Thursday, January 3, 2013

"Wrath of the Black Manta", NES, 1990.

One hopes that Taito got a lot of bang for their buck for this game's ads, ubiquitous in a certain vintage of comic book. Sure, everybody knew about it -- but did any of them buy it? Certainly it's not instantly-recognized by name as a classic for the ages and doesn't appear to have been remade or re-released for Virtual Console etc! Mostly I'm writing about it here and now so I can share a frankly hilarious related cross-promotional sweepstakes tie-in ad next.

Crime and kidnapping have put a death grip on New York, Tokyo and Rio. A solitary figure strives to squelch the misguided dealings of a bunch of underhanded terrorists bent on kidnapping innocent kids. Only the Black Manta possesses the powers to save them.
  • Master the awesome power of magical Ninpo martial arts
  • Gather clues that allow you to track down El Toro, the evil drug lord
  • Exterminate international terrorists
  • Sensational color graphics
  • Exciting soundtrack
  • Furiously challenging
As Seen At The
World Championships
Rated 4 out of 5 for graphics and sound, challenge and theme/fun on the Power Player Meter!
Nintendo Power, March/April 1990

There is a persistent rumour that this game began as an unlicensed Aquaman game, with the player controlling his SuperFriends nemesis, Black Manta... but needing to be re-skinned as a generic ninja game after failing to land the license. This is obviously false since -- c'mon, Aquaman? That's not the kind of license one petitions for and fails -- it's the kind one accepts payment under duress to incorporate into one's game.

One imagines that whether the Black Manta was a practitioner of Ninjitsu or Ninpotsu varied depending on your region, for local reasons the same as the ones that rebranded a certain clique of Ninja Turtles to less ambiguously protagonistically Hero Turtles.

"Crime and kidnapping have put a death grip on New York, Tokyo and Rio" but on the plus side, violent crime is way down everywhere else. (White-collar crime on the rise in Shanghai, Brussels and Zurich. Not as fun to depict in video game form.)

The next sentence gives me so much to work with: "A solitary figure strives to squelch the misguided dealings of a bunch of underhanded terrorists bent on kidnapping innocent kids." Technically, squelch is an acceptable word there, but not what we would call a best fit. But it's very in keeping with the rest of the sentence. What kind of terrorists? Underhanded ones! (Not the clean-cut, above-the-board kinds.) What kinds of children do they kidnap? Innocent ones! Corrupted kids they recruit!

The bullet points are pretty compelling; "El Toro, the evil drug lord" (evil since stepping down from his position on the board at Pfizer) knows not to dip into his own supply, and instead drinks Red Bull religiously. In the interest of furthering international order and the rule of law, we don't merely apprehend these underhanded terrorists -- we "exterminate" them. (Perhaps they are partially insectoid?) And to up the ante, we are reminded -- these are "international" terrorists, not the white-bread domestic variety, unworthy of squelching or extermination. (How they could operate in Tokyo, New York and Rio and not be international, I'm unclear.)

Finally, there's "Furiously challenging". Is it only a challenge for those who are enraged? Or is it rather guaranteed to send you into a lather of incense with its difficulty? It's nice to see "Action! Adventure! Mystery! Intrigue!" -- yes, those are four words I like also, but I can't say that I've ever seen all four successfully attending the same video game party together. Maybe three.

Where can I get an "As Seen At The Nintendo World Championships 1990" badge to go with my "U.S. National Video Game Team Player's Seal of Approval" one?

Now for the small print: Why is the address they provide North Vancouver, a short bus trip away from my house? Was that really Taito's North American office? Was this ad printed and localised for a Western Canadian audience? These questions and more, I will never have the answer to. But while we're down there -- Why defend the trademark of Taito's other, not-named-here game Bubble Bobble?

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