Wednesday, December 26, 2012

We interrupt this blog...

When I'm not writing about video game ads here, I have another blog wherein I present gamebooks, video games' neglected and spurned half-siblings, in the HTML which they always cried out for -- allowing a certain automatic internal linking which facilitates their "play". During a certain critical window, circa 1983-1986, their kinship to video games was more apparent, and indeed they were advertised in a similar way -- with ads in comic books, two variant paths to the heart of a reluctant reader.
Because that blog has just celebrated a milestone of its own, quick on the heels of our milestone here, I just shared there an artefact of that brief moment over overlap in the Venn diagram of these two different families of gaming, and so, like a comic book crossover between rival countries, I will also now post a gamebook ad found in comic books here.
Are you ready for fantastic adventures?
The choice is yours!


Here, at last, are books that go beyond reading to real challenge and adventure. Books in which you choose the endings, you make the decisions, you shape the direction the stories turn, you become the hero. Get into the action now! Available wherever books are sold. Join the CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE FAN CLUB! Write for details

I don't know that "challenge" is the correct way to describe the puzzle of working your way through a CYOA book. They have happy endings, and unhappy endings, and many, apparently value-neutral choices. To avoid being overly didactic and goody-two-shoes (kids hate that) rather than reinforcing good behavior with good endings, every choice is like taking a spin on the wheel of fortune where BANKRUPT is replaced by SUDDEN AND ARBITRARY DEATH. Story endings fly fast and furious, and are rarely predictable from what came before. Typically the stories don't follow a consistent world model, so a character who can help the character in one plot fork may still be present, but as an antagonist, in another one... so on subsequent replays, prior knowledge of the game won't necessarily help players to make good choices! It's a challenge in the same way that playing pachinko is a challenge. So it is with choosing the endings, like a blindfolded man throwing darts, and shaping the direction the stories turn... like a rat running a fresh maze.

One thing these books did revel in was genre. The artwork in this ad comes from the cover art of a book entitled War With the Evil Power Master. Is he a Master of Evil Powers or a Power Master who is Evil? Where's an Oxford comma when I need one?

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Moon Patrol", 1983.

Things have been slow on this end, but as this blog just surpassed 4000 views, I thought I ought to do something to celebrate... toss a bone to the quiet readers who have been appreciating our increasingly long tail here. So here's another ad-as-comic-strip, one of my favorite styles due to the neat dovetailing with the comic book medium in which these ads were being published! Nothing as nice as the TurboGrafx-16 centrefolds we've seen, but it's still a nice piece of work. This advertises both the version for the popular Atari 2600 and the ill-fated, incompatible 5200 (which eventually, like the ColecoVision and IntelliVision, got an adaptor allowing 2600 cartridges, but ... too little too late.)
Neil Armstrong: "Houston, this is Apollo. I'm on the ladder !"
Mission Control: "Roger, we've got the picture!"
Neil Armstrong: "That's one small step for... Hey, somebody's up here !!"
Mission Control: "Are you buggy ? ? ?"
Neil Armstrong: "No, a moon buggy!!"
"Neil Armstrong: "It's jumping over craters and blowing up rocks!!!"
Mission Control: "Apollo, what's it like up there?"
Neil Armstrong: "It's just like in the arcade!

I could tell you that Moon Patrol is awesome, but you already know that. I could pass along the apocryphal note that it was the first game allowing score continuation after death with a new coin (and hence the end of the "high score = further anyone got on one credit" era), but, well, I just did.
I dig the way they situate this weird videogame situation, mashing it up with actual lunar history. Of course, Armstrong's moonwalk mission was Apollo 11, while the US wouldn't be using lunar rovers on the surface until Apollo 15, 16 and 17 in 1971 and '72. (Thank you, Wikipedia!) So is what we're seeing here the earlier Soviet Lunokhod rover? Nope -- that was still a year after "One small step..." Sadly, this comic strip must just be conceived as a writer's whimsy and not an actual rigorous extrapolation from known events. Moon Patrol: it's not historical canon.
The panels aren't especially well-used -- only one full panel is devoted to a depiction of gameplay -- though perhaps that suffices, as further panels wouldn't look much different. The dialogue is predictably weak -- a single "buggy" pun in place of humour. The parting line, "It's just like in the arcade!" coming from the departing lander, leaves an opening for a tie-in to a home conversion of Atari's 1979 Lunar Lander arcade game, but no such conversion exists, alas! (You could multiplex the games -- first, you need to successfully land the lander, then you have to drive the buggy on patrol. Missed opportunity, Nolan!)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sears Nintendo ad, ~1988

There are a few problems with this ad. I am not the first to notice it, but it bears repeating. As a schoolboy attending a rich kids' school with only a Radio Shack TRS-80 CoCo to his name, it was critical for me to glean information about contemporary trends in kids' culture from whatever sources I could find; I may not have owned a console but I darned well knew what the hot games were; similarly, I didn't see the hit movies but I did manage to piece their plots together from the trading card series. Taking up a position at the magazine rack at the grocery store while my parents shopped for essentials allowed me to learn vital hints and tricks needed to pass games I didn't own and wouldn't play for years to come. Things like a Warp Whistle took on a mythic proportion in my imagination, unconstrained by mere 8-bit games limiting their proportions in the actual. So when ads like this absently mixed up three quarters of their screen shots (but thanks for including each cartridge's identical weight, guys), that really messed with snots like me for whom such second-hand details were a vital pulse, a key link to a world I didn't live in but had to be conversant with.
Zelda II - Adventure of Link. Wt. 8 oz. 49JB64785 - $44.83
Super Mario Brothers II. Wt. 8 oz. 49JB65957 - $42.97
Simons Quest Wt. 8 oz. 49JB65982 - $37.97
Blades of Steel Wt. 8 oz. 49JB65989 - $39.97
Nintendo video game cartridges provide some of the most sophisticated arcade-quality games with impressive graphics, color, music and excitement. Imported. Warranted. Wt. 8 oz
Nintendo Action Set$99.99
Action Set is all you need to play with power! Challenging system's base unit has two microchips to provide superior graphics and sound effects. Ultra-accurate Zapper light gun operates up to 16 ft. from TV by receiving light from the screen; it's so accurate, if you're a fraction of an inch off target, you've missed! Includes Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt game, 2 fast-action controllers, 6-ft. cord and hookup accessories. High-impact plastic housing. Warranted. For ages 8 years and up.
49JB65951 - Wt. 7 lbs. 4 oz. Now $99.99

I know, when you're not the one playing them, all platformers look the same. As you've no doubt noticed by now, they've mixed up the shots to Simon's Quest and Link, and bizarrely used a Super Mario Bros 1 screen shot to represent SMB 2 (it's just more of the same, right? Maybe in Japan...) Now if you don't get a chance to play these games in any kind of depth, it can be deceptive: you can be made to ask yourself if there's a whole aspect to a game you've managed to overlook, or worse yet, if you had misremembered which was which. Either way, misleading illustrations aren't a good thing: hey, Zelda 2 looks just like a Castlevania rip-off! May as well not bother with it.
And yes, there's something distinctly "off" about the illustrations of King Bowser and his troop of chicken-ish Koopas chasing the wild-eyed Super Mario, spokesperson for the performance-enhancing mood-altering properties of 'shrooms.
Now, I must confess to some curiosity over who, at this time, is offering more sophisticated arcade-quality games than Nintendo, barring arcades. "With impressive graphics, color, music and excitement." Sorry, but you know the old rule about video games: graphics, color, music, excitement: pick three. (And which of those descriptors is the "impressive" intended to refer to? Do these games have impressive excitement? And, more worryingly, is the mere presence of color intended to be a selling point at this time?)
On to the Nintendo Action Set. I'm having a hard time categorizing how the word "challenging" is used there, as though I might slap the NES with a glove and propose a duel. Two microchips, eh? Call me when you hit three. You know, if a fraction of an inch is all it takes for me to miss the shot, I think that light gun's accuracy perhaps exceeds my requirements. Good to know it comes with the fast-action controllers, because the lethargic-tedium ones my Colecovision shipped with were really the pits. Which of the unit's many cords are 6 ft.? The controllers'? The power cord? And how kind of them not only to include the necessary hookup accessories, but to crow about it! No soldering required! When they say "high-impact plastic housing" that doesn't mean that the NES will sustain bludgeoning damage, does it? (Perhaps that it will sell well in pre-fab suburban subdivisions.) And then the ad ends with really sad news for your 6-year-old cousin.
One final note; I couldn't be arsed to write up the name and price of every game in their list (though apparently, neither could they -- Dr. Jekyell?  Wizzard and Warrior?), but it's a bit odd to me that the most expensive ones are all sports conversions, among my least-favorite genre. (Is the premise that you get more competitive re-play value out of them, so price them higher?)
OK, that's all here. Mixing up the screen shots is really all it needs to forever live in infamy; all the other oddness is just gravy.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mega Man 2 + Strider, NES, 1989.

As with the Willow ad and the design-related Bionic Commando ad, this one also follows a certain advertising convention of Capcom-published NES games circa 1988-89 even though it advertises two fundamentally unrelated games, Strider and Mega Man 2. "Here are two of the games we're selling, but we didn't want to buy them individual ads!" Just like Bandai!
These games actually do have a connection: beyond being futuristic SF Capcom NES games, they both feature cover artwork (which this scan does no favors to -- but skip to the bottom for better ones!) from the same artist, one Marc Ericksen, a commercial artist who was in the right place at the right time to enjoy a fabulous 20-year run drafting cover artwork for classic games from classic companies. Recently he's launched a portfolio website,, with a specific focus on his game cover artwork, with an eye toward making high-quality prints of them available for sale, for pretty much the first time ever, to nerdy nostalgic art connoisseurs. The blog at that portfolio site is gradually filling up with fantastic details, such as the story of how the pistol ended up in Mega Man's cannon-hand on that cover, or how the Kazakh guard on the cover of Strider was actually an artist he shared studio space with, paleofauna illustrator par excellence Carl Buell, and who turned up in all sorts of Marc's cover artwork whenever a macho model was called for -- often getting punched off of a motorbike, kicked in the face, or in this case, stabbing Strider with a bayonet. In Marc's gallery, you can find endless permutations of Carl suffering abuse, and plenty of beautiful images of game box artwork, including much better images of the art featured on these two games' boxes. If this field interests you at all (and let's face it, would you be here if it didn't?) it's well worth checking out.
Stand by, gamers! Capcom introduces two new thrilling games to its Nintendo series. And as always, the graphics are hot and the action intense.
First, experience the ultimate character adventure game! As MegaMan, you must conquer and control the eight empires of the evil Dr. Wily. But beware of his sinister robots that rule each empire. Their special powers present a unique challenge at every level.
Then, prepare for undercover action as the Strider. Your orders are to enter Russia and infiltrate the Red Army, returning enemy secrets to your superiors. But be extremely cautious. You know what the Russians do to spies!
So get set for radical action in these exciting additions to the Nintendo Entertainment System. From Capcom, U.S.A.
MegaMan 2 Screen Shot
Strider Screen Shot

Radical means going to the root of something, a kind of fundamentalism. (You can see these two words etymologically reunited in the ancient Greek punishment of the "radish up the fundament", but I digress.) I don't know that there's anything especially traditional or "back to the roots" about these games, so we must be talking '80s gnarly surfer-slang instead. As for the "hot"ness of the graphics, let's be fair here: the slightly earlier Strider arcade game was amazing eye candy, but this was just the NES. Now, if we were talking about Bubble Bath Babes... but I digress!So: MM2, the ultimate "character adventure" game. There's a genre designation that was DOA! Like when they called FPS games "ego-shooters." I gather it means a platform game with an iconic mascot?
Strider always confused me. A friend and I rented it overnight back in the day and were expecting something a little more LOTR-ish from the title. This box artwork, though well rendered, also muddled things a little bit -- why is he fighting a cowboy? (Wait, the Old West doesn't maintain a monopoly on floppy hats. You know, I have no idea what the fashion is in Kazakhstan, though the ad glosses over the very specific exoticism as "Russia".) The write-up here seems to frame it as a stealth/intrigue game of sorts, though anyone who has played it will tell you that putting it in those terms would be a big pile of hooey. Indeed, while the MegaMan 2 write-up describes some basic tenets of MegaMan gameplay, the Strider blurb focuses almost entirely on the plot -- plot which you don't even see much of in the game! (Don't get me wrong: I'm a big fan of video game story. I collect game novelizations in hopes of uncovering some supplementary context explaining specifically why I'm supposed to punch these anonymous mooks in the solar plexus over and over and over again. Admittedly I am generally disappointed in this quest, but I carry on idealistically regardless.)
It's a bit baffling why Willow got a whole ad to itself but MegaMan 2 didn't. But in any case -- Capcom didn't need to design a new ad look for these releases, it just got one more scrape out of the bottom of the barrel for this particular design. (There's no way those games could be so precariously balancing on that pedestal!)

Here's an update, straight from Marc's site -- better images of those boxes' cover artwork:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Superman III Movie Sweepstakes, 1983.

One more bit of Superman business, and I'm not sure what's sadder, Superman 64 or this. So, remember that Warner Bros. and DC Comics are basically the same company, and have been since, say, '67 or so. (Conversely, keeping up with the Joneses, Marvel Comics is now part of Disney. The era of the entertainment Keiretsu is truly upon us!) Well, for a while in the early '80s, Atari was part of that corporate family also, hence eg. the 82-86 comic series Atari Force from whence I derive this blog's header artwork. (This continues apace, incidentally; for instance, that same Warner Bros. recently acquired Midway Games, making it owner of, among other things, the Mortal Kombat franchise.)
Enter the Superman III Movie Sweepstakes
and you may win an Atari 5200 Supersystem!
DC Comics and Warner Bros. are giving you a chance to win lots of great prizes! Superman III stars Christopher Reeve and Richard Pryor and, co-stars Jackie Cooper, Marf McClure, Annette O'Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Robert Vaughan, and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane(tm). The star of the Superman III Movie Sweepstakes could be you! No purchase necessary.
First prize. Atari 5200 Supersystem from Atari! It comes with computer and a surprise videogame cartridge unit and two hand controls, and can be hooked up with any television set to provide hours of enjoyment! Value $309.90.
50 Second Prizes! The Great Superman Comic Book Collection, time honored classics featuring the Man of Steel. Value $10.
100 Third prizes! Superman III soundtrack. A 12" 331/3 vinyl disk with all the great sounds of the movie hit of the summer! Value $9.98!
100 Fourth prizes! One jar of SUPERMAN Peanut Butter! Its strength is its great taste. Value $2.19.
1000 Fifth prizes! One year subscription to Superman! Twelve titanic months of adventure with the Last Son of Krypton(tm)! Value $7.20.
Plus: the first 2,500 entrants will receive a free copy of the official Superman III movie poster!
Here's how to enter! ...
So what we have is tentacles 1, 2 and 3 of the same octopus trying to use each other to build up an aura of ineffable coolness. You could win Our Game System by participating in our contest promoting Our Movie, based on Our Comic Book, which we are using to promote both Our Movie and Our Game System IN Our Comic Book. Or as some wag on e2 put it once, "someday you will drive your Sony to the Sony to pick up some more Sony." Do you really need to know / will you care just who all the actors in the movie are in order to enter the sweepstakes in hopes of winning your white elephant, the Atari 5200 (with surprise videogame cartridge -- even the game in the ad is a surprise, revealing only its unsurprising manufacturer)?

I love how despite Warner Bros. being a massive entertainment corporation, they can only spare one of the $309 video game units as a prize for their sweepstakes -- surely the page of advertising was worth at least that much (in lost revenue). But that's okay, since they have other great prizes... like... a jar of peanut butter. I didn't remember that particular product from my youth, but I was a less cynical lad and probably would have clamoured for my mother to buy it. "But mom, it's super-peanutty!"

Wikipedia claims that A video game for Superman III was planned for the Atari 5200 but was never released, giving these sweepstakes a marginally less tenuous (well, for vapourware) connection beyond shared ownership.

Not much else to say but noting signs of the times; movie soundtrack on vinyl, low cost of a year's subscription to the comic, etc. I do dig the hand-drawn rendition of the game console; don't use crisp blueprints, computer-generated imagery or indeed, a photograph (though that peanut butter looks pretty fumetti-ish... and of course, a drawing of a record isn't so much a flight of fancy as a rendition of several circles) -- keep it real by keeping a penciller employed! Gotta say, though, that looks like an awkward place for the controllers to come out for 2-player games. What are those ports on the front for if not controllers?

Monday, December 10, 2012

"The New Adventures of Superman", Nintendo 64, 1999.

How to better follow up a game based on Batman: the Animated series than to do an ad for a game based on its Superman-derived follow-up? From the looks of things I already know of this game, as the notorious "Superman 64", the game so bad it partially contributed to the sinking of the whole console's reputation. I didn't know it had a Playstation port! (That's because it never came to market -- after being torn a new one in the press, the developers made the mistake of fixing the problems introduced into the game after late-breaking interference from the property owners... but found that their ability to use the license had expired in the interim. Messes up the ads when products included in them never end up existing! Also, indicated only by a logo, this promotes a different, far better-received adaptation of the cartoon Titus made for the Game Boy.) Nonetheless, here it is in two different flavours of ads!
Extraordinarily, the newspaper in the ad isn't just Greeked out with Lorem Ipsum, but filled with actual game-relevant text. (Some might speculate that more care went into the ad than into the game.) So here I have transcribed most of it for you...
The New Superman Adventures

  • You have the power - super strength, x-ray, heat vision, flight and more.
  • 16 mission-based levels
  • Battle enemies from the series, "The New Superman Adventures", as seen on Kids' WB
  • Up to 4 players simultaneously.
Buy early and receive a free collector's edition DC comic book.
Ultimate Edition 8 Copyright Daily Planet 1998 * A GREAT METROPOLITAN NEWSPAPER

* Superman clears the air, Metropolis breathes a sigh of relief.
By RON TROUPE, Daily Planet Staff Writer

METROPOLIS - In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, The Man Of Steel has done it again. As you read this, he's back in town and back on duty, cleaning up the skies over Metropolis after the mysterious outbreak of Kryptonite fog.
Using his X-ray Vision (and a special Anti-Kryptonite suit developed by S.T.A.R. labs) to scan the city, Superman has already located and dismantled several of the new Kryptonite fog generators. ...
Finding the remaining generators and the parties responsible is now tops on The Man Of Steel's "To Do" list.
So stand by if you're still seeing green! Truth, Justice, and the American Way are coming to a neighbourhood near you.

"... Truth, Justice, and the American Way are coming to a neighbourhood near you."
Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane and staff photographer Jimmy Olsen are missing and presumed kidnapped. An anonymous caller left a tip saying they were safe and being held in another part of the city. The call could not be...
Who cares about the show airing on WB Kids? Oh wait, WB owns DC... I don't actually have much to say about this particular ad -- the game's notoriety overshadows any remarks I might come up with about the ad. Like Archie's Edsel car, Clark Kent's employment at a newspaper is becoming increasingly dated baggage for the character. Do you think that this lad is a member of Metropolis' Newsboy Legion? Here's the extended re-mix -- while it certainly lends more flavour, I don't think that it carries anything so important as to justify buying 2 pages of advertising over 1, unless of course DC's comics were offering their pages up at a subsidy to this adaptation of their flagship product.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"The Adventures of Batman and Robin", SNES, 1994.

Where was I? Ah yes, I needed to wrap up the Batman thread. This is one of three flavours of licensed game adaptations patterned after this particular manifestation of Batman, his classy mid-'90s art deco cartoon series -- two others were released for the Sega Genesis and Sega CD, with different plots and sequences. They were different games, similarly titled and with the same aesthetic.
Is this the game or the TV show?
Only Alfred(tm) knows for sure.
And he's not talking. So you'll just have to find out for yourself in Konami's The Adventures of Batman and Robin video game. The new 16 meg blockbuster for your SUPER NES. Plunge into the underworld of Gotham City and battle the Dark Knight's archenemies through 8 sinister levels. Each based on actual adventures from the animated TV series. Strap on Batman's utility belt and choose his weapons wisely. 'Cause you'll need more than fast fists to make it to the next crime scene alive.
Hurl a gas grenade and crack up The Joker on a lunch-losing roller coaster ride. Launch your Batarang and prune back Poison Ivy in her evil greenhouse. Then unleash your plastic explosives to unstuff the Scarecrow's plans to strike fear into the populace. Follow the Bat Signal to Konami's The Adventures of Batman And Robin video game. It's all the nonstop action of the animated TV series. Without all those annoying commercials.
Ironically, here we are on a blog exclusively dedicated to annoying commercials. And more specifically, the annoying-commercial-hating annoying-commercial opens with a reference to a famous annoying commercial, Clairol's "only her hairdresser knows for sure" from 1956. Which is, of course, a long time ago, but still much younger than Batman himself.

Do you know the number one way to make future readers snicker at your ad copy? Boast about the file size of your game data as though it's a large quantity.

It's a bit cynical perhaps to suggest that the only thing awaiting Batman's successful survival is just "the next crime scene". Shades of Camus' Myth of Sisyphus. (Surprisingly, I am not the first to come up with this comparison, though if I was two weeks earlier I might have been. It could use more rigor, but this blog is not the place for that variety of rigor, not at least until Camus is adapted into comic book format -- and what kinds of ads will run in those rags?)

And then the curse of the Batman ad: the contractually obligatory grocery list of his accessories and the villains present in this game. In the future, can we just take it as a given that Batman throws Batarangs and drives a Batmobile without being forced to have it painfully spelled out repeatedly? One success of this cartoon series is widening the generally-recognized segment of Batman's Rogue's Gallery, previously restricted to the handful depicted in Adam West's movie. Thanks to the cartoon, we get to continue appreciating the Scarecrow and Poison Ivy's graduation to the A-list (as well as Harley Quinn, who as noted earlier originated in the cartoon) as well as some cutely awkward wordplay here -- pruning back Poison Ivy in her evil greenhouse (what makes a greenhouse evil? its incubation of nightshades?) and "unstuffing" Scarecrow's terroristic plots (with plastic explosives -- typically more often used in the execution of competing terroristic plots.) And of course, only starting in the '90s would a roller coaster ride's "lunch-losing"ness be touted as a selling point. (Really? I will totally purchase this game if Batman is depicted vomiting in it! I'll buy two copies if he is shown soiling his utility belt!) And that's a wrap for Batman! (I know, you were expecting something more... cowl-like?)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Batman - Rise of Sin Tzu", 2003.

Jim Lee's first publication credit was the artwork for "Samurai Santa" back in 1986, and as you can see he hasn't grown that much since. (Come to think of it, I gave that one away while I was liquidating my collection, in the process of which I scanned all these ads. Aw, snap!)
Beyond madness, beyond evil,
and a master of the deadly arts of war, the mastermind Sin Tzu is driven by a lone desire -- to conquer.
Sin Tzu designed by comics legend Jim Lee
Sin Tzu, cunning master of strategy and martial arts, makes history as the first Batman character to debut in a videogame.
Play solo or recruit a friend to defend Gotham City from the new rising evil. 4 PLAYABLE CHARACTERS:
Play as Batman, Robin, Batgirl, or Nightwing.

I know much is made of Harley Quinn's introduction to Batman canon (Batmanon?) via the animated series, but that may bear somewhat more prestige than the dubious distinction of being the first character to come to its canon from a video game. (Where by "come to its canon" we mean: appear in one video game, then quietly sink into obscurity forever.) Sin is no Harley.

So the character has all the tactical acumen of Sun "Art of War" Tzu and a bottomless appetite for victory. Also, a yin-yang sign on his forehead, to signify a profound misunderstanding of Taoist principles. The game can garner kudos for featuring second-stringer bosses and playable protagonist characters beyond the standard A-list, but to look at this ad those are entirely secondary concerns. What this ad wants you to know is that since you are a comics reader, you must respect the work of Jim Lee, who was on the ground floor of Image before, uh, running DC into the ground, an ongoing project. I guess at the time of this game he was only ruining one franchise at a time instead of the entire company simultaneously. Are those fingers or claws? I don't know -- Jim Lee!

In a fair and just world, Flint Dille's involvement would be as pronounced as Jim Lee's. (Yes, of those Dilles.) But in a fair and just world, there would be no need for Batman!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Batman Forever: Double Dose of Doom", LCD game, 1995.

The movie Batman Returns divided the critics, but its sequel united them with noses firmly plugged. Still, it followed in BR's lead in featuring two villains in the film, a template virtually all subsequent Batman flicks have followed. (As best as I can tell, the Joker is the only Batman enemy who warrants a whole movie to himself.) This is one of the very few occasions that I know of where that pattern has followed through to the game, the player fighting multiple enemies with multiple protagonists simultaneously!
BATtle YoUr BrAins OuT
Here we have a specimen of mid-'90s "StUdLyCaPs", so described as a function of... the author's ability to get the letters' case up and down again with such a brief refractory period? ... I don't see how this can work. Two thumbs (literally that's all, the dotted line indicators omitting any other fingers holding the game -- apparently it's flat on the floor, fingerless player mashing their overdeveloped thumbs against it in an orgiastic frenzy) to maneuver two characters around the screen in response to two more? "I'm all thumbs" isn't supposed to be in reply to a good, responsive control scheme! While Tiger handhelds were viewed as being simplistic trifles, I don't know that making them more complicated in this particular way seriously challenged any of their detractors' reservations.

The copywriter has followed the Wired school here: a brief, lurid phrase, ultimately meaningless, presented in toxic ink (the same colours, apparently, as the outside of the game is skinned with, so maybe they were just rolling with the punch. The two-tone character portraits look like Frank Miller's work to me, and conspicuously for this film -- I don't see any nipples on our heroes' body armour.) "Play our game until you are encephalic." Tempting, but...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Batman Returns", SNES, 1993.

Another game of the same name, with more horsepower and a different spin. (A different deadly spin attack? Well, maybe.)

Your windpipe will get a workout when you see what Konami(r) has prepared for you in the Batman(tm) Returns game for Super NES(tm).
But your screams will be drowned out by crunching bones, cracking skulls, shattering glass and other cool CD quality sounds designed to make you cringe.
Because Batman has rapid-fire fists and is a master of flying body slams, spinning judo kicks, double head knocking and other means of maiming. And check out your hero's humungous size. We're talking big!
In seven 3-D movie-like levels, experience the agony of Catwoman's claws, kicks and whip and the ecstasy of pummeling The Penguin and his clan of delinquent clowns, all talented in terrorism.
Inside your cape of fear are Batarangs and test tubes, essential for battling the Tattooed Strongman, the Organ Grinder and the rocket launching Duck Vehicle.
Blow away renegade bikers with the Batmobile loaded with Batdiscs and catapult yourself to safety with your trusty Grappling Hook.
The frigid fiend is chillin' in his way cool lair waiting to put the Caped Crusader on ice. So put on your cowl and put up your dukes. Can't you hear Gotham City screaming for help?!
This ad's design is essentially a perfect marriage between the comic-book origin of the material and the comic-book-readership of the audience. Comics folks like comics! Sell it to them as a comic! And it doesn't matter if the perspective is off or the viewpoint uncertain... comics readers are used to dodginess in that department!

Future references to windpipes getting workouts are to be left on the cutting room floor by notice of the department of good taste and lousy innuendo. Rarely do sound effects take such a forefront role in an ad, and still more rarely yet are you told that they are "designed to make you cringe." But I always cringe when I see "cool CD quality sound" bandied about. Hootie & the Blowfish: cool CD quality sound. FAIL.

The "and other means of maiming" gets a big thumbs up, but the emphasis on his size is again a bit strange -- presumably using a big, detailed character sprite as a selling point where historically it has been a drawback (can't show much on screen at a time; invisible, indefensible attacks often come from off-screen as a consequence).

Uh-oh, more of those regrettable '90s marketing buzzwords! "3-D"! BZZT. "movie-like"! BZZT. There is a reason we're playing 2D video games, and it's not because we want to watch a 3D movie. (If we did, we could play Tempest or S.T.U.N. Runner.) Points for the "agony and the ecstasy" reference, flying way over the comic readers' heads. This copywriter had some fun, between snorts of blow, and isn't afraid to wave his education around. "Cape of fear" is a bit awkward, perhaps a play off of contemporary suspense movie "Cape Fear"? Even this whizkid can't do much with "rocket launching Duck Vehicle." Punch it up a bit, maybe? Nothing can really ice that cake. He was spent after "his clan of delinquent clowns, all talented in terrorism", understandably.

Then the '90s drags the ad back, screaming, into Hades, with "chillin' in his way cool lair". We're talking the Penguin here, not Mr. Freeze, and certainly not Vanilla Ice. Also, the obligatory shopping list of weapons and vehicles is a big drag factor on the prose's flow of otherwise virtuosity.

But the ad is, by weight, more win than fail. I like the way the cartridge's slogan also gets included by virtue of printing the whole box art also. Other points I could comment on but won't! What a pleasure, to have a surplus of material.

(Hey, my blog has contributed to further scholarship! Right on!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Batman Returns", NES, 1993.

Tim Burton may not have known what he was doing with the Batman movies, but it sure was different! The second one hits that sweet spot on the timeline where umpteen different unrelated versions of it are licensed for every machine under the sun. This ad's target audience? Somewhat clueless dad, whose kids still have last generation's console, but isn't being sold on the game by anything remotely related to the content of the cartridge.
Batman Returns for your NES brings it with the misery of a city that has fallen prey to Catwoman, The Penguin, and the Red Triangle Circus Gang. Now as these maniacal freaks tear at the heart of Gotham City in a six-level, jaw-breaking spectacular, you must once again venture into the dark night as Batman. But you'll need more than the Batmobile, Batskiboat and Batarang to tame their fiendish frenzy. You'll need all your fighting skills and the deadly spin attack to thrash hundreds of arch enemies who are looking to destroy you!
"Brings with it the misery of a city that has fallen prey"... extraordinarily glum ad copy, but a moment of surprising poetry! We get a glimpse of it again, with the "maniacal freaks tear[ing] at the heart of Gotham City", but quickly the English Lit grad student is sacked as we fall back into the tired cliches of alliteration (fiendish frenzy) and shopping lists of regrettable obligatory tie-in trademarks (Batmobile, Batarang, AND... Batskiboat? Not actually a skiboat for Batman, but actually just a regular boat for Batman's Russian counterpart, Batski.) It gets worse with the gameplay described: you'll need all your fighting skills AND the deadly spin attack, which for reasons we can't adequately explain are categorized external to the fighting skills portfolio. You'll use them to thrash (wicked!) hundreds of arch enemies (each one archer than the last?) I think an arch enemy worth his salt might aspire to ruin your good family name, deceive you into destroying that which is most dear to you, sour your family fortune or at least cast your loving partner's fidelity into suspicion -- consider the Count of Monte Cristo -- but these ones are content to simply destroy you. (Well, those outcomes would also likely destroy you emotionally, but I haven't yet seen the video game bold enough to depict them.) Dad noticed none of this as none of these words were decked out in vinyl fetish gear.
I like the hint line advertised at the bottom. 70 cents a minute for a pre-recorded voice to ask you if you were using the deadly spin attack adequately to thrash maniacal freaks on your Batskiboat. That's cheaper than a hit of LSD and gets you roughly the same experience!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Acclaim's Nintendo Double Player Wireless Head-to-Head System, 1989

Here we are presented with the grim spectacle of two angry preppies -- seemingly the same spoiled pair as on the box art. Bet these overstuffed rich kids not only got their parents to shell out for the wireless controllers, but a special vibrating gaming chair with cup-holders and speakers in the head-rest.


With The Nintendo Double Player
Wireless Head-To-Head System From Acclaim.

Playing games on the Nintendo Entertainment System will never be the same with Acclaim's new DOUBLE PLAYER System -- the two player set of wireless controllers that really gives you and a friend the power to move when playing your favorite video games -- especially games with head-to-head, 2-player action!

Officially approved by Nintendo, the DOUBLE PLAYER System scores BIG with score-raising features like twin turbo rapid-fire, slow-motion, and pin-point accuracy from up to 30' away. Get the winning edge.


Two wireless controls are never really needed, since with one wireless and one wired, the players would never get entangled.

But the (questionable) premise is that the wireless controller gives players an "edge" over the competition (not just an edge, a winning edge -- and not just a winning edge, THE HEAD-TO-HEAD WIRELESS winning edge!), so this is the only way they can duel on an even playing field. So like many 3rd-party controllers, it has rapid-fire (here somewhat overstated as the hyperbolic "twin turbo rapid-fire" -- so not just one player at a time can enjoy it? And it's turbo rapid-fire, not the regular logey kind. Er, unless you engage the slow-motion. Maybe if you enable both simultaneously, Acclaim delivers an unprecedented approximation of gameplay at regular speed, now called ACCLAIM ACTION SPEED!)

(Am I the only one getting a vaguely homoerotic subtext with all the emphasis on "head-to-head, 2-player action"?) (A: Yes.)

I must confess to some curiosity regarding how this product would differ from, say, a pair of the Acclaim Remote Controllers. An infra-red receiver tuned to two frequencies instead of just one? The joysticks definitely appear to be thoroughly skinned with their new brand. There are a lot of buttons on these joysticks; it looks like Acclaim is offering rapid-fire not only with A and B but also with Start and Select. (Maybe rapid-firing Start is the sad secret of how they achieve their slow-motion effect?)

It's good to see Acclaim continuing to get good mileage out of their renting of the WWF license. And because you can see a few pixels of Hulk Hogan (seemingly getting kicked in the nuts by Andre the Giant... that's gotta hurt!) in the background -- hey, if these guys are posing with their controllers, who's playing that game? -- you catch a hilarious bit of business in the very small print at the bottom: Hulk HoganTM is a trademark of the Marvel Comics Group. The word "Hulk" existed before Stan Lee, and it's not like Hogan was green, incredible, or irradiated with gamma radiation. It makes one wonder how that bit of backroom paperwork played out. (I don't even want to imagine just how the complicated Sgt. Slaughter's dual existence between the wrestling ring and G.I. Joe was hashed out.) In any case, you can bet that this ad appeared in a Marvel comic... who knows if they would have bothered with that in a DC one?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Willow", NES, 1989.

The movie Willow was pretty great at what it was: a tour de force tech demo for newly-developed morphing special effects, an in-house answer to "what would you get if you recycled Star Wars as high fantasy?", and a showcase for Warwick Davis' formidable acting chops without the Wicket teddy bear prosthetic drag factor. (And something nice to remember Val Kilmer as before he got old and fat.) Three entirely distinct video games were adapted from this film -- the top-down RPG NES version advertised here as well as a platforming arcade game and a collection of minigames for the PC. Though the movie was a Lucasfilm property (and hence now part of the deep Disney back catalogue!), I felt it missed out by being outsourced in this way, never justly being adapted properly into a Lucasarts style game -- which is to say, a SCUMM adventure game! (A few other Lucasfilm properties like Captain EO and, say, American Graffiti suffered this fate, but I don't know that anyone but myself will ever regret the absence of a Radioland Murders adventure game.) That said, these other adaptations leave a wealth of sprite materials for potential re-use by enterprising fangame creators. I like to believe that if I keep tooting this horn every few years, surely someone will eventually pick it up, so I won't have to. Just where is the Willow fandom, anyhow? (The conventional wisdom has it: look for the slashfic. And here, perhaps even more than usual, I must say... I'd rather not.)
P r e p a r e   f o r   a
Travel back to a time of sorcery and magic when the evil Queen Bavmorda ruled the land under a reign of terror.
According to legend, a baby has been born who will destroy the heartless ruler. But the queen vows she'll slay the child first!
As Willow, the baby's chosen protector, you must face the deadly challenges of mysterious forests and villages while battling the Queen's Nockmaar army. In the meantime, your fate depends on collecting an arsenal of swords, shields and magic for the ultimate confrontation with Queen Bavmorda!
So prepare yourself for the only action fantasy with wicked graphics and playability. From Capcom U.S.A.
Travel through mysterious forests and villages, accumulating weapons and magic.

In retrospect, these generic badnasty names (Nockmaar?) are difficult to take seriously when seen in print. As you can see, if you can remember back a week, this ad is laid out just like the first of our two Bionic Commando ads, only with a greater emphasis on architectural sketches around the box art (itself with a great emphasis on Warwick Davis' comely lips!)
The text lets us know that this movie takes place in the past, but if its setting isn't Earth, I don't see why that need necessarily be so -- Star Wars, after all, takes place "long ago", so why couldn't this one take place in some distant, low-tech, perhaps post-apocalyptic Canticle for Leibowitz future? The big reveal at the end when Bavmorda's castle crumbles, uncovering... the Statue of Liberty! This perhaps also explains Willow's entire race as a hardy breed of radiation-blighted stunted survivors. Or am I overthinking this?
I must say, the prospect of collecting an arsenal of shields doesn't fill me with enthusiasm. Apparently this game is "the only action fantasy with wicked graphics and playability"; what is an action fantasy, anyhow, and are there other ones with less wicked playability?
In that brief (yet somehow interminable) moment in my '20s when I had both free time, loose morals, and false nostalgia, this was one of the games I looked up to power through, having missed it the first time around. It was intriguing, contained much that did not originate from the movie, and contained an early boss fight a couple of hours in that would tie up the whole game if certain Game Genie codes were enabled. This game was one of the first times I ran up against an explicit grind wall of "You can't cross this bridge until you reach Level 7!" which was somewhat deflatory of my enthusiasm for what the game had to further offer, as it felt I needed to see a lot more of what I'd already experienced thus far before I'd be allowed to progress. I begged to differ.
I like the way that the screenshot caption acts as a species of nonplussed TL;DR summary, functioning to describe the game if not exactly hype it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Acclaim Remote Controller

Because my last wireless joystick post was so well received, here's another one... but wait, it's not just a tragic ad, it's also a terrible comic strip!
Kid Remote
Kid Acclaim: "(... STUCK IN A RUT...)"

Hulk Hogan: "WHAT HIT ME?"


The look and feel you already know.

  • No messy wires
  • Rapid-fire for higher scores
  • Accurate up to 30'
So, the requisite panel-by-panel analysis: The scene opens on Kid Remots, described at the end of his rope and self-described as being in a rut. Neither of those is the case: his game has reached the GAME OVER screen and he is all tangled up in a joystick cord. Here's a pro tip: your game sessions will last longer if you keep the joystick in your hand rather than winding around your torso and then lead it off-panel.

This next panel is a great one to take out of context. Shazam! In my pants! The lightning bolt not only frees Kid Remote from his self-inflicted Japanese joystick bondage, but also vaporizes the armchair in the room with him. Miraculously, the electronics in the room are not only spared, the GAME OVER message on the screen doesn't even flicker. (Maybe KR is so inept a gamer the message is actually burned-in?)

That controller would be great if it wasn't so cartoonishly large the start and select buttons would be inaccessible during play. Then we have more oversized things, meaty wrestler arms (or "monster python quads" as I like to remember them), and even more oversized legs (put together, their bearer much be pretty disproportionate!)

Really, Kid Remote, of all the companies to wear the logo of, you picked Acclaim? Was Acclaim popular enough to even have shirts?

OK, what else does the remote do? We've pretty much covered it in the first four panels. But let's demonstrate its use with some Acclaim games, all of which benefit from being played 30 feet away!

I don't even know what the kid is supposed to be fighting in the Ironsword panel. Its scales make it look like it aspires toward a kind of dragon paw, but the shape is closer to a man-eating plant of some kind, like some sinister sunflower Triffid.

In the closing panel here we see that sadly, overuse of the Acclaim remote has resulted in gigantism in Kid Remote's hand, leaving him unable to operate an NES controller, his grotesquely oversized fist painfully swollen shut. (He was vindicated however when the first round of Xbox joysticks came out.)

Looking at the minuscule small print on the bottom, puzzlingly, Ironsword (of Fabio cover art fame) is indicated to be a trademark assigned to both its publisher Acclaim and then later its developer Rare Coin It. There's another head-scratcher in that area which I'll save for a future post, since I have just so much to work with here.

I have my doubts that Kid Acclaim's adventures really were continued. However, it may be worth noting that Kwirk (remember him?), along with other Acclaim-published characters, appeared in a TV show -- "the Power Team" -- that was essentially an unlicensed Captain N knock-off, only with Acclaim's characters. Anyhow, a real-life video game genius, Johnny Arcade, directed the team's activities with a special joystick -- perhaps a Acclaim wireless controller?

Well, I won't get to the bottom of this one tonight.

Just before I wrap up, I discovered that this comic was also a storyboard for a TV commercial. Who knows, perhaps someday I'll analyse those here too -- though it would have been tough squeezing a TV commercial into a comic book!

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Bionic Commando", NES, 1988.

OK, note to self -- posts about ads for hardware are unpopular, except with spambots in the comments section. So let's revisit recent territory -- Bionic Commando, who incorporates the hardware into his software presence!
Bionic Commando.
Experience the Power of a One-Man Army.
Get set for rapid fire action as you're transformed into the Bionic Commando. This best-seller from Capcom is a dynamic adaptation of the original arcade classic. Expect an onslaught of challenges and extraordinary graphics when you battle enemy forces in their futuristic lands. Your powerful extending bionic arm and incredible arsenal of weapons gives you all you need to become an unstoppable one-man army.
To the most daring soldiers, this might seem an impossible test, but they've never experienced the power of Bionic Commando!
  • Bionic arm extends, providing unbelievable power and strength.
  • Earn the weapons necessary to battle enemy forces.
  • Bionic Command offers some of the best high resolution graphics available.
  • This is a challenge for even the best video game players!
Again, they stress the arcade origins of the franchise to people who never played it and consequently will not notice the significant differences this NES version has from it. (That's why we call it a "dynamic adaptation"... very dynamic!) And another question -- is the bionic commando really bionic or is his grappling arm just a machine he wears outside his body, making him a kind of ... prosthetic private? (I know, I'm coming down with all the hard-hitting questions everyone else has been afraid to ask.)
Oh, I say! How embarrassing to overlook -- the body text in this ad is identical to that in the previous ad, except that it offers some bullet points at the end. Just as well I figured that out as soon as I did before seeing just how much fresh blood I could squeeze from this particular stone the second time around. ("Am I repeating the same points too much?") Plus now I get to speculate regarding what factors inspired Capcom to run -the same ad- in two different permutations. (It's not like they could use a referral code to determine which ad was more successful with consumers...) Less emphasis on the box art here, more on setting the box in a setting seemingly torn from the "pages" of the game. (When the Bionic Commando needs to unwind -- no, relax, not unspool his grapple -- he heads to a neutral UN area and relaxes with a round or two of Bionic Commando. Sadly, he is a tremendous narcissist.)
OK, let's look at the new bullet point business:
  • I agree with the first note regarding the bionic arm -- that it extends -- but not so much with the exposition. Unbelievable power and strength? Can be used to block bullets and will not break under the porky commando's body weight. That's not unbelievable, it's the minimum level of function needed to make the mission possible at all.
  • Earning the necessary weapons doesn't sound as fun as just being granted access to them. If I, the one-man-army, really am your last, best, hope to tame the menace of the Badds, then why require me to grind just to obtain the materials required? This is the capitalist system we're fighting to uphold: no free rides, even for heroes. It's as bad as the under-equipped Russian army in WWI, in which gunless soldiers were instructed to retrieve weapons from the previous, slain, line of Russian soldiers for their own use.
  • I'm not really in a position to judge the quality of its high-resolution graphics vis a vis what else was on the market at the time, but I can corroborate the rumours of its challenge level -- I got to watch friends play this on loan back in the day, but watch only after my first attempt at grapple use ended up as you might imagine, at the bottom of a bottomless pit, ending my turn within about five seconds. My alleged friends refused to allow me to jeopardize any more of the precious in-game lives, so naturally I never got any better at manipulating that bionic grapple. Once you got the knack of it, pretty much an unprecedented new way of navigating video game space at the time, you can comport yourself aerobatically almost indefinitely, deliberately provoking the UN peacekeepers for kicks... but until you grok it, you will always get killed at the very first moat you encounter.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Camerica Freedom Stick, 1990.

Selling hardware is very different from selling software. You don't know what the consumer will use your product for specifically, so you have to promise the moon with much hand-waving.
"Look, ma, no more wires."
FREEDOM STICK wireless remote control
Wireless Remote Control * Feel and action of an arcade joystick * Compatible with Nintendo, Sega, Atari and Commodore * Automatic Rapid Fire * 8 direction precision micro action * Play 1 and 2 player games plus 2 player simultaneous games (requires 2 Freedom Stick Wireless Remote Controls)
Available at major retailers nationwide
Player's Seal of Approval
The U.S. National Video Game Team has endorsed this product in recognition of its superior play value.
The initial slogan is apropos, since I don't know if any kid, ever, cared about the tangle of wires resulting from piles of joysticks haphazardly tossed together. That is a "ma" concern. However: is ma reading this comic book?

Nintendo and Sega belong together in this list, however by the time you add "Sega" to a list "Atari" has long since been removed from it. "Commodore" is just a head-scratcher. I mean, were kids lying on the living room floor tripping people with their C64 joysticks? Mostly I gather these lived on desks and the wired clutter was pretty neatly compartmentalized away.

Just how precise is "8 direction precision micro action"? What if I'm pointing north-north-east? I need 16-direction precision!

And I appreciate the legal department insisting that they note that their product can only be used by two players simultaneously if two joysticks are purchased. You can enjoy all the Freedom you can buy! Freedom Stick only available in United States of A!

What I really want to know is: when did the U.S. National Video Game Team hold tryouts? And did they endorse any other products?

Wireless controllers are like Russia, a territory many have tried to conquer, all failed. This is a pretty tame version of the failure; I wish I had an ad for renowned hardware developer Broderbund's U-Force, which as best as I can tell functioned somewhat akin to an infra-red theremin.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Bionic Commando", NES, 1988.

OK, I was premature by one measly view. Hey, first reader of this post -- you're my 3000th viewer! Congratulations! Your prize is some half-baked analysis of a video game ad scanned from a comic book. OK, we're all up to speed? I've got a couple of sets I'll be posting up next -- different ads for the same or similar products. First up, Capcom's Bionic Commando!
Get set for rapid-fire action as you're transformed into the Bionic Commando. This best-seller from Capcom is a dynamic adaptation of the original arcade classic.
Expect an onslaught of challenges and extraordinary graphics when you battle enemy forces in their futuristic lands. Your powerful extending bionic arm and incredible arsenal of weapons give you all you'll need to become an unstoppable one-man army.
To the most daring soldiers, this might seem an impossible test, but they've never experienced the power of Bionic Commando!

There are two Bionic Commando games released about the same time and with the same name: one version is for the NES and the other, which is similar but different in many important regards, is for, well, all the home computers of the age -- patterned after the initial arcade version that got the whole ball rolling. The NES version is the only one that departs from the arcade version's pattern, but nonetheless it's a lineage that is stressed here.

The one everyone knows is the NES one, partially due to ads like this. Capcom must have gotten a good deal from some advertising agency, since there are a few other games from this period (Willow comes to mind) with eerily similar layout -- down to the eXtReMe scribbled handwriting up top. You'll see when I get to it. Konami had a few ads with consistent similarities also, they're coming.

Ultimately, "an onslaught of challenges and extraordinary graphics" don't necessarily amount to a game that you want to play. In this case, it did. But, y'know, if your game is about a super-soldier killing Hitler, wouldn't that be a better selling point? (I can't explain why or how Japan got over the psychic trauma of WWII in their entertainment products sooner than the USA did. Of course, English-speakers aren't fighting Nazis in this game, but Badds. Everybody in the know could read between the lines, however.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Game Boy Advance SP, 2003.

I would never buy a piece of hardware based on its exciting new colour, but plenty of people did buy Game Boy Advances. If you're going to promote it on pure superficiality, at least they picked a stylish way to do so. (Superficial + unstylish == hard to market. Except to hipsters. Hm, who should be breaking out their LCD handhelds any day now.)
New Game Boy Advance SP
Now in flame.
What does SP stand for? ("SPecial", apparently.) Does it offer any selling point beyond its colour? (Half the size, better screen protection.) If you ask me, this looks like a typical brushed-steel finish just reflecting the redness of the flames surrounding it. Warning: Do Not Attempt To Operate Game Boy Advance SP In The Middle Of A Raging Inferno.
Well, that's that. Not always much to run with! Loyal readers, today or tomorrow you'll have pushed this improbable little blog past 3 thousand views. Who are these readers? Why do they read it? It's a mystery. It's a bit mysterious why I maintain the blog myself, making it a delicious riddle wrapped in an enigma, with a crunchy nougat filling. But all I knows is, when I update it every weekday and let Google+ know, bored people, likely killing time at work, spend a few minutes here with me. Hi! Thanks!

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Cyberswine", Windows, 1997.

OK, enough with the blogging of popular games; it's time for an (apparently justifiedly) obscure rarity. Even terrible flyspeck console games gets fetishized by collectors and, well, Seanbaby, but PC development is really the pit to which there is no bottom. Hence we present to you: the "Cyberswine" interactive movie.
Introducing Cyberswine, the interactive Multipath movie where you control the action.
Cybercity is about to be annihilated by a destructive plague. Only CYBERSWINE--part cop, part machine, full boar hero--can save it. Teaming up with renegade Lieutenant Sara Lee, can CYBERSWINE find the source of the Grid Virus and stop it before it's too late? It's up to you. You have to command him how to act. Don't just watch the action. Control it -- right from your PC. With hundreds of plot paths leading to different endings, watch Cyberswine again and again! With Multipath, you're in control.
Ask for Cyberswine and other Multipath Movies at your local computer retailer.
The folks at Choice of Games have published a few articles about what makes for compelling choice in a game; they should know, as it's not only their bread and butter (their all-text games consist of nothing beyond compelling choices interspersed with infodumps) it's even in their name! But not all choices are compelling -- it's only due to the tremendously elaborate follow-up that Meanwhile's opening inquiry of "chocolate or vanilla?" passes.

The vaunted "Multipath" technology here doesn't seem to add up to as much fun here as, say, a round of Dragon's Lair would -- though time-based decision-making is in effect, players arrive at the exact same ending in about the same amount of time even if they traverse the entire game hands-off (what was that about hundreds of plot paths leading to different endings?); options offered yield only superficial change without altering the plot one iota and the main narrative interactivity here is the same as in the CGA ZorkQuest interactive comics -- deciding when and how to alter the display the camera offers rather than what the characters do or where they go, with the curiously tech demo-y input of viewing the events from any angle.

Gee, that was a long sentence.

In any case, there's hardly any point in tearing this game a new one; by its very name and premise it has already done everything in its power to predispose us against it, so in that sense, it is a success. I like to often tout interesting failures over boring successes, but that overlooks a big grey area of equally-unworthy boring failures.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Kwirk", Game Boy, 1989.

Just how do you depict a tomato on a greyscale screen? And how do you distinguish it from, say, a shotput or ball bearing? Or, heaven forbid, the finer distinction between, for example, an apple and an orange? In this case, you set him apart with "bad-boy" trappings, which I'll explore further in subsequent posts -- shades, a green mohawk (green hair perhaps not such an outlaw marker on a tomato) and sneakers -- casually left untied! I know, I probably wouldn't be able to make out those details on the screen either, so I suppose the artwork here establishes the talking points, tells our brain what we're supposed to be imagining when we play.

Kwirk's in a bit of a stew. His main squeeze, Tammy, has been trapped, and Kwirk's the only truckin' Tomato with a chance to rescue her. With Kwirk, you'll move bunches of blockers, outwit plenty of pits, and mash through many a maze. And just when one labyrinth seems to be licked... an even trickier one appears.
So put on your shades, get your thinker in gear and join the a-maze-ing Kwirk in his quest to solve this puzzling predicament. And remember, Tammy's only got one hope... you!
Coming soon for Game Boy: WIZARDS AND WARRIORS X: FORTRESS OF FEAR -- a brand new adventure with Kuros, the gallant knight warrior; and WWF SUPERSTARS -- featuring Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior and more in the best of WWF wrestling action.

It is perhaps extraordinary for a Game Boy game to get a big full-colour ad (I know, we've seen some from Konami, who presumably had big piles of cash to lie on and throw around) just because screenshots will invariably pale by comparison. I do like the way Kwirk is balancing his own game on the tip of his finger, but the geek in me regrets the missed opportunity for recursion, with the in-box Kwirk balancing a game on his finger, ad infinitum. But of course the box isn't advertising the game -- it is the game -- so that wouldn't make any sense. (It's important to keep a good handle on what makes sense when discussing the finer points of labyrinth-solving fruits.)
"Truckin'" is pretty retro '70s slang to be washing up in a game ad one year shy of the '90s. Although, come to think of it, Kwirk's posture in the ad is somewhat reminiscent of Robert Crumb's "Keep on Truckin'" characters ... in any case, whether or not the copywriters can get away with that, I think that they have overextended themselves in attempting to suggest that one can mash through a maze. Is the maze composed of boiled potatoes? (Actually... well, that would be one mother of a digression. A delicious, delicious digression.)
It seems unfair that Kwirk gets a highly individualistic, cool name, while his nominal raison d'quest gal pal gets saddled with a formulaic alliteration name (Tammy Tomato). Do you think there's any relation with the royal family from Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom? And why couldn't she be a cucumber or eggplant -- is inter-vegetable dating a jungle fever frowned upon in the Salad Kingdom? (Homogeneous masses of similar vegetables don't make for much of a salad!)
Also, this ad features perhaps the first time ever a semicolon was used to introduce a clause about a WWF Game Boy cartridge. Pro wrestling and correct punctuation: less strictly associated than you might think. (What do you think -- should "Ultimate Warrior" be prefaced with a capitalised "The" or not?) I suspect that "the best of WWF wrestling action" probably would not be found on the Game Boy, but maybe my cynicism is just blinding me. I do think the "also, we have other, totally unrelated games for sale" phenomenon seems more prevalent with Game Boy games than others.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Conker: Live & Reloaded", Xbox, 2005.

How quickly a franchise can sour. In 1997 Conker was a generic cute and twee kiddie's game mascot in Diddy Kong Racing; two years later he remained his chipper nascent self in Conker's Pocket Tales. But two years further along and things had grown very dark, reportedly in an attempt to distinguish the property from developer Rare's existing squeaky-clean Banjo-Kazooie franchise. The twist would likely have been more effective with a better-known face character, but in any event the turnaround delivered results. It was a critical favorite on the Nintendo 64 and here, after Rare's acquisition by Microsoft, it achieved greater success when re-made.
Suspect: Long furry tail.
Heavily armed.
Smells like a strip club.

Back with a raging hangover, Conker is drinking, smoking and chasing more hot, furry tail than ever. Well, when he's not blowing the stuffing out of Tediz. Take your deviant skills online to Xbox Live, or you can always just play with yourself.

Conker checklist: Drinks to excess? Check. Smokes? Check. Libidinous? Naturally -- otherwise a total waste of so many opportunities to make jokes about nuts. Violent? Excuse me, have you seen what video games did to Chess? Bad guys named for a lousy pun? Present and accounted for. Remake's selling point -- multiplayer -- noted? Duly. Masturbation joke? Whacked off, sir. Well then, this ad is about ready for prime time!

Strangely, one of the most prominent elements of the game are its homages and parodies to numerous, numerous films, an aspect totally unacknowledged in its promotion. Maybe "deeply intertextual" isn't sales gold.

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Bart's Nightmare", 1993.

Ho hum... another day, another Simpsons licensee. This might have been a better fit for my spree of scary Hallowe'en games, but Hallowe'en is about fun and Simpsons games... not always.
IN YOUR DREAMS... An SNES Dream Come True! - Game Players
One of our staff's favorite games was Bart's Nightmare! - VG&CE
Imaginative twists and turns of the TV show are everywhere in this game... - Nintendo Power
Battle the mighty Homer Kong in the game Game Players called "An SNES Dream Come True!" Enter the world of Itchy and Scratch in Entertainment Weekly's #1 rated SNES video game! Vanquish vile villains as Bartman in one of Video Games and Computer Entertainment staff's "favorite games!" Check out the amazing eye-popping graphics, Bart's real digitized voice, dazzling action and game play that'll keep you up all night!
I'll just start by saying that it doesn't look great for you to use a specific endorsement multiple times in a given ad. That's pretty much all this ad is: we asked around until we found three people in the games journalism industry who had something positive to say about some aspect of this game, and then we paraded those pronouncements around while grimly tabulating our assortment of mini-games. It belies a certain lack of faith in one's own product to have to fall back on the testimonial so extensively. But when the biggest gun in your arsenal otherwise is boasting the digitized voice of Nancy Cartwright, I can see why it might be an approach you'd want to take. A game has never improved my play experience via the fidelity of its exhortations for me to consume my undergarments.

Because the Simpsons has been around for so long and gone through so many postmodern permutations over the course of its rounds, a game-maker today would have a lot to work with, but in these early days, "Bartman" wasn't enough to hang even a mini-game on, so here the game devs have to confabulate new mash-ups like Bartzilla... generally throwing all their ideas at the wall and hoping something sticks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Alfred Chicken", 1993.

Mascot syndrome strikes hard and fast from the '90s: Look, we really don't care about being cool -- isn't that a kind of cool?
Are You Ready To Play The Ultimate Game of Chicken?

"A Hero For The Nineties" - Electonic Games
Available for the NES, SNES, & GameBoy

Alfred Chicken is the hottest new game to hit your video game system! Get ready for non-stop egg-citement with Alfred Chicken, the hero of the '90s!

Egg-splore five way out worlds and warp space!

You'll face uncertain danger as you guide Alfred along his menacing journey to rescue his kidnapped egg buddies from the evil Meka Chickens and thwart their plot for World Domination.

Fight your way through some of the most bizarre worlds imaginable. Make mincemeat out of Meka Chickens and dodge their deadly traps.

You've played other heroes, now try something with some real challenge! If you're looking for non-stop excitement and thrills-a-plenty, look no further 'cause Alfred Chicken is here!

Secret passages, extra lives, hidden rooms and puzzles!

For an Alfred message call

To be fair, I'm confident (read: I have no idea) what happened is that some friends made a tech demo that somehow got picked up and the publisher decided to run with the temporary assets. (The name screams "placeholder art".) That left them in a bind trying to determine how to sell it. Quickly-tedious "egg" puns? Check! Reference to the incoherent plot? Got it! Vague comparison to other games? Roger that! Once again, I gather the copywriter didn't actually play the game, since it's quite weak on details. (The screenshot caption tells me that the game contains both secret passages AND hidden rooms.)

Ultimately the angle I think they ran with is "will appeal to Mom & Dad, terrified by Mortal Kombat, as totally gormless and without any offense potential whatsoever. Good, clean fun with the first and third optional." This game may have been fun (screenshots suggest similarities to fellow travelers such as Robocod, Zool, or Trolls) but the marketing effort is managing to simultaneously do too much and too little. (Wonder what clucking you heard when you called that phone number! Apparently they also ran a man in a chicken costume for European Parliament. Guys, this ARG isn't going anywhere.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

'89 Game Power from Bandai

Because advertising is expensive and game development is cheap (?!), an early strategy of some publishers was to just throw their entire catalogue in a full-page ad, casting a wide net -- or rather, throwing everything out there and seeing if any of it would stick. Bandai is still with us, a major toy company (counting among their holdings not only Gundam and the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers but also Pac-Man's creators Namco) ... This ad is surprisingly effective, packing a lot of punchy information in for each game (and, hilariously, showing a redundant miniature game box beneath each game's thumbnail, for the exclusive benefit of readers with magnifying glasses.) Without hyperbole, I can state that in some cases each of the six games profiled here get more air time than some games with full-page ads.
'89 Game Power from Bandai
You're a rookie cop walking the meanest streets of the city. Using the Power Pad controls you can run down and catch the thugs and villains and make the neighborhood safe again!
Fighting a vast array of monsters is made more difficult than ever when rewards turn into demons and nightmares into reality! Help the metamorphised Mark battle the demons!
Play the dual-world challenge of Dr. Jekyll's London and Mr. Hyde's World of Demons. Battle the demons with Hyde's Psycho-Wave to save his life!
Test your athletic ability on Power Pad by taking on Athletic World's five challenging courses. Hurdles, Animal Trail, Dark Tunnel, Hop a Log, and Rafting. Multiple skill levels keep you constantly challenged - and in shape!
GOLF Challenge Pebble Beach
Play one of the world's most difficult and challenging golf courses on your Nintendo! Super-realistic play lets you control every aspect of playing real golf!
XEVIOUS the Avenger
Skillfully maneuver the fighter plane at warp speeds through treacherous air space and gain the strike advantage. Fire the laser-pulse weaponry at Xevious enemy aircraft and equipment.
Street Cop is a funny concept that may as well be refashioned "Jogger Citizen's Arrest"; Monster Party is the reason this ad was sent in (this ad courtesy of Doruk Özaydın, my first successful guest-contributed art); Jekyll & Hyde looks like an interesting visit to Ikaruga territory (where everything has a light and dark side, also seen in Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest (no, not that one), King's Quest 4, the Soul Reaver games, and, say, Super Mario Bros. 2.) Athletic World seems to be taking liberties with what are conventionally considered to be athletic events, Golf reminds me of Pebble Beach's interminable status as the only universally known "named" golf venue even for laymen. And Xevious, whose previous main selling point was its arcade exclusivity, here... no longer is. But why play up its intriguing Peruvian setting? Let's try to make it a little more generic here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Amidar", Atari 2600, 1983.

I like to use this game as case-in-point for my "too much cocaine in the advertising industry" argument. At this point, they just didn't have much to work with in terms of computer graphics; these blocky blobs chased those blocky blobs, and whatever Rorschach blotch imagery you came up with in your imagination was actually what it was. Then an advertising artist had the stiff proposition of actually having to render these subjects deliberately and not just due to subliminal chance. Some games tumble to their death in this uncanny valley -- have you seen the NES cover art to Mega Man 1?
Tired of seeing dots before your eyes? Ready for a video game with some personality? Then make the move to the wacky world of AMIDAR(tm).
First you're a gorilla trying to draw boxes inside a maze. It's not easy though, because you're being chased by savage sentries every step of the way. Just like in the arcade game!
Now you're a paint roller trying to paint squares while being pursued by persistent pigs. No one ever said it was going to be easy. AMIDAR. One of a kind in a dot-eat-dot world.

The world is wacky. Admittedly, through the zany, madcap '60s, the bad gorilla costume was the gold standard of wackiness in film. However, it's the '80s now and we've raised the bar. Now it requires a sassy child with a potty mouth.

The poor copywriter can't come up with any explanation for the game's surreal premises so doesn't bother to explain, just describe what is presented. (Admittedly Mario's monkey-plumber-mushroom connection is a bit hand-wavey, but advertisers tried to approach those games from a different direction. All they have to work with here is some abstract gameplay description, and they decided that their arbitrary use of placeholder clip art sprites actually trumped that in terms of consumer appeal.

There is a feverish madcap quality to the artwork however, like something out of an issue of Mad magazine that suggests "there is a totally legitimate and hilarious reason these jarringly disparate elements are on the page together, we just can't bother to tell it to you right now". The later, more aggressive, post-Ren-and-Stimpy postmodern surrealism of '90s advertising (I'm thinking of one Crash Bandicoot ad specifically, with bodybuilders) doesn't pass that test, presenting scenes so strange no hypothetical explanation will satisfy -- and even if it could, it wouldn't be hilarious.

Yep, sounds like it's bedtime to me, too!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Arch Rivals", NES, 1990.

As I mentioned before, my minimal interest in actual sports was reflected in disinterest at best in sports video games. But there were some titans of their field that were inescapable even before EA's (local) campus redefined their annual formula with major league franchising -- Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, Blades of Steel, Jordan vs. Bird (Erving's earlier show-down with him was a more obscure B-side, practice for the main attraction), and this one.
Get ready for an outrageous basket_brawl_. It's slam dunkin' full court action with a twist. If you can't block your opponent's shot -- knock his block off. But with Arch Rivals you still need real B-ball skills to win -- like passing, shooting and sinking those 3-point shots.
So if you're ready for some "in your face" head-to-head arcade action, get Arch Rivals... where breaking the rules is the rule!

Retrospect has it that this was itself just a warm-up for the fun that NBA Jam would deliver a few years later. The promotional artwork hits all the right Mad Magazine notes -- mohawks, big grins, the notorious pantsing, and I don't know what is going on over at the basket there. The art suggests perhaps a more Harlem Globetrotters madcap and zany slapstick game while its central premise was more one of constant fouls being perpetrated with no refs to call them -- strangely an extreme, unruly idea that would become a much stronger selling point in the decade following. They still had to sell it as offbeat rather than the curb-stomp that would set the tone to follow. But the '90s had just begun, and we hadn't all gotten the "grim and gritty" talking points. (Midway would later synthesize these perspectives with Mortal Kombat cameos in NBA Jam, including a hidden Kourt. But was ever there a basketball game with Fatality moves?)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Splatterhouse", TurboGrafx-16, 1990.

Resolving this little spree, why not fulfil the trend you've been observing this week and indeed end where we began? Now I need to wrap up this blog by next October, since I just exhausted all of my ads for disturbing games. That or get more comics and scan them! Not much more to say about this title, but to note that it has one of the greatest warnings of all time: "The horrifying theme of this game may be inappropriate for young children...and cowards."
It was the mansion of Dr. West...
but those who knew it better called it the...

Jennifer: "West may have been the best parapsychologist in our field.
... but do we have to visit his old home? It gives me the creeps!"
Rick : "Think of it as a school research project! Besides, the house is empty... what can happen?"
Jennifer: "EEEEEEEEE"
Rick : "Jennifer! What -- what is it?"
After a fight in the dark...
Rick: "What... what happened to me? What happened to Jennifer?
My head... something's wrong... Can't see straight! What's the matter...
My face! It's covered with... the terror mask!"
The terror mask... legend tells that the wearer is granted vast power... but can't remove it!
Rick: "If I take it off, I may never get Jennifer back!
Rest in pieces, you ugly slimeballs! Nothing can keep me from getting Jennifer back!"
Monster: "Oh... yeah?"
Jennifer: "I'm as good as dead... unless you can help Rick rescue me... in the all-new --
There's something about double-spread centrefold mini-comic ads -- specifically, that both of them that I've found so far have been for the TurboGrafx-16 platform! We know that the venture was a failure, but why, when this advertising technique is clearly such a winner?