Hey! The year’s almost over! At least, it will be by the time you read this. I’m actually writing this on August 10th, but I can still anticipate wanting a week off, so I’ve gone to Maui for Christmas! So I thought I have all these games in MAME that will probably never see their own week’s entry, so I might as well pick a few at random and tell you all about them.
Wait, this name sounds familiar…this is the Japanese name for Castlevania! Known as Haunted Castle in America, this is everything you’d expect of an arcade Castlevania. When you drop a quarter in the slot (or, on MAME, hit the lesser-expensive select button) it plays the tone of a wolf howling. Nice touch. Next, you’re treated to an introductory scene of a bride and groom walking through a field when Dracula swoops in and abducts the girl. Come on, Konami. I know the whole save-the-princess theme is a tried-and-true video game trope, but I don’t really think that’s Dracula’s M.O. He’s more of a “love ‘em and eat ‘em” kind of guy. And I’m certain he’s not likely to stage an abduction in broad daylight next to a man known for staking down vampires like a tent. But hey, whatever. It’s a Castlevania game. And it plays pretty much like all the console games, with the hero (I assume a Belmont, but it’s an arcade, not a library) strolling through a graveyard full of hell spawn like he’s just out getting some fresh air. Oddly enough, while he walks with all the urgency of farm machinery, when he jumps he becomes lithe and airy, like Tarzan of Transylvania. There aren’t too many surprises here, but it’s worth noting that the bats are annoying as fuck, flying around like snowflakes. I could have made it twice as far without them. Oh, and also, no matter how many quarters you pump into the machine, you still only get a limited number of continues. Next game.
This 1981 classic takes little to review. You try to get across a road alive, then try to cross a pond. It’s hard. End of story. Unless, of course, you want to stop to ask why the frog dies if he jumps in the water. He’s a frog. An amphibian: a name that implies a dual life both on land and in the water. One would think that successfully navigating the frog to his home would do a massive disservice to evolution, allowing the species to pass on genes that make them violently allergic to their own habitat. And what exactly is a “frogger”? The word appears to be a noun. Frogger: (n) One who frogs. What does frog mean as a verb? I can only gather from the context that “to frog” means to dress in a black and white striped shirt, don a beret, and wander around town talking like Maurice Chevalier. However, the dictionary disagrees with me, listing the definition of “to frog” as “to hunt and catch frogs.” That, of course, means that rather than the player-character, the only actual froggers in the game are the alligators eying you up like a green cheesecake bouncing toward the river and the speeding cars looking to polish the asphalt with your vascular system. Way to go, Konami. You really frogged that one up.
Gimme a Break
In the late 80s, I don’t tend to remember a lot of kids scrambling to the arcade after school to play simulated pool, so I can only assume that this game was created for barflies who were too drunk to be trusted not to launch the billiards into the bartender’s head or jab another patron in the crotch with what is basically a blunted javelin. So for a mere twenty-five cents, the “too drunk to remember being acquainted with language” demographic can roll around a trackball in this mostly pointless game. Very few rules of the game are observed, and you basically just chuck the q-ball around the table until every other ball has been sunk into a pocket. It’s even more pointless when you realize that any subliminal advertising for Kit-Kat will be lost when the player blacks out the events of the evening. Also, I’m playing on MAME, which is emulating the trackball about as well as George W. Bush trying to disguise himself as a Harlem Globetrotter. Also like George Bush, no matter where I aim, all my shots go right.
This sounds cool! Gun Dealer! A game that obviously puts you in the dangerous lifestyle of an illicit arms salesman, eluding capture from the feds! And hey, it has a hot anime chick holding a tommy gun on the intro screen!
It’s Tetris. It’s Tetris with a deck of cards. This game delivers on the “dealer” promise, but you’d have better luck finding guns in a Yankee Candle store. I was starting to think the idea of Tetris where instead of lines, you make poker hands would be an interesting idea, but then I realized that with five columns you could just drop cards into columns of the same suit and rack up a string of flushes. I think there’s more to it than that because after the first round it didn’t seem satisfied with my performance, took my quarter and ran, but I think I’ll chalk that one up to a mutual break up.
This is easily the weirdest yet oddly playable game on this list today. Somewhat reminiscent of Japanese game shows, Penguin-kun Wars pits an army of chibi animals against one another in a no-holds-barred, fight-to-the-death, er…ball rolling tournament. You play as the titular Penguin-kun, facing off against your cute, cuddly opponents, trying to bash their heads in by rolling balls across a table. It turns out, the object is to get all the balls on the other side of the table at one point, while your opponent does the same. Barring that, there’s a time limit, and the player with the least balls after one minute wins. Yes, that’s pretty much the opposite of most real-life men’s sports, but I think Lance Armstrong set a noble precedent. Unfortunately, Penguin-kun can’t dope up, so this game is pretty challenging, but not quarter gobbling. There’s a strategy. If you can smack your opponent once, then hit him again before he wakes up, you’ll have the few seconds you need to grab all the balls and shoot them to the other side, allowing you to advance to the next match in the tournament while your opponent likely advances to several years of physical therapy and reconstructive surgery.