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.

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M*A*S*H – Atari 2600

When you plan on selling your game with the blurb "Two Whole Players!" ask yourself why you couldn't think of anything more exciting to say.

When you plan on selling your game with the blurb “Two Whole Players!” ask yourself why you couldn’t think of anything more exciting to say.

As a kid born in the early 1980s, I remember…well, not much. But how could I forget such wonderful programming for kids, such as Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, Duck Tales, Garfield and Friends, Thunder Cats, Smurfs and Gummi Bears. Of course, I didn’t get my first game console until the early nineties, so the kids five to ten years older than me–those playing Atari 2600 as their first console–must have had a different taste in television than I did. And if video game adaptations give any indication, then I can assume that 10-year-olds watched M*A*S*H. After all, what third-grade student wouldn’t appreciate dark comedy and biting satire about Vietnam, cleverly disguised as the Korean War, which itself bears a striking resemblance to the hills of southern California?

I find it amazing how a country eleven time zones away bears such a striking resemblence to Southern California! We have so much in common!

I find it amazing how a country eleven time zones away bears such a striking resemblence to Southern California! We have so much in common!

Actually, I love M*A*S*H. My parents have a picture of me in 1984 in my infant carrier, staring down Colonel Flagg. I played Trapper John in my high school’s theatrical production. I’m the only person I know who has watched every episode while actually in Korea. M*A*S*H presents us with an idealistic fantasy world, where bad things might happen, but the antisocial nutjobs always get a pile of garbage dumped on them in the end, the villains act like spoiled children / Tea Party patriots for easy identification, and hero doctors always grow a foot taller than common enlisted men. Why wouldn’t the youth of the eighties (or maybe Fox meant “youth in their eighties?) want to put themselves in the role of the legendary wise-cracking meatball surgeon?

MASH Atari Mode 1Coming from the studio that once tried to turn Family Guy into an MMORPG, I think Fox has long had a problem understanding humor, specifically in how they can translate it into video game format, or in Fox’s terms, milking it for profit. See, the M*A*S*H tv show depended on witty responses to situations, satire on right-wing politics and war, and Catch-22-style double talk. The M*A*S*H Atari game did make me laugh, but more so at the premise that I need to catch Colonel Potter’s skydiving medics because they developed a fondness for leaping from their plane without parachutes. I like to point out the absurdity in games whenever I can, but sometimes they make it difficult, and I just don’t know if I can out-mock a game that asks me to accept that a platoon of soldiers devoted to saving lives has less survival instinct than the entire series of Lemmings games. At that point, the game mocks itself.

M*A*S*H offers four types of gameplay, with one- and two-player modes for each. In Modes 1 and 2, the player controls a helicopter, supposedly piloted by Hawkeye, picks up wounded soldiers, while flying low to avoid the lone North Korean tank. Thank you Fox! As embodied by your news network, you strive to offer us as many unintentional jokes as possible! For instance, “Putting a surgeon to work piloting a helicopter instead of a hospital shows that Fox objected to poor people receiving healthcare long before Obama.” Nah, even I didn’t like that one. How about “Military powerhouse North Korea sends one tank after enemy”? No, that didn’t work either. I know! I enjoy the wisdom of piloting a helicopter below the tree line to avoid enemy fire. At least, the idea of a chopper coming at me through the woods, hacking off branches and the heads of small animals sounds like solid, life-saving logic to me.

Excuse me, but if you have nothing more than a flap of arm pit skin connecting your upper torso to the rest of your body, I think the doctors should probably move on to someone a little less wounded.

Excuse me, but if you have nothing more than a flap of arm pit skin connecting your upper torso to the rest of your body, I think the doctors should probably move on to someone a little less wounded.

Periodically, the game stops to consider that doctors might serve their purpose better in the operating room, and so the scene shifts abruptly to the operating room. Wait, sorry, strike that…the scene shifts abruptly to the Milton Bradley “Operation” game. Surgery consists of removing a small dot–shrapnel, I assume–from a soldier with a physique to suggest that the army put him on the battlefield for the sole purpose of shielding others from bullets using his weeble-shaped hips (although with a body like that, how they got him to lay down on the table without immediately popping upright blows my mind). The player has a fondue fork, with which he must navigate the shrapnel through the soldiers’ bodies without touching the sides of hollow, maze-like tunnels whose presence, I would think, should cause slightly more concern than the dots within them. The player has about fifteen seconds to operate on as many patients as possible, unless you hit the sides, which prompts the game to call you “Ferret Face,” which wins an award for the only thing in the game actually referring to the TV show, despite targeting the wrong character, and sends you right back out to wreak havoc on the trees of South Korea.

In mere seconds, the bodies of trained medics will rain from the sky. Some may even impale themselves on those trees. Others, hacked by chopper blades. Too bad none will survive to tend to the wounded.

In mere seconds, the bodies of trained medics will rain from the sky. Some may even impale themselves on those trees. Others, hacked by chopper blades. Too bad none will survive to tend to the wounded.

Modes 3 and 4 pits Hawkeye’s helicopter against Colonel Potter’s madness (General Steele, anyone?). Bodies pour out of a plane like a fire hose and you get more points for picking them up just before they hit the ground than if you catch them right out of the plane. Apparently the army gets by on “thrilling climactic rescues” rather than “intelligent strategies.” Modes 5 and 6 work like easy versions of Modes 1 and 2, giving you a smaller helicopter–to shred denser forests, obviously–and a visual cue as to when you’ve loaded the maximum number of wounded on your ship. Modes 7 and 8 put you in the operating room for the entire game, sticking fondue forks into strings of pear-shaped personnel with no daring-yet-suicidal piloting skills required.

The player wins the game by reaching 1000 points before their opponent. The score counter only goes up to 999, though, so this may function less as an objective and more as a game-ending technical limitation. But as we learned from Fox News, the multi-conglomerate right-wing organization often views pushing a system until it breaks as synonymous with success, so I guess that makes sense. Presumably, the game pits one player against either the computer AI, presumably Frank Burns, or another player, B.J. Hunnicut or Trapper John. The game ends when one player reaches 1000 points. And it doesn’t take long. “I’ll play the game while watching my M*A*S*H DVDs!” I thought. “I’ll enjoy it!” The resonance of M*A*S*H will combine into an olive drab wave of comedy! Well, as it turns out, not only can you beat all four different game modes within the length of a single episode of the TV show, you can master the game before the second commercial break.

These Atari games really work like flash games or iPhone games, just with scaled-down graphics. They can still offer hours of fun game play, but they kind of have to follow the simple-to-learn-but-difficult-to-master philosophy. Unfortunately, this game disappointed all those bright-eyed kids waking up on Christmas morning 1983, hoping for a return to the glorious return to the days before their favorite prime-time program ended, earlier that year. Alas, the game couldn’t reproduce that feeling, and they’d have to suffer through AfterMash, Trapper John MD, and the pilot episode of W*A*L*T*E*R, a show even more obnoxious to type than M*A*S*H. My suggestion? Watch the TV show with a Nintendo DS and a copy of Trauma Center: Under the Knife. No one ever called Derek Styles “Ferret Face.”

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.

Mystique Sex Games (Round 2) – Atari 2600

Here, the game challenges you to figure out the secret input to continue: up, down, repeat.

Here, the game challenges you to figure out the secret input to continue: up, down, repeat.

When I first started out as a wee little blogger, WordPress eased me into the online community by recommending that I follow those with similar interests, so I looked into a few other people writing about video games and left a comment or two here and there. Out of that original group, I can proudly boast that only I still update on a regular basis. Or at all. Writing doesn’t come easy, even to me, and few things can discourage a writer more than having a stat counter that only proves no one reads your work. However, one year later not only do I still post, but I have averaged about five views per day since I started. Not that I always had this many readers. Well…viewers. Who knows if they actually read each dissertation I write?

My luck turned around about three or four months back with one entry that I rushed through and didn’t feel confident about. In it, I mocked the Mystique/Playaround line of sex games for the Atari 2600, naively thinking that no one in their right mind–no one!–could actually get interested in super-low resolution sprites of naked men and women engaged in simple, mechanical two-sprite animations meant to resemble sex acts. To give you an idea of the magnitude of my misjudgment, after that entry my readership jumped up to an average of about 23 views per day. So to show my appreciation for the unnatural pleasure I take from constantly looking at the graphs on my stats page, I’d let you take some unnatural pleasure in the other three Mystique games.

For those of you who missed the previous entry, Mystique, later rebranded as Playaround, tried to make games for the Atari 2600 that appealed to adults. Horny, creepy, perverted adults. They released the 1982 equivalent of M rated games on extra-long cartridges that had two games in one (because you simply can’t pleasure yourself if you can’t jam your extra-long toy in at both ends). These games, sold under the description of “Swedish Erotica,” came out (hehe…) as six paired cartridges, with each pair offering essentially the same game with reverse gender roles.

An improved version of "Breakout." Nothing to shake a dick...I mean, nothing to shake a stick at.

An improved version of “Breakout.” Nothing to shake a dick…I mean, nothing to shake a stick at.

If you look at games like Bachelor Party / Bachelorette Party, you may notice they didn’t set the bar very high. In fact, they just re-made Breakout. A crappy, watered-down version of Breakout. And I didn’t like Breakout to begin with.  The player’s pong paddle blocks a tiny naked man, in Bachelor Party, or a woman in Bachelorette Party, who bounces through a small field of naked people of the opposite gender. These people act like the blocks in Breakout. There. You know all about the game. Yes, I guess I could elaborate and tell you that it has four game modes, two of them sporting a zig-zag pattern of debauchery while the other forms a straight double line of fornication, each version having an easy mode with multiple…uh…guys versus the hard mode with only one.  As the player…uh…hits on?…more naked people, then run faster and faster (although we can hardly fault the little guys for getting excited), but apparently they need you as the trusty wing man to make sure they run back to the women rather than darting for your escape. Honestly, no, I don’t get it, but they modeled the game after Breakout and what more do you need than naked people?! Huh?!

RetroArch-0306-185436I can say this much about these games, though: they don’t discriminate. Your player picks up women/men of every color! Black, white, yellow, red . . . blue. . . and green. Damn it! Breakout, people! Why don’t you understand that?  Oddly enough, though, the game treats you to a jingle from Auld Lang Syne every time you start. I don’t entirely know what possessed them to do that. Maybe you’ve known these naked people for ages and don’t want to forget them…in bed? Or perhaps you’ve planned the party on New Year’s Eve, a night known for drunken hedonism? Or perhaps they simply selected a well-known public domain song? As much as I’d like to believe any one of those suggestions, they use “happy birthday” for Bachelorette Party, which easily shatters all of those hypotheses. (Yes, Happy Birthday still falls under copyright protection. I didn’t believe it either, but I looked it up on Snopes.)

Rule #1: Don't point your weapon at anything you don't intend to...well...

Rule #1: Don’t point your weapon at anything you don’t intend to…well…

Next in our line-up comes Beat ‘em and Eat ‘em / Philly Flasher, and I only have one word to say about these masterpieces. “Gross.” In Beat ‘em and Eat ‘em, a naked man so well-endowed that he probably needs leg braces and a special sling to walk masturbates off the roof of a building. The player controls two nude women (or one in the second game mode) who dash madly back and forth…to catch the drops…with their mouths….I guess some people get their kicks that way, and hey, semen has a lot of protein and ingesting it supposedly helps prevent depression, so I guess this game promotes good health. You know, in addition to public indecency.

Because witches lactate, right?

Because witches lactate, right?

In the reverse gender role version, Philly Flasher, they don’t change much, the men who dash for the droplets of I-don’t-want-to-know-what for some reason have stripes. Like a bee. A big, naked bee that masturbates after successful catches. But hey, bees cover themselves in pollen, and doesn’t pollen work like flower semen? Gross? Yeah, I know. Also the lady on the roof top sports a witch hat for some reason. This game seemed infatuated with the concept of “for some reason.” Unfortunately, the game doesn’t have anything going for it other than the concept (which while appealing to some, does not appeal to me). Darting back and forth doesn’t really create stimulating gameplay, and…well…nope. I can’t criticize anything else. You just dart back and forth. I might suggest skipping this one.

However, like in my first review on Mystique games, one of them actually stands out as kind of fun to play. Theoretically. If you get used to it.  Cathouse Blues / Gigolo stars a man and woman respectively, out for a night on the town.  The player has three objectives: one, when the police release all their prostitutes into the wild, you need to memorize which houses they go to. Two, you have to swing by the ATM. Three…well, I should hope you’ve figured it out by now. Just don’t get caught. The police will drag you to jail and you’ll lose a life, or the thief (or so I assume) will take all your cash, resulting in an automatic game over.

They say video games make kids believe they have extra lives in reality. Not Mystique: they only deal in spare genitalia.

They say video games make kids believe they have extra lives in reality. Not Mystique: they only deal in spare genitalia.

For an Atari 2600 game, Cathouse Blues and Gigolo have a surprising level of sophistication. They have multiple goals, require different skills, and they have a mostly plausible premise (except, you know, for the guy who has sex seven times in one evening. They didn’t have Viagra in 1982.) While recommending anything by Mystique falls on the line of suggesting which hardcore, illegal narcotic might best fit your needs, if you had to choose one, go for this one. While it does dull the senses somewhat, at least you get a small rush before losing all sensation and waking up the next morning with a crushing sense of regret and shame.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and if you haven’t stormed off in disgust after your search for “sex pc game” led you to an obscure, non-graphical Atari cartridge that would cost anywhere from $50 to $1000 on ebay, consider reading, following, and/or commenting on some of my other entries. Look for upcoming articles on the Kingdom Hearts games, or if I get really ambitious, “Captain N: The Game Master.” Feel free to leave suggestions for games you’d like me to write about, and I know some of the guys on youtube get actual copies of the games from fans who want to see Jon Tron or the Completionist cover their favorite…so, you know, if any of you really want me to write about Conker’s Bad Fur Day, just know that I wouldn’t cry if you absolutely needed me to plug that into my lineup.

Mystique Sex Games (Custer’s Revenge, Burning Desire, Knight on the Town) – Atari

RetroArch-0909-031923

After eight months of writing,  this entry will pop my cherry, sending my innocence–and any delusions I had of holding a “G” rating–cascading down the drain, through the earth and plummeting into the fiery hell of the planet’s core; I intend to enlighten you about the dreaded Mystique “pornographic” games for the Atari 2600! Yes, ladies and gentleman, by the end of this entry, a thick coat of soot, tar, and the shattered dreams of parents who expected their children to live an entirely asexual lifestyle will cling tightly to our hearts. Now, keep in mind that modern games frequently aim to re-create the feeling of real-life battle, and whether you want to watch it or not, the Fallout games will incessantly show you bullets ripping humans and animals alike into carrion and bone meal, but the games that disturb people involve an instinctual, consensual act of affection (or, at the very least, amusement) between two cartoons pixilated beyond any semblance of humanity? Really, world?

Which of these looks more realistic to you?

Which of these looks more realistic to you?

I generally oppose censorship. We could easily stop implicating video games as violence-inducing murder simulators if politicians and reporters could A) play a few of the thousands of games that don’t involve guns or B) look past the handful of school shooters to see the millions of people who play violent games without using educational facilities as target practice. I would like to say that studies show no difference in attitudes toward sex and women between men who watch porn and men who don’t, but I can’t, because those studies have failed since scientists can’t find men who don’t watch porn. Ubiquitous, natural, required for life, and generally all-around, good clean wholesome fun, sex shouldn’t really ruffle our feathers as much as it does. So I’d like to examine some of the games released by Mystique like I would any other game, and explain what they’ll actually do to you; make you bored, frustrated, and not the least bit aroused.

Custer’s Revenge / General Retreat

Probably more infamous than any other game on the list, “Custer’s Revenge” stars the reanimated corpse (or so we can only assume) of General George Armstrong Custer, trying to stick it to Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse by sticking it to…well, you get the picture. The game simply asks you to take control of Custer, decked-out in his Union Army hat, boots, and all the glory God gave him, and walk across the screen to an excited-looking Native American girl with scolioses, likely caused by a top-heavy physique. The catch? Much like the girl, Sitting Bull won’t take it lying down, and Custer must dodge a rain of arrows on his way to commit miscegenetic fornication. While…uh…engaging the young woman…against a cactus…Custer must occasionally…”withdraw from the battle”…as the arrows keep flying in, and the game wants you to keep pounding…uh, the action button until the deed is over.

After running into an invisible cactus.

After running into an invisible cactus.

Dear General Custer,

While I admire that, in spite of history recalling you as a proud, stubborn, and arrogant man, you’ve found a non-violent way to seek revenge for your painful murder, I might advise A) pants and B) that you take the girl somewhere a little more romantic than the brink of the afterlife. Mystique has granted you a second chance at life. Please use it well.

While the concept will probably keep me snickering for the rest of my life, the game itself displays less thought than its protagonist. The game offers a surprising challenge, but due to Custer’s slow movement, the tight spacing between arrows, and…well, expected difficulties in making a sufficient retreat…certain dodges can feel impossible. I eventually learned that arrows could safely hit the brim of his hat, which requires perfect timing to execute. By itself, I wouldn’t condemn the game for that. Higher difficulty levels, though, do some weird things, including placing an invisible cactus in the center of the screen, ready to skewer Custer’s reason for crossing the second half of the screen. I haven’t yet figured out how to dodge this.  And every time you die, the game plays an explosion sound, followed by a short excerpt from “Taps,” and restarting requires you to sit through a modal, Native-American-esque theme from “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” After spending a half hour on this game, 28 minutes of which involved waiting for these songs to end, I decided to just put on a Justin Bieber album so I could at least play a good game while I let music drive me insane.

Mystique games come in pairs, depending on which gender role you want to adopt (with “General Retreat” serving as the reverse of “Custer’s Revenge”); however, since they boast identical gameplay and each one revolves around a heterosexual orientation, the end result doesn’t change. Game winners get to watch pixel clusters and imagine it looks like a man and woman having sex. Of all the games I got working, only Custer’s Revenge suggested a non-consensual relationship, since the box art depicts the girl tied to a pole, but since General Retreat shows her free and going after Custer, I can only assume she enjoys that sort of thing.

Burning Desire / Jungle Fever

In Burning Desire and Jungle Fever, you play as a man or woman dangling from a helicopter, trying to rescue people from two pillars of flame, slowly closing in on their location, while two jungle monsters lob rocks (or something) at you. Yet for some reason, you flew out here au naturel, and don’t seem to have the wits to fight the fire with anything other than your least efficient bodily fluids. At least, the game’s material tells you the characters spray the flames with ejaculate and milk. One may want to tell Mystique that their depiction of the droplets coming from above the characters’ necks actually tames down the perversion of the game.

RetroArch-0909-032819Given the choice, I’ll take the necrophiliac Civil War vet over this game; at least it makes more sense. Burning Desire and Jungle Fever manage to leave gaping plot holes in a game that literally has no plot. Why not just lift the poor guy out of the fire? Why put it out first? Normally, that sort of thing wouldn’t bother me, but any time you stop spraying the fire, the flames immediately jump back to their original height, with a small chance of remaining extinguished for five or so seconds if you put it out completely. That means you have an almost certain chance of one fire reviving as you try to fight the other. Combined with the extra-finicky controls for allowing the rescued man/woman to latch onto…special bits…to let the helicopter lift him/her out of peril and into a position to thank the rescuer very affectionately, and I can say I only succeeded twice. By luck. I have no idea how to re-create what I did.

I think I'll have a word with these people about the graphic nature of their pixels.

I think I’ll have a word with these people about the graphic nature of their pixels.

Knight on the Town / Lady in Wading

While Mystique released several other games, I’d like to finish this list today with Knight on the Town and Lady in Wading. On this list, I can’t recommend any other game as even playable, while this game actually puts up a decent challenge. You play as either a knight or a lady, who has spent so much money on bridge-building supplies that you can’t afford a shred of protection against the sex-organ hungry alligator in the moat. The player must, brick by brick, build a bridge to cross the moat in order to…let’s say “secure an heir for your kingdom.” Meanwhile, an alligator leaps out of the water to indulge in select parts of you, a monster darts out of the bushes to devour you, and on higher difficulty settings, a…pterodactyl?…drops fireballs on you.

Seriously people. These games lampoon themselves. I really can’t add to the absurdity.

Once you’ve completed construction, one more challenge awaits you: intercourse. Here, you must successfully hit “up” and “down” on the joystick (hehe…”joystick”) in an alternating pattern until…well, you get the picture.

Apparently the monsters get to watch. I told you these games were kinky.

Apparently the monsters get to watch. I told you these games were kinky.

Honestly, I understand why people put out (hehe…”put out”) games like this. People like sex. But for some reason, it hasn’t caught on in the video game world. Yeah, we see it present in God of War, Mass Effect, and Leisure Suit Larry, but as sex, it doesn’t tend to evoke the same response in us that…well, anything else does. So even with the advent of the video game rating system, sex has only casually flirted with games. Maybe we can attribute that to the lack of quality in these early Atari games. Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that the price of an Atari plus a few games, when adjusted for inflation, cost over $500, and $500 buys a lot of porn.

I give these games my rating of “8 out of 10 WTFs.”

Pitfall – Atari

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Good news! I finally fixed my obnoxious Atari 2600 problems, so now I can game the proverbial school so old, its age actually exceeds the real high school I attended.  Released in 1982, the game I’d like to write about today holds the rare distinction of being a video game older than me. That’s right, I’m reviewing Pitfall, in case your eye didn’t immediately wander to the screenshot at the top of this post.

Donkey Kong appeared in arcades in 1981, and a year later Activision released Pitfall for Atari systems.  People loved these games.  They had a simple concept, yet provided enough challenge that many people never saw the end.  In this way, Pitfall and Donkey Kong began the scourge of frustration known as the platformer genre, much like two drug dealers who generously shoot a free sample of heroin directly into your veins, giving you the rush of pleasure followed by a decade of dependency, stress, bankruptcy, wasted time, and anger issues while never quite living up to that first dose.

Despite Donkey Kong’s title as arguably the first platformer, Pitfall introduced many of the features we now associate with the genre: side-scrolling levels that take up multiple screens, a number of different enemies and obstacles, the possibility of death by falling into holes, a timer, and a score counter that means absolutely nothing compared to the bragging rights of having actually finished the game.  You play as Pitfall Harry, a character with a name unfortunately easy to pervert at an elementary school lunch table.  As Harry, you run through a jungle of various assorted dangers including crocodiles, rattlesnakes, scorpions, deep pits, and…uh…campfires?

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Your goal is to accumulate a vast amount of wealth by picking up treasures just lying around in the wilderness for anyone to take them.  The design of the character and the tone of the setting evoke powerful images of…oh, hell with it.  It’s Indiana Jones without the nazis.  Game designers in the eighties loved to push the bounds of plagiarism–but in a good way–and they based all the best games off concepts they saw in movies.  Doesn’t Donkey Kong climbing up the side of a building with a girl bring anything else to mind?  (Just do me a favor and don’t tell me what movie Burger Time came from.)  I find this amazing considering that any game licensed and based on a movie today contains less fun than a lump of coal, with slightly lower replay value.

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But I’ll play this game, and not for the badly pixelated Harrison Ford, either.  As much time as I’ve spent comparing them, Pitfall upped the ante for Mario.  It gave us other things to do in a game besides dodging barrels.  It gave us the concept of attack patterns–yes, you get the rolling logs like the barrels from Donkey Kong, but it also introduces snakes that Harry has to jump over, scorpions that move back and forth, making those jumps more difficult, and crocodiles who periodically open their mouths to swallow you like a gazelle stupid enough to drink from the river.  Holes proved fatal, as far as I know for the first time in video game history, and the player had multiple ways to clear them, either by jumping from crocodile to crocodile like a gazelle too stupid to walk around the small, circular pond, swinging from a rope–at which point the game plays an awkward sound that I eventually figured out was supposed to sound like Tarzan, or he could time his dashes across expanding and contracting pits.

While the historian in me loves the significance of Pitfall, the player in me can’t exactly pinpoint why I tolerate it so well.  It remains, by no stretch of the imagination, the first of the modern platformers.  It sends me on long, challenging levels fraught with instant deaths, and it erase all my progress at the slightest step into the shallow water and forces me to start over.  I can’t say that my limited exposure to this game in my youth makes it new and exciting now–I never played Sega until recently, yet one minute of Sonic the Hedgehog and I’ll break records for how fast I can shut off the game.

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I’d put my money on the difficulty level.  The game pushes you back–you can’t win after only an hour or two of trying.  Yet at the same time, the pacing of the enemies and obstacles don’t wear your nerves.  You handle one or two problems on a screen.  Can you jump to the swinging vine?  Okay, now try it with rolling logs.  You did that?  Great.  Now jump over this rattle snake while dodging logs.  Different problems combine to make new challenges, but you get to deal with these problems in a reasonable manner.  Platform game designers often place too much emphasis on small platforms and large pits, shifting the focus of the entire game to avoiding a plummet to your doom.  Pitfall includes that challenge, but in moderation; you can’t cross certain ponds without jumping from croc head to croc head without falling into the water or stepping kindly into their teeth, but this sort of obstacle only shows up every once in a while, and as soon as you’ve proven your skill at not dying, it goes the hell away for a little while!

Modern platformers can’t handle the concept that once you’ve gotten the hang of something, demanding that you repeat that skill ad infinitum only produces two outcomes: lynching yourself with the controller cord in anger over making a stupid mistake, dying and being sent back to the beginning of the level, or becoming helplessly bored.

Pitfall definitely piques my historical interests, and certainly shows an example of designers pushing past the bounds of their technology.  Granted, the inane infantile nature of the platforming genre doesn’t exactly endear itself to me, so I have to admit I doubt I’ll form fond memories of playing Pitfall until I wet myself because I can’t pry myself away from it long enough to use the toilet, I will break down and say I don’t suffer quite enough while playing it that I’d never go back to it.  I could definitely find worse things to do while I’m waiting for a pizza to arrive.