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Feature: Video Game Heroines that Predate Metroid (and Aren’t Ms. Pac-Man) – Part 1

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Hurray, another feature at last, and a list-based one at that! Let’s do this!

It's no Zelda 2 but it will do.

I don’t have to tell you that the game Metroid was a milestone in gaming. On top of being an early console game that favored dark, foreboding atmosphere over colorful, poppy backgrounds, it was a huge, complex, and excitingly dangerous shooting game that made you think.

Also, oh yeah, that’s a lady in that bounty hunter space suit, son!

Samus, get down from there, you don't belong in outer space without a suit, you're a human!

Often considered one of the most shocking, revolutionary moves in gaming, the “Samus is a GIRL” surprise ending (that the instruction book didn’t seem to know about) rocked our collective gaming world, and proved once and for all that women CAN star in video games!

While this is great (essential, even), the only thing is, despite what you may have heard, Samus isn’t the first lady to star in a video game! Not by a long shot! In fact, she’s not even the first to pull the ”gender reveal” move, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

While I don’t have to tell you about Metroid, I’d like to tell you about 13 other women who, considerably less popularly, starred in video games made before Metroid‘s 1987* U.S. debut!

In order to keep the amount of entries to an arguably reasonable number, I set a few rules:

- No Ms. Pac-Man or other abstract shapes, no matter how feminine.

- No “player 2′s”, that is, no games are listed where you can choose to be a male instead of a female or where the lady of the game is relegated to second player. These are women of default player status.

- No previously-established literary characters; all of these characters are either original to the games or the other pop media for which they were created.

- Nothing from games that were designed for the early childhood set, such as 1986′s Cabbage Patch Kids: Adventures in the Park, because what the hell.

- None of those Atari-era porno games, because no. NO. (no no no)

So, without further adieu, here are our 13 mostly original, mostly non-children, mostly non-nude human heroines of pre-1987 gaming, in somewhat chronological order:

1. Benthi, Galactic Saga IV: Tawala’s Last Redoubt (1981)

Goodness, what a title…

Tawala’s Last Redoubt is the fourth title in a series called Galactic Saga, which was a text-based strategy game developed for computers, most notably the Apple II.

WHOA NICE GRAPHICS

While each game is considered (by folks much older than myself) to be a large influence on other text-based strategy games on the Apple II, Tawala was the first and only title in the series to star Benthi, a rebel leader and, presumably, all around badass.

Mind you, given the earliness of these games, that badassery doesn’t really come across graphically, in fact I watched this video of the game being played and she seems to be represented by little more than a tent and some words.

Another option could be "Finish Coloring Mountains", but this is cool too I guess.

Still, you’re a lady in a tent who is attempting to take down the established world government in the form of the titular despot Tawala, and conquer an entire planet with a starting army of only 100 soldiers and 15 guns. I’m not sure how that isn’t awesome.

2. Kim Kimberly: Snowball, Return To Eden (1983, 1984)

IN SPACE

Rounding up our collection of text-based history is the protagonist of the first two “interactive fiction” games out of a trilogy called Silicon Dreams, which was released on pretty much every ancient computer.

Yes, even this one.

Your adventure starts with Kim Kimberly waking up from a space-nap on board the Snowball 9,  en route to colonize a distant planet, whereupon she discovers that her shipmates have been murdered and the ship has been set on a collision course with the sun. Man, hate it when that happens.

Anyway, her remarkably content-heavy adventure takes her across an impressive 7000 locations (250 in the sequel; considerably less because they actually had graphics in that game!) In them, her character is actually written to be somewhat gender neutral; the name “Kim” supposedly chosen to be androgynous, but it’s established in small ways that she is in fact a lady, and the third game in the series (set way after the events of the first two games and starring a nameless male), she is quite clearly described as a “tall, athletic, intelligent woman with brown eyes and fair hair.”

Google Images tells me this is her, but I think we may be dealing with an imposter, or at least a plagiarizer.

 

3. Papri, Girl’s Garden (1984)

This Japan-only title is probably most notable for being the first title developed by Yuji Naka, the dude who not only co-created Phantasy Star** and invented its innovative “3D scrolling” dungeons, but was also the main programmer behind Sonic The Hedgehog.

Can't you tell?

The female lead in this game is rather notable for at least one reason: the game had a rather unique approach to mixing its adventure game qualities with an early “dating sim” feature, and so one of your tasks is to charm the pants off your darling boy toy Minto.

We only have 2 love and 5 monies, but boy do we have the CRAP out of flowers. Will you marry me?

While certainly not significantly girl-powered or anything, it’s at least an interesting thing to behold, as it’s kind of a role reversal for the time.  Minto is real fond of flowers, and Papri picks them for him while avoiding bears and what-not.

That’s right, this game has you running away from all kinds of crazy things that want to kill you on your way to woo your little blue boy, and most of those things are freaking BEARS.

Aww he looks so cute OH NO HE'S CHEWING ON MY FACE AND BODY

Best part is, since this is an early video game, your darling Minto will run away with your rival if you don’t succeed in bringing him enough slightly ursine-gnawed flowers. Who said games for girls were easy?

 

4. Barbie, Barbie (1984)

OK, I know, this one breaks 2 of my rules (no children’s toys and no previously-established literary characters), but I can’t help myself.

So just deal with it <3

The first video game to feature everyone’s favorite ode to sexism, Barbara Millicent Rogers, Epyx’s Barbie was also apparently one of computer gaming’s first “talkies”!

Yeah, I didn’t say it was going to be all good.

As this video illustrates, a nearly comatose Barbie is invited by her equally lethargic plastic boyfriend Ken to go to the pool, and your sacred quest is to make sure she does enough shopping to find the right outfit for the job. It’s no blasting aliens on a desolate planet, but man you’d think it was gaming gold based on the comment section!

"this was my favorite game in the whole world. i would play it everyday " - Youtube user

5. Princess Kurumi, Princess Ninja (Sega Ninja) (1985)

Designed by Reiko Kodama, one of the more famous female developers during Sega’s early console days (credited as Executive Designer on Phantasy Star, for instance), Princess Ninja was a top-down shooter in the vein of Ikari Warriors or Guerrilla War. You play the titular (tee hee) Princess, who was apparently designed to not wear pants, but oh well.

Why are all those dudes standing behind her... ohhhhh

Kurumi’s adventure takes her across Edo-era Japan, where she pantslessly shurikens everything in sight, and I’m not going to lie, it’s awesome.

Something that’s interesting to note, however; its home port, on the SG-1000 system in Japan, was re-titled Sega Ninja and then actually brought over to America’s Master System as The Ninja (a no-nonsense title if I ever heard one). That’s all well and good, but what’s wrong with this picture?

Besides that forced perspective thing making that flying ninja star look like a hub cap.

That’s right! Our ninja princess has suddenly changed into a  male character!

At least he’s wearing pants though.

Future compilations of old Sega arcade games corrected this and put the Princess back in her place (throwing ninja stars at everything, duh), but they were too late. The Ninja was a drop in the bucket of those classic ninja games, and they couldn’t even boast having a lady in the lead.

By the way, on top of being a female-fronted shooter predating Metroid by about a year, Princess Ninja also predates Sega’s most famous ninja, Joe Musashi of the Shinobi series, by 2 years! That’s right, she’s the original Sega ninja; so sneaky that we didn’t even know she was supposed to be a girl in the first place. Hence, the best ninja.

6. Reika Kirishima, Time Gal (1985)

Hey you! Do you remember Dragon’s Lair (no not that one)?

Well, in case you’re not hip to the laserdisc era of gaming (which I’ll understand because it was brief and not all that great), basically it was the first in a series of games wherein you control a character through a fully animated adventure, where you must push the right button at the right time in order to not die. Nowadays this gimmick only appears briefly in some games and we now know it as “Quick Time Events”.

Well, in this niche of niches, there existed at least one particularly excitable girl named Reika, and her quest was a confusing romp through time called Time Gal!

Also, surprise, no pants.

The game was beautifully animated and rather well-made for the time (remember, this is BEFORE Metroid), and was met with fairly good reception. Personally, I really like that the game actually gives you some kind of damn clue as to what you should be doing to proceed. I’m still peeved at Dragon’s Lair for offering no such information as I continually dumped quarters into it as a kid, waiting for some kind of gameplay to show up.

Anyway, despite the game’s relatively high quality, 1985 was actually a bit late for this kind of game, and not enough people were still into the interactive-movie games enough to make this one much of a classic.

It’s really too bad, because I would have liked to see where else Taito could have taken the character. Reika has a LOT of personality (bordering on some kind of personality disorder, if we’re being honest here), and though her design was clearly based off of Manga eye-candy, she brought a lot of life and humor to the table, even if in a declining format.

Interestingly, however, she is one of the few ladies on this list that has seen the light of day since the Reagan era; Reika is a main character in Castle of Shikigami III, which is the newest in my favorite shooter series. Of course, she brought her garrulous nature and knack for bad jokes with her, with often-amazing results. At least they stuck a skirt on her, as well as a hat for some reason:

Can you even tell which one is Time Gal though?

“Space is an ocean of Space.” – Never truer words were uttered.

Mosey along to Part 2

 

*I picked 1987** because, while Metroid was indeed developed and released in Japan in 1986, so were a few of the examples I want to talk about, and some of the dates are cloudy at best. While some of these *may* not technically predate Metroid‘s 1986 release, they were at least close enough to not be considered derivative. Anyway, if you’re really the kind of person who has to be nitpicky about calendar dates, understand that you’re reading this well after the world was supposed to explode.

**And it’s a real shame I had to go with 1987 as well because Phantasy Star, Sega’s flagship RPG series that stars an awesome lady by the name of Alis Landale, was released toward the end of that year. She’ll show up on this blog though, worry you not.

Feature: 13 Video Game Heroines that Predate Metroid (and Aren’t Ms. Pac-Man) – Part 2

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Hello again!

On the previous part of the feature, I pointed at 6 ladies who definitely starred in video games before Samus Aran in Metroid. While doing so, I noticed a few similarities between some of the heroines of yore and Nintendo’s flagship bounty hunter:

-Like Benthi and (*snicker*) Kim Kimberly, Samus is an ass-kicker, kicking ass out there on other planets.

- Like Barbie, her first foray into speaking roles had her sounding very non-plussed.

- And like Papri, I guess she had to worry about bears a lot?

Anyway, here in part 2, as we draw closer to Metroid’s debut, we’re going to see a few more similarities, possibly enough to make some good propaganda out of, but I think we’re above that, aren’t we?

Aren’t we?

7.  Toby “Kissy” Masuyo, Baraduke (1985)

As I had mentioned earlier, there was indeed a character in gaming that, at least on paper, was as close to a Samus Aran progenitor as this list can get.

For this cover alone, if Baraduke was an NES game I would have bought it twice already.

Baraduke (also known as Alien Sector) was a level-based arcade shooter that Namco came out with in 1985. It stars, get this, a person of vague gender, wearing a yellow space suit with red accents, plowing further and further into an alien planet, destroying things with a wave gun and collecting items, until finally the end goal is reached and you find out it was a woman the whole time:

In the most confusing way possible!

Remember, this was a year before Metroid debuted in Japan, and “Kissy” had already established some of Samus’ most famous tropes. Of course, the game is totally different, albeit totally awesome, but the similarities are interesting to note. I mean, look at her:

 

Seriously, at first glance you would swear this was Samus fan art that was just taking some liberties with her weapon.

As far as the character goes. while Metroid went on to be a heavy hitting (if not chronologically confusing) series for Nintendo spanning 11 main titles, Toby “Kissy” Masuyo starred in exactly one sequel before retiring from being a badass female video game hero. That’s not where her story ends, though…

What I am about to tell you is completely true and taken straight from Namco’s official canon:  after the events in the Baraduke games, Toby settled down with the main character from Dig Dug, and they had three children together before separating for reasons that were never explained (she caught him drilling another woman?)

One of those children was the freaking main character from Mr. Driller.

Not even a joke, that’s Namco’s official story. She actually makes appearances in the Mr. Driller games under the name “Masuyo Tobi”.

Also she looks like this now:

This is supposedly a woman in her 40's by the way.

8.  Lady Master of Kung Fu (1985)

I could find very little information about Lady Master of Kung Fu, but it was definitely an arcade game that came out in 1985 and stars another pantsless female martial artist.

The game was made by Taito, which in the early days means we are guaranteed two things: goofy platforming action and at least one silly typo or mistranslation.

We have met our quota!

As this helpful gameplay video demonstrates, your mission is to go into some rooms, defeat some bad guys, then do the whole thing over again in the same rooms with the same bad guys until the game stops making you do that.

Like Metroid and its infamous “bikini” ending, however, you are rewarded for your gameplay with the unnamed heroine being seen, in the same pose as on the cover screen, with less clothes on. The difference here being that, unlike Samus ultimately stripping down to a tasteful two-piece (SPACE two-piece), your ultimate reward for Lady Master of Kung Fu is that the main character goes full topless.

I… good for her, I guess?

9. Valkyrie, Valkyrie no Bōken: Toki no Kagi Densetsu (1986)

Another game from Namco starring a lady, Valkyrie tells the story of a brave Valkyrie named “Valkyrie” (ok so Namco wasn’t the best at imaginative names) who must venture forth to defeat baddies and… actually I think that’s pretty much it. There’s something about an evil Wizard in there somewhere.

Interestingly, being an action RPG, the game has you level up as you hack and slash your way through the various dungeons, but your method of growth is determined by two factors you choose at the beginning of the game: your blood type and horoscope!

Other than that… uhh… I really got nothing. There were some much more popular arcade-style sequels (largely on the TG-16) that gave her a cute amphibian sidekick named Krino Sandra (also known as Xandra), who got to star in one of the sequels as “Whirlo”. Incidentally, Whirlo was the only game in the Valkyrie series to ever be initially ported to consoles in English, albeit only in Europe and Australia.

That’s right, Valkyrie got the multi-regional shaft and we very nearly got this thing:

Because we definitely needed another anthropomorphic animal mascot!

It wasn’t until 1997 that a Valkyrie game was finally translated and released in the U.S.: The Legend of Valkyrie, which was included on NamcoMuseum Vol. 5 along with… surprise! Baraduke!

 

10. Yuko Ahso, Valis: The Fantasm Soldier (1986)

While this one didn’t find its way onto a console for the first time until a year after Metroid‘s release (nor in America until 4 years after), the Valis series is at least comparatively well-known, particularly to Sega and TurboGrafx/CD fans, or perhaps, exclusively to Sega and TurboGrafx/CD fans.

The lack of pants are actually the lesser of my worries with this one.

As it happens, the first game in this cult classic series was available for Japan’s exclusive MSX, PC-88, and PC-98 computers as early as 1986. Heck, it was even released on the Famicom, albeit poorly.

Looks fine to me

 

As it happens, the Valis we all(?) know and love eventually found its American home on our Genesis and TurboGrafx systems. Apparently the most thorough Valis ports were released on the TurboGrafx CD attachment, where the 4-part series enjoyed CD quality music, smooth gameplay, really interesting story-lines, anime-styled cut-scenes…

OH COME ON

Yeah, so the “anime style cut-scenes” tended to favor a bit of ol’ ribaldry and peekaboo while also telling the story of an unassuming school girl who is thrust into high adventure by a magical sword and courageously confronts evil in an awesome side-scrolling adventure, but hey at least in the actual game she doesn’t show her underwear during every jump animation!

Oh wait.

Well at least it’s better than the cover for Valis III:

The ultimate in shoulder and boob protection!

 

11. All cast, Gall Force (1986)

I really hope the person who romanized this knew that "Gall" and "Gal" are two different things in English, and that this game really is about a force of pure gall.

Released by Hal Laboratories (yes, the Kirby/Earthbound people), this vertical shooter stars not one, but seven female protagonists, and they’re all wearing pants!

The game is actually based off an anime/manga series, which I know breaks one of my rules, but come on this is awesome.

If I'd seen this on the back of a NES cart at any point between age 10 and right now, I would have bought 4 of them.

12. Ki, Ki no Bouken (1987*)

Now here’s a game you probably know if, like me, you’re an obsessed GameCenter CX fan.

Seriously, how could you look upon this man and not spend hundreds of hours watching him fail?

One of the craziest things Shinya Arino (pictured) ever did in his quest to beat really hard games despite not being able to, was to challenge Ki no Bouken, or Quest of Ki.

"NAMCOT"? Is that like Malk?

 

Ki no Bouken was developed by Namco (man did they love their female protagonists!) as the third game in the four-game series that began with The Tower of Druaga, Namco’s rather famous maze-based hack ‘n’ slash dungeon crawler.

How could you see this in an arcade and NOT play it, I ask you.

In Tower of Druaga, you play as Babylonian hero Gilgamesh, who is sent to rescue Ki from the clutches of the evil demon Druaga. Despite what you may think, Ki was no ordinary maiden in distress, in fact she’s a rather capable magician, which the sequel, The Return of Ishtar, aptly demonstrates.

Ki no Bouken, the third adventure and Ki’s break-out solo game, was actually a prequel to all of this, as it chronicles Ki’s failed quest to retrieve some blue thing from the clutches of Druaga.

See there it is

I say “failed” and I meant it: you are given no weapons or means to defend yourself within the monster (and, oddly, Pac-Man ghost)-filled dungeon, and instead must float pacifist-like over the dangers that can take you down in one hit. Understandably, this makes for a very tough game.

I feel like I've seen these red bricks before...

The best part is, at the end, when you’ve finally reached level 60 (the same level Gilgamesh must reach in Tower of Druaga), you go to grab that beautiful blue MacGuffin and are instantly turned to stone. The end!

Oh uh spoiler alert I guess

Actually the game throws 40 more stages at you, because it very likely hates you. At least that one song is pretty catchy.

While fireballs, floating, and insane difficulty make Ki a badass in my book,  she eventually did become a simple damsel in distress in 2008′s Nightmare of Druaga, in which Ki, now engaged to Gilgamesh, is kidnapped and you have to go rescue her again and etc. etc.

And they've hung her upside down by her skirt and everything...

Personally, I would have preferred it the other way around… in fact…

13. Lucia, Wing of Madoola (1986)

In Wing of Madoola, created by Sunsoft in 1986, you play as a badass warrior called Lucia who is charged by the royal family with the task of finding a sacred artifact (called the “Wing of Madoola”, appropriately enough) by hacking and slashing her way through multiple stages of action platforming.

You know what, nevermind

But that’s not all! In a move that makes Wing of Madoola one of my favorite entries in this list, you also have to save a goddamn Prince.

Thank you Lucia but your prince is in another vacuum of time and space

The game itself is pretty kickass (if not slightly repetitive); it includes item collection, powering up, using the relic you were sent to obtain to fly around way better than Ki up there, and you even get to have a flamethrower-sword battle to the death with a gosh-darn dragon at the end.

Still, what tickles me about this game is that it’s totally the biggest cliché in literature turned on its ear! I mean, of course the Princess has rescued the Prince before (heck, sometimes even within the same universe as the usual outcome), but that it occurred in a video game released before America even knew non-circular females could exist in video games as anything other than the princess is kind of mind-blowing.

And the game doesn't even give a crap. It'll kill you good either way

The even more mind-blowing thing about Wing of Madoola becomes kind of obvious as you watch the game play (especially the ending):

Minto, is that you?

Why wasn’t this game released in America? It’s already entirely in English.

In fact, “brighted over the world for peace” notwithstanding, it seems to be in better shape than the ending to Metroid, which had entirely questionable grammar and a rather obvious misspelling.

Space bikini time!

There just seems to be no real reason why Sunsoft wouldn’t have released the game over here. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but the game wasn’t too old (they ported 1983′s Spy Hunter over here for goodness’ sakes), it certainly wasn’t too hard, considering Sunsoft’s legacy of making difficult games, and it was at least popular enough in Japan that GameCenter CX had it on as a challenge…

Maybe it has something to do with that whole “games are for boys” attitude that’s been pervading American gaming culture since it began unto today?

Heavy Handed Conclusion

Feel free to draw your own conclusions from all this, but it seems to me that the perception of American gamers in the 1980′s was perhaps that we weren’t “ready”, somehow, for females to be in the lead in our video games. Perhaps that’s the reason that Metroid is rightfully regarded as being a milestone in the gaming world. Sure, it took a roundabout way of doing it, but the fact that Samus was there, blasting away aliens along with the big boys, being in no way in any kind of distress (well, unless I’m playing; I’m awful at Metroid) really opened a door that none of these other ladies could. It’s a real shame that gaming in America had to take decades to openly accept women as video game heroes and, even then, we hardly ever seem to get it just right (in fact, Samus herself had to take a huge blow to her equality for no real reason). Had we learned to accept the fact that great video games can totally have women in the lead, we could have had a few more really great games over here getting that equality party started early. You know, except for Barbie and all that.

So, you know, write to your congressman (or woman) and stuff. I’m going to play some Valis

DAMMIT

Thanks for reading!

Hey, did you know I have a new Video Game band now? Check out Gimmick! Video Game Rock Band on Facebook and other places. You might hear some songs from some of these games in the future?

 

*There seems to be a lot of confusion on the internet about exactly when Ki no Bouken was released. While Wikipedia claims 1988 a lot, that episode of GameCenter CX claims 1987, and some other sources have claimed 1986, though this is unlikely since The Return of Ishtar has 1986 tagged as the release year. 1987 (and definitely 1988) would have probably knocked Ki off this list, but she’s a little bit of an exception to the rule because she definitely was in a game as a playable character in 1986 (and was introduced as a character in 1984), but didn’t star in her own video game until some questionable date somewhere around Metroid‘s release. Either way, I think she’s awesome so she’s in. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want with it!

Feature: The Heart of Earthbound

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

Greetings! We are wrapping up our week here with my favorite game of all time, Earthbound, and to conclude what many may consider to be far too many words on the subject (yet not nearly as many as I’ve got), I’ve decided to share the one large yet often-overlooked aspect of Earthbound that propelled the game early on from a quirky, humorous game that I love into something entirely other: its heart.

 

And its old timey movie poster style intro screen

At the core of Earthbound’s writing is Shigesato Itoi, who is no slouch when it comes to that sort of thing; he started in the 80′s as a copywriter, ad-writer (to enormous success, apparently), and went into lyrics and full-on essays by the time he started creating video games.

And he was on Iron Chef a couple of times! Imagine my surprise!

Judging by many of his interviews and writings, one can tell that he has a fascination, if not obsession, with philosophy and human existence, and certainly that’s one of the things I get out of Earthbound’s writing. Again, I feel the need to kind of categorize what I’m talking about in order to organize my thoughts, so let’s see how the game takes on various facets of human life, and how the player is rewarded with revelations in those realms:

Family

Possibly the only game to feature homesickness as a legitimate gameplay mechanic

Earthbound, like its predecessor and successor, is really into the concept of “family”. Ness’ family is the first one you encounter, and his mom is one of my favorite moms in gaming (article idea!) for how motherly and yet somewhat sarcastic she is. If you didn’t know, she’s either the first or second person you ever talk to in the game, and in the end-game sequence, you can’t end the game without talking to her and telling her it’s all over.

You don't see Cecil's mom reminding him to change out of his jammies before slaying the summoners of Mist.

Ness’ dad is a little bit more of an enigma. Clearly a working man with no time to hang out with his family, I’ve often wondered if he’s even really part of the family. Have you ever noticed that it’s not really explicitly stated whether Ness’ dad is even married to Ness’ mom? Anyway, his absence is somewhat important as more than a gag, though, because it kind of removes the ”mentor”, as most games do, but instead of offing him or something, the game just puts him at a distance.

The thing that put this theory in my mind in the first place is that the end-game has Ness’ dad explaining that he’ll be “home for Ness’ birthday next week”, which again might be a joke, but maybe not. Of course, this is just my little unpopular theory, the much more popular theory also makes a bit more sense. Either way, Ness’ dad is endlessly supportive and apparently wealthy, at least enough to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into Ness’ account over the course of the game, despite the complaints from Pokey’s dad about Ness’ dad apparently owing him money.

Speaking of, an interesting dichotomy in the family structures of the game is the Minch household, where Buzz Buzz meets his unfortunate end at the hands of Pokey’s really awful mother.

Lardna Minch, committing the only act of murder in the entire game

Both of Pokey/Picky’s parents are cretins, and even the music in their house (as I pointed out before), is this really odd, uncomfortable collection of sounds that I still think is pretty cool. It was censored out of the American release, by the way, but Pokey’s dad actually beats his kids as well (I prefer the localization joke that Pokey gets no ice cream for a decade).

So bad families produce evil characters, is what the game seems to be telling us!

Paula also has a strong, loving household, and in fact she’s even a bit of a “mother” figure herself, what with the Polestar Preschool kids, who are all far more mature at handling her disappearance than her own father, by the way (strengthening my earlier point about the age/maturity reversal between the kids and adults of the game). The scene where she has to tell her own dad to “man up” and his promise that he “won’t cry anymore” I always felt was really touching, and shows Paula to be a very strong character.

Poo was actually more of an example of “the village raising the child”, since he’s the prince of a town, yet it seems that everyone is teaching him something, rather than the other way around. Plus, his “Mu training” apparently calls upon actual Eastern spiritual transcendentalism, which is pretty heavy for a video game, but I so do not know enough about that to say much more.

Jeff’s story is one that’s entirely unique in video games up to that point; not only is he part of a boarding school and definitely the son of a deadbeat scientist dad (as much as I like the gag, upon their first meeting in 10 years, of his father saying “let’s meet again in about 10 years or so!”), but Jeff is also roommates with a rather obviously gay boy named Tony.

Now, before you go thinking I’m reading character sexuality way deeper than I should, I should go ahead and let you know Itoi has confirmed Tony’s homosexuality and the evidence in the actual game is palpable. Naturally, the topic is not really explicitly discussed in-game for two very good reasons… one, Tony is technically a child, so it wouldn’t be cool for him to have any kind of overt sexuality, and two, who’s to know what Nintendo of America would have censored out if it WAS stated.

Sorry Tony, America's not ready!

Instead, we’re given a homosexual character who, whether he’s actually in a relationship with Jeff or not, is still extremely loving, supportive, and loyal to the ol’ poindexter, and is in fact as good of a “family” as any other in the game (especially in the absence of any other “real” family in Jeff’s life). Just reading his letters at the end of the game, I can’t help but get a little choked up, because the little guy is so into Jeff that it’s adorable.

Jeff, being a nerd, seems to pay no mind to Tony’s fixation on him, which isn’t an indicator of his own sexuality one way or another, but rather his own fixation on science and machinery. It seems to be more of a trope in Japanese entertainment than ours, the “unrequited gay infatuation because the object is too fixated on something else” but it’s still touching when Jeff admits that Tony “has a heart of gold” at the end of the game. Personally, I think they’d be great together.

Anyway, just in those 3 paragraphs, I was able to infer an entire relationship out of what amounts to maybe 10 minutes of game-time, which I think is an apt demonstration of just how much Earthbound builds its characters up with a scant few sentences of dialogue.

People

In fact, almost more than any other game I’ve played, Earthbound is a place that feels alive to me.

I think the reason for that is that every character kind of speaks for his or herself, rather than giving you basic advice or telling you what to do next in the matter-of-fact way we’ve seen every other RPG (even unto today) do it, these smiling faces will instead wrap up advice in a rant, or an opinion, or just a silly joke.

And I pity the fool who gives me the creeps

Something else I love about the people of Earthbound is that there actually are other races, ethnicity, cultures, and religions presented, and never in a negative way. How many other RPG’s, especially in the pre-Final Fantasy VII age, can boast having characters that aren’t specifically white?

Or how about blue?

Anyway, it’s kind of hard to describe exactly why I care more about the people of Earthbound than in other games, but I think part of it has to be the humor involved. Because about 90% of the dialogue is funny or at least clever, I find myself checking every character in town for new dialogue, especially after leaving the area and completing a few more tasks. Wanting to hear more witty remarks leads to genuinely caring about these NPC’s that have maybe 2 or 3 sentences to say ever.

Even some of the rocks talk

Indeed, one of my favorite things about the ending is that you get to go through and talk to them all one last time.

One of the best examples of caring about the characters, I feel, is Mr. Saturn. Here we have a group of creatures operating under one name who are so odd, they have their own hard-to-read font (complete with poor grasp of language).  Still, when you talk to one of them about the rash of kidnappings (Saturnappings?), he says:

“‘OncE UPOn a timE,
‘wE wERE many, many.
‘EvERyDay, SlOwly
‘aRE lESS, lESS.
‘wHy? Hmmmm… BOinG!”

And while that’s kind of a silly way of putting it, it really tugs at the heart-strings, and you want to protect these guys because they have no idea that something bad is happening. Itoi mentioned that Mr. Saturn is supposed to represent pure innocence, something we want to protect from evil.

Well ok SOMETIMES they know when bad stuff happens.

Speaking of evil, man does this game know how to lay it on thick.

Evil

One thing that I love about the game is how they never quite know how to tell you about what Giygas is or what he’s doing. All you know is that he’s an evil being who is trying to throw everyone into everlasting darkness, and you have to somehow find him and stop him.

Heck, at one point, an NPC ponders if Giygas is “really a woman”, and when you start seeing a shady-looking woman soon after, you start to wonder if you’ve really just seen the big baddy of the game.

Then you actually get to the end of the game and find out he looks like this:

I’ve seen a lot of ending bosses in RPG’s, but none of them even came close to terrifying me (the wall of guts in Ninja Gaiden II did, however), but Giygas is an entire world apart from anything faced in a video game before.

As Pokey (who himself is looking discolored and awful from what Giygas is doing to him) explains, Giygas’ evil power and hate grew so immense that it shattered his mind and body, to where he’s no longer even aware of his own existence, and has the power to destroy the universe without conscience or even consciousness.

“What an almighty idiot!” taunts Pokey.

Indeed, Giygas is terrifying on the level of something H.P. Lovecraft would come up with (look up “Azathoth” and you’ll see what I mean), yet the revelation I had, upon seeing him, is actually more “interesting” than anything.

So you know, when you fight a battle, how there’s always that colorful, undulating background lending a type of psychedelic flair to things?

 

Best enemy ever

Well, if you think about it, that background actually is Giygas every time. Since all the creatures that attack you do so because of his evil influence, which simply takes what is already evil in the minds of people and amplifies it until they attack, the evil is going to look different every time, and thus the background looks different every time. When you face off against Giygas, what you’re fighting is the actual background.

Jeff is a very smart boy!

The other side to him, of course, is when you finally do some damage, and suddenly the image shifts into one of those “candle or two faces” optical illusions, and you can clearly see the silhouette of a goddamn baby surrounding Giygas’ contorted face.

For once I agree with the embodiment of pure evil

Naturally, this has led to a bunch of conclusions on the internet, the most interesting one being that you are travelling back in time to when Giygas was a monster fetus and performing an evil entity abortion with your little robot men, and that might be true, but there’s another side I see to it…

If you think about not having a mind (which, technically, you can’t) or a consciousness or any kind of awareness, there are only two parts of life where that is a perpetual truth: before you’re born and after you die. I think the contorted face represents death and the loss of consciousness and the baby represents that period before life where we don’t know what’s going on. Which leads me to the next point…

Spirituality

One thing that you can very easily miss in Earthbound is how it describes Ness’ experience as an exception to the rules of consciousness. The game tells you that he has psychic powers, but it’s not until late in the game, if you’ve been paying very careful attention, that you realize what’s going on with those 8 melodies you have to collect.

The first time you visit a “Your Sanctuary” location and record the sound of the Giant Steps, the game mentions that “Ness sees the image of a small puppy”. This is easy to pass off as a general statement that Ness saw something that made him relax, especially since the music underscoring it is so tranquil.

At the next location, it says “Ness sees a baby in a red hat”, which means he obviously sees himself and can remember himself as a baby. The other Your Sanctuary locations offer similar memories that Ness recalls, one of which is a bottle that he saw “for an instant”.

Once you get the 8 melodies and have witnessed those 8 memories, you get to Magicant, a place that exists in a meta-existence where Ness must fight against the evil in his own soul. In it, he’s treated to some visions of his parents talking about him before he was born, naming him Ness, wondering if the dog will get along with him, and then finally, his parents noticing that a bottle he pointed at seemed to be moving…

Hey Ness you couldn't just shake us up some more furniture or a kitchen or something could you?

So wait! All of that meant that what he was seeing at the Your Sanctuary locations were all memories of his having to do with his psychic powers, meaning that Ness was psychically aware of of his surroundings (including the dog) before he was even born! Now, while this revelation isn’t a huge surprise or anything, it gives you, in a very subtle way (I actually missed it the first several times), the entire context of Ness’ existence.

Of course, if you happened to catch on to the deep development of the silent protagonist’s character, then the scene in Lumine Hall, where you can read his thoughts being written on the wall, it’s such a beautiful moment in this way that’s kind of hard to describe.

Maybe it's just the pretty lights

The game touches on spirituality quite a few times, with Poo and his Mu training, with various other characters both important and trivial, and in the way the game treats the concepts of life and death, which leads to one of my favorite things about the game’s story.

Death, or lack thereof

Did you ever notice how, when you win a battle, you never actually kill anything? I mean sure machines get smashed into bits or explode, and trees tend to light themselves on fire, doing mortal damage to your party, but screw trees.

Look at that smug look on his face

Animals “go back to normal”, people “come to their senses”, and even inanimate objects “stop moving”, and nary a drop of blood is spilled, even implicitly.

Well ok, there is one exception to this, poor Buzz Buzz. I take solace in the fact that Buzz Buzz’s sacrifice was noble, his death ironic, and the fact that he’ll repeat this entire paragraphs-long diatribe about Ness’ “destiny” before dying is simply hilarious.

The added benefit to Buzz Buzz actually snuffing it is that a similar scene occurs with Burglin Park leader and con artist Everdred, who is seen laying on the street in Fourside, and in his final moments, gives you some more plot exposition, and just like Buzz Buzz, makes sure that he doesn’t have to repeat it. The only difference here is, once he’s done making his epic monologue, he simply gets up and leaves the scene.

What a way to go.... down the street to the cafe

This lack of death in the game’s story is super appealing and comforting to me because I don’t like to deal with the thought of death, and I consider it to be much heavier than entertainment considers it. The fact that Earthbound can tell a compelling, emotionally-stirring story about hope and love over the span of hours while only killing a single alien insect speaks volumes about the quality of its writing.

However, when things get really heavy, and your mission is to travel to the past to defeat Giygas, the game makes you decide whether you’re going to risk losing your very soul by transferring it into a robot in order to go back in time and defeat Giygas (a really interesting move, if nothing else). In pondering this, you are forced to think about death for the first time, as if nothing you had done up to that point had been particularly dangerous. I really like how jarring and heavy this whole scene becomes, because it’s setting your characters up for an aspect of the game that, when finally revealed, becomes downright cathartic…

Love

In the final fight against Giygas, as stated above, you are fighting against the very concept of evil. The absence of meaningful existence means that Giygas is specifically a lack of existence that threatens to spread and eliminate all of these lives that have been spared and are thus precious. Rather than fighting some terrible creature who wants to kill everything, we are fighting death itself, perhaps the first time in a video game that you have to square off against a philosophical concept and absolute truth in the abstract.

Plus did I mention? GODDAMN BABY

Perhaps the single greatest moment of Earthbound is when you find out, whether by taking Pokey’s hint to “call out to the darkness” or simply being desperate enough to try it (or having the strategy guide right there to tell you what to do), that all you need to do to win the battle is pray.

Paula has the command throughout the entire game, and it’s almost never used except as something to play with in the game’s creatively open battle system. Still, when faced against the worst thing imaginable, it becomes the only weapon that will save the day.

It just so happens to be one of the extremely rare instances of a TYPO in localization as well but that's beside the point

The game shows, in cut-scenes, that these prayers reach out to all the people you’ve helped and touched all throughout the game, and everyone’s family, and the prayers aren’t to a religious diety or some kind of supernatural psychic superpower, but to love. The team of 4 children are praying to the people that love them, who then answer the call and strike down Giygas.

The finishing blow, appropriately, comes from you, the actual player, who is called out by name (if you indeed gave them your name during one sequence in the middle of the game) to pray for the safety of the characters you’ve been controlling this whole time. In that sense, it’s almost as if you’re the otherworldly deity, and that final strike against the ultimate embodiment of evil becomes personal.

Once the game decides that you’re praying for the safety of the kids, Giygas is finally destroyed, and if I can talk about the aesthetics for just a second, he fizzles out of existence like a TV losing reception, and it’s the same exact “losing reception” image you get to see before the game even starts, which is astounding to me.

And it's noisy as hell to boot

With that, the kids’ souls are able to return across time and space to their bodies, and you get to personally thank all of those people who loved you enough to help you through the battles, including your family, all of those wonderful characters, and that spinning photographer guy even gives you a nice slide-show of your progress through the game.

All in all, what makes Earthbound my favorite game is the sense of life, of openness and humor, and of love that seems to have come straight from the heart of the creator and enhanced by the beautiful music, the delightful writing, and the enormously thoughtful pacing and cohesion that madethis game more of a life experience for me than any other game.

Unlike Crystalis or any Final Fantasy game that I keep beating over and over again just to go through the motions, I tend to play Earthbound when I feel like I have to, like talking to an old friend or even a member of the family (not literally, mind you, I’m not crazy). I talk to every person in every town and try to absorb as much of the dialogue, no matter how silly, because I am just so charmed by it all.

In that sense, Earthbound achieves this communication of one person’s soul to another that is rarely achieved in any area of art, much less the interactive art we call gaming. Sure, you might not see it that way, perhaps Earthbound doesn’t speak to you; maybe it’s just some RPG from the 90′s that is particularly clever for the time, or maybe it really is a life-changing experience, I don’t really mind either way.

Personally, I’ve always hesitated to say exactly how I feel about the game for a couple of reasons. For one, I don’t expect too many people to get that hung up about a game that came and went so many years ago, and that Nintendo has (rightfully) no interest in reviving, and for two, like with anyone else who does get that hung up on it, it’s a personal experience. Everything I’ve said in these 10,000 words this week are from my personal experience and thoughts about the game, with maybe a confirmation or two from the original authors, and I could easily say 100,000 more words if I felt it necessary.

Really though, what it boils down to is that anyone who plays this game will get out of it what they get out of it. There’s no “pro tip” for how to interpret this game or enjoy it, and there’s no reward for loving it as much as I do, except in my own head, and that’s why I love it more than any other game.

Thanks for reading!

Big thanks to Travis343 for unknowingly providing most of the screen shots: http://lparchive.org/Earthbound/

Feature: 7 Amazing Video Game Soundtracks Ruined By Remakes

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

This one might be slightly high-concept in comparison to my other wholesome, tasteful articles, but I thought I’d give it a go because man some of this stuff has been bothering me for years.

If you couldn’t tell, I love video game music. I listened to 4 full soundtracks just yesterday, and that was just on the way to my day-job. I’d say I probably listen to music about 25-30 hours a week, and VGM (usually from source files) takes up about 90% of that. Heck, this blog was going to be about only video game music until I realized that I actually do play the games sometimes, too!

Anyway, enough self-qualifying, what I am trying to say here is that a soundtrack that is amazing is always amazing, but darned if these re-creations of classic games didn’t try their best to destroy those soundtracks I love so much. Here are the 7 worst examples I could find, and the floor is definitely open for other suggestions.

Open your ears and then quickly plug them, here we go!

1. Castlevania Chronicles (Playstation)

Castlevania Chronicles, starring Emma Stone as Simon Belmont

 

For reasons that people can’t seem to agree on, Konami saw it fit to re-release and update the original Castlevania on the Sony Playstation in the wake of its runaway smash hit Symphony of the Night. This remake of the first adventure featured updated graphics, stages, enemies, and worst of all, soundtrack.

As if I hadn’t posted it two or three times already, hearken ye to the jam of the century:

Now, this being the single most famous song in the series’ long and glorious history, it’s been remade more times than I care to search out links for. My personal favorite, of course, is the one that showed up only 2 games later (on the Japanese hardware, of course, oh man those drums), but I feel like the Playstation remake pretty much did the worst thing; they turned it into 90′s techno:

 

I don’t specifically mind Techno, not even when it’s overladen with cheeseball guitar solos (I love the F-Zero GX soundtrack, for instance), and I guess I shouldn’t complain since this is technically a remake of the Sharp x68000 version, which already took some rather creative liberties with the source material, but man… this song. It takes one of the most epic-yet-creepy tunes ever and turns it into a generic rave, and it doesn’t even fit with the rest of the game’s re-design.

Well, unless you count Simon’s pink hair, that’s pretty rave-tastic. I feel like I should be going after Dracula with magical glowsticks.

 

2. River City Ransom EX (Gameboy Advance)

Box art that, while not strictly "bad", makes me REALLY miss the dramatic painting that adorned the original.

 

Ok so this one is almost a non-issue, almost.

When the Gameboy Advance (actually, make that the GBA SP specifically) hit the market, folks were going nuts over the fact that they could play Super Nintendo-quality games on the go. As we all know that Super Nintendo quality is the best quality (except for… well you’ll see), this period in gaming history was basically a small slice of Heaven for a while. All kinds of old classics were being re-made into essentially 16 bit upgrades, and even some 16 bit games were revived and given the star treatment (Shining Force being a stand-out favorite of mine).

Among this slew of new-old games was Technos’ ode to high-school street justice: River City Ransom. Things were added to this game that I can’t even describe here because it will make me abandon this blog for yet another week while I play through it again… Needles to say, the remade game was still as awesome as the original, but when it came time to recreate Kazuo Sawa’s glorious Japanese-flavored rockabilly fighting anthems, the job was so-so at best, and at worst…

Here’s one of the greatest tracks in the game, the boss music:

AHHH this song totally makes me want to assault beefy teenagers. It’s like this thing is hard-wired to the adrenal glands and listening to it can give a 90-pound woman the strength to lift a car right onto her infant baby.

Now let’s hear the GBA version:

Are you kidding me? I feel like I’m a Japanese game show and I’m probably about to have something disgusting put into me.

For the record, the best re-make of this song is from the band Year 200x. This cover is simply brutal.  Buy it!!

 

3. Ninja Gaiden Trilogy (SNES)

Even the box art is a hastily thrown-together mashup of the other box arts. At least Tecmo was consistent in their rush-jobs.

 

The Ninja Gaiden trio of games on the NES were pretty much the best thing ever, or at least would have been, if Ninja Gaiden III didn’t have limited continues (that’s a whole other article right there). Still, the ongoing adventures of Ryu Hayabusa represented what most people loved best about the halcyon days of the NES: the games were cool looking, dramatic, brutally difficult, and you were guaranteed to lose at least one or two lives letting the timer totally play out while you listened to one of the stage themes*.

Tecmo knew that what they had was gold, so when the Super Nintendo came along and made everyone spit out their breakfast cereal (or at least mildly impressed Paul Rudd) with its awesomeness, they had to act fast. They acted so fast, in fact, they went ahead and remade all three games on the same cartridge.

While, predictably, numerous bugs and errors and generally bad ideas plagued this re-release (yet they still removed the limit on continues in Ninja Gaiden III, how about that), the part that irked me the most was how the glorious soundtracks were “improved”.

Here is one of the many insanely great songs from Ninja Gaiden II, my personal favorite chapter of the trilogy:

Oh man, that galloping beat is so majestic. Even the fact that the bass is simplified to root notes is a stroke of genius on the composers’ part. The interplay between melodies is simply divine, as well.

Now let’s hear what happened when Tecmo decided to Play It Loud™:

 

Oh, honey, no…

Did… did the keyboardist actually make a mistake? And what’s with the cheesy horn sounds and why are they fighting for space instead of playing together? And where’s that amazing gallop?

It’s not even that it’s terrible, it’s just really ho-hum and boring, which is practically the worst crime at all. I’ll take the Xbox reboot’s generic techno-metal nonsense over this any day.

4. Tetris/Dr. Mario (SNES)

 

"Well, the viruses can be handled with various pills, but falling blocks... that's a new one."

This one hits slightly closer to home, because the composer for both the NES and Gameboy versions of these two classic puzzle games was “Hip” Tanaka, my favorite composer.

Again, we’re dealing with Super Nintendo re-makes of essentially NES games (though the soundtrack for Tetris borrows mostly from the Gameboy version), which were jammed together into one cartridge to make money faster.

Still, the games themselves are brilliant conversions; no problems there!

The soundtracks, on the other hand… well, let’s use my favorite Dr. Mario song, “Chill”, as an example:

 

Oh how I love this song. That totally singable melody, the funky drums and bass, and all the little movements that the song cycles through are each special in their own way. The whole thing is also colored by Hip Tanaka’s trademark “weirdness”, which I really should write about at length some time.

Anyway, here’s what happened when Dr. Mario got the 16 bit treatment:

Now here’s the thing: I do appreciate that the song utilizes static noise and chirps straight out of Earthbound, and a couple of the parts do actually sound pretty cool when just sitting there and digging the tune once or twice through**.

Having said that, remember what playing Dr. Mario is like; have you ever tried one of the longer puzzles? You could be sitting there for half an hour dropping pills into a jar, and do you think this weird take on the soundtrack holds up that long? Once the static and chirping started after one loop, I had to turn that video off.

That’s not even the worst song though, this one is, I just don’t care that much for the original either, so I’ll let that one slide.

 

5. Mega Man: The Wily Wars (Genesis)

Hey at least it's not Awesome Possum

 

Basically, this was another one of those trilogy-crammed-into-one-title titles, only this time the victim is the first three Mega Man games, re-released on the Sega Genesis, of all things, via early download service “The Sega Channel”, which acted as a kind of prototype for the DLC we all so temporarily enjoy nowadays.

The games were revamped to questionably higher quality, and the soundtracks recreated as well. I think you know where this is going, so let’s go straight to the most egregious example.

Here is my favorite song from Mega Man 2, and one of my favorite pieces of video game music ever, the theme to Air Man’s stage:

 

Such a rockin’ song, and one of the earliest examples I can think of where a main theme contains a particularly wild solo portion. The best part is how well it all fits together; that solo takes absolutely nothing away from the rest of the song; the melody is super-strong, the drums still pound in a way that is distinctly “Mega Man”, and that bass-line is a dream.

Now let’s hear one of the earliest examples of DLC ruining our lives:

 

It’s kind of hard to pin-point exactly how this version is so bad, but it definitely offends. The main melody is far too tinny and embellished with unnecessary vibrato and it seems to go by too fast, like that solo is just this irritating chirp in an otherwise “ok” song. The drums sound like a Casio keyboard set to “samba”, and the bass just seems “off” somehow. Ok I guess it’s not too hard to pin-point after all.

To be honest though, the Genesis remake of the soundtrack has some parts that could be interpreted as being pretty good, for instance, I actually like most of the recreated songs from the first Mega Man, especially Elec Man and Bomb Man.

So now that we’ve seen what happens when you recreate an NES game on the Genesis, what happens when you try to recreate a Genesis game? Uh oh!

 

6. Sonic The Hedgehog Genesis (Gameboy Advance)

"15 Years of Sonic" and I think Sonic's pointing out that only 1 of those years was particularly good.

 

There is almost nothing good to say about Sega’s attempt to port its flagship hedgehog over to Nintendo’s hot little handheld. The frame-rate was awful, the graphics and gameplay contained several bugs, and its release coincided with the release of another bad idea on Sega’s part.

It’s seriously almost like Sega was trying to trick gamers into not being disappointed by the Playstation 3 Sonic game by making them think the original wasn’t all that great either.

Well, the original was great. Here’s one of its best songs, the legendary Green Hill Zone:

Ahh… this song brings back memories. There is a kind of nostalgic, wistful property to this song, as if it’s conjuring up old memories without them even being about a video game. It’s probably all those switches to minor key. Anyway, whether you merely like the Genesis for music or love it, you can’t deny that this soundtrack had some memorable hits.

And now the same, about 15 years later:

I…

what has even happened here?!

In the second part of the song, about 30 seconds in, holy crap what is that horrible, flat tone? Did the game bug out again? No, that’s actually a new addition to the song that was intentionally put there. Oh joy!

7. Crystalis (Gameboy Color)

 

Only a man with the brain of a 17 year old would pay full price for a game with box art that looks like this.

I’ve mentioned before that Crystalis is one of my favorite video games, and I mean it; definitely top 3 anyway (hard to topple Earthbound and Super Mario Bros. 3 but it definitely wins out over your favorites, that’s for sure). In fact, I just beat it again two days ago, within three hours, on a goddamned whim.

Thus, imagine my delight when, back in the year 2000 (the future), I was walking around in a Wal*Mart when I suddenly discovered that the game had been re-released on the new-ish Gameboy Color system!

I actually bought it and a GBC right then and there in order to play the game, and I hadn’t owned a Nintendo portable since the original Gameboy. Now, while I wound up fiercely disliking the remake, my GBC acquisition started me on an obsession with portable gaming that continues unto today, where I spend easily 2-3 hours a night playing RPG’s on my DS. Thus, the purchase was definitely not a regrettable one.

What I found out, however, was that the game called “Crystalis” that I had just purchased was only somewhat cosmetically related to the NES game I had enjoyed so much over the years. The story had completely changed and turned what was an interesting Japanese-sci-fi-meets-high-fantasy tale into a generic fantasy RPG with boring, throw-away Western medieval elements.

And, of course, Yoko Osaka’s compelling soundtrack was gutted completely and replaced with a soundtrack that I can most kindly call “inexplicable”. Since there’s no real “ost” recordings on Youtube, let’s just compare the opening cinematics and you tell me if you can spot the difference.

Here’s the original game:

Gah, so cool. I will never get tired of this game, ever.

And now here’s the version that broke my heart:

You know what, though? I still beat this version of the game, twice. The ending is just as stupid, FYI.

While I consider this a terrible bastardization of one of my favorite games and soundtracks, I want to go on record as saying that the composer for the remake, Lawrence Schwedler, is actually a pretty great composer. He did a lot of great work, mainly for Nintendo (though he did some sound tech stuff for Acclaim such as the interestingly-titled I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream), and in fact, around the same time, he did the soundtrack to the Gameboy Color revamp of Bionic Commando, called Bionic Commando: Elite Forces, which sounds suspiciously similar to the music he did for the Crystalis remake… I think it simply fits Bionic Commando way better.

Man, now I need to go play Crystalis again, on the NES of course. Hope you enjoyed reading!

 

 

 

*If you sat and listened to the entire 16 minutes of that extended session of “The Parasprinter” like I did, that would have been about 2 game overs’ worth of lives lost in the actual game. Totally worth it. 

**It’s at this point that I should also note I actually do dig the super-weird SNES version of “Fever” as well. I love how it sounds like the little virri are singing along to the tune.

Feature: The Manliest Men in Gaming (Part One)

Monday, May 7th, 2012

I’ve written on the subject of men in gaming before, mostly concerning their barely-concealed junk. While those men deserve to be on this list (except Kuja, obviously), the following are among the most manly, and mostly clothed, men in video games.

Now, by “manly”, I don’t simply mean macho or super-muscled, because let’s face it, most male characters in video games fall under that category. Some of these entries may indeed possess these characteristics, but for various reasons, these are the characters I have dubbed men among men. 

 

1. Karnov (Karnov, Fighter’s History, other Data East games)

I am pretty sure that dinosaur isn't even in the game, it's just there because you can't draw smells, and Karnov's musk needed SOME artistic interpretation!

Karnov is a fire-breathing, East Russian strong man who works for the circus despite being independently wealthy for unexplained reasons. When not fighting himself on the streets, Karnov can be seen searching around for treasure like in his Arcade/NES game, where the bad guy is an evil wizard whose only crime, apparently, is owning stuff that Karnov wants.

I think the thing with Karnov is that he’s a very unlikely hero to which one would dedicate an entire arcade cabinet (or Amstrad CPC Cassette). His character’s shape seems to fluctuate between husky and beefy, and his age is usually reported as around 50 years old. Yet, the dude is nicknamed “The God of Battle” according to Fighter’s History, where he plays the villain rather than the hero, and really he’s only a villain because you have to fight him; he just threw the tournament together because he was bored, like Shao Kahn in a mid-life crisis.

Also here he is punching a dragon in the mouth because KARNOV:

Wait, isn't he supposed to have a long mustache rather than a beard? Oh well, manly facial hair can change like the wind

 

2. Viktor (Suikoden)

LLLLLLadies

Being that there are 108 mostly playable characters in every Suikoden game, Viktor, who appears in 3 of them, is one of the very few with an actual fleshed-out story, and it’s a story that might as well had been sung by Johnny Cash.

He’s a lovable rogue who is seen as bawdy and boisterous, but has a stern fighting spirit and is bent on getting revenge on the vampire who enslaved his whole town while he was away getting medicine for his grandmother. This revenge, by the way, is not central to his character, but is in fact just something he deals with while simultaneously being the dude responsible for recruiting the hero (that’s you) into the Liberation Army, and he fights alongside you until the end, when he does the “noble sacrifice” thing with his partner Flik (who doesn’t get an entry because he’s far too whiny), and proceeds to presumably die while keeping an entire army at bay so the hero can escape.

Then, and seriously this made me jump out of my seat, he shows up unscathed in the second game, meaning he successfully defeated an entire army and came back for more! Suikoden and Suikoden II are two of the best RPG’s ever made, and we have this man to thank for that.

 

3.  Mike Haggar (Final Fight)

Am I just seeing things or is just ONE of his abdominal muscles bigger than his face?

Mike Haggar is not only an ex-professional wrestler (and not MMA fighter Don Frye, as much as I wish that were true), but the freaking MAYOR of Metro City, which apparently houses nothing but gang members who want to kill him, which kind of raises an interesting question: how did he even get elected in the first place?

Maybe he got elected on the issue of how hilarious it would be to see him in business attire?

I really don’t think I have to sell you on Haggar’s innate manliness. I mean, the entire game of Final Fight is about criminals trying to bribe him into doing their bidding by kidnapping his hot daughter, and instead of giving into their demands like a wimp, proceeds to rip his shirt off, hit the goddamn streets, and pound every last one of them to a pulp.

On top of all that, he beats up the entire population of his jurisdiction wearing some pretty sharp slacks and dress shoes:

It would have been a whole different game if he would have ripped those slacks off instead

Yeah sure, by the third Final Fight game, he sports a long pony tail and bicycle shorts (giving an all-new meaning to “Metro” city), but I’ll let that slide.

3. Ladd Spencer (Bionic Commando)

Dude just got shot 3 times in this picture and STILL prefers to kick those giant robot suits to death instead of using his gun.

Having a name like “Ladd Spencer” is the easiest way onto this list, but ol’ Ladd also took the high road by being one of Capcom’s manliest heroes (even manlier than Mega Man, who, may I remind you, is named Mega Man).

The story is that the “Empire”, with its army of “Badds”, are trying to revive “Hitler” err I mean “Master-D”, and the U.S., I mean, “The Federation” send in Super Joe, from the game Commando, to infiltrate. Now, Super Joe from Commando is already a manly enough character to have his own spot on this list, but when he gets kidnapped, it’s Ladd Spencer that swings in to save the day.

And I do literally mean “swing”, as the game’s core mechanic involved using your mechanical cyber-arm-grappling-hook-thing to swing around the stages rather than trouble yourself by jumping. That’s right, you can’t jump. Bionic Commando is like the ultimate test of manhood; making things work with what little you’ve got.

And come on, how manly is blowing up Hitler at the end of the game?

4. Paul & Vince (Ikari Warriors)

They don't even see the enemy over there, they just happened to be already shooting and throwing grenades at stuff.

The NES had its fair share of red & blue color-coded manly duos facing off against impossible odds without their shirts on: Billy & Jimmy Lee (Double Dragon), Bill & Lance (Contra), and Hayate & Kaede (Shadow of the Ninja), but the manliest of them all was The Ikari Warriors, Ralf & Clark, known in the U.S. as Paul and Vince.

I think the moment that really solidified these Rambo-esque army men into a spot on this list was in the third game, Ikari III: The Rescue. In this game, you have to traverse dangerous enemy territory (wearing striking color-coordinated spandex pants), jump-kicking and grenading your way through enemy lines to rescue a little girl (a Presidential candidate’s daughter, naturally), and then you have to fight through even more enemy lines, with the little girl in tow. The last part of the game is either hilarious or horrifying as you watch her scamper around trying to follow your jump-kick assault through all the bullets and explosions.

Such reckless child endangerment has got to be the hallmark of a manly man, or at least Steven Spielberg.

"Uhh, mister?" "Hang on, kid, I'm busy"

 

5. Cyan Garamonde (Final Fantasy 6)

How many licks indeed...

There are a lot of men in Final Fantasy VI‘s roster of colorfully-clad heroes, but I feel like the manliest of them all is Cyan, retainer to the King and protector of the people of Doma, or at least he was before Kefka poisoned them all. It really wasn’t much of a city after that, but it was nothing Cyan couldn’t handle.

See, the thing with the other dudes in this game is that their tragedies are all dragged out throughout their various back stories and it takes them forever (if ever) to grow out of it. Sabin ran away and trained to be a karate guy because he didn’t want to deal with royal responsibilities; Edgar stayed and took on those responsibilities but garnered an unkind reputation with the ladies; Setzer has no responsibilities and broods over a lost love; Locke broods over his lost love so hard he tried to turn her into a zombie; Shadow just broods.

The crazy thing about Cyan is the sheer scope of all of his tragedy; having his entire home town (which he trained all his life to protect) as well as his beloved wife and kid all taken away from him in an instant, and he’s even forced to watch them depart on the Phantom Train he just fought to get off of. Yet, through all of that, he stays the course and fights, and whether for revenge or justice, he always sides with good.

By the end of the game, which spans across a little over a year, he is ultimately able to fight off his demons (literally, even) and come to peace with an event that would utterly destroy any lesser man.

The very core of Cyan is a man working through his problems and, whether in strength or weakness, showing kindness towards others, even if it’s a bit misguided, such as writing letters to that girl in Maranda and pretending to be her dead boyfriend in a heart-warming tale of identity theft. Still, he is able to get over that and come clean, and is all the better for it.

Still, all that personal growth, and yet he steadfastly refuses to figure out machines because he doesn’t like the instructions. Truly a man’s man.

 

Have any nominations for Part 2? Speak up in the comments! Thanks for reading!

Feature: 10 Incredible Video Game Composers Who Happen To Be Women

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Ok here’s the thing, I’m no feminist*, but I like to give credit where credit is due, and I can assure you, there is a ton of credit due in the world of video game music to the composers who largely made it what it is today, and who also happen to be women.

I specifically wanted to write about women because come on, we all know the names of our favorite male composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Yuzo Koshiro, Koji Kondo, Tim Follin, and certainly those men will go down in the history books of VGM, but as Abigail Adams famously cautioned, “Remember the ladies”, so here are 10 names that should undeniably be up there with the greats.

(Editor’s Note: While I did my best to research each one of these ladies’ contributions to the music of video games, consistently reliable information on old school game credits is almost impossible to find; therefore, if you have any corrections to my findings here, do speak now or forever hold your penis)

1. Tamayo Kawamoto

Tamayo Kawamoto is one of the first composers Capcom hired back in its fledgling days as an arcade developer, which is great because it means her songs can be heard in some of Capcom’s earliest smash hits, but also kinda bad because her name doesn’t show up in the credits for most of them (Capcom didn’t really liked to do credits until the NES days, it seems).

Probably her most famous work, by today’s standard, is the original version of Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins, for which she composed most of the music. Darn the luck, however, because she didn’t compose that first stage music that we ALL know as the song from that game/franchise. Oh wait, that song was written by another woman, Aoki Mori, who collaborated with Tamayo on many games, making Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins an entirely lady-penned soundtrack.**

Other games in Tamayo’s resume include Commando, Section-Z, and Legendary Wings. She eventually left Capcom for Taito in 1990 and composed music for some of their more kickass titles, including Night Striker, which is mostly known for having a “pacifist bonus” if you play through the game, which is a shooter, without actually shooting anything.

2. Mieko Ishikawa

Hey, looks who’s back! In case you didn’t read my stupid-long article from a couple of days ago, Mieko composed the entirety of one of my favorite video game soundtracks (which I don’t even mind calling my actual favorite): Ys III: Wanderers From Ys.

It kind of bothers me that Wikipedia (as well as a couple of other sources) claims super-famous composer Yuzo Koshiro as co-composer of Ys III, especially considering Koshiro had moved on from the company by that time and isn’t officially credited anywhere for this game, and Mieko did more stuff for Nihon Falcom in the first place.

How much more? It’s really hard to tell! Given the fact that everything Nihon Falcom developed was pretty much developed for PC and ported everywhere else by others (something I went over in the Ys III article), info on who did what kind of gets a bit blurry. In fact, even two of the official album releases from Nihon Falcom can’t seem to decide whether Yuzo co-wrote “The Boy Who Had Wings” or not, so I give up!

For certain, however, Mieko was a key composer for the “Falcom Sound Team JDK” which was an umbrella name for their composers, so as far as games that she composed, it’s anywhere between the 13 games she’s credited for on Mobygames, the 39 games this website credits her for, and all the video games. Either way, for Ys III, which she definitely composed, I have to get on my knees and praise this amazing woman and the insanely awesome music she either put out or helped put out.

3. Mari Yamaguchi

To be honest, Mari’s known contributions to VGM with Capcom have been hard to pin-point. A lot of her work involved converting tunes from arcade form into their SNES ports, most notably U.N. Squadron and, in a convenient turn of events, Super Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts (her version of the soundtrack being my favorite).

She also contributed a couple of tracks to Breath of Fire (most notably this one) and the entire soundtrack to Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, both of which are pretty great. Still, there is at least one feather in this lady’s cap that puts her heads and shoulders above almost everyone else in the 8-bit era… for me at least…

 

This song, which underscores all the stages in Protoman’s castle in Mega Man 5, is one of my favorite songs ever, no joke. I went out and bought this game, as I had missed it back in the NES days, and it became my favorite purely through the fact that it’s kind of fun, and the soundtrack is amazing.

If she had done nothing else but this one song (or maybe her salsa-tastic Dr. Wily theme), she would have wound up on this list and any other list of composers I adore. Viva La MARI!

What’s she doing nowadays, you ask? Beats me, but she come back to Capcom at least long enough to composer one song for Mega Man 10, for the vastly undeserving Sheep Man. It’s a great song, however!

 

4. Manami Matsumae

Who cares about Mega Man 5″, you say, “I only like the old-school Mega Man games’ music.”

Well, time traveler from 1992, how about this: the original Mega Man was co-composed by a lady; an awesome lady named Manami Matsumae. In fact, some sources (including official releases by Capcom) cite her as the sole composer, though both her and “Yuukichan’s Papa” (Yoshihiro Sakaguchi) are credited in-game with “sound program”.

Not enough for you? She also co-composed Mega Man 2, considered by many to be (or at least contain) the best music in the entire NES library. Not by me, of course, I much prefer Mega Man 5, but we’ll save that for another day.

With Mega Man 2, however, it’s really hard to tell which songs she worked on and which songs were worked on by Yuukichan’s Papa, but Capcom at least gives her writing credit for Air Man’s theme a.k.a. the best song, and that’s m**her-fuck**g good enough for me!

Manami’s main claim to fame would be the first two Mega Man games (and she also worked on Mega Man 10, on Nitro Man‘s stage), but she also co-composed Legendary Wings (with Tamayo, if you remember), and she’s actually the original composer for U.N. Squadron.

Interestingly, Manami also lent her considerable talent to SquareEnix for a turn, co-composing the soundtrack to Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors with VGM legend Koichi Sugiyama; which is one of the rare instances (and the only one provable through Wikiepdia) in which he has worked with another composer, especially on a Dragon Quest title. Not bad at all!

5. Yoko Osaka

OK, let’s take a break from Capcom and talk about someone whose identity had eluded me for years.

If you’ll remember back to my article about Crystalis, which is seriously like my second or third favorite game ever, I mentioned that I always thought that the composer credited with the game, “Yoko O.”, was some kind of hilarious reference to Beatles destroyer Yoko Ono, but it turns out that’s just my brain being secretly racist or something.

Turns out the “O.” stands for Osaka! Yoko Osaka, that is!

Once I decoded this bit of information, I found out that not only did she compose Crystalis‘ music (which, trust me, would have been enough to bring her to this list in my mind), but she also worked on the soundtrack to Guerilla War (as “Oh Chan”), Ikari III, which is kind of the weird one of the trilogy but it had some good tunes, and an incredible yet under-appreciated arcade shooter called NAM-1975.  She also collaborated well into the Neo Geo era on games like Fatal Fury (and its sequel), and Alpha Mission 2.

I’m hoping she didn’t work on the original Alpha Mission because not only is it kind of a blah soundtrack, comparatively speaking, but whoever did work on that game was credited as “Sugar” and that’s not cool.

6. Satoe Terashima

There really aren’t a lot of games one can dig up that “S. Terashima” composed, but there’s at least one song she did that definitely secures her place in this list:

 

Yes, the composer for the original Castlevania, “James Banana” (a parody of James Bernard, composer to the classic 1958 film), was actually two ladies!

Satoe, while being by far the less famous of the two, still has the distinction of having created one of the most memorable and grand songs of the 8-bit era.

Of course, if that’s not enough for you, she single-handedly composed the soundtrack to Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, which may only arguably match the first game in overall quality, but definitely contains one of the only other songs in the series that matches “Vampire Killer” in popularity: “Bloody Tears“.

And if that’s not enough for you, she was 25% of the crack team of music-makers who created the soundtrack to Life Force, which is like Castlevania for nerds who like shooters.

And if THAT’S not enough… well, hopefully that’s enough, because I can’t find anything else on her. Vampire Killer, though!

7. Kinuyo Yamashita

Kinuyo Yamashita is the other half of “James Banana”, and as such composed most of the rest of the soundtrack to Castlevania, including one of my favorite video game songs ever, “Wicked Child“.

Of course, depending on which of her many interviews you’ve read (she’s one of the very few composers who actually talks to the public, freaking adorably, even), it’s possible that she composed ALL the music to the original Castlevania, but at least all sources agree that the original game is the only one in the series she worked on in her 2 years as part of the Konami Kukeiha Club.

Upon leaving Konami, she proceeded to freelance the HELL out of a VGM career.

Where to even start? She did some work for Natsume during their “badass” period in the late 80′s/early 90′s, including Power Blade and its sequel, she also indirectly co-composed (that is, they didn’t work together, she submitted her tracks separately) the SNES Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers game with Iku Mizutani (of Shatterhand fame).

My favorite soundtrack that she composed in the 16-bit era, however, is Mega Man X3, hands-down. I actually prefer the music of the third game to even the iconic first Mega Man X game, but that’s definitely another article for another day.

She also composed some worthwhile tunes for the ill-fated Buffy The Vampire Slayer Gameboy Advance game, thus proving that hey, work is work.

8. Michiru Yamane

Another lady with a history of kicking ass with Konami, Michiru actually still works for the company, cranking out soundtrack after glorious soundtrack for the Castlevania games (including all 3 of the DS games, my favorites!) In fact, she’s been working on most of the titles in the series since 1994′s Castlevania:Bloodlines.

Ever heard of that game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night? You guessed it: she’s the sole composer for all but the game’s ending vocal theme and the songs they brought from other games (obviously).

Her other non-Castlevania credits include Rocket Knight Adventures on the Genesis along with the SNES version called Sparkster, Elebits, the mostly un-loved Suikoden IV (plus she’s one of the vocalists in the original Suikoden), and…

Rumble Roses?

Get out of here!

9.  Miki Higashino

Reading Miki Higashino’s VGM resume, more often than not, makes my mouth drop.

She started with the Gradius soundtrack with the Konami Kukeiha Club (which apparently included Michiru up there but I can’t be too sure), and then moved on to compose tunes for its cousins, Salamander and Life Force, and also co-composed one of my favorites, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES game.

Still, what she’s probably best known for (as much as any video game composer can be known) is being the main composer for Suikoden and Suikoden II, two of the best RPG’s ever created, and definitely two of the strongest RPG soundtracks ever.

How strong? Suikoden II alone has 105 unique songs, and Miki composed all but 8 of them, and certainly not because she couldn’t compose that last 8; she was just giving someone else a shot.

10. Yoko Shimomura

I guess when someone is described twice in their Wikipedia entry as “The most famous female video game composer in the world”, I gotta at least say something, right?

While I’d make a case for most of the other 9 ladies I previously mentioned, there is no denying that Yoko Shimomura has written music that even the most casual of gaming fans would have heard.

Her first job was at Capcom, and among her first projects was the unassuming arcade brawler known as Final Fight, for which she composed the entire score (according to my sources). You may have also heard of the next game she worked on, a game called Street Fighter II where she composed all but 3 of the themes, which, thanks to Capcom’s boundless self-replication, are still used today.

Still, Capcom did not suit our Yoko, so she moved on to a little-known company called Squaresoft (I think they make RPG’s), who put her to work writing excellent music for a game that never came over state-side but is still a fan-favorite (thanks to fan-translating), Live-A-Live (LiveAeviL?), and then she went ahead and created what is, in my opinion, one of the best soundtracks ever, Super Mario RPG.

That’s right! Another one of the most famous songs in video game history…

 

…and all the other songs that weren’t written by Koji Kondo, were all the work of one fantastic woman.

In fact, she has worked on all 3 of the portable Mario & Luigi games, which are all spiritual successors to Super Mario RPG, and each soundtrack is truly excellent; at least on par with the big-console stuff that Kondo has done.

And yet that isn’t even the most famous game Yoko worked on, if people younger than me are asked (and they shouldn’t be). Shimomura pretty much carved her name into the industry forever with her fantastic soundtrack to the Kingdom Hearts series, you know, the one that brought Disney and SquareEnix together in a fantastic and not-at-all-awkward RPG journey.

Man, I just realized that Yoko has helped bring together something like 6 companies through the power of song, or else I’m just crazy.

And more…

 

I actually had to stop at 10 because this article is getting way too long, and I gotta save something for when I invariably talk about each individual composer and their individual soundtracks, as that is the nature of this here blog. Needles to say, there are a lot of women who have contributed greatly to the creation of our favorite hobby, many more than I have mentioned here, and hopefully many more to come.

No matter where you are on the whole gender thing, hopefully this article will help you, as you think back on (or go out and discover) your favorite video game music and the people who made them, to “remember the ladies”, because you’ll be missing out on some amazing tunes if you don’t.

Thanks for reading!  See you next.

 

ERRATA: Curses! Mustin of The OneUps was quick to remind me that I did make one glaring omission: Soyo Oka, who composed the music to Super Mario Kart, Pilotwings, and Sim City, bringing the classiest of Jazz composition to the already rich world of Nintendo music. I WOULD say that Mr. Mustin is perhaps a little biased because his band freaking put out a really good album based entirely on Super Mario Kart, but he is totally still correct that Soyo should not be overlooked.

 

*Strictly speaking, anyway. I did write an article for a feminist website though, twice!

**with the exception of the Commodore 64 version, which was famously handled by Tim Follin but he’s not a lady so we’ll get back to him some other day.

Feature: 5 Mind-Blowing VGM Cover Guys on Youtube

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Ok, so basically it’s a slow news day. I kind of spent a lot more time playing video games than actually writing about them, but it’s all to the end that I will have something entertaining and informative for you as soon as I get around to figuring out what it is.

Thus, today I’m going to let these 5 other people entertain and inform you with covers of video game music on Youtube! There are not, by any means, all of the dudes who play VGM on guitar in front of a camera; you can find a full list of such artists at your local internet or public library! Learning is power!

(Editor’s Note: Being that I’m in a band with him, ethical standards prevent me from plugging the amazing, astounding, will-shred-your-face-right-off-and-replace-it-with-his-own-face Mike “Lobos” Villalobos, despite the fact that he JUST recorded his own album of VGM covers for the whole internet to hear. I’m afraid you’ll just have to deal with that.)

1. Daniel Tidwell! (metaldaniel03)

Right out of the gate, I gotta give a shout-out to someone who is not only the nicest guy I ever met on the internet, but is also a champ on the VGM metal covers: Daniel Tidwell.

What I like the most about the Tidwell is that his covers are well-imagined and fun, whether metal is your thing or not. It’s really interesting to watch what he does with the songs, and one can always be assured that, while he’s still totally metal, the dude really cares about the source material as well. Also, whether you think the green screen videos are silly or awesome, you can’t deny they are awesome.

(also make sure to read my review of his latest album at my other blog, and buy something, will ya?)

2. Final Fantasy Guitar Guy ()

 

Apparently Japan not only cranks out the best games out there, but the best guitarists, too! Final Fantasy Face Guy is no exception to this, but what he is an exception to is my age-old distaste for guitarists who make up their own solos for VGM covers. This guy is so incredible to watch, and his solos so intricate, I just can’t deny him anything.

I mean just look at how he scales up and then taps back down, that is so smooth. I’m not a great guitarist or anything, but at least I can tell you that’s some impossibly clean playing. I bet the reason this dude covers his face for every video is that he accidentally melted it off years ago.

Anyway, he covers a wealth of other things on his channel, but it seems like his game series of choice is definitely Final Fantasy. Man, I just love the way he makes you wait for it in that one.

 

3. Creepy Doll Mask Guy/Gal (Unknown)

Shrouded in odd clothing… is this a man…? …a woman…? …or should we ask…?

All I can say about creepy mask guy/gal is holy crap man look at that. The FF6 video isn’t technically the most impressive (interesting take on it, though), but since this person doesn’t appear to have a Youtube channel of his/her own,  and all these video re-posts are also in Japanese, then you can easily waste lots of time trying to figure out who or what or where this person is!

Or, you can try and figure out the other songs from other games that s/he’s dropping so subtly into the mix. I want to say this person is referring to Metal Max music, which is a series of games with soundtracks that definitely reflect the title, but without much more time dedicated to searching it out than I’m willing to put in, I guess we’ll never know!

4. Mega Medley ()

 

About 5 days ago, this young rocker won the entire internet with an astounding 34 song medley that clocks in at a reasonable 10 minutes. The guy is an accomplished musician, sure, but what’s really impressive here is the scope of all his projects. He is clearly not messing around!

Still, it all pales in comparison to…

5. Slipknot T-Shirt Guy ()

That hair man… that hair.

Just try watching the entire 3 minutes and 31 seconds of that video and tell me you aren’t going to go watch every other video on this dude’s channel including his cover of Stage 1 from Goldeneye, a song(?) from lesbian indie group Tegan & Sara, and the theme song to Disney’s Pepper Ann.

Seriously, just try it.

Feature: 4 Video Game Characters Stuck In The “Friend-Zone” (Contains Spoilers)

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Come on folks, we’ve all been there, right? You’ve been hanging out with this special someone for a few months, maybe the entirety of high school, just waiting for that “perfect moment” to make he or she yours forever, then you finally swoop in at that perfect moment, lips a-pucker, and suddenly that person has that look like they’re about to run for the hills and you get to hear any combination of the infamous excuses:

“Oh, I do love you, as a friend”

“Oh no I just couldn’t; it would ruin our friendship!”

“You’re such a nice guy (or girl), but you’re a friend and I just don’t date friends!”

Maybe you’ve had to tell this to that nice person who is your best friend despite their hunch-back and bad breath, or maybe you ARE that halitosis-ridden Quasimodo. Either way, it’s not easy in the “friend-zone”. Thus, to show you that you’re not alone, I’ve taken it upon myself to interpret a few relationships in gaming where I feel, despite some obvious factors that make their romance seem implicit, that what’s actually going on in these games is one character trying to find true love, and the other just wanting someone to pay attention to them as they complain about their actual significant other, against the sound of wistful sighing.

 

1. Link (The Legend of Zelda)

Link's all like "Man I can't wait to tell Mom I have a girlfriend!" and Zelda's like "Man I wonder how I'm going to tell him about me and Tingle"

We all know the story: Ganon steals princess, Link gets her back, something about the Triforce, throw in a musical instrument or some werewolves, and everybody lives happily ever after. However, did you ever notice that Link has saved the same princess at least a dozen times, every time with heart containers in his eyes, and she has never really expressed any romantic interest in the only hero in the world?

Not that I can blame her, of course. Have you ever seen Link with actual dialogue? Dude is either an irrepressible douche or an incomprehensible spaz. On top of all that, he has that terribly skeezy “I rescued you from evil, so you owe me sex” attitude as well.

Link, saving a princess you just met, no matter how much you like her, does not automatically mean you get to date her. Do you understand?

Still, Zelda never truly tells him off because, well, she needs him to keep rescuing her.

See, I wasn’t kidding when I said he’s the only hero in the world; in the game Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (which I have covered previously), it’s actually a different princess named Zelda that you rescue, and get this, she’s multiple generations older than the other Zelda. If you bothered to read the game’s manual, you’d know that she’s the original “Zelda” for which there is a Legend. She was cursed with a sleep spell for apparently hundreds of years and, as a tribute, all the princesses born in Hyrule have to be named Zelda (possibly explaining why she looks like a different person every time: she is).

It turns out 16-year old Link was the only one who was even able to get into the chamber where the OP (Original Princess) Zelda lay sleeping, and was also the only one who could save her… in a period of centuries. How is it that there was not even one other hero that could have done it within a few days or even years?

In the instruction book to Link’s original adventure, The Legend of Zelda, he’s said to be the only person Impa deemed worthy of rescuing the princess we know and love from the first game. Thus, we are forced to conclude that every time Zelda (or “a” Zelda) gets kidnapped, no matter what her feelings are on the matter, the courageous and highly irritating Link is the only one who can keep her alive.

So yeah, I can definitely see where some “keeping him interested” might be in order, but Link is never really given more than a hand-shake for his troubles, which is totally fine by me because again, total loser.

Interestingly, however, the ending to Zelda II shows Link getting some behind-the-curtains smooching from the original, centuries-old Princess Zelda, so yeah, wrap your mind around THAT.

Wow princess, did they seal a toothbrush in here with you or anything? No?

2. Mario, Princess Peach (Super Mario Bros.)

He's died a thousand horrible deaths, but nothing was more painful than the conversation where Peach told him his girlfriend was in another princess.

Something I’ve noticed over the years is that Princess “Peach” Toadstool and Super Mario Mario are great pals. They’ve adventured together (in Mario’s dreams, at least, I TOLD YOU THERE WOULD BE SPOILERS), they play tennis, have parties, and even race karts, but their relationship to me always seems to be “just friends”, bordering on something more.

Of course, the cornerstone of their relationship is that the Princess gets kidnapped by Bowser at some point, Mario rescues her, and then the various sports and bizarre party games can continue (Bowser included, showing nobody’s a bad sport about this kidnapping business). In a few different games, Mario is rewarded with a peck on the cheek (or nose), maybe a cake, and you see some hearts fly and you’re like “Aww, young(?) love!” and then the two can often be seen walking in a direction together while the credits roll. Heck, in Super Princess Peach, the roles were reversed, and the Princess rescued Mario, with the exact same effect.

The weird thing is, by the time the credits are done and the next adventure rolls around, these two are back at square one! Peach is never ripped from her beloved’s arms like other video game couples; she’s always hanging out in her palace with Mario clear across town, or hanging out with Mario doing something innocuous that she might as well be doing with any other friend.

Why is it that kidnapping is the only thing that almost pushes these two past the friend-zone?

There are a lot of theories, of course. One is that the Princess is, in fact, romantically involved with Bowser, and that this whole “Kidnapping” thing is just a sick game they use to keep the spark alive, with Mario serving as an unwitting foil. I would say that such a theory is preposterous, but this is a world where eating the right kind of free-range vegetation can make you grow, shrink, grow a tail, or shoot fireballs, so we’ll leave our imaginations open and say it’s a possibility.

My theory, however, is that Mario just has a thing for damsels in distress, and is actually the one who pulls the “let’s-a just chill and race-a some karts” card after the 2nd post-rescue date. For instance, Peach isn’t the only lady he’s rescued! Who can forget Daisy? or Pauline? Seems like Mario hit it off with them, too, but Daisy’s mostly known as Luigi’s girl nowadays…

I'M DAISY!

I'M DAISY!

…and Pauline, well, after her 12 year hiatus from being someone who exists in the world of Mario, she appeared in Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, described in the instruction book as, you guessed it, a ”friend“. 

 

3. Albus (Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia)

Albus is thinking "Oh man, I wonder if Shanoa really thinks of me as a friend or if we could be something more..." and Shanoa's thinking "Oh man, I wonder if I can steal that gun from him? That thing looks like it packs a punch..."

In Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, you take on the role of Shanoa, the second-ever female protagonist in a Castlevania game, and a member of an elite anti-Dracula organization called “Ecclesia”. Shanoa was raised in the Order’s church (despite looking like she was raised in a Hot Topic) alongside her “adopted brother”, a guy called Albus. They are brought up to learn how to kill Dracula by an old totally-not-evil-at-all-*wink*-*wink* Priest called Barlowe.

How could you NOT trust a face like that to not go nuts and try to kill you in the 2nd act.

Shanoa’s entire role in life was to use the power of her magical back tattoo to absorb a “glyph” that will supposedly kill Dracula, should he decide to show up for this adventure (spoiler: he does). The game starts off with Shanoa attempting to absorb this magical tattoo power when Albus suddenly snaps and makes off with the glyphs, leaving Shanoa amnesiac and incapable of feeling emotions other than melancholy and disinterest.

Again, just like a Hot Topic employee

Of course, the ol’ twist of the plot is that Albus was trying to protect Shanoa by stealing the power, because he’s such a good friend, and in doing so went a little crazy, because it turned out that magical Dracula-sealing power actually WAS Dracula, in a sense. Thus, with Albus all consumed with evil and shooting at our heroine (but also helping her to recover the powers one-by-one), eventually Shanoa has no choice but to frag the poor dude, who (if you met the game’s hidden requirement) proceeds to give up the last bit of power, warn Shanoa that it’s all a trap, and then dies, conveniently relocating his consciousness into that last glyph where he can look but not touch. When it turns out Shanoa has to use the glyph to destroy Dracula, who was revived by the turns-out-he-was-evil Priest, she’s just about to die when Albus’ consciousness takes the hit, thus sacrificing his immortal soul in order to save his “totally almost a sister”.

"What a loser", his mom says.

All he asks her to do in return for all this, by the way,  is show him a smile. She cries a little and does this half-smile thing and then goes about her day, presumably running off to collect unemployment since the church turned out to be evil and all.

So how is this not an allegory for the dreaded “friend-zone”? On Albus’ part, the only thing that’s missing here is awkward attempts at making out with Shanoa. I mean, the dude gives up his life and soul for the girl who killed him with really kickass weapons, and the entire while, Shanoa’s response to everything is “I wish I could feel something for you, but damn this traumatic experience magically killing my emotions and all.” Even when she finally does recover her emotions, all she can give Albus, who is dead and disappearing into a forever of nothingness (because of her, by the way), is a half-assed smile and the assurance that “he was like a brother to me”.

I've seen cashiers at Wal*Mart with more sincere smiles than that

Worst part is, he probably didn’t even notice how much he was getting hosed in this deal because, well, look at her.

 

4. Rosa (Final Fantasy IV)

Rosa's like "Hey so I came to give you a pep talk while you're trying to sleep also I baked you a cake and I shot an arrow into that maid who changed your sheets because I didn't like the way she was looking at you" and Cecil's like "Siiigh".

But wait! You may say, these two totally get married in the end of the game! Ok that much is true, but hear me out anyway, also please understand that I am going by the version of the game that kids my age played on the Super Nintendo back in ’91, when the game was Final Fantasy II, so I’m not calling absolute canon on this one.

I like my bards spoony, thank you.

Among the first things you find out in Final Fantasy IV, should you visit the “White Mages class” room, is that Rosa specifically learned White Magic, a career path that apparently affords very little work opportunity (hence, the Archer side-job), so that she could join Cecil in battle. Rosa also stops you on your way to your room to let you know she’s coming to visit you “again”, later. Then she comes into your darkened room, gives you a lecture about how your brooding is not the behavior of “the Cecil I love!”

This would all be well and good, but the game establishes that the two aren’t even dating at this point. Rosa, at this stage of the game, appears to be a life-long stalker of poor Cecil, who honestly barely even pays attention to her until she follows him on his subsequent mission, by herself (showing that she’s not a particularly smart White Mage), and then gets knocked out by Desert Fever, a disease literally nobody else in the game was dumb enough to contract, not even Edward.

It becomes Cecil’s job to then fetch the cure, whereupon she joins like it would have been no big deal all along. Cecil just kind of accepts this, and doesn’t say another word to her until she gets kidnapped not too long after that.

Between kidnappings and general peril, she sits around and thinks about when Cecil will be back. When will you be back Cecil?

In fact, if one were to take Cecil’s eerie silence towards his supposed girlfriend as disinterest, it would make perfect sense to interpret their relationship as Rosa being a kind of cute but ultimately crazy stalker, and Cecil as the long-suffering guy who just doesn’t know how to let her down gently. The best he can do, right near the end-game, is shoo her off of the space ship your party acquires, along with the other girl, stating that “It’s too dangerous for women” (an obvious cop-out; they just finished destroying a city-sized robot together). Clearly, all Cecil wants is peace and quiet in the silence of space with his ninja buddy and total bro Kain*, but then Rosa and Rydia surprise the men by having stowed away outside the ship, thus proving somehow that they are capable of handling the threat ahead.

Wait, she stowed away on the Great Whale? I’m no rocket scientist, but being that she came in through the exit, that means that she would have had to cling to the side of a spaceship as it made the journey all the way to the moon.

All that, and when she’s sick in Kaipo, Cecil still describes her as a “friend”?

If you ask me, the simple solution is that Cecil may have uncovered a little more than just his “inner light” when he came out as a Paladin on top of Mt. Ordeals. No wonder he was so keen to go adventuring with the boys!

 

How to "come out" to your girlfriend: 1. Wear lipstick 2.

 

 

*Kain, by the way, would have made the much more obvious choice as the ultimate friend-zoned individual in Final Fantasy IV, since he has it hard for Rosa and almost half the plot is centered around her being into Cecil instead, but what’s the fun in pointing out the obvious?

Feature: 6 Legitimate Speed-Runs That Are A Glorious Waste of Time

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

If you didn’t notice from the fact that I tend to include a link to one in almost every article I write, I love the hell out of speed-runs.

A speed-run, for the uninitiated, is simply a video of someone (or live stream, as that has been the trend recently) playing through a video game really fast, in fact, it’s not really considered a speed-run if the player is not going for some kind of record.

The most famous example, at least from what I can tell, is the infamous “Super Mario 3 speedrun” video that went around all the social networks for a while. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, the video appears to be a mind-blowing play-through of Super Mario Bros. 3 which not only clears the game faster than what would seem humanly possible, but the player goes through the entirety of world 8-2 timing jumps off of the enemies and collecting one-ups, hardly ever even touching the ground!

Truly this video is a spectacle that finally proves man’s dominance over machines, or at least it would be, if the whole thing wasn’t a fake.

Well, not “fake”, but tool-assisted. Basically the whole video was programmed using an emulator to do whatever the person “playing” it wants it to do, thus we have a video that looks like an inhuman play-through, but is in fact merely inhuman*.

Of course, real humans have still accomplished extraordinary feats in speed-running while entirely using their own thumbs, and one of my favorite websites, http://speeddemosarchive.com, collects the best attempts at “legitimate” speed-runs (starting with Quake, which was “where it all began”, and definitely looks inhuman), and provides them in streaming and downloadable video!

Of course, where there are inhuman feats of gaming mastery, there are players that demonstrate a very human quality indeed: making fun of the whole thing through satire, and here are the best of them in a collection I like to call 6 Legitimate Speed-Runs that are a Glorious Waste of Time:

1. Elmo’s Letter Adventure (N64)

 

Yikes! Elmo's about to get B'd in the D

Amount of time wasted: 14 1/2 minutes

Video

(Sorry internet, SDA doesn’t have off-site streaming and I have no idea how to get around that)

You can probably tell by the title what the joke is here. Elmo’s Letter Adventure is one in a long line (going all the way back to the Atari days) of video games, aimed at kids, that utilize characters from kids’ TV shows in order to… teach them stuff I guess?

SELL! I mean sell… obviously.

None of these games are ever hard, thus the entirety of this game is  identifying letters and then running into them, which is what this speed run is all about. As a bonus, it’s beaten in “easy” mode to ensure that there is no possible way to lose. It’s 15 minutes of scratching your head, wondering how all these puppets got into this weird bizarro universe where their only purpose for existence is helping Elmo, the inexplicably popular one, learn what letters are. Personally, I think his main trouble area is using pronouns, if you ask me.

2. Panic! (Sega CD)

Wikipedia theorizes that this game sold/rated poorly based on its lack of gameplay. I say it's this cover.

Amount of time wasted: 4 minutes

Video

Despite being rated as one of the worst games ever, Panic! is actually a magical trip into the world of surreal humor and is quite fun. I think America just wasn’t ready for it back in the early 90′s, and really, the only reason it would fly now is because we have the internet to explain it to us or at least dismiss it as an “Oh, Japan!” thing.

The basic point of the game is that you get sucked into your TV with a clear goal of finding a virus and putting a stop to it. The game then presents you with a series of buttons, with absolutely no clue as to what any of them do, and you just guess which one will take you to the next area. Getting a wrong choice, instead of hurting/killing you**, presents you with a hilarious consequence and then a chance to try again. The game is a riot with friends, especially if they haven’t played the game, which, let’s face it, they haven’t. Here’s a video showing off many of the game’s gags.

Thus, what this speed-run accomplishes is the absolute antithesis of enjoying this game. The player makes all of the right choices, and thus you see no gags, just the game’s ending, which makes no sense if you didn’t see any of the gags. How useless!

3. Clue (SNES)

Communism is just a red herring.

Amount of time wasted: 3 seconds

Video

As with Clue, the board game,  players are supposed to guess the  identity of a murderer, what weapon s/he used, and the location where the act was committed. You are also allowed to guess at any time thus ending the game early, even within 3 seconds if you blind guess correctly and are fast enough on the buttons!

You say that’s not fast enough? Well there’s a 1 second run of the PC version too, which just goes to show you how competitive this niche hobby can be.

4. Donkey Kong Jr. (NES)

Believe it or not, according to Donkey Kong canon, this is the star of the DK Country series.

Amount of time wasted: ???

Video + Description

Donkey Kong Jr. is an odd game. Well, I guess it’s not any more odd than the premise for the original game, and is simply a “tables have turned” kind of idea, but still, Mario is the villain. I just can’t get over that!

What I can get over is the game itself. I’ve never been a Donkey Kong fan and this is no different. It takes the player a mere 1 minute and 28 seconds to beat and the player does it with obvious skill, but what makes this speed run special and especially time-wasting is the description underneath; it’s an epic, multi-chapter story of the game told in 1st person and is equal parts enthralling and unnecessary. It really makes me long for a novelization of the whole series and spin-offs, so that maybe we’ll finally figure out what Diddy Kong Racing or even Donkey Kong Jr. Math are all about!

5. North & South (NES)

They only fight because they can't express their love for each other.

Amount of time wasted: ???

Video + Description

North & South was a notoriously difficult-to-get-into strategy game built around the U.S. Civil War. As many books and documentaries have stated, it was a long, complex war with many stories and tragedies experienced throughout, and is thus not the best event to try and represent on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Still, Infogrames made an almost disturbingly light-hearted attempt at recreating the events of the Civil War, and despite it being rather difficult on an average play-through, the player here scores not only one early win in just around a minute, but actually beats it on all 3 difficulty settings using the same strategy.

What really makes this video great, however, is that the player also wrote a dramatic revision of the history books in the video’s description; the story of the Civil War as told by the victorious South!

6. Harvest Moon 64 (N64)

Come on, Fluffy! WE'VE GOT CORN TO PLANT!

Amount of time wasted: Anywhere from 35 minutes to the rest of your life.

Video + Description

Harvest Moon 64 was a charming semi-3D remake of the popular first chapter of the series, which was available on the SNES and Gameboy way back when. The series used to be about farming (I don’t know what it is nowadays, something about runes and outer space and rescuing weird looking cows), and basically making your farm the best it could be in the amount of time you’re given, which at this point was around a year or two.

Typically, your day would involve waking up, doing your chores, improving your farm in some small way, socializing, anything to make your life better, then going back to bed, rinse and repeat. Of course, you can end the day any time you like by simply going to bed, and this speed-run, well, just watch the video and see.

Basically, the only way to end the game is to let the time run out, and this video demonstrates, through no use of tool assistance, exactly the best way to go about doing that. Hope you enjoy the worst half hour of your life!***

Man I love that you still get an ending for this strategy. Beautiful!

 

*It’s actually not even the fastest speed-run Super Mario Bros. 3 anymore. The current fastest that I could find is 10 minutes, 26 seconds and can be seen here.  I only included the original 11 minute video because that’s the one that everyone was talking about many years ago.

**Panic! DOES feature some bad consequences for a wrong choice. There are certain buttons that detonate important world wonders, such as the Great Wall of China or a random igloo, and if you blow all of them up it’s Game Over.

***Note: I have to thank one of my heroes, who runs this here gaming blog that’s so much better than anything I can come up with, for first drawing my attention to the Harvest Moon 64 video on his twitter.

 

 

 

Feature: 9 One-Hit Wonders of the NES

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Here’s the thing: I listen to video game music A LOT, it is actually most of what I listen to. I used to prefer music made by musicians, but that really hasn’t been doing it for me lately. Anyway, since video game music has basically replaced contemporary music in my life, I’ve noticed that I’ve been thinking about certain songs in videos games as “hits” or “singles” or, as I’ve discussed with Will (your 8bitX host and mine), even the concept of “B-sides” in gaming.

Bearing this allegory in mind, today’s feature is going to be a handful of games that either only contain one song, or only contain one song worth knowing. I specifically picked the ol’ NES because it’s pretty much the only system that wasn’t new enough that EVERY game had to have a whole soundtrack, but that it also wasn’t old enough to where ALL the games only had one song. Thus, here are some of the “one hit wonders” of the Nintendo age!

#1 T&C Surf Design: Wood & Water Rage (1988)

Right out of the gate is one of my favorites, the one and only true “song” of T&C Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage, an LJN-published surf/skateboard game meant to capitalize on the “Town & Country” surfboard manufacturer (which, unlike LJN, is still very much in business) and their lovable surfing/skating mascots.

I’m not going to lie to you; I love this game. It’s stupid hard and is really just the same thing over and over, but this SONG really makes it. It’s about 1 minute long, but it contains a tasty riff, pounding bass-line (which drives a chord progression that makes the riff sound even cooler), and a completely badass solo that sounds like the very finest in plastic guitar. That’s probably why one of the first orders of business, when my band first brought in a second guitarist, was to cover this very song. It has been our opening song for every show since!

#2 Cheetahmen/Cheetahmen 2 (1991)

Of the 800 or so commercially-released NES games, I would say that about 200 of them were totally awesome, 200 were pretty good, 399 of them were good-if-you’re-into-that-sort-of-thing, and 52 of them were horrible and completely unplayable by any standard. All 52 of those games were contained on a single cartridge called Action 52 that was put out in the early 90′s by a company called “Active Enterprises”, which I imagine they mean “active” in the sense of yogurt culture.

Anyway, the cartridge, originally priced at a hilarious $200, was among the worst flops in gaming history. Still, like all evil entities, it left an indelible mark on the world of retro-gaming by the name of Cheetahmen, which was the only game in the entire 52 to which more time had been spent programming it than I just spent on this paragraph about it.

Why, the game was so close to finished, they even released a sequel on its own cartridge called Cheetahmen 2, and I think that, coupled with the other 51 titles on the multi-cart, brought the entire Active Enterprises catalog up to 12% of one finished game in total!

Despite all of the garbage surrounding it, this song is actually quite good! It’s got kind of a dance club feel to it; it’s catchy but not too goofy nor too serious, and yeah I can see this song working out. Sure it kinda breaks after about 2 minutes and only plays the bass-line for the rest of time, but hey we can’t be picky here.

Clearly the internet caught onto this gem (or at least gem-like plastic) in the middle of a big pile of garbage, as there is a rather healthy and largely Japan-based remix scene based around this game. Crazy stuff!

#3 Castle of Dragon (1990)

Ok, so this is cheating a little bit. This game actually has a full soundtrack and is based on an arcade game that has another full soundtrack, but man this ending theme (which is an expansion of the title theme) is so good.  It’s got everything you could hope for in an 8-bit rock theme, including solos, big ending, pronounced drums, and super-deep bass. It definitely makes the game for me, even if it’s a game people kinda hate.

The composer for this particular game, SHO (also known as Shotaro Sasaki), is actually something of a favorite of mine, though his material is quite obscure. I’ll probably do a piece on him someday!

#4 Bubble Bobble (1987)

Bubble Bobble is the fantastic story of a journey to the cave of monsters. It has 99 levels, and this little ditty is the background music for all of them. Given that it’s a game that takes anywhere from an hour to “all day” to finish, it’s a good thing this song is super catchy!

#5 Mach Rider (1985)

Mach Rider was one of the few games I owned for the NES for a long time, and thus I am quite fond of it and this particular theme. There ARE other songs in this game, but they’re sparse at best.

The song, like the rest of the game, may seem a bit dinky, but hey this was an NES launch title, for crying out loud. We’re lucky it even HAD music!

#6 Spy Hunter (1987)

The one song in Sunsoft’s port of the arguable arcade classic Spy Hunter is an 8-bit cover of the famous Peter Gunn theme, which is one of those famous Henry Mancini songs that you probably know and never remember the title of. The crazy thing about this song’s presence in the game is its non-presence; it only loops once and that’s it until Game Over. I’m not sure whether that was a bug or a mercy-killing on Sunsoft’s part, and really I don’t even care, I can only bear to listen to this about once anyway (Rock ‘N’ Roll Racing on the SNES had a much better version).

By the way, because they were awesome, Sunsoft made up for this game’s lack of a functional soundtrack by providing us with an improved remake with its own kickass soundtrack by Naoki Kodaka (one of the best NES composers ever; his credits include Blaster Master, Batman, Journey To Silius, and many others) and a couple of other guys who aren’t Naoki Kodaka.

#7 Destination Earthstar (1990)

Destination Earthstar  is a game that, despite its awesome title, is so obscure that there are only two videos of it that exist on Youtube (my favorite divining rod for a game’s popularity): one that has talking and one that has no talking. Please enjoy this talking-free video and listen to the lovely song contained within.

Of course, there is a second song in the game, during the horizontally scrolling shooter segment this game alternates with the 1st person shooting you see before you. Both songs are great, but this song is really the “theme” to the game, I think.

Also, I can’t find any links to that second bit of the game’s soundtrack.

I actually owned this game back in 1990, when it came out, and quite liked it despite figuring out after many levels that it doesn’t appear to have an ending. I also found out that its development company, Imagineering, is still around, at least as far as 2009, when it was making shovelware for the Wii. None of those games have this level of quality songs in them  though, so good job Mark Van Hecke.

#8 Dropzone (1992)

You’d think, by 1992, Nintendo developers would have gotten past releasing games with only 1 song in their soundtrack, but Dropzone was special because it was apparently entirely made by one dude, a computer badass with an equally badass name: Archer Maclean.

Little can be said about this game; it’s basically Defender but with a slight difference. The one song in the game’s soundtrack is pretty great though, so I am including it! There is actually a second song in this soundtrack, but it’s just this song sped up somewhat. It can be heard at the end of the video!

#9 The Legend of Zelda (1987)

Oh come on, you know it’s true!

To be honest, there are at least 5 songs in this entire game, but this is the only one that every single gamer knows, because it’s been practically the one consistency across the board when it comes to Zelda games. It is a kicker, too. It’s very hard to really sit back and take this song in as an actual song without thinking of other elements of the game; it’s THAT inextricable, and I think that’s because of how few other songs there are in the game. I think it was probably less laziness or inability to put in more songs and more careful planning on Nintendo’s part.  I guess we’ll never truly know, but as far as one-hit-wonders in games go, Zelda’s pretty much got the biggest of them.

An interesting side note: remember that awesome opening theme which is basically a cool, slowed-down, Bolero-style march remix of the overworld theme? Turns out Koji Kondo actually wanted to use the REAL “Bolero” as the title screen music, as it was apparently the same speed as the screen scrolling, but was held back by that particular piece still being copyright protected, and thus Koji had to throw together, using nothing but his genius, that legendary intro theme in only one day.  That probably explains why the original title screen song in the Japanese Famicom Disk System version of the game is not nearly as cool, as the NES version we all know would have been re-worked  and not so rushed.

The more you know!