Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nostalgia can be a Frightening Place

Further proof that my twilight years of the twenties are simply a long, drawn out mental breakdown seems to be my current pre-occupation with reliving the days of my dime-store youth via a magical program called MAME, an emulator that allows play-through of any number of ancient arcade games on a PC. And looking back, as always seems to be the case, it's amazing how little sense it all makes. Let's start with the big one -

Street Fighter II

Definitely one of the biggest, most popular and best-known video games ever made. Specifically Street Fighter II, rather than number one which has faded into instant obscurity. My nostalgia for this in particular was fueled by the recent release of number IV, which reminded me of the ludicrous amount of fifty cent pieces I wasted on this at the local general store. However I missed the loop a fair bit, finding myself not knowing quite a large number of characters - and then found out this was because I was ignorant of the many, many mini-sequels the game spawned:

Street Fighter II: Champion Edition
Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting
Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers
Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Hyper Fighting Champion Edition
Street Fighter VS X-Men!
Hyper Street Fighter II: Armapocalypse WOW!
Turbo Street Fighter II: Hyper Super Smash Bros Champion THIS
Super Duper Ultra Omega Zoot Suit Hyperbole Street Fighter II: Dr. Duck's Super Secret All-Purpose Sauce

That last game naturally featured Jimmy the Blind, Illustrated, Solid Silver Bitch Stockopopolis III as the new boss character. Unless it's some form of facetious humour on my part, of course.

Anyway, the bizarre amassed lineup of these games, along with their even stranger backstories...

Ryu and Ken - Two fighters in colour-coded karate outfits who are so similar in appearance and style you suspect one is a paint-over of the other. Insignificant aside from appearing in every game and their ability to baffling shoot blue fireballs out of their bare hands.

Commander Guile - A U.S airforce officer who was so traumatised by the death of his pal Charlie that he decided to travel the world beating up strangers. He is somehow able to create a boomerang-shaped projectile sonic wave by whipping his arm around his head, and helpfully shouts "SONIC BOOM!" whilst he does it. Interestingly, the character was specifically designed to appeal to the American market by the Japanese, just like the original Donkey Kong. That should give some insight into how they see the West.

Deejay - A hit-record-producing Jamaican guy in trackie-dacks who uses breakdance moves as combat. Apparently he believes that beating up everyone else will give him inspiration for a new song. No, I'm serious.

Blanka - My fucking nemesis, because this guy is ridiculously hard to beat. The character leads me to wonder whether Brazil are offended by this guy representing them in the tournament, as every other competitor is clearly human, yet Blanka is a small, thick set apeman with green skin, freakishly long arms, fangs and bright orange hair. His confusing backstory says that he is an aircrash survivor who adapted to life in the jungle by hunting on his own, as he did so covering himself in green slime for camoflage. Which doesn't explain all the other mutations. Oh, and he's able to electrocute people with his bare skin. He learnt that from electric eels apparently. Plus he has the ability to defy all laws off physics by rolling into a ball and cannon-balling off thin air into your face, thus killing you quite effectively.

Fei Long - Or as he is nicknamed by the developers "No he is not Bruce Lee because we don't have the likeness rights." Notable for have a fighting style, outfit, haircut, face and voice identical to that of Bruce Lee. He spins his foot around until it sets itself on fire and then kicks you with it when his regular moves get too boring.

E. Honda - Apparently a sumo wrestler, but he ignores most of the traits of their fighting style and focuses on beating the absolute crap out of you. His arsenal includes the ability a lightning fast karate-chop, a bone-crushing bearhug, a weird human torpedo trick and an ass-slam from a great height.

Dhalsim - There has been a fair bit of speculation over why a devout Hindu brahmin from India, as Dhalsmin appears to be, would dress and look like an offensively stereotypical African witchdoctor down to the necklace of monkey skulls. And also why an emaciated Hindu who wears nothing but said monkey skulls and an ancient pair of brown shorts would appear to live in a jade palace. And then the question of why said palace would be full of fully-grown elephants, as if it was some sort of stable - with all that plush carpeting, too. That's not even asking the question of whether a lifetime of diligent yoga will allow you to stretch your limbs out to six metres to beat the crap out of your opponents, breath fire, and teleport. This character is fairly unrealistic, I think it's fair to say.

Thunder Hawk - Possibly offensive Native American stereotype, especially considering that he is stated to be Mexican - or maybe I'm drawing unfair conclusions. Maybe a lot of indigenous Mexicans wear entirely denim outfits with frayed tassles on the end of their jeans and feathers in their bandanas - how would I know? Otherwise notable for being cartoonishly large and being able to swoop-dive other characters like he's some sort of `roid-addicted magpie.

Chun-Li - Hmm, just looked at the Wikipedia page and turns out I didn't get the character at all. Turns out that she's an undercover Interpol agent... which is really an irrelevent point as she's in the tournament purely to beat the shit out of the guy who killed her father and once she's done that she retires from Interpol. Yeah, great work. Anyway, she's a crazy Chinese girl who has a special power named "The Hundred Rending Kicks", who fights in white boots, panty house and a blue skirtless party dress with white ribbons in her hair. To her credit, she claims to be "the strongest woman in the world" and is the only character I've managed to beat the game with so far. And in Super Street Fighter she gains the power to shoot blue energy balls out of her crotch. Possibly mutant as she's an honorary member of the X-men. (Crossover fanwank! Ain't it great?)

Zangief - A very jolly Soviet wrestler apparently on a mission from Mikhail Gorbachev, of all people - even in version of the games where Gorbachev was no longer President. (They changed it to say "Mr Ex-President!" - but didn't bother with smaller details like his home country still being called USSR) He seems to be the most heavily-muscled man in the entire world, sports a fetching beard and mohawk, and proved the inspiration for Peter Debnam (remember him?) by wearing nothing but a disconcertingly bulgy pair of red speedos. He eschews all fancy-shmancy 'moves' and his style concentrates on massive punches and throwing people around the ring. As a kid he was my favourite, as he was an instrument with which I could vent much frustration.

The above are the 'good guys' - I'm not sure why exactly this was decided but so it is - who, once they have beaten the shite out of one another, are free to take on Shadaloo (???) a sinister organisation that is shadowy in its origins because the people making the game probably couldn't be arsed to come up with an explanation. In addition to apparently loving scat music, Shadaloo seems to consist of only four people.

Balrog: An African-American boxer of over-generous size. You would think his fighting style would make him a bit limited against free-forming wrestlers with super-powers, but Balrog, somehow, does manage to hold his own. Of course, his gimmick is the fact that he can only punch with varying degrees of ferocity - amazingly this makes him quite a boring character to play.

Vega: A probably-homosexual long-haired Spaniard who regards himself as the most beautiful man in the world and thus wears and iron mask in the ring to protect his face. He also wears a dashing pair of pirate pants tied with a cumberbund, and a claw strapped to his right hand, which he uses to climb all over the room and attack you. (Note: This makes sense in his own arena where you are fighting in front of a wire fence. This makes less sense most other places, where he appears to be able to climb spectator's faces and thin air..)

Sagat: A seven-foot-tall Thailand kickboxer with an eyepatch and a chip on his shoulder. Wears nothing but boxing shorts, seemingly to show off the gigantic scar he has over the length of his torso. The most annoying character to face, not simply because of his moves but the fact that he won't fucking stop shouting "Tiger!" at you. I think it's a form of Tourettes myself.

M. Bison: Just your standard Thai military dictator with the ability to turn his body into a flaming torch and fly across the screen. Apparently he's really evil, but only showcases it by a) Wearing a cape, and b) Telling you to 'Get lost!' if he beats you, which seems more like schoolyard nastiness to me. The most interesting thing about him is his damn weird name - which is actually meant to go to Balrog, the black boxer. M. Bison - Mike Tyson, get it? The Americans who translated the game were given panic attacks by the clear danger of getting sued and so the names were switched around.

Incidentally, what have the Japanese got against Thai people?

Because each character, after you complete the game using them, has a cheesy ending 'movie' with extremely poorly translated English telling you the character's fate. So as soon as I won the game with Chun-Li (Her ending - now she has beaten all the greatest fighters in the world she spends her time beating the shit out of everybody who makes a suggestive comment without mercy. Yay!) I decided to go back and see what the hell would happen when you defeat M. Bison using... M. Bison. The baffling result is an image of Bison shrieking out that he is unstoppable now that he has defeated even 'the Ancient One!' followed by a message informing you in the politest terms that your actions have brought about the end of the world. So apparently Cthulu showed up in disguise as Bison, fights him, and the result is that Bison is declared king of the world.... I think...


Playing Vendetta again was a blast, as this was a game that really lodged itself into my memory like a barbed piece of shrapnel. At the rec hall of the Pacific Palms resort where we stayed, this was THE arcade game to play for many years. Re-playing it now, I marvel that by rights I should be a complete psychopath for playing this game so long.

About 60% of arcade games in the old days were side-scrolling beat 'em ups. That is, you're a lone guy (or a guy with a second player ethnic tag-team buddy) who finds himself on a scene surrounded by bad guys, you then do as duty dictates by beating the shit out of them, and then walk across until you find MORE bad guys to beat the crap out of. Vendetta set itself out from the pack by being exceptionally outrageous.

The main characters are only-just lawyer-friendly depictions of Hulk Holgan, Mike Tyson, Jean Claude VanDamme and Mr T. (named Hawk, Blood, Boomer and Sledge respectively) who have had the lone female member of their very small gang kidnapped and taken to another city, specifically Dead End City, which is notable for being populated and administrated entirely by unnecessarily hostile armed scumbags.

Weapons include: crates, spare tires, lengths of wood, lengths of chains, bags of flour, bullwhips, buckets, bottles, bricks, molotov cocktails, baseball bats, dynamite and the mighty SHOTGUN which solves all of your problems once you get ahold of it.

The thing that really made me marvel that my parents allowed me to spend so much time in this game are details like the ability to kick the living shit out of enemies once they've fallen on the ground, giant enemies dressed in Rollerball gear, big fat men in gimp outfits who charge you, flashers with molotovs jumping out of their coats, the dominatrices who whip the bejesus out of (and whom our heroes naturally have no qualm smashing with baseball bats before body-slamming their prone form) and, a feature censored out of the American version I downloaded but that I clearly remember, trenchcoat wearing diminutive gay men who somehow injure our heroes by jumping them, then proceeding to hug them before licking their face like a dog.

Hey, it was an earlier time. For whatever reason I miss those guys. The Red Light level feels empty without them.

A criticism leveled against games of this ilk is that level design gets decreasingly interesting as the game goes on, because the designers did not expect players to get too far in (after all, that costs money). I do have to say that, even though the game is fun, there is some evidence of this.

First level boss - 'Buzzsaw Bravado', a maniacal leather-jacket-bound giant with a buzzsaw you fight upon the back of a speeding flatbed truck.

Final level boss - 'Faust', a giant fat bloke in pimp clothing who damages you by breathing hookah smoke on you and pulls out machine guns when the going gets tough. Fought in a squalid bedsit.

Street Fighter Alpha

Just when you think there aren't enough characters to beat the shit out of one another comes this game, which adds what looks to be 500 news guys to the game, and a weird storyline told entirely through badly translated dialogue. My favourite pre-match sequence has to be the stare-down between assassins Gen and Akuma where the dialogue consisted almost entirely of, and I quote, '...'

The odd thing with this series is that they are supposedly prequel stories of all the characters - which makes things slightly odd regarding whether we're meant to accept this as canon, because if they all are it means that M. Bison can still be considered the greatest fighter in the world years later, despite getting the shit kicked out of him by seemingly every decent fighter on the planet.

The Simpsons

I remember my mum commenting that she was quite interested to hear about the Simpsons video game and 'what all the characters would be up to', and after which being horrified to hear that they were all just beating the shit out of strangers. As a child this made perfect sense, because that was just all people did in arcade games (as this post will attest) Looking back now, this game is fairly alarming, and it's easy to see why there is no comic tie-in or any in-episode references.

The plot, after all, doesn't quite flow like your normal Simpsons episode. Marge, Homer and the Kids walk down the street - nothing too weird so far. Then, as they walk past a jeweller's, Smithers jumps out of the glass door with a band of goons laughing maniacally at all the invaluable gold and diamonds he has stolen. (Didn't take long, did it?) In his excitement he runs straight into Homer, causing the diamond he is carrying to fly up into the air and land in Maggie's swaddling clothes. Naturally our newly-turned jewel thief bureaucrat doesn't want to look like some sort of fumbling pedophile, so he steals the entire infant before running off.

In similar logic, the idea of going to the police and telling them about the babybreaking jewel thief who robbed a store with no disguise in broad daylight with dozens of witnesses never crosses the minds of the Simpson family, who set about a Charles Bronson-esque rampage through Springfield, specifically of the sort that makes a hell of a lot more sense when you're playing ex-Pro wrestling gangsters.

Bart is armed with his skateboard, Marge with her vacuum cleaner, Lisa, uncharacteristically, with a skipping rope and Homer goes pure fists-of-fury because he's just that fucking hard. Incidentally, aside from Smither's two initial goons, it's never explained why you are fighting anyone at all. Least of all, an indefatigable and seemingly endless army that seems to be two blokes who keep showing up - one a thin guy in a suit who kind of looks like Lenny, the other a fat bloke in a pink shirt who's closest look-a-like would be the creator of Itchy and Scratchy.

There is a variety of enemies to face, although they make little more sense, as the progression of the game seems to flow with the logic of an acid trip -

Downtown Springfield - sensible enough. You walk down the road and fight a shitload of those creepy clone enemies I've mentioned. The oddity comes from the firemen apparently being against you. Boss: A freakishly large wrestler who you defeat by waiting until his boxer shorts fall down, at which point he is defenseless.

Krustyland - despite being called Krustyland, there are only a couple of Krusties in site. Most of the enemies are Bongo, the one-eared rabbit from the 'Life in Hell' comic strips that Matt Groening used to do on the side. Who are just more clone guys inside, apparently. Boss: An unusually fast, animated and deadly Krusty hot air balloon, piloted by a homicidal Smithers.

Cemetary - zombies everywhere. To many zombies in fact. As a humourous point the weird clones try to freak you out by falling from trees with sheets on their head but end up running away themselves. Ends in a lengthy sub-terranean elevator fight, because we all know that Moe's Tavern is located in a tunnel system underneath the graveyard, right? Boss: Two dudes in suit, one short, one massive. The big guy throws the little guy at you. A lot. Interestingly near-identical to a couple of bosses in Vendetta.

Moe's Tavern - is now the longest frigging bar in the world. The boss is a dude in a leather vest who breathes fire.

The Springfield Butte: ie, the great outdoors/mountain. Boulders fall from the sky, quite a lot. I think there are bigfoots, and you can pick up three-eyed fish and use them as weapons. Boss: A giant bear you see escape from the zoo in Krustyland earlier - except when you defeat him he shrinks down and turns into the pink-shirted fat-clone bloke with NO EXPLANATION WTF???

The Dream World: Because you fall off a waterfall at the end of the last level you knock yourself out and wake up in THE DREAM WORLD, which resembles that episode where Homer falls asleep at the wheel after working a 16-hour shift - a landscape of peaceful clouds. Filled with stuff trying to kill you. Giant flying saxophones, punchy anthropomorphic angel-winged donuts, cloudy Marge heads popping out of the ground to whack you, and disembodied radioactive suits are all on the menu . Boss A gigantic bowling ball monster, with arms of more bowling balls, who shoots EVEN MORE bowling balls and is very, very difficult to kill.

Channel 6 Studios: In a humourous cutscene directly before this level your character shrieks in terror at seeing Maggie led into the buidling. I'm not sure why it should be so terrifying. Interestingly one short glimpse of Kent Brockman reading the news is the only sign that this is actually Channel 6 from the series. You walk onto the set of a cheap sci-fi and fight lots of aliens. Okay. From there on you walk onto the set of a ... ninja thing. And fight a LOT of ninjas. Boss: An insane samurai carrying a big spear that he twirls a lot. Like most of the bosses he is unfeasibly gigantic.

The Nuclear Power Plant: I remembered this being a proper level, but I was wrong. Your character charges into Burns' office and confronts Smithers, so it's the boss fight right away. The Japanese take on Smithers is interestingly. Instead of a passive aggressive yet highly effeminate and workaholic manager-cum-glorified PA, he is a psychotic pyromaniacal blue haired man running around in a cape with lots and lots of lit bombs with which he tries to kill you. If nothing else, it's an interesting take. Once he is unequivocably dead, the wall crashes in an Burns comes in, to fight you in his giant robot suit. Entertainingly, the fight lasts three times longer than normal - destroy the robots legs and it grows tank tracks. Destroy the tank tracks and it grows an innertube which turns it into a hovecraft. Destroy the hovercraft and Burns will still shoot at you until you hit him a few more times. Also, the robot fires nuclear bombs.

Once the robot is destroyed Burns stands around gormlessly, having no actual attacks of his own. It also takes just one hit to kill him. And he is definitely dead, as the cutscene depicts him with big crosses in place of pupils and his tongue hanging slack outside his mouth. And Maggie's safe. Yay! Cue for traditional Japanese arcade game walk into the sunset!

The most impressive thing about this game, other than its graphics which were simply terrific for the time, is that they actually got Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Yeardley Smith and... oh, man, have to remember the chick who does the voice of Bart or I'll lose some nerd cred... aw, screw it I'll use wikipedia. Nancy Cartwright! Of course. She doesn't look like a Nancy. Anyway, they got them to do all the voices. Which just goes to show... with licensing and official casting, does not come respectability.

Also, try to fit this game into canon. Go on. I dare you.

Street Fighter III

It's like Street Fighter II... with the predecessor's character roster insanity level multiplied by 8 billion. And a rap soundtrack. Download at your own risk.


Youth of Australia said...

The Simpsons Game scares me.

A lot.

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Have you ever seen it in action, or are you just going from my description of its various oddities?

Youth of Australia said...

I think it started when I saw the ads for it on the back of comics where Bart was electrocuting mice for sadistic fun... but the description helped a lot, either way.

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