Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rygar and the Nintendo Power Mystery

I've got some spare time because my NES is auto-leveling Rygar, which I'm going to attempt to play through tonight. I've never beaten the first boss, though I have played the game many times. Of course I won't be using any FAQs. One could look the maps up at The Video Game Atlus, a great site upon which I recently stumbled. Another useful site, if you have any old Nintendo Power magazines (The first few years are the best gaming magazines ever), is the Nintendo Power Index. I'll be using it to look up a few games in this post.

It's found in the first issue of Nintendo Power, so let's open it up to get some tips!

It has a great Zelda spread, and good maps of the levels. But notice the only entry Rygar receives in Nintendo Power (ever).

Note the early use of "ftw" in the not-obvious Kid Icarus tip.

The game is very difficult, but they only give one small blurb to Rygar? It's very strange, older games often got reviewed years later. Most popular games got covered, and it's a really decent title. I wonder if gamers would think that maybe Rygar looked more fun than the original Zelda. Not all gamers, but Americans might be drawn to this Captain-America adventure game, which combines aspects of Mario and Zelda. Similar to Kid Icarus, but much, much better. Placed lowest on the page, smallest. Juxtaposed; size confirming worth.

Super Mario Bros. was featured in issues 2, 3, and 12. It was again featured in the Lost Levels issue, and again for Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, for the GBA.

Kid Icarus was featured in issues 2 (twice), 10,12, and 45. I'm not sure if contemporary Nintendo Power reviews VC games, but if so I'm sure it's in there somewhere.

Of course it's the official Nintendo-sponsored magazine, but they purport objectivity like most periodicals. Looking at the title page for the first issue we see SMB2, the game designed specifically for stupid Americans who couldn't play games with the fury of the Japanese spirit. Jerks. Second, Zelda, the most blinging NES cartridge. What else do Americans like? Baseball, and therefore 3 baseball game reviews. The other features fade into meaningless over-excited magazine talk. At least SMB2 was a pretty fun game, even though I would have preferred the real SMB2. And Zelda was definitely worthy of a gold cartridge. But baseball games are boring. Why the hell do we need three baseball games, just because we are American? I guarantee that 2 baseball games are plenty for me, though Mario Strikers looked really fun if it were a present from a distant relative who couldn't expect to know what video game I would enjoy, a raffle prize, or perhaps found in a fast food coffee shop. However, Wii Baseball suffices for any baseball-related gaming activity in the 21st century.

It's time to see who is behind this racist madness. The following is a transcription of the Editor's letter (huh, he's American) with my commentary applied as footnotes.

Dear Player,

We hope you enjoyed reading the first issue of Nintendo Power as much as we enjoyed making it. We spent many hours doing research (playing games) in order to bring you the most complete reviews, the best tricks, and the raddest reading ever! (1) I even jetted (2) to Japan for a week(3) to work with Nintendo Power staff over there(4). You try to explain Wheel of Fortune to someone who doesn't speak English (5)! It was great to make new friends and to meet some pretty hot game players too (6)! Maybe we'll even profile a few of them in a future issue (7).

Nintendo Power will come out every other month, and we want to provide you the very best in video journalism (8) (We've discontinued the Fun Club News(9), so that we can devote all our energy to making Nintendo Power the best magazine you could ever subscribe to(10)). What could be more fun? (11) So, if you have an opinion about something (12), or a hot tip you want to share(13), we'd like to hear about it.

See you in September,

P.S. I'm working real hard on Zelda II (14). Look for it. It's going to be great!

1. The letter begins well enough. It's 1988, so rad is acceptable.
2. More lingo emphasizes the cool. Too busy being to cool to play Rygar.
3. A whole week!?
4. The guys that actually make this magazine?
5. Exciting statements end in exclamation points!
6. Palis Hirton?
7. See Nintendo Power Sluts XXX, Erotic Electronic Publishing, 1989.
8. With your leadership this magazine rocks!
9. Who cares!
10. Most of the time National Geographic is boring.
11.What indeed!
12. How convient!
13. "Which library bathroom should I haunt?"
14. No way! Zelda 2 was released in 1987. The coverage, however, was great.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wizards & Warriors

I spent the weekend reading Faulkner and playing Wizards and Warriors. (and Ironsword, the first two games in the 4-part series). You play as Kuros, a knight running around freeing tied-up half-naked babes from evil monsters.
Fun game, really hard. However, you continue from exactly where you die... so eventually you forget about lives altogether. And as the afternoon drifted into evening like insects skimming on water, improbable yet somehow vindicated by the harsh physics of our world, I battled as Kuros, falling repeatedly in battle like Confederate and Yankee soldiers pierced by bullet from afar or the close and familiar sting of a bayonet, leg vaporized by the earth tumbling explosion of a cannonball... In the words of the wizard in Conan the Barbarian: "Life and Death, the same."

It's a curious game, because it's kind of bad. The jumping physics are awkward (though somewhat fun), you can easily loose the best items in the game by picking certain treasure chests, and monsters constantly spawn off-screen and kamikaze into Kuros with no hope of ever defending the attack.

But, the game has nice artwork, great music, infinite lives, and some cool areas to explore. It's a good game if you are looking for a fantasy adventure and have already played Legacy of the Wizard (and part 2 of the post) and Faxanadu. Similar and inferior to both, that about sums it up.

Had I played this game as a child, I might enjoy it more. But as the list of NES games I haven't played dwindles, Wizards and Warriors is a refreshing reminder of the high-quality NES library. I have owned the sequel, Ironsword: Wizards and Warriors 2, for some time, but I could never figure out what to do. I've decided to sink some more time into Ironsword, maybe it gets better as the game progresses.

Wizards and Warriors (the entire series) is also notable for being made in America. Most good NES games come from the land of the rising sun and it's comforting to see that at least some Americans were trying to make a decent NES game.

This installment steal it's story from Mario, having you rescue a princess in 8 castles, the first 7 named from myth and literature, but not being "your" princess. Eventually "Thou Hath Rescued Thy Princess / Thy Search Hath Ended" and thy princess remaineth kneeling in submission, half-naked and blond.

Levels 2-4 are caves, and all look similar, thus the game drags. But stages 6-8 are fantastic, epic, and worth the trouble of getting there. Wizards and Warriors simply needed well-programmed enemies, something even Legacy of the Wizard couldn't accomplish. Enemies in this game appear from everywhere, can fly through walls, or simply can't be killed. Every enemy in the game feels cheap, both in battle and programming.

There is also a place (I believe it is level 5, but it could be 6) that seems oddly familiar. Hmm, what could it be? See the final screenshot, I had to take it with a real camera; I was playing on cartridge today. I'll continue the series and post my thoughts if something interesting should come to mind. I've been looking for a Game Boy game to play recently, and Wizards and Warriors X: The Fortress of Fear looks fun. Any other fans of this series or a particular game within?

Friday, March 13, 2009

The 2600 Adventure of Zelda

Every gamer suspects that games were better in the past. Obviously, most such feelings are nostalgia, but others enjoy playing older video games more than most modern ones. Older games ring true in myth. Modern games fail because of the lack of integrity in the creators of the game, executive meddling, stupid ideas, million dollar budgets, or, primarily, an asbestos desert of creativity, content to copy the great games, adding nothing and producing hollow xeroxes of great adventures.

Adventure was the first graphic adventure game and released in 1979. The story is distilled medieval adventure: a hero travels from the gold castle, through countryside and mazes, fighting dragons, harassed by bats, steals the treasure back from the wizard's black castle, returns to the gold castle. He then becomes king and builds an army and takes over other video game worlds. That's the story to adventure and it is a perfect description of the gameplay. That connection between material function and story exhibits pure unbridled form.

"Created by Warren Robinett" was inscribed as a rejection of Atari's unrestrained video game commidification. You can't expect people to care about your video game company at the expense of the artists producing your product; it breaks every code of author attribution. The video game creator functioned as programmer, artist, musician, and writer. Obviously a man or woman might be exceptionally skilled in some areas and lacking in others forms a small team of individuals who carry out a united vision.

On February 21, 1986, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda in Japan, with Miyamoto credited. They don't credit Adventure, the game released 7 years (that's seven years without a decent overhead graphic adventure game) previously, maybe no one noticed. Adventure has 1 screen scrolling (so does Zelda...), dungeon entrances on one screen, isolated in the center (Zelda, too, has castle entrances like these. The point being that if one were to take Zelda and compress it, the result would be Adventure.) Multiple quests, bats, multiple items to solve puzzles, 3 dungeons, dragons, weapon, mazes, a holy item that needs to be retrieved. Zelda has, multiple quests, bats, many items to solve puzzles, 18 dungeons, dragons, 6 or 7 weapons, octorocks, mazes, a 8 holy items that needs to be retrieved AND a princess! Adventure even has an area, in the white castle, called the crypt. Zelda makes overt reference to this with the "white castle" i.e. the entrance to level 6 in the first quest being next to the graveyard. Zelda even assumed the dragon's mechanic of eating the character with the Like Like enemy, consciously avoided, but still changed and put to use.

The Legend of Zelda adds everything that Adventure couldn't with only 4k of memory. Zelda was on a 1-MB cartridge but was only 132K thanks to clever programming. The overworld is stored as "rooms", but rooms are made of columns, not tiles, which greatly decreases the amount of storage space, but sacrifices flexibility in map design. Certainly a matter of aesthetic taste, but the game that captivated 6.5 million had a certain aesthetic symmetry, a mathematical quality which made Hyrule appear as crafted by ancient and sleepy gods.

For your comparison here are both maps. Notice the graveyard in the west of Hyrule, as described in the above passage.

Where do these games not fail? In story, because each is simple and mythic. The games are likewise simple and mythic, and artist expectations are upheld. But what of other games that purport to good storytelling yet fail with hollywood blockbuster lowest-common denominator entertainment? Sometimes it's hard to appreciate a game without thinking, "this is all 50 million dollars could make?" And at the bottom line consumers buy graphic... actually consumers buy well-marketed video games and, occasionally, the outstanding AND well-marketed video game. One has to imagine that that money could have funded 10 smaller projects, with plenty of money left over for executives to waste, and at least some hope of producing something worth the time and effort invested by designers and consumers (and critics!)

Atari even made a little known spiritual prequel to the Legend of Zelda, which you can only play if you download the rom, known as The Adventure of Zerda. Here is a magazine scan of the world map. As you can see there are clear similarities between Adventure and The Legend of Zelda, proving the relationship conclusively.

Human nature assures us that individuals will make good video games because they want to, and people with a job making video games will become disillusioned with the corporate world and decide to at least get paid well and work on (what I assume) is important science, or put their name on half-assed products like Wii Music, the worst game ever made. Video games need artists, not fatcat sellouts.