Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"8 Eyes", NES, 1988. (Part II)

Compare and contrast. Of the two ads, this one clearly has had more work put into it; yet as with Hydlide previously (well, this one actually came first in the chronology, but later in my analysis 8), this one also was by far the less-widely-seen of the two ads. Fancier ad = more expensive to reproduce = less widely circulated?

Features Unique Cooperative 2-Player Simultaneous Mode! Contains Password Level Select!

Control man and bird in a fight for the eight jewels of power!

After eons of chaos, mankind has finally emerged from the ruin brought on by nuclear war. The world has flourished once again under the guidance of the Great King, who has harnessed the power of the 8 Eyes to rebuild the planet.

The 8 Eyes -- strange and powerful Jewels -- were formed in the stellar centers of eight thermonuclear blasts. To possess them is to possess all earthly power.

Now, a loose confederation of dukes has through treachery banished the Great King and seized the 8 Eyes in a bid for power. And already their petty infighting has the world trembling on the jagged edge of atomic war.

The task of retrieving the Jewels falls to you, Orin the Falconer -- the bravest and mightiest of the King's Guardsmen. With your fighting falcon, Cutrus, you must penetrate the donjon keeps of each of the faithless dukes. There you will face the ducal mercenaries -- and battle living skeletons, giant wasps, mud men, and other mutated horrors. You must defeat the monstrous Boss of each fortress to retrieve the Jewel he guards. If you are able to return the 8 Eyes to the Altar of Peace, the Earth will pass into another millennium of peace and plenty. If not...

So many similarities, so many differences -- the background remains a mustard mist with minaret-esque towers, the hero still well-defined in his struggle against a skeleton, and some avian raptor in the fray also... though here it looks like the hero is contemplating whacking his pet like a peeved NetHack player. The battleground is also better defined, no longer just a slope but a mound of sorts, straddling the slain corpse of a kind of goblin jester / shaman, apparently for a treasure of other Taxan NES cartridges.

The text tells us a great deal more (and omits the buzzword phrase DUAL ATTACK MODE), revealing a plot that is considerably more intriguing -- no longer a played-out generic fantasy kingdom, but a contemporary and current low-tech-future projection. The gems of power formed in nuke craters? Classic! The dukes, it turns out, represent lords of different terrestrial fiefdoms (all apparently presented as Castlevania levels): Germany, Italy, Spain, Egypt, Africa, Arabia, India, and most fearsome of all, The House Of Ruth (which, based on a little research, doesn't seem like such a bad place after all.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"8 Eyes", NES, 1988.

Some ads make better use of their comic-book context than others. I know nothing about this game, but its ad artwork is awesome, using flat colours (a technique that would eventually be emulated in a very hardware-intensive fashion as "cel shading") to evoke 5 parallax fields of depth with virtually no details beyond the central hero, his dashing costume (though you tell me -- is he wearing pants or not?), and his immediate boney opponent's ribcage. If I was to play this game on period hardware I'd hope that the display would look virtually nothing like this ad, but I dig how they're going for an expressionistic shot at giving the reader a feeling of what playing the game is like -- teaming up against overwhelming odds. The other enemies are just vague blobs of menace -- the reader gets to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. Well played!


Featuring the new

As Orin the Falconer, you must save the world from the evil of the 8 Eyes. Thse Jewels of Power are held by the King's dukes, who plan to rule the world for their own profit. Control Orin and your falcon Cutrus alone, or in the unique simultaneous mode, where you are Orin, and your friend is Cutrus. Contains Password feature.

Taxan (and more specifically, their sexy and exciting Consumer Division -- we won't get into their research wing and the military contracting here) isn't exactly a household name (though it must bear some relation to Naxat, because... we need a sister corporation and we have no imagination) but they're out there selling their game like a boss. We just don't care how ridiculous our game's logo is, or the metaphorical leap you need to make in order to associate the gems with "eyes"; our game has a couple of standard features you should know about and also it has a plot which will no doubt captivate you. (Well, needing to save the world from those who plan to rule for their own profit is as timely now as it ever was.) Who is this King, and is he friend or foe? What is his relation to the sinister Dukes? Is he a benevolent monarch whose hands have become constitutionally tied by his vassal aristocrats in some Magna Carta-type affair? Taxan, if you didn't want me asking these questions, you shouldn't have mentioned the King in this ad.

Single-player control over two characters is a curious innovation (I guess this is "the new DUAL ATTACK MODE!"); password feature however isn't anything to crow about, except of course that what they're saying is "we were too cheap to add a battery for game saving but the game is big enough to benefit from sustained play over a long period", which isn't bad, even if it manifests as using a joystick to enter AJRUENW5LXURNS89I1 correctly. (C'mon, at least jumping through those hoops with the Game Genie gets you some sort of enhanced play experience, not just a resuming of what you got when you powered up!)

Taxan, would you like to say the names Orin and Cutrus a few more times? And my parting shot: wanna bet that Cutrus is some spoony retranslation of "Curtis"?

Monday, August 19, 2013

"Caveman Games", NES, 1990.

Ah, 1990, when cavemen were not yet a played-out cliche (would that be 1991's Encino Man?), being used to inject new life into track-and-field sporting simulation compilations (which Epyx had pretty much sucked the last breath out of). The big head-scratcher -- years later, I learned that this game was developed by Dynamix, in a huge side-step from their incremental company path of innovating with cinematic 3D presentations, from Arctic Fox to Stellar 7 to David Wolf to Deathtrack to Red Baron to Starsiege: Tribes virtually uninterrupted for a decade and a half. (The Incredible Machine and the DGDS adventure games -- Rise of the Dragon, Willy Beamish, etc. -- were also tangents, but ones that were pursued with rigor. This blip seems almost accidental.) The skein is somewhat tangled, but I gather they developed the game for publisher EA, who then licensed the NES port to Data East. This ad is sourced from NESWORLD's collection of ad scans.


Dino-Vaulting "Me do Dino Vault to bully Gronk no call me cave-girl no more. Also hope Crudla watch me - she one cave-babe!" - Vincent

Sabertooth Tiger Race "Race not easy. Hungry sabertooth chase me. But me use competitor as shield. Better him cat food than me kitty litter." - Glunk

Clubbing "Me love bashing - have best club. Cavemen head only thing harder than club. But hard to aim with head. So use club." - Gronk

Mate Toss "Me know best way to handle mate - by feet. Grab mate by feet and spin, spin, spin - then let go. Make world record." - Crudla

Dino Race "Me best dino jockey. Before race, tell dino he no win, me make dino steaks for dinner - and he guest of honor. He run good." - Ugha

Firestarting "Firestarting easy. Rub sticks make spark. Me make big fire - stay warm. Too warm - fire burn clothes. Then me learn firestopping." - Thag

Welcome to sports training -- 2 million B.C.! Forget jogging and weightlifting - Caveman Games is for serious athletics. Six radical Neanderthals compete in hilarious and dangerous events. Winners join the Caves of Fame; losers join the fossils! Struggling to survive has never been so much fun! Get bashed, beaten, chased and eaten in the greatest pre-hysterical challenge ever. It's cool cave action for one to six players!

The game's humour, hard to inject into a sports game, is appreciated (well, mostly -- the retrograde "mate toss" event is only funny if you're eleven years old, as I was when this game was released) and reflected in the ad copy, both in the athlete's strategy blurbs and the bottom text, which admittedly tries a bit too hard. "bashed, beaten, chased and eaten" works; "Cave of Fame" and "pre-hysterical" does not. (Then there are obligatory shout-outs to 1990 like "cool cave" and "radical Neanderthals" -- hello, did I mention Encino Man?)

I do like the way the ad is splayed out against a stony glacier-carved cave backdrop -- or at least someone's weathered cement driveway. They really miss out on downplaying the game's 6-player-ness, making it that rarest of titles -- something suitable for the whole family.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Ironsword", NES, 1989.

There was no way around it, really. Sooner or later, we had to run up against Fabio.
Become the ultimate warrior
in the ultimate war.


The evil Wizard Malkil is back. And his fury rages out of control in the form of four sinister elementals: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. As Kuros, the knight warrior, you track them in their dark domains -- pursued by armies of vile creatures. To emerge victorious, assemble the shattered IronSword. And face what no warrior has ever faced before!

Excuse me? The Ultimate Warrior? Pardon me, but this gentleman would like to have a word with you.
Ah, but that's a story for another time.

The heartthrob does appear to be wearing a championship title belt of some kind, but his overall presentation is confusing given the head-to-toe armouring of the game's protagonist Kuros. No worries! It presents a kind of epic sword-and-sorcery RPG feeling even if the game only delivers zany fantasy platforming.

The ad copy is serviceable: it presents the overall plot (evil foozle, elemental enemies, build super-weapon) without expressing much about how the game is actually played. Fortunately, since it is made by Rare, you don't have to worry about how fun it's going to be -- Taboo aside, they tend to be pretty good on that point, a slippery distinction that empowered them to go from A-list Nintendo developers to A-list Xbox developers without being struck down by their own hubris. Here Rare is being published by Acclaim, and today we still have Rare (now helmed, bizarrely, by Simon "the Sorcerer" Woodroffe of AdventureSoft if memory serves correct) -- but where is Acclaim? Perhaps victims of attrition in the ultimate war.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Q-bert", Atari 2600, 1983.

If I'm not going to write on a regular business, I can at least troll for readers by covering popular and "canonical", if you will, games that will draw traffic to the blog. Games you might remember playing, or at least are darned sure you've heard the names of before. This brings us back to Q*bert, arguably the best game (sorry, WinAdv) ever set against an MC Escher backdrop.


No one ever said it was going to be easy hopping the irresistible Q*bert(tm) from cube to cube and staying out of harm's way. Especially when he's trying to avoid creeps like Coily and Ugg.

But, there are times Q*bert can't escape. And just like in the popular arcade game, he doesn't take it quietly. Q*bert mutters a few choice words, puts his nose to the grindstone and comes back for more.

You'll grow so attached to Q*bert, you won't want to stop playing. He's one little character who's good to the last hop.

Now you can have the new Q*bert video game cartridge in your home, too.

For your Atari 2600 Video Computer System(tm) and the Sears Video Arcade(tm). Coming soon for Intellivision(r).

1983 was a bad year for video gaming, but some memorable characters still emerged from the crash. The slogan offered here presents a nod to a perhaps ideal arcade gaming situation, where skill could get a player far and deliver much enjoyment. Not Easy + Fun represents an enviable spot on the plane of video gaming satisfaction: Not Fun fails the player regardless of the difficulty, and Easy + Fun grows boring quickly.

The ad copy looks like a marketing man watched someone play the game, and then tried to present the salient elements of it: Q*bert hops; the environment in which he hops is filled with cubes; this environment is populated with opponents; here are their names; when they defeat Q*bert, an expletive is simulated.

Despite the somewhat uninspired text of the ad, there's a splendid * white face / red nose quality to the game, with the player trying to set a system in order and numerous chaotic opponents busy undoing all their hard work -- or actively antagonizing the player's agent of change. Despite all this, the basic rules of the game as sufficiently straightforward that the whole thing can be played, albeit very slowly, as a board game. No, I'm serious: I own the Q*bert board game and that's what it is.

Thank goodness Parker Brothers got out of the video game business when it did, or we might have seen a painful '90s re-interpretation of Q*bert, drinking deep from the same edgy well as Duke Nukem, wearing shades (depriving Slick of the very thing that gave him his name?) and sharing genuine digitized invective when things went sideways.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"Dynowarz", NES, 1990.

Howdy ho there! I wrestled a bit after the last post with perhaps scanning and sharing the front cover to the tragical Star Control novelization Interbellum, apparently written by someone who had never played the games, evidence of the most recent attempt to capitalize on that franchise up to the present, but then I thought -- why wallow in the negative when I could post something totally awesome?
Dynowarz: Destruction of Spondylus

Power the Mighty Robot Dinosaur, Cyborasaurus
on a Mission to Save the Spondylus System!

(I know, were they planning the design document for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon all the way back in 1990?)

Can you believe someone got paid to draw that? I would have done it for free. (In fact, in Grade 2, inspired by a Deathlok comic, I did draw a cyborg dinosaur... more riveted plate metal, less shiny chrome.)

Sadly, the ad artwork (also the box art) is the end of the awesomeness here: apparently the game is more of a weiner than the winner suggested by the artwork. There's some Blaster Master business of switching from a small avatar to a large mecha on the same scale level -- apparently the mecha is shaped like a giant robot dinosaur, as are the opponents, so I was always a bit confused regarding the exchange depicted in the art, which appears to show the player smacking down his own ride.

Yes, the names are abysmal: Spondylus? ("A genus of bivalve molluscs") Cyborasaurus? The other names that didn't make it into the ad just add to our miseries: The enemies are Robosaurs and the big boss is Dr. Brainius. Maybe it sounded better in Japanese.