All About Joystick_n_hand
I Like Pretending to Be Noble as I Kill Everything!
We're talking early nineties here. I had a Sega Game Gear portable system that I earned through less than ethically virtuous means. I dug it. I had a Sonic game (Sonic Chaos), a brick busting funnsy game (Woody Pop), a crappy racing game (GP Rider ) and some RPG lite by the title Dragon Crystal. Back in the Mesolithic period of gaming, it was a test of ingenuity and perseverance to just acquire games. There was no emulators or network download sites...only the cash=product equation. For myself, games were a rarity that I either had to pinch & save for or I would make some underhanded deal to possess a desired cartridge. This would limit the variety of games I was able to enjoy in my youthful exuberance of all things Game-On. While I enjoyed Sonic...for being Sonic and the other games were arcade type quickie's; my real focus gravitated towards Dragon Crystal.
This hunk 'o' plastic was about the size of a cell phone and had the whimsical generic crapo-art that many a Sega game flaunts. I was obsessed with this simple-yet-addictive hunter/gatherer mini-RPG game. It was repetitive and the rpg was simplified but it fully realizes the notion of its portability factor while retaining the addictive exploration elements of role playing. You begin as the harmless enough Mini-Knight, existing within a contained exploration screen. As you touch the edge of the play area, the trees or rocks or whatever the boarder is composed of, lights up to inform you it has been pillaged already. As you move through the fog of war and open up the play field, action RPG tasks ensue. Like its fave, Zelda, exploration combines with cutting trees and releasing baddies to bring on the essentially turn based combat. Collecting all kinds of foodstuff, armour, pots, weaponry and items becomes a learning experience every time a play occurs. You see, the game resets its effect of associated with items...for example: one play through may have the red flask as HP boost, but the next play through lists it as unknown until the player uses it and reveals its value. It can be anything...a boost or a poison, it always changes. I like this little curve and it keeps the discovery element challenging regardless of the learned playing techniques of the player.But what is this...? a wee little blob floats behind you...As you fight various insects and furry freaks, your floating blob(an egg actually) begins to hatch.What is revealed is the apparent money-shot of the game...a dragon.The titular Dragon is with you from the beginning and you must assist him...or is it her...it...it grows with you as levels increase.This little bastard hovers around and eventually...for those that level up enough...becomes a useful helper in the defence and offense of the players quest.
Another challenging twist is the effect of enemies, items and traps that change substantial attributes or movements of the character. From levelling down your egg to making your movements reverse, this game throws as much as possible into the mix. Levelling up is the only way to navigate this world with any hope of completing it. You start as an apprentice and can reach the lofty position of Paradin or Worlord. Dragon Crystal is really of the exploration type ilk where time invested equates to power. Everything leads to the discovery of some magical Goblet and the path towards this goal is loaded with mini-discoveries. Combat is paper-rock-scissor stuff, but satisfying enough as it happens quick and dirty. Enemies are abundant and varied in their simplicity. The menu screen to apply finds to the character is straight forward and crisp. If I recall....there may be an enemy list that is acquired as well....hmmmm....maybe. Anyways, what we end up with is surprisingly solid for being such a chintzy piece of plastic with cheesball art and a low user base, but it succeeds where others have failed: Keep it simple but with enough randomness to keep the exploration elements intact through multiple playthroughs. This little gem kept me sane through early zitness and random awkwardness...and my Dragon kicked all kinds of a$$!
DONKEY KONG: Table-Top Mini
I had the table top Donkey Kong. No...not the cocktail table 2-player one, I had a little plastic box one that was like a mini-arcade machine. It was god-awful ugly (looking something like a cheap "futuristic" toy from a Happy Meal cross-bred with a two-bit carnival shtick at Christmas) and was more annoying than fun to play, but it filled a table-top niche in 80's culture and assisted in the onslaught of Donkey Kong that became a legend in the gaming industry.
Using the term "I had" implies I can claim ownership to it, but this I cannot. I had it on extended borrow and then donated it to a new mini-gamer along with other trinket hand-me-downs. This little (yet durable!) gaming system killed many an hour in my childhood and I feel obligated to extol the virtues of this Coleco-made piece of gameness. While anything i write would undoubtedly gloss up this early gen crap creation, but isn't that the beauty of hind-sight...everything shines a bit differently.
Yeah that's right **** also had the Popeye one! Then I threw 'em out.
My buddy had been given this game by his older bro who had gotten it at a staff x-mas party circa 1982. Games at this time were the stuff of kid. Teen-agers and young adults were not playing the "nerd" tinged computer gaming phenomenon. The industry was targeted to children, and became the next great baby-sitter. With this said, my buddy's bro decided to re-gift for the younger one of the family. When he eventually brought it over (and this in itself was amazing!....I mean...a video game you could put in a backpack!? Wow!) I was in awe of the power of the game. When he did the big reveal, I was instantly enamoured by the art on the sides. It looked great! The Big D was trotting his stuff and posing for the crowds. I loved the bright blue casing and the garish red color used. It was flashy and yelled "tech". I couldn't wait to play! And then i did...i was shocked, frustrated and saddened. I expected more. It is true that anything would have come second to what my expectations were, but this was not really fun. It blipped and burped its way through a gauntlet of piercing purple lights and deafening screeches of compu-grind. As time went on, we'll say 2 years or so, and the Donkey Kong fad faded, I had somehow acquired the Mini-Kong game through some underhanded comic trades. It was a bit beat up and marked up and scratched up, but it worked. The screen still blazed its piercing neon glows into the retinas as they had a few post-x-masses ago. It was at this point that I had the opportunity to really give the game a try and ride that learning curve. What ended up happening was a real appreciation for this money-grab hunk of Kong-Whoreness. Yeah it was repetitive, annoying and seizure inducing, but it contains the same fundamentals of the arcade game; its addicting. Running up the girders to save your lass is rewarding and exhilarating. At the time, this was the great gaming challenge that all aspiring arcade-knights quested to prevail over. Kong ruled, and the excitement he brought was in the vanguard of the gaming revolution.
In premise, this game is Donkey Kong. Score is involved, climbing and timing are key and Mario does the occasional slow-mo glitch jump. While not identical to the arcade game, it does share the spirit of the mighty Kong original even if it is watered down to the point of drowning. You play as a pre-cocaine(pre-super fame) Mario in a never ending circuit of running, climbing and jumping to the top of the screen, all the while avoiding barrels and other Kong obstacles. Everyone knows the game, its Donkey Kong, but this version is on the cheap and the limited technologies of calculator displays, light brights and bit-bursts of glitch sound combine to create a serviceable, if primitive Donkey Kong experience.
The wonderment that made this arcade in a box possible was the screen type employed, the Vacuum Fluorescent Display. That's the fancy way of describing a cheap monitor. The screen itself is akin to a stencil... It has all the frames of the game cut out and the whole deal is back lit to reveal the specific still as "movement" occurs. The choppy motion has its own charms and patterns that become the game-on experience here, it starts to feel right once you become accustomed to the feel of the mini-joystick and your eyes adjust to the strain. The graphic details here are sparse and the challenge increases by the speed rising. Everything is here...the hammer, flaming barrels and the ole' heave ho! thing that Kong does to thrust the barrels at you. The tweaks and blings of the sound chip are painful yet surprisingly accurate to the original, which ain't saying much for the original. The high and low tweaks when Mario walks is the pinnacle of infuriating but it eventually takes on a hypnotic "low-brow" sensation through repeated plays. The body of the game was solid plastic and could be used as a hammer in a pinch. I have personally seen this product smashed, thrown, curbed and dropped many times and it somehow lives on. Praise be to the gaming gods for plastic...where would we all be without dense plastic forms...I shudder to think! The game is a semi-satisfying time waster. You run up the frame, jump a few barrels and get to the platform with the damsel on it. Done. Next stage, same as the first, the cut-out screen eternal. But it continues on...now there are flaming barrels and the speed has been upped a notch. This proceeds until the speed is too much for itself and the little Coleco game system crashes. Once you find the repetition in the game flow, it can be almost enjoyable to grab a high score in this game. Almost...the simple presentation and limited variations condemn this game to more down-time than game-on time, yet our options were limited in the day and we forced ourselves to like it. Regardless, this gutsy little game had its own unique charms in a time of arcade parlours and pop-game icons like pac-man and Q-Bert...and interestingly enough, Mario really hasn't changed...ever.
I eventually gave the game; with many other toys I had broken up with, to my cousin. I know he played it for a while because I heard it brought up for few years after that, but the whereabouts of the Bright Blue Kong Machine is a mystery. A flea market or maybe an attic next-door. Most likely it hibernates in a land fill somewhere...impervious to decay with its exo-shell of moulded plastic. Even if it does reside in a dump, I assure you...if you slam 4 C batteries into this bad-boy, it'll work. Game-On!
Max the 2000 Year Old Mouse
With his black vest, old timer intone and a proclivity to sustain physical abuse at the hands of historical objects in his museum home. Many children were introduced to the connections within history by this mouse with charm and it encouraged a dramatic; if somewhat condensed perspective of historical events.
Producer Stephen Krantz put the whole thing together and the first episode played to Canadian crowds in 1967. Employing the semi-talents at Grantray-Lawrence Animation , syndication followed shortly after in 1970 on American PBS stations and soon found a large audience. Max has since graced many nations with his egotistical evaluation of the flow of events. 104 episodes, comprised of 5 minute vignettes, each quickie followed the recollections of Max the Mouse and his wide berth of experiences having trotted the earth for 2000 years. Each episode would quickly run down some historical event focusing on the drama of history. Many deal with American historical characters such as Daniel Boone and the expedition of Lewis and Clarke, but be it Max has been quite an active rodent, the show does explore various historical events from ancient Rome right on up. While the facts of the historical events may have been boiled down, the show gives a brief outline of what one would hear in a history lecture or find in an encyclopedia.
The limited animation technique was the pinnacle of cheapskate. The only real frame by frame movement was the snippets of Max goofing off. The point of the episodes was not to enthrall with movement and morphing, it was to give a quick history lesson, and each tale does just that in a non-pretentious way. The bulk of the program contained Johnny Craig-esqe drawings that put faces and scenarios to the narration. The images contained no animation to speak of. Some pans, a tilt...maybe a shake here and there of the camera. Actually, calling this program a cartoon is kind of dishonest. It is more akin to a picture history book with sound. In this way the show was made for peanuts. True budget film making that should inspire any broke-as-hell film student. While Max (voiced by Paul Soles...yup... the voice of 60's Spider-Man, Professor Kitzel and many more 70's characters)would throw in his two-bits, the main story teller was the powerfully voiced Bernard Cowan. Cowan was a Torontonian who provided speech to a variety of programs; most notably the narration of some episodes of the (in) famous 60's Spider-Man and Rocket Robin Hood (both also produced by Steve Krantz). The team that Krantz surrounded himself with was fully capable of achieving what the show set out to do: Give a quick run-down of history, on a budget and within a short amount of time.
The ultra-creative talented Krantz built his career making programs on the cheap and he had a bizarre involvement with Ralph Bakshi that produced not only the filthy Fritz the Cat, but the most tripped out Spider-Man episodes ever. You know the ones....when Spidey would take the trips underground only to be exposed to psychedelic backgrounds, plant freaks and complete weirdness that only Bakshi could come up with. Acid trips for kids that hadn't heard or been exposed to the drug. Krantz went on to produce some live-action shows and write a couple of novels that did quite well. Krantz really is an inspiration, if not for his output, then for his cheese factor. This man was able to pull off some of the flimsiest and dirt-poor programs ever that have really stood the test of time. Without a doubt, Rocket Robin Hood will always make sporadic appearances in the years to come. If not in sight, definitely in name just as the Krantz Spider-Man theme song will eternally live on. Max fits in to the times as well. A need for educational programming gave the show a venue, and despite its lack of flash, it maintained throughout the seventies. Alas, Max had to turn in his cap and retire his syndicated tromp in 1992, but not before imbedding his slant of history into the minds of many children.
The show has explored many roles on television. Firstly as a standalone program, then as filler after a 25 minute episode of something else. The show has even eked out a living as a bridge throughout Saturday morning programming. Max has seemingly gone into hibernation in our fast paced world of info overload, but he floats around various sites such as You Tube and Big Cartoon Database waiting to be rediscovered and embraced by those that can appreciate the historical kitsch that Max is privy to.
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