the year 1986, with no Internet or other cheap pennywhistle distractions? The PC gaming folk could get lost in the thing, delving across the world and taking notes of what was where. Making maps of the earth and the labyrinth dungeons within its crust. Powering themselves up level by level to become the slayer of worlds. It's great that you can do that. The means to do that in about 30 minutes of gameplay also exist. Dart back and forth between signposts to raise your stats to 99. The magic incantation upon the sign's words shall grant you infinite weaponry, each stronger than the last until you find... a blaster. That's not the only hodgepodge element here. Sure, this looks like some sort of fantasy Dungeons and Dragons-esque romp at first. Gradually, the walls between worlds grow thin as your power increases. Smite the evil ranger and wandering warlock with precise laser fire. Things only get more interesting once you go on quests for the kings. They demand you delve into dungeons to find specific creatures deep inside and slay them. This would normally mean mapping out the first-person maze on graph paper or something... or you could do what I did. Buy a shitload of spells that create magical ladders up or down to the next floor. Cast Ladder Down. Find monster. Kill monster. Cast Ladder Up. Voila, you've done it!

Once you descend into the very depths of the earth and rule over them... why, the heavens must be conquered. More than the heavens, even. The vastness of uncharted space. My hero, Gom the dwarven fighter, put on a vaccuum suit and launched his shuttle into the airless void of space. This place was hostile. Enemy fighters come at you frequently, and to progress you must become an ace of space. We're not even playing a swords and sorcery game any more. We have fallen out of the world. Not hard to do, really, when you become so powerful that the world ceases to be a constant thing. Still, space is a harsh mistress. It will not be conquered easily. One must be careful to manage their fuel, lest they be left forever adrift in a dead spacecraft, awaiting the inevitable death by starvation. Or burning up on re-entry because you weren't in a ship with heat shielding. Or being shot down by enemy fighters. Eventually, though... space becomes your domain. Now for the final challenge. The mastery of time. Enter your time machine, powered by the gems you have collected. Cast yourself back to the Ago of the Ago, when the evil wizard is vulnerable. Take his Gem of Immortality and crush it inside your armored glove before blasting his batlike form into cinders. Thou art victorious. Press CTRL+ALT+DELETE to restart.

So that's Ultima One. It's kind of dated and janky but by god is it fun to bust in half in 2014. The Nintendo Project proper will look at Ultima, one day. One day when it shakes off the mishmash of ideas it dances with and seeks out true enlightenment. I look forward to it. So should you.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

I Put A Spell On You (Magician)

Holy mother of god. Magician on NES. I'm going to treat this one as a single entity. Not because it's terribly important or because it lit the world on fire... but because in its own little way, Magician is magic. Again we need to step back and look at what we're dealing with here. In an odd way, I'm not even talking about Magician today. Yet I have to, for this is a Nintendo game that is part of the song of the NES. It is a Nintendo game I desperately, desperately WANT to love. See, I'll let you in on a little secret here. I love magic. You put me in any fantasy video game or setting, and I'll gravitate towards the magic-using classes. Something about them drives me to them. Maybe it's the characterization of Black Mage from Brian Clevinger's 8-Bit Theater, the only webcomic I know of whose entire existance is a set-up to a joke lasting 10 years. Either way, Magician is an innovative action/adventure game, probably. Maybe a little too innovative. You learn magic spells as you progress by discovering what the magic words are, and you build them syllable by syllable. Buy items, explore the land, destroy evil with your magic, keep yourself well-fed... it all sounds good. Unfortunately, something keeps it back. Attacking with magic turns into a slugfest. I really want to beat this game, and to that end I once looked up a longplay to see if I could find how to attack effectively. The longplayer just spent the opening section of the game "learning" every spell by inputting them manually. Since the spells never change, if you know the magic words you can have the best spells from the first seconds of gameplay. What a dull way to play. At least Magician has good music. It has very good music, in fact. You will hear it momentarily, but now... now for the part I've been looking forward to.

Magician is an acolyte apprentice of an ultimate wizard, the dread beast NOSTALGIA. To that end, I have nostalgic memories of Magician. They notably have jack shit to do with the game itself. The main title theme was used in a piece of NES homebrew that I remember from the turn of the century. I fully expected to mention this in passing, as a cute little fact of my own personal history. Then I actually found the thing. It's called "CMC 80's", and I have recorded the entirety of it for you all. You should watch this. This is a fascinating piece and I'd love to talk about it some more. The most striking is its date. June 14th, 2000. Eleven days past its fourteenth birthday, and it celebrates 15 years of the NES. The loving tribute of nostalgia is now as old as the nostalgia itself was at the time. Christ almighty. More to the point, this thing reads like a manifest for the Nintendo Project itself. A piece of loving art that, while impossible to be heard by every human being ever, still matters because it was heard by some human beings for one fleeting moment. A tribute to a piece of comfort from one's childhood, a comfort that still exists today. 1989 is long gone. 2014 is halfway dead. The memory of things like Mega Man 2 and Super Mario Brothers are only just that; memories ingrained inside the minds of twenty-something sentient humans on planet Earth. The objects themselves still exist, unlike the years they were made. Anyone can throw them on at any time, and go back. That's the magic of NOSTALGIA, the arcane ritual that every mad man with a grey box can perform on a whim. God, the NES is just beautiful like that. In this moment, it's all worth it. No matter what utter shit may lie in the future of the Nintendo Project, it all happened and it all mattered... and with every entry, I become more of a magician, dredging up these alchemic memories and placing them inside a wall of words. A wall of words that not every human will read, but nevertheless still matters because some humans will read them.

Oh yeah, and the guy who made this, Chris Covell... wherever he is now, he liked Magician and he used some of the music from the game in his homebrew ROM. It's good tunes.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Raving Rants From A Nintendo Madman: Axelay And The Death Of The Dread Beast GREED

Let's talk about shmups. Side scrolling and vertical scrolling. Shmups and I have a rocky relationship. I've mastered many a hard game domain in recent years, but the shmup remains something just beyond my grasp. Mastery of the shmup requires a focused, all-encompassing view of every single thing hurtling towards your space fighter or airplane or cute anime girl. Failure to do this results in a penalty more severe than most games; let us call it the Nigh-Impossible State. The Nigh-Impossible State really only exists in the console shmup. In the land of the arcade? The very stomping grounds of the Dread Beast GREED? Your entire existance is a Nigh-Impossible State. The deck is stacked against you because money is on the line. That mentality led to the console shmups of the Nintendo age. It led to things like Gradius, or Image Fight. Things where death is the most severe penalty. You don't just go back. You go back and lose all your progress, thus making success about 10 times harder than it was when you initially fucked up. It makes it so the only way to clear these things reliably is to no-death them. I spent an afternoon learning Gradius on the NES. By about 1:30 or so I had mapped out the optimal way to fly through each stage. It still took me three hours to do it because I literally had to do it no-death. There was just no other way to survive the onslaught of the latter levels. Something had to change. Something had to evolve. This just isn't working.

Enter 1992. Enter something we shouldn't even be talking about proper on a blog for the NES. Like it or not, the Super Nintendo existed in tandem with the NES. It's a free day and the emperor's on holiday, so let me tell you about this shmup. Let me tell you about Axelay, because it may just be my favorite shmup of all time. First of all, it is very very good. It is a Konami game, and they know their good games. They also know their shmups, having made Gradius... which makes this all the more interesting. Axelay is almost an atonement. A final exorcism of the arcade mentality. It was already weakened by the release of Gradius III on the SNES. That game's arcade embodiment was notorious for being utterly ridiculous. The dread beast GREED at his most powerful... to say nothing of that little punch-and-kick game that Lady Capitalism and Capcom were cooking up. Still, when it came time to plop it on a console, they learned. They toned things down and in the process made a Gradius game that's actually pretty damn fun. The Syndrome still exists, but for the first time in forever the dread beast was restricted. This space was toxic to the dread beast GREED, and Axelay contained the red dust which would kill it. The experimental compound, MODE-7. Axelay is riddled with it, a curved horizon that beckons the player.

Axelay hits all the right notes. Good gameplay, good music, and it looks lovely. The single best innovation, however, is its complete and utter subversion of the typical shmup dynamic. Usually in these things, you start off weak as butter and collect powerups from fallen foes. The powerups help you kill more things, and let you do it without much fuss. A death results in everything being lost, and you are now weak as butter again... but still facing the difficult hordes of foes. Death after death will rack up, and you are now in the Nigh-Impossible State. Axelay's genius in this regard. There are no powerups. You select three weapons at the beginning of a stage, and you can cycle through them at will. All three have their uses and are generally very effective against killing the hordes of enemies. A hit from an enemy projectile, however, will destroy your current weapon and leave you with a dinky pea-shooter. You are forced to switch to a new weapon, and it may not be the one you were hoping for in that segment. Things have become more difficult for you, but not impossible. The true wonder comes when you finally do mess up again and your ship is destroyed.

You respawn with all of your weapons intact. The Nigh-Impossible State, reversed. Your terrible situation has been averted. The only cost? A life of your life bar, and this game has limited continues. Axelay understands. It knows that a lost life is enough of a punishment. Lose too many lives and you're done, but it doesn't need to drain all of them for one mistake. The dread beast GREED isn't here to lust for pretend quarters. It can sit there and be a challenging game without smiting you where you stand for daring to err, as humans do. There's hope for the future yet.

God, do I love Axelay.

Monday, 23 June 2014

I Casts The Spells That Makes The Peoples Fall Down (Magic Darts, Magic Johnson's Fast Break, The Magic Of Scheherazade)

We have talked, in great length now, about how the entire scope of our project (and indeed, in most projects) has a foundation rooted in Lady Capitalism, the Beginning and the End. This vast expanse goes on for longer than one can fathom, a scheme built on the back of human history. Creation in the name of making money... but creation had that nasty side effect of creativity. Old British people's attempt to make money in 1963 created a transcendent blue box. Middle-aged American people's attempt to make money in 2010 created a fervor of friendship. Old Japanese people's attempt to make money in 1985 with video games intersected with old American's people failed attempt at the same thing two years earlier, and the Nintendo Entertainment System was born. A grey box that uses the CVE of imagination, and computer chips brimming with god knows how much of the Goddess Valya, to bring entertainment and enjoyment to the masses. What other words is there to describe this besides "magic"? Now the magic becomes apparant. Now we delve in.

Magic Darts surprised me. It really and truly did surprise me. I was expecting crap. What I got was... servicable. I have a bit of a history with darts. I never really played the game, but my family has done so quite often. Numerous dart trophies and plaques in my parents' basement, for instance. Even a full-fledged dartboard hung there until recently, unused and taking up space. Come to think of it... that same basement is also where the magic happened with my Nintendo when I was young. That dartboard would have been right there on the wall as I ventured through Darkwing Duck on the weekends, or tried to master the madness of Castlevania II with a hintbook in hand. As it turns out, Nintendo and darts don't make such an odd alchemic mix after all. Magic Darts ended up being a little fun, and I got the hang of it quick. You select the angles of your shot horizontally and vertically, then the power... and you see what you get. It is intuitive and maybe a little fun. Plus you can play as a robot. Who the fuck doesn't want to play as a dart-throwing robot?

Magic Johnson's Fast Break. There's a kind of magic here. A magic that makes the typical trash sports game that I usually dread writing words about... almost good. In a prototype NBA Jam 2-on-2 sort of sense, but without any of the mild insanity that game brought upon the world. No, I almost had fun with this. Not a complete fun, but much more than something like Hoops or Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf. I say almost because there's still that level of intuition I'm missing. Even with two buttons, there's variations on offense and defense that I am missing. Still, it remains satisfying to score a shot. That part is simple enough, you just hit the button when you're near the other hoop. It's defense that gets me. I liked the darts more than this, and yet I am incompetent at both sports in real life. Either way, the fact that both are tolerable as opposed to outright dreck is itself a miracle... but the true magic is yet to come.

Scheherazade beckons with her magic, and I must answer her call. I myself have become the Scheherazade, haven't I? Three times a week I tell the ongoing stories of Nintendo, in order to keep this project from facing its demise. It lay cold and lonely for a long time until I took up the mantle, becoming the new Lord Of Fiction and creating the Valya and the Nightmare... or did the Valya and the Nightmare create me? Whoever created this, whatever cultured brain brought it forth with their ritual... they brought forth a hidden gem. A true thing of beauty. Choose your starting class? Magician, of course. An echo of things to come, the ultimate power in the universe. One who wields the arcane and the alchemic, the divine and the profane. Right now we start out small. We run around in an overworld inspired by Endless Adventure, and swing our sword at bandits. Talk to the townspeople for clues. The high water mark comes when a clue leads us to a pier to the east, near the grassy shores. Our companion finds a "time door". Time itself bends to our will, and we slip 50 years into the past. We fall out of the world, and enter something completely different. A dark place, with trees of teal and blackened skies. The past is a grotesque animal, and so is the password. I want to keep going with this quest. Before we do, one final ritual of magic.

The Magician beckons, and his power shall be great.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Saturday Pancaking (June 21st, 2014)

I can cook breakfast too if I want. So, let's talk about this here blog. When it started about a year ago, I was posting articles every weekday. That burned me out pretty quick, so I attempted to go for a thrice-weekly update schedule. Then Nanowrimo happened and that burned me out a little, and then some shit happened in March and CAMP Nanowrimo happened and now I'm lucky to post a Nintendo Project post once a week. Long days working outside on home renovations will do that to you. Sap your attention. Keep you from wanting to play Nintendo games and write about pretend Nintendo game gods.

So, here is what we will strive to do from now on. I'm going to take a page from the book of an nice fellow named Froborr. A certain Constant Reader pointed me his way, and he wrote a lot of excellent words about Madoka Magica. Madoka Magica being one of the best goddamn Japanese cartoons I've ever seen, but I won't get into that yet for reasons. Anyway, what this guy does is simple enough. He posts twice a week about his important analysis stuff, and the rest of the days are devoted to just... whatever's on his mind. I think I'll try and do that. The current plan will be to use Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as Nintendo Project days. I will do my best to stick to that schedule and write words about Nintendo games and the pantheon I accidentally created. The rest of the days (not sure about weekends yet) will be used for whatever's on my mind. I'll do what I can to keep it on-topic and interesting. I doubt I'll need a proper Saturday Pancaking thread like Mr. Sandifer because... well, a lot of you are Constant Readers but there's little in commenting going on here. That's fine and I'm glad you're enjoying the words I put here. If I'm wrong, of course, and you'd like a weekly comment thread thing... well, prove me wrong.

I'd better get myself sorted for tabletop gaming today. Call of Cthulhu. Very exciting. Rolling with a new guy after my first PC was ripped in half by a thousand-mawed monstrosity. It's a lovely game. See you soon.

Oh yeah, and I made a new Let's Play for the first time in six months. It's Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins Kai. Hope you like it.

Friday, 20 June 2014

It All Returns To Nothing (Mach Rider, Mad Max, The Mafat Conspiracy)

There's an addendum to be made. Phil Sandifer says that M.U.L.E. isn't really about capitalism at all. If you try to out-capitalism everyone else in there without giving a fig about the economy, you will destroy it. A planet laid to waste by the dread beast GREED's insatiable hunger for money. Irresponsibility, put to point in a Nintendo game. So M.U.L.E. is probably a lot better than I gave it credit for; I'd wager that if I had a PC version of it with instructions, I would enjoy it more. That's not the point here. The point is that this new reading of M.U.L.E. sets us up perfectly for the current entry. That game has a copyright on it of 1983, and it's in 1983 when the same sort of thing happened. The Video Game Crash, when Capitalism almost killed the entire concept of video games. 1983 was also when smarter capitalists in Japan invented the Famicom, and two years later the smart capitalists who killed video games brought it over as a grey box and saved the day. One of the video games they sold with the grey box came in a black box. It was called Mach Rider, and in that game you're a biker in the year 2112. A year ravaged by evil forces. In this wasteland, all you can do is ride. Ride down the road at fast speeds and attempt to avoid being rear-ended by evil go-karters gone mad. It is a fun enough game, albeit difficult. We have often referred to the Dance Apocalyptic and the Cold War here, but this is its own thing. In the wake of the Crash, we have the state of video gaming condensed. A desolate place where crazy people try cutthroat driving tactics in order to survive. To make more money, though money has become meaningless. What is valuable in this world?

Food, water, and gas.. The black oil will flow, after we experience death by a thousand scenarios. Global thermonuclear war, a zombie plague, Captain Trips, drilling too deep into the Earth's core. Whatever it was, it caused almighty Peko the Destructor to swing her blade across the planet. Now only the madmen remain, hoarding their supplies. Some sane folk survive, of course. The biker. The road warrior. Mad Max, they call him. He drives across the dreary cracked roads, only the sounds of his engine keeping him company. The Bangles are not at #1, nor is Kate Bush or Peter Gabriel. The radio only replies with static. All we have are the sounds of the engine, and exploding dynamite thrown from rubber fortresses. We can raid a base and put some raving lunatics out of their misery. In the absence of capitalism, we have bartering. Trade your food and water for gas... or if you dare, an arena pass. Compete for glory and victory, at risk of your car being rammed off an edge and exploding in a burning heap with you inside. So that's always nice. It's not very fun, but once Trenzalore has come the fun must end. While we're here, we can see what sparked this entire tiff that blew up the powder keg. Trenzalore herself is nothing more than a Mafat Conspiracy, after all.

Ah yes. The Mafat Conspiracy. That heady incident involving a crashed satellite and threatening letters sent to the Americans and the Soviets. The only man who could handle this nonsense was... expert sniper Duke Togo. For some reason. Journey to Paris, home of the six Mona Lisas, and find that B jumps and A attacks. Backwards and odd, but Duke Togo never plays by the rules. He cannot quite stop the end of the world, because he enters buildings and finds men who throw fucking kunai at him... and he can't draw his gun fast enough to stop them. He's an expert sniper, not a quick draw whiz. Christ, Duke, get your act together. I thought you blew up robot Hitler's brain! How did you even manage that? God, no wonder Peko struck us all down. You have potential, Duke, but you need to straighten up and fly right. No wonder video games died... but the Lady Capitalism accidentally created a higher power when she brought forth the grey box.

She created magic.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

I'm On My Way, I'm Making It (M.C. Kids, M.U.L.E., M.U.S.C.L.E.)

The good starship Nintendo Project has made her way to the world of M. What do we find to begin with? The foe of Communism herself, the very essence of entropy that the Dread Beast GREED pays homage to at his shrine of sawblades and slot machines. Here, then, are three worlds ruled by a new entry into our ridiculous pantheon. The Goddess Of Greed, Lady Capitalism. A billowing dress made of currency flows against the invisible winds of the cosmos as we venture into her realm. This is something that we must accept, as part of the Nintendo Project. These video games have their various merits, and the grace of Valya's breath has inspired some of their creators. At the end of the day, though, it is Lady Capitalism who keeps things alive. The games we are looking at here were made to make money for their creators and license owners. Video games are a business... as is fast food. Witness current events as we glance at M.C. Kids, a platforming game with a heaping dose of high-fructose corn syrup courtesy of McDonald's. It borrows heavily from a little video game called Super Mario World. At the end of all things, at the beginning of the downfall of this realm... it is Lady Capitalism who strikes while the iron is hot. She keeps the fire going for another three years, and staves off the dropping blade of the Destructor. Not so much to preserve cultural touchstones and create the unlimited spark of creativity for the twilight years of the NES... but to make money. This is why Mega Man 5 was on NES and not the Super Nintendo. Fiscal graphs and pie charts and investments dictated it as such. We have seen behind the curtain, and it is Lady Capitalism on a bed of money, her eyes seductive and inviting. Lay with her, and the world is yours.

Which world? Any world. Go to a new planet on behalf of your lover's interest. Earn money by mining with robotic mules, or M.U.L.E.S as they should be called. Rowdy Roddy Piper found the truth with the magic sunglasses. THIS IS YOUR GODDESS. M.U.L.E. is probably a very good game when you have friends. Indeed, it appears to have a four player mode... although the NES itself, the alchemical box, only has two controller ports. To extend this and play with two more, purchase a Nintendo Four Score. Use your Lady's currency to earn more money for her. Strip mine the planet bare, buy, sell, buy buy buy sell sell sell make money make money consume purchase consume. Having conquered planet Earth in the 1980s, and defeating the socialist scourge with her cavalier, Reagan... the good Lady Capitalism has set her sights on other worlds. The galaxy is her oyster, and for a man like me this is all just nonsense. These numbers mean nothing and I don't understand half of what I'm dicking around with. This is a relic best appreciated with time, and I have chosen the socialist approach to playing it with my half-baked emulation of the damn thing. With the power of the Internet and my own grey morals, the data files present in the fifty dollars of plastic and microchips that Lady Capitalism's agents attempted to sell now belongs to the state. Is the Goddess Valya a Communist agent? Who the hell knows?

The licensing train doesn't end here. Have a tie-in based on a line of tiny action figures. M.U.S.C.L.E. The marketing agents of the Lady say that you'll see a 19% increase in sales if you use an acronym. Those goddamn idiot kids think acronyms are cool as hell. We don't even know what M.U.S.C.L.E. fucking stands for yet! We just bought the rights to some Kenny-man manga from Japan and sold the figures here! We bought the video game rights while we were at it, too! It's wrestling! You know, like Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant! What? What do you mean the game's shit? There's no indication of what to do? There's a super orb that the CPU opponent can get that makes them kick your ass even faster? Who gives a shit, they bought the game! So yes. M.U.S.C.L.E. is kind of trash. While we're in the world of wrestling, I just had a thought. A current wrestler on the WWE is a burly Russian brute named Rusev. His manager is a sexy Russian lady named Lana, and every time she comes out she talks shit about America and praises Vladimir Putin. It is somewhat related to what we are talking about here (capitalism/socialism and wrestling)... and it even fits the time period, too. M.U.S.C.L.E. came out in 1986, and that's what Lana and Rusev feel like. A gimmick from 1986 dredged up to try and make the WWE money.

Frankly, the only place we can go from here is the end of the world.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Wistful Thoughts At One-Eighth Earth's Gravity (Loopz, Low G Man, Lunar Pool)

Loopz is an NES game that I went into completely blind. This turned out to be a mistake. These games were not created to be played blindly. You were meant to open a cardboard box and remove a pristine cartridge from inside. Maybe it came with one of those dark game sleeves, with Nintendo emblazoned on it in red. I never used those things. Maybe I should have. It would help the contacts not collect dust. Not that I'd know that then. More importantly, the game would have come with a manual. Something to tell you how to play. Notably, on the Japanese side of things, Shinya Arino of Game Center CX always goes into his challenges blind. If things should stump him, only then does he resort to the manual. Maybe Japanese sentiment rewards beating a game without looking at the controls or secrets in the manual as some sort of cool thing. I mention all of this because I have absolutely nothing to say about Loopz on NES. It is a game whose point completely baffles me. From what I can gather, you hit buttons and make shapes that resemble tetrominoes, of all things. A puzzle game with tetrominoes. It'll never work. You do this by hitting the button on a grid of green and make the grid red. The shapes get weird, and you can't make a shape if there's any red over it. It's hard to explain, and the point of the game is lost on me. I could educate myself, but it's not intuitive at all. Bleh.

Rather amazingly for me, "not intuitive at all" is a well description for Taxan's Low G Man. I should properly talk about gravity again, since we have a game where the protagonist is literally named Low G Man. He also, to quote some angry Nintendo reviewer from somewhere, "jumps like he's on the goddamned moon". I wasted the Talking Heads song quote on Mega Man 5. Shit. Well, like I said. Not intuitive at all. You shoot bullets at robots with the B button but it only freezes them. Great. A game where you can only freeze your enemies? Soon the screen was crawling with them, but then I realized. You freeze the enemies, and then you can do a jumping attack. Thrusting down with some sort of spear. Gravity! After that, Low G Man became... pretty fun! There's a certain satisfying charm to spear attacking dudes from below. This is not an unsung classic of the NES. Nor is it the dreck and detritus of the system. Low G Man is what you mostly got with the NES. A servicable action game for a small child to play in their free time. Something to rent from the video store, to spend a casual weekend on, when not playing outside or watching cartoons. I'd dare to call it quintessential NES. It's not your big name game, but I imagine there being some sort of nostalgia for it from people. It's that kind of game. There are a few games that I hold in that regard myself. Castlevania II, for instance. Or WURM. There's an entry to look forward to.

Hell, here's one more I remember: Lunar Pool. Of course, I didn't remember it as Lunar Pool. Turns out I remembered it as Lunar Ball, from a 31-in-1 pirate cart. You want to talk about nostalgia, well here's this thing. It even had games that never got official English releases on NES. Like Popeye, or Circus Charlie. Lunar Pool is... well, pool. With a background that suggests it's played on the moon. I'm not sure if low gravity is in effect here, but oh well. Everything I just said about nostalgia is true for Lunar Pool. Playing it now, it's just pool. Nothing to get excited for, and hardly the best thing on NES... but then I think of being 7 years old again, in that same place where I played Dr. Mario and the other three Super Mario games, fiddling with 31 in 1 and making my way through all these games. The wonders of Popeye and Circus Charlie and god knows who else... as well as Lunar Ball, with its very nice music. I was fascinated. Here I am, over 20 years later and playing a dim reconstruction... and writing about it for the people of the future. Despite all that, I'm still maybe only a mile or two from where it all went down. I actually saw 31 in 1 again recently, at a comic book store. I lacked the funds to get it, but for just a moment we crossed paths again. How lovely a relic she was. How lovely a letter L was. We cross out of this galaxy, having begun... Jesus, in February? With that horribly morose post about how my friends "saved" me? God in heaven.

Well, on to M. We may have prematurely dealt with its biggest hitters... but there's another one I'm looking forward to. A Dark Queen that must be praised, a mythic force among herself.

All praise be to the Huntress, Champion of Peko The Destructor.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

They Sleep In My Mind (Little Samson, Lode Runner, The Lone Ranger)

Huh? What were we talking about again? Feels like I've been asleep for three months or something. We passed out on the couch watching some movie about kung fu brothers, or some such bullshit. Then the weird dreams. Childhood and faith in friends overflowing. A bunch of sonnets about a little blue guy. Still, I'm up now. Let me rub the gunk out of my eyes and tell you about... Little Samson? Now there's one that was forgotten. You can easily go over what "everyone knows" about Little Samson. Really, the point is that not many people know about Little Samson. It's a Taito game that came out in 1992, well after the Super Nintendo. The NES was already dying, and the populace at large didn't give a fig about it. Little Samson, then, became an alchemic object defined by its scarcity. I know that it is one of the rarest Nintendo carts. In fact, experiment time. I'm going to look it up on Ebay. Right now. Four hundred dollars at least. Jesus. Rarer and more desired than even Earthbound. An object defined by its forgotten nature. It was good enough to want, but nobody in 1992 wanted it. By the time the ROM pirates sailed the seven seas of the Internet and discovered the treasures within, it was too late. It was a rarity. Something to be hoarded in a dragon's den. That's half of the story when it comes to Little Samson. Let me tell you who it reminds me of; another forgotten face. A man who called himself L0rdVega. With an 0. He was a Let's Player, a somewhat famous one back in the heady days of 2008 or so. He briefly had a thing going with one of my other LP friends, and then they broke up and he fell out of the world. Where did he go? We don't know. We may think of him at times like this, but for the most part he sleeps in the back of the mind. Forgotten. Just like Little Samson, he slumbers deep within the mind's eye. Now and again, he will escape... but escape is difficult. You can ask Lode Runner about that.

Oh, this is an old one. The title screen says 1983. 1984. Some guy is locked away in a dark place and needs to get all the gold, and avoid the other guys running around trying to blink him out of reality. Are we inside the dragon's den now? Is the gold part of his hoard? Run, Lode Runner. Scoop up the copies of Little Samson. There's a complete in box Earthbound there as well, still in the shrink wrap! My god, if you make it far enough you might even find Stadium Events! The pinnacle of rarity! Dare we wish for Nintendo World Championship? These names hold a certain power, and the electronic worlds they create are altered by them. Most of these rarities are moreso regrets. The world had its chance at cheap Earthbound, when the clearance sales happened. Few of you cared. A vision comes to me now. A nice young man looking at Mega Man 6 on the cheap, and taking advantage of the deal. Not to hold it on a shelf, but to enjoy it. Is Lode Runner held on shelves? Probably, but not as an object of scarcity. I can get a complete copy for less than 25 dollars if I so chose. It is a game. A game with puzzles to solve that is fun, maybe.

Now the world of collecting has collapsed into anarchy. Like the Old West, a world of bandits charging ludicrous prices for pieces of rare plastic with microchips inside. We need a hero. A Lone Ranger. This one is a rarity. Not just in collectible terms, where it will run one 30 dollars for just the plastic... but in terms of gameplay. It reminds me of Zelda 2 and its endless adventure, except top-down. And in the Wild West. With shops and punching and shooting and my god this is brilliant and I want more of it. Oddly enough, I don't even remember it for that. No, I remember it for one last forgotten relic of the past. Nintendo Power. We've talked about it before. Or someone else did. We must really sit down and discuss it proper, but Nintendo Power itself is a forgotten relic now. They do not make them any more. The Lone Ranger is where Howard Phillips bowed out. After helping a spiky-headed punk repel a bandit attack, he gave away his bow tie and rode off into the sunset. Like L0rdVega would 20 years later. I don't know where either of them went, but I like to think that they had adventures too numerous to name.

And that's how I choose to remember it.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Mega Man Unlimited

So, we just spent quite a lot of time talking about Mega Man out of sequence. I'm not quite done talking about Mega Man, but in the context of the NES I am. Incidentally, I really need to come up with a name for these non-Nintendo Project posts. I know Phil has "Pop Between Realities" on TARDIS Eruditorum, but I need to think up a good Nintendo-related one. Expansion pak? Disk system? Controller 2? Help me out here, if you're reading and clever.

We'll be back tomorrow with regular programming. I believe Little Samson is the next game after Little Nemo and the power of dreaming. To finish off the whole Mega Man thing, I'm going to link a review that I wrote recently; a review of a Mega Man fan game called Mega Man Unlimited. See, Mega Man didn't really "die" with the NES. The classic series eked out two or three more games before going quiet in the '00s. Then they came out with two new games that were styled after the old NES games, and they were bloody brilliant. Then things went quiet again, and that's what we're looking at now. Look, I go into it a bit more in the review proper.

So please. Read all about Mega Man Unlimited over on Sliders 'n Socks. Hope you enjoy it. See you tomorrow.

Monday, 2 June 2014

May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor (Mega Man 6)

(Well, here we are. Mega Man 6. The last one on NES, but not the last one proper. The Mega Man series would go on, but for Nintendo Project purposes... this is the last song for our hero in blue. Fitting, then, that the focus of this entry is from well after the NES was dead. The true last days of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Here are some memories of Mega Man 6 and the end of the whole mess, courtesy of a Mr. "CarpetCrawler". Fare thee well, Mega Man.)

Does anybody else miss Funcoland? Because I sure as hell do.

Hell, in that same regard, I miss GameStop. No, I know GameStop is still around, that's not what I mean. I'm not talking about this Power to the Players bullshit, or the cramped and overly-professional, fake, and completely impersonal look the store has now. But I miss the way things used to be. Wall-to-wall of older video games and also enough space to fit newer ones. I have so many memories of both Funcoland and GameStop and the retro goodies I got my hands on. The Power Glove. The Game Genie. Holy shit they made educational Mario games? No, I don't want your cleaning kit. Yes, I understand that you guys hawk them so much because you make commission on them, it doesn't not make them a ripoff.

This one Funcoland that was right next to our mall (which had a Planet Comics, Eletronics Boutique, and GameStop inside, which made no sense to me. Granted the only one that carried retro games in the mall was EB, and its “retro” was a bunch of really common Game Boy games) even had one of the coolest things ever, this really neat-o Mario statue doing his V-for-victory pose. Clearly from before Miyamoto decided that pose was too silly to have Mario keep doing.

Sadly, reality crept in and once it became clear that selling the older games was doing nothing profitable and taking away space from newer games, they changed their business model and started phasing the retro games out. All of those weekly trips to Funcoland by the mall, the GameStop nearby that really oddly designed pizza place, now they're gonna be a rarity or just a once in a blue moon kinda thing. And that's exactly what happened. The retro game collecting bubble didn't start to grow until the rise of using eBay and Amazon and other websites, so GameStop had no justifiable reason to continue selling their old stock. They had already destroyed the Mom and Pop used game shops in our area, and anything else that tried to start up in their wake died out because they just didn't have the game coverage. We even had a cool little game store that sold import games (the first shop I had ever seen that sold Japanese games. I was so tempted to buy Mario Story there before the game came out here, not knowing any better and not realizing the game wasn't going to work anyway.)

Now what does this have to do with Mega Man 6? Don't worry reader, we're almost there.

Other than hoping to find luck with thrift stores it was pretty hard to hunt for NES games for a bit for me. But then alas!! Hollywood Video, a now long-gone video/DVD rental chain that was Blockbuster's only competition, had opened up a little area next to their store for video games, and it even had old games!! Walls of neat accessories, consoles games hidden in a glass counter (a practice that I'm seeing everyone try now), it was like a nice new haven for the games I enjoyed the most. The place even had a silly name: GameCrazy.

I wish I had only happy memories of GameCrazy. I did get some good deals there, but the employees that worked there were miserable, greedy collecting misers. I am still angry that I was too young to put my foot down on the asshole that refused to sell me a "Not For Resale" copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time because they wanted it. No but like seriously, I was a coy 10, 11, 12 year old whatever my age was so I knew that that was a valuable little cartridge, but who does that to a little kid? What kind of grown-ass manchild do you have to be? I'm still salty over that. In general that was my main problem with the store, the employees either didn't know video games (later on I learned that they started putting main-room people in there to do shifts sometimes, which explains that) or were too busy being conceited gamers and it made for a miserable experience sometimes. Video game stores are always extremely intimidating. Employees are too judgemental and will lambast you for your taste in gaming, whether to your face or behind your back.

Good memories though are a-plenty. Buying Bubble Bobble!! Local Smash Bros. tournaments!! I don't know why but I even remember buying specifically The Adventures of Dino-Riki!! That game is one tough tamale. We even reserved new games from there. Dynasty Warriors games were my obsession for a brief while when I was younger (I still play 'em but holy jeez I used to play those games all day when I got home from school) and I reserved one or two from there!! And then there were the days when Mom felt like browsing the movies section, and me finally starting to introduce myself to horror movies I'd run over to the horror film rentals and read the boxes.

But my best memory is plopping down somehow only $15 to pick up today's Nintendo Project subject, Mega Man 6. And the sucker even had the instruction manual. Hell I was like 12 or 13 when I bought the game there and even then I realized they clearly weren't pricing it properly. But oh well, their loss is my gain. It won't be the first time I benefit from an improper game price in the future.

Now, before we get ahead of ourselves here, let me remind you all that I am strange with my Mega Man tastes. I cannot stand 4, it's my least favorite Mega Man and I'm happy that I finally beat it recently because it was the monkey off of back of the NES Mega Man games, the only one I had not beat. And I love, LOVE Mega Man 8. Most everyone agrees that 8 has one of the best soundtracks in the game, but to me everything about it is fantastic, from the gameplay to the mechanics, to the Robot Masters, and even the cheesy cutscenes have a place to me. Heck, 8 is better than Rockman and Forte to me. Yes I did go there.

When I purchased the game, I had already known ahead of time that 6 was considered the "weakest" of the franchise. And it's true, Mega Man was clearly running out of steam and Capcom was already planning out his cooler alternate, X. Heck, Capcom didn't even want to publish the game for North America. Nintendo of America had to do it. And looking at the plot of this game, I can understand the flak it gets. Like, are we really kidding ourselves here? Mr. X? Were they even trying anymore? At least 5 had the appeal of Proto Man going rogue, and 4 actually technically had a new villain in Dr. Cossack.

Sometimes I feel like they were trying to be ironically funny by putting no effort into making Mr. X look pretty much the exact same as Dr. Wily. But at the same time it's just... what does it accomplish? And knowing at Mega Man X was being made at the same time just adds to the overall feeling of "literally who cares, just finish the game already" from this game. And it's a shame too, because for all of its goofy cheesiness, the game's actually pretty... good?

This game was special even before it was developed. Japan had long been holding contests to let kids send in their own designs for robot masters, but this time Nintendo of America was also involved!! Nintendo Power held a contest where if you sent in your own robot master, there was a chance it would be featured in the game as well!! So which robot master came from North America? YAMATO MAN.

OK, OK, I may be full of shit.

Knight Man and Wind Man are the two that came from here. Knight Man is a pretty cool looking robot while Wind Man... well, his music is pretty cool. And he happens to be one of the easiest robot masters to beat.

Lamest looking robot master? Probably Centaur Man. Which is a shame because his game track is easily the best, and far and away one of my favorite tracks in the entire franchise. Just a super pretty chill tune that has been ripe for some AMAZING remixes, like this mix, which is just lovely.

In general this game has some strong music. Mr. X's theme is another track that stands out in particular. Sure it's kinda lazy of them to use it for all four of his stages, but I'm glad it's a legit good song. I don't mind hearing it for four straight levels to be honest. The Mega Man games are known for having good soundtracks, but this game everyone tends to sell short when it's honestly some of the best Mega Man music in the franchise. For real, give the soundtrack a shot, you won't be disappointed. It might be a little different from the other games (this feels like hard-rock-ish than the others to me) but it's still a great listen and I think the alternative style makes it a cut above some of the other Mega Man games.

If there's one thing I'm not happy with it's the loss of Rush. Rush is adorable!! How dare they get rid of him!! I like Mega Man's new power-up system (he has "Rush Adaptors" which allows him to fly for an extended period of time or give him a super-powered punch that is necessary to use if you want to find all of this game's secrets) and the Energy Balancer is INGENIUS and literally everything that Mega Man fans had wanted all-along, but it's all not the same without my adorable robotic dog. Capcom apparently understood this and brought him back for the future installments.

You also won't hear me praising this game's difficulty. Of all of the Mega Man games, this one is probably one of the easiest to gimmick. Buster-only, Power Mega Man-only, and various other gimmicks are pretty easy to do in this game. But I'm not one to think that if a game's too easy then it's clearly bad.

My cartridge of this game holds a lot of special value to me. My blossoming into a major collector of NES games is a period of my life that I kinda wish I could relive the experience of. Just the idea of looking eBay and various websites and being like, "I'm gonna have ALL of these!!" and finding the random NES game I don't have in a thrift shop or garage sale. I'm only about 60% done, but owning 493 NES cartridges is no feat to sneeze at.

Mega Man 6 is one of my first ever truly special good deals I've ever had as an NES collector. For both the cartridge and manual I paid only like, $15 for it, which was unheard of then, let alone now. It wouldn't be my last truly special deal, but it was the first one I was especially proud of. It was the first one that made me feel like a collector. Hence it holds a special value to me, as well as a special place in my heart.

Of course, the game is pretty all right, too. ;)