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Sunday, 23 December 2012

Battletoads - 1991 NES game

I consider my generation to be a happy one in a number of aspects. Back in the day, we used to have good music, original songs made by creative and at the same time aspiring artists, among them the likes of New Order, Michael Jackson, Joe Division, Madness. among others. Movies were also entertaining back then, at least in a way that I haven't experienced since then. It's not to say that today's world hasn't seen the rise of men of great talent since then, but there is something ingrained in our artistic reality that is not supposed to be recovered through the resources currently available, at least by deeming the way they are employed. This is coming from someone who is overall clued up about all of our current trends, including our ever booming video game industry, which has also witnessed gems of all kinds: classic games that have gone on to spawn sequels, legends and myths galore. By now we await with much anticipation the release of the Playstation 4 and Wii's successor -yu. Even before said releases, we consider ourselves already blessed enough to have an incredible assortment of game consoles and games to sort through and play. Even without realising it, we already have countless hours of sheer fun and endless chartering waiting for us, waiting for us to use our imaginations to its limit by exploring new and unknown worlds, all the more now with Sony's Playstation 4 and Nintendo's yu upon us.

And the NES.

Check out my legs.
The 8-bit NES -Nintendo entertainment system- is a console most have fond memories of. The heyday of this marvellous console was a feast for anyone who had a pallate for fun and innovative games. It's by no way easy to use language to describe this, but the NES was a console which managed to mash together, in a coherent whole, both the thrill of phantasy and the colourfull infinity of creativity. I was a child back then, some years short of becoming a teenage in his early years. I had to go through daily school attendance, homework and the painstakingly compelling commitment to do well in class and carve a neat report card to my elders. The reward for a hard fought week was some hours in direct interaction with the 8-bit reality stemmed from this common 8-bit console. And a merry lot I was too. For some wonderful years I lived a happiness that unfortunately isn't easy to emulate nowadays. But the memories remain strong, in the ice-crackling quiet of these early summer days; philosophical morsels lying in wait to surge forth in a motivational whirlwind , overcoming the blurred sight of bleak difficulties and urging me to go on with my choice career as an IT professional and writer. I am sure I will soon be able to write a fully functional game by my own devices, and still retain a mind for the artistic side of life. So I intend. I also intend to write, in teh near future, reviews for the most remarkable NES games that I have been fortunate to come across: Megaman, Super Mario, Castlevania.
A Battletoad takes a jaw-smashing blow without even bothering to parry it.

This is how it felt.

And Battletoads.

I've just played this game today on a whim. I had intended to write another piece today about something else, but felt strangely compelled to play this game all the way through. For those not in the know, Battletoads was a game produced by Tradewest and Rare (the same one responsible for the likes of Donkey Kong Country, Diddy Kong Racing and Killer Instinct, I suppose) in 1991.
A boss enemy pumps a Battletoad full of lead before crushing his chest with the heel of his foot in a decisive movement
Back then, this game was regarded as widely advanced for its day and age. Its graphics amd music were astonishing, the game and way that the sprites behaved onscreen were delightfully detailed and the player's attention was fully enthralled by this beauty once he gets the ball rolling. This game has only one marring drawback: it's insanely difficult.
The dreaded Turbo Tunnel stage. A rat monkey on a craft flies over.
I wish the last sentence to not be made light of. The difficulty level is the game's aspect that stands out the most in the mind of those who had the opportunity to play or witness this game. It's so damned tough that the casual player would die and lose all of his lives early on in the game, oblivious to the fact that he hasn't completed not even 25% of the game, which is fraught with more hard-level hardcore madness. I myself remember being stuck in the third level -the turbo tunnel- and wondering what would be beyond those darn stone hurdles. The brunt of the impact involving a Battletoad crashing smack into one of those rock solid barriers can be even felt by the passive viewers who chance to be only watching, standing next to the suffering player. The impulse actually travels a short distance, down the arithmetical operatrions performed by the console's processor according to input commands, then through copper wires to reach the player's joypad so he has to start over, as if the shocking image wasn't enough to make the player experience the unsightly mess of a collision into uncomfortable looking ragged walls. Although it's only for a brief moment, it lingers bitterly...

The fifth stage: Surfing wash-out.
Okay, onwards to the game. The game is outright hard, although its graphical aspects are quite appealing. The music and sound effects are also awesome, serious tones highlighting the in-game violence and the possibility of instant death always looming near. And this is where we get to another minor slip-up: the toads are incredibly easy to kill. A plethora of enemies can instantly kill them, and a few others can combo them to death. There's just no way out once you get embroiled by the enemies' bloodthirsty beating. Also on the list of deadly traps are spikes, endless chasms, driving your speedbike into barriers, poison gas, toothed gears etc. You should play this game with much care. Heck, even if great care is used, the player will also die, perhaps meet some gruesome end along the way. I had to play through the whole thing with game genie codes on and even this way it was hard. Time-consuming, to say the least. But above all, still hard enough to warrant attention and memorisation of where danger lurks at key locations of the stages.
The mighty boot super special finish.
Now you have it. PLaying it on an emulator, game genie codes enabled, being able to save and load at will and the hardships still remain, even though they have abated some. I felt quite wacked at the end of this meat-grinding marathon, but at least I found out the whole thing is beatable.  The ending sequence? Not much to peek at. But I still had teh presence of mind to find that cool, nonetheless. Maybe it was me, always slanted towards the simple and unpretencious.

The plot? There isn't much to it, but here it goes: one day, Zits (one of the Toads, he's not a playable character) and a local Princess go "out cruisin", when they are suddenly swallowed by the gaping mawl of a passing space craft- the Gargantua. Giving orders, from an unseen location, is the Drak Queen. She wishes to vanquish those Battle jerks and thus conquer the universe. Professor T. Bird sends the remaining of the wart-skinned protaganists to fight their way through hordes of evil doers and bring them back safely and send the Drk Queen plunging down for a unforgettable fall. Well, they do this if the player has game genie codes enabled and has the nerve to endure 12 levels filled with unbelievable ordeals and challenges. Not an easy task, but those who purport themselves to be experienced gamers might be in want of a fitting challenge...
It's not after the Dark Queen is vanquished that we snatch a glimpse of the other Toad and the princess, 8-bit Nintendo style ending.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Kaiji- series overview and first episode

Kaiji is described as the suffering pariah in the title; actually he's not the only one to suffer, nor is he the only survivor out of his trials, but he's at the same time a pariah and a survivor, and this makes him alluring as a character.

  I'm about to engage in the  most pointless exercise known to man or beast: I'm going to try to convey, through normal language, how phantastical the Kaiji series is. There's no way someone will ever be able to say what the universe created by Nobuiki Fukumoto means to those who have experienced some of his
artistic output. I have watched this many years ago and since then have been feeling guilty about for not having written anything about it. It's true  I've watched it countless times, but this is the first time I'm potentially letting someone know about it. This is an overdue review for Kaiji, but at long last it's here.
Kaiji is being swallowed by a sea of gambling, where madness, fright and tactics intertwine imperceptibly.

While others enjoy their pimped-up lifestyle, I stand alone.
Morals? Pah, humbug.

Kaiji sticks to his guns, disregarding society's communiqu├ęs about what he should be. A run-down school intrudes from the background.

"I ain't aiming for petty gains. Hitting it big some day is all that matters"

"The debt collectors lunged at me. Too bad I'm broke"

"Tag along with me.You'll eventually find out how different from Akagi I am."

Bursting at the seams with enthusiasm, I still can hardly believe that I will watch it all over again, even if it's for the sake of writing an article that will not even come close to matching the quality with which Kaiji was produced. Onwards to the first episode:

Ah, the opening sequence, Miraiwabokura no teno naka (the future is in our hands, per the subtitles from the series itself). It opens with what seems Kaiji being swallowed by an empty void from beyond,presumably a sea of madness and gambling after cards from Restricted Rock-Paper-Scissors play on the screen. 

Neat way to learn another language.But having to read it upside down is harder.

Kaiji is written in Katakana, perhaps in order to avoid the childish message that might get across if it was written in Hiragana. We start off with an overview of kaiji's routines and it evolves around cheap gambles and liquor. The point is so well driven home that his basest vices will hardly bear any further mentioning. Kaiji is sitting along with a handful of mates, playing some kind of western card game. His draws seem to be bad, he gets a mess of a starting hand and presumably loses. Next we see him lying on the side and grieving over his loser life and why he always wants things that unreacheable for him, behind the fortress of display cases.
Kaiji's draws seem to be bad.

The pent-up feeling build up and he has to do something with his frustration over life. Once he's comfortably home again, he hears a knock at the door.Annoyed, he goes over to answer it and his vexed temper is cut short of displaying any rudeness upon realising the visitor's imposing frame and stern dead-pan expression. From then on, life as he knew it would take a new direction, sweeping along the viewer on an unforgetable ride through man's inner pains, aspirations and fears...

Please guys, let me win, just this one time.
"So, have you no aim in life?"
The first zawa-zawa moment in the show. This is an onomatopeia intended to represent the inner sound in people's minds, stemming from an uneasy situation, typically when the uneasiness sets in and the afflicted person becomes unsettled by something from which there is no foreseeable way out.

The ending theme. The point here is that you start out all pumped up and end up in the dumps, crushed by the weight of reality because you live in a system that is against the destitute and favour those of a higher social status and holders of worldly possessions. The segment highlights Kaiji's anonymity among the
passing parade of forgotten faces that is mankind. Passers-through flash by, worried with their own petty problems while pretending not to notice each other. They bore on towards Kaiji, and away from him, into the reaches of unknown destinations, lost for for ever.

Shrewd eyes kept sharp on his goals, never mind this eerie zawa-zawa feeling

The time for the underdogs to come out victorious might come soon, but Kaiji remains unaware of his potential.Not that he's a busted flush. His skills and insightful gambling schemes are still what makes Kaiji a resourceful man, prone to survival whenever his life is at stake. But still, Kaiji is left with no way out of his poverty, which frequently brings him to tears, but he somehow must endure it, oblivious to all potential possibilities to unfold should a mouthwatering turn of events beckon....