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Kickle Cubicle.075
Title: Kickle Cubicle
Year: 1990
Platform: NES
Publisher: Irem
Developer: Irem

I first heard of Kickle Cubicle a few years ago when Mike McCabe included it on his list of favorite games. I was surprised that A. an NES game with alliteration in its title had eluded me for so long and B. that there was an Irem NES game released in North America that I had never played.

Irem, known for their R-Type horizontal space shooters, had a small output of excellent NES games, including Deadly Towers (1986), The Guardian Legend (1988), Metal Storm (1991), and apparently action-puzzler Kickle Cubicle.

Kickle Cubicle.026

From what I can gauge, Kickle Cubicle is based on a Japanese arcade game called Meikyūjima, or “Labyrinth Island,” which is also its Japanese Famicom name. The game looks a good deal like HAL’s Adventure of Lolo (1989), a series Nintendo should revisit one of these years (Lolo confirmed for Brawl?), with its tile grid-based, block-pushing puzzle action.

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Pancake from 2 to 4

A short game I made in RPG Maker 2003 (works in PC only, I’m SO sorry) about Pancake, my son. He wrote most of the dialogue while we watched Steve Wilkos and Maury. I mostly used only the RTP assets just for the fun!

It’s sort of a neo-noir story about – stuffed animals -.

And yeah, Mike, it’s over when you beat the cyclops!

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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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Legacy of the Wizard.040

Title: Legacy of the Wizard
Year: 1987 (JP), 1989 (NA)
Platform: NES, MSX
Publisher: Namcot, Brøderbund
Developer: Nihon Falcom, Quintet

A bit of history: in the mid to late ‘80s, the big three names in RPGs in Japan were Enix, Square, and, not Atlus, but Nihon Falcom. Falcom, who most people know for the Ys series (which range from great to awful), but they actually got their start in the RPG market with their action-RPGs, the Dragon Slayer series. Released for the FM-7 computer (and later the PC-88, with an MSX port by Square) in Japan, Dragon Slayer became the smash hit of 1984, and it can be seen as one of the original action-RPGs.

Legacy of the Wizard.047

Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family is the fourth installment of Falcom’s series, released in 1987, around the time that Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished Omen (oh boy), the first Ys game came out. For its North American release (NES), it was retitled Legacy of the Wizard, and I’m not sure how it was initially critically reviewed, but Falcom must have felt like they were on top of the world.

After doing some research, I also realized that Quintet was involved with Legacy of the Wizard, which adds some intrigue. Quintet, known for developing the flawless ActRaiser (1990), among other SNES RPGs, apparently first had their hand in Legacy of the Wizard. Well, it better be good then.

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I had the pleasure of chatting with cly5m, auteur of Seiklus fame. We chat about Dark Souls, chiptunes, and Space Funeral, you know, all the inevitable stuff.

Cly5m: 
I read a few of your posts earlier today. Nice work. I hadn’t really thought of comparing Dark Souls to my game, but maybe the similarities you mention are why it’s my favorite game of its generation. The varied but inter-connected world is definitely one of its strengths, and something I like to go for in my own games.

Seiklus (PC)

Seiklus (PC)

Nilson:
I love when games are meandering.

Cly5m: 
I was especially impressed with the hidden path behind another hidden path in Blighttown, which leads to a long segment and ends up at the lake. All that work for something some players might never see. I aspire to things like that as well.

Nilson: 
I think the “secret” ending in Seiklus is a lot like that.

I was reading some of your game suggestions on your website and you mention Startropics…that’s a name that isn’t brought up often enough.

Have you played the second one?

Cly5m:
I think I rented it, but didn’t finish it.

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Destiny of an Emperor.035

Title: Destiny of an Emperor
Year: 1989
Platform: NES
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom

Over the years, I’ve played through a lot of NES RPGs. From ones in the sort of obscure category, like Sweet Home (1989), Ghost Lion (1992), and Radia Senki (1991), to the more obscure, never-been-translated ones like Niji no Silkroad (1991) and even the truly bizarre Otaku no Seiza: An Adventure in the Otaku Galaxy (1991), I thought I had covered most of the big ones.

Surprisingly, I had completely missed Destiny of an Emperor, which actually did have a North American release and seems to be at least semi-popular with the NES RPG crowd. The first time it was called to my attention was on cly5m’s website, who describes the game as a “high-speed Dragon Warrior with history instead of fantasy.” And that’s exactly what it is.

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Three Stooges.019

Title: The Three Stooges
Platform: NES
Date: 1989
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beam Software

 

I recently discovered the Johnny games, a series of old Game Maker games made by Kimberly Kubus (Sparlatacus), through a labyrinth of dead links starting at cly5m’s (of Seiklus fame) website. While I couldn’t find any of the games online or even any footage of them, I played through one of cly5m’s fangames, Johnny’s Odyssey, which revolves around a great “game mechanic” and has a wonderful, MSPaint aesthetic. While having nothing to do with Johnny, the games and their aesthetic and the hushed internet murmurs surrounding them reminded me of another game, a Cactus game, which pushes the MSPaint aesthetic into a new level of internet gaudiness and punk flamboyance: Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf is essentially a series of progressively difficult minigames set to the tunes of band Fucking Werewolf ASSO.

It’s a really tough game that I’ve never been able to beat, but its spastics are legendary and have been on my mind all week.

So what does this have to do with The Three Stooges, some Activsion licensed game for the NES? The Three Stooges, an NES port of a Cinemaware Commodore Amiga game, is also essentially a series of progressively difficult minigames, only instead of surreal, glittery punk, it has a Columbia-era, 1930s Three Stooges aesthetic. And yet, the game is every bit as untamed and non-sequitured as Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf. It’s surprising, really, because on paper, The Three Stooges seems more like an archaic ancestor to Mario Party or something, but it’s more Fucking Werewolf than anything, but because of its grounds in reality, it’s even more grotesque.

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Seiklus1

Title: Seiklus
Platform: PC
Date: 2003
Publisher: Independent
Developer: cly5m

I had first learned of Seiklus a few years ago when I was over at the Hardcore Gaming 101 boards, inquiring about what everyone thought the lineage of Fez (2012) was. The topic quickly devolved into a message board boxing match (which is rare for those boards, so I must’ve really asked a bad question…), but before I made it out, someone told me to look up an old PC game from 2003 called Seiklus.

One of the main things that was brought up in that topic (aside from bloodshed) was the idea that there was an “original indie game.” While our excitable gaming media usually insists that Braid (2008) is the game that put indie games on the map, I usually cited Cave Story (2004) as the game that brought pixels and small development teams into vogue. The whole topic seems to cause an endless and bitter debate between hobbyist game historians, so I was glad to find a game that I think quells the issue.

Seiklus, which is Estonian for “adventure,” a tip I got from Wikipedia, was developed by a sole author, the somewhat elusive cly5m, in 2003, using Game Maker. From what I can gauge, this is the first time anything significant had been made in Game Maker, or any game making software targeted at novice computer programmers for that matter. In retrospect, in the history of video games, Seiklus is inevitably a big deal.

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Dynowarz - Destruction of Spondylus (U).026

Title: Dynowarz: The Destruction of Spondylus
Platform: NES
Date: 1989
Publisher: Bandai
Developer: Advance Communication Company

Another Monday and another NES game that haunts my past. Like The Addams Family, Dynowarz captivated and frustrated me in my youth. Both had strange, grating, memorable music, unforgiving and unforgivable gameplay, awkward controls, and both seemed much larger and more mysterious than they do in retrospect. Unlike the former, though, Dynowarz: The Destruction of Spondylus, whatever that means, never reaches any level of garishness, never gets strange or surreal. It’s a very ordinary sci-fi themed action side-scroller, and a mediocre one at that. Whereas games like the very weird Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum (1990) for the NES mixed up the sci-fi action platformer with Adventures of Lolo (1989) styled segments, Dynowarz is incredibly mediocre, and does nothing particularly notable.

Oh, except that players get to pilot a giant robotic dinosaur, punching other dinosaurs in the neck and then get to move around on foot to complete these marathon platforming segments. Wow, cool.

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