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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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Jim Power - The Lost Dimension in 3D (USA).001
Title: Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D
Year: 1993
Platform: SNES, MS-DOS
Developer: Loriceil(s)
Publisher: Electro Brain

Someone on a game forum recommended this to me and I hadn’t heard of it, so I wasn’t sure at first why he recommended it. The topic of discussion was frustrating SNES games, but there are frustrating games that are difficult but satisfying, there are overly obscure games, unforgiving games, and sometimes games with just awful design. Which one was Jim Power?

Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D is I guess a misleading title. It recalls to mind something like beloved The Lost Vikings (1992) or Virtual Bart (1994), video game narratives that feature time travel or virtual realities, narratives that have no rules. Jim Power promises 3D, as well, whatever that could mean on the SNES (Star Fox?). 

Jim Power - The Lost Dimension in 3D (USA).008

The game was developed by French developer Loriceil, who came out with a handful of Commodore 64 and MS-DOS games in the 1980s that probably not a lot of people have ever heard of and a few hits like Golden Eagle (1991) on MS-DOS. Eric Chahi, who later designed Another World (1991) had his start at Loriceil, so the studio isn’t too obscure. 

In 1992, the studio came out with what seems to be their biggest hit, Jim Power in Mutant Planet, which was co-developed by Digital Concept, and features music from the incredibly talented Chris Hülsbeck, who worked on the Amiga/C64 version of R-Type and sci-fi run and gun Turrican (1990). A year later, The Lost Dimension in 3-D would be released.

Wikipedia seems to go to great lengths to make sure its readers are aware that Lost Dimension is not a sequel to Mutant Planet. The two have the same first level, though Mutant Planet looks, sounds, and maybe plays much better. Hülsbeck’s music can be heard in Lost Dimension, but it gets a bit garbled in the translation, though I might be biased. The first level’s theme is my favorite, and it’s pretty rockin’.

Jim Power - The Lost Dimension in 3D (USA).032

Both games have a striking resemblance to Turrican, both in terms of gameplay and sound. It’s funny to think that Loriceil wanted to make a Turrican-clone and actually went out of their way to get Hülsbeck to do the sound, but I’m just speculating. 

According to this, publisher Electro Brain actually packaged stereoscopic Nuoptix 3D glasses with the game, which would make the parallax scrolling backgrounds appear 3Dish. I can’t even imagine this. I felt so sick after playing it for about three hours and went straight to bed.

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Chris Klimas talks a bit about Twine, his program for making hypertext games, and the early days of IF.

What drew you to interactive fiction back in the ‘90s? What was the scene like back then?

I was intrigued by playing IF while I was growing up in the 80s — mainly the Infocom games. I think what I liked most about it was the feeling that the world of an IF game was so vast. I was pretty awful at the puzzles, so my experience of playing was an overwhelming sense there was all this content just out of reach. In a way, the content of the games existed more in my imagination than actual code. But that, to me, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Anyway, once I got access to the Internet a decade later, I somehow found my way to ftp.gmd.de — the predecessor ofifarchive.org — and from there I found Inform, and fell a little bit in love with it. I liked the idea of building the vast world people chipped away at puzzles to reach. Of course, I learned that there were a whole other set of challenges once you’re on the other side.

By the time I started tinkering with IF, the community had at least established itself, though it grew a lot while I participated in it. Even so, it was not tremendously big, but there was a sense of progress to it, and room for enormous experimentation. The day before the IF Comp felt like Christmas Eve.

There was also an air of mystery to it, same as with any online interaction back then. You didn’t really know exactly who it was behind the newsgroups posts or the ifMUD accounts. It was a smidge surreal, meeting many of these folks many years later at the IF suite at PAX East 2010, and discovering they really were living breathing human beings and not eldritch presences on the net.
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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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