Monday, December 19, 2011

Retro Gaming

Back in the primordial epoch, circa 1980, I was a greasy little urchin with copious free time and a pocketful of quarters. I whiled away countless hours in video arcades, surrounded by flashing lights, bleeping pixels and a cavalcade of Japanese electronic entertainment. The early 1980s was a boom time for video games. They lurched from their humble beginnings with Pong and Space Invaders to a more evolved state of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. At the dawn of the 21st Century, video games have advanced plots, lifelike graphics and more violence and gore than All You Can Kill Day at the Roman Colosseum.
Still, the simpler times showed us video games could be clever, friendly and outright weird.
I discovered a cabinet game at my local arcade filled with several arcade classics from the 1980s, and was transported back through time to my hometown in New Jersey. I was 11 or 12, had braces and a penchant for playing video games. Memories washed over me as I was treated to games I hadn't seen and played in almost 30 years. Nostalgic? Hells yeah!

If this arcade game were a woman, I'd marry it, then fuck it repeatedly with a shitload of quarters.

The game lets you select from the following arcade legends: 1942, 1943, Amidar, Arkanoid, Burger Time, Bomb Jack, Centipede, Congo Bongo, Crush Roller, Dig Dug, Dig Dug 2, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong 3, Galaga, Galaxian, Jr. Pac-Man, Frogger, Juno First, Jumping Jack, King and Balloon, Lady Bug, Mappy, Millipede, Moon Cresta, Mr. Do, Mr. Do's Castle, Mrs. Pac-Man, New Rally X, Pac-Man, Pengo, Pinball Action, Pooyan, Pleiads, Phoenix, Qix, Scramble, Space Panic, Space Invaders, Super Break Out, Super Cobra, Super Pac-Man, Tank Battalion, Time Pilot, The End, Sho - Lin's Road, Van-Van Car, Xevious and Zaxxon. Many of these I haven't heard of, like Moon Cresta and King and Balloon. After playing them, I understand why. Some of these games are easily forgettable, but others are hidden video game gems that should stand the test of time.

Like Donkey Kong. The classic Nintendo arcade game that introduced Mario and the titular gorilla, Donkey Kong was one of my early favorites. If you play the second stage right, Mario scores with the princess while Kong falls headfirst to an ignoble if not hilarious death.

Donkey Kong Jr., the popular sequel, has players in the role of Donkey Kong's son on a mission to save daddy Donkey Kong. This game is incredibly hard, as players will be climbing vines and dodging these snap-jawed critters and aggressive birds. It's insane how many things are out to get you in this game.

If gorillas are your thing, Congo Bongo is another classic arcade game. You play a hunter who has to climb through what looks like an M.C. Escher painting of passageways, bridges and annoying monkeys. I loathe Congo Bongo because I get killed and can't finish the first level. The perspective throws me off and I end up plummeting to my doom or being skull-raped by one of those monkeys. I want to find whoever designed Congo Bongo and kill them with a shovel.

I remember playing Crush Roller (or Make Trax as it was sometimes called) at a Chi-Chi's restaurant during my youth. If that reference doesn't date me, recalling the game was freakin' hard will. You play a paint brush being chased by two flounder-looking creatures. Your task is to paint the entire maze and use two rollers to crush your pursuers. A cat, a mouse, a bird and a tire roll over your nice paint job and force you to backtrack. If you thought painting your house was a thankless, labor-intensive undertaking, play this game. This is why people should hire professional painters.

I learned more about the natural world by playing Frogger than I did in my high school life science class. Frogger has everything: a Darwinian struggle of survival in a cold and unforgiving world, where aggressive predators thrive on devouring the innocent frog, who only wants to mate, eat flies and go home. This game may look cute, but it's survival of the fittest. To paraphrase Kermit the Frog, "it's not easy being green, homey."

Mappy. Goddamn it, how I love Mappy. Holy fuck on melba toast do I love this game. One of the shining examples of arcade games from the early 1980s, Mappy puts the player in the guise of a mouse in a policeman's uniform. The goal here is to bounce through a house and snag stolen loot from a gang of cats, who desire only one thing: to devour Mappy for lunch. Fast-paced, with a pleasant musical score and challenging bonus stages, Mappy is video game Nirvana.

Mr. Do.
Jumpin' Jesus with a strap-on are you ever a weird game. One of my favorites as a kid, Mr. Do is a trippy game where you play a clown digging for cherries underground.

Mr. Do is patterned after Dig-Dug, another one of my favorite arcade games. Whoever wrote these games must've been doing some heavy acid, because this game, as I mentioned above, is really trippy. Mr. Do must dig passages underground and kill these creatures by throwing a ball at them or by squashing them with gigantic apples. Periodically, a bonus item will manifest in the middle of the screen. Snag it and a chorus of fucked-up looking Muppets will descend upon our hero. It's not a bad game if you're a student of Dada artists and stoned out of your mind.

Mr. Do was so popular, it launched a sequel - Mr. Do's Castle. This one pits Mr. Do against some unicorn creatures in a castle. The clown must knock blocks from the floors of the castle and crush his enemies. If Mr. Do wasn't motivated, he'd be called Mr. Don't. He's a badass. You know it, I know it and Mr. Do knows it. So don't fuck with him.

I never heard of Pooyan before. This game makes me so angry, I want to throw a baby in a woodchipper.

A retelling of the Three Little Pigs, Pooyan pits the player against wolves with balloons. The player is suspended from a gondola and shoots arrows at the wolves, attempting to pop the balloons before the wolves make it to the ground, where presumably, they rape the pigs.

I can't figure out how Jumping Jack got green lit. The premise of the game, to leap across the board, propelled with a bunch of seesaws and dodging pretty much everything in sight. One of the most bizarre things in the game is in the upper corner. See that character up there? The black Sambo-looking dude with giant red lips? Who programmed this game? David Duke? Was it popular to include racial stereotypes in video games in the 1980s? I realize back then, political correctness didn't run amok as it does today, but having a giant-lipped African native hurling boulders at you is wrong.

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