Dracula – Bram Stoker

DraculaWell this is quickly becoming the year of the vampire. Having torn through a streak of Castlevania games like a box of Oreos the day after abandoning a diet, I thought it best to remind myself that actual horror aims to be frightening. Since fear necessarily requires some degree of permanency in death, anything truly horrifying about these games tends to be mitigated by chronic resurrection and the power to murder hoards of tiny monsters to do a few extra points of damage against Dracula. Other than possibly explaining Renfield’s behavior, these video game conventions don’t so much hit the spirit of vampire horror as they do an episode of American Ninja Warriors where all the competitors are professional dominatrixes. So since October somehow became my month to call up all things Halloweenish, I thought I’d go back and read the original Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

Dracula is best described in several parts, the first part being “Jonathan Harker Becomes the Victim of History’s Most Passive-Aggressive Serial Killer.” Don’t get me wrong; the first four chapters of the novel on their own make a story terrifying enough to sell adult diapers to anyone who isn’t Jeffrey Dahmer or Hannibal Lecter. But if we had any doubt if the Count was dead, his neurons definitely need a fresh set of spark plugs. After imprisoning Jonathan Harker, haunting him, threatening him, climbing up the wall like a lizard, and murdering children plainly and openly, Harker asks to leave, saying he’ll walk if necessary, and the Count feels it necessary to give him his blessing, open the front door and kindly wishing him a safe trip as they both stare down a ravenous pack of wolves. I’ve never understood why some people insist on keeping up pretenses like this when their sadistic evil shines out for the world to see, but I’ll let you know as soon as I figure out why my grandmother does.

Part two, I call, “Everyone is Sad When the Hot Chick is Dying.” Here, Dracula has packed up and moved from the whithering, dwindling Transylvanian countryside to the bustling, overpopulated London, which for the Count must be like a starving Somalian kid renting an apartment in the produce aisle of a Cub Foods. Yet somehow, despite being surrounded by an afterlifetime supply of giant walking Twinkies, Dracula decides to pick one girl—coincidentally and inexplicably a friend of his tormented house guest—and slowly drain her over the course of several months. He must have been a real fun guy to take to Old Country Buffet. Spend twenty bucks to get in and he spends the entire time nibbling on half a pack of oyster crackers. The vampire himself more or less drops out of the story at this point and turns into the creepy roommate who never leaves his room; there’s a smell like something died, but you know it’s not him because stuff keeps disappearing from the fridge. However unlike the creepy roommate, I was disappointed when he disappeared. He’s the main antagonist of the book–which is named after him–and has become one of the most iconic villains of all time. So why the fuck did Stoker decide to give the titular character less screen time than Waiting for Godot?

The other side of the equation, of course, is the legendary vampire hunter himself, Abraham Van Helsing, everyone’s favorite badass, grizzled, genius, super-hero slayer. At least, that’s how pop culture envisions him. In the novel, he’s just grandpa in a tinfoil hat who finally has the proof that he was right all along. Actually, I treat him unfairly. Stoker wrote him as an impressive man, but then I’m almost positive that Stoker wrote him as a self-insertion (Note: “Bram” is short for “Abraham.”). Reading Mina’s descriptive paean of Van Helsing—right down to his “sensitive nostrils”–I wondered why she didn’t just ditch Jonathan and mount the geezer right there.

Anyway, Van Helsing really shines in part three, “Revenge for Killing the Hot Chick.” It is here that he swoops in to slay the vampire with the frightful speed of medical research. Fitting, as he is a doctor, and moves at the pace you’d expect from modern medicine. (Call to make an appointment for a staking and his earliest opening will be about three months from now.) I mean, the care he puts into Lucy, both as she’s dying and then after she turns, is complete and thorough and slightly less exciting to watch than someone’s battle with leukemia. If Stoker wrote a sequel, the most horrifying thing in it would likely be Van Helsing’s bill, followed by Dr. Seward learning that his insurance considers “unholy purification” elective surgery. You don’t often see Buffy staking out tombs, watching individual vampires, learning their patterns and stalking them for months like some crazed serial killer. The only reason she wouldn’t stake a vampire immediately is that she isn’t strong enough (or, I guess, that she’d prefer the vampire stake her instead). Van Helsing, though, does just this, cautiously scoping out the grounds and seemingly passing up dozens of chances to shave the heads off some vampires, as well as about 150 pages off the book.

I may have given away a few more spoilers than I normally do in my reviews, but I’m calling in the statute of limitations—the book is a hundred twenty fucking years old. Here’s another spoiler: the vampire dies. But we don’t get the epic boss fight with Simon Belmont, or even the showdown between Sirius Black and the guy from Princess Bride. In fact, our Great Evil sleeps through the whole thing. The most fascinating thing about stories like this come down to the interactions between the heroes and the villains. I can’t remember more than a single line of dialogue that the Count has from chapter five onward. At the end, they catch up to his box of dirt, rip it open, and knife it, making the hero-villain interaction akin to the DEA seizing a shipment of cocaine.

Let’s face the truth, World, Dracula is an awesome, classic, and enduring novel; however, except for Van Helsing somehow reaching Boba Fett levels of popularity, the book’s reputation today rests entirely on the first four chapters. Read those chapters and save yourself sometime—Nosferatu is free on Youtube. The film with Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins is another good choice. Personally, if you want a recommendation, though, you can’t go wrong with Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

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Castlevania: Bloodlines – Sega Genesis

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Two Castlevania reviews in a row? I can’t help it. Like any other medium of storytelling, video games have the capacity to be profound, to speak to human nature, to discuss questions that have plagued us throughout history. But how many games can actually answer the important questions like, “What do we face after death?” As it turns out…it’s usually a vampire that shoots fireballs and turns into a gargoyle. However, it does raise some questions of its own, most notably, “Why are we so concerned with stomping out the evil of someone who comes to life once a century, tries to set the drapes on fire, and then gets killed three minutes later by the bastard progeny of Indiana Jones and Devo? Shouldn’t we focus on something more truly horrifying, like religious extremism, unfettered capitalism, or people who wear leggings that look like a toddler glued shreds of magazines to a pair of magnum condoms?” As it turns out, Castlevania: Bloodlines does manage to connect a vampire with the life expectancy of a hemophiliac sword swallower to a greater social evil, namely, World War I, orchestrated in part to resurrect Dracula with the souls of those who died in battle. Kind of like American Gods, but with disembodied heads dive-bombing you like brain-damaged horseflies.

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Don’t you remember one of the most frightening horror monsters of all time, the pile of gears? Seeing as how this is in Germany, I can only infer that this is the ultimate evolution of the Klink pokemon.

If I might interject my own logic, brain-damaged by one too many snaps of the whip, who the hell wants to resurrect Dracula? Forget that summoning a vampire has the survival rate of crawling into a den of hungry wolves wearing a Lady Gaga meat suit. Dracula’s time on earth is more limited than a man who hands a roll of quarters to a hooker, and is likewise ended by an angry man standing over him with a whip and a stopwatch. Stillborn fetuses have more of an effect on the world than this douchebag, yet for some reason people will orchestrate global warfare just to see this guy’s head knocked off by a lion tamer? And remember, Dracula can transform into a cloud of bats and fly away, yet his first and only reaction upon being granted sentience is to pounce on the legendary vampire slayer like a chemo patient taking on the North Korean army.

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Looks like the dog got into the Buffalo Wild Wings leftovers last night.

The game itself, though, opens with your choice of John Morris, son of Quincy Morris of Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s fame, or his friend Eric Lecard, who previously made a name for himself in…the opening cut scene that loops if you turn the game on and fall asleep before you hit start. Anyway, Morris and Lecard finally nudge their way to the gates of Dracula’s castle, which with forty games in the series probably has a longer line than the teacup ride at Disney World. They battle through fierce monsters and gruesome traps to reach the pinnacle of Dracula’s throne, only to remember that Quincy Morris already killed the vampire lord about twenty years ago. Not to be hampered by such a minor setback as not having a demonic nemesis to slay, the two of them decide they’ve fulfilled the obligatory “vania” and decide to see how much mileage (kilometerage?) they can get out of “castle.” From here, this post-Victorian Harold and Kumar visit all the dank, Black Castles that Europe has to offer, such as the palace at Versailles, Dracula’s summer home at the fictional Proserpina Castle in England, and…a German munitions factory. What, did the hundreds of castles across the continent not develop the right atmosphere of dark, cold, ominous and bloody over the centuries of standing as powerhouses of brutal medieval warfare and disease?

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Why does Morris look like he’s about to be sexually gratified by garroting Lecard?

Intricate design, an atmosphere of horror, and a rich color palette straight out of a box of evil crayons has always made this series stand out, and while Bloodlines continues the tradition admirably, setting stages in Atlantis or the Leaning Tower of Pisa somehow detracts from the doom and gloom vibe that attracts me to the game. It’s like dressing up for a Renaissance Fair and finding out that half the people attending wore greasy wife-beaters with bright orange Crocs.

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Nothing like a serene ocean sunset to make our hearts bubble with fear and terror.

That’s not to say, though, that Bloodlines is a bad game. Like other Castlevania games, it gives you plenty of opportunities to hop from platform to platform whipping monsters like a kangaroo dominatrix. Or if penetration is more your style, Lecarde makes a great addition to the team, a dashing Spaniard who combines the fighting style of Oberyn Martell and Scrooge McDuck. He can’t swing across chasms like Morris can (although admittedly, using a spear instead of a whip puts one at a severe disadvantage when playing Indiana Jones), but he has a longer reach, a pogo-stick vault of invincibility that can thwart death itself, and a special attack that rips through enemies across the entire screen and slows down time itself–yet I suspect the latter effect is less reminiscent of the stopwatch sub-weapon from the NES games and more a limitation of whatever Sega means by “blast processing.”

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Remember, game developers, just because you *can* doesn’t mean you *should*

While on the subject of what Sega does that Nintendon’t, let’s add to the list “cutting the classic sub-weapons from the NES games.” Only the holy water and the axe survived the purge, and the cross seems to have been castrated down to a regular boomerang. Each one has a both basic attack pattern as per usual and a special attack that might cost a bit extra, but makes up for it with a super-flashy execution that hits enemies with all the force of a bowl of spaghetti. Minus the bowl itself. And just to clarify, there’s no sauce or meatballs either. Technically, each character has a fourth sub-weapon, a special attack that actually does make a difference, but since it vanishes at the first hint of damage, it’s usually gone faster than my self-respect at an anime convention.

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Lecard tempting Lady Liberty to drop her toga for all the world to see. There’s an angel on the other side acting as her conscience.

Other than the sub-weapons being more limited than a nun’s options for sexual gratification, all the problems with the game relate to the story. And one of the benefits of games from this era was the instruction manual—they wrote the story in the booklet, and if it turned out a disappointment you could keep the book shut, never speak of it in open company, and pray it never embarrassed you when respectable guests came to visit.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – GBA

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I’d take more pleasure in riding Death like a bitch if he wasn’t wearing his mom’s high heels on his hands.

Might as well kick off this year’s Halloween season with Castlevania game, everyone’s favorite horror series from the classic days of the NES, which has progressively become about as scary as some leftover beans thrown on a compost pile. Rather than focusing on iconic horror, pitting your character against beast after beast from cinematic enemas, the terror-induced colon cleansing films that gave people nightmares before they realized that Hollywood didn’t actually hire a vampire to murder their actors on film, the series has now become a practice in running Symphony of the Night through Xerox machine over and over until the games still play like the original, but the only monstrous quality left is the low resolution, which they have to hide by putting the game on the GBA. But much like the aforementioned beans, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance still has value, albeit not for its original purpose.

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Charles Schultz had a short-lived career writing horror before authoring Charlie Brown.

Harmony of Dissonance opens with the same now-standard explanation that, in a series with over 40 games, the earliest of which is set in 1094, Dracula’s castle appears once every century. I’m just going to assume they mean “at least once” so as to move on with this review without introducing some pointless, confusing, Zeldafied time line. The story begins with the only macguffin ever used in a video game—the kidnapped girl. Personally, I take offense to this idea, and no, it’s not because I need to get my kum-ba-yas on with my feminine side and rail against violence toward women in a medium where violence happens toward everyone regardless of age, gender or the size of their katamari. I just don’t think we really need a reason to go charging into a vampire’s castle with a super soaker full of holy water. Is “compulsive serial murder via oral exsanguination” not enough of a crime? Name one movie where a character says, “Hannibal Lecter might lull his patients into a false sense of security, murder them with his teeth and then eat their liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti, but no judge in the world will prosecute that. Now if he kidnaps a girl, then we have a case.” Part of what it means to be a “monster” is that people don’t have to feel bad about killing it. The NES games used almost no text and still told a compelling story. Symphony of the Night was great…err….let’s say decent…but that was because the protagonist was a monster as well. But trying to introduce a story to each Castlevania game just opens them up to questions like, “Why would the vampire who is constantly foiled by the Belmonts need or want to lure the vampire hunter into his private residence?” That would be like if I left a tray of sugar water near an open window, hoping that a swarm of wasps build a nest in my living room.

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Shortly after this, Pazuzu was called away to pull Professor Farnsworth out of the Fountain of Aging

Okay, so the story has so many plot holes that it’s only good for shredding cheese. But how does the game itself stand up? I would assume with much help from a physical therapist. Harmony of Dissonance plays like a cheap Asian knockoff of Symphony of the Night. It has the same Metroidvania combination of exploration, item collecting, and RPG stats, but it seems tired and worn out in its old age. Sure you find a bunch of items that increase your abilities, but you find a bunch of them up front and then spend a good chunk of the game wandering back and forth through the castle like you’re struggling with early onset Alzheimer’s. To make that worse, the game gives you two parallel, nearly identical castles to explore, with a few common areas between them. Speaking as someone who has grown accustomed to driving with a GPS in my constant line of vision, I felt like I had to check the map way too often to get through this game.

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Jesus fucking christ, the feminists are going to be pissed over this one.

Somehow, even though Harmony of Dissonance closely replicated a great game, it turned out to be a disappointing experience, like marijuana laced with ether—it could be the most awesome trip ever, but what does it matter if you sleep through the whole thing? It could be the protagonists. Alucard picked up dozens of useless abilities, like transforming into a dog, something you only ever do by accident while looking for the mist button. But at least they made him more and more vampiric. Juste “Juicy” Belmont—a discount Alucard rip-off who looks like he’s wearing bad Orochimaru cosplay—just becomes more like Mario. “You can jump? Well, now you can DOUBLE-JUMP! And now you can ROCKET JUMP! And now you can break bricks by jumping!” What’s more, Alucard explored a castle. Not a real castle, but at least the regions were named after things you might expect to see in an eccentric Medieval aristocrat’s dwelling, like the clock tower, outer wall, catacombs and coliseum. Justes explores the skeleton cave, the sky walkway and the luminous cavern, which feel about as authentic to a castle as the man cave, the produce aisle and the ball pit. Symphony of the Night had a clever, story-related method to obtaining not just a better ending, but a second half to the game. Harmony of Dissonance requires you to loot the castle for useless crap and shove it into a single room like you’re opening up an Ikea to compete with that lousy merchant who never sells anything worthwhile. (“What’re ya buyin’?” “Potions. Like before. Because your merchandise is crap, I might as well stock up on healing items that break the game.”)

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And yeah…this is pretty much how you beat every boss in the game.

As usual, Juicy has full access to (most of) the same sub-weapons that the Belmonts have passed down for hundreds of years. Naturally they’re a bit dated, but in the one seed of originality Konami planted in this compost heap is the magic system. By combining the sub-weapons with spell tomes found throughout the game, Juicy can cast some impressive spells. Of course, the cross is just a little bit stronger than all the others, so once you find one and mix it with the Wind tome, you’ll spend the rest of the game avoiding power-ups with more care than you use to avoid enemies.

Castlevania - Harmony of Dissonance-170603-023425So other than the bland environments, the dated weaponry, the discount protagonist, the plot holes so big it couldn’t catch a tuna, the difficulty broken by an excess of healing items, the lame and undiversified abilities, the bosses more from mythology than horror, the excruciating focus on feng shui and…where was I going with this? Who cares? If you need a portable Symphony of the Night, go play Aria of Sorrow instead.

Ocarina of Time – N64, Game Cube, 3DS

OoT Shiek

Link rockin’ out with his total platonic effeminate ninja friend. Pretty soon they’ll be good enough to take their band on tour. We’re talking Ren Faire groupies, y’all!

“Sweet, merciful lady of the tortilla,” you’re shouting as you look at the title of this week’s entry. “He’s ready to sully yet another beloved classic with his foul outlook!” As valuable as suspense is to a writer, and as much as I’d like to keep you on-edge and tense as a drug deal in a donut shop, I liked the game. So much for my attempt to finally elicit comments out of you by enraging you so much that Bruce Banner thinks you need anger management. No, Ocarina of Time succeeded when the move to 3D ruined a lot of other games—Mario 64 stripped out a lot of the charm of blazing through levels with the murderous glint of a colonial-era explorer, robbing the land of its power-ups, slaughtering native wildlife, toppling their existing governmental structure by sticking a flag in their castle, and then turning your back on it and never returning to your devastation, while the Metroid Prime games felt like leaping blindfolded from timber to timber on the rotted remains of a dock while trying to juggle chainsaws. Rather, the only way the first 3D Zelda game backfired was by making people completely forget about 2D Zelda games.

OoT Pedo Tree

Judging by the Deku Tree’s stache, this is the fantasy equivalent of “Free candy in the back of my windowless van.”

To recap for the newcomers, Ocarina of Time works as an origin story for the franchise, as opposed to Skyward Sword who draws a paycheck and has an official title as origin story, but who got the job because his uncle works for Nintendo and spends most of his day sleeping at his desk and playing minesweeper without actually getting any better at it. The game opens with the Deku Tree, all-powerful guardian deity of the forest, who has about the same temperament toward spiders as my ex-girlfriend; he sends his fairy servant, Navi, to wake up a ten-year-old boy to come kill the spider while he stands there unmoving, jaw agape in fear. Thus begins Link v1’s quest to go find a villain to slay to save Hyrule. And he finds one relatively early on in Gannondorf, who he finds bowing down and offering his service to the king, despite the only things on his resume being “Overbearing patriarch of criminal enterprise / harem” and “Murdered all-powerful guardian deity of the forest.” Fortunately, the king’s ten-year-old daughter isn’t as easily as fooled as the…man entrusted with the safety and prosperity of the realm…and she sends Link to retrieve some magical macguffins, which gives Gannondorf just enough times to murder the king and pull off a coup that would make Cersei Lannister sweat.

When Link accidentally leads Gannondorf to the ultimate macguffin, the Triforce, the powers that be decide, “This may not be the best time, Link,” and seal him away for seven years, forging the perfect hero: a seventeen-year-old adonis who wields the Master Sword, the Triforce of Courage, and the emotional and mental capabilities of a ten-year-old. As a bonus, Link can drop the Master Sword back into its pedestal and turn into his ten-year-old self again, setting up a defining feature of the game, which you use exactly twice (unless you want to go side-questing).

The game works because it retains everything fun about the 2D Zelda games, and it just changes the perspective. You still trek through underground labyrinths looking for buried junk, and each one offers more uses than a Swiss army knife, unlike later games where Link’s tools amount to nothing more than an exotic and unwieldy key chain to flip through every time you get stuck at a dead end. Nintendo decided to split adult Link’s and child Link’s inventories into two nearly separate collections, for no purpose that I can see other than teaching players the value of Venn diagrams. Once Link grows up, he no longer can throw a boomerang and finds the slingshot a bit childish…but that bottle of Lon-lon milk has at least reached a good vintage, looking awfully tasty after seven years in the fridge. At any rate, while this should add challenge and variety to the game play, it ultimately just gives adult Link a few weapons that have more-or-less the same use as the ones he used as a kid, so they feel almost like upgrades instead of new weapons. But bonus points to Nintendo for running out of ideas for items and making it look intentional.

OoT Fish

Because who wouldn’t want to virtually simulate sitting still for hours on end, doing nothing but staring at the water with wet socks?

You still explore an expansive world although there are some limitations. Hyrule doesn’t seem like an easily navigable country, considering anyone who wants to visit the desert has to first engage in some deep-sea spelunking in order to find the proper tool, or that anyone wishing to attend a Sunday mass at the Shadow Temple has to find an enchanted ocarina, play the proper melody to teleport to the graveyard, and then magically light about six dozen torches at once. The original Legend of Zelda and a Link to the Past had a good deal of replay value by giving the player a certain degree of freedom to roam wherever and tackle dungeons in a number of different orders. By cracking down on that freedom, forcing the player to take the standard tour to see what the game wants you to see when it wants you to see it, Hyrule feels less like a fairy tale kingdom and a little more like a dystopian communist police state.

OoT Shadow Link

Shadow Link. Boss of the second game in the series. Still a bitch after all these years.

Of course, not many police states will arrest your protagonist, then throw them in an easily escapable dungeon with all their tools and weapons, just for a forced stealth sequence. Even in Ocarina of Time, this doesn’t work very well, especially considering that after proving himself against the most vile abominations Hyrule has to offer, he just throws his hands up and goes along politely with the Gerudo guards every time they catch sight of him from a distance. I get he has to prove himself to them somehow in order for the story to work, but honestly, I think he’s had one too many swigs of fermented milk to be such a pushover. Also like its 2D predecessors, Ocarina of Time puts its secrets in plain view rather than sealing them away in concrete like nuclear waste and burying them so deep you need a walkthrough to even know they’re there. I generally enjoy seeing my goal and using my wits to attain it, rather than trying to look up answers in order to figure out the secret handshake.

I’ve played this game enough that I’d like to think that I can speak Chinese in an alternate reality where I’d never heard of Zelda, with almost every moment of that time spent on the N64 version. This time I opted for the 3DS. Personally, I find the graphical upgrade an oddly mixed blessing. They packed more detail into the textures and more stuff into houses and other locations to make Hyrule look like a well lived-in kingdom, and it really let me take my invasive need to snoop through other people’s homes to a new level. “Hey, listen! Go save Hyrule from evil!” “Can’t, Navi. There’s a banjo on this lady’s wall, and I want to see what’s in this box.” The great fairies’ breasts no longer look like someone carved them out of rock, with the indentation they left behind literally becoming the uncanny valley, but I’m still convinced they’ve probably had work done. On a similar note, Ruto no longer looks like she’s wandering around naked inside Jabu Jabu, but the fact that Nintendo successfully made me stare at fish tits for so long has left me feeling deeply confused…and oddly aroused…but definitely confused.

OoT Ruto

Still about as much fish as your average mermaid, but trading the tail for the head? Meh. I’m game. Let me dive into your water temple, o sage.

After beating the 3DS version, you unlock the master quest. I have never played this and will probably save it for another entry some day, but in short, this parallels the master quest of the original NES game, with new dungeon layouts and increased difficulty. One of the features, which I gather is unique to the 3DS, is that the overworld is, for whatever reason, completely mirrored, much like the Wii Twilight Princess. Since most Wii players are right-handed, this made sense for motion controls. However, since the only motion controls here involve a weird gyroscopic aiming option that just sends your arrows off into oblivion while inducing a mild sense of nausea, the only thing I can see is that this is to make the game more difficult. The concept of making a 20-year-old game harder is a good one, but there’s a difference between making enemies deal more damage and putting a virtual pair of beer goggles on the player.

Honestly, I liked what they did with the 3DS remake. More than the graphical update, they’ve also tweaked a few mechanics, such as making the boots usable items instead of demanding they be equipped and unequipped every few seconds—honestly, you’re supposed to be the Hero of Time, not an asthmatic knight gearing up for a joust. So worry not, readers, I still enjoy Ocarina of Time and will not malign it.

Even if Link to the Past was the better game.

OoT Zelda

Just tell me you didn’t love me when you thought I was a man and I’ll go.

Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

Clockwork.jpgGreetings, O my brothers! My appypolly loggy for this. I don’t mean to gavoreet about every book read, but this one is real horrorshow for the sarky, so I couldn’t resist the urge. Most of you likely slooshied about Clockwork Orange through the sinny, but it turns out it was a horrorshow book long before that Kubrik veck got his rookers on it. Problem is, as you might viddy by now, is that chelloveck, Anthony Burgess, used some bezoomny slovos, so that one viddy at the page and you feel like you’ve been tolchocked hard in the gulliver.

So really I don’t have much to say about Clockwork Orange, other than it sounds like it was written after Anthony Burgess had a stroke in his college Russian class. Oddly enough, by the end of chapter one I felt like I had remembered everything I forgot from my college Russian class. Having successfully finished the book, I think I can safely list Nadsat as a foreign language on my resume.

The story follows Alex, your average trendy, fashionable teenager with a group of close friends, a keen interest in music, the strength of a drunken gorilla and the charity and goodwill of a nest of wasps. Alex’s hobbies include Beethoven, nights out with his friends, milk bars (guess that means he’s a Zelda fan?) and sprees of motiveless violence that would make the most hardcore Neo-nazi, Khmer Rouge member, and GOP voter put down their guns and say, “Dude…you might want to cool down a bit.” After a few romps through the town, bullying and robbing random bystanders, raping anyone between the age of ten and ten thousand, and swimming in enough blood to negotiate with a pharaoh, Alex’s droogs (friends) challenge him for leadership of the gang and betray him to the millicents (police).

While not a fan of prison at first, Alex soon realizes that the state, in attempt to prevent him from committing anymore acts of ultra-violence on helpless victims, has thrown him into close quarters with people full of blood who are helpless to leave the cell. After he playfully stomps another prisoner’s head into mush underneath his boot, the state rethinks their rehabilitation techniques, and throws Alex into an experimental program that aims to create a Pavlovian sickness every time he witnesses acts of violence. It works, and they release him into the wild to go his merry way, find himself, and to get so violently ill that the only reason he doesn’t vomit out his stomach is that it’s roped to his anus by his intestines.

The story is simple and straightforward…you knnow…discounting the language barrier so steep that Trump wants to put it on our southern border. The “Clockwork Orange” of the title is Nadsat for “mechanically responsive man,” or Alex, and it asks some deep questions about the nature of choice and free will as an integral part of humanity, as well as showing how in spite of being the “good guys,” the government seems more interested in manipulating people for political gain rather than actually helping them.

The book is short, and the language is quite honestly presented in a way that you figure it out soon enough, so I can give this my seal of approval. And now I want to sink my zoobies into some groodies, and have a go at the old in-and-out, so I have to go find my zheena.

MAME Roulette #5

Here we go again…time crunches, painting the house, obligatory get-togethers with racist family members, and expending any leftover effort into not beating the shit out of the army of overweight women with lousy knees who want to be certified in CPR as long as everyone has the courtesy to die on a table top, I’m running out of time and coming fairly close to catching up with my entries. So here we go: MAME Roulette #5

Berlin Wall

The Chibi Vegetables imposed on the background of casual alcoholics really provides a striking commentary on the economic disparities of post WWII Germany.

The Berlin Wall

Today’s MAME Roulette starts off strong with a title that evokes merciless strength and fear into the hearts of those who hear it. The Berlin Wall, emblematic of the terror and strife of the cold war, would no doubt make a thrilling interactive noir stealth game with the potential to become a classic. And now that I’ve praised the title, let me tell you about the game itself, which combines elements of Dig Dug, Donkey Kong, Burger Time, and I think I even saw a bit of Bubble Bobble. You play as the most adorable Chibi Nato spy, running back and forth along the iron curtain, setting traps for the vile communist pumpkins, peppers, and other borscht-like agents of the Soviet Bloc. After digging a hole in the wall and trapping economically adversarial produce, you can smash them under the heel of your boot, sending them plummeting to their deaths and the deaths of their comrades below. Except sometimes you’ll encounter monsters that never chase you to a section of the wall you can trap. So on occasion, I’ve had a slew of enemies onstage milling about like a support group for clog-dancing oni, and I just have to wait until their meeting ends and they dance off to Perkins for their after party. There are also enemies that, as far as I can tell, know how to climb out of your traps and are thus unkillable, much like the true iron fist of communism. Hail comrades!

Double Dragon

After defeating Billy, the game decides Jimmy will now fight a fire. Hey, I don’t see Mortal Kombat coming up with anything new.

Double Dragon (Neo Geo)

Next up we have a true classic game…..’s spin-off. It make sense, right? Take a well-known beat-em-up and turn it into a fighting game. After all, the only real difference between the two genres is the length of the street. Unfortunately, that’s the limit of inspiration for this game. At least they were ambitious enough to add in a jazzy animation over not-Ken and not-Ryu’s signature moves so as not to get sued by Capcom. I’m pretty sure the game is narrated by the love-child of Futurama’s Inez Wong and every racist stereotype that ever appeared as an extra on M*A*S*H.

Golden Tee

This isn’t a screenshot. This is an actual video of someone golfing.

Golden Tee

I never understood why the world of sports penetrated so deep into video game culture, other than perhaps as a result of bullies trying to emasculate nerds. Sports games are so notoriously bad that they’re cheaper than toilet paper and less likely to sell when they’re used. That being said, Golden Tee is so bad that when I first searched for screenshots of the game, all I got was a bunch of generic pictures of arcade cabinets. The entire controls of Golden Tee consist of hitting the back button, then hitting forward. Sounds boring, but that’s pretty much all there is to actual golf, too. I’d say most of the challenge involves club selection, but even so I can’t figure out how to get the ball to go any farther—again, much like real golf. This game wouldn’t be interesting on a full-blown LSD trip. So…points for capturing the experience more realistically than any video game I have ever played. Next!

Circus Charlie

Let’s make it interesting, Charles. Most of these monkeys are harmless. One of them is the monkey from the movie Outbreak. Your move, clown.

Circus Charlie

There was a time in the mid 2000s when everyone with an inclination for programming put together their own flash game. By nature, these things were simple, and the simplicity often led to an addictive nature. In a way, it was a renaissance of the classic arcade era, where technical limitations just happened to force the ideal recipe for game play. That being said, there was something to be said for concept. The idea of shooting kittens from cannons for sport or stalking naked predatory rapists through the jungle. (my high score is 24,510. Leave a comment if you can top that). That being said, I can’t really envision anyone ditching school to blow off steam by playing Circus Charlie at the arcade. When the very first level has you literally jumping through hoops—an act we use to describe following tedious instructions to achieve a basic end—I really can’t see the entertainment value. You play as a clown performing a series of circus tricks, including jumping hoops while riding a lion, dodging kamikaze monkeys on a tightrope, and trampolining through a minor gang war of flaming bottles and knives. It isn’t terribly difficult, and occasionally a bird will come crap coins on your head. Big whoop. It has the simplistic, addictive game play of the aforementioned flash games, without giving me any content worth getting excited about. It’s like serving alfredo ravioli stuffed with packing peanuts.

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…ugh. No caption. Honestly I couldn’t care less.

Funny Mouse

I’m starting to notice a trend with arcade games, an epiphany delayed only by the fact that you have to have obvious differences before you can spot similarities. Let’s see…I’ll call this one a blend of Pac Man, Donkey Kong and Burger Time. I don’t know. You’re a mouse trying to raid the pantry, being chased by cats. Except unlike Pac Man where the ghosts have patterns and the maze has plenty of escape routes, the cats tend to corner you with the deadly efficiency of a police force coming down on a black man driving with a broken tail light. I’ve seen end-stage colon cancer patients with better chances and longer lives than this mouse. Chances are he’s less “Robin Williams funny” and more “I’m not sure the milk has turned yet funny,” since that’s the only way to explain why people keep shoveling quarters into this guy.

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Failure teaches success…I don’t know if that’s profound, or a subliminal message urging me to feed more money into the machine.

Mikie

What high school student wouldn’t want to dump quarter after quarter into a machine to play as a teenage version of Wayne Rogers, TV’s Trapper John from M*A*S*H? In Mikie (High School Graffiti), the player tries to knock other students out of their seats the way any mature 16-year-old boy would—by thrusting his ass in their face in the middle of class. He does this because apparently his girlfriend has written letters (no, not love letters. Actual letters, like a box of alphabets is the epitome of romantic expression) and hid them underneath other students. And since Mikie has a heart of gold and doesn’t mind that she extends the definition of “high functioning” autism so far that it’s collecting fucking moon rocks, he needs to gather these letters to figure out what to do next. Unfortunately, once he collects enough letters to spell out “OPEN!” he still has a way to go as he can’t figure out how to get through the classroom door. Meanwhile, your teacher chases you through the class as though wielding your sphincter as a class-A weapon can only be resolved through questionable physical contact. Actually, this proved a surprisingly good game, even though using A Hard Day’s Night on the soundtrack makes me wonder what they could have accomplished if they hadn’t shoveled their entire budget over to the Beatles’ estates.

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Am I imagining the similarities? The big blue eyes, the curly blond hair…that Mikie is one smooth, wisecracking operator!

Last Fortress

I’d do her…but only after a rousing bastardization of a classic Chinese game of chance.

The Last Fortress

In continuance of the trend of describing games as remixes of other things, The Last Fortress gives us a pretty straightforward description. Rather than stealing ideas from famous arcade games, this game plays like a combination of Mahjong an a faded Playboy that you found in the woods behind the school. Rather than pulling out matched sets of tiles, you can form a hand of up to six that you can match with available pieces on the board. It’s almost like playing go fish. Except you’re fishing for nipples. This game teachings good morals. For instance, a second player can (I assume) help you clear the board faster, just going to prove that cooperation is the best way to get laid. Seriously though, if I were really dropping quarters into this thing every time I tried to get closer to one of the badly pixelated 8-bit nudes, I could have just as easily bought a dirty magazine and had ten times as many girls to look at without any of the work. And I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that Redtube wasn’t available back then.

Final Fantasy Adventure – Game Boy

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I’m pretty sure we’re looking at Skynet in his punk adolescent years.

Nineteen Eighty-Nine, bitches! Now you’re playing with power! Portable power! Nintendo successfully shoved all eight bits of their classic system into the ridiculously oversized pockets of your soon-to-be outdated parachute pants. This was so awesome, that virtually nobody cared that the green-on-green color scheme looked like someone had puked on a jungle commando in Vietnam, and that you could only see it under the noonday sun in death valley, if the batteries lasted longer than the drive to Radio Shack to buy new batteries. This was portable fuckin’ power! By which I assume they mean either the power to strengthen your wrist to Popeye proportions as you held up the game with the required lighting attachments, or the power to turn your anti-video game mom into a hardened criminal who swipes your copy of Tetris for long plane rides.

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“If you put it just really simply, these violent video games are stealing the innocence of our children…” Which is why I have to steal my daughter’s Game Boy to play Tetris. Forget Benghazzi. This is the real crime. Lock her up!

Nintendo has a long history of innovation which usually lead the world into the realm of science-fiction ten or fifteen years down the road, but in the mean time they usually just induce stress fractures to your neck while staring at a rage-inducing red screen, require importing the cool stuff from Japan, or make you waggle a stick until the game enjoys itself more than you do. And even though we tend to remember the Game Boy more fondly than our first hand-job, I have to be honest to say that, like aforementioned hand-job, the fun was a little rough around the edges. Cartridges were a fraction of the size that NES games were, and with all that games had to be cut down, mangled and stuffed into cramped spaces, the offices at Nintendo probably resembled the aftermath of a game of Truth or Dare played by serial killers.

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She doesn’t like it when you come into her mouth without telling her.

Enter Final Fantasy Adventure, which as best I can tell is Final Fantasy’s sixth installment in its own series while simultaneously the first game in their second spinoff which ended up being either the first Seiken Densetsu game or the prequel to the Mana series, depending on how you want to look at it. (However you look at it, this game is striking evidence in my theory that Japan numbers their sequels using a dyslexic idiot savant in the throes of a grand mal seizure induced by a cocaine overdose). This game provides an interesting example of how a Game Boy game can be both amazingly good and simultaneously more gaunt and emaciated than an anorexic greyhound with a heroine addiction.

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Dr. Bowwow reveals his cyborg chocobo. This game isn’t weird at all.

Gameplay resembles something Koichi Ishii scribbled out on a cocktail napkin after downing three bottles of sake before sobering up to make Secret of Mana. The player wanders through an expansive world that stretches as far as the eye can see (or until they run out of unique ID numbers represented by an eight-digit binary code. Whichever comes first). The map is split into grids, with each of the 256 areas being roughly the size of an airplane bathroom. As per usual, the goal is to traverse through hidden dungeons and towers clearly designed by a single bored architect who knew he had a monopoly on the construction market, so he drew a square room with doors exactly in the center of the wall, pumped out about 256 photocopies, sold the designs, and took all his GP and skedaddled to some colorful, tropical island likely on the Game Gear.

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…I’m not sure that’s how that works.

Also present in nascent form are most Secret of Mana enemies, system of casting spells—albeit without adorable elemental sidekicks—and the concept of switching weapons to progress. As in the Seiken Densetsu series proper, the hero wields not just a sword, but axes, spears, whips, chains (and various assorted leathers and novelty condoms), sickles, turkey basters, weed wackers, enema bags, croûtons, medical malpractice attorneys, cocker spaniels and…you get the picture. Long list of irrelevant objects. Haha. Moving on. Your axe can cut down trees while the sickle can cut grass, and whips let you swing like Pitfall Harry over chasms and rivers. You know there’s a problem coming, right? See, the weapons don’t level up with you, and I’ve seen blind guys operate touch screens on drive-through ATMs with more fluid ease than Final Fantasy Adventure’s menu system, so occasionally the game all but forces you to fight with whatever weapon you need to cross barriers. You could look like Fabio and Arnold Schwarzenegger joined together Voltron style, but the instant the batteries fall out of your plastic Sword of Omens, even the cute little duck with bowl-cut hair is going to laugh at you. You get stronger and stronger weapons right up to the final boss fight, but once you get the morning star, that lets you harm magical enemies as well as break through walls that would otherwise require a special item, any stronger weapons you find only serve to mock you with their muscle-bound impotence.

Final Fantasy Adventure-170621-093725The game is unfortunately obtuse when it comes to objectives, directions, or puzzles. For a game that traps you in an area of no more than 8 squares at a time, methods to progress are harder to find than the Ark of the Covenant…and no one thought for an instant that Indy would blow that thing up. Here, I think I did drop key items by accident at least once or twice. Some doors can only be opened if you backtrack halfway across Antarctica to find one merchant who sells a specific item that you didn’t know you need. Some switches activate when you step on them, when you stand on them, or occasionally only when you turn an enemy into a snowman and push them onto the switch, as though your lean 80kg of muscle is no match for their 160kg of Mackinac Island Fudge. In the final dungeon I passed the point of no return and realized I hadn’t brought any keys with me. Far from being stuck, FF Adventure just expected me to find the one low-level enemy wandering the tower that dropped the keys, and that if I just left one of them alive before leaving the room, they wouldn’t vanish into oblivion like a dead parrot. Easy. I long for the days when I could just get lost in a labyrinth of rooms that all looked identical.

Final Fantasy Adventure-170621-110021And yet I made it through, though being holed up in the woods of Northern Michigan on vacation, I really tested my data plan’s limits in digging up walkthroughs and maps. Somehow I survived the repetition and the unintuitive puzzles and the inventory system that lets you keep fewer items on your person than Joliet Prison. The game did throw some fairly interesting boss fights my way, but wandering around aimlessly does tend to pack on a few extra levels, and with a side character who heals you whenever you ask, Final Fantasy Adventure tends to lean toward the easy side.

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As opposed to other plants that crave electrolytes.

Spoiler alert: the hero is the ghost from the beginning of Secret of Mana, and his girlfriend is the Mana Tree. Which means somewhere behind the scenes, these two stripped off their green-on-green armor and tuned up their mana weapons to level up their 8-bits into the hero from the SNES game. I’m tempted to say, “At least Squaresoft had the good taste not to show that,” but since Custer’s Revenge still has more views than any other article on my blog, I think I’m obligated to express disappointment in the lack of pixel porn in the game.