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2005-11-01 23:39:43 (link)
What's Going On

Just wanted to update you on a few things to expect soon from . dot C.O.M.
1) We're down to the top 3 in my video game list. You can expect the long overdue conclusion in the upcoming weeks. Having combed the annals of video game obscurity, do think you have figured out what will be #1? You might get 3 if you don't look too hard, but my top 2 are sure to be undiscovered old gems for you to hunt for and enjoy.

2) You may have noticed that some of the old entries on the list seem to have disappeared. Let me assure you that they have not gone the way of Panthera (play through Xardion for SNES to get that one), but they are merely inaccessible at the moment. It seems that if you post too many entries on our site at on time, the old ones get bumped to some mysterious Minus World. So, to make a long story short, I fucked things up when rearranging them...and we're working to correct the problem. Look for Hippodrome and Monster Party, etc. to be available again shortly.

3) I hope that you enjoyed my Halloween special, and are duly scarred and desensitized by some of my recommendations. I'll probably force my chosen works of entertainment down your throat even harder for some other special holiday soon.

4) I haven't forgetten about the Summer Swear Word Contest, it's winners, or my promise to write up a full report. You can expect that to appear shortly. Thanks again to all who participated- especially our winners' circle: Rick Jaser [sargh], Barry Wolfenden [steimos], and Craig Jacobsen [Bob Saget!]. Your copies of Monster Party will be beaten, autographed, and mailed A.S.I Have $. And yes, I'm serious...though I don't take myself that way. Petition to Merriam-Webster soon to follow.

5) The Warriors for PS2 (and Xbox) rocks shit hard man. Forget Combatribes for a while, and just stick to the real thing.


2005-10-30 20:57:48 (link)
Ingredients for a Halloween at Home

Alright kids, now that your big boozathon weekend is likely over, what will you be doing on Halloween proper? Chances are sitting around the house being bored out of your throbbing, hungover skull. Well never fear, ghoulophiles, Mike Mans is here to provide you with some great entertainment for your Samhain sittings. Without further delay, allow me to call your attention to 6 records, 6 games, and 6 films which all encapsulate the bloodthirsty spirit of my personal favorite holiday.

1.) Type O Negative – World Coming Down: Choosing which Type O album to put on this list was nearly impossible for me. But alas, I chose the dark and more emotional chapter in the TON saga: World Coming Down. Written during a low point for lead singer Peter Steele, WCD is an exploration of death and drugs, self-loathing and loss. WCD also has two songs directly related to Halloween that are essential to any real Halloweenie’s playlist. “Creepy Green Light”- a man goes to Greenwood Cemetery to fornicate with the ghost of his dead lover, who rises from the green light on Halloween this year. “All Hallow’s Eve”- using an ancient spell to sell his soul to the devil, a widower brings his love back to life…on All Hallows Eve.
2.) Opeth – Ghost Reveries: I love this album. It was a toss up between the new release from the masters of Swedish prog/death metal and their classic Blackwater Park album, but as Ghost Reveries includes the perfect Halloween track “The Grand Conjuration”, it got the edge. Keyboards play a larger role on this album than the previous releases, thanks to the elevation to fulltime status touring keyboardist Per Wiberg received. Thus, the creepy atmospherics support the (un)godly riffs all the more soundly. Here we have an opus about ghosts, fiendish hounds, haunted swamps, the undead, and the invocation of the devil. Halloween perfection.
3.) My Dying Bride – The Angel and the Dark River: Foghorns, church organs, violins, and sludgy guitars all create a foreboding and bleak atmosphere on this gothic masterpiece from one of the UK’s best doom acts. Suicidal, depressing songs of misery and self-loathing find head vampire Aaron Stainthorpe’s brooding wails carrying the funereal procession through six songs that occupy nearly an hour of time. Come to think of it, this album is also perfect for any dreary, foggy, cold and miserable day. We can only hope for one of those on Oct. 31 this year.
4.) The Misfits - Collection: The Misfits are akin to the Simpsons’ Treehouse of Terror specials. They’re edgy enough to win over the hard-assed Barts of the world, yet catchy and accessible enough to click with most simple Homers. Sure, Glenn “O.D.” Danzig (the original devilock) belted out some carnage (“Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonighi?” and “Last Caress” come to mind) but they’re so catchy that one can appreciate them sort of like a Snoop song. This is like what you wish those 80’s Halloween TV specials would be like if you went back and watched them again.
5.) Sunn 0))) – White2: I imagine this album is what human sacrificial, early X-Files-esque, goat skull wearing cult members that probably don’t really exist listen to as they spill blood unto their mighty lord Marduk. Mostly instrumental except for some sweet chanting, Sunn 0))) even appear onstage clad in grim druidic robes. Exorcist scary.
6.) The Ran-Dells – “The Martian Hop”: Eee Ee Eee! Eee Ee Eee! Dadabingding dababingdingding! I remember one time I listened to this song around a huge bonfire just before Halloween, while dancing around with a High Life in my hand like an idiot. This was also probably in the Top 10 moments in my life, because I discovered a song that everyone at the party was affected by in some sort of neurotic way. Do the Martian Hop, the greatest song ever.

1.) Alien: So there’s really nothing celestial about Halloween, but the mere setting of Alien isn’t going to keep me from putting one of the most brutal and terrifying monsters of all time on the list. H.R. Giger himself designed the xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s ’79 outer space frightfest Alien, and the creature (though largely unseen) is the heart and soul of this well-acted, deep sci-fi/horror classic. For your demonic delight, watch this as opposed to the sequels, which venture into action adventure territory and drift from pure psychological terror.
2.) Pumpkinhead: I’ve gotta admit, it’s been a few years since I’ve watched Pumpkinhead. But, I know it earns its spot on this list. A few vague memories that support this claim: 1) Lance Henricksen is in the movie. ‘Nuff said. 2) Lance summons the demon Pumpkinhead to avenge the death of his son. Pumpkinhead is a cool fuckin’ name. 3) Stan Winston (of Predator and Terminator) designed the demon, so it looks all Giger or something. Rad. 4) Summoning demons is totally metal.
3.) Friday the 13th- Part 3: So this is the one where the hockey mask finally gets strapped onto old Kane Hodder, er…Jason Vorhees. Sure, his bitch of a mom was pretty frightening, but not in a Halloween way as much as in a senile hick, Mississippi way. And Jason, the invincible, bloodthirsty boy who allegedly drowned but somehow survived as a semi-retarded sociopath was pretty alarming too. But Halloween needs costume style. And a hockey mask just rounds that out for Mr. Vorhees. So, skip right to the third installment. You’ve probably seen the first two edited on USA’s Up-All-Night anyway (R.I.P.).
4.) Halloween: Duh, no brainer here. Insane serial killer Michael Myers wreaks havoc on the pagan holiday this whole column is dedicated to. Inspired performance by a young Jamie Lee Curtis. Pumpkins, gore, etc. Watch now if you haven’t ever seen it
5.) Sleepy Hollow: Oh, how this movie is underrated. Visually, Sleepy Hollow is one of the most stunning and unsettling movies that I’ve ever seen. The environments are dimly lit, obscured by fog, and full of twisted tree boughs and misshapen domiciles. Typically, the nearly grayscale bleakness is broken up by flame or cherry red blood spewing forth from the severed head of a pale and downtrodden townsperson. The Headless Horseman is made all the more frightening by Johnny Depp’s eccentric performance as Ichabod Crane. Truly frightening- decked out with a flaming jack-o’-lantern and black magick for your Halloween viewing pleasure.
6.) Rawhead Rex: A freakish Muppet, born with a wicked slouch and no lips, terrorizes Ireland. Rex goes on a cross-country killing spree, severing rubbery heads and committing other acts of wanton cruelty. Most terrifying part: he doesn’t die at the end. Rex might still be lurking around the nearest corner, breathing laboriously and lumbering toward you at any second!

1.) Castlevania- Symphony of the Night: This game is the almost unanimously proclaimed apex of the Castlevania saga. Alucard (the son of indestructible series baddie Dracula) rebels against his father in this, one of the darkest games to grace consoles. You’ll get all of the standard gothic fair here: vampires, Death, dilapidated gothic cathedrals and spires, and even a being composed of corpses named Granfalloon. That’s only scratching the surface. For all masochists out there, there’s even an optional boss designed specifically for you. If you manage to find Galamoth, you’ll see what I mean. Highly recommended.
2.) Demon’s Crest: All you lazy-types, why dress up as a devil for Halloween when you can play as one on your Super Nintendo? Enter Firebrand, the Red Demon, previously known only as a Ghosts n’ Goblins baddie. Here, it seems, he’s grown more and more powerful over his two gargoyle’s quests. Phalanx, a grey demon, has imprisoned Firebrand in a battle arena, and left him in the company of a great dragon. So starts Demon’s Crest, a dark and twisted ride through the Ghoul Realm: a haunted land full of malformed monsters and piles upon piles of bones. Playing as Firebrand, you’ll guide your airborne anti-hero through graveyards and catacombs as you burn your way through hordes of reanimated corpses and living body parts. A Halloween adventure that ends with a demon ruling the world one way or another. Hail, dark lord.
3.) Splatterhouse: Here’s a fuzzy little game from the late eighties. Well before Mortal Kombat, Doom, and every other game that really chaps Tipper Gore’s calloused little ass there was Splatterhouse. You play as Rick, a parapsychology student investigating some creepy, Lovecraftian old house known as West Mansion. Once inside, ghouls attack your girlfriend Jennifer and you. After an Aztec sacrificial mask bonds itself to your face, you must use its strength to defeat a horde of murderous demons in an attempt to save Jennifer. You literally wade through halls of entrails, bisecting reanimated corpses and pulverizing zombies. The organ music and the organic splats add to the terrifying and bloody excursion.
4.) Diablo: I would’ve put the vastly superior sequel on here, but I think the original is actually more unsettling. There’s something darker about playing as a hero who must traverse deep below a defiled church that leads directly into Hell itself. In the end, the original quest to stop Diablo himself is more unsettling than the sequel. Encounter the Butcher, a murderous meat-carver with an entire room full of human cold cuts for your tasting pleasure. Try to resist the temptation of the scantily clad succubae- demonesses with considerable firepower. Read from mysterious tomes and exhume the remains of parishioners long passed. Discover why Diablo truly is the Lord of Terror.
5.) Maniac Mansion: This game used to scare the piss out of me when I was like 8. It’s genius- what’s the scariest thing in reality? Totally whacked out human beings. No one really likes going to the doctor either and getting stuck with needles after turning their head for a cough. So, here we have a game where you get the displeasure of infiltrating a doctor and his nurse wife’s mansion in order to rescue the principle character’s girlfriend. The game uses silence and monotonous noises to perfection. When you first enter the kitchen and see a bloody chainsaw hanging on the knife rack, you know shit is about to blow up in your face. Soon after, you’re greeted by the revolting, toothy maw of Nurse Edna. There’s also the requisite creature schlock- a sentient meteor, disembodied tentacles (one plays in a punk band), man-eating plants, and extraterrestrial police officers. Truly weird enough to satisfy the Oingo Boingo side of your Halloween experience.
6.) Resident Evil: Any Halloween enthusiast knows that zombies are pretty essential to the observance of their favorite holiday. Here we get zombies, who are actually disease ridden people inflicted with a synthetic virus that turns organisms into mindless monsters. There are frightening dogs and fleshy creatures called lickers with big tongues. Your mission is to explore a mansion compound and investigate the shady activities of the Umbrella Corporation, while wiping out zombies and monsters along the way. This game has seen various incarnations on different platforms, and if you haven't played the series I’d recommend starting with the original Playstation version. If you’re like most gamers and played through it several years ago, check out the fantastic Gamecube remake. Truth be told, I just threw this game on my list because I was lazy. But it definitely is frightening and a perfect fit.

All images ©some years, their respective publishers


2005-10-23 15:33:07 (link)
#4: Secret of Evermore
20 Video Games That You Probably Never Played...But Should Have

Secret of Evermore
Format: Super Nintendo
Publisher: Square Enix ©1995

Hail Thraxx.

Well, here’s a nice little title that hits pretty close to home for me. As many of you may know, my writing on this site has been infrequent in the past several months due to my new job- I am a manager for a dog walking service. For those of you in smaller cities, the ‘burbs, or even Podunk, USA: yes, pet care is a service industry in Chicago, and I imagine in other metropoleis as well. The lack of backyards and long work hours for many urban dwellers require them to hire individuals such as myself to take their dog out. We take the dogs out for a bathroom break and a twenty-five minute walk, and also do vacation walks and house sitting for traveling-types. You can read all about it for yourselves here: SHAMELESS BUSINESS PLUG. As a regular walker, I spent long days under the summer sun in the company of various canine counterparts. I’d walk my friends Femur, Hugo, Symba, and Coletrain around the city and wrestle with some of them in the cleaner sections of the city parks. I will be the first to admit- when you spend the majority of your day with members of another species, it starts to drive you a little mad. I mean I wasn’t becoming Jervis Tech or anything, but my girlfriend would catch me sticking my tongue out the car at various dogs when we’d pass them. One time I apparently barked to myself in line at the Wendy’s drive-thru, as if thinking out loud in dog-speak.

Now, after my much-appreciated promotion to a manager, I spend less time alone with dogs just daydreaming my way through the streets of the Windy City. I’m usually following one of my walkers as they go on their walks, which I’m sure leaves them slightly annoyed and encumbered by my presence. At least I get to write their reviews (don’t worry guys and gals, I don’t have any vendettas against you…yet, mwahaha). My long overdue point is that once you’ve spent a summer in the heat talking to dogs exclusively, there’s really no going back. I need my fix of mindless meandering with a dog to maintain what few fragments of my sanity remain tangled together. As my “bulldog fund” is going to be emptied on a new car within weeks (the old Cutlass Supreme is on its terminal tires), I must use my personal favorite of life’s escapes to carry on my puppy praxes. I turn, again, to video games. Fortunately, some hippies at Squaresoft USA invented the perfect game for me back in 1995- Secret of Evermore.

Sure, you all played Secret of Mana. Since you’re reading online about video games, I’m going to wager a guess that a good chunk of you have played through a translated ROM of the mighty Seiken Densetsu 3- probably the best SNES title that was never ported to the states. And let us ask: what could make those highly original titles truly flawless. Well, let me tell you what would improve them- replacing the painfully grating fairy (double entendre alert!) character with a goddamn dog. When the sprite in Mana is opening its maw and rambling on, and when Charlotte in SD3 says anything we all know that we hate these beloved games just a little bit. Well, what if that were replaced by the banter of man’s best friend? Tell me that a dog barking is more annoying than Carlie, and well… I’ll kick your ass, I guess. So, armed with the ring menu system, a less effeminate hero than Randi rushes into adventure with that very substitution at his side. You get to play as a boy and his dog in Secret of Evermore.

Take a walk or jog with your dog through the newly completed Swampland Trail at the Prehistorica Nature Preserve, and you'll be blessed with breathtaking acres of pristine wetlands, wayward spirits and man-eating serpents.

I’m fully convinced that this game was at least created by a former dog walker, because it is like the literal product of my brain translated into a Super Nintendo cartridge. The really mind blowing thing to consider is that it came into existence like 10+ years prior to my career as a dog walker. And given that fact, the scariest possibility is that Secret of Evermore somehow steered me down the path I’ve chosen. Synopsis: A b-movie enthusiast’s dog runs off and into abandoned mansion that used to belong to Dr. Ruffleberg. Apparently an experiment went awry years ago, and Ruffleberg and his assistants vanished mysteriously. Well, the film buff boy naturally chases his dog into the building (as I would, I’m sure) and finds a creepy old machine. Upon activation, he finds himself teleported into the world of Evermore: a fantasy realm divided into four distinct lands that Dr. Ruffleberg and his assistants have created to be their individual paradises. The only problem seems to be that some outside evil force has begun to corrupt Evermore and fill it with dangerous creatures. You play as the boy and his dog. In order to get back home and sit on your ass watching movies, you must explore the depths of Evermore and defeat the sadistic clones of each four participants in the professor’s experiment. You must bring harmony to each of the four continents in Evermore: Prehistoria (a primordial swampland), Crustacia/Antiqua (a Mediterranean-inspired ancient civilization), Nobilia (part medieval Europe, part Alice Through the Looking Glass), and Omnitopia (a space station hovering above the earthbound sections of Evermore). Only then will the real culprit behind the dark revolution in Evermore be revealed, along with the path home.

Russians must be good at this game.

Let’s talk serious for a moment: there are some aspects in this title that just outshine most other games on the Super Nintendo. First off, the bosses in this game are top notch. Dark, creepy entities such as Thraxx and Salabog will try their best to impede your progress. They’re huge and quite challenging (especially early on). Thraxx is a badass name too. Like, I wish I’d thought of it and knew how to play guitar about twenty years ago…I’d have been a millionaire. The actual creature, a sort of corpse-dwelling insect, would make a great thrash metal mascot too. Salabog is a giant serpent that lives within the coolest swamp level to grace gaming. He spits will-o’-the-wisps and generally raises Hell. Definitely one of the more memorable SNES bosses. You also get Verminator (an oversized plague rat who is mysteriously very, very frustrating), Rimsala (no, not a new Dan Savage slang term, you pervs) and the almighty MAGMAR!!! So bosses= thumbs up.

The ring menu system of Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3 is used very effectively in conjunction with a unique-to-this-day magic system: alchemy. You’ll have to use your dog’s nose to sniff out earthen ingredients with you can mix together to unleash powerful magic attacks and effects. Sniffing around to stock up on the fruits of the land is a different way of the laborious task of raising funds in role-playing games. You wont have to fight Tyranosaur and Brachosaur 8000x times with an Experience Egg equipped to build levels, you’ll be able to wander around a big more and let your pup sniff out supplies while you kick asses and hopefully ignore most of the enemies’ names. One complaint: I never was able to find the recipe for the Sting mixture. Thus, I never got to see what amazing graphics Sting entailed. I like to imagine that born-again Christian guy with the Crow gimmick from WCW runs in and does the Scorpion Death Drop on everything. Guess I’ll probably never know (fuck the desert part in Crustacia, by the way).

I’ve already covered the dog as a secondary character earning the game points in my book. I thought it was genius how they managed to use the world’s different regions to alter the dog’s form- allowing you to play as a sheepdog, a greyhound, a standard poodle, and a mechanical…toaster. Since you can use the dog’s nose to seek out ingredients, it’s nice that the music is really solid while you’re wasting time building your inventory. The music is much more atmospheric than other SNES RPGs. When you’re in the swamp, you’ll hear the sounds of insects and bubbling mire. In fact, there’s a lot of environmental noise instead of epic overtures. The music, when it does play, is mysterious and ominous, adding a harder edge to the otherwise campy adventure. The atmosphere of Evermore itself gives the world a distinct and immersing feel.

A lot of people seemed put out by the cheesy references to fictional sci-fi serials, but I have to say…I liked the game’s tongue in cheek humor. I mean, *spoiler alert* the butler did it! Seriously, the professor’s butler, Carltron, is revealed to be the scheming mastermind behind the clones running amok in Evermore. It seems that he wants to rule Evermore himself. Of course, the final fight pits you against the robotic forces of Carltron himself. It’s a fitting end for a game that spoofs b-entertainment in such a crafty way. Secret of Evermore rises above the cheese of its influences and becomes something entirely different: a solid and enthralling game.

Where it all begins- a discount theatre in Podunk, U.S.A. I imagine this town is somewhere a few miles north of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.

All images ©1995, Square Enix


2005-10-12 16:26:05 (link)
#5: E.V.O. Search for Eden
20 Video Games That You Probably Never Played...But Should Have

(NOTE: E.V.O. is not to be confused with Ecco the Dolphin. While both games involve undersea stages, Ecco remains a dolphin. E.V.O. gets to turn into less intelligent, landborne entities.)

E.V.O. Search for Eden
Format: Super Nintendo
Publisher: Enix ©1993

Some debates are more just matters of fact vs. fiction. In many classic and well-recorded disputes, scientific evidence, rational thinking, and soundness of mind deliver a three-hit combo to the platform whose stance is loosely rooted in abstraction and delusion. Perhaps I can better articulate the type of debate I am referring to with a set of examples. Please think over the following: Greedo vs. Han- who fired first? Metallica- pre- or post- Black Album? And finally, who would win in a fight- Mega Man or Mega Man X? Sane individuals know that Han Solo always will have blindsided poor Greedo, they turn Master of Puppets up to 11, and they hang in the corner of the original Blue Bomber, who despite his inferior technology has the one thing that X lacks- heart. To me, the debate of Creationism vs. Evolution falls into this category of being a non-issue. Sorry Adam, but fossils, Andre the Giant and the skink pretty clearly illustrate the process of evolution. If you want to go ahead and say that the Big Bang was just God screaming, then my buddy Darwin and I can’t really disprove you. Monkeys didn’t spring to life a mere day before man’s first rib morphed into man’s mate. Clearly, aeons and aeons of slow change and mutation created an organism as complex and intelligent as say, John Travolta. Sadly however, we live in a theocracy where a boisterous and robotic percentage of the population die hard, and will not let this debate finally end in the landslide victory that it should. So, as we do with other sensitive issues of “morality”, we try to find a safe and comfortable compromise to teach to our children the outlandish point of view within the context of the reasonable. In this instance, we turned as we always do to the Japanese. We found ourselves graced with a teaching tool that incorporated evolution and the possibility of intelligent design by not only deities, but also by extraterrestrials. On top of its incredible ability to build bridges between these two opposing schools of thought, it is a highly original platformer with elements of role-playing game character development. This game is E.V.O.

To start off, I have no idea what E.V.O. stands for. I always liked to assume that it stood for Eeee-Volving Organism, but I can’t really base that on anything other than my own overactive imagination. Perhaps more important to the overall story arc of the game is the subtitle: The Search for Eden. The basic plot is that Gaia (some blue-haired, topless deity, not my girlfriend’s cat) has sent you, E.V.O., a disembodied life-force down to make sure that the planet Earth evolves along its proper path. Notice how my summary of the game involves both the words “deity” and “evolve”? Gaia is the daughter of the sun god, Apollo, and you are a “living spirit”. Together, you form a kind of Trinity that directly parallels Christianity. The only difference here is that the Jesus figure is a girl, Gaia. But really, who wouldn’t rather be looking at a statue of a pretty girl when they’re bored in church than get all depressed by some poor hippie hanging off a cross? Just joking with ya, J.C. My point is that the game uses the set up of a holy Trinity (with names borrowed from Greek myth) to guide evolution along. What a safe and comforting compromise! Probably still a bit too liberal for Clear Channel, but one that I’d let my kids play in school. The other reason I’d let them play E.V.O. in school is that it teaches patience and the rewards offered by intense repetition. Necessary life lessons, right there.

Finding Nerdo.

You start out as a wimpy looking blue fish that is floating along in the eerie First Sea. The first other entities that you’ll come across are some kind of jellyfish with cartoon eyes and a nasty stinger. You’ll find that even with your paltry set of toothless jaws you’ll be able to maul them with relative ease. Each dead jellyfish will inexplicably leave a juicy rack of meat behind, which you’ll get to munch up. Notice how your E.V.O. Points will rise. After a while of floating around the seas and eating lesser creatures, you’ll be able to spend your E.V.O. P’s to evolve into fitter, happier, and more productive organisms (such as a wicked lantern fish). You’ll eventually have to defeat the strongest organism in the land (in the case of the first era, a headstrong shark). Only after besting your opponent will you be able to make a greater evolutionary leap- from fish to amphibian, amphibian to dinosaur, dinosaur to bird, bird to mammal, and finally mammal into pre-human. Along the way, you’ll get to pick different evolutionary paths for your creature, such as choosing two legs or four, or even choosing not to evolve. While not particularly scientific, E.V.O. offers a nice introduction to the process of evolution, placating the radical right with the inclusion of Book of Genesis-type stuff.

Poor Segosaurus lost its” T”. Better put it out of its misery, Rhinobeast…

Don’t get me wrong; the hit detection in E.V.O. is atrocious. You will take damage just for being near enemies at times, and when you visibly sink your Fierce Jaws into an unwitting Segosaurus it is likely that no damage will register. Still, these are slight annoyances when compared to the vast scope of E.V.O.’s accomplishments and might. Did I mention that they throw aliens into the creation myth mix? Yeah, meddling little spacemen introduce “Crystal” to the planet, which is part of some sick interstellar experiment. The various crystals cause evolution to proceed unnaturally, and thus it is your mission to make sure things go as Gaia has intended. Using crystal, you may be able to evolve into strange creatures such as dragons, stingrays and elephants. Not sure what commentary that is supposed to provide about said creatures. Anyway, with a bit of exploration you’ll be able to reveal the aliens plot and force their apologies and remorse. Alas, it will be too late however, as some protoplasmic entity named Bolvox will already have used the crystals to evolve into a multipart mess of ectoplasm and lesser beings. Presumably armed with your wooden club at this point, you’ll have to slay Bolvox after you evolve into the first man in order to reach Eden.

Bolvox: a distant cousin of Red Falcon from Contra 3? Perhaps the alien invaders of the C-series were created with CRYSTAL!!!

So, the game seems to end where the book of Genesis picks up, with Adam reaching the Garden of Eden. Here we have a sensible precursor to the Bible that nicely wraps up the debate on Creationism vs. Evolution. If we just accept that a life force defended the creation of the world and eventually became Adam, and that Adam was a righteous dude capable of slaying alien mutants, Genesis makes a whole lot more sense too. This game is worth playing, just to shut up both sides of this ridiculous debate and see each perspective rendered into a nonsensical platformer. I mean holy F.U.C.K., E.V.O. suggests that people evolve from cats and rabbits. In reality, we all know that life was created by Black Sabbath. Seriously…because heavy metal is life. The rest is just details.

All images ©1993, Enix


2005-09-12 14:52:29 (link)
#6: Legacy of the Wizard
20 Video Games That You Probably Never Played...But Should Have

Legacy of the Wizard
Format: Nintendo Entertainment System
Publisher: Brøderbund ©1988

When I was young, my best friend and I would often act out the further adventures of our favorite characters from movies, cartoons, and of course video games. I can still remember elementary school sleepovers, when we’d get a pizza from Little Caesars and rent a Nintendo game. The schedule of our nights went as follows: rent a game in late afternoon, try it out, eat some pizza, and then go outside to play said video game where “we were the guys.” “The guys” included timeless favorites such as Maddog and Scorpion from Contra, Billy and Jimmy Lee from Double Dragon, or the nameless pilots of the Vic Viper and RoadBritish Space Destroyer in Life Force. We got really into playing Dragon Warrior where “we’re the guys,” and our exploits included drawing shitty pictures of the heinous Red Slime and Druid and then beating them with a plastic sword from Toys ‘R Us. Still, playing games where “you’re the guys” had its environmental limitations. Obviously a certain amount of imagination was involved to partake from the start, but for some untold reason our true-life surroundings had to correlate somehow with the environs we were pretending to explore and defeat baddies in. Examples: one of our basements was always the cave level, suburban Hazelwood Drive in Lindenhurst, Illinois became the mean streets of in-game cities, and refrigerator boxes and tables with blankets strewn over them magically transformed into the claustrophobic interiors of imaginary space vessels. At times, we would be so into “being the guys” that we would use trips to the mall or a botanical garden with our parents as ripe opportunities to fight nameless evils in locations out of our usual attack capability. Still, in spite of a variety of different errands with our parents and field trips with school, there was one game that we never managed to figure out how to “play as the guys” from. That game was the almighty Legacy of the Wizard.

Let me describe for you how it might be possible to play this adventure game that has been seemingly buried by the sands of time where “you’re the guys”. Imagine that four toy crowns were hidden, each in a different borough of New York City. They could be anywhere- in a park high up in a tree, in someone’s condo under the bed, or slipped down a storm drain on some side street vastly unknown to the general populace. Next, you’d have to travel to the top of the Empire State Building to begin the game. With absolutely no clues, and starting with no tools to help you out in any way, you’d have to travel down the stairs of the building to the city below and wander around aimlessly until you stumbled upon each of the crowns. To make matters worse, every pedestrian, car, light post, mailbox, and in some cases even sidewalk would injure you upon contact with them. That’s pretty much what it would take in order to even begin making your roleplaying experience feel like the actual game.

Legacy of the Wizard is the story of the Drasle family: a simple group of woodcutters who happen to be the descendants of a mighty wizard. The evil dragon Keela once did what dragons do best; she roamed the countryside and terrorized the peons that dwell there. The mighty wizard, Douel, grandfather to the Drasle children, used four magic crowns to seal Keela in a stone pit deep in the caverns under the kingdom’s castle. Years later, the Drasle family pet, Pochi, carried one of Keela’s scales into the living room where the family was standing around inanimately. Determined to prevent Keela from committing further atrocities, the Drasles must find the four crowns Douel hid in the sub-terrain and then use the might sword Dragonslayer to stop Keela once and for all.

Left: The Drasle family (clockwise around table starting at left): Raos, Xemn, Meyna, Jiela, Pochi, and Lyll, with grandfather Douel at the far right.
Right: Xemn casts a spell that shoots a magickal axe at some type of troglodyte Cyclops being.

Well, plot isn’t why Legacy of the Wizard is on this list. Really, the best thing about this game is the challenge factor. Let me say that LotW is the hardest game I have ever played and actually finished. Yes, you read that right: I defeated Legacy of the Wizard. Nearly thirteen years after first renting it, my best friend and I finally found the Dragonslayer and thrust it deep into Keela’s dragon heart. The journey to that final showdown involves using all five members of the Drasle family proper: Xemn, the burly father; Meyna, the agile mother; Llyl, the bouncing daughter; Pochi, the sturdy monster pet; and finally Raos, the chosen son destined to wield the mighty Dragonslayer in single combat against his destined foe. For us, it meant investing about half of our lives in this 8-bit family and wandering mindlessly around the blocky tunnels where the crowns were hidden.

This brings me to why I had to place this game on the list. It can be frustrating, even downright infuriating, and I doubt so far I’ve done a good job building it up to be something you’ll want to download right away. Aside from being nearly impossible without the use of a GameFAQ, Legacy of the Wizard is addictive, smart, and immensely ahead of its time. The simple puzzles of pushing blocks around, seeking out hidden passages in the walls, and utilizing the correct items in the area they were designed for are as involving and challenging as anything gaming offers today. The lack of direction is a welcome change from modern 3D platformers, in which you are basically given on screen walkthroughs and less than subtle hints. As hard as the game is, it’s equally rewarding when you finally stumble upon the item that you need or actually find yourself going head to head with one of the scarce bosses.

Legacy of the Wizard truly makes one realize the power of the term “emotional rollercoaster.” As you work your way deeper into the game, you find your pride and sense of accomplishment being pulled up a hill by a rickety chain. Then perhaps you’ll come across the first boss, stumbling onto a crown with little Pochi. Suddenly, a massive arachnid appears, spewing rings of froth and bile your way. Caught off guard just by the sheer size of this enemy compared to the small, cubic spaces that all of the other sprites occupy, you stand there like a deer in the headlights. Soon, poor Pochi has fallen, spinning around like a wingless angel and falling to his doom in the black, encompassing beyond. At the top of the rollercoaster, the three seconds of anticipation and terror are experienced during the brief pause and fading hope that there might be a halfway point in this twisted and merciless game. Then the plunge begins; the plunge back to the Drasle abode with your progress through the maze unmarked, the plunge of your frustrated soul into insatiable agony. You are falling to Hell. Like any damned soul, you known your misery would be eternal irregardless, so you begin trying to climb your way out of the the brimstone inferno for lack of reason not to. You pick up the controller and being the laborious task of making your way back to the boss again.

The Enemy Life of a rabid wood-tick.

Hours later, you arrive at your second attempt. Though you experience faux-aneurysm in the process, you this time vanquish the spider and bathe in the triumphant fanfare rendered 8-bit style. You are at the top of the second hill. You realize that you are destined to plummet downward again in only seconds as you chose the next character. This time you think you might even enjoy the possible disaster that lies ahead. Just when you are getting used to the ride, the track spirals suddenly, and you feel your stomach slam against your rib cage as you realize you’ve been spending an hour getting the wrong character halfway through a passageway designed to be explored by his mother or sister. And so the process begins again, with a loop or a corkscrew.

Maybe because I grew up in Gurnee, home of Six Flags’ Great America, it’s easier for me to relate things to the bodily sensations caused by amusement park rides. I guess perhaps the warning I give before playing Legacy of the Wizard is that if you don’t like rollercoasters and wish they were shorter when you want them, then you don’t want to play this game. However, if you are of the school that wishes they never would end, then you need to begin the life-altering mission trip into the unnamed land in which the Drasle family plays heroes, just for one day.

Maybe then, at long last, you’ll find yourself standing before Keela, where "you're the guy" with the Dragonslayer.

All images ©1988, Brøderbund


2005-09-12 14:51:51 (link)
#7: The Combatribes
20 Video Games That You Probably Never Played...But Should Have

The Combatribes
Format: Arcade/MAME
Publisher: Technos ©1990

If you’ve ever watched a movie on TBS, chances are decent that it was the cult classic The Warriors. This seminal film follows a gang of leather vest wearing, ass-kickin’ hooligans as they try to make their way to safe ground across the mean streets of late seventies New York City. A brief synapsis: Cyrus, a gangbanging Martin Luther King, Jr., calls a meeting between all of the city’s gangs to propose unity against the police and other oppressors. The only trouble is some really cool guy shoots him, and blames it on the Warriors. Hence, they are trapped miles from their home turf of Coney Island with a price on their heads for a murder they didn’t commit. Couple that intriguing plot with a set of pre-N.W.A. era gangs such as the Baseball Furies and some really pissed off mimes and you’ve got yourself a formula for success. Still, things didn’t turn out as well as they potentially could have.

Okay, so The Warriors is great, but like the Phantom Menace it isn’t without it’s problems. First of all, who really believes that a group of despondent youth seeking empowerment and acceptance are going to willingly parade themselves around dressed as pantomimes? I mean, mimes: the butt of every late night talk show joke in the galaxy. Sure, it’s believable that some kids living in urban decay could obtain some face paint and tophats from a thrift store, but if you’re going to create a ridiculous gimmick for them…push the envelope a little further. Also, the beach at Coney Island is the perfect setting for a massive multi-gang rumble. Spoilers follow: the end of the movie features a pathetic showdown between Cyrus’ murderer (who bares one of the only firearms in the city, apparently) and the Warriors. The late Cyrus’ gang shows up and takes care of the real assassin, off camera. Thus, no substantial fisticuffs are exchanged. The drama is severely lacking, and the ending is only saved by a nifty sunrise shot with “In the City” by Joe Walsh tracked over it. I think two words sum up what ruined the climax: social & commentary. It seems like the producers wanted to emphasize an end to the violence or something. What a bunch of bullshit, this is the Warriors! I think what really proved lacking in the movie for me is that a group of men wielding baseball bats can’t knock the hip-hoppin’ shit out of three dorky guys in leather vests. I mean, none of them are Jackie Chan or even Jet Li!

So after ejecting the DVD from my PS2 and putting the Warriors back on my shelf, I started brainstorming. What would I do to improve the movie if someone would give me artistic control over a remake? First of all, I’d amp up the gangs hilarity level a few notches. The mimes would become full-on circus clowns, the lame Turnbull A.C.’s would be burly bikers instead of puny skinheads, and the Punks would wear leather vests and sport Mohawks instead of dungarees and rugby shirts. I’d probably also put all of the guys on rollerskates, not just the leader. Then I started thinking about the impossibility of like three guys being able to take down an entire group of hooligans with ballbats. I suppose one could argue that giving the underdogs firearms would make sense, but where’s the fun in that? I’d just make the guys into cyborgs. Give them some robotic enhancements, wrap their bones in some kind of rare metallic alloy, and jack up their strength and endurance tenfold. Wooden baseball bats won’t do much if you swing them at steel reinforcement, will they?

After some thinking, I started to feel that it was possible the ideas I had weren’t original. It just seemed like I’d seen this somewhere before, if not on film in some other medium. What finally triggered my memory was the aforementioned topic of rollerskates. I thought back to a birthday party I attended sometime in 1990 at a then-popular locale: a rollerrink in Burlington, WI. Since I rollerskated about as well as a giraffe with muscular dystrophy, I stood still- the wheels resting against the front of an arcade machine for balance. Before me stood a game that had earned it’s spot in the arcade of my personal Heaven, alongside Hippodrome and other yesteryear fare. That game was the Technos masterpiece- The Combatribes.

The Combatribes.

The play control in Combatribes is terrible. The likelihood that you’ll ever truly understand the hit detection is about as slim as the chances that an exact genetic replica of yourself will randomly be formed. So how does Combatribes find itself at #7 on the list? Well, I mentioned a great deal of the reasoning already. But let me elaborate: you get your choice of playing as Berzerker, Bullova, or Blitz. Aside from having more menacing names than Swan or Snow, these three muscle-bound cyborgs constitute an elite anti-gang gang known as the Combatribes. Their goal is to eliminate the deadly leader of “Ground Zero”, who is controlling all of the street gangs in America!

Standing in their path are five gangs far deadlier than the misfits in The Warriors. First off are the “Motorcycle Nuclear Warheads.” These beer-swilling bikers look a lot tougher than anyone in the Warriors (gang and movie alike), and they’re only the wimpy first stage! Next you’ll go to Technos Land (Coney Island) and fight the “Demon Clowns” in balloon pants and stuff I alluded to earlier. The third stage takes place inside a rollerrink, and mayhem ensues when the “Slash Skate Screamers” come barreling toward you with lead pipes drawn. After a tussle with the mascot-inspired “Stadium Barbarians”, you’ll fight the “Slaughter Troops” in a downtown high-rise. The Slaughter Troops have an interesting gimmick: they’re led by another cyborg, and apparently are well-armed paramilitary nuts.

The action is fun to watch, more so than the chase-‘n’-punch sequences in the Warriors. While it may be difficult to control, you get to choose whether to swing a rival thug around by his ankles or feed him a steady diet of loose asphalt, repeatedly. You also get to do cool moves like bash guys’ heads together. Rock on! Don’t forget about the rad barfing noise soundtrack. We’ve already been over how much that will add to an experience in the first game entry I did.

Send in the evil Caucasian gang-type clowns.

The climax of the game takes place along the ocean just like in The Warriors, but here we are treated with an all-out war between every gang and leader you thought you already defeated! What a way to end the journey- throw the entire horde of ridiculous gangs into a scenic overlook and let them beat the piss out of each other. Of course when all is said and done, if you’ve spent enough change, the Ground Zero leader is revealed to be not the business-type man who’s eluded you so far but his electrifying (literally) girlfriend.

In other news, Rockstar has been rumored to make a new game out of the Warriors. I think their time would be better spent buying the rights to Technos’ Combatribes. What a righteous masterpiece. A+++. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my favorite Combatribe is Bullova.

I wonder if they have Black Knight 2000 pinball at that rollerrink?

All images ©1990, Technos


2005-09-12 14:51:18 (link)
#8: Bucky O’Hare
20 Video Games That You Probably Never Played...But Should Have

Bucky O'Hare
Format: Nintendo Entertainment System
Publisher: Konami ©1992

You probably know by now from reading this column that I worship Star Wars like it was nailed to a cross. I watch, I collect, I search through message boards, and I obviously play the vast catalogue of mediocre games that are elevated to fantastic merely by their setting on worlds such as Tatooine and Bespin. A slight reference in the Karnov review to “Merdude” might’ve given careful readers insight into another of my affinities that I haven’t revealed yet. At one point, I loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles like a White Sox fan loves meth, or in the event they actually live in the city, crack. I was hopelessly addicted to the heroes in a half-shell to the point that I actually bought throwaway figures like Guerrilla Gorilla and Walkabout the kangaroo. While the Real Ghostbusters tried to capture my undivided attention from Star Wars, it was TMNT that finally put the full and complete layer of dust on my busted up Y-Wing fighter. Having said that, imagine how excited I was when I discovered the eighth game in our lethargically evolving list.

Bucky O’Hare braves the wooded Green Planet.

Bucky O’Hare, the title character of this classic NES platformer, is a man-sized bunny- not unlike the ultra-cool rabbit ronin Usagi Yojimbo from TMNT. The only differences are that 1) he’s green, which makes him that much more likable, and 2) he’s in space and armed with some weapon akin to Han Solo’s blaster. Yes, you heard me right, Bucky O’Hare took the fabulous idea of turning talking animals into freedom fighters and blasted it the fuck into space, where it obviously belonged to begin with.

The story is as follows: in the Aniverse (a galaxy fur, fur away), an evil Empire (consisting of toads) threatens the liberty of bipedal mammals everywhere. Only Bucky O’Hare and his crew stand a chance of stopping the dreaded toad Air Marshal (Shredder/Darth Vader with a touch of M. Bison). The problem is that the toadies ambushed a transport containing his entire crew, and only Bucky himself escaped. Now, Captain O’Hare must brave the dreaded Green, Blue, Red and Yellow prison planets to save his friends and destroy the toad mothership.

Bucky’s crew obviously follows the archetypes used in Star Wars and TMNT, and mythology before them. You’ve got your hero: Bucky O’Hare, the caring and brave warrior who like Luke Skywalker and Leonardo before him would risk everything to save his friends. Then there’s the rogue: Gunner Deadeye, a duck with a lot more of an attitude than Ace, whose pirate eye-patch gives away his Han Solo cum Rafael or Casey Jones dissention. Thankfully, he’s a big softie at heart and would save Bucky at the last second, hopefully not yelling “yahoo” while doing so. We’ve got the heroine, Jenny: a catty (literally), yet strong-willed fighter with psychic powers- the force powers that Leia would never develop. The hero’s helper comes in the form of Blinky- a one-eyed robot that constantly overcomes his fear protocol to save the day. He seems to be the offspring of R2-D2 and Donatello. Finally there’s Willy DuWitt, a dorky human child who built a proton accelerator that allows him to teleport to the Aniverse at will. He’s sort of like a 10-year-old boy version of April O’Neill with inventing prowess (yeah, I know…not cool). I guess chauvinistic little boys weren’t ready for two female good guys in 1992, at least in the eyes of some marketing expert. But at least time isn’t wasted with some wise old man character like Splinter- I mean who really gives a rat’s ass (hahahaha…oh God) about hearing proverbial lessons from a guy who only allegedly kicked ass back in the day?

We were like peas and carrots, Jenny and I.

The game starts on a screen allowing the player to choose which planet they want to brave in order rescue their captured comrades, but really only one order is possible: Green, Blue, Red, and finally Yellow. You’ll have to jump, shoot, fly, and climb your way through hordes of toad stormtroopers and nasty indigenous creatures in order to come to the evil jailer at the end of each planet’s gauntlet. There, you’ll be faced with inspired bosses such as Al Negator the alligator and Toadborg (self-explanatory). The levels are tricky and can be frustrating, but the folks at Konami thankfully included a very generous continue feature that will eliminate controller destruction in most cases. After all, even a monkey can probably slam dunk if given enough jumps off the trampoline.

Upon completing the first four worlds, you’ll be captured (again) by the toad mothership, and begin a quest through the innards of this massive spaceborne Technodrome. It’s kinda like the time spent on the Death Star in A New Hope- the characters personalities start to really shine and play off each other. Plus, some of the facilities in the toad mothership really recall Bespin, which is always a plus. In the end, you’ll have to face off against all kinds of toad war vehicles and eventually destroy the core of the ship, escaping through an access tunnel a la Lando and Nien in Return of the Jedi. Great stuff.

Keep it in your pants, kid!! Aaack! Where’s April?

In case you aren’t following along very closely, and aren’t sure why this game sound so awesome, did I mention that they put mutant animals in space?! Holy Christ, if you can’t tell why that was a good idea, just stop reading, okay? The only thing other than the lack of April O’Neill that I’m really not sure about is why the animals are no longer ninjas. Sure, they should be space ninjas armed with blasters and laser nunchucks, but ditching the ninja idea entirely is pretty silly. I guess maybe they were thinking outside the box and were afraid that people might write Bucky O’Hare off as a rip-off instead of a Homeric work of pure ingenuity.

Marching into the detention area isn’t exactly what Blinky had in mind.

Disclaimer: in case you thought you could convince me that this superb game was actually based on a really bad cartoon, stop now. I’m not talking about the Captain Planet game here, Bucky O’Hare is just a mind-blowing game that needs to be revisited A.S.A.P. on some next-gen console. I will admit that I do remember a certain downright fantastic song that must’ve been inspired by the game though. I’m pretty sure it charted on Billboard or something and was a huge hit. “Bucky! Captain Bucky O’Hare!”

All images ©1992, Konami


2005-09-12 14:50:35 (link)
#9: Zeppelin
20 Video Games That You Probably Never Played...But Should Have

Format: Commodore 64
Publisher: Synapse Software ©1984

I’m not quite sure how this game made it all the way up to the nine spot on my list. In truth, I don’t really enjoy it more than most of the games I’ve previously reviewed. I experienced a great deal of turmoil trying to decide if Zeppelin could still make the cut. In the end, I figured that if a game really could cause me so much grief, it probably had to make an appearance on the list. So, a late decision entering at #9 (by default), “Oh, the humanity! It’s Zeppelin!”

Zeppelin’s VGS: Well Done = correct.

What is there to say about this game? It’s bizarre; I’ve never encountered any other Commodore game that defied genre classification quite like it. I have no idea what the story of this game is, but the gameplay involves exploring massive caverns and subterranean worlds. Actual play is your basic horizontally oriented shooter, and the automatically scrolling screen is just as much of a hazard as the various falling rocks and sentry ships in the maze are. You fly the zeppelin, obviously, which has been given the task of exploring these alien mines and planting a big crate of TNT at their core... in order seal them off, I guess. The game also proves to be something of a puzzler because you’ll have to trigger different switches on the walls to force the screen's scrolling in different directions as you work your way deeper. In fact, exploration of the maze is much more challenging than the shooter-style combat.

That's one hell of a key (yawn).

Upon some careful analysis, I’ve decided that the game seems to be something of an exercise in pushing the envelope of safety to levels of complete absurdity. Let’s review some basic science, and in case you’re worried, this is coming from a guy who scored a solid D (for degree) in Chemistry as an undergrad. I’ll keep it pretty simple.

Lesson #1: a zeppelin is a giant balloon that, back in the day, was kept airborne because it was filled with hydrogen. Hydrogen gas, tragically, was proven to be combustible when a zeppelin called the Hindenburg lit up like a Great White concert (what?). Since then, nobody really flies zeppelins anymore- instead opting for less lethal forms of plodding air travel such as the helium filled Goodyear blimp.

Lesson #2: mining can be extremely dangerous if not done so with precision and utilization of extensive research. For example, concentrated coal dust in a confined space can be ignited by a spark and create a massive explosion, and subsequently cave-ins throughout other tunnels in the mine.

Lesson #3: Guns and cannons both work off of the same theory- a controlled explosion is used to propel a solid object such as a bullet or cannonball from a shaft at high speeds. This controlled explosion is capable of setting flammable gases (or dust) ablaze.

Lesson #4: TNT, A.K.A. trinitrotoluene, is extremely explosive. Have you ever seen a Wile E. Coyote cartoon? It’s the stuff he uses barrels of when he attempts to blow up the Roadrunner. You remember what happens at the end of each segment? That’s right, the Coyote clumsily blows himself to smithereens.

Here comes the boom.

This brings me to my point: outfitting a hydrogen-filled zeppelin with cannons and sending it into an underground mine is downright suicidal. Notice that I haven’t even mentioned the TNT crates yet. I just can’t begin to understand why a zeppelin is being used to destroy mines. Don’t they have some kind of special helicopter for this mission in whatever surreality this game takes place inside of? After you plant the TNT successfully, and throw the switch, the mine explodes in a fury of flashing colors. Noticeably, the zeppelin remains quite near the blast site. Perhaps this game is just sending creepy, subliminal messages to gamers to kill themselves. You know, like the “do it, do it” somebody heard backward in a Judas Priest song…except this allows you to act out suicide via horrible mining “accident.” Does Zeppelin advocate killing yourself?

Well, I don’t know. Don’t kill yourself, don’t try playing with dangerous explosives at home, and don’t blame me if you blow your arm off with some of that there tee-en-tee after reading this article. But do go play Zeppelin.

All images ©1984, Synapse Software


2005-09-12 14:50:04 (link)
#10: Black Knight 2000
20 Video Games That You Probably Never Played...But Should Have

Black Knight 2000
Format: Pinball
Publisher: Williams ©1989

It’s an immeasurable shame that various ‘80s visions of the year 2000 never came to pass. My favorite unrealized version of the new millennium came from a pinball game, of all places: Black Knight 2000. According to what I can gather from the busy artwork and the different bonuses you achieve during gameplay, the story of BK2K is as follows: some catastrophe occurs in the ‘90s which derails the course of progress and begins a second dark age. What follows is a reemergence of medieval feudalism, but one influenced heavily by the remnants of high technology. Central to the plot of the game is the Black Knight himself. He seems to be ambitious rogue; clad in robotically enhanced black armor and a crimson cape that lets the peons know how evil he truly is. He rides the requisite black steed with red eyes, and I’m only venturing a guess but some sort of radical anti-grav advice probably allows the warrior and his mount to fly. Seemingly inspired by Greek mythology, the Black Knight wields a thunderbolt weapon that we can only assume runs off of cold fusion or some microscopic star lodged in the hilt.

Behold, the dark rider of a forgotten future in all of his splendor.

The Black Knight’s bad temperment can probably be blamed on living in a world with yellow skies, cluttered with weird cylindrical towers. He seemingly decides that his best shot at change is to kidnap the king that rules the urban wasteland; a move that many inhabitants of this world take offense to. Ultimately, you are assigned the role of a young hero who must rescue the king from the Black Knight’s clutches by any means necessary. Bouncing off the bumpers and walls of this futurescape, you’ll be able to win the king’s ransom from collecting jackpots and challenge the Knight in a deadly game of next-gen Russian roulette- the Lightning Wheel.

If the dreaded Y2K event had actually created global chaos at the turn of the millennium instead of proving to be a hoax, I imagine that the New Year would’ve probably ended up turning out something like Black Knight 2000 pinball. It makes me downright depressed to think that right now, instead of reading a web site about Bush’s war on social security, I could be out exchanging fisticuffs with a cyborg in the name of my benevolent and honorable king. It’s not just the thrill of adventure that has me asking Kali in my nightly sacrifices for a global disaster that could change the face of civilization, though. There is another aspect of Black Knight 2000’s unfulfilled, yet prophetic hereafter that I would love to see happen even more.

Left: The dreaded Lightning Wheel of the lower playfield.
Right: The entire Black Knight 2000 pinball machine, seemingly photographed in some guy's basement.

What if the decadent, but infectious tunes cranked out by way of keytars, hexagonal electric tom-toms, and Flying Vs had stayed the course? If some asteroid collision had prevented grunge and garage rock from rising in the ‘90s, what might music today sound like? Hopefully, exactly like the theme from Black Knight 2000, a synthesized masterpiece that has the ability to attach itself to your brain like a hookworm, sucking the essence of your mind away until you achieve a numb sense of bliss. I think that the apex of music, possibly the most primal art form that our species has developed, is the Black Knight 2000 Theme. It’s inspirational; you’ll never feel as great as you do when as a chorus of harlots, likely adorned with denim and sexy ‘80s bangs, chant, ““You got the power, you got the might, get ready for battle,” or, “You can do it! You can do it!” That bass line makes me wish I was running, preferably with a jam box blaring said theme song through the Chicago loop at about 9 am on a Monday. Then there’s the baritone voice of the Black Knight himself, woven carefully into the musical piece. “Gimme all your money!” Priceless. Maybe if things had gone like the makers of Black Knight 2000 anticipated, I could’ve turned on a jerry-rigged radio in the comfort of my steel, underground fallout shelter and been treated to music other than that of Nickelback or Papa Roach. Something with some killer keyboards and synthesized instruments would sure hit the spot. God I hate what Nirvana did to the world.

Anyway, try to find Black Knight 2000 game in your area. The only lead I can give is that they have it at Ping-Time on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin…as of eight months ago. Beyond that, it might take some scouring of seedy arcades and taverns unblemished by the passing of time to find this gem. But trust me, if for no other reason than the music, it will be worth your while. On top of everything else, it is actually a pretty fun pinball game.

All images courtesy of: Internet Pinball Database
Hear the sweet, sweet music: IPDB's Black Knight 2000 Audio Samples
Backglass photo by Ian F. McKinnon
Lower playfield photo by John Gray
Black Knight 2000 artwork & game ©1989, Williams


2005-08-12 14:49:27 (link)
#11: Astro Warrior
20 Video Games That You Probably Never Played...But Should Have

Astro Warrior
Format: Sega Master System
Publisher: Sega ©1987

Have you ever felt like a particular game is equipped with a tractor beam; set to zone in only on your individual frequency? Do you have a game that keeps you coming back again and again, despite its shallowness and shortcomings? Usually this is a simple, yet shifty game that leaves you feeling as though some treacherous whisper in the halls of your youth revealed a secret so well guarded that you must now endlessly search the realms of the digital world for a Nintendo Nirvana? A little boy (we’ll call him “Paulie”) had a game such as this; a basic space shooter that kept him bound to his Sega Master System controller for the greater part of a decade. His story is one of tragic addiction and striking denial. The story that follows is true: and I advise my reader to approach the game of this entry with a certain degree of hesitance and caution. Heed the warning that Paulie’s story presents- for if one experiments too frequently or heavily with Astro Warrior, the results could be shattering.

Just to clarify: The Astro Raider (left), as flown by the unseen pilot- Astro Warrior.

The story begins with the inquisitive mind of our child named Paulie- a fledgling gamer in 1987 that found himself the owner of one Sega Master System and an accompanying cartridge containing the games “Hang On” and “Astro Warrior.” Much like other two packs, one of the entries was wholly beneath the other in terms of quality, and Hang On was quickly forgotten. Astro Warrior, an overhead cosmic flying game, put Paulie at the controls of an upgradeable starship called upon to lead the charge against an intergalactic menace known as the Devil Star Imperial Forces. Apparently, these Galactic Empire wannabes sat perched on the edge of the Milky Way and fully intended to invade and conquer the systems within. As the game’s story says, there is only one hope: the Astro Warrior.

What follows in the booklet became a sterling opportunity for Paulie’s older brother, “Thomas,” to take advantage of his elder sibling status and plant the seeds of mistruth in his kin. When coupled with the game’s difficulty level, this passage from the manual proved to be the magic recipe for forging Astro Warrior into the title that would become Paulie’s obsession. The instructions read, “You’ve got to lead the Allied Forces from the deck of your flagship Astro Raider on a daring mission.” Naturally, if the spaceship was called Astro Raider it meant that the titular Astro Warrior, the gamer’s given role, was the pilot inside and not the craft. So Paulie’s childish curiosity lead him to form the following inquiry: Who is the Astro Warrior, and what does he or she look like? Paulie most likely mentioned his musings to his older brother, and Thomas spun a simple yet cryptic yarn that would only prove a cruel joke in later years. He told Paulie, “I beat the game, and you get to see the guy in the cockpit at the end.” Still, he would not (and in truth, could not) repeat this feat in his brother’s presence- refusing to betray his sadistic lie.

As an older brother myself, I know the side-splitting laughs that can develop out of staunch adherence to a far-fetched lie. I once convinced my own brother that in a lost issue of Nintendo Power, they had written a preview for a Super Nintendo remake of one of his favorite NES games: a zany little piece of NASA propaganda with bad play control called Space Shuttle Project. Well, I told him that the article about “Super Space Shuttle Project” mentioned using Mode 7 to fly a futuristic “Neo-Enterprise” through the asteroid belt on a dangerous mission to explore Jupiter’s moons. The poor kid eagerly anticipated Super Space Shuttle Project’s shipment to the local video store up until around the time SNES games ceased production, I believe. So in similar fashion to my brother combing through the game boxes up at 4 Star Video for a game that didn’t exist, Paulie played Astro Warrior again and again in a hopeless quest to discover the identity of the title character.

The Astro Raider gets set up for its attack run.

The Astro Warrior scheme was far more diabolic, because of the nature of the game. Astro Warrior is incredibly hard, mostly because it is one of the only games I have ever played where extra lives and halfway points actually hinder your progress. It is absolutely imperative to defeating the more advanced enemy formations and the three flagships of the Devil Star Imperial Forces that you have collected a sizable amount of weapon and speed power-ups. Without them, you will absolutely not stand a chance. Thus, after losing your first life, you’ll be hard-pressed to continue from the middle of a level and build up your ship again. Restarting the entire game is almost essential to further progress if you die. Paulie was a gamer still in his formative years when he began his quest to see the elusive pilot of the Astro Warrior. He hadn’t yet fine-tuned the skills required to destroy the first boss, a rogue battleship known only as Zanoni, on the first try of each separate game. As mentioned, on the second and third life, the game placed Paulie in a devilish continue spot right before the boss, yet offered no power-ups to allow him a fighting chance. The routine of Paulie making his way to Zanoni and failing to destroy it repeated itself well into the ‘90’s. Still, his burning desire to finally see the Astro Warrior in all of his glory kept Paulie coming back for successive ass-whoopings at Zanoni’s evil hand.

Finally, after developing his skills and maturing at arcade shooters such as Raiden, Paulie was able to sustain Zanoni’s initial attack and defeat the terrible warship. A major step had been taken towards achieving his lofty goal, yet according to the manual two more zones remained in the triple-enforced legions of space invaders. This wasn’t the only new cause for concern. A foreboding clause flashed on screen in the wake of Zanoni’s fiery finale- “Surely revive Zanoni.” The meaning behind this message remained a mystery, but it seemed to mockingly suggest that the Astro Warrior hadn’t seen the last of this formidable foe.

Before long, with a new sense of purpose, Paulie had perfected beating Zanoni and found himself faced with fresh and regular smackdowns applied by a capital ship known as Nebiros. Nebiros had a deft pattern of launching lengthy laser blasts directly into the Astro Raider’s path, but Paulie soon learned to steer around these columns of seering doom and finally sent projectiles of his own into Nebiros’ central core. The Astro Warrior’s revelation was two-thirds complete. Or was it? “Surely revive Nebiros.”

I was there when a collegiate Paulie finally made his way through the third wave and reached the elusive mothership; his dreams were on the verge of being realized. Belzebul, the four-armed spider like command ship of the Devil Star Imperial Forces appeared on the screen. Paulie prepared for the fight of his life, pausing the game and cracking both a beer and his knuckles. Shit in his room was tense.

He grasped the boxy SMS controller, and reentered the battle. He began to pummel Belzebul with blaster fire, expecting an arduous ordeal that would likely end in failure. However, Belzebul quickly began to burst into flame, before fading into the blackness of space in retreat. Had he foiled the evil leader’s vile plans to invade our galaxy? Milliseconds lasted eternities as Paulie and I awaited his reward more than a decade in the making.

“Surely revive Belzebul.” Paulie looked unphased at this point, as if he had anticipated the three leaders to be revived at this point for a grand swan song. Strangely, though, he found himself back in the Galaxy Zone- the first stage of the game. He continued to play, and I could visually see the rage begin to swell in him.

The Usual Suspects: From left to right, Zanoni, Nebiros, Belzebul.

Zanoni, Nebiros, Belzebul, Zanoni, Nebiros, Belzebul, Zanoni… The cruel truth had been revealed to poor Paulie. Half a lifetime’s work just for one glance at the Astro Warrior had ultimately ended in failure. Apparently, the Devil Star Imperial Forces had perfected a method of reconstructing and staffing their destroyed flagships with such speed that it allowed Zanoni to be finished just as Belzebul were again toppled. In the end, the Astro Warrior would never have time to make an appearance outside the Astro Warrior. The infinite loop by the triple-fronted attack would leave him occupied until the end of time- with only a growing score as consolation. And really, who gives a shit about a high score? Bragging rights…but whom to?

Paulie hasn’t played Astro Warrior again since that day. Visions of a pixilated spaceman in an ‘80s futuristic suit remained just that- visions. You’re probably wondering why you should play Astro Warrior, having learned of the pain it caused Paulie. Well, keep hope alive. Perhaps by destroying every enemy, or by eliminating the terrible trio an as-of-yet-unreached amount of times you really will discover some secret screen in Astro Warrior. Help Paulie; fight the Devil Star Imperial Forces for him because he no longer has the will to. Discover the identity of the Astro Warrior, and perhaps you can help this disenchanted player once again man the controls of the Astro Raider with that same boyish enthusiasm.

All images ©1987, Sega



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