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Monster Party.000

Title: Monster Party
Year: 1989
Platform: NES
Developer: Human Entertainment
Publisher: Bandai

Oh, boy. Here we go.

Monster Party was released for the NES by Bandai in 1989 in the US, developed by Human Entertainment (of Kabuki Quantum Fighter fame, maybe). For whatever reason, Bandai never released the game in Japan, and this only adds to the obscurity and mystery surrounding the game.

Monster Party isn’t like most other NES games. It holds something of a cult status among retro gamers and collectors, both due to the game’s mysterious history and for its…aesthetic. While remaining in its average NES platformer obscurity, Monster Party saw a rise in its cult status after a series of Japanese Famicom prototype screenshots surfaced in the early 2000s on the internet. 

Let this be said first: Monster Party is a very strange game, a creepy, mystical video game. It’s tough to gauge how popular the game was initially (apparently it received a 6.25/10 from Nintendo Power), and I can’t comment on how the game would be remembered if the prototype screenshots never showed up, but I can say this much: the few, grainy Japanese images revealed that Monster Party was originally much darker, bloodier, visually complex, and more pop culturally-oriented than the already completely strange game we played when we were younger.

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Dark Souls20

Title: Dark Souls
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Date: 2011
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: From Software

 

 

 

This is a continuation of my Dark Souls writeup. For part 1, click here.

– – –A Living World – – –

Players’ first taste of Dark Souls is Oscar, Knight of Astora, an essentially faceless and nameless knight, tossing a rotting corpse down into their dungeon cell from high above. The corpse holds the key to said cell. This situation is entirely misleading, that there are NPCs who will actively help players on their quest. Lordran is not a place where a knight in good-guy armor normally gives players the key to their escape, which players will realize quickly once they stumble upon Oscar’s dying body several moments later. This scene is the real Dark Souls, the one where even a fully equipped knight can be felled by the tutorial stage, which does not bode well for players, who control a frail decaying frame of a person. Death is not permanent, though, in Lordran, as players will realize, and there exists a convoluted hierarchy of undead social classes, including the mindless Hollowed, which all undead are destined to become. Later, players can return to where Oscar died and find him turned into a Hollow enemy, which blindly attacks the player.

Many NPCs met during the player’s travels will eventually turn into an insane Hollow, and many nameless Hollowed undead can be seen dotting the game’s areas, banging their heads into walls and writhing on the ground, their charred skeletal bodies jarring dried blood stains on an already disturbing surface.

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Dark Souls20

Title: Dark Souls
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Date: 2011
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: From Software

I’ve been reading through Ted Hughes’ Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow (1970) again and I’m glad to report it is just as forceful and gross as it appeared to me several years ago. The collection of poems catalogue the myths of the titular character Crow, a vile, feathered trickster god, part Prometheus, part mystical guide, as he picks apart, explores, and often brutalizes his bleak and jagged surroundings, scrounging up meaning in a biblical and heavy, polluted wasteland covered in tar and skulls. Needless to say, it’s one of my favorite books of poetry.

A few excerpts:

From “Crow’s Elephant Totem Song”:

‘At the Resurrection,
The Elephant got himself together with correction
Deadfall feet and toothproof body and bulldozing bones
And completely altered brains
Behind aged eyes, that were wicked and wise.’

From “Crow’s First Lesson”:

‘And Crow retched again, before God could stop him.
And woman’s vulva dropped over man’s neck and tightened.
The two struggled together on the grass.
God struggled to part them, cursed, wept–

Crow flew guiltily off.’

From “Crowego”:

‘The gold melted out of Hercules’ ashes
Is an electrode in Crow’s brain.

Drinking Beowulf’s blood, and wrapped in his hide,
Crow communes with poltergeists out of old ponds.’

From “Crow Blacker than ever”:

Crow nailed them together,
Nailing Heaven and Earth together–

So man cried, but with God’s voice.
And God bled, but with man’s blood.

Then heaven and earth creaked at the joint
Which became gangrenous and stank–
A horror beyond redemption.

The agony did not diminish.’

– – –

While playing through Dark Souls, the agony certainly never diminishes. Even the back of the box reads, with no remorse, “PREPARE TO DIE”. There is no glorified battle of good versus evil, no promise of beauty, of wonder, no fun in sight. Only tension, “incredible challenge,” and death. Like Hughes’ poems, there is zero compassion, no light, and at the first sign of humanity and its weakness, the cragged landscape will fold over and swallow all life whole.

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Title: Legend of Mana
Platform: PS1
Publisher: Square
Year: 2000

legend of mana5

Square’s PS1 library of games of one of my favorite things ever.

While the SNES JRPG library is home to some of the tightest, simplest, most charming, and certainly most nostalgic video games ever put together, Square’s output during the mid to late ‘90s is as tremendous as it is classic.

Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX and Tactics, Xenogears, Parasite Eve, Vagrant Story, Saga Frontier, Front Mission, and Chrono Cross combine to make a list that is so multi-textured, so rich on narrative and world, so experimental in both gameplay and storytelling, and just so full of soul, elegance, and personality.

While most of Square’s PS1 games feature some level of grit and realism, with a focus on cinematics and high drama that was afforded with the new expansion in technology, there were a few outliers from that Square gray tone. Brave Fencer Musashi and Threads of Fate are two moderately great games that are bright and colorful, and then there’s Legend of Mana…

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Title: Super Mario World
Platform: SNES
Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 1990

supermarioworld1

There are over seventy user reviews on GameFAQs for this game, most of which are 9/10s and 10/10s. These reviews break down the game into controls, sound, graphics, and replay value, as per typical game review format.

Obviously, the game’s controls are some of the tightest on the system, the graphics spectacular (the game’s sprites are so brightly colored and well animated and that dense world map…< 3), and the music memorable and completely whistle-worthy (every time I or anyone in a video beats a stage, I find myself whistling that end level melody). Only trolls don’t like the game and while there are a large number of people who find Super Mario Bros. 3 to be the best of the series, there are still countless others that claim Super Mario World to be the best Mario game.

Great.

But what is so special about this game? Why do I think it’s the best Mario game? On paper, it’s essentially a reiteration of its predecessor with updated graphics and controls. What is it that makes this game feel…so immense?

When the player starts up a new file, he’s given the option of either going left or right on the world map. Those familiar with the game (and who are not doing a speedrun) will go left first, as that is the path that leads to the first switch in the game. There are a handful of hidden switches on the world map that cause blocks to appear in a number of stages, making them easier or even possible at all. These switches represent one of the biggest changes from Super Mario Bros. 3: the world is no longer broken up into smaller world maps separated by video game logic.

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Title: Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties
Platform: 3DO
Publisher: Kirin Entertainment
Year: 1994

TAKE YOUR DAMN CLOTHES OFF

TAKE YOUR DAMN CLOTHES OFF

I love Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties. It’s so bad.

The immobile stills where there should be FMV, the inane semi-pornographic plot, the lack of any real gameplay…even the box art is terrible. The clipart tie and plunger and the goofy smorgasbord of fonts scream poor graphic design. The tilted stills from the game only emphasis this. On the back is an ecstatic list of what the game has to offer (“He’s a plumber…she’s a daddy’s girl…only you can get them together…or tear them apart”), including the promise that it “plays like a game… feels like MOVIE!!” which is certainly an outright lie.

If you want a humorous and accurate review of the game, watch the Angry Video Game Nerd video for it. I’m not going to shit all over Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties, though, but talk about it critically and about why I like it so much.

But really, it’s a bad game.

Liking the game is similar to liking Plan 9 From Outer Space or The Room. The best kind of “bad” art is sincerely bad. It’s free from irony and is truly convincingly bad. There’s something heartfelt and honest about truly bad art and there’s certainly something heartfelt and honest in Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties. This makes the (unintentional) humor even stronger as well as give the game a weird morality.

After players open the box and actually play the game (which is probably not a lot of people, considering no one anyone knows owned the obscure 3DO), they’re met with an abysmal Microsoft Paint title screen, stock computer music, and obvious clipart. As the credits roll (the creators of this game seem pretty proud of themselves), an array of racing photos are shown for some reason, some with weird Photoshop filters. The text over the images is difficult to read because of the random nature of the colors chosen. Halfway through the credits, a race car driving animal image is pasted over the other images, ignoring all rules of perspective and scale. This then shifts into still images of a sleeping and shirtless (this is an adult game, remember) John. And the game starts. It’s an intense exercise in bad taste.

It’s actually hard to describe because it’s so surreal and unlike anything else that exists. A “scene” of still images plays out with voice acting (not unlike La Jetée, but with terrible writing), then the player is given two or three plot choices to make, most of which are “wrong” and force the player to return to a previous scene and try again.

It’s a mess.

There were other games before Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties that were an early attempt at interactive fiction (something we’re used to now, with Twine games always floating around) with video, most (or all) more successful than this. The AVGN video cites Wing Commander as a 3DO game that actually has full-motion video (Plumbers claims it does, but it only really has one), decent gameplay, and an actual production value. So, to claim Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties did something new or radical is a real stretch.

Instead, I like to think of the game as pure art, free of any pretensions. It’s like children’s art. Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties never feels like the lifeless shovelware of today, nor does ever turn into actual parody. It’s a heartfelt and goofy love letter to gaming on a console that (according to a dated IGN article) allowed pretty much anyone to develop games (hey, that sounds familiar).

Every detail of the game is so weird and there’s absolutely no continuity. There’s a scene where one of the several narrators kills one of the other narrators (they’re fighting over control of the story, the story that you’re supposed to be controlling) and it’s pure, unintentional dada. There is absolutely zero immersion or world building as the game constantly reminds its player that he is “playing” a game. I would relate the game to the COBRA art movement of the early fifties, which devoted itself to children’s art to avoid pretenses and the western tradition, but even COBRA was soaked in philosophy, ideas of purity and utopianism.

Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties has nothing to say, has no concerns. It just wants to be sexy and funny. It’s not really a game, nor is it a movie, but it is an interesting piece of new media, and a strange, pure form of fiction.

And it’s funny as hell.