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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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.