MAME Roulette #2

amigo

A yellow gorilla collects pellets to paint the town blue against the wishes of green tribal stereotypes. It’s so obvious, I’m ashamed it took so long for them to make the game!

Amigo

Amigo is the Spanish word for friend, which, in addition to opening up Mexican Moria, might make you think this game has a Hispanic flair to it. And it does, assuming that instead of running with the bulls, you run with…I don’t know…zookeepers? Pigs? Angry stereotypes of African villagers? It’s a Pac Man clone. During the 80s there was no shortage of enterprising video game characters out collecting dots, presumably to sell either to an episode of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse or to angry Reagan supporters who will use them to stone the gays for creating aids (assuming they can’t find any welfare queens first). This character is a chicken. Or a gorilla. Or a paintbrush. Fuck it…this review would be easier to write if I were on an acid trip. Despite the fact that it’s essentially Pac Man, it’s not incredibly intuitive. It’s like saying, “I developed a new smartphone! It works like Android, except it only runs on hydroelectric power and you turn it on by sacrificing your neighbor’s pomeranian to the elder god Cthulu.” Still, it’s pretty novel to have an attack that makes all your enemies jump over you like you upended the trampoline they were all standing on.

azurian

Gives a whole new meaning to the term “Spaceballs”

Azurian Attack

Also abundant during the 80s were space invasions. Disheartened from constant failures in 1950s sci-fi movies, 80s video game aliens didn’t even bother getting out of their spaceships. Opting instead for a McDonald’s drive-through invasion of earth, they pulled their saucers up to the atmosphere and interacted with earth heroes through their spaceship intercoms. In Azurian Attack, they ramp down the invasion even more. Or maybe Earth put a sign on the moon saying, “Only three invaders allowed into planet at a time,” and the aliens were dumb enough to queue up by Mars. Unlike Galaga or Space Invaders, your ship in Azurian Attack can fly anywhere on the screen and make turns. Of course it handles like shooting golf balls off a snowmobile driven by a monkey over a frozen lake. Maybe the game ups the stakes later on with four or even five enemies at a time, but after the first time I died, the crash sound effect refused to stop playing, so I refused to keep playing. Also the spaceship looks like a dick and balls.

blades

Lining up for the face off was the one thing I knew how to do in real life.

Blades of Steel

Way back ‘round 1990, I bought my first Nintendo off of one of my father’s students. Long before the first Madden game came out, sports nuts had to get their fix of buyers remorse some other way, and this kid bought all the big-name NES sports titles, including Blades of Steel. Despite my disappointment that it wasn’t a swashbuckling adventure about the end of the bronze age, it came with the NES, and having no money, I played it. The arcade version, naturally, is a little fancier. One quarter gets you a minute of playtime, (A standard hockey game lasts 60 minutes of play, and fifteen dollars falls in that weird range where it’s too much to pay for hockey admission and too little to pay for a prostitute.) but the game adds and removes time based on how many goals you score and how many you let in. (A policy that could add some excitement to an evening with a prostitute).

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Why do hockey players insist on punching each other all the time? Don’t they know they’ve got razors attached to their feet? It’s in the title of the game for god’s sake!

Having more teammates than buttons makes controlling your players feel like a few dozen laps around a pool filled with Jello. Within the first five seconds of the game, I won the face off, lost a fight, let in a goal, and lost 10 seconds. There doesn’t seem to be an option to aim, so passing the puck is like handing a switchblade to a toddler—the result might be unpredictable, but there’s a good chance you’re going to wind up covered in blood and regretting your decision. I ended up playing for about fifteen minutes, though, and actually won the game 11-9. Much like real hockey, I spent most of my time offsides, the refs didn’t care about the spontaneous boxing matches, it felt like it took forever, and I’m pretty sure that playing the game the way that I did probably would have disappointed my father. Unlike real hockey, I actually got better at it, and I didn’t have to spend all my time with a team full of assholes.

fast-freddie

Sadly, Freddie got caught in his safety harness and ended up dangling like an old west outlaw.

Fast Freddie

Contrary to what the title may imply, Fast Freddie is not the pickup artist who shows Leisure Suit Larry how the job is done right. Freddie is, rather, a cousin of the Hawaiian punch guy with a hang glider and a penchant for mugging the camera. Your job is to leap off a cliff and not fall to your untimely death as a mangled sack of broken bones floating in what used to be your organs. You will, of course, have to contend with a pro-meat-sack agenda, as you dodge some sort of murderous air show of pilots who desperately want to run you through their propellers like a witless sea gull. Freddie wins, I assume, if you make it to the end of each course without being hosed off a fuselage. The game encourages you to be a dick and buzz low over trees and houses, picking up the letters to spell “bonus.” I never did this. Nor did I finish the first course. There’s a helicopter who, I’m sure, has violated quite a few FAA regulations in his quest to replace the casket at your funeral with a series of Tupperware containers.

knock-out

Easily discernible from Amigo because instead of painting squares blue, you paint them teal.

Knock Out!

Here’s an example of a wasted name. Knock Out! would make a perfect name for a Punch Out! Clone. But instead of boxing, I got an Amigo clone. That’s right…a clone of a clone. And much like Jurassic Park filled in the holes in their clones with frog DNA (which would probably look less like a dinosaur and more like a pokemon with down syndrome), Knock Out! mixes their Amigo-ness with Donkey Kong. All this cloning makes it look like a tired effort. Even the characters are tired. Mario won’t jump, and Donkey Kong has grabbed the hammer since throwing barrels would take too much effort.

mania

Afterwards they go to the gym to lift their huge triangular iron weights.

Mania Challenge

My Mame Roulette skills finally granted me a reprieve from clones by hitting on a knock off. I’m guessing “Wrestle Mania” is copyrighted because that’s about the only thing keeping this game from getting hit with a steel folding lawsuit—being put in a “lawsuitplex,” if you will. (What? You won’t? Screw you.) You play as Dynamite Tommy, fighting against some luchador who simply goes by “Insane Warrior.” The game contains all your standard pro-wrestling moves: the suplex, the clothesline, the rope-bouncy run, the vaguely sexual vertical 69, and my personal favorite, the stop-and-wonder-if-any-of-this-is-real. The game might have gone better for me if I didn’t just mash buttons like I had an itch at the tip of my thumb, but as it is, my opponent and I set some sort of record for number of double-knock-outs.

MAME Roulette

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.

Akuma-Jou Dracula

Haunted_Castle_(Arcade)_03

Belmont is either going to punch Dracula with an oversized cartoon fist, or he’s about to go super saiyan.

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.

Haunted Castle

This is either a bad ad for an arcade game, or a good ad for a bad porn. Either way, nothing’s getting turned on.

Frogger

Frogger

The hydrophobic amphibian waits in the street to end it all. Trust me. He’s better off.

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

Gimme

Fun fact: there’s absolutely no way to make this caption interesting.

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.

Gun Dealer

gundealer010

Nice guns.

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!

 

Gun Dealer

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.

Penguin-kun Wars

Penguin Kun Wars (J)

I think I’ve played this game in real life…when I was six years old.

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.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time – Arcade, SNES

RetroArch-0611-162908

…am I interrupting something?

As I’ve established in recent posts, I currently have about as much spare time as a 120-year-old end stage cancer patient; therefore, I’ve needed to stray from my usual RPG/Survival Horror predilections to find games I can finish in a short afternoon. Even better, though, why not cash in on the gaming industry’s Paris-Hilton-level of ambition and write about a game that didn’t bother to make any contributions to its genre, innovations for gaming, or changes to any previous games in general? Why not write about a game exactly like one I’ve already written about, thus raising this circle of laziness to college-student-on-pot-who-still-has-a-few-days-before-the-term-paper-deadline-to-get-started proportions!

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Shredder’s script here reads, “Prance with lightsaber.”

In my TMNT II: The Arcade Game post, I described how even though the original NES Ninja Turtle game was well-conceived, fun to play, and unique, the simple facts that a) it was not the arcade game and b) it had a jump in the third stage so difficult that it rendered the rest of the game inaccessible, made the game only slightly less disappointing than The Force Awakens. As such, Konami released it the following year on NES. But unable to allow their fan base to experience any more satisfaction than a eunuch in a brothel, they had to release an even better arcade game the following year. And by “better” I mean essentially identical to any other beat-em-up game released between 1987 and the Second Coming.

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The tactical advantage of being air-lifted in a meter off the ground by a pterodacty ready to die of exhaustion is somewhat underappreciated in the shadow of using medieval weaponry while you have access to the entire history of weaponry.

TMNT: Turtles in Time tells the story of a villain who we’re supposed to respect as a badass super-ninja, but who really has less a grip on reality than the Creation Science Museum. The Shredder has invented time travel, but rather than manipulating his knowledge of the future in a Biff-Tannen-style bid for fortunes that would humiliate Donald Trump, or even studying all the crucial battles in history in order to sweep through the past and conquer the entire world, he opts to enact a cockamamie vengeance on the Ninja Turtles under the assumption that he only loses to them time and time again because he’s never faced them from the back of a velociraptor on the deck of a pirate ship. I suppose we’re not supposed to ask how the Shredder formed an alliance with pterodactyls and fire-breathing deinonychuses, although I assume it wasn’t a hefty salary. Shredder seems to have spent so much on the time machine that his foot soldiers can’t afford anything more than medieval weaponry, even in the distant future. He could have probably evened out the odds against the turtles if he had sold the technodrome and bought an AK-47. Although if the Turtles have taught me anything, it’s that slicing the solid-steel barrel off of a gun with a sword leaves it as useless as a squirt gun filled with jello.

RetroArch-0611-163556

Exploding mud. Taking a page from Goldeneye’s playbook here.

The game plays…literally like every other beat-em-up game to that point. You have an attack button and a jump button. Enemies come at you. Go get ‘em, tiger. To Turtles in Time’s credit, though, they did improve a handful of things. If you hit the attack button multiple times, the game will cycle through a short series of attacks, rather than repeating the same animation over and over like a buzzfeed gif with no caption. Occasionally, you’ll pick up a foot soldier and chuck them at the screen; I don’t exactly know how and the game only gives instructions when that knowledge won’t interfere with you putting more quarters in the machine. The game is, however, designed to do just that. Like any good arcade game, Turtles in Time puts you at a severe disadvantage. Bosses, in particular, have an excessive amount of health, and they don’t do that thing where they start flashing as they get weaker. It often left me wondering how many times I had to stab a guy in the head before he started showing signs of fatigue.

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Why do I feel like something obscene is going on here?

Beyond that, I really can’t say much about the game. You progress through levels. You drop in your entire college savings fund. You fight the monsters from the live-action Turtles movie as though Bebop and Rocksteady are the only henchmen in super hero history that are too delicate to survive routine pummelings. You eat pizza off the ground. A mud monster explodes. Michelangelo makes nun-chucks look like a weapon that wouldn’t constantly give its user accidental concussions. You chase around Kraang in his homoerotic Cho-Aniki bodysuit for a while. Then you fight Shredder.

I still think “Foot Clan” would be an awesome name for a band.

RetroArch-0611-161458

Okay, I KNOW something obscene is happening here.

Galaga – Arcade

Galaga

Twice the ships! Twice the firepower! Twice the target for the space bugs!

This blog gets viewers so rarely, I’m starting to think I may actually be writing an M. Night Shyamalan film. So whenever I have to switch to bi-monthly updates instead of weekly ones, I can’t help but think that will be the final nail in the coffin, the act that will dethrone me from my lavish lifestyle of fame, fortune, a diet consisting entirely of ramen and twinkies, and a driveway that turns into applesauce if it rained at all within the last decade. Unfortunately, since blogging wouldn’t pay the bills if the electric company issued me a refund for ten years of overcharging me, so I sometimes have to focus on other things, such as a horror novel that will probably get published as soon as the Republicans and Democrats finally agree on something (which with my luck, they’ll outlaw reading and writing), a comedic history of Duluth using sources with less historical continuity than the Star Wars prequels, not to mention I’m attempting to get licensed to teach public school, which involves less knowledge of the stuff you’re teaching and more learning how to avoid the temptation to go ballistic with a ruler when a classroom of 35 kids decides they’d rather re-enact the Iliad than read it. So here’s Galaga, the first of a series of games that I can play in an afternoon, write a few paragraphs about, then schedule it to post sometime in March.

 

It’s Space Invaders on steroids. There. Done. See you in two weeks!

 

GalagC

Space bugs apparently need wings to fly through a vacuum.

Seriously, though. I just spent about a half hour after writing that last sentence trying to think of something else to say. This game clearly belongs in a 1981 arcade. It effectively holds my attention for about a quarter’s worth of my time (have you ever noticed there’s no symbol for cents on the keyboard? That’s pretty obnoxious), and that’s even taking inflation into account. I’m sure in 1981, the idea of sliding a pixelated spaceship back and forth at the bottom of the screen while spamming the attack button could have held me in rapt attention well beyond the 45 seconds it took for the game to reduce all three of my lives to shrapnel. With a pocket full of quarters and the technology for better games still years away, the game works like a Nigerian prince scam. You feel invested in the game, and that one time you blew up–that was just a stupid mistake. If you drop in another quarter, you’ll get much more play time on this next round.

 

Nowadays, a quarter isn’t so much an investment as a game of chance, “I think I can get in and out of the game store in twenty minutes if I only put one coin in the meter,” or even, “They quit enforcing the meters at 5:30. What are the chances I’ll get a ticket in the next thirty minutes?” Games are also generally better designed. Outer space has three whole dimensions, Galaga. Your ship moves on a line. That’s two dimensions you’re just refusing to use. “There’s an enemy approaching from the left. I have literally an infinite number of directions I can go to evade, most of which I could literally travel for eternity without hitting anything, but if I can’t go exactly 90 to my immediate right, life isn’t worth living.”

 

So…Galaga…worth playing? Maybe if your father contracted malaria from a mosquito and you have the overwhelming urge to seek revenge on giant space bugs. The enemies provide the only really interesting aspect to the game, swooping in like a flock of drunken geese with their bug-like wings flapping uselessly in the vacuum of space.  But once you’ve seen that, you’re just playing Space Invaders, in color, without the shields. I rank it with Moby Dick as a timeless classic about an epic battle that also doubles as a sleep aid.

Galagb

Yep…and here’s a space bug with a tractor beam. Not a lot of variety in Galaga screenshots.

Joust – Arcade, Atari, NES

Joust Box Scan (Front)

Fun fact: Geoffrey of Monmouth, the early 12th century author who practically invented the King Arthur we know and love, also invented jousting. Geoffrey wrote about games where knights would put on their team colors, and the cheerleaders would refuse to put out for any knight who didn’t knock at least three guys off their horses. “In this way,” wrote Geoffrey, “the skanky hos stopped fucking everyone in sight and the men finally had an incentive for not getting themselves killed in battle.” (I may have paraphrased somewhat.) Based on images stitched into the Bayeux Tapestry sixty years before Geoffrey wrote, in order to actually develop games in which soldiers tried to pull off a “Christopher Reeve” on their friends, knocking them brutally off a charging horse, they first had to develop the proper technology to actually keep them on said horses–without proper bracings, shoving your lance into another dude (to win the chance to shove your lance into one of the cheerleaders) would end up knocking you off your horse as well.

Here you see me jousting...

Here you see me jousting…

But hey, don’t worry about all that! Because the 1982 Arcade classic Joust eliminates all that by placing its knight on the back of a less-popularly used tournament mount. An ostrich. And you fight other knights riding buzzards. This avian interpretation of a medieval game seems rather eclectic, but gameplay almost necessitates this. Remember in the early 80s, only vector graphics games dared attempt a 1st person perspective (remember the 1983 Star Wars game?), and a 2-dimensional game on a horse really limited a players options for stabbing an opponent. The use of the discount chocobo allowed programmers to make the best use of the playing field. As for their choice of using a flightless bird…don’t ask. I can’t even guess, let alone make it sound smart.

Jousters, riding aforementioned ostriches attempt to fly around a small screen knocking other knights off their buzzards. It took me a while to figure out how to do this. At first I thought I needed to build up a reasonable speed, but that didn’t work. I thought hitting the “flap” button at just the right time might do something special, but I still ended up un-ostriched. In the end, it turns out you had to have a slightly higher altitude than your opponent. At any speed. So you just jump on them. Like in every video game ever. Afterwards, the enemies drop eggs that you have to collect within a certain time frame or else, of course, other knights will hatch, with a buzzard standing by for it to jump on and continue jousting. The game definitely has its quirks.

And here you see me jousting, but with lava pits. Congratulations. You've seen the whole game.

And here you see me jousting, but with lava pits. Congratulations. You’ve seen the whole game.

So this all seems rather easy. The environment doesn’t change much–occasionally opening up small lava pits on the ground–and beyond the occasional stray pterodactyl, you don’t have a huge variety of knights to un-buzzard. The true challenge that Joust offers stems from the need to constantly spam the “flap” button to keep aloft, combined with your ostrich careening forward with the momentum of a cargo train and the elasticity of a golf ball hit into a concrete tunnel. Slow to upper-moderate mashing of the flap button will slow your decent by varying amount. Fast mashing of the button maintains your altitude, usually to keep you steady on your track to deflect like a super ball off one of the platforms. If you want to gain altitude, you’ll have to spam the flap button with the up-and-down speed and stamina one can only develop after decades of chronic masturbation. Since getting married, I may have lost that skill. Fortunately, I have use of a turbo controller.

And really…that describes the entire game. The quirkiness held me rapt for a grand total of five minute, and I think the first time I played it I forced myself to keep going at least to the 10 minute mark, but by then I realized the gameplay didn’t intend to change much. It didn’t get harder. It didn’t offer new challenges, scenery, enemies, or even palate swaps. It just sat there, asking me to keep giving it quarters to keep riding the ostrich. Fortunately, I decided that if I use “riding the ostrich” as a euphemism, I can have a lot more fun for free. Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest looks a little more promising for long-term play, though.

Special thanks to JD for the suggestion. Sorry it took me eight months to get to it, but it took me almost that long to track down the game.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game – Arcade, NES

I have to run! I could never hope to defeat a lone ninja turtle severely weakened by a fight with Rocksteady! I'll have to wait until later!

I have to run! I could never hope to defeat a lone ninja turtle severely weakened by a fight with Rocksteady! I’ll have to wait until later!

Since I plan to write about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – The Arcade Game, I’d like to start in the most logical place: porn. See, I enjoy porn as much as the next guy, but sometimes it feels just a little superficial. And really, who among you can’t say you’ve ever longed for moving, well-written art with an insightful message…and naked people? Well, about a year ago I sat flipping through cosplay pictures when I encountered the blog of an attractive girl ready to burst out of her yellow jumpsuit at the slightest hint of a deep breath. She had some interesting posts, and clearly spent a lot of time at comic conventions seeking out others with well-built costumes. No pun intended. And after about two or three pages of this, she posted a picture of herself, sans costume. See, April O’Neil loves the Ninja Turtles so much that she adopted the cartoon reporter’s name for her own porn stage name. (Go ahead, before your eyes combust: NSFW Just come back and finish my article!) Oddly enough, I found I enjoy thinking, “Wow, some of these people I watch might actually share similar interests with me!” And now her videos somehow seem better.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, explains my stance on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – The Arcade Game. As I’ve written before, games in the beat-em-up genre really don’t have enough differences to really merit separate reviews for any of them. You choose a character, the game starts, enemies attack, you beat-em-up, then move to the next area of the stage, of which the game usually has five or six. Since developers design arcade games to gobble quarters like a bukkake actress, you usually face difficulty somewhere between “theoretical quantum physics” (on the low end) and “pulling the store sticker off the book/movie/game you just bought without leaving any residue” (on the high). Sure, some of them give you the option of a special attack button, or the novelty of mocking Michael Jackson’s pedophilia hobby, but basically–like porn–these games only offer you different appearances for the same thing. But also like porn, Ninja Turtles makes everything better.

What practical application could this vehicle have? Even assuming NYC didn't purchase this with tax dollars, someone had to have built it and then marketed it to super villains.

What practical application could this vehicle have? Even assuming NYC didn’t purchase this with tax dollars, someone had to have built it and then marketed it to super villains.

In 1989, Konami published two Turtles games–one for the arcade and one for the NES. You might remember the NES game either from the box art that featured Raphael posing with three of his clones, or from the crushing disappointment everyone experienced when they brought the game home and found out they still had to save up their quarters to play the game they actually wanted. While this may have caused two or three…million…people to overlook an excellent–yet difficult–game, I’ve written about that elsewhere. Konami had the more noteworthy reaction to this, realizing people might actually want to play certain games under conditions other than standing up in crowded hovels of jet-engine level noise with a queue of angry kids behind you waiting to play and three beside you trying to mooch the remainders of your dwindling pile of quarters away from you. Roughly a year later, Konami presented Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – The Arcade Game on store shelves as if they had planned on doing that all along.

Pizza Hut bought advertising space in video games long before Barack Obama made it cool.

Pizza Hut bought advertising space in video games long before Barack Obama made it cool.

While I have to hand it to Konami for faithfully adapting the Ninja Turtles cartoon, I also have to applaud them for scaling down an arcade game to an 8-bit system without Michael Bay-ing the quality (yes, you heard me. A coin-eating, side-scrolling beat-em-up game with virtually no plot has more class than any Michael Bay movie I’ve ever seen). I played through both the MAME and the NES editions before writing. Generally, playing an arcade game for free has all the thrill and excitement of shooting craps for sock lint and twigs, so I didn’t exactly expect to need an industrial solvent to unglue myself from MAME. However, I want to say that the NES game stands on its own as the finest gem that ever crawled from the sewers of New York City. Despite scaled-down graphics, most stages remain unchanged except for a few areas (including one complete additional stage), two or three boss battles, and shameless product placement on the part of Pizza Hut. Play control remains smooth, giving the player two whole attacks!–the characters’ weapon, plus a flying ninja kick harder to aim than a bucket of pachinko balls.

Raph needs to double-check his sights before his next jump.

Raph needs to double-check his sights before his next jump.

Character design, unfortunately, doesn’t distinguish between individual turtles, though. Although I understand this design for an arcade game. In the original NES game, I tended to use Leonardo and Donatello. Why wouldn’t I go for the turtle with the pair of sharpened blades, or the guy with a two-meter reach? I imagine late-comers to the arcade cabinet wouldn’t have appreciated the others saddling them with Raphael, the ninja trained in the art of hitting people with a blunt metal rod from a distance just far enough away that the enemy can uncross his eyes. So they shrunk down Don’s staff, blunted Leo’s blades, and added a good deal of oomph to Michaelangelo and Raphael. But if the turtles seem oddly underpowered, fear not. To a limited extent, the player can interact with the environment, hitting conspicuous objects into enemies. Granted, we may have preferred a Special Attack option, but with only two buttons, I guess we’ll take what they offer us–apparently a world where chucking a traffic cone at a trained warrior hurts twice as much as stabbing him with a sword.

...can you repay me like the porn star would?

…can you repay me like the porn star would?

What traces of a story I found roughly reprise the plot of the original NES game–perhaps because Konami developed the games along side each other. The turtles begin atop a building–where you may expect to find sewer-dwelling creatures–with Splinter. Splinter points at a burning building and astutely observes “Fire!” Our half-shelled heroes miraculously divine the correct interpretation from this–that Shredder has kidnapped April (the character, not the porn star) and that they need to chase Bebop and Rocksteady and some other villains from the cartoon to get her back. Halfway through the game you rescue her, but keep going (because…why not?) until you rescue Splinter.

Wow, you know what would really help right now? If someone with jonin ninja skills--or at least sharp teeth like a rat--could break free of that string holding him and give me a fucking hand!

Wow, you know what would really help right now? If someone with jonin ninja skills–or at least sharp teeth like a rat–could break free of that string holding him and give me a fucking hand!

Wait, Splinter? Didn’t we just see him on the rooftop? Did Shredder kidnap April and start that fire just to lure the turtles away from the rat sensei? And if the turtles didn’t need so much as a ransom note, they must have just assumed Shredder intended to…oh, just take my quarters already! I can forgive the lame plot. I can even forgive April for playing into the damsel-in-distress cliche. After all, a reporter doesn’t need ninja powers to do her job. She just has to act charming, know where to find interesting scenes, and look good on camera. Much like a porn star. But how in the hell does Splinter keep getting kidnapped? Every time the Foot Clan comes knocking, the legendary ninja master somehow doesn’t have so much as the skill to squeeze the last of the toothpaste from the tube, much less an ounce of stealth or offensive technique. Maybe, Splinter, you could put up slightly more resistance than Princess Peach? Just once in a while? Show us your moves? Meh. Whatever. National Geographic just told me that elephants can experience symptoms similar to PTSD. Maybe rats can get Stockholm Syndrome.

...help me?

…help me?

I fear I may have hit the bottom of the septic tank for things to say about this game. Pretty shallow for a beat-em-up game, but of course if you dig deeper and get to know your characters, maybe you’ll start seeing it as a master piece of Ninja Turtle Theatre. Unlike porn, people don’t really flock to these games because of their inherent value, so it pretty much demands that you and your game have common interests. So check it out if you like the Ninja Turtles.

Donkey Kong / Burger Time – Arcade, Atari 2600, etc

Do you really need a caption for Donkey Kong?

Do you really need a caption for Donkey Kong?

So things haven’t changed for me since last week’s entry. I admit, I wrote it about two hours ago. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve still had very little time to devote to games. But in order to swing that around to my advantage, I decided to look at some games I had wanted to write about since I began this blog, but never have for whatever reasons. I’ve mostly neglected arcade games due to their rarity, difficulty in completing them, and with the earlier games especially because I didn’t think I’d have much to say on the matter. But what the hell. Why not play a few rounds of some classic games and see what I could come up with?

First up, we all know people who have accused video games of some pretty horrendous things, warping our perspective on the world in such a way that we can no longer think in terms of reality and filter everything through video game terminology. Somehow, everyone born between 1980 and 2000 wound up with a craving for violence and the survival instinct of a lemming, as we clearly haven’t figured out that once you die, you don’t come back to life. Notice how Buddhists and Hindus kindly abstain from such criticisms. Besides, plenty of us have spent at least a little time looking out for lemmings, making sure they get safely to the exit. However, if one game has irreparably warped our minds so that we can’t change, the classic Donkey Kong wins that black mark for eternally damning us to play as characters who jump.

The premise of the game somewhat follows the end of King Kong, except instead of Adrian Brody climbing the Empire State Building to rescue a victim of Stockholm syndrome with absolutely no interest in him, we have a fat carpenter with the inexplicable ability to leap over Winnebagos. Unless, of course, he has a hammer with him. Then he plants himself firmly on the ground. In the background material, we learn that Mario kept Donkey Kong as a pet, but treated him cruelly. Nintendo never specified the nature of this mistreatment, but I can only assume he regularly punched Donkey Kong’s head to force-feed the ape live turtles. So you play as Jumpman–Mario–the psychotic dick of the story, trying to rescue your girlfriend from an Ape who probably only wanted to protect her from domestic violence.

Mario: So badass, he beats fire to death.

Mario: So badass, he beats fire to death.

In addition to the easily recognized first level, Mario jumps his way through three distinct obstacle courses as he chases down his questionably legal pet: one filled with conveyor belts moving pies, one with elevators and bouncing springs, and another, the top of the building, with precarious rivets that Mario must remove to collapse the building, thus knocking out the ape. Interesting fact, after Donkey Kong, Mario’s profession changes from carpenter to plumber. I can only assume that unleashing a giant, abused ape at the Acme Factory construction site and then demolishing all the progress made by the builders somehow motivated this career change.

As you can see, Atari managed a seamless port with absolutely no graphical reduction whatsoever.

As you can see, Atari managed a seamless port with absolutely no graphical reduction whatsoever.

While Mario probably won’t make it to the top without enough quarters to fund a minor war, the game actually shares a number of qualities with modern iPhone games that makes it fun to play–albeit much in the way that hardcore drugs provide a fun and exciting pass time until you realize you’ve pawned your car, house, grandmother, and both testicles in order to fund a habit that does nothing more than waste time. But it provides enough satisfying noises and flashing lights to get the endorphins flowing so hard that you’ll never realize how unimportant and inconsequential a goal your brain has set for you to accomplish. But you always have the option of aiming for a high score; if you do well enough, you get to enter your initials into the machine’s memory, providing just enough recognition to proclaim your skill while providing you with enough anonymity to avoid admitting that you’ve invested more money into the game than it would have cost to buy your own Donkey Kong cabinet.

But hey, you could always get a job, right? McDonald’s always needs fresh faces to assemble their disgusting food virtually void of any nutritional value beyond whatever it picks up on the floor, right? You might as well start training early. For that, I recommend Burger Time, developed by Data East and published by Midway. Not having branched off into a franchise, this once-popular game has faded into obscurity, but still represents the pinnacle of the ever-popular food-preparation genre. At least, I think more people like this than Sneak King.

My mother used to point at the exposed air ducts in McDonald's and tell 5-year-old me that they used the tubes to transport hamburgers. Now I know better; real kitchens actually look like *this.*

My mother used to point at the exposed air ducts in McDonald’s and tell 5-year-old me that they used the tubes to transport hamburgers. Now I know better; real kitchens actually look like *this.*

Players take control of Peter Pepper, as he prepares burgers four times the size of himself by running across the ingredients, which someone has kindly stacked on multiple levels of some sort of building complex. The ingredients drop down to the next level, knocking any subsequent ingredients down one further level, and you continue burger-stomping until all ingredients have fallen onto the plates below the building. While making burgers with a technique often saved for making wine, Pepper must also avoid anthropomorphic food items, hunting him down to slap him with their sausage, rub him with their pickle, or otherwise leave egg on his face. No. I did not make this premise up, and honestly the fact that someone obviously did does worry me slightly, as much as I enjoy the game. In a culture where we often need to ask what goes into our food, I’d hope to avoid answers like, “The chef’s shoe and whatever crud he stepped in on the way to the diner.”

But while short-order cooks tap dancing across your lunch may not pass a health inspection, it definitely passes muster as a game. The food monsters take skill to avoid, and multiple play-throughs help in observing their behavior. Of course, you do have five blasts of pepper which, while they may add flavor, texture, and probably extraneous grit to the burgers, will stun the enemies briefly and allow you to pass by safely. But technique doesn’t stop there; burger ingredients function as much more than a dance floor or jogging track; you can also crush enemies by dropping ingredients on top of them, or with enough skill, you can trap them on top of a falling ingredient, which will cause that part of the burger to fall three levels instead of one. And be honest; you know you’d forgive any dirt on your bun as long as the cook surprised you with an egg in your meal, right?

As you can see...I can't beat the default score even with unlimited credits.

As you can see…I can’t beat the default score even with unlimited credits.

Honestly, they don’t think up games like this anymore. Well, they didn’t for a while. Again, Burger Time reminds me of an iPhone game or a flash game. Simple, yet difficult, and abstractly rewarding. Having spent the better part of the last five hours writing, I feel completely void of witticisms to close this entry with. Should you play these games because of 8-bit noises and high scores? (I think even among games like Angry Birds, we’ve lost the value in playing for a high score. Of course, that doesn’t mean I give a damn about your boring-as-hell quest for that high score. ) Yes. Do I expect that to make any sense? No. But games don’t have to make sense. They have that going for them. Finnegan’s Wake doesn’t have that luxury. Neither does most modern art. Show me a red square in a yellow rectangle and I’ll look at it briefly. As I move my head across the room. To see if I can find any interesting displays. While I look for the clock to figure out if I can leave yet. But give me a game with a sadistic animal abuser re-creating 1930s horror films, or an epic-yet-unsanitary battle against starvation in the kitchen of my local Perkins, I’d play that for hours.

Yeah, it looks bland and unappetizing, but I hope the decreased resolution also dulls the flavor of ABC gum and spilled beer.

Yeah, it looks bland and unappetizing, but I hope the decreased resolution also dulls the flavor of ABC gum and spilled beer.

Please note, before I leave, that both of these games have their own slew of ports, remakes, remasters, and upgrades, but each one comes with their own nuances, sacrifices, additions, or shitty Atari graphics, so I’ve only categorized a few of them here. I’d like to add a disclaimer that if you pick up anything but the original arcade versions and experience an utter disappointment, I warned you that not all ports live up to the original.

Starting next week I should have more free time. I hope. I promise to think of something funnier to say by then.