Tag Archives: childhood

Rob’s Rockin’ Retro Reviews: Super Mario Bros!

28 Aug

Hello, and welcome to Rob’s Rockin’ Retro Reviews! In association with the ruddy fantastic Retr0mance, I’m going to be playin’ and reviewin’ through my video game collection, from the NES era through to Xbox 360.

Let’s start with a real classic.

Super Mario Bros was the first game I ever played, and the first game a lot of my generation played. You know, we’re the old bastards who remember floppy disks and booting up DOS, recording songs off the radio onto cassette and having to rewind a VHS tape after we watched a film. Mario was our first look at the world of video games, and it taught us a lot of valuable lessons; that turtles are not to be trusted, that mushrooms are sometimes good and sometimes bad, and that you can survive being shot at by jumping on the bullet as it goes past you.

Neo ain’t got shit on Mario

Hell, without Super Mario Bros there probably wouldn’t be video games. After the video game crash, it picked up the industry, gave it a pat on the back and said “it’s all right, little one. There won’t be any more ET games. Here’s a fat Italian man committing acts of horrible animal cruelty”. And we loved it. I still love it. If it were possible, I would have sex with this game right now.

There are a few things I don’t understand though.

First up, those Goombas. The little evil mushrooms. Those guys apparently betrayed the other fungi sects in the Mushroom Kingdom. They teamed up with the Koopas to take down the princess and all those little brown-nosing mushroom dudes you see in the rest of the game. Toad ain’t called Toad after toadstool, people. He’s a bootlicker.

Anyway, what did they get out of it? Because as far as I can tell, they’re the grunt troops, told to walk in a straight line until they are crushed by a man in dungarees or fall off a cliff. They go at their job with such dogmatic fervour. What exactly did the Koopas promise them? Gold? Power? Fame? Little mushroom women? There are many unanswered questions.

Like these little guys:

Are they conjoined twins? Are they a little Goomba couple holding hands? I don’t know, but I do know that I don’t want to ruin their day. For all I know they’re off to Barcelona for a romantic getaway, or finally having the operation so they can function separately.

Mario, though, is a huge part of my formative childhood. I don’t remember the first time I played it. I don’t remember the first time I found the secret 1-up in the first level. I can’t actually remember a time when I didn’t know where all the Warp Zones were. Seriously. Like how I’ve always known the names of Star Wars characters when they’re not even mentioned in the bloody film.

Bossk is BOSS.

Anyway. As a kid, this game was hard. I’ll always remember getting stuck in the castles because of those goddamn rotating fire skewers of hot hot heat. You go back and play it at any other age though, say from eight and above, and you’ll probably wonder how you had such difficulty. Apart from me, though. I still suck. Damn turtles. Never trust them.

Point is, it was the first game we played. We were getting used to how video games even controlled. It was a long time before we got our mitts on Contra (or as I know, it Probotector – being a Brit is sometimes very silly), and a long, long time before we beat that game without using the Konami Code. Mario helped us adapt to a new form of entertainment, so even if it’s easy by the standards of the time, it’s good that it was easy. It helped bring a whole new mass market into gaming and for that I am eternally grateful.

I wouldn’t be the…erm…upstanding citizen I am today without video games.

Aside from that, what is there to say? The controls are nice and responsive, the game-play is fun, the graphics are iconic and the soundtrack is boss. You know all this already. It’s a great game, and a classic. The NES had a lot of duff games, but when it was good, it was great. Super Mario Bros set a very high benchmark to measure other games against, and for a long time it was unsurpassed in the platformer market. It’s incredible that a game from 1985, three whole years before I was bloody born, can still bring such joy. Super Mario Bros, you have my sword, my bow, and my axe. God speed.

Not only that, but this review is now available in video format!

Up next: some more horror movie-related guff. Until next time!

Why I Love The 90s: The Original Video Game Movies

2 Aug

I have a compulsion to watch every video game film I can find. I know most of them are trash, about 98% of them are directed by Uwe Boll, and they deviate crazily from the source material, but I can’t help but track them down, just to see how bad they are. I can count the number of passable video game movies on one hand. The only video game film that I think of as ‘good’ is Silent Hill.

Pyramid Head is a busy guy.

However, there are still plenty of enjoyable shit movies from the early days. Let’s have a look at the pioneers of the sub-genre and all of their flaws.

 

Super Mario Bros

Awww yeah! Super Mario Bros is the one that started it all. It’s a horrible, horrible mess of a film: part kid’s comedy, part action, part Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk nightmare. Bob Hoskins puts on a brilliant Brooklyn accent as Mario and John Leguizamo plays a snotty teenage Luigi. In spite of all its problems, I still love this movie. Dennis Hopper is brilliant as King Koopa, there are about ten billion quotable lines and some really fun set pieces. Hell, it starts with a couple of dinosaurs talking in New Yoik accents. Sure, it’s a bad film, and has nothing to do with the games, but it sits comfortably – and brilliantly – in the so-bad-it’s-good section of my movie library.

 

Double Dragon

We’ve all played Double Dragon, right? A kidnapped girl leads two brothers to go kick the crap out of a gang and generally be total badasses. The obvious choice for such a simple, dumb story, then is to add a bunch of jargon about a magical amulet and evil overlords. Throw the bad guy from Terminator 2 and Alyssa Milano into the mix and you’re sure to win an Oscar, right? Well, not quite. But you do get an awful movie full of 90s clichés and some awful performances. Kudos to them for making Marian, the girlfriend from the game, into an active character though.

 

Street Fighter

This film can be summed up entirely in a single casting choice: the lead character is Guile, a man so American he has the star-spangled banner tattooed on his arm. Who’s the best person to play this all-USA dude? Why, the Belgian actor and roundhouse-kicker Jean Claude Van Damme, of course! The movie-makers managed to squeeze a load of the characters from Street Fighter 2 in, which certainly deserves credit, but it means that the plot is completely insane. It all looks incredibly tacky, too. What saves it? Why, a brilliant performance from the late, great Raul Julia as M. Bison of course! It was his last movie role and it’s worth the cost of the DVD alone. Well, that and seeing Kylie Minogue acting. Yup.

 

Mortal Kombat

Aside from Silent Hill, I actually think Mortal Kombat is the best video game movie. It’s trashy and dumb, but it’s just so much darn fun. It’s also got a plot that kind of makes sense (well, in comparison to the likes of Super Mario Bros and Street Fighter), and who needs acting talent when you’ve got wise-cracking, shades-wearing kung fu heroes punching four-armed monsters in the bollocks? Great fight scenes, awesome special effects, awful one-liners: this movie has it all. Unfortunately, the sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation isn’t quite as good.

 

Wing Commander

Last and possibly least is 1999’s Wing Commander. The games had a great cast – with Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell in the brilliant Wing Commander III – and what better way to continue that trend than with the magnificent Freddie Prinze Jr. Ahem. The movie follows the usual plot of the plucky young rookies who manage to save humanity whilst being very cool and relatable for the film’s target demographic.

 

After these trendsetting films, the video game film adaptation trend really kicked off, particularly after the big success of the Resident Evil franchise. But for me, these 90s films are very interesting to watch back. In fact, I would rather watch Super Mario or Mortal Kombat than the likes of Max Payne or Hitman any day of the week.

Seriously, how can you ever beat scenes like this?

Why I Love The 90s: Violent Videogames

15 Jul

Violence has always had some kind of place in videogame culture. A lot of the time you are either the hunter or the hunted; from the extermination of invading forces in Space Invaders, the prevention of the apocalypse in Missile Command, and even the mindless destruction of various fungal and animal creatures in Super Mario Bros (har har).

It was in the 90s, though, that the world really seemed to take notice of it. Whether it was the more realistic graphics, the increase in widespread popularity, or the fact that violence in other media had gotten stale to argue about (“oh look, another newspaper article about violent movies. BORING!”), it was in the 16-bit era that videogame nasties caused a stir.

The Toxic Avenger had a goddamn toy and cartoon series

It must have been hell for a parent. As a kid, though? It was pure, unadulterated bliss.

So, here’s my pick of some of the most important – and some of the best – ultra-violent videogames from the 1990s.

 

Mortal Kombat

Like most kids of my generation, Mortal Kombat was the first real taste I had of a super-violent game. There was stuff in this game that was frickin’ awesome: ripping off heads (with spine attached), tearing out hearts, kicking people into spike pits, or burning your opponent to a crisp. Of course, knowing how to do those moves was entirely different to getting your ass kicked and having it done to you.

But Mortal Kombat was special for more than just the fatality moves. Every meaty punch and kick made a gush of ketchup-like blood from your enemy. It was ridiculous, marvellous, and amazingly realistic for a game of its time. It also rang alarm bells for concerned parents across the world.

I would give this game four Helen Lovejoy’s out of five.

 

NARC

This game taught me to respect the law. That is, if the law consists of two badass awesome dudes in a fast car who shoot up junkies in overcoats and mullet-bearing drug dealers. An interesting game mechanic was that you got more points for arresting a suspect than killing them outright. A game mechanic rarely used when one of the options is to ‘blow everything up with a rocket launcher’.

This game was originally released in 1988 but I didn’t see it anywhere until it hit home consoles in 1990. I’ve never completed this bitch of a game though, because of the hard-as-a-box-of-Danny-Dyer’s-nails final boss, Mr Big. Mr Big also happens to be Grade-A Nightmare Fuel:

 

Wu Tang: Shaolin-Style

Did you know that the Wu Tang Clan released a videogame back in 1999? Well, you do now. It is possibly the most concentrated mix of things parents hate in a single form: videogames, violence, bad language, dangerous weapons, and rap music.

“Stick around!” “Knife to meet you!” etc

Heavily controversial before its release, the game allowed for four players to pummel the crap out of each other on one screen. It lead to a game later on in this list, but most importantly probably paved the way for other ‘vanity’ projects like 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand.

Wait, is that a good thing?

 

Carmageddon

I have lost years of my life to this game. Released in 1997 (the same year as the original Grand Theft Auto), it is still one of the most notorious videogames in history. You take part in a gladiatorial-future-nightmare-race in the style of Death Race 2000, and are given three directives: win the race normally, win by killing all your opponent racers, or win by killing all the pedestrians in the stage.

Yeah. You read the last one right. This point caused huge problems for certain countries, and in certain nations the game was either banned, or forced to make drastic changes, with pedestrians either turned into green-blooded zombies or into robots.

Interestingly, the game is coming back to us in the form of an Android/iPhone release in the near future. Hang on to yer helmet…

 

Lethal Enforcers and Night Trap

1992 was one of the most important years in videogames – if only for the constant debate over the classification of violent and ‘unsuitable’ games in an industry primarily aimed at children. It also led to the final classification of the two biggest competitors in the videogame market. In 1992, Mortal Kombat was released. Nintendo, for their Super NES console, took the blood and gore out of the game. Sega, though, kept it in.

90s trash talking is the best kind of trash talking.

Quite simply, Nintendo kept their foundation as the family-friendly company, whilst Sega came out as the ‘cool yet reckless’ option. What games were released on Sega consoles the same year? Well, Lethal Enforcers and Night Trap. Two incredibly different games that faced the ire of the tabloid press for their unsuitable content.

Lethal Enforcers was a lightgun game in the style of Time Crisis, whilst Night Trap was more of a point-and-click-thing that a) wasn’t really full of violence and b) was awful. But since it had video clips and kind-of-scantily-clad women, it was clearly much more dangerous than alcopops for British schoolchildren.

 

Thrill Kill

A game so violent, so controversial, that it was never even published. Thrill Kill was a four-player fighter with extreme violence and sexual content. The plot consisted of four damned souls fighting in a tournament to win reincarnation. So, what choice of character do you have?

If you choose anyone other than the midget on stilts there’s something wrong with you.

Each of the characters has their own Thrill Kills, in the style of Mortal Kombat’s fatalities. So, the hillbilly who fights with the severed leg of one of his victims can use it to make his opponent explode. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), the game was cancelled because of its content.

Interestingly, the engine for the game was used to create Wu Tang: Shaolin-Style. Only that had murderous plastic surgeons and dominatrixes replaced with rappers and stuff.

 

Doom

Let’s finish with the granddaddy of ‘em all, though. No Doom, no Call of Duty. No Unreal Tournament. No Half-Life. No goddamn first person shooters ever. It’s a beast of a game, one of the most influential games ever, and it’s brutal. It’s literally you versus the demons of hell.

One of the most modded games ever, Doom has made it onto pretty much every home console and still has a community to this day.

Not only that, but it’s had some great sequels and…erm…this:

So maybe not all great.

 

I’ll leave it there for now. Up next – some more horror movies you might want to see.

Why I Love The 90s: Space Precinct

21 May

You know what’s better than a cop show? A show about cops in space. You know what’s better than a show about cops in space? A show about cops in space by Gerry Anderson, the genius behind Thunderbirds, Space: 1999, and Captain Scarlet. Space Precinct is one of the defining TV shows of my childhood. A vibrant set of locations and characters, fantastic alien creatures, mind-bending plots, and outrageous special effects.

Let me give a brief synopsis: Lieutenant Brogan is an ex-NYPD cop who gets transferred out to another precinct. This precinct is in SPACE. Brogan and his partner Jack Haldane have to solve a variety of crimes in the shady, noir-esque Demeter City. These crimes vary from drug dealers, master thieves, assassins, and even to horrifying, nightmare-inducing serial killers. I kid you not. But more on that later.

If you don’t believe me, that Space Precinct is one of the most overlooked gems in TV history, then please just take a look at the intro:

That tells you all you need to know. The great theme tune (STILL the best theme tune ever in my opinion), the incredible costumes, bizarre alien creatures, and explosive action scenes.

What I love most about the show, though, is the wide array of characters. Rather than just being about Brogan and Haldane, the show had a great supporting cast. Other cops including Jane Castle (Haldane’s on-off love interest), the psychic alien cop Took, the C3PO-meets-R2D2 robot buddy SLOMO, and the inexplicably Irish police chief Captain Podly.

Born in Space Dublin, Podly doesn’t like Brogan’s maverick renegade style. “Do you know how many space reports I need to fill in for your reckless space actions?!”

The most important thing that Space Precinct did, though, was to scare the absolute crap out of me. Since I was a little kid, I’ve basically been a poster boy for the conservative right: “this child has become completely desensitised to violence and horror! Ban this sick filth!” etc. This obviously happened due to my playing of videogames (such as the shocking and disturbing Super Mario Bros) and watching films such as The Terminator at age six. And, you know, it’s made me a total psychopath who isn’t happy unless copying videogames – I regularly spend my spare time jumping on turtles and wearing dungarees.

Anyway, there were very few things that really scared me as a kid. One of these things was The X Files episode ‘Squeeze’, about some monster bastard who eats people’s livers. Another was an episode of Space Precinct.

Entitled ‘Predator and Prey’, the basic premise is thus: there are a string of bizarre deaths in Demeter City, happening at places such as awesome 90s night clubs. It turns out that the murders are being committed by an intergalactic space demon that infects its hosts and feeds off their life essence.

And did I mention that the space demon in question is non-corporeal most of the time?

And did I mention that when it does appear, it looks like this?

Definitely what I should have been watching as a kid.

Yeah. It scared the crap out of me.

So – please, if you can, check out this brilliant show. There are a few episodes knocking around on Youtube. I also have the whole thing, so if you fancy having a marathon session sometime then it’s on like Donkey Kong.

This is my first blog on the 90s and why it was an awesome time to grow up. Join me next time for something video-game related…