MAME Roulette #4

Dead Connection

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Not only that, but there’s a guy behind you too.

A film noir inspired action shooter, Dead Connection has the distinction of being the first arcade game written by running the scripts to The Godfather and The Untouchables through Google Translate (No one remembers babelfish anymore…I can’t make good babelfish jokes). Despite trying to encapsulate the “noir” genre, the game opens with a spastic acid trip that would incite seizures in a hardcore Pink Floyd fan. After picking up on the story basics, which as far as I can tell are “sadness and revenge” and “making a stand against a gigantic crime,” you have all the knowledge you need to move the plot forward. The game is actually pretty good, though. Each level consists of a single, carefully designed environment, fully interactive, detailed, and ready for you to grind it into rubble by blasting wave after wave of gangster who comes your way. It’s like Kill Bill with shotgun upgrades; one (through four) valiant, revenge-driven heroes plowing through dozens, even hundreds of goons with nothing to protect you but your wit, the weapons you collect on the way, and immortality purchased with a stack of quarters that even the Dragonballs couldn’t provide.

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In the future, you can just ring the bell on the desk.

Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat

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Not exactly pushing boundaries.

Danny Sullivan is a prick. This racing game is an early instance of microtransactions, where the player can stuff the coin slot like he’s only got five minutes left with a prostitute in order to beef up the stats for his engine. Not that any of that matters when you drive like I did—which is to say I sputtered down the track as though my pit crew had watered down my gas, struggling with the controls until I ended up driving backwards. Fortunately the collision physics work fine, and if I was going to look like a stoned chimp was driving my car, I was going to take everyone else down with me. My biggest accomplishment was turning the game into Danny Sullivan’s Late For Work On A Backed Up Freeway Simulator. I came in fifth. But I was only two places behind Jesus. The arcade cabinet likely used steering wheels as controls, which didn’t emulate very well on MAME, especially in the game menu. Fortunately, there are very few major life decisions made via steering wheel, and it’s usually limited to scenic vs direct routes, whether or not you’ll turn onto the abandoned wilderness road where inbred murderers have likely laid a trap for you, ACT exam scores, and whether or not you’ll be confirmed into the Christian faith or move to Mexico to buy your own brothel.

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This is Danny Sullivan. In heat.

Great 1000 Miles Rally Evolution Model

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This is pretty much the whole game.

Another racing game. Hooray. Let me crack open a nice, yeasty, disgusting beer to celebrate getting two in a row. That’s like tripping on the stairs and falling through the floor when you hit it. At least Great 1000 Miles Rally Evolution Model, a game assembled from a bunch of spare nouns the developers found in a dumpster, got my number from Danny Sullivan. Any time you peel out, spin around, or even burst into flames like someone lit up a pack of sparklers at a rehab clinic, the game gives you a gentle, motherly nudge that sets you back in the right direction. Each of the three tracks you can choose warns you well in advance when you’ll need to turn by flashing a bright yellow, contorted arrow telling you exactly how the road bends. You don’t seem to have any opponents, and the game usually lasts around 70 seconds—which means the enterprising game could potentially make $12.80 an hour. Anyone who makes that much will almost certainly find themselves on Fox News as an example of an overpaid bum, and this was 25 years ago! That’s a pretty enterprising machine.

Nemo

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This is what you get when you mix acid and weed.

Back in the Late 80s, I remember seeing advertisements for this movie about a little kid who flies around on a bed. Personally, as far as the flying-bed-adventure genre goes, I had always felt that Bedknobs and Broomsticks sufficed, and I never built up the curiosity necessary to actually watch the damn movie. But if the arcade game is any indication, the film is about whacking dirigibles out of the air while being pursued by a nightmarish Mickey Rooney as a sidekick. The game is an action platformer, which isn’t surprising. It’s been the default design for games since Mario. “Action platforming” is to video games what “bulldog” is to school mascot: it’s what you’re stuck with if you can’t think of anything interesting by the deadline. If you can manage to fight your way past the anti-zeppelin-violence picket lines to get to the machine, it’s actually pretty good at vicariously fulfilling all your fantasies of fighting an epic battle while wearing a pajama onesie, armed with a bedpost.

MAME Roulette #3

GORF2It’s been rather crazy over here, what with making my novel sound more fantasy-ish by revising every “I don’t know” into “I know not,” reading 50 pages into Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn to finally have my kindle tell me I’m 2% finished with it, and tweaking my resume to describe my duties as a CPR instructor as “Bring people back from the dead, as necessary.” Since my list of readers is already shorter than the guest registry at Disneyland: North Korea, I’ll have to do some MAME Roulette’s to avoid spacing out my posts.

Big Karnak

Not to be confused with Little Karnak, which I presume is a commercial district of suburban Los Angeles that specializes in auto insurance agents, Big Karnak is a colorful delight of a story about a solemn, grim and stone-faced pharaoh who declares war on the gods of

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Um…excuse me…I think you have something that belongs to me.

Ancient Egypt after a bird-man swoops up his girlfriend like a ravenous sea gull descending on an abandoned chicken nugget. This hack-and-slash adventure turned out to be surprisingly good, much in the way that my bagel this morning was surprisingly good for not being reduced to a hunk of carbon by the toaster or fossilized from sitting in the fridge for three years. Granted, it’s a pretty low bar when the standard for greatness is, “didn’t screw it up,” but apparently that’s enough to get you elected president these days. Big Karnak is one of those games where the skin becomes the selling point. There are hundreds of games that simulate the experience of walking from left to right amongst a social environment of those who feel you ought to be walking right to left, but this is the only one that lets you fight beetles the size of Volkswagens. It’s kind of like how if you want to watch a movie about a horrible, undead evil returning from the grave to slaughter the living and hook up with his old flame, now reincarnated as a beautiful western girl, you may occasionally shove a stake in Dracula and watch The Mummy instead.

Chopper 1

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Synchronized chopping

Oh great! A space shooter! (And yes, I know that it isn’t set in space, but what else would you call the genre?) As long as we’re on the subject of games that move in one direction, here’s one where the bad guys always live in the north. Granted, this held true for 1941, as the U.S. took Japan from southern islands. Similar conflict occurred in Korea, Vietnam, and I’m pretty sure there’s hostile feelings between the Dakotas. Ancient China had a similar issue with Mongolia, but they opted for a wall, which makes for a far less successful video game. Still, before we Americans start feeling holier than Canada, we may want to reconsider the strategy of sending one lone fighter into enemy territory. Notice how the planes you don’t shoot down don’t seem to come back? Chances are you’re leaving behind you a trail of corpses, bombed out cities, and earth scorched so bad that even dust storms won’t grow there. I get it! You’re not trying to take down the enemy air force! You’re trying to fight your way in because they won’t grant you a visa! Which reminds me, I have to send some documents to New Zealand immigration…

Chopper 1, getting to the game, is hard. I get it. Build a game that gives you about 5 seconds worth of play time for one quarter, and your game earns about $180 an hour. That way, if being completely inept at the game doesn’t spiral you into a quandary of self-doubt, you can ignite a lifelong depression by realizing that an 8-bit computer built in 1988 can make more money in an hour than you can in a week. Bonus points for it’s guilt inspiring game over message, “If you quit now, it’ll cause more bloodshed,” a tactic that’ll earn respect from animal shelter ads, war propaganda, and Catholic and Jewish moms worldwide.

Elevator Action

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My favorite strategy is getting in the elevator and hitting the “1” button.

Elevators. Gotta get me some of that action. The problem with developing a game that would primarily appeal to four-year-olds who like pushing buttons is that chances are they’ll be just as happy in a real elevator. You play as a man who has lost his car in the parking garage of a 30-story building and decides that not only would the best place to look be the roof, but that the easiest access comes via zip line from some nearby-yet-unseen Spider-man web access point. On the way down, you shoot murderous Blues Brothers who try to kill you. If you get tired of elevator action, feel free to have an illicit affair with the building’s escalators along the way, before hopping back into an orgy of elevators apparently built for the Winchester House.

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I don’t know who’s lazier, the guy who takes the elevator to the second floor, or the guy who decides that building an elevator that goes to the third floor is too much work.

The wikipedia page says you’re a spy trying to collect secret documents and drive away in your escape car. That clears up a few things for me—namely, the objective for the game. I always wondered what would happen if I got to the bottom. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to know badly enough to play that far.

Gorf

GORFI swear my Retro Pie likes to mess with me, because it gave me another space shooter. This one actually takes place in space and pits the Starship Enterprise against an evil gumdrop monster, the apparent love child of McDonald’s Grimace and Groucho Marx. While the first level appears nothing more than a Space Invaders clone, subsequent levels evolve, fighting with different weapons, attack patterns, and strategies, marking the last time in video game history that such thought was put into a cloned game to make it fun to play. Apparently, Gorf was supposed to be a tie in with Star Trek, the Motion Picture, until the developers read the film’s script and decided it wouldn’t work as a game concept. And thus passed the last bit of integrity concerning licensed games.

Lady Bug

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Built by a guy who doesn’t want to keep pests out of his garden completely, but wants to be sure they’ve learned something on their way in.

When I said that Gorf was the last time anyone made a cloned game innovative and fun, I lied. Here, you play as a lady bug trying to wreak havoc on someone’s garden. The game plays like Pac Man, but parts of the maze wall serve as doors that rotate when you walk through them. As a way to keep pests out of your garden, the idea needs work, but changing the layout of the maze puts an element of strategy in avoiding enemies.

MAME Roulette #2

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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…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.

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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.

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Okay, I KNOW something obscene is happening here.

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.