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?)