Everyone can guess how my childhood was spent, since I talk about old games constantly. So, instead of relating a nostalgic anecdote for you, I'm going to use this intro space to tell you about the last week or so.
When I'm not personally advancing the cause of random old games on next-generation consoles, I'm a full-time grad student at the University of North Texas, working on a master's degree in library science. From last Thursday until yesterday, I was in the midst of my capstone-- a seven-day marathon paper-writing session meant to be the final test of my suitability as a librarian. My wife and I were also preparing to move from Texas to Washington, which happened this Saturday. Add my regular coursework and job responsibilities to that, and, as you can imagine, I've been a complete wreck. My Fanboy colleagues are probably rolling their eyes right now as I complain again about my workload, but I feel like it was a pretty significant experience, one I hope never to repeat.
I am now safely ensconced in a Washingtonian apartment, and I turned in my last essay in the early hours of Thursday morning. Getting a chance to write about a bunch of old games is like a vacation. I've been looking forward to this all week.
Since this is a VO special week, I'm taking the opportunity to talk about more mainstream games than I usually cover. So there's a better chance that you guys have played this stuff, and we can all share in some retro-euphoria.
River City Ransom - NES
It's odd that one small company would develop two series in the same genre that cover the same kind of material, and have the two series come out so different. Double Dragon was a fairly realistic brawler about two shirtless twin brothers who beat up a bunch of thugs with random weapons found on the ground. River City Ransom was a super-deformed brawler about two identical-looking dudes who beat up a bunch of high-school thugs with random weapons found on the ground. It's like Technos made Double Dragon, then made the cutesy version and completely got it right, and then for some reason went back to Double Dragon games. Double Dragon never had customizable movesets. Double Dragon never had shopping malls, or randomly-placed gangs with different levels of badassness. Double Dragon didn't have dialogue. Awesome as it was (on the NES and arcade, anyway), Double Dragon was inferior in every way to RCR.
For some reason, much as it didn't influence the development of Double Dragon games, River City Ransom did little to influence other brawlers. Even more technologically advanced games in the same genre failed to live up to the promise of this unassuming NES game. River City Ransom outclasses Final Fight in every possible way except for trannies and car lamentations. That's not to say that those aren't important contributions, but they just don't make up for the step back the whole genre took when it ignored River City Ransom.
Dracula X: Rondo of Blood – PC Engine Super CD-ROM
My love of Castlevania is well-documented, as is my long infatuation with the wonderful Turbografx-16. Therefore, the fact that I have played five minutes at most of this game hurts me. It makes me feel like a fraud. But more than I want to repair my retro-guy cred, I just really want to play this game. It's the last game in the linear Castlevania series, before they went all free-roaming.
The PSP is getting this, but I don't have a PSP and can't afford to buy one. I'd gladly buy a Turbo Duo for it as well, but the same restriction applies. I want it for a system I have, Konami! I'd prefer it for cheap on the Virtual Console, because I'm not interested in the 3D remake on the PSP disc, and because I am broke. But barring that, this is the only PSP-to-Wii port I would actively encourage. Come on, Konami, Sega's doing it with Alien Syndrome. Ubisoft already did it with Prince of Persia. I am inviting you-- imploring you-- to cash in!
Maniac Mansion - NES
Maniac Mansion is a rarity in more ways than one. It's an adventure game on the NES, first off-- and a better port than King's Quest V, which, yes, I have tried to play many times, because those are the kinds of things I do to myself. Second, it's an adventure game with a startling amount of replay value beyond the normal 'wait five years and then pick it up when you've forgotten all the puzzles' tactic.
People are always going on about LucasArts adventure games and how they want them on Nintendo systems. Here's a chance for a great one, with all the weird humor and SCUMM-parsing fun intact, for $5. It's the path of absolute least resistance for getting a LucasArts adventure game on the Wii.
Having said that, I'll complicate things by stipulating that we get the version with hamster-explody, or no deal. It's totally not true-- I'll buy it anyway, despite having the unedited cartridge-- but I feel better putting my foot down like that. Like a real man, kind of.
Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves – Neo Geo
Might as well get straight to the good stuff when Neo Geo games start coming out, right? There's a definite paucity of 2D fighters on the Wii right now, and a really good one that you can't get in arcade-perfect form in the US would go a long way toward remedying the situation.
I have this sinking feeling that we're going to get nothing but Metal Slug games that have already been released on the Wii. Or that the US won't get any Neo Geo games at all. Prove me wrong, Nintendo. Prove me spectacularly wrong.
Michael Jackson's Moonwalker – Genesis
I do not care about the baby-dangling, masked, Jesus-Juice-proffering maniac Michael Jackson has become. That's in the real world, and isn't really my purview. Sega World is a better place, a place where Michael Jackson can make zombies, attack dogs, and the dudes from NARC spontaneously perform choreographed dance routines with the persuasive power of his spinning. And where-- HAHA! Joe Pesci will never be caught.
The real Michael Jackson has nothing to do with the Michael Jackson who, after jumping in front of a shooting star, turns into a missile-firing, flying robot. Sega World Michael Jackson is responsible for the rescue of hundreds of identical little girls from car trunks, pool hall closets, and even graves.
Michael Jackson's Moonwalker is probably my favorite Genesis game. I tried it because it looked hilariously awful. Then I had to buy it. Before Sega went off their game, they could do anything. They could make a platformer about a wimpy, kind of creepy pop star and not only make him look cool, but make the game worth buying even for people who hate him. They could even insert that same pop star into their retro-future dancing game, to the benefit of both him and the game.
I wonder if Sega could pull a Mr. Dream and take all the Michael Jacksonness out of Moonwalker to avoid legal issues. Would you play Alex Kidd's Moonwalker? I'd also love to see the arcade game, but ... well, arcade games on the Virtual Console is a screaming rant for another day.
Pipe Dream: The Hastings Video Store in Longview, Texas inexplicably carried all of Panesian's "adult" NES games for rental. I looked at the boxes for Peek-a-Boo Poker, Hot Slots, and Bubble Bath Babes many times with amusement I wish I could say that when they started clearing out their stock of NES cartridges, I purchased all three, thus laying the groundwork for a world-class NES collection. Sadly, that did not happen. I did, however, write about wishing I could do that just now, which is pretty much just as good, right?
Of the three, Hot Slots is my favorite, because in addition to disgusting, poorly-drawn pixel-ladies and the endless fun of fake slot machines, it encourages players to rise above their limitations. "WOW! WHAT A MANLY PLAYER!" the game tells me. "ARE YOU GOING TO RACK UP MY CHARRIES?" Such confidence! I must now invent "CHARRIES" and figure out how to rack them up. I can do it. I can do this with the power of manliness.
A quick note: I was going to make the obvious joke and say that my "Pipe Dream" game was Pipe Dream, but-- fun fact-- I really hate Pipe Dream.