Category Archives: Retrospective

A looser definition of sports games

A friend just brought Cyber Stadium Series: Base Wars to my attention. I don’t know how I missed this game growing up but it is worth mentioning in the wake of my recent post on baseball video games.

Evidently, Base Wars was released on the NES towards the end of the system’s 8-bit lifespan in ‘91.  It seems like my favorite approach to sports games: take a sport and make it more awesome by removing any semblance to reality and adding sci-fi elements. This is precisely why I can’t recommend Mutant League Football or Mutant League Hockey enough.

Base Wars takes fragile humans out of America’s pastime and replaces them with robots that come in a variety of robot flavors: tank robots, motorcycle robots, UFO-floaty robots and boring bipedal robots. In addition to regular baseball related activities, close outs result in a robot fight. When this happens, the game switches from the overhead view of the field to a side-view 2D fighter perspective. If you were, for example, trying to slide into second and you best your opponent in brutal robot combat you were safe.  Likewise, if the second baseman shoots you in the face with his robot gun arm you are out. The way baseball should be.

In a similar vein, Capcom released Mega Man Soccer in ’94 for the SNES. Players put together a team of various Robot Masters from the Mega Man franchise and, as you might expect from the name, play soccer.  Even though characters can use special kicks that resemble their boss powers from Mega Man, regular, non-robot soccer is probably more interesting. As an American, that’s saying something.

What’s really odd is that Capcom never released the game in Europe. Why they chose to release it in the US but not in Europe is beyond me. I hear people in Europe go nuts over that soccer thing.

Personally, I prefer Midway’s goofy take on the great sport of hand-egg.

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July 9, 2012 · 6:25 pm

Retrospective: SimCity 2000

Herman Cain is launching a new web-only TV channel aptly called Cain TV. The trailer (is that the right word? Do TV channels have trailers?) can be viewed here.

You are either going to think it’s laughable or exactly what America needs. I can’t imagine Cain TV occupying a space anywhere between those two polarities.

My infatuation with Herman Cain stems from the fact his “999” tax plan was ripped straight from SimCity 4. Cain’s “999” proposal involved a 9 percent corporate income tax, a 9 percent individual tax, and a 9 percent national sales tax. Thanks to the resulting media frenzy that occurred in November, you probably already know that this is the default tax structure for any new city in SimCity 4.

I have no intentions of running for president and I don’t think video games should be used as models for policy making but I will say this: I learned a lot about civics and government thanks to the SimCity franchise.

My family’s first computer, a Packard Bell, came with SimCity 2000. I spent countless hours watching (staring dumbfounded) as my cities (cesspools) grew into economic powerhouses (devolved into crime-ridden shitropolises).

Not pictured: terrible demon noise produced by the disc tray.

More importantly, I developed a sense about how cities generate income, the costs associated with building and maintaining infrastructure, and, more generally, do stuff. Although I have previously written about horribleness of edutainment video games, kids can learn from some games—especially simulations where playing and developing systemic thinking are so entwined.

I also got to play with the relationship between industry and its impact on the environment. I always made a point to research satellite microwave power plant. These fictional plants were fitted with a giant satellite that collected cosmic energy that was beamed down from space. This type of plant was extremely clean but there was always the chance the beam could misfire and destroy parts of your city. So even though space lasers were randomly melting schools, the lakes of Buttville were fucking pristine.

Thanks in part to Sim City and also Age of Empires, I developed an interest in the rise and fall of ancient empires and their cities. This means I made some pretty badass dioramas of Ancient Rome for Social Studies.

“What’s a diorama?”

Best of all, Maxis is developing a new SimCity for early 2013 and it looks fantastic. Unfortunately, it looks like it will have always-on DRM, which is a bad, bad thing.

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America’s 16-bit Pastime

I went to the White Sox game yesterday. Full disclosure: I don’t follow baseball all that much. As a Chicagoan who currently lives near Wrigley Field but grew up in the near south suburbs, people sometimes find my lack of allegiance to either the Cubs or Sox problematic.

I am, however, a big fan of excessive day drinking. Since the Sox provided me with a socially acceptable context to pound shitty beer in a parking lot, yesterday I was definitely a Sox fan.

Baseball video games were never my favorite growing up but I played them a lot, almost always with my more athletically minded friends, who, y’know, played real baseball.

I stopped the year after T-ball where the T was replaced with an adult who generously lobbed pitches to the kids. The pitches were thrown to be hit so if you struck out you just sucked. It was called “Coach Pitch” even though the coaches weren’t always pitching but “Adult Pitch” is vague and terrifying.

Generally, I just sucked. I developed a general dislike for playing actual baseball when I discovered the game consists of lots of standing around with intermittent bursts of embarrassing physical ineptness.I still played pick-up games. If I was going to suck, I would do it in the comfort of my own neighborhood where my low athletic expectations preceded me.

I remember bouncing around between a handful of Genesis games including RBI Baseball ‘94, Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball, and Tommy Lasorda Baseball. The latter was by far the worst. Tommy Lasorda’s Baseball was released in ’89 and felt outdated by the mid 90s but we’d still play it despite having better options. I don’t know why. Kids are dumb.

As a kid, I thought this was Bill Clinton.

RBI Baseball  ’94 was the last entry in a series that started on the NES, and, not surprisingly, was the best baseball entry on the Genesis/Megadrive. And the music was fantastic. As I write this, I have the music from the game blasting through my speakers to put me in the right mental space.

My favorite part of Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball was that the SNES version had a cheat that let you play as a team of Cal Ripken Juniors. Alas, the Genesis version, to my knowledge, didn’t have the capability for that nonsense.

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Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

I know a lot of obscure facets of American pop culture. Unlike some, this is not a point of pride for me and I generally keep that shit locked down.

Unless I’m drunk. In which case, I’m the guy at the bar whose talking too loudly about how Maximum Overdrive is the best movie ever because a soda machine kills a little league coach and knocks out some of the kids on the team.

I firmly believe my effortless access to this kind of stuff comes at the expense of other more marketable skills, like math or not parking like an asshole.

That being said, I had no idea there was a Moonwalker arcade game and have never been more disappointed in myself. Partially because it’s profoundly weird but mainly because it’s a surprisingly solid game that is different than the crappy Genesis and GameGear versions.

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is a product of 90’s; for one, it’s celebrity centered not unlike Michael Jordon: Chaos in the Windy City or the infamous Shaq-Fu. Secondly, the plot of the game consists of Michael Jackson saving children from kidnappers. No need to explain why this is unfortunate.

Honestly, the game’s premise is like listening to your grandfather refer to gay people as “poofs.” Uncomfortable but ultimately a product of a different time so you just shut up and deal with cognitive dissonance.

Moonwalker is an isometric shooter, where 1-3 players control Jackson and up to 2 differently dressed Jacksons as they defeat gangsters circa-1930 Chicago and creepily phallic robots. Jackson defeats enemies by shooting lightning from his hands because why the fuck not.

There’s nothing Freudian about this. That robot has dick. Image: HardcoreGaming101.net 

Players can also charge their attacks up to release a powerful long distance blast. As an added bonus, Jackson moonwalks as the attack charges. Players also have a limited stock of a dance attack that causes all the enemies to dance along with Jackson before they exploding. Players receive more dance attacks when they rescue children

When players collect Jackson’s beloved monkey Bubbles, they turn into a robot that fires lasers from his crotch. The crotch seems a weird place to shoot lasers from but I’ve never built a robot—Robo-Jackson or otherwise—so I’m not really qualified to comment.

Additionally, there’s also only 3 sprites for the captured children. Repeating sprites are understandable because of hardware limitations, but I would like to believe Jackson is constantly rescuing the same 3 kids. I mean, players don’t do anything beyond freeing the kids from their electro-shackles. This leaves the children to fend for themselves even though there are killing machines and dudes with guns everywhere. 

As you would expect, the soundtrack consists of 16-bit versions of Michael Jackson songs. Oddly enough, the graveyard level filled with zombies didn’t use “Thriller” and instead went with “Another Part of Me.”

A missed opportunity if there ever was one.

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Mario is Missing!

The NES boasted two Mario-themed edutainment games: Mario is Missing! and Mario’s Time Machine. In 1st grade I bought the former at a garage sale thinking I had stumbled upon some unknown but awesome Mario game where you play as Luigi. I was expecting some fun platforming goodness wherein I commit turtle genocide but instead Missing! is about controlling Luigi as he travels the world as a concerned global citizen trying to locate Mario.

There is literally nothing stopping Mario from yelling to his idiot brother.

Along the way, the expectation is that the player will learn about geography and various cultures of the world. Instead, the game taught me the following:

  1. The woman running the garage sale is a terrible person who savors the disappointment of children like a fine wine.
  2. Fun and education are mutually exclusive.
  3. Seriously, fuck that lady.

By definition, I suppose, it still counts as a game. Somewhere in the world, Missing! was some kid’s first Mario game and he was very confused when he found out Super Mario Bros. is about saving a princess instead of talking to Italian people about their daily lives.

In case you were wondering, Mario’s Time Machine is the same damn thing except you, y’know, go back in time. Because Bowser is stealing historical monuments. Whatever.

Mario is apeshit over that time machine.

Both Mario is Missing! and Mario’s Time Machine had ports to the SNES and the PC. For whatever reason, the characters for the PC version of Missing! were hand drawn and look beyond creepy. Check out the intro below. Take notice how Mario’s neck turns almost 180 degrees to speak to Luigi.

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